Sermon on the Mount: Salt and Light
““You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:13-16 NASB1995
After Jesus gave us the roadmap for how to be one of His disciples through the Beatitudes, He now talks about how we ARE the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are our distinctions as followers of Christ.
Salt was a valuable commodity during Roman times; soldiers and others were often paid in salt, hence being “worth their salt” and the origin of the word salary. Salt was used for flavoring and as a preservative of meats and, of course, is still a favored seasoning today, with an emphasis on gourmet and exotic salts. Although the medical industry frowns at the overuse of salt, try eating an unsalted grilled steak or a bowl of popcorn and see how much your body craves that flavor. By being compared to salt, we are told to be valuable disciples of Christ, preserving culture from rotting and bringing flavor (or purity) to the world. If we allow ourselves to become watered down in our beliefs, then we lose our “saltiness” and no seasoning can fix that deficit, so we can be easily trampled underfoot, which is a metaphor for being run over by the world’s cultural norms.
Light is also a distinction in this world full of darkness and evil. Jesus declared Himself the Light of the World and He is telling us to be that same light. We receive the light from God and we give this light out into the world. When we are poor in spirit, mournful of death and sin, meek or humble, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and unafraid of persecution, we become a light to others. The Holy Spirit shines through us, making those who are not believers wonder what we have that they don’t have. Recall the story of an early Christian martyr Stephen, in Acts 6 & 7. Stephen’s face shone so mightily with the power of the Holy Spirit that it caused his enemies to fear him enough to stone him to death, but that light was there until the end (and observed by one certain Pharisee named Saul). Disciples must go out into the world shining that light in all of the darkness and the results bring glory to God and blessings for that disciple, even in persecution. We must be the shining city on the hill, a beacon to those stumbling in darkness and corruption and chaos.
Here is what David Guzik says in his Enduring Word commentary on these verses in Matthew 5:
i. “The object of our shining is not that men may see how good we are, nor even see us at all, but that they may see grace in us and God in us, and cry, ‘What a Father these people must have.’ Is not this the first time in the New Testament that God is called our Father? Is it not singular that the first time it peeps out should be when men are seeing the good works of his children?” (Spurgeon)
ii. Jesus pointed to a breadth in the impact of disciples that must have seemed almost ridiculous at the time. How could these humble Galileans salt the earth, or light the world? But they did.
iii. The three pictures together are powerful, speaking of the effect of Jesus’ disciples in the world:
· Salt is the opposite of corruption, and it prevents corruption from getting worse.
· Light gives the gift of guidance, so that those who have lost their way can find the path home.
· A city is the product of social order and government; it is against chaos and disorder.
My next devotional on the Sermon on the Mount will examine Matthew 5:17-20, where Jesus informs us that He is here to fulfill the law and the prophets.
Photo by Francesco Alberti on Unsplash
Commentary by David Guzik on Enduring Word is used by written permission.