O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
What Life With Jesus Looks Like
What Life With Jesus Looks Like
Based on St. Matthew 5:13-20
Preached on February 5, 2017,
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Treasured brothers and sisters,
Jesus Christ is your Lord. You confess that every time you stand here and speak the creed of the church. Your confession is not only a repeating of words. It’s about a life where you are shaped by Jesus Christ, carried by Christ, forgiven by Christ, and directed by Christ. That’s an attractive concept. But what does this kind of life look like? That’s what Jesus shows you in today’s Gospel reading. The words of this text are quite simple; you can read them quickly. But these brief words are rich and full. They can warm you with comfort you need. They also sound a strong warning and pull you back into focus. They are part of that long message we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” We started reading it in last Sunday’s Gospel and continue today.
YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH, Jesus says to His children. Please note: This is not a command! He doesn’t say, “This is what you have to do to become the salt of the earth.” Jesus says it’s an accomplished fact. Salt is a great thing to be, and this is what you already are. God’s forgiving mercy that covers your sin, and the call Jesus Christ has issued to come and believe in Him have made you this salt.
Jesus speaks many “I am” words about Himself in the Bible: I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD … I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE … I AM THE TRUE VINE. But He never says, “I am the salt!” He says that about you, not about Himself. Like salt used in the ancient world to keep food from spoiling, like salt which you don’t sprinkle for its own sake, but to season something else, God has placed you where you are for the benefit of others. When Jesus reaches wide and calls you SALT OF THE EARTH, He makes clear you’re not just there for yourself or your family or only for the sort of people you prefer. SALT OF THE EARTH means Jesus has you here for the benefit of all kinds of people all around.
It reminds me of Easter Sunday night when Jesus was reunited with His apostles after He rose from the dead. He told them, AS THE FATHER SENT ME, I AM SENDING YOU. In other words, “I came to win salvation for the world; now I’m sending you out to deliver that salvation to people.” That means our mission as members of the Holy Christian Church is simply the continuation of Jesus’ saving mission. We carry Jesus’ word and influence into places Jesus never visited personally during His ministry in this world. That’s why He didn’t say, “I am the salt of the earth.” Instead, He tells you, YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.
Salt has power in it. Sprinkle it on an open sore, and you’ll feel the sting. Shake it into a bowl of bland soup, and you’ll wake it up. Spread it on meat that needs curing, and it will last longer. By calling you salt, Jesus says you’re not lacking power. This word is oozing with kindness. When God forgives your sins in Jesus Christ and gives you faith to believe, He also imparts power to affect people around you in a real way. It’s a fact: YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.
Then Jesus adds, YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. For all its learning and technology, our world remains a very dark place. Many people around you live in that darkness. This does not mean they are stupid, and we should not hold them in contempt, because God loves them all. But even brilliant, rich and well-educated people can be blind if they don’t know the Lord Who made them, and don’t know where to find Him. It is part of your life’s mission to shine a light into those lives so people get a chance to see Him.
You don’t need special training to be the world’s light. Jesus said, A CITY RESTING ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN CANNOT BE HIDDEN. If a city sits up high like that where people have lights in their houses and on the streets, travelers approaching that town in the dark of night will see it, period. The city doesn’t need special preparation to become visible; it’s visible by being what it already is, a city on a mountain. Jesus adds, NEITHER DO PEOPLE LIGHT AN OIL-LAMP AND SET IT UNDER A BASKET, BUT UPON A LAMPSTAND, WHERE IT GIVES LIGHT TO ALL IN THE HOUSE. I suppose you could light a lamp and throw blankets over it, but no sane person does that! You don’t light a lamp in order to cover it up! No, you put a lamp on a stand just as that city Jesus described was set on a mountain, so that both lamp and city throw their light into the dark world around them. I repeat: They don’t need special training to do this; it’s just what lamps and mountain-top cities do!
Like the city on the mountain and the lamp on its stand, YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. How do you achieve that goal? You don’t have to study specialized books or pass evangelism training courses on how to give a Christian witness. Those things may have their place. In the end, you achieve the goal like this, said Jesus: LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN, THAY THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD DEEDS AND PRAISE YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.
You don’t win God’s favour by your good deeds. You’re made right with God by Jesus’ dying and rising, by the pardon He won for you when He suffered, bled and died. God doesn’t need your good deeds. But the world around you does need them. Your words of kindness and acts of love can make family life a much more nurturing thing. They can brighten up a workplace and contribute to harmony in the community. I repeat: The world does need your good deeds. But there is another precious value in them. Those deeds of love and kindness make your faith in Jesus seem more real to people. Those deeds make it more likely that people will take you seriously if you ever speak of Christ. If you tell others that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and offers life to those who believe Him, why should anybody listen if they see you spewing bitterness, quick to take revenge, bad-mouthing others in your workplace, being short-tempered, selfish and critical? On the other hand, when your actions and attitudes reflect Christ’s own love for you, others who see those good deeds of yours are far more likely to respect the effect that faith in Jesus Christ obviously has in the lives of people. It can make them far more open to Christ, and in some cases to even crave for themselves what Christ has to give. Some may actually reach the point where they think, “There must be something to this God if His followers are that loving.” See what’s happening? The Father in heaven gets praised through your good deeds!
Your calling is not to grab praise for yourself, or to point out the virtue in the good things you say and do so that people focus on you. I’ve seen Christian people behave that way, and confess to my shame that on occasion I’ve surely behaved that way myself. There’s something polluted and nauseating about it when your good deeds get twisted like that. Just let the Spirit-inspired words and actions speak for themselves and get yourself out of the way however you can so that the spotlight and praise are thrown on heaven’s great Father, Who makes you salt and light in our world.
What does life with Jesus look like? This life remembers what Jesus came to do. DO NOT THINK THAT I HAVE COME TO DESTROY THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS, He said. I HAVE NOT COME TO DESTROY THEM, BUT TO FULFILL THEM. They had Pharisees and law teachers in those days who looked like they were totally dedicated to the Old Testament Scriptures, which they called “the Law and the Prophets.” They claimed to be honouring God’s Law. But what did they do with it? They beat other people over the head with the Law when those people sinned and failed, and gave them no hope or help at all. Some of them actually rejoiced when they could point out other people’s failures, because it made those law teachers feel better by comparison. And while they paraded all the ways they had done right, they very carefully muffled their heartless attitudes and any failure the Law might point out in their lives. They figured God couldn’t find any fault with them. As a result, they didn’t really need any mercy from Him. They were not desperate enough to truly believe in Him. On the surface, they looked like they were honouring God’s Law. In truth they were knocking it over, destroying it.
Jesus did what the law teachers never could. He didn’t just keep mouthing and repeating the Law like a broken record. He didn’t hit others over the head with it and leave them behind with no hope. He did not just say nice things about God’s Law, while really twisting and destroying it. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets! He carried out everything His Father had spoken and willed in the Old Testament.
Remember how Jesus on Easter Sunday got talking with two guys walking along a road toward a village named Emmaus? These men were full of sorrow, because they had hoped in Jesus of Nazareth, only to see Him killed on a cross. Now the Risen Jesus catches up to them as they walked, but they didn’t realize Who it was. He explained that it was God’s holy plan for the Christ to suffer such things, and to enter His glory after dying on a cross. Then, BEGINNING WITH MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS, HE EXPLAINED TO THEM WHAT WAS SAID IN ALL THE SCRIPTURES CONCERNING HIMSELF.
The Old Testament pointed people to the fact that they were sinners desperate for God’s mercy. The Law and the Prophets foretold that God’s Christ would come and take upon Himself everything we human beings deserve to suffer. The Scriptures predicted that the Christ would come alive and open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Pharisees and Law teachers discredited Jesus as some sort of Law-destroyer. They thought that because He healed people on the Sabbath and forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery. But He didn’t come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. He came to do what they never could; He came to fulfill all the saving promises God had made. Now, as the One Who fulfills God’s Word, Jesus points you to Himself. He doesn’t point you to your own goodness, or to the goodness of anybody else, no matter how religious he looks. Life with Jesus remembers what Jesus came to do. He fulfilled God’s words so totally that St. Paul said, FOR ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST.
What does life with Jesus look like? I’ll say one last thing arising from today’s Gospel: Life with Jesus honours God’s Word and spreads it. As I mentioned, because Jesus was so full of mercy, healed on the Sabbath and forgave an adulteress, His critics claimed He was setting God’s Word aside. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus said, I TELL YOU… UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH DISAPPEAR, NOT THE SMALLEST LETTER, NOT THE LEAST STROKE OF A PEN, WILL BY ANY MEANS DISAPPEAR FROM THE LAW UNTIL EVERYTHING IS ACCOMPLISHED. Yes, when this world passes away, God’s Word will have finished its work. In the meantime, ANYONE WHO BREAKS 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 PRACTICES AND TEACHES OTHERS THESE COMMANDS WILL BE CALLED GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
Life with Jesus counts God’s Word precious. You ought to be reading it constantly; before reading, you do well to pray for the Spirit to help you understand what you read, ought to turn it over in mind and heart and try to grasp how it fits what you are experiencing right now, ought to root every corner of your life and conduct in this Word in every possible way you can.
Jesus declares: This is the way to greatness. Personal greatness does not come by pursuing your self-chosen ideas about what’s important, or by caving to the values and priorities of the world around you. Greatness comes through honouring even the littlest thing God says. It comes by seeing that your greatness will rise – or fall flat – in this way, on how you live out the Word God has spoken. And Jesus implores you to point other people on this same path every chance you get. You can begin with the members of your own family.
I TELL YOU THAT UNLESS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SURPASSES THAT OF THE PHARISEES AND LAW TEACHERS, YOU WILL CERTAINLY NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. By faith in Jesus Christ your righteousness already beats theirs by a mile! You’ve come to know that you have righteousness by clinging to Christ and taking the blood-bought pardon He gives you in His Word and here at His holy Table. You’ve come to trust Him so that your heart is warmed toward Him; so that gratitude spills over into words and actions and you very sincerely want to do God’s will and rejoice over it when others do, too, as opposed to rejoicing when they fail, as the law teachers did, because it would make you look better. Let me make this very concrete: The littlest drooling toddler around here with faith in Christ singing a song of praise like “Jesus loves me, this I know” already has a righteousness that leaves Pharisees and law teachers behind in the dust.
Life with Jesus is a real force with a beating heart. It takes all the focus and energy and endurance of which you are capable. At the same time, it is not burdensome, because in this life Christ stands beside you, leads the way before you, holds His arms beneath and carries you. You have this life already now, dear friend. And it can make all the difference in the world when you open your eyes, see it for what it is, and rejoice your head off that you are so blessed to have Jesus Christ as your Lord. Amen.
Rev. Robert Bugbee