Sermon on Mount 3
Sermon on the Mount
"Salt, Light, and Real Righteousness"
Matthew 5: 13-20 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved."
19 "So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven."
20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!"
Last time we talked about how the Sermon on the Mount contains the guidelines for how we are to live as children of the Kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that at the moment of our salvation, God "delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Collosians 1:13).
The word "delivered" is "rescued," and "domain" refers to the authority or power of darkness. Jesus literally rescued us out from under the tyranny of Satan's power. And He "transferred" us, literally moved us from one place to another place. We were moved from Satan's dark kingdom to the Kingdom of God's dear Son.
Now, being in a new kingdom, we are also subject to new laws, new expectations, new ways of living and doing. And there is no more succinct description of what those new ways of living are than what Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount.
We're going to see that Jesus deals with anger, forgiveness, lust, money, worry, relationships, prayer, murder, fasting, marriage, divorce, children, faith, enemies, judgmentalism, heaven, hell, and on it goes. The Sermon on the Mount is the Christian's instruction book for living.
It ends with both a warning and a promise. If you hear Jesus' teachings and decide not to live by them, you've built your life on sinking sand and it one day will collapse under pressure. If you hear His teachings and live by them, you will have built your life on a rock that will survive the storms of life.
The first thing we notice in verses 13-16 is the way Jesus defined His followers. He did it with two "You are's." You are salt, You are light. Here is a fact of life: Something or someone is defining everyone listening to my voice. Someone or something is telling you who you are.
What you believe about yourself, the way you see yourself---whether you came from God or from evolution, whether you are custom designed by a caring Creator, or haphazardly spawned by mindless, apathetic, accidental evolution---whether you have value or not, purpose or not, a destiny or not---whether you're lovable or not, likable or not, talented or not---these things and more are being and have already been communicated to you.
This is why we see God over and over again DEFINING those He calls before releasing them into that calling. When the Angel appeared to Gideon, He said "Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!" (Judges 6:12) The first thing Gideon did was look behind himself to see who the Angel was talking about.
His immediate response to the Angel revealed how he had been defined down. "My family is the weakest in my clan and I am the least" (vs. 15). It took God a while to convince Gideon that in Him, he could do anything. Until then, having been defined down, he had also been defined out of usefulness for God.
When Jesus called Peter, the first thing He did was to define him in light of who he was in God. "Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Peter (which, when translated means, a stone)." Peter, the compulsive, emotional, speak before you think, life-long fisherman is now being defined up according to his calling. You will one day be like a rock of stability and strength!
Jesus did the same thing with His other disciples. He said, "Follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). The word "become" means "to emerge, to come into being." Jesus is not saying that He will teach the disciples how to persuade, how to give a good speech, or how to win over people.
He is telling His disciples that in following Him, He is going to "cause them to become" something they'd never have been otherwise. Soul winning is not just something they will do, it is who they will be!
I think of a butterfly emerging from a caterpillars cocoon. He was a caterpillar. He is now a butterfly. A fundamental and dynamic transformation has happened. That's the idea here!
And so, starting in verse 13 of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commences His defining project with us, His church. YOU ARE salt. YOU ARE light. Let's take the salt first. Salt is used for three things--to preserve something from decay, like meat; to add flavor to something otherwise tasteless; and to make thirsty. Jesus says, "Never lose the saltiness of the Presence and testimony of God on your life!
One commentator writes, "In the eastern countries of Jesus' day, the salt used was impure, or mingled with vegetable or earthy substances, so that it might lose the whole of its saltness, and a considerable quantity of earthy matter remain. This was good for nothing, except that it was used to place in paths, or walks, as we use gravel." This is what Jesus had in mind.
The idea here is that Christians, by their words and example, are to restrain the world from moral corruption. By bringing down the blessing of God in answer to their prayers, by their influence and Christ-likeness, they restrain the progress of sin.
Should we stop being salty, our Christianity is worthless in terms of influence for the kingdom. In the end, men will walk all over us. Jesus said, YOU ARE salt. This is you!
He also said, YOU ARE the light of the world. Now, Jesus is the original light, the primary light. He said in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world, whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Jesus is like the sun which burns of itself, with a power underived from anything else.
The moon, on the other hand, is a reflector of the sun. Without the sun we could not see the moon. The moon has no inherent power within itself, but reflects the glory and light of another. Thus, the church apart from Christ is nothing. But when Christ is among us, we reflect His light and glory. Paul said as much:
2 Corinthians 4:6 "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 Christ."
When Stephen preached his one and only message before the Sanhedrin, it says he "gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55). So it shouldn't surprise us that the entire council of religious leaders "saw his face as the face of an angel" (6:15). He was reflecting!
Jesus's main concern on this point is that we might hide our lights out of fear, shame, or intimidation. He uses absurdity to illustrate His concern. You can't hide a city that sits atop a hill. And you don't light a candle only to put it under a bowl. His light in us is meant to be seen, highlighted, put on a marquee!
Next, Jesus enters into a whole new theme that will carry through to the end of the chapter. He addresses a misconception that was apparently floating around about Him---that He had come to do away with the Law or the Prophets. He says in response:
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (5:17). The Law and Prophets essentially covered the entire Old Testament. As the chapter progresses, we're going to see that one way Jesus "fulfills" the Law and Prophets is by taking a rule, like one of the Ten Commandments, and shaping it out into a principle to live by.
Over and over we're going to hear Him say, "You have heard that it was said by them of old time....but I say to you..." From there He proceeds to add depth of understanding to it, always making the Commandment a matter of the heart, not just a matter of action. To Jesus, it's not WHAT you do that matters most, but WHY you do what you do.
We could say that chapter 5 is the equivalent of a spiritual EKG. For instance, with the 6th commandment "You shall not murder," Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said by them of old time, 'You shall not murder,' but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause is on the road that leads to murder.”
If you deal with anger in your heart early on, you will not murder later on. So Jesus came to "fulfill" the Law and Prophets by explaining the issues of the heart that lead to the sinful actions forbidden in the Law.
He also came to fulfill the Law and Prophets by perfectly living out the demands of the Law, which is the only way He could die for our sins as an acceptable sacrifice.
Then in verse 18 Jesus reveals that He believes the Scriptures are inerrant. "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved." If that's where Jesus stood, shouldn't we as well?
In verse 19 he takes aim at the religious teachers of His day who were in the habit of categorizing God's commandments into "greater or lesser" ones, proving that they did not honor the Law and Prophets as God's literal word. Jesus says to those of us who are part of His kingdom, "Never minimize any of the Word of God."
And then finally in verse 20, Jesus gives the front-burner reason for why He came to earth: "But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!"
The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was all outward, a righteousness of works, of "doing" or "not doing," of performance, not grace. The only righteousness that will ever get you through heaven's gates is the righteousness He, Jesus, came to bring---His righteousness imputed to us by faith!
NEXT TIME: Murder, Lust, and Stupid Vows