The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany | February 9, 2020
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
Matthew 5:13-20 New Living Translation (NLT)
I missed last week’s devotional because of the Feast of the Presentation. Last week’s devotion begins several weeks of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The text last week was the Beatitudes, which I am working on a sermon for this Sunday, so I will share that sometime in the next week.
Jesus finishes speaking the Beatitudes – which really speak to a different way of thinking. God’s Kingdom values are different than ours. Jesus finishes the Beatitudes with these words:
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.Matthew 5:11-12 (NLT)
This is not the way most of us who call ourselves Christ-followers think. When people do the things described in these verses, our immediate reaction is to strike back. This is so hard because it is not the way we were taught. We are taught not to throw the first punch, but if you are attacked, it’s correct for you to defend. Yet, Jesus teaches us something different. We are reminded that the prophets were persecuted. We don’t have a record of prophets defending themselves on their own behalf. Jesus tells us to remember God’s blessing…remember God’s reward in the Kingdom of God.
As we continue into this week’s text, we are called to be salt and light. These thoughts are connected, more than we think at first glance. Jesus tells us that we must be salt and light. We are so tempted to curse the darkness and yet Jesus tells us that we must let our light shine. In this we must follow the example of Jesus.
There are those who like to stir up trouble and then claim they are being persecuted. This is not what Jesus is talking about. The Truth will always make people who don’t follow the Truth uncomfortable. I’ve seen it so many times that when people are under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they are miserable and they strike-out at the messenger and the message. Jesus tells us to be true to the message. Don’t pollute the message. Be salt – not salty. There are too many “salty” Christians out there – don’t be one of them, but be salt – bring the unique flavor of Christ to those who don’t know Him. Be the light of the world – stop cursing the darkness. Cursing the darkness won’t make it go away and it will make us miserable, which is not the condition a Christ-follower should be in – unless they are not following the things of Christ. Shine the light of Christ to those who need it – Be the light – Be the church. Everything that we do should reflect the light of Christ.
At this point, Jesus reminds his followers that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. Many mistakenly believe that Christ-followers can do anything they please because they are under grace and not under the law. The commandments – especially the two Great Commandments:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:37-40
Notice Jesus tells us that the Law and the prophets are completely contained in these two commandments. These are some huge shoes to fill. Jesus tells us that if we ignore the least commandment, we really aren’t much in the Kingdom of Heaven – but we must obey God’s laws. I’ve said this before, but what if every believer 1) Loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and 2) loved their neighbor as themselves. What would Christianity look like? I dare say it would look different than it does today.
Jesus had more than his share of run-ins with the Pharisees – the keepers of the Law – they were both judge and jury. Yet as Jesus finishes this section of his sermon, he said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if we want to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Make no mistake about it, the Pharisee were about following the letter of the law but not its spirit. They followed the law to perfection. How many of us follow God’s law to perfection? Certainly not me. I am thankful for His grace if I slip and fall. Jesus is calling his followers to be salt and light and to love God with all of their heart and love their neighbor as themselves. Christ came to fulfill the law – perhaps that’s why He boiled it down to these to commandments. If we keep these two commandments, we will be salt and light and we will exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.