Salt of the Earth
After Jesus has shown people from all over the region the light of the Kingdom that he’s brought to them, he begins to talk about it—the Sermon on the Mount. After he tells his disciples that the reign of Heaven has come to the poor in spirit—those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and desire peace, the pure in heart, he tells his disciples that they will be persecuted for his name—for bearing witness to what he’s done. And still, they remain blessed.
Then he says, “You’re the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how is its saltiness going to be restored?” As Jesus lives and reigns as king over all of creation, he brings his Kingdom to each of us to bear witness to what he’s done. He brings it into our own dark, sinful lives and overcomes us with his light, his love, his forgiveness. His graciousness is beyond anything that we ever could have imagined possible, and he calls us to be a part of it.
In this comparison to salt, he tells his disciples you have a purpose here. Salt has specific purposes. It’s a spice—and a preservative. He tells them it makes food taste good, but if it doesn’t do its job, then what’s the point? Get rid of it. It’s worthless! And Jesus is saying, not so with you! You’re the salt of the whole earth! The reign of heaven itself has come; the restoration of God’s creation has begun, and it manifests itself in you.
Light of the World
Jesus continues, “You’re the light of the world. A city set on a hill can’t be hidden.” You don’t light a lamp just to turn around and hide it under something. No! You put it up in a place that will light the whole house! In the same way, let your light shine before others. You see, that way they’ll look to your good works and give glory to your Father who’s in heaven.”
When we trust in God, Jesus turns us into vessels for his glory. Just like salt is meant to be tasted, this magnificent light that he’s brought to the world is meant to be seen. The reign of heaven is meant to be experienced, and the only way that the world is going to experience it is through you! Don’t hide it. That’s not fair to everyone else. If you don’t show them the light of Christ, then they’re never going to see the Kingdom. There’s no way for them to see it or to taste it.
We Christians have become so obsessed with our own salvation. It’s been a problem for centuries. Sometimes we do it by focusing on our own good works. Sometimes we do it by focusing on our own bad works! Lutherans seem to be predisposed to the latter: Everyone look at me a poor miserable sinner! It’s a human problem. And we find all kinds of other ways in our lives to fuel our self-obsession—our narcissism, our sinful human nature. And it’s so dark. It’s all about me. It’s always been a problem in the church which came out of a religious culture of self-righteousness. Those around Jesus were the same way—self-righteous, self-protective, self-obsessed. The salt of God’s people had lost its taste. God wanted his people to be a light for the whole world, but the lamp had been hidden.
During Jesus’ ministry, people’s self-obsession often centered around the Law that God gave to his people. And Jesus tells them, “Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” I’ve come to fulfill them.” He says, “Really, I’m telling you, until heaven and earth pass away, nothing in the Law will change until it’s all accomplished.” Even though the scribes and the pharisees misuse the Law for their own self-righteousness, the Law is still good, and it has a purpose too, and that purpose is now in sight.
Now that the Law is fulfilled in Jesus, he goes on to instruct in the ways of the Kingdom telling his disciples what it truly means to be the salt and the light of the world—what it truly means to be a part of the Kingdom for others. And that’s what the Sermon on the Mount is. Beginning with his list of blessings—the beatitudes, it all comes down to trusting in Jesus—emanating his light.
Commandments of Heaven
Jesus says, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments (viz. what I’m about to tell you) and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them (viz. whoever does what I instruct) and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, move past the self-righteousness. That won’t get you anywhere with Jesus.
Jesus fulfilled the Law, so just look to him. When our focus is on Jesus, when we listen to him and trust in him, we don’t need to worry about ourselves—our righteousness, our salvation—because he’s taken care of everything for us. Instead we can live for those around us. We can show them Christ. We’re free to be the light; we’re free to be the salt.
Light in the Darkness
Have you ever been lost? I mean really lost. Given the right circumstances—or maybe the worst circumstances—being lost can be a very trying or even terrifying experience, especially if you’re wandering around in a foreign place when it’s dark—whether you’re in your own country or somewhere else. Depending on your mental fortitude it can be easy to just give up. Times of trial like that have a way of tearing us down over time regardless, burning us out.
Then there’s that moment of resolution. There’s that moment—maybe even from a far distance—when even in the darkness you see finally the light. Do you know that feeling? That feeling when you know that everything’s going to be ok. Jesus is that light for us. And here he’s saying that we are that light for others. Of course, it’s all Jesus’ light, but they need us to show it to them. Otherwise, they’ll always be lost. They don’t need us to show them how right we are, or how good we think we are; they need us to show them Jesus so that they can cling to him just like we do.
“You’re the light of the world. A city set on a hill can’t be hidden.” You don’t light a lamp just to turn around and hide it under something. No! You put it up in a place that will light the whole house! In the same way, let your light shine before others. You see, that way they’ll see your good works and give glory to your Father who’s in heaven.”