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Salt of the Earth, Light of the World

(NLT) “13You 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. 14You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15No 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. 16In 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

Jesus uses the imagery of salt and light to illustrate the kingdom living that comes from following the beattitudes. Salt played a critical role in the ancient world. The word "salary" comes from the word for salt as soldiers were sometimes paid their wages in salt. Because of its worth there were unscrupulous trades in "fool’s salt," substances that appeared the same as this vital, crystaline substance, but had none of the benefits. Salt functioned as a preservative. It provided a necessary mineral to the diet. It also provided flavor to food, in addition to other uses. It appears from the text that the function of salt to enhance the taste of food may be what Jesus has in mind. Either that or the means for testing the worth of your salt was tasting. “What good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again?” If you had purchased “fake” salt in the marketplace, there was nothing you could do about it. Fool’s salt was simply tossed out as useless.

As salt played a critical role in the daily life for those during the time of Christ, light also played a critical role, especially in terms of safety. For travelers, the lights of the cities provided crticial navigational tools. If a traveler completed a journey after sunset, the primary orientation was the lights of the cities. Almost all cities in the ancient world sat on “hilltops” as a protection against attack. Based on the topology of the land, the lights of the cities could be seen for miles around, functioning as a directional map. Light was also critical in daily activities. Lamps in houses functioned much the same way for a household as city lights functioned for the traveler. The reason a person would light a lamp was to provide assistance to everyone in the house. The burning lamp provided the necessary illumination for someone to walk safely from one place to another within an otherwise dark house.

Disciples of Jesus were to be salt and light. In other words, the life of a disciple should function as spiritually essential elements to the life and safety of their culture. How then, do the disciples of Jesus Christ exhibit the attributes of salt and light? The basis of a disciple’s saltiness and the source of the disciple’s light is good works. "In the same way..." meaning, in the same way that salt and light impact everyone around so the disciples life should impact everyone around. "In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see." Good works provides the medium for disciples to be salt and light. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Believers in Christ Jesus have been made for the sake of doing good works. God created us with good works in mind. God created us with the intent that good works would play a continuous and significant role in our lives because we are to "walk in them."

The danger comes from the internal heart issues surrounding disciples when good works are involved. The motive for a disciple's good deeds is God's glory. “In this way, let your good deeds shine for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” The phrase, "so that," speaks volumes to the risk of good works without proper motive. We are to do good works with the praise of God our Father constantly on our minds. Juxtapose this idea with the words of Jesus about those giving, praying and fasting in the very next chapter of Matthew 6. In Chapter 6, Jesus chastises self-glorifying religious works. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Two distinctives appear between chapter 5 and chapter 6 in Matthew's Gospel. First, the type of good works in mind in chapter 5 seem to be the types of actions found in the beatitudes, such as humility, mercy, peacemaking, pursing righteousness, and bearing testimony to Christ. In chapter 6, the works are all outward, religious activities, giving, praying and fasting. The second distinctive when contrasting chapter 5 and 6 comes from the motive of the individual. In chapter 5, the motive is the praise of God. Chapter 6 identifies the motive of giving, praying and fasting that produces no benefit, praise of self. God’s glory must drive our motivation for performing good works. We do not seek glory for ourselves if we are to be salt and light. We do not seek glory for the good works themselves, if we are truly functioning as salt and light. Instead, salt and light in the disciple’s life materialize when the good works direct others to the glory of God, “so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

~ Daniel

Posted by Daniel Sweet with

The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:3-5

The Sermon on the Mount contains the most profound statements ever spoken.  Jesus discloses infinitely precious truths about the nature of God and our relationship to Him.  He makes these teachings the bedrock of His discipleship training.  If we wish to follow Jesus, this text provides the essential elements that must mark our lives. 

 

This passage opens with the word "blessed." For a Jewish audience, this word brings to mind a depth of Old Testament texts, including Psalm 1.  In the first Psalm, the writer describes the life of the blessed as a life delighting in the Word of God.  In verse 3 of this Psalm, the psalmist provides this illustration from horticulture.  If we delight in God's Word, we will be "like a tree firmly planted in streams of water." Similarly, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with His own illustration of the blessing for those who listen and obey this sermon's teachings.  "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27.  As the psalmist uses the picture of a tree, Jesus uses the picture of a house.  In each case, the health and spiritual condition of the individual is related to their connection to the Word of God.  A tree firmly planted by streams of water parabolicly depicts a person firmly living according to God’s Word.  A house built on a firm foundation illustrates a life established on hearing and doing what Jesus says.  The words of Jesus in this set of teachings become the foundation for all disciples of Jesus.  If we wish to follow Him, if we wish to know this divine blessing of certainty during the crises of life, we must hear these words and we must following them.

 

The first 10 verses of the Sermon on the Mount are known as the beatitudes. The concepts presented in the beatitudes follow a progression through the spiritual life of each disciple of Christ.  The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  All discipleship begins with an awareness of spiritual poverty.  We are bankrupt.  We possess no spiritual worth apart from the spiritual work of God.  Sin separates us from God.  We can never be right with God on our own merit.  Like a debtor with millions of dollars in unsecured loans, we stand before God in a position of great need.  The blessings from God begin to flow when we embrace this truth.  We must be humble before God, acknowledging our own inability, our own spiritual poverty and His resources.  The poor in spirit possess God's kingdom.  Out of our willingness to embrace our impoverished condition comes God's willingness to share His immeasurable kingdom with us.  Second, our spiritual brokenness must produce an appropriate contrition and repentance.  We cannot be happy debtors.  We cannot live under the weight of mounting debt and shrug it off.  If we really see our poverty the way God sees our poverty, we will have our hearts crushed.  We truly see sin as it truly is when we see it as a heartbreaking violation of the very person of God.  Sin violates our Creator's character.  Moving from poverty and brokenness, the third beatitude, which is dependent on the first two, is that we must be humble toward others.  The word "gentle", sometimes translated as "meek", speaks to the true impact our spiritual poverty should have on us.  Those who have acknowledged spiritual bankruptcy before God, who have been broken by their bankruptcy before Him, realize that all of us are in the same mess.  If you cannot repay a million dollars, it is foolish to judge your fellow debtor who owes a few dollars more or less than you do.  We are all spiritually broke.   Gentleness marks a disciple who understands their own poverty and gently responds to other bankrupt sinners.

 

 “6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:6-9

 

We are spiritually bankrupt and so is everyone else.  That knowledge produces gentleness toward  spiritually impoverished souls. However, our bankruptcy is not a license.  We must be humble before the word of God.  Acknowledging our spiritual poverty while responding gently to others does not give us a license to run right past the law of God.  Thus comes the fourth beatitude, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”  Just as when a debtor humbly confesses their helpless plight, this does not give that poor manager of resources an excuse to double down.  Yes, we are spiritually impoverished.  Having come to that realization we now battle against the very actions that put us in that position to begin with.  Now living under God's grace, we battle to honor Him by obeying His law.  Our humility before God and gentleness toward others drives us to hunger and thirst for doing the right thing in our relationship with God and with others.  What are the right attitudes toward God and others?  If we are hungering for the right things, what does that look like?  Consider the next three beatitudes of mercy, purity, and peacemaking.  When we hunger for doing the right thing, we must do the right thing while allowing mercy to drive our actions.  It is possible to do the right things but lack mercy toward others.  We must also have a purity of heart.  It is possible to do the right things outwardly and even demonstrate mercy while having impure motives.  What should be our motive?  Jesus tells us in this blessing, “for they shall see God.”  The glory of God is the pure motive of the heart.  And the purity of heart for the glory of God will receive from God the fulfillment of that desire.  God will reveal His glory to those whose hearts are passionate for Him.  Lastly, in this set of four beatitudes, God blesses the peacemakers.  Peacemakers are individuals that seek restored and healthy relationships between themselves and others.  In the pursuit of righteousness and mercy, with purity of heart, they seek to imitate God in their efforts to restore broken relationships.  That is why Jesus declares this blessing on peacemakers.  “They shall be called sons of God.”  There is nothing more imitating of God than pursuing individuals in broken relationships, seeking to bring restoration.  Again, there is a growing maturity to the discipleship described here in these beatitudes.  It takes a maturing believer to pursue righteousness while acting with mercy toward others.  It takes maturity to pursue God and others with a purity of heart.  It also takes great maturity to be a peacemaker.

“10Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

In these last two beatitudes Jesus presents a realistic view of the disciple’s life in this world.  If we would live as Christ has called us to live, according to these beatitude principles in the opening to the Sermon on the Mount, we might expect the people around us to speak kindly about us and to treat us well.  In fact, there are many times when others will be thankful for our brokenness over our own sin, our humility, gentleness, grace, peacemaking and even our pursuit of righteousness.  However, even pure hearted disciples can face the anger of a fallen world. Persecution for the sake of doing the right thing comes with a blessing, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  That promise from Christ connects us back to the initial beatitude.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  According to Jesus, having a sense of our own destitute nature - our own spiritual bankruptcy, marks us as kingdom citizens.  Now, in bringing the beatitudes full circle, Jesus says that being persecuted for doing the right thing also marks us as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  We might not feel like we belong to an everlasting kingdom when we are overwhelmed by our own spiritual poverty or that we are facing persecution in this life.  However, God’s kingdom stands in striking contrast to the current kingdom that governs this world.  Jesus tells us we are blessed when persecuted for doing the right thing because it demonstrates our citizenship.  Persecution for following Christ also demonstrates our association with Him.  If we follow Him we will face opposition, persecution, slander, and hatred.  Jesus told His disciples in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”   Persecuted for doing the right thing and being hated for our association with Christ, what are we to do?  Incredibly Jesus says to “rejoice!” Why would we rejoice over such awful consequences?  Rejoice because “your reward in heaven is great.”  He will not leave our faithfulness and suffering without divine commendation.  Every act of sacrifice, every battle for personal righteousness, and every humble and merciful act will be recognized by Christ.  In fact, if we walk according to the standards presented in the beatitudes there is great reward. 

 ~ Daniel

Posted by Daniel Sweet with

And the Word Came With Power

One of the courses I took in seminary was on Missions.  I took the course as a winter I-term, meaning 5 days in a row, 8 hours a day.  Frankly I was just looking to learn a few things, get the required credit and move on to the next course, which is the life of academic work.  The lectures were fine, though at 8 hours a day even the professors get bored.  However, it was the assigned reading that had the greatest impact in my life.  As is often the case with seminary coursework, it is what a student reads as assigned by the professor that matters most.  In that course I was introduced to the greatest missional book I have ever read.  I reread the book a few times, with greater and greater impact.  The book is entitled, And the Word Came with Power.  On Sunday evening, ten years later, the author of that book came to our church.  She shared her testimony form her experiences as a missionary in the northern Philippines.  I was concerned that my expectations for Joanne's presentation may have been set too high.  I mean, I had been reading and rereading sections of that book for a decade, marveling at the work of God as she describes in writing.  But you always wonder, is the author authentic?  I prepared myself for Sunday evening.  I warned myself that I might have to do damage control with my own heart afterwards if Joanne wasn't the person I have thought her to be.  I know that is unfair but when you meet someone you have known about for the first time part of you is searching for authenticity.  Well, I was completely overwhelmed by the testimony of God's work in the Philippines and by the authenticity of His servant.  May God greatly continue to use her for His glory and may His testimony of faithfulness through her continue to change our church. 

Her testimony is found at the following link

https://vimeo.com/122139404

I hope every member of Matthew Road Baptist Church along with anyone else we can convince to see it, will allow God to speak to them through this remarkable servant of God.

 

Posted by Daniel Sweet with

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