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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART NINE

PRESENTED ON 05-17-08

 

       In the last eight sermons we have covered the eight Beatitudes which provide us with an overview of what our attitude needs to be in response to the grace of God.  Now we fine Jesus shifting from instructing us as to personal qualities of character to expressing what should naturally follow from implementing those qualities of character as members of the human family and residents of planet earth

       Matthew 5:13: "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.

        I don’t generally give a title to my sermons but if I were to title this sermon I would do so in the form of a question and ask: Are you worth your salt?  Asking this question actually has it roots in ancient Greek slave trading where slaves were bought with salt showing how much salt was valued. 

       Jesus had a great ability to use things known to His contemporaries as object lessons to get a point across.  It is known historically that there was a location in Judea known as the Valley of Salt from which salt was mined.  There were areas where the salt was exposed to sun, wind and rain and if you tasted a piece of salt that had been exposed for any length of time to the elements you would immediately become aware that it had lost it savor and wouldn’t be good for preserving anything or to be used in cooking.   It is also recorded that there was a species of salt in Judea which was mined at Lake Asphaltites and called bituminous salt which was easily rendered insipid and had no other use than to be spread on the temple grounds at Jerusalem to prevent slipping in wet weather.  It is very possible Jesus had these areas in mind when He made the statement He did about salt. 

       Why does Jesus use salt in proscribing what manner of presence we are to establish and maintain as residents of the earth?  Salt is one of the most used commodities on the earth.  There are over 14,000 known uses for salt.  It is used by meat packers, chemical companies, food processors, soap manufactures, farmers use it to preserve hay that has been harvested wet and road builders use it to bind roadbed materials. It is used to melt ice.

       Salt hardly ever spoils.  While it can lose its savor when exposed to the elements, it still maintains its chemical structure.  It is highly soluble in water but even though it becomes greatly dispersed it does not lose its savor.  Its melting point is 800 degrees centigrade at which point it begins to vaporize and yet it continues to possess its salt like qualities.  

       During the early years of sailing when men were exploring the world and would be on the ocean for months at a time without putting into port, they would take with them barrels of salt which they used to preserve various commodities of food since there was no refrigeration.  If it wasn’t for the salt they would have starved to death as food would certainly have spoiled.   

       We can see why salt is use to describe what a Christian should be like.  Salt is enduring. It preserves and stabilizes that which it comes into contact with.  It makes its presence felt in very specific ways.   That is how we are to be as Christians.  We are to be enduring, stabilizing and make our presence felt in specific ways. 

       Being the salt of the earth implies being out and about in the world and interacting with our fellow man.  God does not intend for us to live in isolation from others.  I see no indication anywhere in scripture that God ever wanted us to follow a monastic way of life.  To spend ones life in a monastery or convent is certainly not to live as the salt of the earth. The scriptural example is to express and share what we have been given as Christians. Peter in writing to the Christians of his day said:

       1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

       While you can declare praise toward God in the privacy of your home or by choosing to live in segregation from the world in an isolated community of believers such as in a monastery, convent or some other such secluded environment, this isn’t what God intended and certainly not what Jesus taught.  Following up on His instruction to be the salt of the earth Jesus goes right ahead and explains how this is accomplished.

       Matthew 5:14-16: "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 makes it clear that we are to have good deeds expressed before others and in that manner have our light shine.  We are not to hide such light. Christ virtually compares us to a city on a hill.  I have been to the Acropolis in Athens Greece.  While it is not a city, it is a community of buildings set high on a hill and can be seen for miles.  I have been to Masada in the southern Judean desert.  Masada was a virtual city during Roman times.  It sets high above the desert and can be seen for miles all around. 

       Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount by teaching to be poor in spirit, to be meek, merciful, seekers of peace and hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  He taught these attributes of character not so that we can express them only among our family and friends or in some kind of sheltered community but to manifest these attributes to the world.  Jesus moves in his sermon from a contemplation of the character of a Christian to a consideration of the function and purpose of the Christian as the Christian interacts with the world. 

       Salt is a preservative.  It preserves by stabilizing that to which it is added.  To look at it another way, salt inhibits decay.  It slows down putrefaction.  We know that physical decay goes on all the time.  Just leave a piece of whole grain bread on the table where it is exposed to light, heat and oxygen and in a short time it will begin to turn green.  Spiritual decay is also going on all the time.  All you need to do is look at the social disintegration that is occurring at all levels of society and civilization and it should be apparent that there is a great deal of spiritual putrefaction.   That’s were we can make a difference as Christians.

       As Christians we can function as a preservative.  We can be that salt spread around within society that helps to stabilize behavior.  We don’t do this by tooting our horn, we don’t do this by judging and condemning others, we don’t do this by pushing religion down others throats.  We do it by example.  We do it inconspicuously.  Much of the time salt is inconspicuous.  You sprinkle some salt on a piece of meat and it quickly dissolves into the meat and you don’t see it anymore.  But when you eat the meat you know that the salt is there as it enhances the flavor of the meat. As Christians we can enhance the flavor of the world.

       Salt makes a difference.  We are to make a difference. To do so, however, we must maintain our saltiness.  If you add salt that has lost its savor to a piece of meat, it will not enhance the flavor of the meat.  It will not accomplish its purpose.  How do we maintain our saltiness?  Jesus tells us in the eight Beatitudes that lead up to his admonition to be the salt of the earth.  Being the salt of the earth is to first of all be poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to be of a contrite heart, to be humble before God always recognizing it is only by the grace of God we live and have our being and have opportunity for living beyond this physical existence.  To be poor in spirit is to admit to our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God.  

       Next we are to morn. Mourning is being grieved over sin and being grieved over sin flows from being poor in spirit. Mourning is the natural outcome of recognizing our total reliance on God and our need to respond to that condition by ordering our lives in accordance with Gods will.  To be poor in spirit is to discover our spiritual poverty which should lead to automatically being grieved at anything that would interfere with having reconciliation with God.  

       We saw that to be meek is to not glory in ourselves and to truly treat others as better than ourselves.  Just as being grieved and mourning over sin flows from being poor in spirit, being meek flows from mourning over sin and recognizing we humans are all in the same boat spiritually speaking and when we see faults in others we must realize we are no better and so in a spirit of humility we should help restore others who may be experiencing a trial or caught up in sinful behavior.  

       Hungering and thirsting for righteousness we saw as being in a continual mode of willingness to change and recognizing that true righteousness is a function of the forgiveness of God facilitating the indwelling of the righteousness of Christ to which we respond by manifesting the law of love in our lives.

       We saw mercy is the ability to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.  It constitutes a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as they see them, and feel things as they feel them.

       We saw that being pure in heart is all about taking personal responsible for our behavior.  The condition of our heart is all about having the law of love become our very consciousness, the very essence of our being and foundation of our thoughts and emotions. 

       We saw that achieving peace is all about walking in harmony with ones brother.  We discussed how forgiveness is a major dynamic in establishing peace with others and how having to choose peace is the critical factor in attaining peace.

       Last time we discussed the final Beatitude which deals with being persecuted for righteousness sake and showed how living in harmony with the will of God becomes incriminating to others because it reveals a great contrast in life styles.  It illuminates behavior in others who know intuitively that their behavior is wrong but they don’t want to change and don’t want anyone exposing their wrong behavior by acting righteously in their presence.  Righteous behavior can be very intimidating to those who choose to behave unrighteously. Human nature being what it is, it can be very threatening to the self image to be around people who are always conscious of doing the right thing and won’t compromise with sin.

       It is following this last Beatitude that Jesus moves directly into his statement about us being the salt of the earth as it is this last Beatitude that reflects how our behavior will contrast with behavior that is common in the world and in that respect our behavior will be like salt which permeates that which it comes into contact with and changes the environment.   

       When one is known to be a practicing Christian, and I emphasize practicing as compared to a Christian in name only, it often changes the behavior of those around us.  It may only be a momentary change but it is a change, nevertheless, and if the Christian influence is consistent and without compromise it will either lead to persecution for righteousness sake or it may lead to changed behavior on the part of those exposed to the righteous behavior and therefore lead to the praise of God as Jesus indicated can happen as a result of allowing our light to shine. 

       Many Christians have experienced the situation where they have walked into a room where cursing and swearing was going on or dirty jokes were being told and when the Christian walks in the bad language abruptly stops, the dirty jokes disappear and there even may be some expression of apology such as “excuse my French” or some other such statement.  I’m not sure how the French language gets associated with cursing and swearing but that is a common expression.  This is a simple example of a Christian being salt.  Simply by being known as one who does not use dirty language or tell dirty jokes the presence of the Christian among those who do such things creates a stabilizing effect.  The more this happens within a society the more moral and ethical stability there is and the greater glory there is to God who is the source of righteous behavior.   

       Salt is a preservative.  By Christians being salt we can preserve the way of righteousness.  We can deter the spiritual putrefaction that is all around us by being a stabilizing influence.  The Christian community, when performing its Christianity in large numbers can really make a difference as to what goes on in society.  Over the centuries, we have had what are called Revivals.  Jonathan Edwards was the theologian of what is referred to as the "Great Awakening" in the seventeen hundreds.  His preaching and writings were a powerful influence on American society and brought many people to repentance which means a change of behavior.  George Whitefield was a dramatic and powerful orator, able to deeply move audiences with his sermons. John Wesley was an administrative genius who established an extremely effective small-group structure of "class meetings" which kept the revival fires burning. In our time we have had men such as Billy Sunday and Billy Graham bring people to recognize the need for spiritual renewal.

       Looking back on the speaking and writings of these men, it quickly becomes apparent that some of their theology was defective.  Their teachings on eschatology (the study of last things) Christology (the study of the nature and life of Christ) and Soterology (the study of the dynamics of salvation) can be seen in retrospect as not always supported by the scriptures.  Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, for example, were Calvinists and we have seen in recent sermons how problematic the teachings of John Calvin are in certain areas of his theology.  

       But despite their doctrinal short comings, and even their sometimes questionable approach to preaching the gospel, these men did bring many to take a serious look at their personal behavior and realize it was not behavior that was in harmony with what is taught in the scriptures.  While some may have been scared into repentance by the hell and brimstone sermons that came down from the likes of Jonathan Edwards, the bottom line is that many did change the way they behaved.  Many did bring their behavior more into conformity with the moral and ethical teaching of the scriptures and such change benefited the entire society.  Rather than continuing to contribute to the decay of society, they became salt that sifted through society for its betterment. 

       For example, a greater concern for the poor and downtrodden often resulted from these revivals. Jonathan Edwards taught that it was the Christian's duty to be charitable. Whitefield devoted a great deal of his energy to an orphanage he founded in Georgia.  It has been historically established that what transpired in the 18th-century religiously had a deeper and more powerful effect in transforming the culture than did what was happening politically at the time.

       I was listening to a talk show on the radio recently were the moderator was questioning whether the US should be so quick to respond to natural disasters that take place in the world.  He was specifically questioning our shipment of millions of dollars worth of food and supplies to Myanmar (Burma) in response to the recent cyclone there.   He asked where is the response from oil rich Saudi Arabia.  Where is the response from China?  Why is it always the Americans and the British who seem to be the first and sometimes only responders to tragedies in the world?  Could it be that we do so because of our Christian upbringing as a nation. Yes our nation has many social issues.  Yes we as a nation have greatly abandoned obedience to the law of God and the result has been a gradual and sustained slide into moral and ethical decay.  But there is still a great deal of salt in our culture.  There are still many who give of their time, effort and money to help those in need. 

       There are multiple hundreds of denominations in Christianity with every different slant on theological issues imaginable.  And yet you would be hard pressed to identify even one Christian group that teaches against the law of love.  You would find it difficult to identify even one Christian denomination that isn’t willing to help others in need.  Christian denominations of every theological strip imaginable have for centuries helped the poor, the needy and those hurt by tragedy.  That is the common bond within Christianity.

       For years our fellowship followed the teaching of a man who turned out to be wrong on a number of his theological perspectives.  But this same man also taught what he consistently called “out going concern.”  I remember Mr. Armstrong repeatedly teaching us to exercise outgoing concern for others which was his way of teaching us to manifest the law of love in our lives.  To the extent that members of this fellowship followed that one teaching and put it into practice in their lives was the extent to which they were able to resolve marital difficulties, parenting problems, financial woes, and most other problems of living.

       God’s law of love is generated by putting into practice the eight Beatitudes Jesus covered in his opening remarks in the Sermon on the Mount. If we manifest the Beatitudes in our lives we will exercise out going concern. We will be there for each other.  We will automatically respond to the needs of others.  We will be Good Samaritan Christians. We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Good Samaritan story is all about selfless behavior.  It is all about reacting to the needs of others regardless of how much it may interfere with our own agenda.  Regardless of how much it may cost in time, effort and money. Regardless of what the belief system of the other person is. The example of the Good Samaritan is what it means to be the salt of the earth. Let's close today with reading the account of the "Good Samatitan."

       Luke 10:25-37: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied.  "Do this and you will live."   But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"   In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."   Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

SERMON TEN