You Are Salt and Light
A sermon preached on Matthew 5:13-20 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran on February 9, 2020.
Perhaps you can relate to this. As parents of toddlers, we would sometimes do anything to get them to do what we needed them to do. Beg, bribe, be stern. One of them would only eat their veggies if we told them not to and pretended to be upset.
Today, Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount after the famous Beatitudes section last week. Now, Jesus has some marching orders for us as Christians. And it’s interesting to see how he gets us to do what he wants. No reverse psychology; he simply showed you you were blessed last week. Now he says, be who you are.
The title of “blessed” still hung in the air as Jesus spoke these words. Speaking to his disciples who had followed him into the countryside, he looks at them and echoes “blessed are you when…” “blessed are the…” And with those words still ringing in their ears, he now turns their attention to the business of the blessed.
Jesus uses two pictures to describe that business. Salt and light. Salt was used back then mainly as a preservative. You didn’t have a fridge to throw a nice juicy steak into so salt was used to help keep food from spoiling. Jesus also used light. In the days before electricity, even just a single lamp at night would draw everyone’s attention.
Salt and light. Two words to describe the business of the blessed. The good works, the kind words, or the compassion of Jesus’ followers affect the world. Like salt, they preserved the world from being completely spoiled by evil. Like light, they draw the attention of all and point them to the source of light: God and cause them to praise him. The business of the blessed is to be blessings to the world.
Notice how Jesus encourages them to do this. He doesn’t threaten them. He doesn’t beg. He simply says, “You are salt. Be salt. You are light. Be light.”
Why can he motivate them this way? He knows whom he is speaking to. These were people whom he just declared blessed. They were blessed because he had come to live and die for them. In forgiveness, they had a blessed relationship with God. Jesus knew that the blessed would naturally perform good work after good work. That thankful response flows naturally without demands, begging, or threats.
At the same time, Jesus knows to whom he is speaking, so he doesn’t end there. Yes, he was speaking to the blessed. He was also speaking to people who still had a sinful nature and might neglect the business of the blessed.
So Jesus reminded them: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Now Jesus isn’t talking about the idea that now that Jesus has come, I can indulge in anything and everything I want – though that is a temptation.
He is talking about something more subtle and just as dangerous. Jesus is talking about people who abolish the law even though they seem devoted to it. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees seemed deeply devoted to the law. In reality, they abolished it by setting parts aside. They focused on the laws they were good at keeping while the parts of the law they were not good at keeping, those kind of just faded into the background.
Sounds like me more than I’d like to admit. We condemn abortion, and rightly so, it violates God’s law protecting life. But am I as devoted to simple acts of kindness to someone needing help? We condemn homosexuality, and rightly so, it violates God’s law protecting his plan for marriage. But are we as devoted to keeping the commitment we have made to our spouses? Are husbands and wives devoted to speaking only kind words to our spouse, and only kind words? Are the unmarried as devoted to leading pure lives in thoughts and actions? We condemn non-Christian religions, and rightly so. But are we as devoted to sharing the truth? Do we value the Word and Sacraments so much that we won’t allow anything to get in the way of us giving our whole attention to them? Do we always keep the law or abolish it? I may not openly abolish God’s law, but I often do in the secret of my heart.
Thankfully, Jesus wasn’t just finished with this sermon. He didn’t just say, “you’ve abolished the law. Amen.” In fact, there is no Amen at the end here. No he said he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. And with this sermon he was just getting started. With every word he spoke, every thought he thought, every action he took – Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law of God. He checked every box, kept every requirement ever made. One by one, he fulfilled every promise ever made about the Savior. Including every promise about how he would be beaten and crucified for you.
It was only after he had fulfilled everything in your place. It was only after he had suffered hell on the cross for you. It was only after he had satisfied God’s anger over sin and won your forgiveness. After all of this…then Jesus proclaimed “Amen.” He shouted: “It is finished” (John 19:30). His life and job of saving you was done.
And because of that Amen “It is finished” you are blessed. You are forgiven and you have a blessed relationship with God. Let the word “blessed” ring in your ears all day long as you follow your Savior. You are salt. Be salt. You are light. Be light. With your words and your actions, point people to their Savior that they may be blessed. You are followers of Christ. So follow Christ. Amen