This week we look at the statement Jesus made just after the beatitudes, “You are the salt of the earth.” We’ll learn how Jesus is giving us a much more expansive identity by using salt. He’s saying, “God’s plan is to use his followers to protect the world from decay and corruption, to purify it and to bring out the God flavors of this world.”
- I will live as the salt of the earth.
- I will continue to pray, “God, use me” until he shows me how he wants me to make a difference in this world.
- I will die to this culture and be fully available to be used by God.
[SLIDE_01] Today we’re going to look at one verse of scripture from the sermon on the mount. The verse is Matthew 5:13 from the greatest teaching ever taught. This is right after the beatitudes, these words of blessing to people who are regarded as the most deprived, the most insignificant in the world — how they can now be blessed by living in the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus said to this sad, spiritually poor, meek and mild crowd: [SLIDE_02] 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 underfoot. Matthew 5:13 Now, what I’ve learned about this verse is there’s wide disagreement in scholarly circles about the reason Jesus chose “salt” as a metaphor. [SLIDE_03] There is also an equal amount of debate on the kind of light Jesus references in the next verse, which we’ll get to next week. And after wading through many pages of these kinds of arguments, I remembered why I didn’t like seminary. Because it was this kind of stuff that just drove me nuts. So I want you to think of this text, and I want to ask you to use your brain today. Think about this — what was the central point Jesus was making when He said, “You’re the salt of the earth?” What was the central point Jesus was making? As Ive thought about it this week, I think it can be summarized in three words: [SLIDE_04] Make a difference * It could be have an affect. * It could be make an impact. * It could be be an influence. We all want to make a difference in this world, don’t we? * No one who tries out for a sports team wants to sit on the bench. * No one gives a gift to someone and hopes it never gets opened. * No one devotes years of service to a company and hopes when they retire, no one will notice. * No one dreams of dying and having an unattended funeral. We all want to make a difference… and not just for ourselves. No one hopes that at his memorial service someone will stand up and say: “He worked hard to be successful; he did a good job of acquiring power and money. He was anxious but driven… and self-preoccupied but polite.” We want to leave the world a little changed. When it’s time to go, we want someone to say: “My life is better, my world is bigger, my faith is stronger, I’m a better person because this human being walked the planet for a while. She made a difference. He changed my life.” * We don’t want to be space-takers. * We don’t want to be resume-builders. * We want to be difference-makers. And that desire to make a difference is not a bad thing. It’s actually one of the most important things about you. [SLIDE_05] Now, this gets messed up because of sin and ego sometimes, but we were created by God to make a difference. That’s why Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” You were made to make a difference. Jesus opens the sermon on the mount by taking about the good life — who is blessed — and now Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” And to understand exactly what Jesus meant by this, you have to understand that salt played a much more central role in Jesus’ world than it does in ours. I talked about this recently but it’s important that I address this again in this series for those of you who missed it because this is such an important statement in the Sermon on the Mount. What’s the number one use of salt in the United States today? If you’re with someone, tell them what you think it is. What’s the number one use of salt in the US today? More than 50% of all salt that’s produced in the US is used to de-ice roads. Now, that was not true for Jesus. When Jesus came to this earth, he did not come to a place where roads were covered by ice and snow… because he knew it was not God’s will that people should live in those kinds of places. Over 50% of salt is used to de-ice roads. Only 8% of all salt produced in America is used as table salt. I got a great white elephant gift this year. It’s a gun that uses salt to kill flies. Have you seen these? If you haven’t seen it, check this out. This is what we use salt for in our day. [SLIDE_06 VIDEO] Video: Bug-a-salt [SLIDE_07] If you’re looking for a gift idea for someone who has everything. A bug-a-salt gun might be a good idea. You see, those are the kinds of things we use salt for in our day. In the ancient world, it was a different story. People discovered that there was something about salt that makes it a preservative. It kept decay and corruption from setting in. In the ancient world, dead bodies were much more common than they are in our world… and decay was a horror. There’s a verse in the Psalms that says: You will not allow your holy one to see decay. People discovered that there’s something about salt that arrests decay… so it was almost like magic. * They found that if they used salt, they could preserve food for times of famine, so that it literally contributed to an outcome of life or death. * They discovered that it was a purifying agent, because it destroys bacteria. * They discovered that it brings delight to people who are eating, because there are special taste buds on your tongue that are designed to respond to salt. So salt became highly prized. Most of the ancient cities in Italy, including Rome, were founded on salt works. Romans used it to pay soldiers. The Latin word for salt is the word “sal.” That’s where the word “salary” comes from, because salt was used to pay soldiers. That’s where we get the expression, “He is worth his salt.” In the book “Salt: A World History,” a New York Times bestseller, Mark Kurlansky wrote: “In the ancient world, salt was one of the most common factors that provoked and financed wars.” People went to war over salt. In fact, that’s why we say, when one country is attacked, that it has been “assaulted.” Okay, that’s not true. I just made that up. We can’t understand what Jesus is saying unless we understand that in the ancient world, salt was prized. * Plato said salt was dear to the gods. * Homer said it was a divine substance. * It was prized. * It was currency. * Nations went to war over it. * Empires were built around it. And Jesus, when he’s talking to an undistinguished crowd of people, says that God’s plan to protect the world from decay and corruption, to purify it and bring whatever flavor it’s going to have… is you… and me — his followers. You are the salt of the earth. Today, when we talk about people being the salt of the earth, we mean something like “That person is humble, or honest, or hardworking.” Jesus is giving us a much more expansive identity when he says “salt of the earth” — something more along the lines of, “You are precious. You are essential. You preserve the good, you purify the corrupt and contaminated.” Don’t forget who Jesus was speaking to. Remember who the audience is. It’s the “have nots” of the world. It’s the forgotten and the forsaken, and he gives this massive, expansive definition. Now, there are sobering implications to this, one of which is: Salt does not exist for its own sake. When was the last time you went to someone’s home for a meal and said, “This is great salt. Wow, where did you get this salt? I think I’m going to have to switch brands.” Salt doesn’t call attention to itself. Growing up in Chicago, I thought all salt was the same, but now that I live in California, I’ve found out it’s not. There’s gourmet salt, rock salt, sea salt — special kinds of salt. Only in California would people turn salt into a kind of status thing. But in Jesus day, it wasn’t. Salt was just salt. It doesn’t call attention to itself. No one gets hungry and says, “I think I’ll go home and have a bowl of salt.” Salt’s calling is to lose itself in something more than itself. That’s when it fulfills its purpose. The other implication is — if you’re salt, and you’re going to be used, you’ve got to get out of the salt shaker. Another way to put that is you’ve got to say a little prayer — “God, use me.” Something powerful happens when someone prays that prayer — “God, use me.” I was thinking about this — I’ve heard people say they prayed for lots of things that never came: “I’ve prayed for a certain house or a relationship or a job or whatever.” But you know what I’ve never heard in my whole life? I’ve never heard someone say, “I’ve prayed urgently, persistently, day after day, year after year for God to use me to do good in this world, but it never happened.” I think God will answer that prayer. I think he’ll give you lots of opportunity to do good if you pray that little prayer — “God, use me.” And I’ll tell you a little secret: the people who pray the “God, use me” prayer are the most joyful people you will ever know. It’s ironic, because people think: “I don’t have time to serve other people. There’s too much going on in my life. It’ll drain me.” The reality is — the most joyful human beings on the planet are those whose lives are given to God to be used by Him. Because if you’re willing to pray the “God, use me” prayer… knowing that it’s a dangerous prayer… Jesus really will do it. He really will. And you will go on an adventure with God. You will experience a sense of being part of an agenda that’s bigger than: * How am I doing? * How’s my life? * How’s my comfort? * How’s my portfolio? Just think what might happen in our little part of the world if everyone at Blue Oaks were to pray: “God, Use Me. I’m available. Use me.” And you know, if you do — one person who says that little prayer, “God, use me” can change the world. As I was thinking about that this week I couldn’t help but think of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He prayed the, “God use me” prayer and God inspired a nation through his vision — the vision that all human beings can exist in a society where race is not an issue in how people are treated or in how they’re allowed to live their lives. He was the salt of the earth by putting his life on the line for freedom and justice every day in his mission for racial equality. He also inspired our nation with his non-violent approach. He was arrested 29 times, and yet he refused to return violence in the same manner of his oppressors. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you.” I think he understood what Jesus was saying. The efforts of Dr Martin Luther King Jr changed our society and the world for the better because he was willing to get out of the salt shaker. Never underestimate the power of one person who is willing to make a difference with their one and only life. One difference-maker can change the world. You are the salt of the earth. You’re it. * You know, we’re not here just to provide an interesting online experience. * We’re not here just to give you information to ponder. * We’re not here so you can feel safe and comfortable. Salt doesn’t exist for its own sake. It doesn’t exist for itself. We’re here to permeate a dying world in the way that salt permeates food. It’s interesting that Jesus is NOT giving a command here. He doesn’t say, “Try to be salty, or work hard to get saltier.” He’s simply making an observation — You’re the salt of the earth. Alright, in a moment we’ll look at what Jesus said next and what the implications are for you and me. So Jesus says, “You’re the salt of the earth.” Those words are so powerful that they’re often framed and hung on walls. But Jesus goes on: [SLIDE_08] 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 underfoot. Matthew 5:13 Now why did Jesus have to go and say that? It all felt so good until now. We don’t see those words framed and hung on walls. [SLIDE_09] This is the kind of thing that made people uncomfortable when Jesus said it. This is the kind of thing that makes people come up to a teacher afterwards and say, “Give me some kind of secret meaning behind the Greek words so that it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means.” Here’s what our culture will try to do to us. It will try to seduce us to serve it rather than God, making us useless — no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by men. Our culture will try to seduce you to spend your life being too busy, too driven, too preoccupied with whatever: career, money, status. And I’ll tell you what my concern is — our culture will try to seduce you into making the church just kind of a “stress-management” tool. On a bottle of aspirin, there are the words: Fast, soothing, temporary relief from pain. Our culture will try to seduce you to bow down to it and then, if it can’t keep you away from God and His community, to turn it into just “fast, soothing, temporary relief from pain.” But then you go out, and you’re still enslaved to all the things that everyone else in this crazy culture is still enslaved to. And Jesus says, “No. That’s not the plan. You are the salt of the earth.” I see people sometimes who go to church year after year and stay on the same crazy treadmill — overworked, over-committed, over-extended financially, still praying about the same stuff they were praying about ten years ago. And the real reason underneath, if they’re honest about it, is that they’ve never made the decision that they’re going to die to the culture. So their prayers tend to be along this line: “God, relieve me of all the stress and pressure that I’m under, but let me keep chasing after all the stuff that everyone else is chasing after.” I wonder if you’re willing to say today, “Jesus. I will die to this culture and be fully available to be used by you.” Now, the good news is that when someone in God’s community gets salty, it becomes contagious. When you become a difference maker — because it’s really Jesus at work — other people look at you and are reminded that they want their lives to make a difference too. That’s what we all want. We all want to be used by Good to make a difference in this world. And God’s plan to fight the decay and corruption of this sorry, dark world is you and me. And Jesus is looking for someone who will say, “I will die to the culture. I will not live in slavery to its values and spend my lifetime and energy according to it and then use the church as an occasional temporary stress-management pain reliever. I will live as the salt of the earth. I will allow You to flow through me in it.” You know, in the beatitudes we learned that the surprise of the kingdom of God is that it’s not limited to just a select few people who have degrees and credentials. The kingdom of God is open to any and all who would come. Well there’s another surprise in the section we’re looking at, and that is — the average, everyday people can make a difference. Not necessarily in spectacular, headline grabbing ways but in practical everyday ways. And if all Christ followers would commit themselves to this the world really would be a better place to live. Jesus is calling every one of his followers, everyone, there are no exceptions to this. He is calling you and calling me to make a difference. I really think this was the central point Jesus was making. He was saying, “Look, you spiritually poor, sometimes sad, meek and mild, you should make a difference. Don’t just sit back and think that’s the angel’s job. Don’t think it’s the scribes and Pharisees job. Don’t think it’s the religious professional’s job to do that.” Jesus said, it’s your job. Don’t shrink back, don’t back down — keep your salt salty, Jesus says. “I don’t want you to just subscribe to my teachings. I don’t want you to just enthusiastically engage in the religious drills associated with my teachings.” Jesus kind of throws the gauntlet down pretty early in the Sermon on the Mount and He says, “It’s action time. It’s time for you to begin to think about how you’re going to make a difference in this world.” Now, how do you become a person who makes a difference? How does that happen in your life and mine? This is what Jesus taught in John 15, verse 5: [SLIDE_10] I am the vine, you are the branches. If a person abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. John 5:15 Do you want to bear fruit? Do you want to be a person who makes a difference? Do you want to be the salt of the earth? Well, you have to abide in Christ. You see, this is where it all begins. [SLIDE_11] You’re just dreaming if you think you’ll become a person who makes a difference in the kingdom of God if you don’t first learn how to abide in Christ — how to walk with Jesus Christ in the average, everyday place where you live. That’s what Martin Luther King Jr did. He became a person who learned to walk with Christ and then God began to work in his life and gave him a challenge to be the salt of the earth in his day in a way that would make a difference… not just for our society, but for my family… for my two black children. The impact of Martin Luther King Jr is felt very practically in my family. So here’s a question I want to ask you, and I really mean this today: How is your walk with Christ these days? Is He in the top spot of your life? You might say, “Well yeah…I think…I mean that’s what my life is mostly….” * No, no. Is he in the unquestioned, unparalleled, uncompromising top spot in your life? * Is he the leader and you follow Him? * Is he the one you have unquestioned allegiance and loyalty to? * What he says goes. Where he tells you to go, you go. What he tells you to do, you do. What he tells you to stop doing, you stop doing. * Is it that way in your life and do you enjoy the awareness of his presence and power in your life? * Do you hear his promptings? * Do you respond to them? * Are you enjoying a life of abiding in Christ these days? Let me tell you what the baseline is for this kind of life. If you want to be the salt of the earth, it starts with this — you’ve got to spend time with God on a daily basis. If God is going to speak to you about the unique way he wants you to make a difference in this world, it’s most likely going to be through spending time with him through prayer and reading his word. Abide in him. Apart from him you can do nothing. One last thing and we’ll be done. Last we we looked at how Jesus said those who are persecuted will be blessed in his kingdom. This is amazing to me related to being the salt of the earth — people who were opposed to the early church thought they would stop it by persecuting it. They sent the leaders to prisons. Guess what happened? The prisons started to get salty. They said, “We’ll stop the church by kicking everybody out of Jerusalem.” Go back to the Book of Acts. The believers get kicked out of Jerusalem and guess what happens. The whole region, first of which is Asia Minor, starts to get salty. The idea that you could stop the early church by spreading Christians around — that was just getting the salt out of the salt shaker. You are the salt of the earth. All you have to do is get out into the world. It starts to permeate your home, your work, your neighborhood, someone else’s neighborhood, your school, and someone else’s school. You are the salt of the earth. * It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. * It doesn’t matter what your title is, or whether or not you have one. You are the salt of the earth. Do you have any idea what Jesus could do with a church full of people who say, “Alright, God, the number one priority of my life — what I want to do between now and my last day — is to be used by you. Everything I’ve got — my time, my gifts whatever they are, my money whether it looks big or small — whatever I’ve got, it’s Yours. I want to get out of the salt shaker and be the salt of the earth for you.” Do you have any idea? So, here’s what we’re going to do. My job and your job for the next several days is to say that little prayer, “God use me.” Spend time with God through reading the bible and prayer and ask him how he wants you to make a difference in your little part of the world. Because — you are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said about you if you’re a follower of his. With all of your flaws and fallen-ness, that’s what you are — you are the salt of the earth. Lets go do what Jesus said. I’ll close with this. This is what the apostle Paul said. I hope you take this with you into your week. [SLIDE_12] Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6 Alright, let me pray for you and then Michaela and the team will lead us in a closing song. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA