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SALT AND LIGHT: THE MYTH OF A SECULAR NATION by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
We are in our series on the Life of Christ from all four gospels and this morning we come to Matthew 5 to what Augustine called the “De Sermone Domini in Monte” = Sermon on the Mount – the passage in which Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the Six Antithesis, the Lord’s Prayer, the Golden Rule, and other important principles of the Christian life. With that in mind, today we will begin a long miniseries titled, “SALT AND LIGHT – THE MYTH OF A SECULAR NATION.” There is something in this series that is very vital for our personal lives, our families, our church, our community, and our nation.
Matthew 5:13-14 (Click to watch video of reading by the Mount of Beatitudes) 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Overall Background: You may not know but the Sermon on the Mount has been discussed and debated ever since it was first written. As early as the first century we know of a document called the Didache that tells us that the early church struggled with how to obey such high standards that Jesus gave to His disciples and to the multitudes. People throughout the centuries have questioned if it was even possible to apply these rules and could it be that they were meant for another time and another place. Some people claimed that this passage was only meant for those who lived before the cross and that Jesus did not expect them to obey them but was just showing them how God’s standard of holiness was too high and how much they needed His grace in their lives. Others claimed that the list of righteousness and holy living has nothing to do with the past or the present but with the future millennial kingdom. In other words, there has to be an ideal environment for this high standard to be achieved.
So what do we do with the Sermon on the Mount? Do we just skip over it? I believe that the Sermon on the Mount is for every Christian of every generation. When you truly study this passage in its context you realize that Jesus did not give this sermon just to make us feel helpless before the holiness of God or to make us feel hopeful for some future Kingdom of God. He meant this sermon to be obeyed by all believers of all ages. There are some powerful truths embedded in these verses – truths that will change the way we live the Christian life, truths that will bless our homes and our families, truths that will change the way we function as a church, truths that will transform our community, and truths that will change the direction of our nation.
The Sermon on the Mount is a kind of Christian life that not only brings personal blessings but it also transforms the world around us. It’s not a life that runs from the world or a life that compromises with the world but a life that seasons and brightens the world around us. Daily I come across people who are either fed up with the world or fearful of the world. The Sermon on the Mount challenges us to live in such a way that the world sees our good works and glorifies our Father in heaven.
Application: Do you think we need this kind of a Christian life? Do you think our community needs this kind of a life? Do you think our nation needs God’s blessing? Are you being the salt and light in this world? Let’s ask a deeper question – are you saved?
This morning we won’t look at just one passage but several passages from the Sermon on the Mount. We will set the foundation for the rest of the series. If we get this message, we will get the rest of the series. 3 things stand out in this Sermon:
I. JESUS DID NOT CALL US TO A LIFE OF ISOLATION FROM THE WORLD.
Matthew 5 1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them…
Background: Some people think that this proves that Jesus did not want the multitudes. “He saw the multitudes and went up the mountain with His disciples.” Not true. Let’s go to the end of the sermon in 7 28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 8:1 When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. This was not a private lesson just for the disciples.
How did the multitudes find Him? Let’s go to the verses immediately preceding the sermon on the Mount – Matthew 4 23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people…25 Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
Bottom line: The multitudes did not find Jesus. He went and found them. One of the problems in our churches is that we are either running from the multitudes or we are waiting for them to find us. We like to talk about how bad the world is and how far we have come and how things are not what they used to be. Sometimes we’re doing everything we can to keep the world out. Make no mistake – we need to stay away from worldliness but not stay away from people. There’s a big difference. Jesus was not worldly but He loved people. He went out and met the needs of the people and then people followed him.
This does not mean that He was naïve about the multitudes. What kind of people were in the multitudes? Matthew 4:24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, (What do sick people do? They moan and groan and complain.) and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Do you think some of them fussed with each other? Do you think some were greedy, lustful, critical, and demanding? Of course! Ministry is messy. Jesus did not consider the crowd to be a burden. Sometimes we tend to think that the crowd is a burden. You’ll hear things like – “We got too many people here now.” “I don’t know every body anymore.” “It’s hard to keep up.” “I liked it when it was small.” Jesus loves this! It’s for the people that He came.
If Christianity is going to survive in America, it will have to go to the multitudes and that will be messy but that’s all right. God has not called us to isolation. He wants us out there seeking and saving that which was lost.
For e.g. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, learned from George Whitfield that if change were to come in England, they would have to go outside the church to fields and the docks and the markets. At first Wesley didn’t like it. He was too traditional. But on April 1, 1739 Wesley preached to a group gathered on Nicholas Street. Guess which passage? The Sermon on the Mount! He was chastised by church leaders but listen to what he wrote in his journal on July 11, 1739: “Permit me to speak plainly…God in Scripture commands me, according to my power, to instruct the ignorant, reform the wicked, confirm the virtuous. Man forbids me to do this in another’s parish; that is, in effect, to do it at all, seeing I have now no parish of my own, nor probably ever shall. Whom then shall I hear, God or man? “I look upon all the world as my parish…” England was riddled with immorality, skepticism, atheism, and the coming of Wesley saved it. He went to the people. We’re looking for new ways to grow our churches. Maybe we need to try the Jesus way!
Application: What do you think about the multitudes? Do you run from them? Do you spend your time criticizing them? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and save them? If not, step out of the way and let others do it.
II. JESUS DID NOT CALL US TO A LIFE OF COMPROMISE WITH THE WORLD
2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Background: Just when you think that Jesus would laugh over sin, He raises the bar. Sometimes we think that in order to win the world we have to become like the world. Nothing is further from the truth. In the weeks ahead I’ll be preaching on each of these beatitudes. Let me just tell you – the Standard is high, very high!
Here’s more – 4 Blessed are those who mourn, (Some were complaining) For they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, (Some were proud) For they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, (Some were hungering for the things of this world) For they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, (Some were bitter and hateful) For they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, (Some had hidden sins) For they shall see God.
Sermon on the Mount (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)
If we want God’s blessing in our lives, it has to be the way of holiness and righteousness. We can’t go around that. In fact in Matthew 5:20 Jesus says to them, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees and the scribes at a high standard but Jesus said – “Your standard better be higher then theirs if you want to get to heaven.” Then He goes through a series of “You’ve heard it said… But I say to you.” Regarding Anger – 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. Regarding Lust – 5:27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Nothing destroys our testimony before the world than hypocrisy and hidden sin.
Application: How is your sin life right now? Is there hate in your heart? Is there anger in your life? Is there unforgiveness towards someone? Is there lust? Is there greed? Are you having trouble seeing God? Could it be because “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”
III. A LIFE OF BLESSING AND RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT TRANSFORMS THE WORLD.
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
Background: Just when you think Jesus is only interested in our personal spiritual lives He makes a statement that I feel is one of the greatest passages in the entire Bible. Salt seasons our food. It makes it worth eating. But if the salt loses its flavor then it is worthless for the food. It has to be thrown away. People just walk over it.
Christianity is being trampled upon in America. It’s because Christians have lost their flavor.
Sermon on the Mount (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)
For e.g. As you know, Nicole and I went to Israel in January. One thing that really got me were the ultra Orthodox. They reminded me of the Pharisees and the scribes, maybe not in every aspect but regarding tradition. These people wear black robes, black hats, and black shoes. They have long sideburns and they’re constantly doing their Torah reading and mumbling their prayers. They are an oddity. They’re different. They’re strange. They’re judgmental. I asked our guides about them and both of them had some not so nice things to say. Both our guides were Jewish but secular Jewish.
I thought about our churches in America and Christians in America. In some ways, we have become an oddity. We have become different and strange. By that I’m not saying that we are different as in God’s people different but different as in old, outdated, harmless, naïve, flavorless, and “matter of time before they’re extinct people.”
Jesus went on to say in verse 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Wayne Grudem in his book “Politics according to the Bible” writes about the work of historian Alvin Schmidt. He notes that “Christianity and Christian influence on the government was primarily responsible for outlawing infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374); outlawing the brutal battles-to-the-death in which thousands of gladiators had died (in 404); outlawing the cruel punishment of branding the faces of criminals (in 315); instituting prison reforms such as the segregating of male and female prisoners (by 361); stopping the practice of human sacrifice among the Irish, the Prussians, and the Lithuanians as well as among other nations; outlawing pedophilia; granting of property rights and other protections to women; banning polygamy in the Western world; prohibiting the burning alive of women in India (in 1829); outlawing the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912); persuading government officials to begin a system of public schools in Germany (in the sixteenth century); and advancing the idea of compulsory education for all children in a number of European countries; and outlawing slave trade and slavery.
I’m amazed at how some Christians have been backing away from the public square when we should be the ones taking the public square. The reason we have the freedom we do and the blessings we do is because this nation was founded to be the salt in the light of the world. The reason we are compassionate towards people, animals, the less fortunate, the ones who are sidelined, and abused is because of Christianity. We have been beneficiaries of someone else’s faithfulness. Much has changed. Either we are hiding our light or we have a false light or we have no light.
When you and I begin to live the way Christians were meant to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the life of Christ in us, with the word of God on our lips and in our hearts, we become the salt and the light of the world. Do you want to know why the world and America and our community is in such a mess? Stop blaming Hollywood. Stop blaming the politicians. Stop blaming the atheists and the sexually immoral. They’re just living by their nature. Start looking in the mirror. If our Christian lives were what they were supposed to be, this world would be a better place. If we were teaching our children how to live the blessed life, they would be the change makers in our society today.
It’s not too late. Today’s the day to begin. First, if you are not saved, you need to get saved right now. Let’s go a step further – what are you doing right now to impact our community? What are you doing to make this 30-mile radius the best place on earth? Are you praying for our nation? Are you getting involved in politics? It’s not enough to preach the gospel. It’s also important to impact the culture. This is not just so we can keep preaching but also so that our society will remain civil, kind, compassionate, and blessed.
By the way, what did Jesus say in the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6 9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Meaning: The very first thing that we are to pray for after glorifying God is for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.