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