Above and beyond – Sermon on the Mount, lesson #3

Do you remember the old Star Trek television series? It captured the imagination of an entire generation when it first came out. The crew of the starship USS Enterprise endeavored on a five–year mission—“to boldly go where no man has gone before.” “Go beyond!” That was the mission of the starship Enterprise and its crew. And each episode recounted their experiences as they boldly went forth.

Perhaps you’ve wished to live a Sci–Fi life. Work, school, church, and even your marriage and kids are a bit monotonous. There’s part of you that would like to embark on a Star Trek–like adventure. Yet, you realize this is fictitious. (It is fictitious, right?) Closer to our galaxy, have you ever longed to go beyond the natural realm? Do you aspire to live a supernatural life above your present circumstances? If so, the Bible has a definitive word for you. In Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus urges you and me to boldly go where we have never gone before. In these four verses, Jesus helps us understand how the commands of the Old Testament apply to our lives. In short, Jesus says, “We must go above and beyond.”

  1. Fulfill the Law through Jesus(5:17–18). In this first section, we are called to recognize that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament. In 5:17, Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse is one of the most important verses in the Bible. For here Jesus explains one of the reasons that He came to earth—He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament. Jesus’ first words are: “Do not think.” Being the world’s greatest teacher, Jesus liked to clear up possible misunderstandings. Jesus is responding to the erroneous view that He came to “abolish” the Old Testament. Obviously, this is utter nonsense! The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church and it remains the only way that we can properly interpret the New Testament. Instead of abolishing the Old Testament, Jesus says, “I came” or “I have come” to point to His mission to fulfill the Old Testament. God’s Word was essential to the personal mission of Jesus’ life. Is this true for you as well? What role does God’s Word play in your goals, perspectives, and convictions? Do you run your life through the grid of the Scriptures?

Jesus states that He did not come to “abolish” the Old Testament. “Abolish” (kataluo) is a very strong word. In its other three usages in Matthew, the verb is used of demolishing a temple. Jesus says, “I didn’t come to demolish the Old Testament”; instead, I came to “fulfill” it. The question is, “What did Jesus mean by the word fulfill?” This is one of the most debated questions in the New Testament. Yet, three points flesh out Jesus’ meaning.

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The word “fulfill” (pleroo) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.” “Fulfill” does not mean “to bring to an end.” Rather, it means, “to fill out, expand, or complete.” Concerning the Old Testament, we could say that Jesus “filled it up” or “filled it full” with meaning. Whether we study the furnishings of the temple, probe the messianic passages in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Jesus Christ. Just as the fetus is fulfilled in the adult human, so Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. We could go so far as to say that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ. Therefore, Jesus does not contradict the Old Testament; He’s the culmination of it. The entire Old Testament points to Jesus and will be fulfilled in Him, down to the smallest detail.

Jesus’ death fulfilled the Old Testament Law. The Law prescribed a system of sacrifices to deal with sin. For 1500 years, day after day, week after week, and especially year after year, the people brought their sacrifices. These offerings signified that sin brings punishment and only death and blood could release someone from that punishment. Those thousands of dead animals pointed forward to a sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptizer exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Through Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ provided a way of salvation that meets all Old Testament requirements and demands (Rom 3:21, 31). When you believe in Christ as your Savior, you have fulfilled the Law and will not suffer the eternal consequences of breaking the Law. If you have never placed your faith in Christ’s death for your sins, please do so right now. The price has been paid; all you have to do is receive the provision God has made.

Jesus’ teaching fulfilled the Old Testament Law. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20, Moses prophesied that God would speak anew through a prophet like himself. The teaching of Jesus fleshes out and reveals the full depth of meaning in the Old Testament. Jesus was the final Interpreter of and Authority over the Law and its meaning, as other passages in Matthew indicate. Jesus restated some of the Old Testament Laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some Laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by His teaching.

At this juncture, perhaps you are nodding your head and uttering hearty amen’s. “Yes, that’s right brother, we are not under law but under grace!” Now before you get too excited, you must recognize that although we are not under the Old Testament Law that doesn’t mean we are not under any law. I think about the young man who was tired of his parents’ rules about curfews, grooming, and chores around the house. He said, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get out of here so that I can join the Marines.” Poor guy! He was about to trade one set of rules for a different and, in many ways, stricter set of rules. In Matt 5:21–48, we will see that Jesus fills up and intensifies the meaning of many of the Old Testament Laws.

Jesus life, death, and teaching completely fulfilled the Old Testament Law. Consequently, every aspect of the Old Testament must be seen, interpreted, and lived out in the light of Jesus Christ. Think of a powerful searchlight scanning over the night sky. The way this light works is that a relatively small source of light is passed through a great lens, which magnifies it into a powerful radiance that spreads over the sky. Now, think of a laser beam. Here, the energy source is concentrated; its power source is transformed into a light of razor–sharp intensity. In Christ, the Law becomes both a searchlight and a laser. When the Law passes through the person and work of Christ, it is both focused and enlarged; its potential to illumine and guide us is both amplified and intensified. In light of this, we must go above and beyond.

In 5:18, Jesus explains the duration of the Law when He declares, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” The phrase, “For truly I say to you” or “I tell you the truth” is an authoritative statement backed up by all that Jesus is. When we want to emphasize a statement we often say, “Now mark my words.” Jesus said that when it comes to the Bible, we can mark not only the words as true, but also every letter and even the smallest portions of letters. In other words, the Bible is binding, authoritative, and dependable. One implication of this is that to reject the Bible is to reject Jesus and accuse Him of being a liar! Many people who want to claim Jesus don’t want to accept the Bible as His Word. But Jesus ruled out that option when He tied His life and ministry to the fulfillment of Scripture.

In 5:18, Jesus gives two lessons on the longevity and reliability of the Old Testament: one in astronomy and the other in penmanship. First, Jesus deals in astronomy. In this context “heaven” is describing the universe that God created. “Until heaven and earth pass away” is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts. The clause “until heaven and earth pass away” is qualified by the further clause “until all is accomplished.” Whatever was prophesied about in the Old Testament was temporary and would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His future kingdom.

After gazing at the universe through a telescope, Christ examines the Law’s penmanship with a microscope. Jesus argues that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” This statement by Christ provides us with one of the strongest affirmations in the Bible of the inerrancy of Scripture. Since Jesus is referring to the Old Testament, it is likely that in this penmanship lesson He is reflecting on the Hebrew language. The “smallest letter” of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter yodh. It is about the size of an apostrophe. The “stroke” refers to a serif, a minute distinguishing mark at the end of a Hebrew letter. In English, this would be akin to the tiny stroke that distinguishes a capital O and a capital Q. Jesus is saying that every dot or comma in the Bible is inspired by God. Furthermore, Christ’s lesson about letters is His emphatic way of saying that the Law and all its teachings will continue. What Jesus does and teaches complies with the Old Testament; but more, He completes the Old Testament. Those who have believed in Christ have through Him met all the requirements of the Law. Therefore, if we want to live a supernatural life, we must go above and beyond. This can only occur when we depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ.

[The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. Now we are exhorted to practically experience this fulfillment in our own individual lives.]

  1. Follow the commandments of Jesus(5:19–20). Jesus moves from talking about the Law and the Prophets to talking about the kingdom. The way that we can live an “above and beyond life” is by believing in Christ and then seeking to obey Him. In 5:19, Jesus says, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he [or she] shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” There are several observations that are worth noting in this verse. First, the word “whoever” is a general all–encompassing term that applies to every disciple. This means that you and I must grapple with this verse. Second, Jesus’ use of the phrase “these commandments” does not refer to the Old Testament commandments (5:17–18). Rather, this is referring to the commandments found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus has already mentioned a few (5:13–14), and in 5:21–48, He gives six examples of how His commands “fulfill” the Law. (We will look at these commandments as we progress in our series.) Third, Jesus distinguishes between disciples in His eternal kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is not going to be a classless society. Some people will be greater than others. Some will be called “great,” and others will be called “least.” This means that some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal. But please notice that disobedient disciples are still in the kingdom of heaven. Even those who break Jesus’ commandments and teach others to do the same have the free gift of eternal life that cannot be lost. This is dependent, however, upon placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Fourth, heavenly distinctions are determined by our view of the Scriptures. Our attitude toward the Scriptures brings smallness or greatness, honor or disgrace. We have two equations here: Disobedience + Deception = Dishonor and Obedience + Instruction = Honor. Specifically, how well you obey and teach the Scriptures determines your reward in the kingdom. Finally, Jesus is the one who calls His disciples “great” or “least.” Part of the reward of faithfulness is one’s eventual reputation. Our reputation, our name, what we’re “called” will be a part of our eternal reward. Jesus Himself will be the one who specifies that certain persons in the kingdom are great—and that is part of the point. You and I should live in such a way that God will regard us as great subjects of His kingdom. We must live above and beyond.

So let me ask you: What value do you place on God’s Word? How much of a “stickler” are you in your obedience to the Word? Greatness in Christ’s kingdom depends on maintaining a high view of Scripture. Your view of Scripture is the single greatest predictor of your spiritual health. If you love God’s Word and are applying it in your life, you are likely to be sound in every other area of your life. John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, said, “I am a Bible–bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small.” Like Wesley, are you a Bible–bigot or are you a cafeteria Christian—picking and choosing what entrees appeal to you? I challenge you today to become an even greater man or woman of the Word. Here are some ideas to consider as you pursue this goal.

  • Throw away your “Read through the Bible in a Year” programs. Before you label me a heretic, please recognize the need for baby steps. Many Christians bite off more than they can chew and end up feeling like failures. As a result, they give up on Bible reading because it doesn’t seem to work for their schedules. But who says you need to read the Bible through in a year? Since it took 1600 years to write, what’s the big hurry? Why not take two years to read the Bible instead of one? Why not spend four months on the Psalms and three months on Proverbs? Today, spend a bit of time in God’s Word. Shoot for five minutes, six days a week. Honestly, that is better than reading thirty minutes on one day of the week. Just take baby steps and see if your appetite grows. The Psalmist declares that God’s Word is “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10). Sure sounds better than a plateful of broccoli, doesn’t it?
  • Read the Bible in an understandable version.The New American Standard Bible Update that I preach from is designed for those with a twelfth-grade reading level. Admittedly, it is blocky, choppy, and at times awkwardly translated. However, when it comes to studying and preaching the Word, accuracy trumps readability. But when you are reading the Bible, it may be helpful to choose a version that isn’t so difficult to read. I would recommend the New Living TranslationNew International VersionContemporary English Version, and Today’s English Version. These Bibles are designed for those who have a reading level of approximately seventh-grade. They are fluid and easy to follow. If you have used a more literal version, these other versions can be a welcomed breath of fresh air that will bring the familiar Scriptures to life once again.
  • Read the Bible observantly. Perhaps you like detective and crime shows like I do. If so, when you read the Bible, look for clues that will help you see Jesus anew and afresh. Strive to grasp details that most people would not detect. When you read a passage, ask yourself “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions. This will bring a new level of excitement to your Bible reading. Don’t just read a chapter a day to keep the devil away; read to discover. I have found that the best Bible students I know are the ones that ask the best questions. Take your time and simply pour over the Scriptures like a detective searching out clues and looking for evidence.
  • Learn to interpret the Bible correctly.There are several fundamental rules to apply in Bible study. (1) Pay careful attention to the context. (2) Look up key words. (3) Compare the passage you are studying with other Scriptures. (4) Consult scholars and other Bible students. Use commentaries and learn from other men and women in the church. Test your interpretations out on other believers to be sure that you’re not on the verge of starting your own cult of one.
  • Make application the goal of your Bible study. You would never think about eating without chewing. Reading the Bible without applying is like eating without chewing. We must always ask this question: How does the biblical truth that I have studied impact my life? Remember, the goal of Bible study is not just to inform, but to transform. These five suggestions will help you progress in your love for God’s Word. My prayer for you is that in your Bible study you go above and beyond.

Jesus concludes this passage in 5:20 with the key to the Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Stop and feel the weight of these words. This statement is a shocker! During Jesus’ ministry on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be the most holy and righteous people on earth. They were clergy, the professional do-gooders. So Jesus’ declaration is like saying, “Unless you are a greater philanthropist than Mother Theresa and a greater evangelist than Billy Graham and a greater social reformer than Martin Luther King and a greater prophet than Muhammad and more peaceable than Gandhi and wiser than Confucius and more holy than the Pope, you’re not getting into heaven, period.” Whew! What do you do with that?

We must recognize that the scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, tithed, and lived according to the rules. They were pretty good at obeying the external requirements of God’s Law, but they didn’t meet the punch line of the Sermon on the Mount. That comes in 5:48: “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This takes the statement of 5:20 to its logical conclusion. God requires perfection—not relative perfection, where the standard is other people. The standard is God Himself—the kind of moral perfection that God Himself exhibits. This demand for perfection includes our internal thoughts, motives, and attitudes. This is where the scribes and Pharisees failed. They thought that religious performance made them acceptable to God. Yet, Jesus says that when we stand before God, we’ve got to do better than that. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different type of righteousness altogether. Entering into the kingdom has nothing to do with keeping the rules like the scribes and Pharisees. It has to do with Jesus Christ fulfilling the rules for you. No person apart from Christ can produce the righteousness that God commands. In kind, it is His kind; in degree, it is what mathematicians would call “the nth degree.” It is beyond calculation! Without God’s kind of righteousness, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven. We are sinners in need of a perfect Savior.

A.J. Jacobs, the agnostic senior editor of Esquire magazine, decided to spend an entire year trying to be completely obedient to every command in the Bible. In 2007, he wrote a book entitled The Year of Living Biblically. He says, “One thing I learned was how much I sinned. That was a little disturbing, but once you start to pay attention to the amount that you lie and gossip and covet and even steal—I was taken aback and that was a real eye–opener.” These are profound words from an agnostic. As believers we too must be reminded that we need Jesus to solve our sin problem. This recognition ought to compel us to live our lives in response to His grace.

One summer a family went on an Alaskan cruise. The family enjoyed the vacation a great deal, but the dad came home with one observation in particular that really impressed him. He said the flowers in Alaska are huge! The pansies, day lilies, and impatiens all had flowers that were just immense. Even the dandelions stood two feet above the grass with flowers that were six inches across. He wondered what kind of fertilizer the Alaskans were using, but when he inquired they said “none.” Why then, he asked, are the flowers so big? The answer came back: Nearly twenty hours of sunlight! With that much exposure to sunlight, anything would grow bigger and stronger. The same principle applies if I want to grow in Christ. If I want to get bigger in love, stronger in patience, stand taller in selflessness, shine brighter in godliness, I need to spend more time in the S–O–N—the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law for you and me. Now He asks us to follow His commands. He makes it possible for us to live a supernatural, above and beyond life.

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Being salt and light

Being Salt and Light
Small group, MBC, February 15, 2015
Have you ever failed to recognize something valuable? As Stan Caffy prepared for married life, he cleaned out his garage and donated many of his possessions to the Goodwill. One of the items he donated was a tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence that had been hanging in his garage for a decade. Stan’s trash turned out to be another man’s treasure. This particular version of the Declaration of Independence was a rare copy made in 1823. A man named Michael Sparks spotted it, and he purchased the document for $2.48. Sparks later auctioned it for almost a half–a–million. Not a bad profit.
Just like this tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence, you and I are worth more than we think. Today, however, you may not feel like you are valuable. Perhaps you feel like you have failed God in your marriage or family. Maybe you are still suffering the consequences from a divorce or two. Maybe you failed to spend time with your kids and now that they are older they don’t have time for you. You wonder because of your mistakes if God truly loves you. Maybe you’ve never served in the church and you feel like there’s no way you could start now after so many years of inactivity. Due to your lack of spiritual commitment, you wonder how God can truly care about you. Perhaps you have wasted away your schooling or career. You had so much potential but you never lived up to it. Now it seems like you are just aimlessly going through the motions. You wonder how God could ever use you. I’m here to tell you that regardless of how you feel today, God considers you incredibly valuable. He loves you and longs for you to live out who you are. So give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is. In Matt 5:13–16, Jesus issues two exhortations to motivate us to fulfill this calling.

1. Season the earth (5:13). In 5:13, Jesus tells us that as disciples we play a valuable role in our culture. He begins by declaring, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” To discover the meaning of the salt metaphor, we need to understand the function of salt as it would be understood by Jesus’ original first–century audience. There’s only one problem: Scholars have identified no less than eleven different functions of salt in the ancient world. Salt had so many uses that it was highly valued. In fact, salt was so valuable that the Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with it. If a soldier did not carry out his duties, others would say, “He is not worth his salt.” That’s where we get the expression, “worth his salt.” Even today when we wish to say that someone embodies genuine quality and goodness, we say, “He [or she] is the salt of the earth.” So, we can safely say that the salt metaphor carries a general idea of value. Disciples, therefore, add value to the world in a broad sense. But we are still left to figure out specifically which of the valuable functions of salt Jesus had in mind.

The fate of Lot’s wife, being turned to a pillar of salt, is found in Genesis 19:26. The story may have originated as an explanation for the salt pillar on Mount Sodom, which is often called “Lot’s Wife”. It is common for locals to give names to some of the human-like shapes, including legends of the shapes’ origins.
Leviticus 2:13 and Ezekiel 43:24 illustrate the requirement of salt as part of ancient Hebrew religious sacrifices. Levicitus 2:13 reads: “And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
Salt was cast on the burnt offering (Ezekiel 43:24) and was part of the incense (Exodus 30:35). Part of the temple offering included salt (Ezra 6:9).
Salt was widely and variably used as a symbol and sacred sign in ancient Palestine. Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 illustrate salt as a covenant of friendship. In cultures throughout the region, the eating of salt is a sign of friendship. Salt land is a metaphorical name for a desolate no man’s land, as attested in Psalms 107:34, Job 39:6, and Jeremiah 17:6. The land of defeated cities was salted to consecrate them to a god and curse their re-population, as illustrated in Judges 9:45.
Bishop K.C. Pillai, from India, testifies that the salt covenant is much more than a covenant of friendship. It is an irrevocable pledge and promise of fidelity. Those who have taken salt together would rather die before they would break their covenant. He further states that the penalty for violating such a covenant is death.
Newborn babies were rubbed with salt. A reference to this practice is in Ezekiel 16:4: “As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.”
The significance of rubbing a newborn with salt is to indicate that the child would be raised to have integrity, to always be truthful.

Salt can be a preservative, an antiseptic, a fire catalyst, and a fertilizer. Honestly, I can make a reasonably convincing case for several interpretations; however, it seems to me that the most likely usage of salt in this context is as a seasoning agent.9 Jesus’ mention of the taste of salt supports this interpretation. Salt imparts flavor and improves the taste of bland food. If this is the function of salt Jesus has in mind, then how are disciples to be salty? Contextually, being salty is to live out the eight beatitudes previously listed in 5:3–12. If we live out these beatitudes we will make Christ attractive. Thus, to be “salty” is to be like Christ and live out His life. As we do so, we help those around us develop a taste for Jesus.

A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale; and, as he talked with his sales manager, he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied, “Son, take my advice: Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.” Are you making anyone in your life thirsty to know more about Christ? Is there anyone who is curious about your life because you showcase the life of Christ? Your lifestyle should exude such a flavor that it creates in others a hunger and thirst for the gospel.
Some people put salt on tomatoes and watermelon. Yet, I have never heard such a person say, “Oh, that is great salt!” Now I’ve heard plenty of folks say, “That is a great tomato or great watermelon.” Why? Because the job of salt is not to make you think how great salt is, but how great the salted food is. We need to sprinkle salt all over our society. Tragically, we have been so withdrawn from culture that we have turned our society over to the unrighteous to rule. When Christians pulled out of public education, politics, and the media, righteous decisions left with them. We have been called to penetrate society. How are your neighborhood, your town, and your kids’ schools different because you are around? You and I are supposed to be the “spice of life!” We need to live out who we are. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.

Before I leave this discussion on the purpose of salt, it is worth mentioning that salt is also an antiseptic. Perhaps you’ve discovered this function of salt when you’ve waded into the ocean with an open cut. Salt is indeed a potent disinfectant. But whenever it is used for this purpose, it can be painful. Likewise, in the spiritual realm we need to remember that people will many times not understand or applaud our salty nature. They may plead for us to be more tolerant and understanding, or they may accuse us of being judgmental. But we are called to disinfect a dying world, and this means we cannot compromise on sin. We must love people enough to be honest with them, even if it hurts them…and us. Remember, Jesus calls His disciples “the salt of the earth” and not “the sugar of the earth.” Some Christians prefer to sugarcoat the Bible and the claims of Christ. This makes life a whole lot easier. No one will object if we quote passages like “Do not judge” or “Love your neighbor.” Yet, you and I are called to be “the salt of the earth.” And sometimes, no matter how gracious and sensitive you attempt to be, you will offend. After all, salt has a bite to it. But the tang of salt also brings healing from the infection of sin.

After explaining the value and purpose of salt, Jesus continues in 5:13 with a word of warning: “…but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” Jesus’ words appear to present a problem for those who are scientifically astute. The question is frequently posed: How can salt lose its saltiness? Salt that loses its saltiness is a contradiction in terms like water that loses its wetness. If it is not salty, it is not salt. Strictly speaking, salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But the salt in Jesus’ day was seldom pure sodium chloride. The “salt” collected around the Dead Sea contained a mixture of other minerals, allowing the pure salt to be potentially washed out, leaving a useless residue that lacked the salty taste. While in the first–century it was possible for salt to lose its saltiness, in the spiritual realm this should be considered unthinkable! As God’s people we are the salt of the earth. We are not told to become salty; we are challenged to stay salty! Interestingly, the literal meaning of the word translated “tasteless” (moraino) is “to become foolish.” It is likely that Jesus is using a pun to suggest that if His disciples lose their saltiness, they are making fools of themselves.

Tragically, many Christians are like salt–free potato chips—their lives are a walking contradiction. Instead of flavoring the culture, they are polluting the culture.
In the final phrase of 5:13, Jesus states that tasteless salt “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” In the first–century, when salt became tasteless it was thrown on the ground where people wanted a hard path because salt had a hardening effect on the soil. People would then walk right on top of the salt and trample it into the ground. This metaphor does not mean that tasteless disciples lose their salvation. Instead, they are cast aside in the ministry of Christ. Tasteless disciples are not fulfilling the purpose for which Jesus called them. Because they are useless, they lose their testimony and influence. The consequences of such failure involve the loss of present usefulness and future rewards (cf. John 15:1–8).
The warning of 5:13 is also relevant to local churches as well. Since Jesus is talking to the disciples as a group (“you” plural) and they are later called the “foundation” of the church (Eph 2:20), this is applicable to every local church. As a corporate church, if we become tasteless and anemic we will be snuffed out of existence. We see testimony of this in church history. The seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation are no more. The churches of Corinth and Ephesus are all but nonexistent. We look in vain for the church of North Africa where the great Augustine (354–430) ministered. This can happen to our church as well. Even if we seem to be flourishing today, we may become tasteless tomorrow. The church of today has a tendency to brag about the size of our salt shakers (our church buildings) or the amount of salt we can put into our shakers (our worship attendance), rather than truly salting down our communities with the good news and good works of Jesus Christ. The whole point of salt is to leave the shaker and hit the meat. We must impact our world with the life of Christ. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
[As disciples we are called to season the earth. This requires us to recognize our value and fulfill our calling. In the next three verses, Jesus says…]
2. Light your world (5:14–16). In this section, Jesus declares that we are called to shine the light of Christ. He begins by stating: “You are the light of the world.” People often get very disturbed because the world is dark. That’s because the world is not light. What else can a sinful place be but dark? The world is lost and without any direction because the world is not light. Jesus is the Light, and we are to reflect Him. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, it is not enough to have private personal holiness; we must also have public exposure.

If we were to go into a building on a pitch–dark night, turn out all the lights, and even cover up all the windows, it would be so dark we would have a hard time moving around. There would be chaos as we ran into chairs, walls, and each other trying to get out of that building. But if in the middle of all that confusion, I stood on a platform, pulled out a huge flashlight, and turned it on, guess what? I now run the show. Whoever has the light calls the shots when it’s dark. That dark building describes this dark world pretty well. People are crashing into everything, trying to find a way out of the darkness. We Christians are the light. The tragedy is that we are not using the flashlight God has given us to give the world some light. Turn your flashlight on, Christian, so people in darkness can see. And after you turn it on hold it high so everyone can see it.

Christianity is not a covert operation. We don’t go slinking around in the dark to get our work done. There is no room for “secret–agent” Christians. We are not the spiritual CIA. We’re “the light of the world.” What we need is a group of people who are unapologetically Christian. Don’t apologize for being a Christian. No one else is apologizing. Homosexuals aren’t. Racists aren’t. If they can go public, so can we.

After making this general assertion, Jesus shares two parables in 5:14–15. First, He says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In Jesus’ day, cities were often set on a hill for a number of reasons. It was cooler on a hill. In that arid, middle–eastern land, the only air conditioning they had was a breeze. Cities were also situated on hilltops for protection against attack. A city set on a hill was easier to defend. It is much more difficult to storm a walled city running uphill, and defenders have always known that victory must be claimed by capturing and holding the high ground. Jesus’ point, however, is not a city’s defense, but its visibility because of its elevated position. Most cities in Jesus’ day were constructed largely of white limestone and placed on a hilltop to reflect the bright sun rays, allowing visibility from miles away. At night the white marble mirrored both the moonlight and burning lamps, acting as a beacon for directing travelers toward the city.34 Similarly, as disciples our light ought to make it easier for people to find their way to God. We are a city set on a hill that should be elevated and easily visible. We should give hope and direction for weary pilgrims in this dangerous and futile world. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.

In His second parable in 5:15, Jesus zooms in from the glow of a city to the glow of a household. He says, “Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” In Jesus’ day, homes were lit by small clay lamps which could be held in the palm of the hand. These clay lamps were sometimes covered with a hole in the top in which to pour the oil, and a hole at one side for the wick. Since most Jewish homes were modest one–room structures, placing a lamp on a lampstand could give light to everyone in the house. Jesus contrasts elevating a lamp on a lampstand to covering a lamp with a basket. People don’t light a lamp to hide its light under a basket, Jesus says. That’s silly! Rather, people light a lamp in order to shed light to everyone in the house. It is not that people should not hide their lights in their baskets, but that they do not do this. Lamps were essential for finding one’s way in enclosed areas during the night and were placed under a basket only to extinguish the light. Yet, many of us extinguish our lamp when we go to work, school, or into our neighborhood or community. We assume we need to blend in rather than bring a little heat. But in these two parables, Jesus says heat it up and lift it up. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.

Jesus concludes this passage with a powerful statement: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Fathe who is in heaven.” This verse is a command, not a suggestion. Jesus says, “Since you are light, SHINE!” We are not here to get used to the dark but to shine as lights. The light of Christ is to shine in and through us “before men.” In other words, this is a public exhibition of light. It is important to notice that the “light” is not equated with good works. Rather, the light illumines the good works in such a way that men notice them and glorify God. What is it that lights up our works to the glory of God? I believe it is our verbal testimony to Jesus Christ. Good works by themselves are not light; they must be illuminated by words that direct attention and tribute to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes Christians place a false dichotomy between words and deeds. They will say, “I testify to my faith in God by the way I live.” Others will say defiantly, “I don’t have to say anything.” The idea that we shouldn’t feel compelled to bring up the name of Jesus Christ as the explanation for our Christian character is born from either unbelievable arrogance or incredible naïveté. Our lives are not an adequate witness apart from our words. If you have your most spiritual day and your good works are clearly evident, your coworkers and classmates may just assume that you are a good Mormon. But if you name the name of Christ, people will know whose you are and where your works stem from.

Jesus expects good works and good words. Both are necessary to glorify God. The word “glorify” (doxazo) means to show off. That’s right—we’re supposed to show God off. Unfortunately, sometimes it is tempting to dazzle others with our good works so that we are glorified, not God. Yet, light functions best when it is least visible. If you are blinded by a lamp, you are not able to read. Jesus makes it clear that our good works should not direct attention back to us but to the Father in heaven. The purpose of shining our light is to point others to the God who is working in us. When people see the full moon on a clear summer night, they are not going to say, “It’s wonderful that the moon is such a powerhouse of light energy for us.” The moon has no light. It merely reflects the light of the sun. That’s how it works with Christians, too. The world sees our works, but glorifies not us but the One who is the true source of the goodness that we exhibit in our behavior. You could say we are like stained-glass windows. We sparkle and shine when the sun is out. But in the darkness, beauty is seen only if there is a light within.
Yet, you may still be thinking, “I’m just not very impressive. I don’t have a lot of gifts or talents. I’m not educated. I’m not rich. I’m not outgoing. I’m not even good looking. How can God use me?” Remember that Jesus’ disciples were the little people of the world. Jesus Himself was a carpenter/preacher who was not much older than thirty. His disciples were the same age. They were not political leaders. They weren’t well educated. Some spoke with country accents. They didn’t come from wealthy or aristocratic families. They came from what we would call today small business and “blue–collar jobs.” So if Jesus could call His disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” He can say the same to you today. So give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
In our master bedroom there is a rocking chair. Next to the glider is a standing lamp. I often like to sit in this chair and read, before going to bed. Every night, I turn on the lamp so that I can see to read. What happens when the light bulb burns out? Naturally, I instinctually turn on the lamp, but to no avail. I have the light bulb; I just need to use it.
Maybe this story describes your spiritual life. You are “the light of the world,” but you’re not lighting up your world. Your life doesn’t shed light, it casts shadows. Someone once phrased the issue this way: “If you were being tried for being for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” For many of us, this is a very sobering question. This week you may see your next–door neighbor, your mail delivery person, your children’s friends and parents and teachers, your coworkers, your server in the local restaurant, and on and on. Jesus says, “Shine your light!” Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is. Let those around you know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Show Him off to those in your life.

Jesus’ oxymorons – the Beatitudes

1. Grand Reversals (Matthew 5:1–12) Sermon on the Mount Series, MBC, February 8, 2015
I have always been amused by oxymorons. An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory words that shouldn’t be linked together. Let me offer a few examples: airline food, brotherly love, Hell’s Angels, jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, rap music, sensitive guy, and short sermon. Oxymorons are common in everyday speech and in the Scriptures. This is especially true when Jesus is speaking. Initially, we may be perplexed by Jesus’ oxymorons, but rather quickly we will see that His words are life. In Matt 5:1-12, we kick off our series “Counter-Cultural Christianity.” This series walks through the Sermon on the Mount—the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who has ever lived.

But before we consider Jesus’ words, we need to pay careful attention to Matthew’s introduction in 5:1–2. “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them.” These verses make it clear that Jesus intentionally distanced Himself from the crowds that had been following Him. He escaped by climbing up on a mountainside and sitting down. The disciples then came up the mountainside to listen to Jesus and He taught “them.” Jesus is preparing His disciples for leadership in His future kingdom.

Before we launch into Jesus’ sermon, several initial observations are necessary. (1) These verses are popularly known as “the beatitudes.” This English word “beatitude” implies that these verses are attitudes; however, the word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin term beatus that means “blessed.” It is only a coincidence of the English language that the idea of “be-attitudes” or “attitudes of being” is suggested by the Latin word for blessing. (2) Each of these eight beatitudes begins with a timeless promise of reward. This is indicated by the word “blessed” (makarios). In this context, the primary sense of the word “blessed” is approval. To be blessed is to experience the joy of being approved by God. It is the applause of heaven! (3) All of these beatitudes are despised by our present age. (4) All of these beatitudes disclose a future reversal in the making. Those who exhibit the characteristics in 5:3–12 may not be honored on earth, but their eternal reward will be great. Furthermore, there will be a sense of joy and satisfaction that will permeate their lives even here on earth. (5) These beatitudes are intended to characterize every disciple, not just the “spiritual elite.” We can’t pick and choose which ones we want to fulfill—these beatitudes are a packaged deal. These are not eight separate groups of disciples, some who are meek and others who hunger for God. It’s easy to make the mistake of saying, “I’m just not merciful” or “I’m just not a peacemaker.” We can’t pick the easy ones and ignore the difficult ones, like being pure and being prepared for persecution.
Okay, now we are finally ready to study the eight beatitudes. The first set of four beatitudes focus on our vertical relationship to God; the second set of four on our horizontal relationship to people. Each of the eight builds upon the other so that there is an amazingly beautiful and compelling progression.

Beatitude #1: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The word that is translated “poor” (ptochos) refers to a person who doesn’t have sufficient food, clothing, or shelter. This is not a person who is forced to draw upon savings for one month; this person has nothing! To be “poor in spirit” refers to being a “spiritual beggar.” It means being completely destitute in the realm of the spirit, being totally dependent on the goodness of God. This is the type of person that God esteems (Isa 57:15; 66:2b). Martin Luther (1438–1546), once said, “God created out of nothing. Therefore until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” One of the most freeing experiences of my life is acknowledging my wretched state. I freely tell others that I am spiritually bankrupt apart from God. It has been derogatorily said that, “Christianity is a crutch!” Unlike many Christians, I never become offended or defensive when I hear this statement. I agree with it! Christianity is my crutch; it is also my walker and my wheelchair. Apart from Christ and the teachings of Christianity, I would be incapable of living my life in a way that pleases God.

We must learn to stop comparing ourselves to other people. Instead, we are to compare ourselves with the perfect Lord Jesus. He is our standard and we all fail to measure up. Imagine that two people each owe ten million dollars. For repayment, one may have one thousand dollars and another, one dollar. One is a thousand times better off than the other; but if they owe ten million dollars, they are both bankrupt. Disciples who are “poor in spirit” recognize their spiritual bankruptcy before God. Consequently, they are vulnerable, transparent, and authentic about their own failures and sins. We talk disparagingly about “needy” people. But every disciple ought to be “needy” for Jesus Christ. We are to be utterly dependent upon Him in every area of our lives. We ought to say, “Jesus, I can’t stay married apart from You. I can’t raise my children apart from You. I can’t work my job apart from You. I can’t stay pure apart from You. Jesus, I need You! Without You I am absolutely nothing!”

Those disciples who are “poor in spirit” are promised “the kingdom of heaven.” Notice the present tense: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “The kingdom of heaven” in Matthew is synonymous with “the kingdom of God” (19:23–24) and often refers to the reign of God, not heaven. Those who are “poor in spirit” will participate in a greater degree of rulership in the kingdom of heaven, both now and in the future.

Beatitude #2: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4). The word “mourn” in this context refers to mourning over sin. We should mourn the lack of righteousness in ourselves, our churches, and our society (in that order). We should also long for God to eradicate sin and usher in His perfect justice. To mourn, then, is to lament that the kingdom has not come and God’s will is not yet done. True Christianity manifests itself in what we cry over and what we laugh about. So often, we laugh at the things that we should weep over and weep over the things we should laugh at. In our heart of hearts, what do we weep about? What do we laugh about? If we are characterized by mourning, we shall be comforted by God now and in the eternal state.

Beatitude #3: “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5). Jesus didn’t mean “blessed are the weak and deficient in courage.” “Gentle” or “meek” originally meant to bridle wild horses, to put strength and power under control. The word means “the ability to submit to God’s will.” The strongest man is not the one who forces his will upon others but the man who has power and willingly surrenders it. Moses was called “the meekest man on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). Even though he murdered a man and was a strong leader, he learned to be gentle and meek before God and man. When attacked or criticized he would do nothing but fall on his face and pray. Our Lord Jesus also referred to Himself as gentle (Matt 11:29; cf. 21:5). Paul also listed gentleness in Gal 5:22–23 as one of the products of the Holy Spirit. Those who are gentle and humble toward God shall inherit the earth. This speaks of coming reward during Christ’s earthly kingdom reign. Is the Lord your refuge? Do you trust in Him implicitly? If so, you’ll experience fulfillment in this life and reward in the next.

Beatitude #4: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (5:6).” This beatitude is particularly interesting. Jesus does not say that He is looking for people who possess righteousness, but for people who want it desperately but don’t yet have it. Matthew most commonly uses the word “righteousness” to describe right–living before God. To “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is to desire to be Christ–like above all else. Think about the last time you were really hungry or thirsty. You were distracted from whatever else you were attempting to do, right? A person who is hungry or thirsty tends to push other things aside. They are desperate and their top priority is satisfying their hunger or thirst. Similarly, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” put becoming like Jesus Christ first. The result is they will be satisfied by God in this life and the next. Will you ask God to cultivate the hunger and thirst that He has placed within you?[The first four beatitudes show that God’s approval is found when we are humbled by God and respond appropriately to Him.]

Beatitude #5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7). Mercy is the willingness to not impose a penalty or a loss that is fully deserved. Do you have any enemies? Is there someone in your life who drives you crazy? Grant them mercy. When others hurt you, will you pray God’s blessing over that person? If God wants to discipline him or her, He will, but you and I can pray blessing. You won’t be merciful to others unless in the core of your being you appreciate the mercy that God has shown you. You will want your rights. You won’t fully understand that you deserve nothing. James 2:13 states “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.” I want God’s mercy! I am sure you do too. If so, show others the type of mercy you’d like to receive.

Beatitude #6: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:8). Jesus’ words are very significant. He refers to the “pure in heart.” In the Scriptures, the heart describes the inner person—who a man or woman really is. This is where purity begins. If one has internal integrity, it will manifest itself in external integrity. Jesus took the Pharisees to task on many points (see Matt 23), all of which centered on the inconsistency between the external and internal parts of their lives. The outside parts of their lives were exceptionally clean, but on the inside their hearts were unclean. They wanted the world to see their clean hands while trying to hide their unclean hearts. It’s easier to avoid unclean hands (murder, stealing, and gluttony) than an unclean heart (envy, pride, bitterness). But in time, the hand manifests the heart. So ultimately, the way to have pure hands is to have a pure heart. And pure hearts are only possible by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. If you desire a clean life, start with a pure heart. Where the heart leads, the hands will follow. Today, will you begin to meditate on Ps 139:23–24? Ask the Lord to search your heart on a daily basis. Spend time in His presence and ask Him to help you identify impure thoughts and motives. As you learn to make purity a heart matter, you will see God in your experience in this life. You will also have greater intimacy with Him in the eternal state.

Beatitude #7: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (5:9). Jesus blesses “peacemakers,” not peace–keepers. This means we are not appeasers of men. We do not seek peace at any price, but we seek to pursue the path of peace (Rom 12:18). This is in keeping with God the Father who is called the “God of peace” six different times in the New Testament. Sons and daughters of God are to exude peace. Jesus says that His disciples can become “sons of God.” This is not a reference to salvation. Rather, Jesus is referring to the reward of His disciples becoming “sons indeed.” If we function as peacemakers, we are “called” sons by God (cf. Rev 21:7). The phrase “sons of God” deals with character rather than relationship. Barnabas was called the “son of encouragement;” Judas, “the son of perdition.” Barnabas was encouraging; Judas was doomed. So if someone is called a “son of God” or a “daughter of God,” he or she is displaying God’s character.

Those disciples who exhibit the above beatitudes should be applauded, not booed. Yet, in this world that is not how it works. The world is threatened by a Christian lifestyle. It convicts them of sin, and it condemns their way of life. The natural response to a threat is retaliation. I seem to remember someone telling me that doing the right thing has its own reward. But sometimes, doing the right thing will bring you trouble. That’s the message behind this next beatitude.

Beatitude # 8: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10). The word rendered “persecuted” in 5:10 bears the root idea of “pursue” or “chase.” A good translation is “harass”—“Blessed are the harassed.” The physical persecution of Christians is prevalent all over the world. Yet, social and verbal persecution or harassment can be just as difficult. You may be passed over for a promotion because of your Christian faith. You may lose your job if you refuse to compromise your ethical convictions. You may lose your spouse if you choose to walk with Christ. You may be rejected at school because you don’t party with the rest of your peers. You may be rejected by your neighbors because you do not delight in their gossip. These scenarios of indifference and condescension can sometimes be harder to take than physical violence.

Let’s be honest, Jesus messes up this life. Follow Him and you’re in for some flack. If you’re looking for something that will make your daily life easier, look elsewhere. I’m afraid the way of Jesus isn’t going to do it for you. I know this is lousy marketing. Apparently, Jesus had no training in sales. No political coaching. No speechwriters. Surely they would have told Jesus not to mention the persecution, the mistreatment, the hurt that can come from following Him. “Accentuate the positive,” they’d say. “Downplay the persecution.” But Jesus doesn’t downplay the persecution; He features it. And not only does He feature it, He goes further. He says that when we’re persecuted as a direct result of following Him, we are “blessed”—when we are thrown under the bus for Jesus. In other words, it’s good to get creamed for Christ. That’s right. Good. Jesus says we’re better off persecuted.

Verses 11 and 12 repeat, amplify, and personalize the persecution beatitude by a shift from third-person (“they”) to second-person (“you”) address. In 5:11 Jesus declares, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” There are two key qualifications in 5:11: “falsely” and “because of Me.” The word “falsely” is important. In other words, you haven’t been persecuted until people tell lies about you. If they say that you are a nasty person and you are, you haven’t been persecuted; you have just been accurately evaluated. You are persecuted when the lies start, and when the lies are connected with your faith in Christ.

In 5:12 Jesus hammers his persecution theme home: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Of all the beatitudes, this one is the capstone because it is the one that the Lord Jesus says we should take the greatest delight in. Jesus commands us to “rejoice” and “be glad” in the midst of persecution. Yet, He is not asking us to rejoice in suffering itself; we are rather to rejoice for two specific reasons. First, rejoice and be glad “for your reward in heaven is great.” Whatever persecution you endure on earth, God will make up to you in eternity. Second, rejoice and be glad “for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus says that we are following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets. These men were the godliest men of their day and they were the most powerfully used by God. They stood by God’s Word and preached it no matter what opposition came to them. We can rejoice because we’re in great company. Don’t get depressed or resentful or bitter if you are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Don’t weep or say, “How can this be happening to me? Why is God allowing this?” God is watching you. He is putting your tears in a bottle. He is storing them all up and will one day bless you and reward you in a way that will make up for every distress. You are in the noble succession of the great men and women of God down the ages.

In New York City, there are millions of cats and dogs. However, New York City is basically just concrete and steel, so when you have a pet in New York City and it dies, you can’t just go out in the back yard and bury it. The city authorities decided that for $50 they would dispose of your deceased pet for you. One lady was enterprising. She thought, “I can render a service to people in the city and save them money.” She placed an ad in the newspaper that said, “When your pet dies, I will come and take care of the carcass for you for $25.” This lady would go to the local Salvation Army and buy an old suitcase for two dollars. Then when someone would call about his or her pet, she would go to the home and put the deceased pet in the suitcase. She would then take a ride on the subway, where there are thieves. She would set the suitcase down, and she would act like she wasn’t watching. A thief would come by and steal her suitcase. She’d look up and say, “Wait! Stop! Thief!” My guess is the people who stole those suitcases got a real surprise when they got home. A lot of us are like those New York thieves. We’re chasing after happiness, and we grab what we think will give us happiness; however, when we get it, it doesn’t quite deliver.

You’ve heard it said, “Nice guys finish last?” Well, the truth is Godly guys (and gals) finish first. Maybe not from earth’s perspective but from heaven’s perspective, there is great reward when God approves of your life. Godly guys (and gals) finish first.