Lord Jesus, help me to be good salt and a shining light wherever I am. Amen.
As we sit at Jesus’ feet with his disciples on the mountainside and listen to his teaching, we receive more encouragement to live our faith. Here our loving Lord lovingly urges us to steer clear of all that would prevent us from showing the world that we belong to him. So as we gathered in this sanctuary this morning, we did so remembering that we belong to Jesus because of his loving actions on our behalf. We dare to come to the Lord’s house and approach him in prayer because he called us his own children through the waters of Holy Baptism. So we heard that gracious announcement which focused us on the font and on baptism and on God’s amazing grace, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We gather in awe of God’s loving mercy and his eternity changing announcement of forgiveness. We gather also so that our merciful Lord may guide us in our thankful response to his love. So the encouragement comes from the Holy Spirit through his Word today – Let your lives shine to God’s glory!
In all of his grace and loving concern Jesus says to his disciples: You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are salt. How can Jesus make this claim? He can because he is the one who in his grace made us salt. You are salt because of Jesus – without him you would not and could not be a positive influence and preservative in this world. Without Jesus you would be in the world and of the world. Without Jesus you would be destined for the fires of hell. However, by faith in Jesus you belong to him, you are his brothers and sisters, you are salt. What Jesus is saying to us here is a matter of encouragement to live up to the high calling we have as God’s children. We belong to God by grace alone. At the same time, since we belong to him it is natural for us to want to show the world we belong to him. The Apostle Paul says something similar to the Ephesians in chapter 4 of his letter to them: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We may also consider Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians: With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus. The only way we can remain salty is to remain in Jesus. Jesus told his disciples in the upper room on the night he was betrayed, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus urges his disciples to remain in him – to be constantly under the influence of the Holy Spirit who does his work through the gospel in word and sacrament. Remain salty! Remain in Jesus! Remain living in a way that tells the world you belong to Jesus!
In his amazing grace and loving concern Jesus reiterates his encouragement with a little different kind of comparison: You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Jesus is the light of the world. We belong to Jesus, so we reflect his light. Christians have a relationship with Jesus similar to the relationship between the sun and the moon. The moon does not produce its own light – it reflects the light of the sun. We reflect the light of Christ to the world. Each and every day is our time to shine. Each and every day we are to be happy to belong to Jesus, so happy that we make it known in words and actions. Our role is to point to Jesus and his righteousness. This is not about boasting in ourselves and our deeds, but boasting in Christ and his deeds. Our purpose in doing good is not so people can pat us on the back and say what great people we are – our purpose is to draw attention to our gracious, forgiving God! Jesus encourages us to show we belong to him as our way of thanking our heavenly Father for the eternal life he has given us! Dear friends, never be embarrassed to be a Christian – always, no matter the situation, boast in the Lord Jesus!
We let our lives shine to God’s glory with the righteousness Jesus provides. We are encouraged to show the world our love for him who loved us first in word and deed. We also learn from Jesus the key to a correct understanding of his Word. We learn that the way we let our lives shine to his glory is with willing and thankful hearts. Now Jesus leads us truly to the heart of the matter.
We consider the true meaning of the law. As Jesus instructs: 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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Jesus is speaking about what we now know as the Old Testament Scriptures. He did not appear on the scene to destroy or negate the Scriptures, but to fulfill them. The Pharisees and teachers of the law of Jesus’ day had hijacked the Scriptures so that they were following just an external shell of God’s Word. They had turned the law of God into a set of rules that they would keep to earn heaven. In doing this they had not only watered down the law, but totally missed its purpose. God didn’t give the law so that people could keep it and earn heaven. God gave the law to show people their sin and point them to the coming Savior. The entire Old Testament points to the coming Christ by showing people that no matter how hard they tried, they simply could not live up to the law’s demand of perfection. They need to trust solely in the promised Savior for salvation. The law tells us clearly – you can’t earn heaven! The gospel tells us that Jesus earned heaven for us. So Paul instructs us: Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
Jesus goes on to point out the true teaching of Scripture: Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Here we are called on to faithfully follow the Word of our Lord and faithfully teach it. While there are those who claim doctrine is a dirty word and suggest that we only agree on fundamental teachings of Scripture, listen carefully to what Jesus says – one of the least of these commandments. Everything in Holy Scripture is important! It is all focused on Jesus. For Jesus alone is our source of comfort, forgiveness, and eternal life. He is the source of true righteousness. As Paul proclaims in today’s second lesson: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Jesus concludes: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. It is impossible to earn heaven. Heaven is given to us as a free gift from God through Jesus Christ. An interesting point that is made here is that not even the upright and fine actions of the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t cut it in God’s eyes. This is because they only offered an outward, letter of the law obedience. God wants willing obedience not just outward compliance. The Law demands a willing obedience. It is only by faith in Jesus that we will bring a willing obedience to everyday life. In Christ we want to obey God. We are happy to obey
God out of a deep sense of thankfulness for the love he has demonstrated to us in Christ. Consider all Jesus has done for you! Thank him with willing obedience and joyful service! Go now and show Christ to the world in your work, witness, and worship! Show the world your dear Savior, so they may see your good deeds and praise the Lord with you! Amen.