The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (NASB)
This morning’s Gospel lesson began with Matthew 5:13. Matthew chapter 5 is the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 contains the “Blessed” section of the Sermon on the Mount. 5:13-20 is Part II of the Sermon on the Mount and can be summarized the following way.
- “You are the salt of the earth.” And if you’re not, you’re worthless.
- 14. “You are the light of the world.” Don’t hide your light, let it shine so that you will glorify your heavenly Father.
- “Do not think or act like Jesus came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. He came to fill it.”
- Whoever annuls one commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
- “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I can’t fit all these things into one sermon this morning so I am limiting myself to the first two.
In verse 12 Jesus told Christians 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus goes straight from the reality that Christians will be treated much like the prophets of old to saying of us, “You are the salt of the world.”
The Greek word used here for “you” is hymeis. This Greek version of the pronoun “you” is emphatic and exclusive. That means Jesus is only talking to and about only those who are what He says they are and as a result do what He is talking about. The doing flows from the being.
“Salt” and “light” are the metaphors Jesus uses here to describe what a Christian’s life is like and about in this dark and evil world. As you all know salt is a preservative and adds flavor to food. In days gone by, salt was also used as a disinfectant. In the ancient world salt as also a substance of great value so it was also used as a currency.
Notice here that Jesus does not give you a list of things you are to do that make you “salt” or “light” in this world. He is declaring that Christians are, metaphorically speaking, salt and light in their relationship to the world.
Being a Christian does not necessarily make a person wiser. We have a few sayings of Jesus that teach the opposite. Luke 16:8 “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
Christians can be as foolish as unbelievers in both spiritual and temporal matters. If we don’t “take every thought captive to the Word of God” as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, then we can fall into the same traps and sins as those who live in darkness.
What the Gospel does do is make us different from the world in the sight of God. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness. We have the mind of Christ and the written Word of God. We are not Christians and we do not follow Christ because in so doing we improve our own lives in this world. There is ample evidence that does not happen. Remember verse 5:12, that verse that tells us we have a good chance of being treated like the prophets of old?
Let me make this point again because this false doctrine is more wide spread than it has ever been in human history. Jesus did not come into the world so that His followers could live on easy street. Christians are not to be self-serving people. Yet, what do the mega-“churches” of the “church growth” variety focus on in their ministries? They preach and teach so called “divine principles” whereby if you follow the system God has laid out in the Bible you will have a fuller, healthier, richer, and more successful life for yourself. That’s what salt that has lost its saltiness is, “living to self and denying to others.”
Salt seasons and preserves food only insofar as it is salty, so Christians are helpful in seasoning and preserving a corrupt world only insofar as they maintain their distinctiveness, “Christianness” in the world. Here Jesus teaches that the church by virtue of the Word and Sacrament ministry, and you by virtue of fulfilling your vocations are the preserving and enlightening agents of the world.
Without Christians (without the salt and light), the entire creation is lost in darkness and death. It has no meaning or value for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, if the Church loses the Word, if it Church ceases to be the agent of the Law and Gospel, the Word, and Sacrament, then it has lost its saltiness and serves no purpose in the world. Folks if you think, speak, and act like the world in matters of religion, morality, and philosophy (and dare I include political philosophy), then something is terribly and spiritually wrong. That’s the assigned Epistle lesson this morning. . . “we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood.” 1 Corinthians 2:7-8
Jesus also teaches that we are light in this world. Light drives back the darkness. That’s it function and reason for existence. This is also the central message of Epiphany. Jesus is the Light that came into the world. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5) “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light.” (Matthew 4:16) This metaphor is perhaps the easiest of all the Scriptural imaginary to understand. While Jesus is the Light of the world, He also teaches that Christians and the church are lights in this dark world. We reflect Him in this world for He lives in us.
As you know some light bulbs can no longer be made legally in this country because the government says they’re not efficient enough. Christians are to be people of the Gospel. But let me ask you this, what would God’s judgment be toward you if God like the government had an efficiency test we had to pass? In Christ, we have been made light. We have put on Christ. We have been given His righteousness and glory. Thus He says, “You are the light of the world. . . 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
“Darkness” is how God’s describes of the natural state of sinful human beings. A person lives in darkness until, by virtue of the Gospel and the Word and Sacrament ministry, said person is called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Word and the Spirit. Just as light drives back the darkness and reveals the truth, so also Christ’s church drives back the darkness and sin and reveals the truth of Christ’s salvation. In opening verses of Matthew 5 Jesus had just described how blessed are those who have faith in Him. Here is talking about how bright we are in Him. The Light, that is Christ in us, generates faith and good works. Good works don’t generate the light as those who are steeped in works righteousness believe.
After reaping the benefits, spiritual and temporal of the Light of Christ, the light of the Church, and the light of individual Christians, darkness is now falling over the West, our country, communities, families, and churches. And Christians are not as salty and bright as they use to be.
When God created the world, the first command was “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). It wasn’t until the fourth day God He created the sun to provide the light of day and moon and stars to provide light at night. The sun and moon are still doing their jobs. But the sun and moon can’t bring Light to the spiritual darkness that came with the fall into sin.
There’s only one way to pierce and drive back the darkness of sin and unbelief. There is only One who can drive back the darkness and there is only way He does that. It’s called the Gospel. He sent His Son as the Light of the world and scatters that darkness.
In the preaching of the Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are taken out of the kingdom of darkness and are made followers of Jesus, who is the Light of the World. (Eph 5:8) “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
1 Thess. 5:4-5. “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness.”
Light can be painful. The light of the Law shows us our sin. It casts light on our deeps and darkness thoughts and deeds. The light of the Law hurts and drives us to either into deeper despair or more self-righteous blindness.
On Good Friday it looked as though darkness would snuff out the Light. “It was about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured.” (Luke 23:44) Friend and foe alike thought the darkness had won. But having finished His work and given up His spirit, Jesus’s lifeless body was laid in a cold dark tomb. There are no windows in a tomb or grave. The eyes of the dead cannot see light. Then came the sunrise of Easter morning and the Light dawned on those who sat in darkness.
“You are the light of the world.” How does our light shine? Not through heroic acts or special religious works. As one pastor has written in his sermon on this text, “the light of Christ shines in the ordinary life of a Christian, but we are not called to live in an ordinary way.” Philippians 2:14-15 “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” You appear as lights in the world by holding on to the word of life, that is the Gospel and living it each day.
The Light of the Gospel is a different kind of Light than the light of the Law. The Light of Christ brings life and immorality to life. opposite of the law God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a different way of driving back the darkness. 2 Timothy 1:10 “But now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
You are one of those people. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
James 1:17 “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” You are from the Father. You are the lights.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.