Matthew has been setting the state for his gospel – his announcement about a new King and a new Kingdom. Before he begins to recount the teachings of Jesus, Matthew makes sure to remind us exactly who the audience of this kingdom is. At the end of Matthew 4, we find a description of the kind of people who this kingdom is designed to rescue:
Matthew 4:23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. 4:24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. 4:25 And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.
The idea of this kingdom isn’t like the kingdoms of the world where political clout and social fame are the key factors in being welcome, but rather this kingdom goes out of its way to seek out the outsider, the sick, the tormented, the possessed and oppressed–supreme welcome is for these folks. As Matthew begins chapter 5, we find more truth about where God’s favor (blessing) lives – with the poor, the meek, they that mourn, they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, they that seek to make peace, they that are merciful, they that are pure in heart and they that are persecuted. If you think of the Roman system of government and society, the kingdom of Christ becomes a stark contrast to Rome. Where Caesar puts his favor upon those who help the Empire, Christ puts His favor upon those who have nothing to offer but are primed for He to do all for them. This is important to understand because it is through this lens that Jesus will teach His disciples what it means to be a disciple of His. This can be some of the toughest sledding in Matthew because it can highlight just how far off course Christians have veered in their understanding of what a disciple is. We’ll explore this more in this post as we continue on in Matthew 5. But, there is one more thing to note about the disciple of Christ. In Matthew 5:11-12, the pronouns switch. See, in the 8 blessing statements, it was always “the poor” or “the meek” and “their” reward or blessing, but in verses 11 and 12, we see Jesus switch to “ye” and “your”.
Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
As a disciple, as you bring kingdom to someone who needs it, expect to find yourself facing persecution. In the world’s systems, those on top find their power and control over those who can’t do anything about it. Christ’s kingdom is an absolute threat to the kingdoms of this world because it seeks to liberate people who are being lorded over by their governments and societies. When someone declares that Jesus Christ is Lord it is one of the most politically-charged statements you could ever make because what it means is that Caesar is therefore NOT lord. To challenge the world’s system is risky business, but the risk is worth the reward of bringing kingdom to someone on the fringes – under the boot of their society – and see them experience the liberation they desperately desire, through Christ. Jesus says to rejoice and be exceeding glad – jump for joy – when you experience this because it means His kingdom is advancing and divine rescue has been given to the one in need. The disciple of Christ understands this isn’t easy, but likewise understands it is worth it. With that in mind, what would Jesus have to open up His teachings with?
Matthew 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Salt has a very important role in the sacrifices and covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures. In 2Chronicles 13:5, Numbers 18:19 and Levticus 2:13, we see terminology about salt being associated with a covenant. Salt is a longstanding agent of preservation – it is to keep what is today, tomorrow. In other words, the purpose of salt in covenants and sacrifices is to symbolize the perpetuation or permanency of the relationship. Unlike leaven, which alters the relationship (through fermentation) and like in dough, puffs up the dough (as in pride), salt draws out the blood/moisture, but doesn’t alter the meat – it prepares the meat to last. Understanding this about salt, now let’s go back to Matthew 5:13. Jesus calls His disciples and tells them that they are the salt of the earth to season the earth accordingly. Being salt for the earth is to preserve the earth – the disciple of the Lord serves the purpose of preserving the earth from destruction – as we go through Matthew, however, you’ll see that this preservation isn’t through empirical conquest or nation building, but seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. The disciples are the season of the kingdom, but this isn’t limited to just these disciples for even Paul, as he writes to the Colossians, reminds us how much this teaching of Jesus resonated in Paul’s teaching,
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
Paul extrapolates some nuance from this, that by being gracious and seasoning our speech with salt, we have put in place the proper way to answer every man. It is interesting that he doesn’t say that by making this preparation that we will know WHAT to answer, but HOW to answer. Even when we have no answer, the way we communicate that says a lot about us. The disciple of the Lord finds the importance of proper seasoning of greater consequence than having the correct answer.
David Stern, who wrote a commentary called, The Jewish New Testament Commentary (pub. 1992), makes this statement about Colossians 4:5-6,
“Some people have the impression that believing in God..is..simply tedious, boring, dull. And there are believers who do their part to confirm this attitude by being tedious, boring and dull, seasoned with nothing. Caught up in their small world of church, Bible, and “fellowship,” they fail to make full use of every opportunity to reach people who desperately need the Messiah in their life. Instead, their own lives seem dead. They seem unable to make their conversation gracious and interesting and do not know how to respond to any particular individual, because they, unlike Sha’ul (1Corinthians 9:19-23), do not try to understand people outside their own circle, whose background and experience are different. Communicating the Gospel involves listening as much as talking, and praying (Colossians 4:2-4) more than either.“
It isn’t uncommon for believers to lose their savor of saltiness, not that their salvation is in question, but their purpose as a disciple of Christ fades and grows faint. The purpose of being salt to the earth isn’t to project a dull existence, but is to animate the very resurrection life of Christ that the disciple has been given. The appeal of resurrection life is great to those who are destitute on their own life. Remember the audience of this kingdom?–those who have issues in life that society often has no time for. Yet, the disciple of Christ brings kingdom at all costs. Now, do we attempt to bring kingdom to someone through a message of conformity? How often do believers demand conforming to the ‘rules’ of their particular Christian tradition in order to be considered ‘in’? Sadly, the answer is far too often. Instead of creating a tight box around Christ where we see ourselves safely within the box and the box’s boarders are the rules of our tradition and off in the distance is ‘them’, we are to be moving closer to the center that is Christ, bringing all who wants to come with us. The disciple recognizes Jesus is bigger than the boxes we attempt to put Him in. In light of this, how salty are we? If you’ve lost your savor, it isn’t too late to reclaim it! #GetSalty
Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
The disciple salts the earth and through being light, illuminates those around him/her to the reality of the salt. Matthew recounts two analogies Christ gave to prove the point of being light. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. This is a what is known as a tel. In the Ancient Near East, often cities would be conquered and would crumble and the next group that would occupy that territory would simply pile earth over it and build a new city. Let this happen a time or two, and you’ll have a mound where there are cities that are buried under it. Jerusalem today sits on an ancient version of Jerusalem. In 1Samuel 31, we find the account of Saul’s death and what the Philistines did upon finding his body (i.e. cutting off his head and putting his armor in their pagan temples). In one of the locations of these temples was in a city called, Bethshan. (Here is a link to a historical picture of Bethshan (Beit She’an) from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beit_She%27an#/media/File:Air_films_(1937)._Beisan_mound_LOC_matpc.17062.jpg). There are actually remnants of previous cities within that hill. A city set on a hill is a city that not only sits upon a foundation of previous cities, but is likewise elevated and easily seen. There’s no hiding this city. In like manner, a candle lit within a house isn’t done so to hide it, but to allow the light to shine forth and those within the house to experience the light. Jesus isn’t using cryptic language, but is speaking rather plainly as if it is self-evident – just as a city on a hill (by nature) isn’t hidden and just as a lit candle (by nature) is designed to illuminate its setting, so too is the disciple of the Lord to shine forth as the light of the world. In other words, Jesus claims that His disciples, BY NATURE, shine forth their light.
What is interesting is how Jesus describes this light shining. In verse 16, He says to let your light shine before men, but notice what a shining light isn’t. He doesn’t say to let your light shine by telling folks you are a Christian. He doesn’t say to let your light shine by pointing to what you believe about your statement of faith or what you believe about the Bible. He doesn’t say to let your light shine through vocalizing something you believe. This doesn’t mean any of those things are necessarily bad/wrong, but it is to simply recognize what Jesus Himself said was the evidence of a shining light – good works. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Talk is cheap. A light doesn’t go around telling you about being a light – a light is known by what it does – it shines. The strength of our light is only as strong as the pattern of good works we should be entertaining. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians (2:10), we were created unto good works and that we should walk in them. As we get through the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll see more about these good works, but suffice it to say, Jesus is more interested in a light that shines, rather than a bulb that never turns on but only tells you what it can. We’ve turned Jesus into creeds and doctrinal statements whereby we measure our faithfulness to how much of these creeds and statements we say we believe. Yet, Jesus challenges His disciples that to bring kingdom to a world in need isn’t a bulleted list of beliefs, but a salt-seasoned life of shining light.
A disciple of Christ recognizes the outcasts – he/she sees their mourning, their meekness, their hungering and thirsting after the righteousness. He/she desires to make peace where there is no peace and yet in the face of all of that, he/she recognizes that when you strive to bring kingdom to people, you will face persecution. Yet, in the face of persecution, as salt and light, we are to press on in a pattern of good works knowing that those who will respond to the kingdom’s message will see in us a message – a gospel – that means something to us – that’s worth it. That’s what identifies a disciple of Christ. How are we doing? I’m not asking when is the last time you told someone you were a Christian – I’m asking when is the last time we showed someone we were a Christian? Does the world only hear Christ from you but never sees Christ in you?
When you’re at the restaurant and they mess up your order – do they see Jesus in your response or do they see selfish entitlement? (This includes your tipping, by the way.) When is the last time you tipped someone big who did a horrible job? That might seem odd – why would a horrible job be graced with a large tip? Because the disciple of Christ recognizes that through the horrendousness of their lives, Christ graced them with His life. You might protest that would just reinforce their bad work performance, but would you risk not bringing the kingdom’s message to them over one poor experience? Imagine if Christ withheld kingdom from us because of one poor decision in life. He’d have an empty kingdom.
When you walk by the dirty, the sick, the homeless, what goes on in your heart? We know what goes in Jesus’ heart – but, is that our heart?
When you come to church, do you have a box of inclusion where you invariably create outcasts or do you stay as close to Jesus and welcome all who will come unto Him? I didn’t say it’s bad to have close friends – Jesus had close friends – but Jesus would never sacrifice the opportunity to reach out to an outcast because His time with His friends was more important. In fact, that was the lesson He wanted His friends to learn.
When you’re on social media, is the world greeted with proud, internet bravery or are they greeted with the good works of Christ? Are they greeted with slander, deceit and petty mockery or are they witnessing a seeking of justice – a loving a mercy – a humble walk with your God?
How salty are we? How luminous are we? What is at the heart of these good works that evidence our light? We’ll dive into this more as the Sermon on the Mount unfolds.
Our story continues…