Have you heard about little Smores being found? NOT the chocolate/marshmallow treat. A little chihuahua, who was lost.
Finding lost things is close to the heart of God. In fact, he specializes in it - look at some of you! You may have heard already, but for 2021, we are getting back to the basics, the fundamentals. And I want to start with a question. What is/was the best sermon you ever heard? (Besides today!)
I heard about a preacher who was the guest speaker at a church, and during his sermon, there was a fellow on the front row who every so often would say out loud, “That’s the worst sermon I ever heard, that’s the worst sermon I ever heard.” After the sermon, he asked the host preacher about the guy, and he said, "Oh, don’t worry about him, he’s a little crazy. He just goes around repeating what he hears everybody else say!"
Well today, we begin a year-long overview of the greatest sermon ever preached. And I’ve heard a lot! It is the Sermon on the Mount and the speaker was Jesus Christ himself. It’s recorded in Matthew 5, 6, and 7...start reading this in your quiet time.
In this sermon, Jesus describes what life in the Kingdom looks like. And we want to begin by focusing on two metaphors Jesus used to describe who we ARE, if we claim to be a follower of His. Interestingly, it has everything to do with finding that which is lost, dull, or in the dark. Matthew 5:13-16 says, “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. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus uses two metaphors - salt and light. Why? Let’s explore that for a moment.
The first metaphor is SALT. ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ Some of you are like, I’m good because I’m often salty! Not that kind. And he says ‘you’. Not just ordained clergy, not just people who have been Christians for years and know a lot about the Bible. Actually, more bible knowledge is no guarantee of stronger salt and brighter light! No qualifiers. You ARE… and notice it is present tense – not might be, or can be, or will be. You are now. You might be good salt or bad salt, but being salt is not what you DO, it’s who you ARE.
Next week, JT will unpack this more, but Salt and Light do so many things. Let me give you just a couple to whet your appetite.
- Salt preserves (keeps things pure). Long before there was Frigidaire, things were packed in salt to prevent spoiling. Salt was always associated with purity.
- Salt adds flavor/zest. It spices things up. What would corn on the cob or popcorn be without salt?! Christians, likewise, are to add fun and excitement to life; but sadly just the opposite occurs. Oliver Wendell Holmes (former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) once said, “I might have entered the full time ministry if certain clergyman I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers!” Some Christians are happy, they just haven’t told their face yet! Too much salt ruins things. We must not dump too much of Christ on someone at one time.
- Salt melts. Pretty soon we will be spreading more of it outside. (Sorry!) And the salt of God’s love applied at just the right season in a person’s life can soften and melt the hardest heart.
- Salt makes you thirsty. Theater owners know that. Movie popcorn makes you buy movie pop! When you get a taste of God’s love, you want more.
- Salt is valuable. In Jesus' day, soldiers were often paid with salt. Your witness and availability is extremely valuable.
But then Jesus asked a question, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” When salt becomes tasteless and loses its power and punch, what good is it? It is, we are, good for nothing.
“It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” The early church applied this verse in a very literal and strange way. In certain places, the Christian church made it a practice that if a Christian got wayward and wished to return to the faith, before he was received back, he had to lie across the door of the Church in penitence and invite people as they entered to, “Trample upon me who am the salt which has lost its savor.”
Aren’t you glad we don’t practice that today?! The point Jesus is making is this - When we are not being salt, we have ceased to fulfill the purpose of us being on planet Earth. Salt does no good in the shaker, it may LOOK good, but it’s not salt until it contacts something. In fact, salt simply collected in one huge place for a long period of time, without going anywhere produces something – death. The people listening that day would know it. They called that place “the Dead Sea.”
Well, in this great sermon, Jesus also gives a second analogy. Not only are we to be salt, but we are to be LIGHT. Look at v. 14. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Notice the same beginning words as before. You… Are… the light of the world… What are the functions and attributes of light?
- Light illuminates. It shows the way in the dark.
- Light removes fear. When you’re a child, you fear the dark, huh? “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light.”
- Light is unstoppable. The power of darkness cannot keep it from working. It is powerful, especially when it is focused.
Let your light shine. When you bow your head to pray before a meal in a restaurant, your light shines. When you don’t laugh at an off-color joke at the water cooler, your light shines. When you do the right thing, even when you think no one is watching, your light shines. Just a few examples - I Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Today we are dealing with 'Who You Are.' This has to do with identity. And there is not a bigger, more highly charged word than identity right now. Who we identify with and who we identify as.
What I’m saying today is we have to go with who Jesus says we are (not the culture or the enemy of our soul). And many people don’t know who they are. If you’d ask people in your family, at work or school what it means to be a Christian, you’d likely get 10 different answers. For many of us, we’ve identified as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Nazarene or Tangerine.
Jesus decided to ask His disciples one day, "Who do people say I am?" The disciples replied, "Some say you’re John the Baptist, others say you’re a clone of the prophet Elijah, and others say you’re one of the prophets."
Jesus then says, "OK, but who do you say I am?" (It’s a great question, you know – not who your pastor says, who your momma says, who your BFF says…). Peter blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Why is this important? Because a proper definition of who we are comes directly from our view of who He is. Since HE is the light of the world, WE are also the light. Since Jesus brought zest, purity, and favor as salt, we must, too.
And since Jesus says we are salt and light, that should give our life meaning. Saying every morning when you wake up – 'this is who I am’, will bring you purpose and passion to live.
Let me give you three “I Am’s” from this section of the greatest sermon ever preached.
As a Christ-follower who is salt and light…
- I am different. (Not weird, but different!) Don’t be that obnoxious guy or gal. You’ve heard of drive-by shootings, there are some who practice drive by shoutings! These are those people at a movie (pre-covid) who when asked, "Is this seat saved?" answer, "No, but the question is - are you saved?!"
- I am needed. Our world is in bad shape, my friends. It’s dark and it’s putrid.
- I am influential. You and I can make a difference.
Officer Tori Matthews of the Southern California Humane Society got an emergency call one day. A boy’s pet iguana had been scared up a tree by a neighbor’s dog, and then fell from the tree into a swimming pool, sinking like a brick. Officer Matthews came with her net. She dived into the pool, emerging seconds later with the pet’s limp body. As the newspaper reported, "she thought - Well, you do CPR on a person, why not on an iguana?!" She put her lips to the iguana's. She said, "Now that I look back on it, it was a pretty ugly animal to be kissing, but the last thing I wanted to do was tell that little boy that his iguana had died." Amazingly, the lizard responded to her efforts and is expected to make a full recovery. All because Officer Matthews didn’t see a water logged reptile, she saw a little boy’s beloved pet.
So, go kiss some lizards this week. Maybe select three! Your top three prospects or suspects! And make serving them and praying for them your 2021 priority. Be light and salt to them. Because he told us too. Because we are His ambassadors (and there are too many ambassadors hanging out in the embassy!). Because Hell is real, and real people are going there.
What have we learned first from the world’s greatest teacher and the world’s greatest sermon? What you do is determined by who you think you are. For instance, if you were told consistently growing up that you were no good and would never be good enough, that may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you start acting/living like that.
That is often why God/Jesus often changed people’s names. Their future destiny needed to change from their past identity. For instance, in the Gospels, John knew who he was. John was the son of Zebedee and brother of James. John and James were fishermen with a reputation. In fact, their reputation was so well-known, they had a tagline assigned to it. People called them ‘the sons of thunder.’ You don’t get that nickname by being president of the ladies' tea society. They were likely the kind of guys who rode around on Harleys and got in bar fights. You could picture them coming into town with ‘sons of thunder’ neck tattoos.
So, how shocking it must’ve been when Jesus chose them to be two of the 12 apostles. For example, one time, Jesus and the 12 came to a town that didn’t receive them very well. James and John went up to Jesus and said, 'Let’s call fire down from heaven and destroy these people. Let’s light 'em up!' Nice. But when you are a son of thunder, that’s how you respond and act.
But then, something happened to John. Jesus happened to John. They started spending time together day after day, and Jesus gave John a different way to think about life, but more importantly how to think about himself. Turns out, Jesus can deal with raw, rough, and rugged, if it’s REAL and redeemed.
How do we know this? Because John started calling himself by a different name. John couldn’t think of himself as a 'son of thunder' anymore because he was overwhelmed with a new identity. One of love. It says this in John 21:7, (the gospel he himself wrote) "Then ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ said to Peter, it is the Lord." He was no longer John the fisherman, no longer a 'son of thunder', he was the one Jesus loves.
And that new identity led him to write 1st John, a book that is only about two pages long, but includes the word ‘love’ more than 30 times. Look it up! So, eventually over the years, people started calling John by a new nickname – ‘The Apostle of Love.’ Because he was now stronger salt and brighter light. Because he was the one Jesus loved. I know many of you have ink on your body that tells a story. It tells who you are. I remember so well a great gal who put off her baptism because she had a tat that said ‘Pure Evil’, but then she raised that wasn’t who she was because of Jesus. She was, like John, the one Jesus loves. If you’re gonna get a tattoo, maybe that’s the best one to mark you. The one of your true identity. The one Jesus loves. Go be salt and light this week. And read Mathew 5, 6, and 7.