A common feature in my relationship with my wife, Liz… is Liz convincing me that things that I thought were bad… are, in fact… good.
Some examples… include
For various reasons… I had engrained and stubborn opinions that these things were terrible. For whatever reason… be it a bad experience… or something else… I had written each of these things off.
I thought flannel sheets would be like sleeping on a towel. Yet each of these things turned out to be profoundly good. Turns out Antihistamines are very good for a cat allergy. Liz showed me the goodness of things that I had written off In the same way… much of our world has written off Christianity as bad … Many think that it has nothing good to offer … that it is toxic to society Much of our world thinks it would be better off without Christianity… Because we have no place… and nothing good to offer.
But in our passage today, Jesus will show us … that despite what the word thinks… that Christians offer profound good in a desperate and dying world. Friends, Jesus tells us today… that you are good for the world… Jesus will show us… that living the good and beautiful life that Jesus lays out for us… is good for humanity.
And so this passage helps us answer the question… ” How do we show that goodness?” to a growingly hostile and sceptical world. Well, let’s it from the text.
The first thing that Jesus wants his followers to know is… When the world says that you are bad news for following Jesus… you are blessed. He tells us… that you have God’s approval when the world says you are toxic for identifying with Jesus.
Let’s see it from Chapter 5, verse 11 Jesus says…
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Our passage today picks up where Hamish left us last week. At this point in time… Jesus is speaking to crowd that had gathered around him on a mountain. He has just told them… that in his coming… … The Kingdom of Heaven has broken into the world. … And across verses 3-10 Jesus is laying out a vision for what life as part of this Kingdom looks like.
This vision for kingdom life that Jesus has shown is the good and beautiful life And is what human flourishing looks Jesus has shown us that the good and beautiful life… is being poor in spirit… meek… being merciful… pure in heart… It’s knowing that blessing is found in people seeing their need.. and trusting in Jesus. And Jesus has made an enormous claim… He has said that those who live this kingdom life … Jesus says… that theirs’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Put yourself in the place of the crowd sit around Jesus on the mountain… listening intently to him… hanging on every word… I think it’s fair to say… that at one level the crowd are thinking… this sounds pretty good… I’m in.
But at the same time a they are probably a little confused… because three times… across verses 10, 11 and 12… Jesus tells the crowd… that living the good and beautiful life… will lead to persecution… … There is a bit of a shock factor here… Whilst Jesus is ushering in the long-awaited Kingdom of Heaven… we see that this doesn’t mean that there will be peace and safety for those who belong to the Kingdom.
It dispels as sense that being a Christian is about rising to the top of society… In fact it assumes that persecution is a part of kingdom life. The first time Jesus said kingdom people would be persecuted was in verse 10 … he said they would be persecuted for their ‘righteousness’… … which means living out the good and beautiful life…
But in verse 11… Jesus gives us more information about this hostile reality. He changes his language and zeroes in… he makes it personal and specific. “blessed are you… when people persecute you… because of me” He isn’t saying we are blessed for picking fights… and being argumentative. Or he isn’t talking about … facing the consequences for simply sinful things…
But kingdom people… are blessed when they are persecuted … because of Jesus… For identifying with Jesus… This means… people who acknowledge who Jesus is… and follow Him. This hostility isn’t just about actions… But they are blessed when they are persecuted… because of Jesus In other words, they have God’s favour and commendation when they are persecuted… for seeing their need and trusting in Jesus…
When the world is hostile to them for this… Jesus says they are blessed… When Jesus speaks of this persecution specifically in verse 11… he probably has in mind the Jewish religious leaders of the day who persecute Jesus’s followers for following him. But even in the face of this opposition… Jesus goes on to say in Verse 12
12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What this heavenly reward specifically is … isn’t spelt out… but what we do know… Is that we can know deep joy… even when we are persecuted… insulted… rejected… because of the wonderful gospel hope that we have. Any discomfort his followers experience now… Jesus says… keep in mind the great heavenly reward that he has in store for his people. There may be horrible consequences now… but because we are in Christ… we will inherit everything with Him when the Kingdom comes into full view. The good promised for people who see their need and trust in Jesus… far outweighs the bad that we experience now.
Someone who knew this to be true and let it shape their life was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you are unfamiliar… he was a pastor in Germany during the time of the Nazi regime… he stood against the evil that he saw around him… and he faithfully followed Jesus … which would ultimately cost him his life. Speaking into this… Bonhoeffer said…
“Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means suffering because we have to suffer … Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace”
Jesus words help us to understand how hostility and persecution fit into the Christian life. He tell us that when we are persecuted for following Jesus… we are blessed. This is helpful for us to know in our present cultural moment in which our society thinks Christians are the bad guys and have nothing good to offer. Certainly.. we shouldn’t be surprised when the world thinks very little of Jesus and us as his followers … .. nor should it drive us to keep our heads down… But we should know that facing hard times for being a Christian… is part of kingdom life… It’s even part of Jesus’ vision for the good and beautiful life. The bible’s picture of flourishing in this world… includes being persecuted for trusting in Jesus. It won’t make sense to the rest of the world… But when we suffer all kinds of consequences for following Jesus… When we are insulted… excluded… ridiculed… cast out… for trust in Jesus We can know we are blessed… that we have God’s approval. And in this moment… we can know great joy… because we know Jesus. And because are in him… we have a heavenly reward awaiting us. A heavenly reward that will far outweigh the tough stuff now. Jesus is telling us this… because he doesn’t want us to be fearful and hide… But he wants us to embrace our unique position in the world.
As we read on… Jesus tells us we need to embrace our Kingdom-shaped lives in the world. Because we are distinct and different for a purpose.
See from verse 13.
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.
Jesus doesn’t tell his followers to aspire to be salty… he says that they are the “salt of the earth“. My year 11 high school chemistry teacher, Mr Singh, would be so proud of how much I have learnt about sodium chloride… this week.. In the ancient world salt was used for anything from preserving, seasoning, sacrifices… even fertiliser in small amounts in the right soil. Salt had many uses. … and in all cases… salt has a distinct effect in any situation it was placed in. So don’t think the purpose of the metaphor is to pin down an exact use. But all in cases… it is noticed when salt is present. It made a distinct difference wherever it was used.
Salt is key to flavour… some say it’s also key to heart attack. Salt has a distinct effect… it makes a difference… It has the capacity to benefit in significant ways…
So too followers of Jesus. Jesus has just told us above that we have been redeemed and brought into the Kingdom of heaven… And now Jesus is saying the rest of the world needs to be redeemed as well. And here Jesus says… you are the instrument of that redemption. This is what it means to live out who you are in Christ… as the salt of the earth.. Christians are to live out their saltiness through kingdom life that the Jesus showed verses 3-10… The poorness in spirit, the meekness… the pureness in heart-ness. … Ultimately showing the world our need for Jesus and trusting in him.
By being the salt of the earth… followers of Jesus… show our goodness to the world … We have the distinct role of pointing people to their need for Jesus… and the need to trust in Him. We have the privilege of showing Jesus to the world. So Jesus says don’t let the world dilute your effectiveness… We have been saved from the sin and brokenness of this world… but we aren’t to bunker down and set up a commune out at Samford … As nice as that may be… … because Verse 14… Jesus says..
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Again, Jesus doesn’t tell his followers to be a light to the world… … he says that they are “the light to the world” This means that Christians are a big deal in the world. Back in chapter 4… when Jesus arrived in the world… Matthew quoted Isaiah and said in the coming of Jesus “a light has dawned” As the light Jesus has come to deal with the world’s spiritual darkness … meaning the sin and brokenness of the world. And here… followers of Jesus too are called the light of the world … because our role is to reflect the light of Jesus… And so… because the very nature of light is that it is visible.
Jesus is telling us to embrace our identity as kingdom people… and shine into the darkness of a fallen and broken world. But also as Kingdom people… Jesus calls his followers… a City on a Hill You can imagine… that A city on a Hill can not be hidden. People notice it. Like the TV towers on to of Mount Coot-tha. A City on a Hill stands out because it is clearly visible. So to followers of Jesus But also… a city on a hill isn’t just one light. It is a whole bunch of lights shining together… They act as a beacon shining together. This is a picture of the church. Showing God’s love to a desperate and dying world. Jesus uses another metaphor in verse 15… he says
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.
When are you at BBQ … You don’t light a mozzie coil and stick it under the dog bowl. In the same way… you don’t light a lamp and hide it. As the salt of the earth and light of the world… … Concealment goes against the very nature of what we are in the world and who we follow. We show our good to society… by being distinct… by being visible..by living out the Kingdom in the world. We are to embrace our identity as the instruments that God is using to save this world.
When I was in high school… there weren’t many Christians. But I remember one particular guy… who was… his name was Jacob. Jacob and his friends… picked up a nickname. I’m pretty sure it was meant as an insult… but ironically… they became known as the “Good Samaritans” at school. Jacob in particular, become known as this… because of how he lived. He took Jesus seriously. He lived a compelling picture of the good and beautiful life. Funny enough I used to sit next to Him in Mr Singh’s Chemistry class… and Jacob would tell me about Jesus… all the time… Everything was about Jesus for this guy. A think it is fair to say… even since… I don’t think I’ve met too many people who were more on about Jesus and embraced their role as the salt and light in this world. This guy was on about the Kingdom. And toward the end of high school, he played a big role in me thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus wants us to know the important role that we play in the world. He wants us to know how important our purpose and function within society is … as the instruments that God is using to rescue a sinful and broken world. So we need to embrace our distinctness and our difference… as we live for the Kingdom… we are going to stick up… we are going to be noticed. The trouble is… sometimes… Christians come across like we aren’t living for the Kingdom of Heaven.
At times… we live like our Kingdom is in this world. And, sometimes we come across like we are living for our own kingdoms. We show that in how we use … our time… our wealth… our gifts… even our bodies and our sexuality…
At times were are also prone to skipping out on our role as salt and light. It might be an over generalisation… but a lot of us as followers of Jesus keep a low profile as Christians in Australia… .as if somehow that will help us avoid attention. We don’t want to stick out… we don’t want to attract persecution… We have the tendency to try to make ourselves as small of a target as possible. That’s not really how a City on a Hill works, is it? It’s not really being effective as a light. The effect of this is… that… at times we are indistinguishable from the rest of the world We don’t live like the salt and light that we are We forget our role and place in this world…
Friends it is good for us to reflect on and KNOW the special privilege and role that we have as God’s instruments for saving a broken and dark world. What good could be more important and significant than that? Our world might think we are small, insignificant and irrelevant. But would could be more important… more meaningful… more life-giving… … than pointing people to Jesus… … And his mercy and his grace. Showing people the forgiveness and hope that is on offer in Him. What could be more life-giving than being the light that helps someone find their eternal security in him. What could show our goodness to the world more… … Than showing people the love of God in Jesus I hope you can see the overwhelming goodness that is in that. So, at a personal level… I wonder… what does it look like for you to be obedient to this part of God’s word? What does it look like for you to live as salt and light at your workplace, in your family, university… or your school? Are you being salty… are you being light? This week… how are you going to live as salt and light where God has placed you?
Jesus tells us in verse 16… that when we live this way…
16they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Verse 16 is interesting given Jesus has said in verses 11-12 that we will be persecuted because of Jesus. What I think is going on here… is that Jesus is saying… That Ultimately our Kingdom lives… which is what Jesus means when he says “good deeds” … will bring praise and Glory to God. Now I don’t think he is saying living the good and beautiful life means that you have an “instant evangelism strategy”
But I think he is saying… that living Kingdom lives… will result in the world looking at us… and admitting that maybe we aren’t as evil as they first thought. And at times the world will acknowledge, albeit begrudgingly, that there is something good and beautiful and worthwhile going on here… Even those who revile and despise Christians… will not be able to help glorifying God… for the good and beautiful life that his followers live… For the meekness, the poorness of spirit… for our pure hearts… that recognise our need for Jesus..
Our salt and light lives… matter… so that God will be glorified. But we started off asking the question… in a world that says it’s not good to have us around… that we are toxic… How do we show that we are good? Jesus has shown us that we show this goodness by embracing our identity as salt and light. By living out … the good and beautiful life as Jesus’ followers in the world. By embracing our identity as God’s instruments to save this world. Showing the world the need for Jesus… and their need to trust in him. Let’s ask God for help in doing this.