Pastor Chris Matthis
Lenten Midweek Series
Ascension Lutheran Church, Littleton, Colorado
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Sermon: The Sermon on the Mount: Salt and Light
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Focus: As God’s blessed people, we are the salt and light of the world.
Function: That as they salt and shine in the world, people would be drawn to the light of Christ.
Locus: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity” (SC, 2nd Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).
WHO ARE SALT AND LIGHT?
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. In our Gospel lesson today, we hear Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth…” and “You are the light of the world…” (Matt. 5:13, 14, ESV). To whom does Jesus speak these wonderful, inspiring words? Who are his audience? First of all, he says them to people who are already blessed (Matt. 5:2-12), people who have received the blessing of God through the life and forgiveness that Jesus offers in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…,” “Blessed are those who mourn…,” “Blessed are the meek…,” “Blessed are the peacemakers…,” and “Blessed are you…!”
Second of all, Jesus speaks these words about salt and light to his disciples (5:1). Already there is a distinction between the crowds and Jesus’ disciples. In Matthew’s introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, he writes, “Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him” (5:1). The crowds and the disciples are not one and the same. Those who follow Jesus’ teachings in their daily lives are not merely groupies. Jesus speaks these words to us—to you and me—because we are his disciples, his blessed ones, called to be salt and light in a dark and dying world.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Jesus calls us salt and light. But what does it mean to be salt and light in our world today? To understand what Jesus says to us, we must first understand what his words meant in ancient Israel.
In the ancient world, salt was used for many purposes. The most significant were to preserve and flavor food. Without refrigeration or a cheap spice rack, the ancients didn’t enjoy the same quality of meat that we eat today. Food spoiled quickly or tasted bland, and so salt was used to dry meat and preserve it (kind of like beef jerky). So when Jesus calls his disciples “the salt of the earth” (v. 13), he’s saying that we give flavor and freshness to the world around us. We preserve what is good in the world. In a world full of madness and depression, we inject the joy of the Spirit into people’s lives. We make the lives of others around us better when we joyfully go about our daily lives, trusting in God’s goodness and sharing his goodness with other people. Christians are to bring out the sweetness in other people, similar to how a little bit of salt on a slice of watermelon makes it taste even sweeter.
Jesus also calls us “the light of the world” (v. 14). Have you ever been on a long road trip, driving at night, when suddenly you reach the city limits of your destination? How joyful it is to see the light at journey’s end, a light to guide you the rest of your way home! That’s what the city of Jerusalem, set on Mount Zion, would look like to Jewish travelers in Jesus’ day—a beacon of light! That is what Jesus means when he calls us the light of the world. As Christians, we light the way for others to find Jesus Christ, their Savior and Lord. Jesus himself is “the Light of the world” (John 8:5), and his light burns in our hearts through our Christian faith.
When people see the light of Christ burning in our lives, they should be naturally drawn to Jesus, the greater Light. When people look at us, they should wonder, “Wow! They seem so full of life and joy and peace. I wonder what makes their life different than mine.” And then we’ll have the chance to respond and point them to Jesus. That’s why Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). When people see the good things we do for others, hopefully they won’t see us. Instead, they’ll see only God!
HAVE WE LOST IT?
Being salt and light in our world is a wonderful blessing—and an incredible calling. But do we live up to our calling? Are we salting the world around us and letting our light shine? Or have we lost our saltiness and let our light burn out? Can we honestly say that we are still salt and light in the world today? Are the people in your life better off because of the Christian flavor and light you bring to them?
Sometimes I think we are salt and light, but other times I believe we may have lost our saltiness and hidden our light. From my experience, people in the world are likely to cringe when they hear that you’re a Christian. They’ve met too many stodgy, hypocritical, judgmental, and argumentative Christians to believe that we actually have something good to offer—something worth hearing. Whether from personal experience or the bizarre portrayals of Christians in the media, they’re more likely to see us as grumpy and angry than joyful and alive.
We often complain about the loss of Christian influence in American culture and government. And it is a real loss. We think our country is “going to hell in a hand basket,” and there’s not a lot that we can do about it. Our tendency is to blame the culture and turn unbelievers into the enemy rather than seeing how we might contribute to the problem—or help them… Maybe we have lost our “saltiness” and let our light burn out. Or maybe the only time our light “shines” is when we go “nuclear” on people!
Sometimes the Christian Church forgets that it exists for the sake of the world. It is, like Jesus, “the light of the world.” Jesus never said, “You are the light of the Church!” (William Barclay). Rather, he calls the Church the light of the world! And the Church is meant to shine on all people, that they might see the light of Christ and be drawn to our Father in heaven. But all too often the Church circles the wagons and withdraws from the world. It huddles like a Christian club of Christian friends doing their little Christian things without making any impact at all on the world around them. That is sad—and shameful. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The Church is only the Church when it exists for others.”
The world needs Christians to work and serve in politics and government, education and industry, finance, technology, medical fields, media, and the arts. How will the light shine if we hide in our Christian clubs? Truly, the Church is ecclesia (Greek: ejkklhsiva), “called out” of the world—but then Jesus sends us straight back into the world for the life of the world. According to Jesus, the world needs to see your good works, your “noble deeds,” so we can point people the way to our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus (Matt. 5:16; cf. John 14:6).
Of course, good works are not necessary for salvation. You cannot earn or force your way into the kingdom of God. Christ alone saves us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. But good works are necessary as the fruit of faith. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does!
Jesus calls us salt and light. But if we’re not flavoring the world around us, we’re going to be thrown out and trampled. Jesus says, “It is no longer good for anything” (v. 13). Those who refuse the call of Christ will find that they have rejected Christ himself. If we let our light burn out, the world will die in darkness—and so will we.
HOW DO WE GET IT BACK?
So how do we get it back? How do we become salty again, or reignite the flame? By getting our salt and light from the one who gave it to us in the first place: our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is “the light of the world” (John 9:5). Jesus is the Light that never burns out! His “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In fact, there won’t even be a sun or moon in the new heaven and new earth, because “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).
Our light comes from the Lamb, Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus the Lamb died on the cross as our sacrifice for sin so the light of God would always burn bright in a world darkened by sin. The blessedness of the Beatitudes comes from the forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross. You are the salt and light of the world because of the calling Jesus placed on your life in Baptism. You have no choice as to whether or not you are salt and light. You just are! Bonhoeffer writes:
“‘You are the salt’—not ‘you should be the salt’! The disciples are given no choice whether or not they want to be salt or not. No appeal is made to them to become salt of the earth. Rather they just are salt, whether they want to be or not, by the power of the call which has reached them.”
Jesus calls you salt and light. This call on your life is a statement of fact—not a wish, and not a command. You are the salt of the earth, and you are the light of the world! If the light of Christ and his forgiveness is burning brightly in your heart, then you are everything you are meant to be. You have everything you need. And you have everything that the world needs!
LET’S GO SALT AND SHINE FOR THE WORLD!
So where do we go from here as we leave the walls of this church? What do we do? Very simply, we are salt and light, wherever we go, whatever we do, in the world around us. Whatever your vocation and wherever you work, serve, learn, or play, there you bring Christ in your calling to love and serve other people. So we go back to the very world that persecutes us “for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:10), the very world that reviles us and persecutes us and utters all kinds of evil falsely against us (v. 11), the world that is trying to kill us. We go back to that world as salt and light, because that’s what the world needs.
In Martin Luther’s day, he worked hard to convince people that they could shine in their daily callings, their “ordinary” vocations. You didn’t have to become a priest, a monk, or a nun to serve God. Perhaps today we might think of pastors, directors of Christian education, and Lutheran school teachers. You don’t have to be a church worker to serve God. You can serve him in your “ordinary,” everyday calling. But as Christians, we don’t do them in ordinary ways. Dr. Jeff Gibbs writes: “Jesus’ disciples are called to be extraordinary husbands and wives, remarkable neighbors and employees, powerful friends and citizens. Their deeds and their words, in the power of faith and the Spirit, will be like salt, like light in the darkness.”
The world is dying without us. Above all, the world is dying without Christ! It has no salt or light of its own. And so we bring salt and light to them in ourselves—in Christ, who is in us. So let’s go salt and shine in the world! Go, be who you already are in Christ! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of X the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, vol. 4 in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, ed. Martin Kuske and Ilse Tödt, trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 111.
 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 262.