Salty Light





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Salty Light

Text: Matthews 5:13-16

Dr. Alex Tang



All Christians are to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Impossible by human effort, possible by the power of God.


"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.

 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither 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. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.


1.                  Introduction

Jesus began His sermon with “the Beatitudes,” statements beginning with Blessed are. “Blessed” means “happy” or “fortunate” (cf. Ps. 1:1). In the Old Testament, and especially the Psalms, the “blessed are” statements describe qualities in a person which bring him or her God’s blessing. Here in Matthew the Greek word is makarios which means “happy.” Is there a difference? Yes. The Old Testament describes blessings that will come to the godly person, and emphasizes material goods. Jesus focused on the present state of persons who adopt values and attitudes which permit them to know, now, the inner touch of God in their present lives. The qualities Jesus mentioned in this list, “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” etc., obviously could not be products of Pharisaic righteousness. The Pharisees were concerned primarily with external qualities, but the qualities Jesus mentioned are internal. These come only when one is properly related to God through faith, when one places his complete trust in God.

 Matthew 5:2-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian writes, "Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his word. He does not mean that it is to be discussed as an ideal: he really means us to get on with it." Bonhoeffer stand out against Nazi Germany and was executed for his beliefs.

We read of a wealthy man who purchased at high cost a famous painting of Jesus. He sought, with difficulty, an appropriate place for it on the walls of his home. At last he called in an architect who, after carefully examining the house and the picture, said: “Man, you cannot fit this picture into your home! You must make a home to fit it!” Just as surely we must so order our home life that it would be appropriate to invite Jesus to abide therein. That is the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot modify it to fit our lives. We must build our lives around it.


2.                  Characteristics of Christians

To demonstrate the impact these people would make on their world, Jesus used two common illustrations: salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth

You are the light of the world

2.1              YOU refer to all Christians. The Sermon on the Mount is addressed to all believers. Many of Jesus' teachings were directed to believers and unbelievers- both Jews and Gentiles. But the Sermon on the Mound is specifically addressed to believers.

2.2              ARE refers to what Christians are. It is not what they can do, that Jesus is talking about but who Christians are. It is not heir talent, background, knowledge, skills or strength but who they are.


3.                  Salt

1.1              Historical Significance

The concentration of salt in the Dead Sea is ten times higher than that of any other sea or lake on earth. Every liter of its sea water contains an average of 30 grams of salts and other minerals. It is one of the greatest sources of salt in the world.

 No animal or plant can exist here. Few fish are found in it, although it is not true that birds which venture near its vapor fall down dead.

 Because of its high specific gravity, no one will ever sink or drown while bathing there. Nobody has ever committed suicide there by drowning. It was said that Vespasian, commander of the Roman legion which later destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, heard of this fact. He tested it by ordering slaves to be thrown into the sea waves with their hands and feet tied. The slaves floated.

2.1.2        In the ancient world, salt is considered very precious. The Greeks called it theon which means divine. It is used for trade. The Roman soldiers are paid in salt. Hence the phrase 'not worth its salt'.

2.1.3        It is also a mark of friendship. Sitting down to dinner and sharing salt was an important indication of good friends.

2.1.4        It is used to mark a covenant.

2.1.5        The ancient Rabbi associate salt with wisdom. So do the Chinese. An older and wiser person, when compared to a young person can say, "I have eaten more salt than you have rice."

Hence, when Jesus used the analogy 'salt of the earth', it has tremendous cultural significance to his listeners.

1.2              Jesus' Analogy

1.2.1        Flavor

            Corinthian 2:15-16

            15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

I once advised the parents of a child with kidney failure to cook a low salt diet. The father came back and complains that he cannot eat the food. It is flat and unpalatable. Later I found that the mother has misheard me. She was cooking a 'no salt' diet instead of a 'low salt diet'. No wonder the food is so yucky. Christians are to give flavor to the world. The flavor of heaven. How many times have I hear people saying that we Christians are so lucky to have our faith and our God. They envy the way we love and care for each other. That is the flavor of heaven. Salt gives taste.


1.2.2        Stinging pain

Salt when rubbed on a wound causes pain. When I was young and I have ulcers in my mouth, my mother used to rub salt on it. It was very painful but heals the ulcer. Being Christian as salt, we remind our friends and neighbors that there is something wrong with the world. That they are living a lie. That they are empty. That is why people persecute the Christians. It is not that the Christians are evil. It is that they remind people that they are evil.


1.2.3        Thirst

At a meeting some young people were discussing the text, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” One suggestion after another was made as to the meaning of “salt” in this verse.

 “Salt imparts a desirable flavor,” said one.

 “Salt preserves from decay,” another suggested.

 Then a Chinese Christian girl spoke out of an experience none of the others had. “Salt creates thirst,” she said, and there was a sudden hush in the room. Everyone was thinking: Have I ever made anyone thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ?


1.2.4        Preservation from corruption

(a)   The world is going to get worst

            2 Timothy 3:13

            13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

(b)   People who love the world and reject God

            1 Romans 1:18,19

              RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.


(c)    Christian holding back the destruction

      Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a surgeon that become the minister of Westminster Chapel in London, writes, "Most competent historians are in agreement that what undoubtedly saved [England] from a revolution such as that experienced in France at the end of the eighteenth century was nothing but the Evangelical Revival. This was not because anything was done directly be because masses of individuals has become Christians and were living this better life and had this higher outlook. The whole political situation was affected and the great Acts of Parliament which were passed in the last century were mostly due to the fact that there is such a large number of Christians found in the land." [1] Evangelical leaders such as George Whitefield, John Wesley, Howard Harris, Lord Shaftsbury, William Wilberforce and others.


4.                  Light

4.1              Drive back the Darkness


    JN 11:9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."


This darkness is spiritual darkness. Darkness that have blinded the eyes and minds of men and women. The world is like the blind men examining an elephant. One felt the leg and said it is like a tree trunk. Another felt the elephant trunk and said it is like a snake. In our blindness, we our purpose in life is to look out for number one and to acquire things so that we can be safe, secure and self-glorified.  So we chase after money, fame, power and security which are illusions. We do not see that only God will satisfy all our needs, not things.


4.2              Show the Truth

John 2:20

20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.


5.                  Failures of Christians

            Salt and light cannot change. Salt will remain salt and cannot be converted to other substance. It will always be a molecule of sodium boned to a molecule of chlorine. Similarly with light. It remains light and shine.

5.1              Salt loses its purity. Being adulterated with sand. When our inner lives lose its purity, when we sin, we are not longer salty. Salt which are not salty are thrown on the ground in the temple area during winter so people will not slip on it. That's why Jesus said it will be thrown out and be trampled by men.

5.2              Light covered up. When light is covered it, it is of no use. When a Christian is not giving out light like a city on a hill (to give direction) or brighten up a room, it is of no use and a failure.


6.                  Effective Christians Glorify God

All Christians are to be salt of the earth and light of the world. But we are wrong if we try to do it ourselves.

6.1              Real salt, not imitation Salt

            We cannot make ourselves salty. There is no imitation salt. In the movie 'MacKenna's Gold', starring Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif, a group of adventurers were seeking an ancient Apache canyon whose walls were made of gold. They finally found it. It was golden and glitter. But it was not gold. It was phosphate or false gold. It is of no value.  My old Pathology Professor used to remind us, "All that glitters is not gold, all that wheezes is not asthma." We are 'salt of the earth' because of the Holy Spirit that indwells us. The Holy Spirit is what makes us 'salt'. Not we ourselves.


6.2              Reflected Light

The light we reflect does not come from us. Some of us try to be candles. We sacrifice ourselves as a candle does to produce light. But it is a weak light. Our 'light of the world' is a reflected light, light from our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 8:12

  JN 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

 As one early Church Father said, "We are like the moon. The light we shine is the reflected light from the sun. The moon does not produce any light of its own."

Being the 'salt of the earth and light of the world' is only possible because of God. It is not by our own strength and achievement. It is impossible for us to be salt and light. Only God can give it. All Christians are salt and light because of God and God alone. If we surrender ourselves to God and become salt and light, people will see God in us and God will be glorified. This is for all Christians, young and old,


                                                                                                Soli Deo Gloria



[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, 1:157




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