Parables…Salt and Light

When the World Speaker starts telling a story, we should all probably listen extra carefully, right?

We call Him Jesus, and in His own language He was called Yeshua, which is where we get our name Joshua.

Three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and English.

One name: “The LORD saves.”

Yeshua was, minimally, a gifted storyteller. He employed common cultural notions, and the history and current events of His people, always with an unexpected and often shocking twist, to teach His followers about what He came to do, and about His kingdom which would quickly follow.

In his account of “The Sermon on the Mount,” the evangelist Matthew, one of Yeshua’s twelve closest followers, called apostles, provides a sort of primer on the teachings of Yeshua, many of which would recur throughout the rest of His life.

Imagine it for a moment… They’ve all heard stories about Him. They’ve heard that He’s a radical. They’ve heard that He performs miracles. They’ve heard that instead of taking His place among the religious elite, He’s snubbed them. They’ve heard that there’s never been a Rabbi like Him before.

So they’ve come out in droves. There’s literally a parade forming around this man, following Him from town to town and city to city, sometimes clear out into the desert. Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of Him, to overhear a bit of whatever He has to say.

Suddenly the flow of the crowd shifts. They’re heading uphill, up the side of a mountain (which is more like a really big hill). It’s a smart strategic move; He’s up on the hillside now, everyone can see Him, and His voice carries over the crowd. He’s speaking to His inner circle, the twelve young students that He hand-picked from among the peasant folk. Fishermen, mostly. At least one career patriot. Even (and this makes the least sense of all) a former tax-collector. He’s speaking to them, these chosen nobodies, and the crowd listens in, like a sort of outdoor master class.

Immediately following the now famous “Beatitudes,” in Matthew 5:13-20, Yesh drops this word-picture on the eagerly listening crowd:

You are the salt of the earth. But if 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.

He looks around at the twelve. The blank faces of His students stare back at Him. They don’t understand yet. He’s trying to get them to understand who they are, what it means to follow Him.

Maybe another image will help get the message across:

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.

He pauses again. They’re thinking so hard.

And then, He does something which would be a rare and special occurrence throughout His life: He explains what the stories mean.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

…Is that any clearer? No?

You’re not alone if it isn’t. His students didn’t catch on yet either.

So what on earth is Josh talking about here? What’s this story all about?

Well…we know that He’s trying to teach His students about what it means to be a part of His kingdom, what it really means to follow Him.

So…to follow Jesus…to be a part of His kingdom…we need to be…salty…?

Salt is so common today that it’s easy to forget that it used to be a precious commodity. It’s main purposes were both to flavor and to preserve food.

So…Jesus wants us to be the flavor of the earth…and the preservative of the earth.

Ok, so a Christ-ian (literally a “little Christ”) is supposed to be flavor and a preservative in a world plagued by all kinds of evil. That makes sense. Jesus Himself was a helper to the helpless, a healer to the unhealable and loving to the unlovable, dying to save the unsaveable.

But what about that next part?

But if 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.

Hmm… That’s a bit more difficult to riddle out. How can salt lose its saltiness? Can salt go stale? Does it expire?

I can tell you how this kinda sounds to me: it sounds like, “If you claim to be a Christian, but lose your ‘Christian-ness,’ if you are a ‘bland Christian,’ then you’re not of much value.”

Maybe we’d better take a look at the next story and see if there are any clues there.

Followers of Jesus are also supposed to be light in the world. Ok, that fits with the last story. The world is filled with evils and, like Jesus, Christians are meant to be a light, providing relief to the world from the darkness of those evils. But what about all this city and bowl business?

A city on a hill… a city on a hill…

Wait! Jesus was a Jew! He was talking to Jews! Of course “a city on a hill” was meant to evoke Jerusalem!

Jerusalem was built on a hill. It could be seen for miles and miles, and the lights of the city would have been a beacon to those traveling at night, calling them to safety.

And this was the first century AD after all…there were no electrical lights yet. Lights indoors at night had to be provided by bowl-shaped oil lamps, and you would put that bowl in the middle of the room in order to get the most light, that’s just common sense!

So why is Jesus suddenly becoming Captain Obvious here?

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

So…Christians need to let their light shine in the world, so that people will praise God. And that will happen when they…see our good deeds?

“You are the salt of the earth…” “You are the light of the world…”

“A city on a hill cannot be hidden…” “In the same way, let your light shine before men…”

“I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets…but to fulfill them…”

…That’s it.

Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

He IS the Law-giver, the same Law-giver that handed Moses the Ten Commandments and all the rest of the Hebraic laws on Mount Sinai. It’s always been His Law.

And in Matthew 22:36-40, when asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded thus: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

But then, in John 13:34-35, we get this:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Christians are salt and light in the world when they love others the way that Christ loved them.

And Christ loved them by…

…Oh…

1 John 3:16 – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.”

Well this is a problem…being a Christian literally means being a little Christ, being like Christ. Being like Christ means…well…being like Christ. Living like Him. Loving like Him. Sacrificing like Him. Laying down our lives for those who hate us, like Him.

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

We, that is to say Christians, are meant to be salt and light in the world. Psalm 34:8 says, “O Taste and see that the LORD is good.” It is through Christians that the world is meant to taste and see that the LORD is good. It is through Christians that the world is meant to know Christ and experience His love.

And…I think I understand that other part now…

If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

If the world looks at Christians and sees pride, hate, and anything else that so obviously isn’t Christ-like…if the world no longer finds us salty, if the world no longer sees us as a light in the darkness…then tell me, how will the world ever take Christ seriously?

I will not hide the fact that I am more guilty of this sort of saltless, darkened Christianity than anybody. In my life, I have proven that I’m no good for anything, except maybe to be thrown out and trampled.

Do you feel me, Christian brothers? Do you feel me, Christian sisters?

Big J closes out this little section of Scripture with this encouraging thought:

Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

…What?

J-Dog, are you kidding me?

The Pharisees were the creme de la creme of the religious elite in Judaism. NOBODY was more righteous than the Pharisees. NOBODY kept the law better than a Pharisee.

Jesus…if PHARISEES aren’t even getting into the kingdom… who can be saved???

…Who can be saved?…

…Why does that ring a bell?…

…Jesus’ students asked Him that once. Yeah, there was this uber rich kid who was all, “Yo, Good Teacher, I’ve kept all the laws my whole life, this life is pretty secure for me, I want to make sure I’ve got the afterlife squared away now. What do I do?”

Jesus shot back, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good, and you don’t think I’m God.”

“Yeah I do.”

“No you don’t. I’ll prove it to you. Sell all your stuff and give all the proceeds to charity, then follow me.”

“….Umm, I got a lot of stuff, Jesus.”

“See? I’m not your God. Your stuff is your god. This is why it’s so hard for rich people to get to heaven, they don’t want to let go of their stuff. In fact it would be easier to stuff a camel through the eye of a needle than for the 1% to get into my kingdom.”

His students couldn’t wrap their minds around this. See, in their culture, being rich meant that you must be blessed by God, and you could only be blessed by God if you were right with God, so if you were really really rich, you must be killing it spiritually, and here’s Yeshua, curb-stomping that idea right between this guy’s shiny new Guccis.

“Jesus,” they said, “If you’re telling us that THIS guy isn’t getting in…well… then who can be saved?!”

Who can be saved?…

If you claim to be a Christian, you’d best be asking Jesus this question too, because this is where Jesus really gets real.

“You can’t. That’s the point. No one can. The rich aren’t getting in. The religious aren’t getting in. NO ONE is getting in, it is literally impossible for anyone to get in…without God. With God, nothing is impossible.”

With God, all things are possible.

And God said, “Print it.”

That’s the whole story, isn’t it? That’s where this all started. God made Adam and Eve, and they lost their salt. They let their light go out. It would have stayed that way forever, if it weren’t for God. If it weren’t for Jesus. If it weren’t for Yeshua.

Adam and Eve fell, and brought the whole world down with them.

Yeshua died, and rose, and now in Him, Christians have a new life, a new kingdom, and a new command: Love the world like Christ loved the world, be salt, be light, and bring the world up with you.

When they see you, let them see God.

When the World Speaker starts telling a story, we should all probably listen extra carefully, right?

We call Him Jesus, and in His own language He was called Yeshua, which is where we get our name Joshua.

Three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and English.

One name: “The LORD saves.”

This is what we’re saved for.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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