Are You Salty and Shiny? (Matthew 5:13-16)
Are You Salty & Shiny?
(One Mission: I am Not Ashamed)
September 23rd, 2018
I. Preserving the Light
I like how this article from The Detroit News, published ten days ago, I like how it begins:
Brent Tompkins has always loved lighthouses. So he bought one. A remodeling contractor in Traverse City, Tompkins was searching for a challenging project...A text message from a friend in 2016 informing him of an upcoming auction of lighthouses began a journey that has changed his life.
Can you imagine buying and renovating a lighthouse? But this is not a typical lighthouse:
White Shoal Light sits on a treacherous shoal 2.6 miles off Waugoshance Island in northwest Emmet County. It's at the north end of Lake Michigan...It is one of only 14 offshore reef lights on the Great Lakes...White Shoal Light became automated in 1976, and the Coast Guard crew was removed that year. It sports a new 12-volt, solar-powered 190mm Tidelands Signal acrylic lens producing [over 15 million lumens]...(by comparison, a standard flashlight is typically anywhere from 10-100 lumens)
The project is served by a “the four-member board of the nonprofit White Shoal Lighthouse Preservation Society.” The article goes on to state that “Tompkins believes it will take four to five years and about $3 million to remodel the light.”
Let's keep that project in mind as we look back together to what I'm calling Jesus' 'mountain message'...or as it's traditionally called, “The Sermon on the Mount”. This morning we'll focus on Matthew 5:13-16. Please turn there if you haven't already.
II. The Passage: "Let Your Light Shine" (5:13-16)
Listen to the words of Jesus, beginning in verse 13...
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
So this may or may not be a familiar passage to you. Either way, what I'd like to do is look at three aspects of what Jesus has revealed her. First, we'll think about this idea of being salty and shining as followers of Jesus.
Second, I'd like to think about the dangers of becoming corrupt or covered. Finally, Jesus calls us to action here using the ideas of goodness and glory. And after that, we'll try to tie everything together in light of the bigger context.
1. Salty and Shining (vs. 13, 14)
So first of all, notice that Jesus' words here are built on two metaphors: verse 13... “You are the salt of the earth”...verse 14...”You are the light of the world”. Notice the parallels? Both are directed at Jesus' disciples (remember, 5:1 mentioned his disciples coming to him as he sat down to teach). Both of these metaphors have a global setting (Jesus uses both “earth” and “world”). And both metaphorical elements, salt and light, point to the idea of distinctiveness.
Salt was used as both a seasoning and preservative in the ancient world. For example, salted meats would last a lot longer than unsalted meats. But notice how Matthew speaks of both “taste” and “saltiness”. I think that reminds us that Jesus' metaphor rests on the distinctive-ness of salt. In the same way in a dark place, what's more distinctive than light. Even the deepest darkness must yield to even the smallest flame.
But notice the wording of Jesus. It's not, “You should be the light of the world” or “Please try to be the light of the world.” It's, “You ARE the light of the world.” But what does He mean? Well, we know from I John 1:5 that “God is light”. And we also know that Jesus made the same statement about himself in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
We also know that Paul will go on, two decades later, to tell the Ephesians, ...for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8) How did we become light? By God making us light; by His grace. We became light when the light of the world came to dwell in us, putting God's light inside us.
But let's be clear, when Jesus talks about the distinctiveness of his disciples, he's not pointing them to a change in how they look; when people follow Jesus they don't turn purple, right? And the Spirit of God does not give us a funny accent when we become children of God, right? Those things would certainly make us distinct! No, the distinctiveness Jesus is pointing to is our distinction in righteousness and holiness. Remember, what Paul told us about the new you, the “new self” Christ has made possible? Ephesians 4:24...put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Jesus would go in this 'mountain message' to talk about being distinctive in terms of faith in and obedience to our heavenly Father:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46–47)
He also spoke about distinction from the Gentiles (nations) in Matthew 6:31–32...
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
2. Corrupt and Covered (vs. 13, 15)
But that idea of distinction also leads us to the idea of danger. In verses 13 and 15, in talking about salt and light, Jesus points to two very real dangers. Did you see those? Verse 13: ...but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. Pure salt can never lose it's saltiness. But salt in the ancient world contained many impurities, and the actual salt could leach out of this mixture, leaving a diluted, worthless residue.
In the same way, if a lamp is lit then covered, it does absolutely no good. What's the point of lighting a lamp if you're just going to cover it up? As Jesus expresses it in verse 15, you don't light a lamp and put it under a basket. No, you put it on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
Notice what Jesus is warning his followers about here: compromise leading to conformity. Why would a follower of Jesus ever compromise? Well, first of all, when it comes to God's righteous path, compromise is our first language. Compromise is familiar. But second, we are prone to compromise because being distinct for God in a world that hates God is not easy. Remember the words leading up to these words? Verses 11, 12...
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus is encouraging them in light of what he knows their distinctiveness will be met with: hostility, ridicule, rejection, persecution. He reminds them that just like the OT prophets, their suffering for Christ is actually a confirmation of their faithfulness; that they are doing something right, not something wrong.
Being distinct for Jesus in a world that hates Jesus is not easy. If you are His follower, do you feel tempted to dial down your saltiness? Do you feel tempted to cover up your light? Maybe this morning you know you are doing that very thing in your workplace, or in your neighborhood, or even with your own family. You are compromising in order to conform; craving an indistinct life, even though has made you distinct by way of eternal life.
3. Goodness and Glory (v. 16)
If that's the case this morning, if you know you have chosen the path of compromise, or are wrestling with compromise, then Jesus wants to encourage you. He wants to encourage you by pointing you to the image of a lit lamp high up on a stand, illuminating the whole room...
In the same way [declares Jesus, in v. 16], let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The very first command of Jesus' 'mountain message' was given in verse 12, a verse we heard just a minute ago. Jesus commanded his disciples...”Rejoice and be glad”. But the second command is right there in verse 16...”let your light shine”.
Jesus knew his followers would regularly be tempted to compromise. So what does He do? Yes, He rallies your 'defensive line' in light of compromise. He gets us ready for the fourth quarter of temptation. But He also rallies your offensive line. He calls us to radiance, not just readiness. He calls us to shine!
How can you shine? How can I shine? Well notice what verse 16 tells us about shining. Righteousness is not visible as some kind of glow on us. Righteousness is visible through our “good works”.
Ever have a Lite-Brite as a kid? If you did, then you may remember there were those black sheets that came in the box. If you were going to make a design, you would first place that black sheet over the Lite-Brite. Yep, you would cover over the light. How then would the Lite-Brite's light shine? By using those colorful, translucent pegs! When you punched them through the black sheet, the light would shine through them, right? With that black paper as the background, those pegs were so distinct.
Believer, disciple of Jesus, your good works are God's Lite-Brite pegs in this dark, dark world. His light shines through the colors of your kindness; through your mercy, through your patience, through your service, through your faith, through your sacrifice, through your encouragements, through listening ears and the truth you speak in love.
And what does Jesus reveal in verse 16 about what those pegs reveal? The stunning pattern that God creates on the Lite-Brite of your life is one that reveals his glory. Yes, those in the dark will push back against the light; they will press us to compromise; they will persecute. But at the same time, others in the dark will see the light, and as Jesus describes, they will “give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
As the Apostle Paul would later express it II Corinthians 2:15, 16...
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
III. From Consolations to Calling
At this point, I think it's important to step back from these verses and think about the larger context. One observation I believe is helpful is the likelihood that Matthew 5:13-16 is still part of the introduction of Jesus' 'mountain message'. Next week, I will explain more about the structure of Matthew 5-7. But as I said, I think it's helpful to think about how this section, and the opening section fit together.
You may remember that the opening section of Matthew 5, traditionally called the Beatitudes, described what I called counter-intuitive kingdom consolations. Each of those consolations is introduced by the phrase “Blessed are...”.
But as you might recall, the main points in our passage this morning were introduced by the phrase, “You are...”. With that in mind, did you notice how verses 11 and 12 serve as a kind of transition? As a kind of connector? Instead of “blessed are” or “you are”, we read “blessed are you”. As we talked about last time, those verses seem to represent Jesus' shift from broad kingdom consolations for everyone to directly addressing his disciples.
So if all of that's true, what's the connection then between verses 3-11 and verses 13-16? Well, if in the opening section Jesus announced the consolations of the kingdom, then in verse 13-16 we could say he is announcing the calling of the kingdom. From consolations to calling. And amazingly, that's a pattern we can trace all the way back to Abraham. It's what we might call the 'blessing to blessing' pattern. As God told Abraham, “I'm giving you my blessing in order that you might be a blessing.” And to what extent was Abraham going to be a blessing? God told him in Gen. 12:3, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.
Think about it: isn't that what we see here? If the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God is at hand, and the empty are now filled, what comes next? Well, what comes next is pouring yourself out for the King! In Galatians 3, Paul confirms that through Jesus and the good news about Jesus, the blessing of Abraham is being fulfilled.
Brothers and sisters, you are, we are that global blessing! Believer, you are the salt of the earth. Wherever you are, you slow the decay of sin's corruptive influence. Believer, you are the light of the world. Wherever you are, light is piercing the darkness; the truth of God is on display; through you, enemies of the King can glimpse his goodness and his greatness, and glorify him.
Do you think about yourself in that way? Christian, do you recognize who you are in Him? In your home? On your street? In your workplace? On social media? In the public square? In your times of recreation? In your season of suffering? Do you recognize who you are? Being the “light” of this world means being light in your world. Being the “salt of the earth” means being salt on your home soil. Follower of Jesus, what will it look like for you to be “salt” and “light” in those places His kingdom calling has called you?
Being “salt” and “light” in Christians is not simply about cultural engagement. It's not simply about voting a certain way or creating certain kinds of art. No, in those areas, and in every area, it's how we do those things. Yes cultural engagement is critical, but only if it's cultural engagement with the humility of Christ, the love Christ, and the gospel of Christ.
What if Jesus were to take you by the hand and walk you up and down your street, or through the cubicles at work, or stand by you, hand on your shoulder, as you respond to messages and post things online, what if He were there simply reminding you, “You...you are the salt of the earth...You...you are the light of the world.”
I don't think we understand the amount of decay and darkness there would be in the world without the Church. Similarly, I don't think we understand the amount of change that God can and does effect through your saltiness, through you shining. But those points are pointless if we are covering up the light...if we are choosing an indistinct life, a conformed life.
Over the coming years, those guys in Michigan will be working to preserve that historic and important lighthouse. But God has preserved, is preserving, and will preserve a far brighter light, because of a far greater danger, and at a far greater cost...the blood of his own Son. Not only did Jesus identify us as salt and light, he also died to make that identity a reality. Remember, it's only because we can stand in Christ's perfect righteousness before God that we can pursue that perfect righteousness in every way and at all times. And as we do that, we shine. We are salty. We are distinct. That, brothers and sisters, is our kingdom calling.