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)
The season of Epiphany is divided into two colors. The second half of the
Sundays between Epiphany and Transfiguration are the green, like the Season of
Pentecost. During “green Sundays” the assigned readings for each Sunday usually
follows the previous week’s epistle and Gospel lessons.
The Old Testament lessons are generally connected in some way with the
Gospel appointed for the day. The Old Testament and Gospel lesson will have a
common theme and sometimes shows that the Law or a prophecy is being fulfilled
by Jesus in the Gospel reading.
Following the tradition of sequential readings, this morning’s Gospel
reading picks up where last week’s left off. Jesus had just finished preaching part
one of the “Sermon on the Mount.” Always remember, the Sermon on the Mount
and what is called the “Beatitudes” isn’t a list of good deeds one does in order to
be called blessed of God. The Sermon on the Mount is a description of what has
been given to Christians by virtue of being in Christ.
This morning is Part 2 of the same sermon. Part 2 follows the same
theological pattern as the “Blessed” part of the sermon. Jesus is not telling us to
become salt by doing “salty” things. He is teaching us that the church, Christians
are the salt of the earth. Christians and the Christian church are the preserving
agent of the world.
We are not the salt because we do good things to make the world go round.
We are not the light of the world because we do good works. We are the light of
the world because Christ has done all good things in our place and has made us to
be people of the Light. The world continues to go round because the Christian and
the Christian Church are in it. Take the church out of the world and the world as
we know it has no purpose, no reason for existence, and will cease to exist.
Jesus said, ““You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the
world.” All the warnings that follow about losing saltiness, becoming worthless,
and putting your light under a bushel basket are just that – a warning. The church,
congregations, and Christians are to be a people who reflect the Light of Christ.
We are salt and light because God’s Word has made us to be so. When Jesus
said, 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,” He was teaching us that
our Light is Christ and that people ought to see Christ in us by our lives of
worship and service, thus “our” good works. More on this in a little bit.
If the church and Christians cease to be the people God the Father hahas
created us to be in Christ Jesus, people and the church of true faith and doctrine,
and if, instead, we fall into the false doctrine of works righteousness or
lawlessness, then we cease to be the church and are worthless.
The Sermon on the Mount Part One and Part Two is all about the Gospel,
the free gift of God given in Jesus Christ. Then as now, the people were taught
that they had to do something and be something in order to please God and their
neighbor. In New Testament Israel, the people were taught to comply with all the
oral rules, written regulations, and legalistic interpretations of the religious leaders
of the day.
Today our grandchildren, children, and even older guys like me are told we
have to bow our knee to the modern religions, rules, and regulations of one special
interest group after another. Just think of every progressive and liberal cause;
gender identification, economic and political globalism, pluralism,
environmentalism, and so on. These are the modern and acceptable religions of
the day. If you don’t comply with particular sets of post-modern orthodoxy, then
you are a bad and terrible person, who ought to be shunned, whose business ought
to be shut down, whose voice and vote ought to be silenced, and they modern
practitioners of works righteousness don’t get their way, they will resort to the
modern version of stoning. They will riot in the street and tie you up in the court
system until you’re broke.
Well the self righteous, works righteousness practitioners of Jesus’s day had
their own religious and moral rules, regulations, and penalties. Then came Jesus
and the people are amazed at both the content of His message (the Gospel) and the
authority with which He preached, taught, and carried out His work. Grace, love,
forgiveness, salvation, faith, and right doctrine were all God’s doing! And Jesus
Himself, claimed for Himself the title Son of God and the Son of Man, the
promised Messiah, Who came into the world to do what sinners could and cannot
do – fulfill the Law.
Now the fact that people could not do what Jesus did, fulfill the Law, does
not that the Law has no purpose or effect. Thus, Jesus made sure they understood
the first and most important lesson of the Law.
Having told the multitude that they are already salt and light, verses 17, 18,
and 19 are all about the Christ, the Law, and Christians/the Church. 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 iota [letter] or [dot] stroke shall pass from the Law until all is
The Law was given to sinful human beings who cannot keep it. But for
Christ, this would have been the most cruel thing that God could of done. “Here, I
am giving you my Law. Try to fulfill even the smallest stroke or dot written here,
even though in any given day of your life you are completely incapable of keeping
even the easiest commandment. Still try and try again, everyday, even though
your efforts will still yield eternal death.”
The Law was given through Moses and the prophets to be fulfilled, obeyed,
and carried out, but not by sinful man. Remember your confirmation instruction?
The Law is a fence, a mirror, and a guide.
It is a fenced used by government and social norms to hold evil at bay. It
finds its expression in civil and criminal laws and punishment. Admittedly, that
fence is being torn down by western culture and we will all pay the price for it.
But the fact remains, the fence holds evil in the world at bay.
The Law is a mirror in that it has been given to us to show us our sin, to
show us that we cannot fulfill the Law and please God. It shows us what we were
meant to be and what we are in fact – sinners in need of our Savior.
Now you might be able to comply outwardly with the law form time-to-time
on this point or that point, but Jesus destroys any notion that you can fulfill the
Law when He taught in verses 21 and 22 (the opening verses in next week’s
reading), “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit
murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to
you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.”
He was even more to the point when He taught, “For out of the heart come
evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
1 John 3:15 teaches, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you
know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
The law was not given to us for us to fulfill and thus appease God’s
righteous anger. It was given so that Christ would fulfill it in our stead and
appease God’s anger. Romans 8:3 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it
was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful
flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not
come to abolish but to fulfill. 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
Jesus makes it very clear, not one iota or dot will pass from the Law
until all is accomplished, until heaven and earth pass away. (ota and dot are
the two smallest letters, markings in the Hebrew Old Testament scrolls.) So
when Jesus says not one iota or dot will pass away, He means that the Word
of God, the Law of God, all of God’s demands remain in effect until the old
sinful earth passes away.
For anyone who thinks that Jesus is preaching some kind of works
righteousness here, Jesus slams the door shut on that belief when He says,
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes
and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Scribes and Pharisees
were professional law “abiders.” They were paid to outward “civil” righteousness.
When the common man or woman looked at their lives, they saw people who
appears as righteous as anyone could be. Yet, Jesus teaches that it isn’t nearly
Every path by way of the Law remains closed to sinner. The Law is the
Law. Sin is still sin. The wages of sin remains the same. It is still death, which is
the price Jesus paid for sin.
The Law not only says “do this!,” it says your failure to keep the Law
requires your death. The law carries with it both the order to do and the penalty
for not loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with
all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.
“I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.”
By the way. There was and is a third option. The Son of God could have come
into the world to enforce the Law and level its punishment. The Son of God will
come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, but that was not the
reason He came in His first advent.
John 3:17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the
world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” And again in John
12:46-47 “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in
Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep
them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the
Jesus says, “You are salt. You are light. It is not your work, but Mine.”
Yet, Jesus declares that you are salt. You are light. We are not a people who are
“holier than thou,” saints who live a life above and apart from it all. We are
forgiven sinners. As such, Christ’s righteousness has been imputed, given and
placed on us. Thus, in Christ, our righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of