The Teaching of Jesus. Salt and Light.
Who do you wanna be like? Who are your heroes?
When we’re young we tend to pick famous people—athletes, musicians, fictional characters in books and movies, superheroes and wizards. Or these days maybe YouTubers or Instagramers who have millions of followers.
But as we get a little older, we start to realize that the real heroes are the people who get up in the morning and make the world work for the rest of us. People who make the world safer, who love their families, the ones who stick by us and let us know we can always count on them. We realize the people who make the most difference in the world are the people who have made the most difference in our lives.
In Matthew chapter five, right after the Beatitudes, Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount with these words: “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.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:13–16
Prayer: Father in heaven, because of Jesus You have blessed us and made us salt and light. Help us to never become worthless, to never lose our saltiness, to never hide the light that You have given us. Speak to us through Your Word today, rock our world and show us how we can be the people You’ve called us to be. AMEN.
Salt and Light. It’s interesting: When someone dazzles us because they’re amazing at something—we call them a star. We might say they “light up a room”—got a “twinkle in their eye.” When someone is an ordinary person of good character—we say they’re “the salt of the earth.” Two thousand years later and we’re still using Jesus’ Salt and Light metaphors to describe the kind of people that the rest of us want to be—good people.
Salt. Salt’s a very important part of our world, but it was even more important in the 1st century world that Jesus was talking to. We need a certain amount of salt in our diet—without it we would die—electrolyte drinks exist for a reason, of course Ed will tell you that real men drink pickle juice not Gatorade. Helps with muscle cramps and freshens the breath. We gotta have a certain amount of salt to stay alive, but in the ancient world, salt was also their main preservative—not a lot of refrigeration in the first century—so they would salt meat and fish to kill bacteria and keep it from going bad. Of course it’s also handy if you want your food to have any flavor.
Ever followed a recipe and confuse teaspoons of salt with tablespoons of salt? Ask Kim about some delicious tapioca pudding she made for her family one time with a half cup of salt and a quarter teaspoon of sugar. Mmm. Ever accidentally pour a layer of salt on creme brulee instead of sugar and then try to caramelize it with fire? I can tell you for sure that the salt won’t caramelize, but it will smell awful and taste worse.
I’m pretty sure that my Grandma Hart was the worst cook in the world—she was convinced that not a single recipe called for even a pinch of salt. You have no idea how flavorless comfort food can be until you’ve tried my Grandma Hart’s homemade mac n cheese. The taste of squishy water noodles. You know what she did for a living? Worked as a cook in a hospital cafeteria. This might be an example of someone nailing their vocation with perfect irony.
Jesus says that we’re the salt of the earth. He commands us to salt the earth. We, the people of God, the people that Jesus has blessed, saved, redeemed—the church—we’re supposed to be a preservative, we’re supposed to make life have flavor—without the salt that we bring to the world, everyone’s gonna go bad—gonna be unhealthy and die. 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.
Do you know how salt loses its flavor? Its saltiness? Like if you leave it out how long will it be before it goes bad? It doesn’t. Salt is salt—it doesn’t go bad—but it can be contaminated. You hear what I’m saying? It can become impure. Mix it with something nasty and it’s no good as salt anymore.
We’re supposed to salt the earth—preserve it, make it taste right. Gandhi was asked by some missionaries one time, “What’s the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” And he said, “Christians.” I think we all know that’s not just true in India.
Christians are salt. Salt adds flavor—so Christians shouldn’t be dull people—but they should be Christian. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is gonna continue to talk about what a Christian life is supposed to look like. He’s also gonna talk about what a Christian life is not supposed to look like. Some specific things that salt is supposed to do and some things that are never supposed to be mixed in.
I’m not gonna go into any of that right now—but do you think there’s anything you’re doing that might be contaminating the salt? Contaminating your life? What are you mixing into the things you say and do that are probably keeping you from salting the earth? Keeping you from making the kind of difference in the world that you know perfectly well Jesus wants you to make?
We all want to change the world but we don’t want to change. Jesus says you are the salt of the earth. You know all those things you think are wrong with the world? Draw a circle around your feet and start making those changes inside the circle. You gotta be the difference you want to see in the world. You’re salt, you gotta salt the earth.
Light. You’re also the light of the world. Light’s a big deal in the Bible. It’s the very first thing God created, “let there be light, and there was light, and it was good.” In the Gospel of John chapter one it starts with a poem that sounds a lot like the creation account in Genesis, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”
Back in Genesis it said “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.”
Then Jesus, the life that is the light of all mankind, blessed us and said, “You are the light of the world.” You. Me. But we’re the light of the world kinda like the lesser light—we’re not the source of the light, we’re not the sun, we’re like the moon—we reflect the greater light onto a dark world at night. We bear witness to the light. Kinda a cool image, don’t you think?
Jesus commands us to shine the light that He gives us. We’re supposed to give light to the world—this world that’s such a dark place filled with evil, and danger, where people can’t find their way, they don’t know where they’re going. We’re supposed to light their way, point them in the right direction.
God’s Word, the Bible, is another source of light in this dark world. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” So, if we’re the light of the world, then it’s like we’re the Bible for people who haven’t read the Bible—for people who aren’t gonna read the Bible. You’re the only Word of God some people are ever gonna hear. You’re a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path. No pressure—He just gave you the most important job in the world—you are the light of the world.
And Jesus says it doesn’t make any sense to light a lamp and hide it under a bucket. You light a lamp and you set it up high so it gives light to the whole room. He said the church is like a city on a hill—people who are wandering in the dark are gonna see it from far away and make their way to the city of God.
Every one of us, in whatever God has us doing, should be letting God’s Word radiate from us—reflecting His love and beaming with the hope that He puts in us—we should be letting it all shine out for everyone to see. Your faith is to be public—there’s no such thing as private Christian faith. That’s like putting your lamp under a bucket. We’re supposed to live radiant lives. All the ordinary things that fill our lives should be lived in extraordinary ways—we are called to be extraordinary husbands and wives and children and brothers and sisters—remarkable neighbors and employees, powerful friends and citizens. The things we do and the things we say—in the power of faith and the Holy Spirit that dwells within us—it’s gonna light up the world. It’s gonna change the world.
You are the light of the world. You gotta be the difference you want to see in the world. You’re light, you gotta do what lights do—you gotta shine—you gotta help people see. Not so people notice how brilliant you are, it’s not about you—let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Your job, as the light, is to draw attention to God—so they can hear the words of Jesus and start to believe His promises are true.
Here’s how it works: Jesus found you when you were just wandering around in the dark, an angry little sad creature without any hope—that’s who you were. But He picked you up and loved you. Breathed life into and saved you. He blessed you. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and the thirsty. Blessed are you!” You enter a new life through the doorway of Jesus’ blessing. You become a child of God, you become a peacemaker, you are shown mercy and you become merciful. Yours is the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God, and then He says, “Alright my friend, go change the world. Go be the sunlight in someone’s universe. You’re the light of the world and the salt of the earth.”
So that’s who you are, that’s what you do—you live a different kind of life now. A life that points to the hope you have in Jesus. The hope that you know who you are, you know where you’re going, and because of all that, you know how to live this extraordinary new life you’ve been given. You know how to worship God and be thankful for all the blessings He’s given you—instead of worshiping the blessings, the things or worshiping yourself. You know that the troubles of this world aren’t gonna last forever, that there’s a really good ending to this story, you know that the purpose of all this is God saving the world through Jesus. So it’s not about being selfish. It’s about learning how to trust God’s Word and God’s promises above everything else—not trusting our desires, or appetites, or what seems right to us—instead, trusting God’s Word. Let God be true and every man a liar.
And that’s gonna change everything. Starting with ourselves. We’re gonna be the difference we want to see in the world—we’re gonna change the world starting with the change that Jesus did in us. Draw that circle around your feet and start changing the world beginning there—we’re gonna be the people who light up a room when we walk in, we’re gonna be the people who make the world a better place, a safer place, a more loving place. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus told us to shine. To be like stars that dazzle and lead people through the darkness. To salt the earth—live the extraordinary lives of normal people, uncorrupted by all the impurities of the world. How do you feel about that? Is that a bit too much pressure?
Back to the Doorway. Because of course, we’re gonna blow it. We’re gonna get mixed up with all kinds of nastiness and then we’re gonna feel like we’re good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under feet. We’re gonna have the best intentions but then we’ll hide the light of Jesus behind angry words, and fear, and all kinds of bad ideas and foolish behavior. We’re gonna be terrible parents, awful spouses, bad students, poor employees and horrible bosses. Not the salt and light Jesus had in mind at all.
That’s when we gotta go back to the doorway. We gotta go back and hear Jesus’ words again, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Back through the doorway, back through forgiveness and blessing. Every day’s a new day. Every day we start again, Blessed are you. Because of Jesus your sins are forgiven. Now—now that you’re forgiven and blessed again, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” AMEN