Sermon notes 02-09-20 Season, Preserve and Shine

Matthew 5:13-20 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (ESV)

I want to begin by telling you I am really glad all of you are here this morning, and I am especially grateful that you are here this morning if you heard my message last week. I am sure some of you left here last Sunday not feeling especially uplifted by my message, so I’m glad you came back this week to hear that there is more to the story. If you were here last week I’ll remind you, and if you were not here I’ll catch you up by telling you that our Scripture passage last Sunday was the Beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus promised what the kingdom of heaven will be like when Jesus turns our upside-down world right-side up.

The Kingdom promises of the Beatitudes are all well and good … of course…, but they tell only part of the story of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ words of promise about the coming Kingdom of heaven are not meant to stand by themselves. Without the verses that come next, we would be left with a very incomplete and a very inaccurate perception of what it means to be a Christian. I want to say a thing or two about the verses that come after the Beatitudes, but first I want to share a personal confession of sorts that I think illustrates the potential problem with hearing and understanding only some of the words that Jesus teaches us, and the wrong perception that we can get from hearing and understanding only part of what it means to follow Jesus.

As I have thought about my message last week, I realize it was one I would have especially disliked when I was young. When I was in my late teens and twenties, if anybody asked me what religion I was, I would have responded that I was a Christian according to my upbringing and basic beliefs, but I could not have claimed to be a Christian in practice. In those days I would have claimed to believe in Jesus Christ, but I made no real attempt to follow him, and perhaps the main reason I did not put my beliefs into practice is that I had the perception that Christianity was all about waiting for our heavenly reward, and that life on this earth was just something to endure until we could get to heaven. Based on my exposure to Christianity and my very immature and incomplete understanding, it seemed to me that the purpose of life for Christians was to “get saved,” and then to just try and suffer through what was left of life after being saved, until either the Second Coming of Jesus, or you died, whichever came first, and then you would get your heavenly reward. There just did not seem to me to be much benefit to Christianity here in this earthly life, so I was not particularly motivated to put my belief into practice. I wanted to live life to the full; I wanted adventure and joy in my life; I did not want to just suffer through life, clinging to the faint and distant hope that in the end I would get a reward in heaven. I wanted life here and now on earth to be rewarding and fulfilling, but in my youthful ignorance I did not perceive that Christianity offered that for me. My understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus was very incomplete and my perception of what it meant to follow Jesus was certainly inaccurate.

Thankfully the Lord in his grace brought me to a better place, but I have been concerned since last Sunday that my message might have supported that same kind of incomplete and inaccurate perception of what it means to follow Jesus. So again, if you were here last week, I am really glad you are back today so that I might have the opportunity to follow up on last week’s sermon. If you weren’t here last week, I am really glad you are here as well, to hear the good news of the rest of the story.

As we pick up this week with verse 13 of Matthew chapter 5, we hear what follows the kingdom promises of the Beatitudes. We see in the verses following the Beatitudes that the kingdom promises are not merely encouragement to hang on until we can escape to heaven; they are meant to inspire us to a response in this life that brings reward, fulfillment, adventure and joy here on earth. Yes, the Beatitudes are a futuristic promise of what will be in God’s coming kingdom, but the verses that follow the Beatitudes point to what those promises mean for us here and now.

There is a rather abrupt change in the words of Jesus from verse 12 to verse 13; it seems almost to be what is called a non-sequitur, which is a term meaning it ‘does not logically follow.’ After reading the last words of the Beatitudes, the next words seem almost illogical or out of place. Jesus is talking about the rewards of heaven in verse 12 and the preceding verses; but then he says in verse 13, you are the salt of the earth. I believe this reference to earth immediately following the references to heaven is not actually a non-sequitur at all; it is very logical and very intentional. It is as if Jesus is saying in other words, ‘because you have these promises of heavenly rewards, this is how you will be enabled to live on earth.’

We could rightly say that the Beatitudes open up the Sermon on the Mount by setting the stage for all that follows. Because we have these promises of what will be in the end, it follows that we can live our lives differently here and now. Because we know this life is not all there is, we no longer feel the need to live as if we are in competition with everyone else on the planet to acquire all we can of this world’s resources in order to get the most out of this life. We can hold very loosely to our earthly possessions knowing that what really matters is the reward that awaits us in heaven. That does not mean we just have to suffer through this life until we get to heaven. Jesus says that his followers are salt and light in the world. It’s especially important to notice that Jesus is not giving us marching orders so to speak, a list of things to do, telling us what we are to work to become. He tells us what we are.

Jesus tells his followers that they are the salt of the earth. We know that salt adds flavor to food, seasons it, makes it taste better. Salt was also used as a preservative, to keep meat from spoiling. Jesus tells his followers also that they are the light of the world, whose good deeds will shine and give glory to God the Father. So Christians are those who add flavor and seasoning to the world, who preserve the teachings of Jesus and shine the light that points to and glorifies the Father. But those words ‘Season, Preserve and Shine” are not so much commands, not so much a recipe for us to follow as they are a description of what we are because of who we follow. As we live into our identity as salt and light in the world, we find the adventure and the joy and the fulfillment that God wants us to have in our lives. And friends, let me repeat, God does want us to have those things. God does not want us to merely suffer through life while we wait for the rewards of heaven. Life on this earth will surely include suffering, yet the Scriptures promise not only heavenly rewards, but also earthly benefits for those who follow Christ.

Consider with me just a few promises from the Scriptures about the benefits here in this life for those who follow Christ.

Psalm 27:13: I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

John 10:10: (Jesus said), “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

The message is recurring and clear. God wants us to have fullness of joy and abundance of life here and now, in the land of the living. And we experience those things as we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us and help us be the salt and light that Jesus says we are. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, followers of Christ have kingdom life within us as a living testimony to those in the world who do not yet have the light.

Example of missionary in Muslim country… isn’t that how it should be for all of us? Our lives should be a living testimony to those in the world who do not yet have the light. With the kingdom promises in our hearts, we are able to live our lives differently, according to a different set of values. We have a light about us, the light of the Holy Spirit, something that the world does not have, because we have been given a glimpse of the kingdom and we have these kingdom promises, and we know this world is not all there is. Being set free from sins, we have a spirit of liberty that is salt and light to a world still in bondage to sin.

When we hear and believe the kingdom promises, a light comes on, the light of the Holy Spirit. Our response to the kingdom promises is not to simply wait out or ‘tough out’ this life until we get our reward in heaven. Our response is to be salt and light here and now. When we so respond, not only do we find fulfillment and joy, Jesus says we also give glory to the Father in heaven.

This is an important point. We do the good works that are part of what it means to be salt and light not to glorify ourselves, but to give glory to the Father in heaven. Jesus emphasizes this point when he teaches us in verse 20 that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees thought that they could make themselves righteous by keeping the commandments. In other words their motives for doing good were for their own benefit and their own glory. Jesus makes it clear that we are expected to do good, to keep the commandments that are in the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. None of that changed with his coming. He came to fulfill and not to abolish those things. But the difference is that because of his kingdom promises, we do good works now with a different motivation, a different energy source, and a different expectation. We seek not to be made righteous by our works; rather we do good works because we believe Jesus’ promises of fulfilled righteousness in the coming kingdom.

Friends, the kingdom of God is a promise for the future, but it is more than that; there is indeed more to the story. God’s kingdom is something we live into here and now as salt of the earth and the light of the world. The kingdom promises of the Beatitudes are not merely encouragement to hang on until we can escape to heaven; they are meant to inspire us to a response in this life that brings fulfillment, adventure and joy here on earth.

Season, preserve and shine. These words describe the abundant life that we are able to live through Jesus, who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. They sound like a recipe or a prescription of what we must do, but they are really a description of what we will do, mostly without even realizing it, because of what we know to be true about the coming kingdom of God.

As God’s people we have the privilege of seasoning and preserving the world and shining the light of Christ so that all may see the glory of the Father that Jesus came to reveal. To God be the glory! Amen.