21st January 2023
Read (Matthew 5v13-26)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
It was the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder who said "nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine." We probably enjoy both every single day - salt on our dinner and sunshine on our face. Famously Jesus said that the Christian was to be both salt and light in this world - we are to be as useful as these two common things.
What does salt do? In the Lord's day salt was used as a preservative. Salt would be rubbed into meat and it would slow the process of decay. In the same way the Christian who bears the marks of the beatitudes on their life will act like a preservative in modern day society. This world is fading and cannot last but the Christian should be a blessing to the community they are in. Tasteless salt is not good for anything and so a Christian is to take care that they remain "salty" and therefore useful to the cause of Christ in this evil age.
In the same manner light chases away darkness and represents purity over and against wickedness. The Christian is like a light shining in this dark world (v14). Imagine a dark stormy night and there in the distance is a brightly lit city on a hill (14b) guiding you to safety - this is the visible Christian life. Lights brought into the home aren't hidden under a basket but instead they are used to give light to the whole house (v15). So the Christian is to shine brightly in this world, not to bring attention to themselves but so that pagans see our good works and give the glory to God (v16).
What does salty light shining living look like? The Lord speaks about an individual bringing an offering to the altar and then remembering that his brother has something against him (v23). What should this individual do? Christ is clear - go and be reconciled to your brother and then come back and offer your gift (v24). It is better to come to terms with our accuser on the way to court than be handed over to the judge who will punish us harshly (v25-26). The Christian bears fruit in keeping with their repentance and in doing so is salt and light in this fallen world.
The difficulty in being salt and light is that if we are being honest we really aren't very good. We might have never physically murdered someone (v21) but the Lord points to our hearts where we harbour anger towards our brother and to our lips where we denounce our brother as a fool (v22). Both situations deserve judgement and hell. We are to shine brightly in this world but frankly sometimes our behaviour doesn't match the beauty of the Gospel.
Thankfully the sermon on the mount is not about changing our behaviour with a simple call to "be better". The scribes and Pharisees of the Lord's day were finely behaved individuals. They took the law of God incredibly seriously and were outwardly righteous but they missed the vital point of the Gospel - the root of the tree must change first and then the fruit. Our hearts are in dire need of transformation.
Only Christ can bring such transformation. Jesus didn't come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (v17), instead He came to fulfil them. The Lord's obedience was perfect, He kept the Law's demands both actively and passively. He was active in keeping the Law and He was passive as He accepted the punishment for Law breakers. Christ was and is the fulfilment of the Law and Prophets and this is incredibly good news.
As He sat on the mountain Jesus proclaimed that God's law will remain until the heavens and the earth pass away (v18) and that the Law is not to be relaxed but taught (v19). Indeed to enter the kingdom of heaven our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (v20). How is this good news again? By faith in Christ we are justified and His righteousness has been credited to our account. The outward righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees has been exceeded for we have been given new hearts and even our imperfect works are acceptable in God's sight through Christ. Outward change flows from inward transformation.
Brothers and sisters, we are to be salt and light in this world and despite our failures it is possible to be as useful as salt and sunshine in these dark days. Just as the Lord has declared us righteous, may He continue to sanctify us. May He take our sin stained deeds and use them to bring glory to Himself. May He make us and keep us salty. May He reform us and make us as bright and shiny as redeemed sinners can be. To God alone the glory. Amen.
Q56 What is the reason annexed to the third commandment? The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.