2 Kings 2:19-22; Matthew 5:13-16; Mark 9:47-50
March 18, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Beloved Congregation of Christ: How many of you look at the Nutrition Facts on the label of any food you buy? What are the most important nutrition facts to you? For most of us, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium and Sugars. For example, a 12 oz tri tip steak at Sizzler will cost you 60 percent of your saturated fat Daily Value, 82 percent cholesterol, and 38 percent sodium (salt). A cup of a Progresso clam chowder soup, one of my favorites, contains these recommended Daily Values: 25 percent of saturated fats, 8 percent of cholesterol (only?), 33 percent of sodium (very high), and 12 grams of sugar (why?). A cup of Blue Bunny Rocky Road ice cream? 25 percent of saturated fat, 8 percent of cholesterol, and 20 grams of sugar. These are very high values, not good for your heart and health.
These high Daily Values percentages are typically found in all the food that we love to eat: prime rib, tri-tip, cheese, eggs, pizza, ice cream and chocolate bars. I once heard this recommendation from a friend: “If it tastes good, spit it out!” But why is there so much salt in pre-packaged food? Because salt is a preservative. If there is not enough salt, the shelf life of these processed foods will be short, and that is not good business.
Here is another fact: most violent crimes are committed during the night, especially after midnight. According to the British Office of National Statistics, in 2015, 57 percent of violent crimes occurred between sunset and sunrise.[footnote]Office for National Statistics, “Overview of violent crime and sexual offences,” 02/11/2016, http://bit.ly/2pAEbJK. Accessed 03/17/2018.[/footnote] Why is this? Because darkness conceals identities and activities. Even with surveillance cameras with night vision, it is often hard to identify a person in the darkness. Even in Proverbs 7:9, we read that the crafty harlot seduces in “in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.” So the saying, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” is mostly true.
But this sermon is not about scaring you about the food you eat that might make you sick, or about going out at night because it is unsafe. Rather, our theme, “You Are Salt and Light,” is a declaration, not a command, that Christians, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, are “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” And by being salt and light, the ungodly world will also praise God.
Salt for Preservation and Judgment
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ characterization of believers as, “You are the salt of the earth.” The most common and correct understanding of this statement is the preserving quality of salt. I remember in my childhood in Manila, my mother would rub salt into fish and meat to preserve it since we did not have a refrigerator.
As Christians individually, we have a preserving influence on society. Did you notice that in conversations with family, friends and officemates, they refrain from crude jokes and swearing when they know that you are a Christian who do not approve of such things? When I worked in a power company in Manila, my officemates stopped inviting me to their drunken parties after I told them repeatedly that I would rather go home with a full paycheck and enjoy the evening with my family, rather than getting drunk in some night club. Of course, my rejection of this behavior invited ridicule and even contempt.
And as the church of Christ, we voice our disapproval of abortion, homosexuality, racism and violent protests, not because we are intolerant, but because the Bible condemns such things. We cannot underestimate our preserving impact as “salt of the earth” on our godless, anti-Christian culture. We are the Holy Spirit’s instruments in restraining a godless society from destroying itself.
But is its preserving quality the only effect of salt? Salt is beneficial in countless situations. The Bible also many references to the usages of salt. The first is the long-lasting effect of salt as a picture of our relationship with God. In Leviticus 2:13, we read, “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering.” Our covenant relationship with God is enduring, even “forever,” symbolized by the term “salt of the covenant” or “covenant of salt.” The latter term is used in Numbers 18:19, where God tells Aaron, Israel’s first high priest, that a portion of Israel’s offerings will be given to his descendants “as a perpetual due” and “It is a covenant of salt forever.” Therefore, God guarantees to his people that he will fulfill all his covenant promises to all his people.
The second use of salt has to do with its cleansing or purifying effect. In producing incense for the temple sacrifices, God commands Moses in Exodus 30:35, “make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.” So salt is connected with being “pure and holy.” When the water in Jericho was polluted, the prophet Elisha cast salt into the water and healed it (2 Kgs 2:20-23). In Ezekiel 16:4, we read that Israelites would bathe a newborn baby in water and then rub him with salt as a cleansing and preventative procedure.
The third use of salt is seen in Mark 9:49, where Jesus says, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” What does Jesus mean by this difficult saying? The word “for” indicates that this saying follows from the previous verses in which Jesus describes judgment in hell. This fiery judgment is also seen in a few other examples. In Genesis 19:26, when Lot’s wife looked back toward burning Sodom, she turned into a pillar of salt. In Judges 9:45, Abimelech, a wicked man who rose to power in Israel, burned the city of Shechem and “sowed it with salt.” In the ancient world, a land that is sowed with salt is a symbol of cursing and death. The Dead Sea has no life in it due to its extremely high salt content, ten times that of the Pacific Ocean. Psalm 107:34 refers to this idea of judgment and cursing by salt, “a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.”
So the best interpretation of Jesus’ saying is that “everyone will be salted by fire” on Judgment Day. Unbelievers will undergo the torment of fire in hell. Believers, however, having been purified of their sins their sufferings and by the atoning death of Christ, will enter into eternal life.
Lastly, salt is used as a food flavoring. Most people prefer to add salt to their food, because unsalted food is bland. We see this even in Job 6:6, where he asks, “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt?” This is the figure that Jesus uses when he says, “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.” Jesus warns us that if we Christians do not evidence the good fruits of our faith, then we lose our “savor.” We lose our preserving effect on a godless culture. We lose the spiritual benefits of our covenant relationship with God. We lose the cleansing quality of the gospel as salt. We lose the gospel warning of judgment against all unbelievers. In short, we become savorless Christians, which is a contradiction in terms.
In the ancient Graeco-Roman world, masters sometimes bought their slaves with salt. But if the slave did not meet his master’s expectations, the master says he “was not worth his salt.” Are you worth your “Christian salt”? Our godless world needs our Christian preserving effect and savor. So do our brothers and sisters in the church. Jesus has a grave warning to those who call themselves Christians, but have lost their savor, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Being thrown out, trampled and burned are often used in the Bible as a description of eternal judgment (John 15:6; Isa 63:6).
Light to Brighten a Dark World
The second characteristic of Christians is that they are “the light of the world.” The church is the light of the world. Again, this saying has both positive and negative aspects.
Positively, Jesus is saying that the church is a lighted lamp that brightens a dark world. Before there was electricity and electric bulbs, people used a torch, a candle, or an oil lamp to light their houses or a dark path. Today, we just turn on a flashlight or flick a switch and there is light in an instant. But even with all the lights today, the world is still stumbling about blindly in darkness. It is running around in circles, hopelessly lost, without direction like a driver without a compass, map or GPS.
Some people think that the world today is a sea of enlightenment and knowledge. People think they have all the scientific and psychological answer for any problem. We can answer any question with Google. We can go anywhere with Google maps. Just ask Google Home, “Google, what are the road conditions in Siskiyou Pass?” and in an instant, it will tell you if chains are required or not! But just a couple of months ago, some users asked Google Home, “Who is Jesus?” and its response was, “I’m not sure how to help you with that.” But it answers who Buddha, Muhammad and Satan are. The company explained this answer by saying, “This wasn’t out of disrespect but to ensure respect.” To ensure respect, because the name Jesus is often used in a bad way.
But these are all worldly wisdom, and God counts human wisdom as pure foolishness (1 Cor 3:19). It is foolishness because it does not recognize God as God the Creator and Redeemer of the world. In Romans 1:21, we read Paul’s condemnation of this world, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” When he came, Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world.” But in John 3:19–20, we read that “people loved the darkness rather than the light.” Why? “Because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” Do you notice that unbelievers cannot stand the Word of God that condemns and judges their evil works? Whenever we tell them the Bible’s judgment against their wicked ways, they say, “Who are you to condemn me? You are so judgmental!” But who condemns them? It is not us, but the Bible! Even so, they are so offended that they twist the Word of God to suit their evil works This is why they find the Bible so repugnant to their senses.
And since we are images of Christ, we reflect his light, just as the moon does not have its own light, but only reflects the light of the sun. Our word and deed should reflect Christ’s word and deed. So Paul says in Ephesians 5:11–13, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.”
And this is the negative aspect of Jesus’ saying in verses 14–15, “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 1630, John Winthrop, the leader of the Massachusetts Bay colonists, exhorted them before they landed, “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” What he meant was that as Christians settling in the New World, they must set a light, an example of Christian virtues to the watching world, particularly England, from which they fled. If they failed, Winthrop warned, “we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world” of God’s judgment.
Winthrop’s warning was not heeded as we see our nation today engulfed in ungodly beliefs and lifestyle. But this will all come to an end because Jesus the True Light will expose all evil deeds on Judgment Day. In his time, oil lamps were hung above the room on a lampstand, so they would provide the most amount of light. When Christians do not show evidence of their faith through their word and deed, they are like lamps hidden under a basket or a bed. They will not give light to the world, and soon will be ineffective, useless, and finally extinguished.
In Mark 4:21-22, we read the parallel verse to our text, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.” Jesus is saying that everything, good and bad, will be exposed by his Light on Judgment Day. This is why Paul also warns us that Christ the True Light will expose the “unfruitful works of darkness” done in secret.
Salt and Light for the World to Praise God
What then is the effect of Christians being “salt and light” to the world? Jesus calls the church and individual Christians as salt and light of the world. No other group is called as such by him. Therefore, Christians are a subgroup distinct from the whole group – the world. We are in the world as salt and light, but we are not of the world as participants in its godlessness (John 17:15-16). Therefore, being in the world as salt and light means that we are a preserving, cleansing and illuminating witness to the unbelieving world.
Paul uses the metaphor of salt in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” The Christian’s speech must be like food that is flavorful, speech that is gracious but attractive, and humble but wise. In this way, unbelievers will be captured by the beauty of the good news of salvation in Christ. With wisdom from God’s Word, we will be able to answer unbelievers’ questions. Our life and speech must reflect the gracious and wise speech and life of our Lord Jesus Christ. People will see and hear the reality of the Christian faith that we boldly proclaim to them.
And when the light of Christ is seen by unbelievers through our godly lives and gracious words, some will also see the light, believe and give glory to God (verse 16). God is then pleased with us when the light of Christ also shines in their darkened hearts and minds through our witness and influence. As a church, we must show this light through our heavenly worship, not a worldly “worship” of gimmicks and entertainment. Through our love and compassion for one another, they will know that we are truly Christ’s salt and light to the world. Then they will join us in giving praise and thanksgiving to God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our Helper.
Dear Friends: Why would Jesus send us Christians to the world? If the people of the world were calling upon the Lord for mercy; praising and giving thanks to him for the beauty of his creation and for his abundant provisions; then there would be no need for send salt and light. But the world is full of decaying, rotten, and polluted people blindly and hopelessly groping around in the darkness.
However, many churches have also been assimilated by the rottenness and blindness of the world. They think, speak and act like the world. Instead of influencing the world to be like the church, the church has become like the world. They participate with delight in the things in which the ungodly world delights to attract the world. For the sake of political correctness and not being branded as fanatical and intolerant, they adapt the ungodly words and works of the world.
What then are Christians to do in response to this rotten dark world? We are to be firm being distinct salt and light to the world. How? By being salt as Christ is the Salt of the Earth. By being light as Christ is the Light of the World. How can we be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? We are to be steadfast in affirming that Jesus is. First, he is the pre-eminent Salt of the Earth who preserves and cleanses the earth through his sacrifice on the cross for all the sins of all who will be salt of the earth. Second, he is the pre-eminent Light of the World who enlightens the hearts and minds of all who will be lights to the world through his preaching and teaching that the kingdom of heaven has already come. And Christ himself is the King of that Kingdom.