Before we moved back to North Carolina, I was with our church one weekend helping out a church plant in Pittsburgh. That Sunday morning I was sitting in the back and for the first time in my life I had a question resonate with me and hit me like it never had before. These people had probably been out advertising and inviting people to come to their new church. But when I thought about that I put myself on the other side of the door and thought as the person being invited would think. As I thought from their perspective, I thought their question would probably be, “Why should I want to give up my day off to come to your church?” I think the answer to that question is because you invite them to something you are excited about and believe in, because they hear truth from your lips which is something they really want to hear, and because they see truth in how you live which is something they really want to see.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He preached a famous sermon called The Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is more than just a good teaching to follow, ethics for a future Kingdom or a picture of how the gospel relates to the Law. It is a teaching that shows us how to live a practical “Kingdom ethic” now, through the work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Spirit. The focus of this entire message from Jesus is about the Kingdom of God.
He preached this message to His disciples while they were in the midst of the crowds. It is a unique message because it is intended for the disciples of Jesus. But Jesus expects that those who are listening in who are not yet His disciples will be challenged, invited in and provoked by the things that He is saying. This sermon has a dual purpose as it was intended for disciples but given to a much broader audience.
There is a paradox that Jesus puts forth in the Sermon on the Mount. On one hand He shows that a disciple is no different than anyone else. But on the other hand He shows that a disciple is totally different from everyone else. So how can He say both of those things in one teaching moment. First we will look at the truth that a disciple of Jesus is no different than anyone else. We know this because of the nature of the Gospel.
God’s grace is what saves you and what gets hold of you. God saves undeserving sinners by grace. It is not anything unique or desirable in you that causes God to set His love on you and save you. You don’t “get your act together” or “clean up your act” for God to save you. The truth is God saves undeserving sinners. In that sense a disciple of Jesus is no different than anyone else. Simply a person that God has graciously saved and called into a relationship with Himself. When we share the Gospel we do it from a common ground; “like beggars sharing with other beggars where to find bread.”
Next He says that a disciple is completely different than everyone else. Why? Because God is totally different from everything and everyone else. God is holy and everything else is fallen. You don’t become a Christian by believing the right things about God. You become a Christian because you are mystically united to God for salvation through the power of the Gospel. Since God is different from everything and everyone else, simply by His indwelling, a Christian is completely different from everyone else. When the life of Christ is within you as a Christ follower, you are by that simple fact totally different from everyone else who is not a Christ follower. There is a difference and a “set apartness” that followers of Jesus have from the world.
We need to hear and understand this because in this passage Jesus draws a really strong distinction between His disciples and the world. He says His disciples are like this and the world is like that. A proper understanding of all of this is essential so you don’t hear Jesus saying, “These people are better than those people.” But you do hear Him saying, “I am different than the world so therefore my people are different and distinct from the world.” Do you ever look at the world and in disgust or frustration say, “Something has got to change.” God has a plan for change and guess what that plan for change is . . . YOU! Our Big Idea for today is . . . I am God’s plan for change. God’s plan for change is me . . . God’s plan for change happens through me.
If you have your Bible, turn with me to Matthew 5. If you don’t have your Bible, it will be on the screen so you can follow along. “13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16).
In this section Jesus begins with two very emphatic statements of fact. He doesn’t say, “You ought to be salt” or “You should be light”. He says, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) . . . “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). One of the first things we need to see in these statements is identity before behavior. Rather than beginning with how He wants us to live in the world, Jesus begins by saying “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world”.
When Jesus says this is about His disciples He is also making a statement about the world. When Jesus says His disciples are “the salt of the earth” He is simultaneously saying the world is corrupt and decaying. The primary use of salt in New Testament times was preservation. They would put salt on meat to keep it from spoiling. When Jesus tells us we are salt, He is also telling us the world needs to be salted! When He says His disciples are “the light of the world” He is simultaneously saying the world is dark and in need of light. So you see in both of these statements Jesus is making a declaration about those people who are His followers and also a declaration about the world.
After Jesus makes these two statements He then makes two common sense observations. “Salt that is not salty” and “a light that is hidden” are both useless. It doesn’t take a genius to figure these two observations out. The reason you have a light is because light is needed in the room and the reason you need salt is because of decay and lack of flavor. “13 “. . . but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13) . . . “14 “. . . A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket . . .” (Matthew 5:14). Remember Jesus is speaking to His disciples and He is making a point. So, what is the point He is making?
His point is The Church Exists For The World. The purpose of salt is to salt something . . . The purpose of light is to light up something . . . The purpose of the Church is to be a light in the world! When we look around at the world system and see the destruction, the decay and the disastrous situation we are in, it has to grieve us. And that grief must drive us to the realization that there is a solution to the destruction and decay and it is those of us who are Christ followers. We are “salt” sent by God into the world to bring back to life what is decaying and what is being destroyed.
God has put His people (a lamp) on a stand and the purpose is to give light to the world. Jesus never called us to keep the light of the Gospel to ourselves. His calling is for us to exist in the world to give light by reflecting His character, by proclaiming His Gospel, and by being a representation of Him.
When you get what Jesus is saying you understand more about the church. The church is not necessarily just a place where you come to be spiritually fed, a place to worship, a place to fellowship, etc. The church is the people of God existing as Christ in the world. The entire purpose of the church is to display and declare who God is to the world. The church exists for the world and not for itself. The church exists for the glory of God in the world!
Our purpose statement says, “We exist to glorify God by Reaching Up, Reaching In and Reaching Out!” Every part of our existence is all about glorifying God. Our worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and evangelism is all about glorifying God. In all of that and in everything we do we must be salt and light which means that as we glorify God we are to be attracting people to Jesus by being His representation to the world.
That is why you read about the first century church that they were, “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47). They were being salt in a world just like ours today that was decaying and headed for destruction. They were being light in a world that was very dark just like ours today. And as they did that, God honored it and people became followers of Jesus.
That is what we desire to be as a church. When people hear of and think about Summit Community Church, we want them to know that this is a place . . . where they know and believe the Gospel . . . where they see life change through the power of the Gospel . . . where they worship Jesus . . . where they love Jesus . . . where they believe the Bible . . . and they know it is good to have us in the community. The question that always resonates in my spirit when I think about our church is this . . . If we ceased to exist as a church, would we be missed in this community? I pray that we are such a strong presence of Jesus in this community that without our existence there would be a huge void in this community.
Everything that we do is a representation of Jesus to the world and a reflection of Jesus in the world. The Church Is A Representation And Reflection Of Jesus In The World. Everything that we do is done so we can glorify God. Our ultimate goal of Reaching Up, Reaching In, and Reaching Out is to honor God with our lives and glorify Him in all that we think, say and do.
As the church we must be a beam of light shining bright in our community. I remember several years ago I was driving at night and saw this bright beam of light moving and lighting up the sky off in a distance. My curiosity got the best of me so I drove towards the light. When I finally got to the source of the light I realized this was a search light on top of a new store that was having a grand opening. That bright light drew me to the store where they were celebrating their grand opening.
As a church, we must be that kind of light. We want to be a bright beam of light for people to see. When they see us we stir up curiosity. And in their curiosity, they come to see what that light is really all about. When they get here they need to see we are people who love Jesus, we are people who worship Jesus, we are people who believe the Bible, and we are people who know and live out the Gospel.
So, Jesus gives us these two distinct facts, two common sense observations and then He gives one direct command. “16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16). This imperative flows out of identity. Because you are light you must let your light shine. You have no light in and of yourself. The only light you have is the light of Jesus. The light that shines from us is the very light of Jesus shining through us.
The source of our light is Jesus. We have no light of our own. We represent and reflect the light of Jesus to the world! How do we let this light shine? He says, “that they may see your good works . . .” (Matthew 5:16). If the only witness people have about Jesus was your life, what conclusions are they making about Jesus? Are they seeing good works that shows them exactly who Jesus is and what He can do and wants to do in all people?
Your motive matters. How you do what you do and why you do what you do really matters. The Sermon on the Mount cuts through our external actions and down into our hearts to ask why do we do what we do. Do you do what you do to be seen by others or to glorify God? In Matthew 6 Jesus goes on to say we can do things to get the attention ourselves and bring glory to us and not to God. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them . . .” (Matthew 6:1). This is a potential dangers in doing good works . . . either to do them just out of guilt or for us to receive all the credit, praise and glory.
So how do you do all you do in a way that God gets the glory? How do you, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). The illustration of the sun and moon is a perfect example of how it works. The sun is the source of light. The moon has no light of its own and is only a receiver and reflector of the light from the sun. Jesus is like the sun. He is the source of our light. He is the only light that truly exists. We have no light in and of ourselves. The only light we are able to give off is the light of Jesus. As we receive the light of Jesus we reflect the light of Jesus.
How do people actually see God in and through our good works? Do you have to explain it all the time and connect the dots for them explaining that it was the Holy Spirit working through you? Not really because it all goes back to the beginning of this passage. God is glorified in and through our good works because God is different and therefore we are different. The kind of good works produced by the Holy Spirit are different than any other good works. You can tell when someone is doing things out of guilt or self righteousness. You can sense meekness and poverty of spirit. And when people sense that they will connect the dots and give glory to God.