Salt and Light | Matthew 5:13-16
Good morning, Church! Children ages preschool-2nd grade can be dismissed out this door to your right. For children who are staying, there are children’s bulletins in the back, and as a reminder, students can fill in the sermon outline on the back of the bulletin, and from now and on turn it into Stephen after the service, and we’ll draw one at the end of the month for lunch wherever you’d like to go. Thursday Stephen and I ate lunch with Isaiah Palmer, who was May’s winner. I was very glad that he chose Five Guys Burgers…mm… I felt like I was in a food coma all afternoon. Good choice, Isaiah.
If you remember last week, we started a new series going through the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7. This is a sermon that Jesus preached primarily to his disciples, but also in the presence of a large group of people. Last week we looked at the beatitudes, basically the 8 declarations of blessings that Jesus gave to start his sermon. Today we’re moving into a short passage, only four verses, that reveal the most foundational aspects of the influence you are I are to have on the Earth!
I mentioned last week that we are ushering in the kingdom of God on earth. He’s our King, and he reigns over us, and we treat him as the King, obeying and seeking His will. So, it’s kind of a cool picture, if it helps us to visualize it like this, that all over the world there are little pockets of God’s kingdom. Those pockets are Christians! And this kingdom will one day be fully inaugurated, and to say the least, it’s going to be awesome. This new heavens and new earth that God will establish will be totally new and totally pure, as in there will be no more sin or pain or hardship.
I can’t help but think that some of us are bored when we think about heaven, when we think about the new heavens and the new earth. But something we need to realize is that heaven is not best described as the afterlife…it’s best described as the after-death. Heaven is where REAL life will be experienced for those who are born again, who’ve trusted in Christ.
So what about now? If we were to sum up what it actually means to be part of the Kingdom of God on earth, what would we say? This is the question Jesus answers in Matthew 5:13-16. How does Jesus most simply explain who we are and what we’re to be doing here on earth, how we’re to be ushering in his Kingdom, looking forward to the fully manifest heavenly Kingdom of God? Let’s read Matthew 5:13-16.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
So, how do we usher in the Kingdom of God on earth? 3 ways. First:
- We are salt; we delay decay.
Why does Jesus call us salt? Because we taste good, but we’re bad for people? Nowadays, when we think of salt we think of McDonald’s French fries, or basically anything and everything that we eat. I love salt; most of us love salt. But in the first century, that was only one of the common uses for salt. Salt was a very valuable because it had so many different uses. In fact, if you’ve ever heard the expression, “He’s not worth his salt;” this is where we get it from. The Romans would sometimes pay their soldiers in salt, so if he didn’t fulfill his duties as a soldier, they’d say he wasn’t “worth his salt.” Salt was used as a preservative, a fertilizer, and of course, to season food! That’s why there are probably multiple meanings here when Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth. We preserve the earth; we fertilize in the sense that we provide nourishment for human growth, and we season food; we add flavor to life!
All of these make sense and probably are at least somewhat what Jesus was referring to, but I think the main parallel Jesus is emphasizing is salt as a preservative. Like salt, we delay decay. We slow corruption. In the midst of a world that is corrupt, we are to slow corruption. We influence the people around us for good. And according to the Bible, following biblical principles for life, leadership, and even national policies and laws will add to human flourishing, not just for Christians but for everyone. So we preserve, delay decay, influence the world for good.
It’s important for us to understand, though, that according to Scripture, the world is getting worse and will continue to get worse. 2 Tim. 3:13 says, “Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Particularly as we get closer to Jesus’ return, the world will continue to get worse, because it has no good foundation to stand on. You can’t build firmly on a bad foundation. And the only solid foundation is Christ.
This may seem like a pretty pessimistic view of the world. You may think, “Ryan, look at what mankind has achieved just in the last hundred years! Look at how much better the world is!” And there is no doubt that in so many ways, mankind has advanced, but there is one way that mankind has continued to just degenerate, and that’s when it comes to the inner self, morality. One writer puts it this way: “Man’s increased knowledge is mechanical knowledge, inanimate knowledge, lifeless knowledge, knowledge that has no bearing on the inner man. His knowledge does not slow his corruption but rather is used to intensify and defend it.”
In the midst of the world slowly, but surely, getting worse, sin becoming more rampant and shameless, Jesus says, “YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are to preserve, YOU are to slow this corruption. You are to influence the people around you for good.” That’s what we’re to do while we’re here on earth!
But here’s the thing: we don’t succeed in delaying decay and influencing the people around us for good if we are unsalty salt! Verse 13, again, “but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” There’s no purpose for salt that isn’t salty. If it has lost what makes it distinct, it literally loses all purpose. I don’t know if there’d be much of anything that’d be more disappointing, you know, to try and salt your green beans and it not work…It’d be terrible. You keep trying and trying, and it’s just a nightmare you wanna wake up from because you know salt is supposed be salty and bring you happiness. I mean, bad salt can’t even be thrown in the grass, because it could kill the grass! That’s why it says here that it has to be thrown on a pathway, where it will be trampled under people’s feet.
This says you are the salt of the earth. And salt is supposed to be salty. This is who you are. We are to represent God’s presence on the earth. One of God’s primary ways of influencing the world is through his children! You and me! We are to be influencers on the earth. We are ushering in the Kingdom of God, even as the world slowly grows farther and farther away from God, particularly whenever we get close to the time that Jesus comes back. Salt is supposed to be salty. Christians are supposed to be Christ-like.
We are salt, and salt can’t lose it’s saltiness. If we’re to be a presence in the world that sustains corruption, slows it, then we must be distinctly Christ-like. We can’t slow corruption is we’re like everyone else. Being salt that is salty involves difficult decisions. It involves being a little weird; it involves not always fitting in with the world.
The question is, “Who influences who?” Are you an influence in the world for good? Or have you so let the world influence you that you are no longer distinct from the world? Influencing the world doesn’t take some massive platform or audience. In fact, I love that Jesus chose salt as the metaphor here. Salt was valuable, yes, but it also was so common. We don’t have to influence the world or slow corruption in some massive way. Sometimes it’s easy to try and excite people and gain momentum by saying, “Let’s change the world!” What we mean is let’s have a massive impact on thousands and millions of people. The problem with having that in mind, primarily, is that we completely overlook the small ways that God can use us if we’re simply faithful. One guy I read this week said, we’re like salt, not like uranium! “You are the uranium of the earth; you should blow up!”
To be salty is to be as simple as personifying the beatitudes. It’s as simple as desiring for Christ’s life to be manifest in you. God doesn’t call you, as an individual, to change the whole world; he calls you to be faithful. Be salt that is salty.
So, how do we usher in the Kingdom of God on earth? First, We are salt; we delay decay. Second:
2. We are light; We spread truth.
Verses 14-15: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” We are the light of the world. There are four characteristics of this light that I want us to focus on:
- It’s the Only Light
In both of these statements– you are the salt of the earth, and you are the light of the world– the language here is emphatic, it can also be translated “You are the only salt of the earth. You are the only light of the world!” In the midst of complete darkness, we pierce through. We reveal truth. We have open eyes and God uses us to open others’ eyes.
I think of Sunday mornings in particular, when I wake up very early, usually 4 or 5am, because I like getting here early. But I try to be considerate for Lauryn and not turn on the lights, so I use my phone flashlight, usually. Guess what? It’s worse for Lauryn to use my phone light! Why? Because it’s so piercing. Everything is black that early in the morning, and I turn on this pretty stinking bright white flashlight. It is blinding. We’re to pierce the darkness of the world like an Iphone flashlight, or something like that… It’s not like we make things a bit brighter. Like yesterday when I was mowing my backyard and some cloud cover would come in and out. We don’t make things brighter. We’re the ONLY LIGHT in the midst of pitch black darkness.
- The Light is Plural
Now something else that’s interesting about these statements– you are the salt of the earth, and you are the light of the world– is that the “you” is plural. Meaning that it is God’s church that is the light of the world, all of God’s people. In other words, ultimately it doesn’t come down to you as an individual to influence the entire world. I have to mention it yet again just to rehash it: Sometimes we get so distracted and captivated by this calling to “change the world!” that we miss out on the many small ways that we can have influence for Christ. It’s not our job, as individuals, to change the world. In fact, really, that’s God’s job! Our job is to be faithful. We’re to be salt and light, be who we are as children of God wherever God has placed us, whether that’s some huge platform, or it’s simply with your neighbor that you slowly get to know for 10 years.
When you think, “light of the world”, don’t immediately go in your mind to starting an organization, or a blog, or finding something else from which you can change the world. Those things are great when God chooses to use them, but he often doesn’t have those things in mind for his children. What does he have in mind? Being kind to your co-worker that doesn’t know Christ. Being an excellent employee, or a boss that cares for his or her employees. God desires faithfulness. And God will use our collective faithfulness to do what He wants in the world. We, together, will be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.
- The Light is Visible
So here’s a question that challenged me this week. Why is it that we hide our faith, sometimes? I’m sure not everyone in here struggles with this, but I’m guessing many of us do. Sometimes we’re embarrassed to claim Christ. We have this desire to be “normal,” or at least what the world considers to be “normal.” It makes friendships in the world easier, especially at work, at school, with family. We don’t want Christ to be our main identifier, because it makes us not quite normal. We’re all fine with claiming to be a Christian and even going to church, but to actually light the world, openly talking and sharing what God is doing in our lives, that’s a scary thought.
And it’s ok if that’s a scary thought for you: The more we read the Word and spend time with Jesus, the more He becomes our main significance, our primary identity, and the less afraid we will become. This is why our mission statement at Raintree is “Guiding people to a Christ-centered identity and influence.” We’re all in a growing process, but man, don’t let that be an excuse not to be the light of the world.
Being a real Christian, but hiding it, makes as much sense as lighting a lamp and then putting it under a basket. What do we do with a light, in order for it to really serve its purpose? We put it up high! Lights hang from the ceiling so they provide light to the whole room, the whole house even!
We don’t hide the light so that we look like the rest of the house, which is in darkness. We can’t. We hold the light up and so that others can see it! We are distinct! We are weird! We are not normal, and it’s ok! It’s more than ok, it’s great! Light is completely distinct from darkness. You will stick out. It overtakes the darkness. Darkness can’t overtake the light, can it? We all know what a flashlight is. Is there such a thing as a flashdark? A gadget that you can take outside in broad daylight and shine darkness everywhere? Overtake the light? No. Light always overtakes the darkness, which is why this light must be put on a stand for everyone to see, because we’re the only light of the World, as far as people go. If we’re not shining, they’re not seeing.
- This Light is More than Positivity
Now one other clarification I want to make; which, by the way, is a huge part of my job as a pastor. It’s not just to give what Jesus is saying, but also to be as clear as possible as to what he isn’t saying. It’s easy to read what we want to into the Scriptures, without realizing it. So, for clarification: being this light of the world means far more than just positivity. Being the light of the world doesn’t mean making everyone feel good about themselves, even though that’s a natural by-product of the complete gospel, the fact that we’re sinners yet God loved us enough to send Christ to pay for our sins. It doesn’t just mean being positive or pleasant; it means being a beacon for truth. What does light do? Light reveals truth. The problem with utter positivity as the ultimate virtue is that it’s not always true. But Christ is always true. He is ultimately the Light of the world, and we reflect His light. Positivity will not set you free. What will set you free? Truth! John 8:32- “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Being the light of the world does not mean covering the house with huge tarp of positivity; oh, let’s just cover all that up and be positive. It’s going inside, turning on the light, letting everyone see what’s really going on, even if it’s just terrible or embarrassing, and then what? Then we let Christ reign, worship Him in spirit and in truth. Ultimately, the truth that sets us free and the truth that lights up the world is the truth that we are so messed up, depraved sinners deserving nothing but God’s wrath, and yet He loved us anyway, gave His son to die for us, taking upon Himself the penalty we deserved, and rising again defeating death. 2 Cor. 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Jesus.”
Jesus is our Light
Jesus is our light; don’t hide him because you want to fit in and look like the world, and be inconspicuous. Don’t think that letting his light shine just means acting happy all the time. Being kingdom people means that we are in the world but not of it. It means that we influence the world, but we don’t reflect it. Our potential for making a difference in the world coincides with our willingness to be different from the world. Being salt and light means distinct, set apart, salty, bright.
By confidently following Christ, and submitting to His authority and rule, being salt and light, we are ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. In fact, Jesus prayed this for us specifically in John 17, when he was praying to the Father, and he said, “I do not ask you take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world…As you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world.” We’re here for a reason, and it’s NOT to get comfortable and cruise our way into heaven. It’s to slow corruption, and light the world. The third way we usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, and this one goes along with the first two, overlaps in many ways:
3. We are His; We reflect His glory.
Verse 16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Did you catch that? Let your light shine! Let your new character and heart and mind and actions shine! Don’t hide it; be a beacon for truth, so that what happens? So that people will think you’re just great! No. So that people will give glory to God who is in heaven. Ultimately, who we are and what we’re to do on earth is all about pointing to God’s glory.
The best illustration I’ve heard for this, and honestly another really easy one to understand, like salt and light, is that of the sun and the moon. One day there will be no more darkness, no more sin, no more secrets, no more pain. In a way it’s like daytime, when the sun shines its light everywhere. But that day is not here yet. That day we look forward to, when Jesus establishes a new heavens and a new earth, and his reign will be absolute even differently than it is absolute now. But, again, that day isn’t here.
Instead, it is night-time. There is darkness everywhere. But there is something that gives some light, and it’s the moon. But the moon, of course, is different from the sun, in that it does not shine its own light! It instead reflects the light of the sun from the other side of the world.
You and I have no light of our own to give. That’s, again, why positivity as an ultimate virtue is FALSE. We simply reflect the light of Christ. He’s the real light. Do you realize, though, that the only light of Christ that people may see in their lifetime is you? It’s not just that we make things brighter and happier; We’re the ONLY LIGHT in the midst of pitch black darkness. If we don’t shine, there is no light. If we’re not shining, they’re not seeing.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” -Rom. 10:14-15
We are the salt of the earth. That means we’re distinct; that means we’re a preserving agent for society and for culture. We are the light of the world. That means that we SHINE. It means we’re beacons of Truth. Now when we get into the Word each week, my prayer is that our hearts and minds are slowly changing and becoming more like Christ’s.
I pray every week that the main application from this time in the Word has to do with our identity being found more and more in Christ, as opposed to the primary application being organizational, like “And this is why we’re having this big event!” Our goal is that we impact the community because our hearts are being changed, and we are being the salt and light of the world.
Upcoming Opportunities to Be the Light
But, I do want to let you know about a few things we’re starting in order to reach out into the community more and more, and be the light! One of them is this coming Saturday. We’re having a Parents’ Night Out this Saturday from 5-8pm. The main goal with this is that we reach out, particularly into the Raintree and surrounding neighborhoods. If you’re a parent, you know this: the quickest way to a parents’ heart is through their children. So we want to reach out by simply providing a need, something free, but also something that allows for us to connect with children and parents in the surrounding communities. We want you to be praying for this, but we also need about 7-8 more of you willing to spend a few hours this coming Saturday investing into kids. Right there on the back wall, you can see a signup for volunteering at Parents’ Night Out. If you’d like to drop off your kids, you are always welcome to do that; you can sign up on our website, RaintreeChurch.com
The other thing I want you to know about that we’ll be starting in the fall: we’re going to start going out and surveying neighborhoods on Wednesday nights. We’ll be getting some very non-intrusive information from people, and it will provide, hopefully, the occasional opportunity to share the Gospel with those nearby. That will be Wednesday nights starting in the fall, and it will be directly linked to our Prayer Team that meets on Wednesdays, because they’re going to be praying for us before we leave and while we are out.
I hope you take advantage of these opportunities, but more than anything, I also hope that we know who we are. We’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let’s not lose our saltiness, and let’s not hide our light. Let’s pray.