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Disciples on Display

Matthew: God's Promises Fulfilled  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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A beautiful setting...

Jesus is continuing to teach this group of his closest disciples, and those that might become his disciples on that hillside in Galilee. Next to the great sea of Galilee, remember our picture from last week. It’s a beautiful setting—
Something to consider as we are making our way through the book of Matthew— and simply breaking the passages up into small bite sized chunks— that’s very common among Christian pastors and church communities all over the world. We need to remember that there is indeed a ‘train of thought’ that will flow through the passages. We sometimes separate them, and get into the habit of seeing them each as individual sections— but the breaks were not established until much later. We need to continually keep in the back of our minds that there is a larger, grand picture of the teaching that Jesus is doing.
So last week we tackled all the Beatitudes in one sermon. That was a lot, wasn’t it? That was Jesus describing for us the character of his kingdom citizens. It’s like he was saying— listen, this is what people of my kingdom look like, act like, think like. He’s explaining to them, these are the character qualities of those who are in my kingdom.
Remember also, that at the end of that section— Jesus explains that the people who have those character qualities, those that are committed to being members of God’s kingdom— The Children of God— Mercy, humility, peacemaking, pure in heart— those very people are going to face difficult things in this kingdom— Insults, criticism, judgement, persecution, and even death— because of their citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We might think that we should commend those people, those that are becoming more like Jesus in their character— but that’s not what Jesus taught. He says, Blessed (affirmed and approved by God) are those who are persecuted because of me. He’s says, This world is going to reject me— and it’s going to reject those of you who are my disciples.
Now isn’t that a great way to start off a sermon? Yikes.
Now— when we are indeed persecuted, there’s is this tendency to withdraw— perhaps shrink back and like try not to be seen. This makes sense. The attack comes— and you either “fight or flight”. Like you come out swinging— like Peter did that night when Jesus was arrested— right? or you run away and hide, like most all of his followers did when he was taken into custody that night. But Jesus say’s No No No… I’m not going to let you do either of those things.
He’s going to say to us: You are going to be Salt and Light in the world. I’m going to put my disciples on display. My will for you is not to retreat, it’s to engage. My disciples will not retract back into their little boxes, with each other… No— they will be on display, engaging with a world, with others in the world on my behalf, even when the world rejects them because of me.
When the times are the toughest— when the conflict is the most heated. Engage. Be who I made you to be. And he uses to very interested metaphors, or examples we can understand to teach us what that looks like:
We are to be Salt— and Light in this world.
Our citizenship in the Kingdom of God is not all about us.
The first point that I want us to consider here today— even before we dive into these metaphors— is that Jesus is emphasizing here that our citizenship, our role as a disciple of Jesus, us being a Christian— it’s not just about us. What we are going to see today, is that a big part of the reason that God wants to work in your life, he wants to be in relationship with you— is not just for your benefit--- but also for the benefit of others.
Robert Mulholland Jr. in his book called “Invitation to a Journey: A road map for Spiritual Formation” defines Spiritual formation as
“A process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”
It’s not just about you. In fact, as you mature, you’ll come to realize that it’s really not about you at all!
In your heart— somedays you may want to just write off this world— it’s all bad, and it’s going to hell, and it really doesn’t like you much anyway. Humph.
But that’s not what Jesus is teaching here at all— “you can’t write off the world”.
Matthew 5:13 NIV
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
The followers of Jesus are salt.
Disciples are salt because they are precious.
In Jesus’ day, salt was a valued commodity. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with salt, giving rise to the phrase “worth his salt.”
Disciples are salt because they are preserving the world.
Salt was used to preserve meats and to slow decay. Christians should have a preserving influence on their culture.
Christians may see that the world is falling apart and headed to hell— We are placed here to preserve things, to slow down the process of decay. We are preserving Jesus’ teaching and His goodness and love for the world, by being present and on display for the world to see.
Disciples are salt because they add flavor.
Christians should be a “flavorful” people. The world should be better because Christians, followers of Jesus are in it.
Sometimes the world doesn’t even understand that. The world is often coming after Christians. Jesus just told us that persecution is probably coming. Why Lord? How can the world hate someone whose here trying to make it better?
Because the world is really mistaken here.
But we do it anyway— It should be a good thing that there are Christians in our community. That’s what we’re trying to do here at Walnut Creek— It should be a great experience for about 8000 people to walk through our doors here for our Journey to Bethlehem event. It should be a good thing for us to partner with Hiland HS and their music and choir department to host concerts and events here in our sanctuary. It should be a great thing that all of you live in the neighborhoods and are present in and around Holmes County.
It should be like putting salt on a great meal— it makes it better.
But sometimes we don’t make it better— do we?
Matthew 5:13 NIV
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
If the salt loses its flavor…it is then good for nothing: Salt must keep its “saltiness” to be of any value. When it is no good as salt, it is trampled under foot. In the same way, if we lose our “flavor” we become good for nothing.
Matthew 5:14–15 NIV
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Being light is a great compliment and responsibility.
Jesus gives the Christian both a great compliment and a great responsibility when He says that we are the light of the world, because He claimed that title for Himself as He walked this earth (John 8:12 and John 9:5).
John 8:12 NIV
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 9:5 NIV
5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
There is no sight without light.
There is no life without light.
Genesis 1:3 NIV
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Light of the world means that we are not only light-receivers, but also light-givers.
He says- “I am the Light— I shine in the world — and I want you to shine in the world also.”
It was very customary for the Jews to identify and call prominent Rabbi’s “the light of the world”. Jesus didn’t create this phrase. The Jews would say “Rabbi Judah, or Rabbi so and so— He is the lamp of the world, or he is the light of the world.”
But do you see what Jesus is doing here?
He’s looking into the faces of Peter, James, John, Andrew— these bronze faced, calloused handed, vagabond fishermen—All the messed up, goofy, brokenness in this group— and he says “YOU— YOU are the light of the world.” Can you imagine what the Pharisee’s were thinking about that?
What a blessing— what a compliment. But also, what a responsibility!
There’s no other light— than Jesus. He says I want to work through you— yes, even you.
And I think it’s so cool to look at the words here very carefully:
Jesus never challenged us to become salt or light. He simply said that we are — and we are either fulfilling or failing that given responsibility.
And it might be worth a clarification here:
What we are talking about here is NOT the way to get right with God. All of the Beatitudes, all this salt and light stuff, it’s not how we about getting right with God.
I want us to get this CRYSTAL clear- What Jesus is describing here is what it looks like to be right with God.
If you feel that you’re not right with God— I do NOT want you to hear today that you should go and start being more Salty— or try to shine your light brighter and brighter to gain God’s approval.
NO- If you feel like you’re not right with God. That’s a whole other topic. You should repent, say your sorry. Understand and believe that Jesus died for you, and you can place your faith and trust in him forever. That’s getting right with God.
And when you do that— NOW you ARE the salt and light of the world.
Matthew 5:16 NIV
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus stated that we are salt and light.
We are either failing or fulfilling that responsibility.
A key thought in both the pictures of salt and light is distinction. Salt is needed because the world is rotting and decaying, and if our Christianity is also rotting and decaying, it won’t be any good. Light is needed because the world is in darkness, and if our Christianity imitates the darkness, we have nothing to show the world. To be effective we must seek and display the Christian distinctive. We can never affect the world for Jesus by becoming like the world.
And we don’t need to think about being some laser light show for Jesus either— it’s simple, it’s to the point, and it’s steady, it’s light.
The Apostle Paul explains this concept in his own words to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 5:8–9 NIV
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)
Ephesians 5:15–16 NIV
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Let your light so shine before men: The purpose of light is to illuminate and expose what is there. Therefore light must be exposed before it is of any use — if it is hidden under a basket, it is no longer useful.
We often assume that those inner qualities can only be developed or displayed in isolation from the world, but Jesus wants us to live them out before the world.
He states that we are salt. He says that we are light. But he uses a third metaphor here as well--
Matthew 5:14 NIV
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden: I believe God has set you up on the hill in your life— up on the lampstand of your life to shine for Him. And what are we shining— Good. Love. Mercy. Peace. Shalom. Restoration. Wholeness.
We aren’t here to be judgmental and “shine” into people’s eyes in a rude condescending way. Like a 10,000 candle light flood lamp. Oh, I’ll shine on them alright… NO NO NO.
That they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven: The purpose in letting our light so shine by doing good works is so that others will glorify God, not ourselves.
What Jesus is saying here of his disciples that must have seemed almost ridiculous at the time. How could these humble Galileans salt the earth, or light the world? But they did.
The three pictures together are powerful:
Salt prevents corruption from getting worse.
Light gives the gift of guidance.
A city is a place of community and safety.
Some believe that at this very location where Jesus is preaching— you can actually see the city called Safed. It’s about 3,000 feet of elevation.
This is a view that archeologists believe could have been available to those in the crowd that day. It’s the highest elevated city in Israel.
That might have been what Jesus even pointed to while he speaks to the crowd. He says “see that city— you can’t hide it. That’s what I want you to be in the world. A guide, a beacon, an example for all to see.”
Is that what God has done with us? You individually, but also through us as a whole congregation?
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