3. "Vital Signs"

Matthew 5:13–20

During last week's session, George completed our focus on The Beatitudes. This week's session starts by asking a personal question: In your daily life, are you the salt of the earth; are you the light of the world? By the session's end, you'll know your answer to that and a few other personal questions.
Today, Pastor John Ortberg demonstrates how Jesus expects us, his doers of the Word, to be righteous while having a profound influence on those around us.

Vital Signs

Matthew 5:13–20 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
Salt and Light
13"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither 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. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The Fulfillment of the Law
17"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. 18I 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. 19Anyone 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. 20For 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.

Matthew 5:13–16, Salt and Light

After preaching the Beatitudes, Jesus tells the disciples of their responsibility in society. The focus of God’s action is the entire world — not simply the Church or Christians. ‘Let your light shine before people that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.’ It's about what we, "doers of the Word," do in this world.

Apostle Peter told of what we who are blessed are to do in this world (1 Peter 2:9–10).You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received God’s mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Salt of the Earth<<click to open)  In the first place, Christians are to be the salt of the earth. When we want to stress a person’s worth, we often say that he or she is the salt of the earth. In the ancient world, salt was highly valued. The Greeks called salt "divine." Salt performs two important functions: it's the commonest of all preservatives; it keeps things from going bad. For millions of people in the world, salt still has this purpose. In the second place, salt gives taste and flavor to food. Food without salt is insipid. The Christian’s task is to be the salt of society, preserving, reconciling, adding taste, giving meaning where there is no meaning, and giving hope where there is no hope. It's about the quality of life. How are you doing at being the salt of the earth?

Light of the World<<click to open)  We're also called to be the light of all the world. It means that we're to be light in all aspects of the world’s life. Jesus Christ is the true light of all the world. He's lit a light in the life of each of his followers. Christian disciples are called to rise and shine; to be torch bearers in a dark world. We shouldn't try to hide the light that God has lit in our lives. Rather, we ourselves, as doers of the Word, should visibly shine so that others may see our good deeds and praise God.

For us to become the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world," we must be faithful doers of the Word in all our daily actions. How are you doing at being the light of the world?

Matthew 5:17–20, The Fulfillment of the Law

Jesus is teaching his followers about the kingdom of God: what God is like; what his will is. Jesus tells his listeners that they are blessed by God because in his Kingdom, they'll receive from God himself what they deeply long for. They're blessed in their ability to recognize the brokenness, evil, and suffering in this world and that God would have the final say.

True, the listeners are salt and light in this world. They remain present in the world, benefiting it by their presence. Jesus, of course, is The Salt and Light of this earth, just as he is the One who mourns, is meek, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, makes peace, and so on. All that Jesus has said so far about those who are in the Kingdom applies first and foremost to him.

Jesus goes on to speak of how he's connected to the law of God that they've already received. "Think not," Jesus warns, "that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." The phrase "the law (Torah) and the prophets" was how teachers in Jesus' day referred to the whole teaching they'd received in the Scriptures, about God's character and purposes presented in the Old Testament. Jesus speaks clearly. What he has to say is strongly connected to the whole message of the Old Testament. Particular regulations are included in God's Torah but don't form the center or foundation of it. In fact, this may be the very mistake that the Pharisees have made. They've reduced the will and purpose of God to a conformity to legal regulations.

It's All About Righteousness

Jesus indicates here (and later in this passage), in no uncertain terms, that his teaching has everything to do with true righteousness as revealed in the whole of the Old Testament. In fact, says Jesus, his teaching on true righteousness will so far exceed what the Pharisees understood as righteousness, that it will look as if they have all but forgotten what true righteousness is by comparison! Jesus calls us all to rethink what true righteousness is all about. A legal definition will not do.

In vv. 17–20, Jesus says that he's here to fulfill the law and the prophets — and this is the key — to fulfill all righteousness; to complete the law. This means that Jesus alone shows us what true righteousness is and, therefore, what the whole Old Testament was about. Jesus challenges the Pharisees to stop judging him by their own understanding of God's Torah, and instead to interpret the Old Testament and the very character and purpose of God in terms of him and his teaching.

But Is Yours a Surpassing Righteousness?

Finally, Jesus makes a statement that must have been, at first hearing, truly astonishing to those listening: "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." The scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who loved the law, right? They followed the law better than anyone. Who could hope to have a righteousness that exceeded theirs? Only Jesus could.

Okay, so Jesus' righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. That's great for him, but where does that leave us? The only way we can have a righteousness that goes beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees is to have the righteousness of Jesus within us. But how is that done?

We receive God's righteousness when we're poor in spirit. To be righteous with God begins with realizing that we must count on God to make us righteous though Jesus, his Son, thanks to the faithful work of his Spirit in our lives. But the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees too often didn't proceed out of a dependence on God, but on their own efforts. Little did they know that the kingdom of God can only be received: it cannot be earned nor bought.

Bottom line: It is only by the Holy Spirit that we, as the children of God, can share in this right relationship and so follow in his ways each and every day. And that's a righteousness that surely exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, one that will never pass away.

Practical Application

Hearty brothers:
Q.  How are we to regard the law (Torah) of God?
A.  Jesus tells us, his listeners, to love it, obey it, and teach others to do the same. To live under his rule is to recognize the good and gracious nature and purposes of his will for us, his children, starting with Jesus and ending with us.

A few personal questions for you from Dr. John Stott:

  • What are some practical ways you can function as salt where you live?
  • What might cause Christians to lose their "saltiness"?
  • How can you positively promote the spread of truth in the world?
  • Why might we be tempted to hide our light (v. 15)?

Thanks to Jesus' Sermon, he's shown us (vv. 13–16) the kind of influence he expects us to have on those around us and (vv. 17–20) the meaning of Christian righteousness and the importance that Scripture has in our lives.

Called to be salt and light in this world,
Called to preserve as well as shine.
Called to reflect the glory of God —
Oh, what a calling is mine! —Fitzhugh

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