Sermon on the Mount – Salt & Light

Matthew 5:13-16

When I was young and any injury happened to me, my dad had generally one cure in mind – salt. This was especially true in the summer, as I was (still am) one of those people that just gets absolutely swarmed by mosquitoes. I would have cuts and scabs cover my legs and many on my arms, and the solution in his mind was the beach.  Mostly because he just liked going there, but if something couldn’t be cured by salt, you had to add come sun also to, ‘dry it out.’ In winter drinking warm salt water and going outside was the general cure. My brother and I literally had salt put into our wounds, but you get the point – he was a raving madman. However, as I was researching this passage, I came across this quote from Pliny the Elder in his major work, Natural History, – ‘Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine’ (in Latin, Sale e Sole, so there is a little wordplay, too).

Turns out, the benefits of salt, including its healing power was well known in the ancient world. The many uses of salt included, preservation, flavor, and disinfectant. Salt was also a symbol of loyalty and was used in sacrifices. Famously, Roman soldiers were paid in salt (sale in Latin) which lead to our word salary today. The most common use of salt, and the one that the disciples would most identify with, is as a preservative. Salt prevents decay. Christ is calling on the disciples to prevent decay of the world rotting from sin. This likely has to do with moral decay as the disciples preserved the Law. The word usually translated ‘earth’ here is the same as the word land. Whenever we read the Bible the word ‘land’ should stick out to us as that was the covenant promise to Israel.

Relatedly, when we see ‘world’ we should think gentiles, and/or culture of the time. So what does light do? Most simply put, it illuminates the darkness. Israel, and Christ’s disciples, know God and they are command to remember God and keep his law. The gentiles do not know God. Therefore, they are in darkness. As disciples, we are to give light to those in darkness. That is, preach the Gospel, do good works to glorify God, and bring the knowledge that we have to that whom haven’t yet heard.

There are many verses related to this concept of light. In Isaiah 42 and 49, we are told the True Light is the suffering servant (that is, Christ to come). In Romans 2:17, Paul considers the Jews to think they are the light to the gentiles. We are told that darkness fears the light. In John 5, John the Baptist is called ‘a burning and shinning lamp.’ Of course, John the Baptist is one of the great models of Evangelism.

So, the value of salt and light would be well known the ancient world; a world that didn’t have electricity, and therefore lacked refrigeration and ‘light’ as we know it today. I’ll wrap up with what John Stott sees as the three lesson from these verses.

  1. There is a fundamental difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, between the Church and the World.
  2. We must accept the responsibility the distinction puts on us.
  3. We must see the twofold Christian responsibility of: Preventing decay (salt) and illuminating darkness (light).

It is easy enough to say to Christian, go be salt and light, but as the recent public discussions (from the ‘Benedict Option’ to whatever it is Evangelicals are doing with Trump) have shown, it isn’t that simple. Fundamentalism and monasteries pull us too far from the world, they are the equivalent of putting the lamp under a basket, or as I read one criticism using – salt never did any good sitting on a shelf. Likewise, we can’t just join the world, especially today in the ‘everyone does right in their own eyes’ of moral relativism. We have to be the ones to preserve the moral laws of God. Just remember, at work you may be the only one to view life with moral absolutes, you may be the salt that is preventing decay, or in your neighborhood, you may be the only light your neighbor sees. They may be living in darkness, and it is incumbent on you to shine the Light of Christ into their lives. Salt and light is an incredibly responsibility, one I think most of us do not take seriously enough.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn, The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst, The Merciful, Pure in Heart, and Peacemakers, Those Who are Persecuted,

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Sermon on the Mount – Those Who are Persecuted

Matthew 5:10-12

Verse 10 is the final of the eight beatitudes, then you kind of have verses 11 & 12, just hanging out there. These two verses continue with the theme of persecution, but there is a transition happening here. Grammatically, He switches from using the third person to the second (blessed are those vs. you). Some have argued that these act as a transition section to the upcoming ‘salt & light’ teaching, and I think that makes the most sense. I think Christ is talking more broadly to the crowd and then narrows in to His disciples. Something like, ‘speaking of persecution, it will happen to you, my close followers. Also, you will be as salt and light.’

However, for my purposes, I’m lumping all the persecution in together and then move on to Salt and Light next week. One a side note, in the ‘fun with reading commentaries’ category, D.A. Carson says that it makes sense that Christ will follow peacemaking with persecution, while John Stott, says that it is a strange succeeding point. I’m actually inclined to disagree with both, as I don’t see as much of a connection. Peacemaking is us intervening with two other parties, while persecution is someone else’s reaction to us. I don’t seem them as countervailing actions. Anyway, back on topic.

V10

This might be the most straight forward and easy to comprehend of the beatitudes. For one, it isn’t dependent on us, other people need to act in this instance. So, what is ‘righteousness sake?’ One thing it isn’t, is for being a member of the church, that would be anachronistic to the hearers of the message. As it is the last of the beatitudes, I view is taking up any of the preceding beatitudes. Of course, later on in the Sermon, Christ will expound on a number of laws and even more so in later parable (such as loving your neighbor) that are necessary for righteousness.

Interestingly, the promise of this brings us right back to verse 5:3, where we started. As we discussed, poor in spirit can be seen as knowing you are spiritually bankrupt, which is essentially the opposite of self-righteousness. Now, it is for true righteousness, the promise to come is the same.

V11

This verse becomes much more specific relative to the prior verse. We move from ‘those’ to ‘you’, the disciples, and from ‘righteousness sake’ to ‘because of Me.’ This moves from an inference that something could happen to almost the expectation that something will happen. This should have been somewhat startling to the disciples, remember, this was quite early in Christ’s ministry (the beginning actually). As Jews, they would have some idea of religious persecution in the broad sense, but now they are being told that be doing something specific (following Christ), persecution will happen. People will revile you and say false things about you. With the benefit of hindsight, they should have seen maybe Christ was not the type of Messiah they were expecting.

V12

If the persecution comment wasn’t surprising enough, the statement comparing them to the Prophets should have put them over the top. On the one hand, they are told the reward is great, on the other, they can expect some of the same treatment they knew the prophets had received. Also, to put them on the level of the prophets tells us about who they thought Christ was. The prophets were those that spoke for God, often with direct revelation from Him to the world. If them following Christ meant they would be giving the word of God, then clearly they saw Christ for who he was.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn, The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst, The Merciful, Pure in Heart, and Peacemakers.

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Sermon on the Mount – the Merciful, Pure in Heart, and Peacemakers

The past few post I’ve covered the first four beatitudes, which relate to how we respond to God. Today, I’ll move on to Matthew 5:7-9, which relate to how we respond to others.

V7

What does it mean to be merciful? Well, it sounds simple, but it is one who shows mercy. Sure, sounds good, so what is mercy? The Greek word is eleos and is the stand new testament word for mercy, or sometimes compassion. This is in response to pain, misery, and brokenness of others. The word is both used for our reaction to others and God’s reaction to us. The word being used for merciful has an active sense, so we are actively responding to people, we are showing people mercy and compassion.

So, in some ways, this one is fairly simple – show mercy and mercy will be shown to you. Maybe the questions is obvious, but who is showing you mercy? We know that just because you show mercy or kindness to people does not mean that people will show it to you. The answer, as has been to the doer of all the second clauses of the beatitudes, is God. The tense used for ‘be shown mercy’ has a future active sense, leading one translator to make up the word ‘mercied’, which I like as a way to understand this verse. This continues the eschatological theme of the Sermon on Mount. That in our knowledge of God grace and mercy to use in the end, out of gratitude and obedience, we show others mercy and compassion today.

V8

Both verse 7 and 9 are very much continuation of the promises of the Old Testament, but this is probable the most direct of the three. There is almost nothing to comment on. We are supposed to love God with all our…heart. The Psalms call out to God, asking for Him to create in us a clean (leading to pure) heart. One commentator defined the pure heart as one of ‘inner moral purity and single mindedness,’ the single mindedness being in devotion to God.

What do we receive for this pure devotion? To see the face of God. This is the ultimate sense of blessing in the Old Testament, the ultimate way of experiencing the Glory of God. Remember that this is exactly what Moses requested of God, thought even he was only allowed to see God has He passed by.

The most direct connection is Psalm 24:6 – the generation of those whom seek him, will see the face of the God of Jacob.

V9

What exactly is a peacemaker? McKnight says it is one with ‘active entrance into warring parties, to make reconciliation. In Psalm 34:14(?) we are told to turn away from evil, seek peace pursue it. Being sons of God has two distinct meanings in this context. First, there is the obvious, that as a son(child) there would be an inheritance which of course brings us back to the overall eschatological sense of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically as it related to the Kingdom of God. The second, less obvious to modern readers is in the Hebrew, ‘to be called sons,’ has the meaning of sharing the characteristics of a father, in this case, God the Father, though Jesus Christ the Son.

There is a reason Christ is called the Prince of Peace. He is the ultimate reconciler, between us and God. Paul says in Colossian’s 1:20, ‘and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’

What a great place to end our quick look into these three beatitudes. If you are thinking, aren’t there eight, you only did four earlier. We will look next week at the final one, those persecuted, and look at their connection to the following two verses.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn, The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Sermon on the Mount – The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst

Matthew 5:3-6

Las week, I only made it through verses 3 & 4, so this week I’ll wrap up the first section of the Beatitudes and go through verses 5 & 6. So, let’s jump right in.

V5
Who are the meek? This isn’t a word used often in modern English. Discussing this passage with my study group, we could only come up with that Christmas song where they call Jesus meek and mild. The Greek word is praus, which can mean – humble, gentle, considerate, courteous, long suffering, and free from malice. Barclay calls meek being ‘angry at the right time and never at the wrong time’, and according to Aristotle, meekness is being ‘angry on the right occasion, for the right people, for the right amount, and for the right length of time’.

Maybe because they are homonyms, but I think most people just go straight to associating meekness with weakness. I think quite probably gets in there a good bit to. Other Biblical references include Moses being called meek in Numbers, and both James and Peter writing about meekness as a way to act and receive the Word.

How we see who the meek are in this verse is influenced by how we understand the blessing. The reward for being meek is inheriting the earth. The word translated can mean either earth (as in the physical aspect) or land. This has a pretty clear meaning to Israel, but what about today? Similar to those who mourn, you can double dip into eschatological meanings here. For Jews, it is the Messianic Kingdom, for Christians it is the second coming – think inheriting the new Earth. Considering the likelihood that the mourning is the broken world with the blessing being the new Earth, I view the meek as the longsuffering and humble. Combining the two verses, and we should read each in light of the other, that means we mourning the brokenness of the world, but in humility of our own sin, and of course we may live our whole lives in the world, not seeing the restoration, making us long suffering. The blessing for this combined affliction is the same, we will be comforted when we inherit (as heirs to the Kingdom) the new Earth after the second coming, resurrection, final judgement, and restoration of all things.

V6
This is another phrase that is hard to understand in modern American life, hunger for me means something drastically different than to the original hearer/reader (or the majority of Christians over the past 2000 years, or any number of hundreds of millions elsewhere in the world today). I’ll eat breakfast around 6:00, then get to work and get moving and around 11:00 someone will mention lunch, and I’ll think, ‘man, I haven’t eaten since breakfast, I’m starving.’ Compare this to even my grandparents who were growing up before ‘three meals a day’ was even a concept. Or to the original hearer/reader, where there were likely days when on food was consumed. That is real hunger.

Likewise, thirst is a difficult concept. For one, there is no running water, indoor plumbing, etc. You have to go to a well. Now, I live in what was formally a malarial swamp (if you’ve ever wondered why the CDC is in Atlanta…), but the context hear is a desert. The well can run dry and it may not rain for months. I have some neighbors that moved here from LA about a year ago and one of the things they said they enjoyed here was listening to thunderstorms. They tell me that it may rain once, and then not again for a month or so, and that is pretty much the expected outcome. So, this concept is a bit lost on me, as even in our level 3 drought years, we still receive about 30 inches or so of rain. However, I do know you can last weeks without food, but only days without water.

This is a long intro to two commonly used words, but it is helpful for context. The picture here is someone who hasn’t eaten in a week and had no water in a day or two. It is someone who will soon die if they do not find food and water. This is the level to which we should seek righteousness. This is a theme throughout Christ’s ministry, later He will tell us to ‘First, seek the Kingdom and its righteousness”. So we know that He isn’t talking, if you have time, or when it is convenient for you, but seek it as if it is the drop of water that will keep you alive.

Finally, what is the blessing? They will receive it. The BEC translates the promise as, they will be filled. This takes us back to the point from last week about being poor in spirit. We need to empty ourselves to be filled. Those who seek Christ and His righteousness will find it, and He will give it to them. They will be covered in Christ’s righteousness, and it is through Christ that we will one day enter the Kingdom or inherit the new Earth.

That wraps up the section of the Beatitudes about how we relate to God, next week I’ll move into the section about how we relate to each other.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn.

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary