Matthew 5:13–20 (EHV) 13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its flavor, how will it become salty again? Then it is no good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. No, they put it on a stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 In the same way let your light shine in people’s presence, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. 18 Amen I tell you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not even the smallest letter, or even part of a letter, will in any way pass away from the Law until everything is fulfilled. 19 So whoever 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 them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 Indeed I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and experts in the law, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
My dear friends in Christ,
Over the past four weeks our sermon series has focused on “New Year - New You.” January 1 is in the rear view mirror. We’re into February, our winter has been pretty mild compared to the past few years. The new year has been okay so far. As we’ve worked our way through our series in Matthew’s gospel, we’ve learned how God equips us for every single day in 2020. The first week we saw that through baptism Jesus has empowered us—sins forgiven, members of God’s family, heirs of eternal life. We can handle whatever 2020 has thrown at us so far thanks to Jesus. The next week we heard how God has redeemed us. He rescued us with his heavenly water wings that lift us above the storm even when we get wet. Then we learned that Jesus, the light of the world, has illuminated us. He drives away the darkness of our sin and fills us with his light because he is the Light of the world. Last week we heard how blessed we are to have these stones—this building—as a witness to everything God has done for us, a witness we will share with the next generation. Today we will see that we are SET FREE. Set free from what? Set free for what?
Jesus had a huge audience for his message. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up onto a mountain. When he sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach them. He said these things” (Matthew 5:1–2 EHV). Last week we heard the first things Jesus said—words of blessings, words that describe the joy and happiness believers have when they follow God’s Word, even when others insult or persecute us. He continued to teach, and concluded this section with this statement: “So whoever 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 them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Indeed I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and experts in the law, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19–20 EHV). Do you realize what Jesus is saying to each one of us? We should know the Bible better than the experts. How well do we know the Bible? Memorized any passages? Know how to find book, chapter and verse? Do we have a good understanding of the basics—starting with the 10 Commandments? What about the harder, more challenging sections? Anyone have Revelation figured out? We have so much to learn, and Jesus sets the bar really high. The Pharisees and experts in the law didn’t just know God’s Word. They immersed themselves in it. They bathed in it. They knew it backward and forward. The experts in the law even made sure that when a copy was made of the Torah they counted and compared all the letters to make sure they missed nothing! The Pharisees went one step further. They lived the Law and spent every moment of every day walking in lock-step with God’s Word. Jesus said if our lives don’t surpass theirs, we’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven!
Add to that the other requirement: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments.” Where does that leave you? I know where it leaves me—a slave in a prison of my own making. I am a slave to the things I want to do that oppose God's commands He tells me to put him first and have no other gods, but there are so many things in this world that demand my attention: my phone, my computer, my work, my spouse, my children and granddaughter, a lonely lake... Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments. God tells me to remember his day of rest and to immerse myself in his Word. Do I have to? I’m tired. I’ve spent so much time reading this week, can’t I take some time off? I’m not glad on Sunday morning when someone says to me, “Let’s go to the house of the LORD.” Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments. God commands me to love my spouse and honor our relationship above anything else. Love, honor, cherish, respect... “What was that honey? I was watching the Super Bowl half-time show.” Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments.
I can’t do it. You can’t do it. We don’t come close to the example the Pharisees and experts in the law set, and even they couldn’t break out of sin’s prison. They were slaves too. We will never enter the kingdom of heaven!
That’s where Jesus’ message offers hope. He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. Amen I tell you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not even the smallest letter, or even part of a letter, will in any way pass away from the Law until everything is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17–18 EHV). Jesus came to do it. He came to live it. He came to fulfill it. Jesus knew that no one could keep the least of God’s commandments. He also didn’t come to say, “That’s okay—we’ll just get rid of all those ancient commands. They really don’t apply to anyone anymore. Let’s come up with our own new set of rules!” No, Jesus came to set us free from the Law by keeping it perfectly. He did. Jesus served the one true God and honored God’s name. Jesus regularly observed the Sabbath. He honored his parents and government authorities (even those that didn’t obey God’s commands). Jesus honored life and never allowed hatred to taint his thoughts. Jesus loved God’s model for Christian marriage and taught his followers to respect and support the love of husband and wife. Jesus did all that, and kept the myriad Old Testament rules and regulations without missing the mark once. He even kept the command that covered the curse of death: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13 EHV). Jesus set us free!
We’re free! Free from the burden of keeping every last law and command. Free to...do what? Kay and I like to watch a lot of cooking shows. It doesn’t matter what kind of cuisine—American, Asian, Italian, grilled, baked, fried. It’s interesting, because there’s one ingredient that is added to just about every recipe whether the food is intended to be savory or sweet. Salt. Salt adds flavor. Salt enhances flavor. When you add just a little bit it increases sweetness and blocks bitterness—perfect for baking cookies or a cake! When you add a larger amount it brings out the natural flavors that are already there—perfect for that grilled steak or roasted squash. Our bodies need salt to maintain fluid levels. Salt is a vital part of life!
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its flavor, how will it become salty again? Then it is no good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people” (Matthew 5:13 EHV). That’s why he set us free! You are the salt of the earth! You add and enhance flavor to the world. You affect everyone around you. Sometimes we add just a little bit of salt with a word of encouragement, a smile, or a knowing look. Some of you have been salt in my life. I walk in the door on Sunday morning with a heavy heart about someone or something and feel like it’s too much to handle. Then someone sprinkles a little salt on me. “Good morning pastor. I just wanted to tell you what happened in my life. God is good all the time!” Those words, that encouragement brings out the sweetness of the moment, blocking the bitterness that wants to explode.
Sometimes you salt life and enhance the flavor of the moment. A friend at work or a neighbor asks you one of those God-questions. They know you’re salty. They’ve seen it in the things you do and heard it in the things you say so they ask you. You share your personal experience and point to Jesus as the one who set you free. The look in their eyes says it all—you’ve enhanced the flavor of their life simply by pointing them to the cross. Jesus set you free to be the salt of the earth!
Don’t forget the other picture Jesus used. “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. No, they put it on a stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. In the same way let your light shine in people’s presence, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16 EHV). Jesus set us free to be the light of the world! That’s who you are. Jesus put you where you are, in this specific time and place, so the people around you can see the light. It may be a word, it might be a kind action that changes someone’s life.
Being salt and light changes us and changes our attitude toward everything. If Bill Gates knocked on your door and handed you the official, signed and notarized document that named you as his heir, what would you do? How would you react? Would that light you up? How about this? Jesus has handed you the official, signed and notarized document that you’re his heir, and every time you walk through these doors he puts an exclamation point on that news.
When we talk about Jesus, or Salem and all the things we have here, do our eyes shine with excitement? Do we let people see how much Jesus means to us? Or, do we let our stubborn German heritage stomp down the emotion? Do we look at church as a place that dumps a bunch of rules on us, a place where we can’t do this, this, this, and oh yeah, that too?
Jesus has set us free—free from the burden of fulfilling the Law. Jesus has set us free—free to be salt and light in this world. Be what you are! Be salty and flavor the lives of everyone you meet with Jesus. Be the Light and fill everyone around you with Jesus’ glory and love. Jesus has set you free! Amen.