It is so easy to think that what we do doesn’t really matter and that our place in the world is so insignificant that if we simply dropped out no one would even notice. The people who listened to Jesus that day when he preached the great Sermon on the Mount felt much the same way. They were poor, struggling and oppressed. Yet Jesus had pronounced upon them eight blessings. But his greater compliment to them and to us as we read from Matthew 5 is in verses 13-16. Try hard to put yourself on that mountainside the day Jesus was speaking. Imagine him saying to you, “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 underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
I can imagine the people sitting there that day, after already being totally amazed that he would bless them and tell them that the kingdom of heaven was theirs, they would be able to see God and that they would be called the children of God, now hearing Jesus tell them they would be salt to the earth and light to the world. But be very clear, that message isn’t just for those sitting there that day nearly 2,000 years ago. That message is for you and me today. We are the blessed ones and we are the ones Jesus said are salt and light. But what in the world did he mean by these descriptions of his followers?
While salt has multiple uses in giving flavor to food and serving as a preservative to meat, too soften water and lots of other things, it probably was in two of those senses Jesus was applying it. First, salt gives flavor. It keeps the food from being bland. Jesus point then to those who live for him is that you will give flavor to the earth by the way you live. Over in Colossians 4:5-6 Paul used the same comparison when he said, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The world looks at the Christian’s life and attitude to determine what they think of Christianity. Our lives can be salt that gives good flavor to what people see and taste in the Christian life or it can turn people away. He challenged us to live in a way that gave good flavor to draw people to Christ. Also, salt was their primary means of preserving meat that they wished to save for a time. They had no access to a deep freeze so they salted the meat down and it would protect it and keep it safe for future consumption. By saying that we are the salt of the earth, Jesus is pointing to the reality we have saving and preserving influence in the world. It is the life and influence of Christians that keeps the earth going. Remember the story of Abraham pleading with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. He started with asking God if he would save the city if fifty righteous people could be found in it. Ultimately he got down to ten righteous people in the city and God promised if there were just ten people living a righteous life in the city he would spare the whole city. But ten couldn’t be found and it was destroyed. Jesus raised the question about his coming again, “Nevertheless when I return will I find faith on the earth?” The implication is that he won’t. The life of Christians holds back the return of Christ and the destruction of the earth. But when salt loses it’s saltiness and no longer gives flavor and no longer has the power to preserve the meat it is worthless and is thrown out to be used as a walking path.
Secondly, he said we are the light of the world. It is amazing that Jesus would say of himself that “I am the light of the world” and John will later write of God the Father that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” Even the Bible was said by David to be a lamp to his feet and a light to his pathway. So when Jesus said of his disciples that you are the light of the world, he placed us in tremendous company. Light gives direction. It keeps us from stumbling and falling over things that are in the dark and we don’t see. He pictured this light or lamp as being placed on a lamp stand so all the house can see and be blessed by the light. You don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl so that no one can see it. Why have light if you can’t see it or if you are going to hide it?
Think of the fact that darkness is often in Scripture tied to evil, sin and Satan. Light is tied to God, Christ and His Holy Spirit. On the two occasions when Jesus referred to himself as the light of the world it was related to events that had just taken place. The first one was when the religious leaders had brought a woman to Jesus that had been caught in the act of adultery and they were pressing Jesus with what should be done. They said the law demanded that such a woman should be stoned to death. “What do you say?” Jesus wrote on the ground and gave them time to think of what they were doing. Then he said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Their consciences afflicted them and they all dropped their rocks and walked away until it was just Jesus and the woman. Jesus asked, “Did no-one condemn you?” She said, “No one Lord.” He declared, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Then he said, “I am the light of the world.” The other time was in the very next chapter of John when he met a man who was born blind and put mud on his eyes and sent him to the pool of Siloam to wash that he might be able to see. When he gave this blind man sight he declared, ” I am the light of the world.”
This indicates that we can be light to others when we help those caught in sin, needing help and a way to turn their lives around, we can be the ones to show them the way to new life in God. When people are hurting, struggling and feel lost in the world like the blind man, we can be ones to help them know someone cares and is there to help them. Notice Jesus didn’t just say we are light, he challenged us not to hide the light we are and noted that we have control over how the light we are can shine. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” He didn’t say to shine our lights, but let it shine. It is terribly irritating when someone shines their lights on us or in our face. But we are to be a candlelight that we let shine. But how do we allow our lights to shine. By doing good deeds and instead of claiming credit for ourselves, pointing constantly to our Father in heaven as the source of our good deeds.
It is difficult to think of any mission of greater importance in the world that being the salt that gives flavor to the world, being the preserving power to save the earth, of being light to offer direction and show the way and of being light to guide one from spiritual darkness to the light of God. What a powerful mission God has given to each of us as his disciples in the world. You aren’t insignificant, but vitally important. You affect the future of the world by how you live.