Salt, Light, and the Law: Matthew 5:13-20

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As we continue looking at Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, we come to a set of three messages that progressively get more challenging. While we are more familiar with the first two messages in this set, the third one is very powerful and very challenging, especially in the New Testament Christian era as it has tried to separate itself from its Jewish roots.

Let’s continue reading Jesus’ message and be reminded of these three messages. Our passage is from Matthew, chapter 13, and we will read from the New International Version. Starting in verse 13, Jesus continues His sermon saying:

13 “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.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Let’s pause reading here briefly, because we have just finished the first two messages. Most people stop reading here and they separate the next message from these first two. However, I believe these ideas are connected if for no other reason that that Jesus shared them in this sequence.

In building up the sequence of messages, Jesus first tells us that we are to be salt in the earth. Salt in moderation seasons a dish nicely, and salt in abundance preserves what it is with. There is a middle area where there is too much salt for seasoning, but not enough for preservation, but I don’t think Jesus is emphasizing salt in this great of a detail. Instead, Jesus is first challenging us to affect the world around us, even if this effect is subtle and not clearly seen. If we stop affecting the world around us, then we will cease to be useful for what God has called us into the world for.

Next, Jesus describes His people as a light of the world. This is more challenging because while salt can be hidden and effective, light ceases to be useful if it is hidden. This means that the more we share and represent God, the greater our light will be and the more visible God may choose to make us. Jesus describes our light as our good deeds, but not us doing good seeking glory for ourselves. Jesus challenges us to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (v. 16)

Immediately following this, Jesus moves into the third message, which is perhaps the most challenging. Continuing in verse 17, Jesus tells the crowd:

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 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. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Some people might say that when Jesus died on the cross and when He was resurrected, this marked the completion referenced in this third message. They view the phrase that everything is accomplished means that everything needed for salvation through Jesus is accomplished, and because of this, now the Law is no longer relevant.

However, Jesus challenges this idea in at least three ways. First Jesus directly says that He did not “to abolish the Law or the Prophets”. Abolishing in this context means doing away with. Jesus didn’t come to do away with the Law. Instead, Jesus tells us He came to fulfill the law. Fulfilling is different. In a strange twist, Jesus came to live 100% obedient to the law because He knew we couldn’t. Just because Jesus lived 100% obedient to the law doesn’t mean that the law isn’t valid. This would be like saying that because my neighbor obeyed the speed limit on the road near our homes means that I can now break it.

Obeying a law does not abolish it.

The second way Jesus challenges this idea is by giving a time for when the law will be modified. Jesus tells those present “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law”. When Jesus continues by saying until everything is accomplished, the context is that everything will be accomplished when heaven and earth disappear. This makes the Law and the Prophets just as relevant today as they were prior to the cross.

The third challenge to this idea is when Jesus emphasizes that the highest positions in the kingdom of heaven will go to those who practice and teach the commands of the Law and the Prophets. There will be those who are welcomed into the kingdom who have not done this, but that is because entrance into God’s kingdom isn’t about what we have done or what we can do. It’s about what has been done for us.

A bonus fourth challenge comes in Jesus’ final statement on this point. Jesus tells those present “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law appeared to be the most righteous people in society at that time. While there was hypocrisy rampant in that spiritual culture, the bar was set even higher than a Pharisee who lived what he preached. Jesus sets the bar for entrance into God’s kingdom in an impossible to get position. This is the power of the Law. The Law stops us from gaining entrance into God’s kingdom, and it is what protects God’s future kingdom from the presence of sin.

Everything in this third challenge regarding Jesus fulfilling God’s law amplifies the relevance of the Law for Christians, and nothing Jesus says here suggests that the Law is any less relevant than it was prior to His arrival on earth. Instead, Jesus’ arrival marked the entrance of God making a way for us to experience God’s kingdom when we failed to live up to God’s standard.

Does Jesus’ death and resurrection make God’s standard no longer relevant? Some might think so, but others believe that this act validates God’s justice while also revealing His love.

All three of these messages challenge us as believers and Christians to be witnesses for Jesus. We are to be salt, we are to be light, and we are to be obedient champions of God’s law, holding up the law while also sharing that the law is the reason Jesus came to this planet!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first and place Him first in your life. Understand that Jesus came to earth not because God sent Him here to die, but because Jesus came to show us how much God loves us when we deserved death. Jesus did not deserve death, and nothing in Jesus’ life warranted facing the cross. Jesus chose this path to show us how much God loves us and just how valuable we are in His eyes!

Also, as I regularly challenge you to do, intentionally pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow each and every day. Choose to spend time praying and studying to grow personally closer to God and to fall in love with Him like He has fallen in love with you. Discover in the pages of the Bible, a God who gives up everything for you and me!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 7: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares three separate ideas that progressively get more challenging for His followers, and in these three messages, we are challenged with how we live our lives and where we have placed our focus.

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2 thoughts on “Salt, Light, and the Law: Matthew 5:13-20

  1. You might settle down and quit attempting to sound so excited. You sound like a huckster. Try really preaching.

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      Thank you for the feedback. I’ll see what I can do in future episodes.