We're turning in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel and chapter 5. You will remember, if you were here approximately a year and half or so ago, we spent about 12 weeks going through the Beatitudes that you find at the beginning of Matthew's gospel and chapter 5. I have felt led, I believe, of the Lord to continue that study of the Sermon on the Mount. We have done the Beatitudes, and I hope that we have understood what the Lord Jesus was teaching in those - but there was much more that He taught within the Sermon on the Mount. I want us, in the weeks that God would set before us, to look at this great sermon of the Lord Jesus Christ and see what He says to us in our own present-day.
We'll read the Beatitudes so that we can get the context of what the Lord is saying. Verse 1: "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven".
I did announce on Thursday evening that we'd be looking at the subject of salt and light - and I misled Trevor a little there, because as I studied more and more into this passage of Scripture, particularly in verse 13, I found that there was too much to say on the subject of salt. So we're looking at the salt of the earth this morning and, God willing, the week after next - after Children's Day - we will look at the light that we're meant to be.
You will note in verse 10 that the Lord Jesus changed from addressing 'they' to, in verse 11, addressing 'ye'. He was speaking of those who were in Christ as being blessed if they fulfilled these things that we find in the Beatitudes. Then in verse 11 it seems that He takes His attention away from generalities, and speaks specifically to the disciples themselves, and says: 'Blessed are ye'. In verse 13 He continues on with that particular second person and says: 'Ye are the salt of the earth'.
We know that in the Beatitudes the Lord Jesus was not addressing the multitude, but as He preached this greatest of all sermons the multitude were not far from His thoughts - but specifically He was speaking to the disciples, the twelve whom He had called to follow Him. We learnt in that study of the Beatitudes that that teaching, those things that the Lord laid down that will make a man blessed in the eyes of God, specifically deal with the interior of a man. They deal with our heart. Of course, the backdrop to that great teaching of the Lord was the external legalism of Pharisaism. The Lord was opposing that in these teachings, showing that this is true religion, this is the faith of God, and it is within the heart. It is in the interior. It's not as much taken up with externalities of man-made religion, but it is to do with our relationship toward God and toward men from the heart.
Now, the danger of just studying the Beatitudes is that we conclude therefore that this life of the Beatitudes can be lived in isolation. If we make that mistake it is a fatal one. To think that this great holy life can be lived [away] from a world that contradicts what we believe - but as we read verses 13 to 16, we find that it is the opposite that is the case, it is the opposite that is true. In fact, the Lord Jesus is saying that it is impossible to live these eight Beatitude characteristics in private. To show that to us the Lord Jesus Christ crowns them with two brilliant illustrations - to show that, as we have considered in the Beatitudes what we are, we must now consider what we must be in the eyes of men and women.
Someone has said that the believer is like a scuba diver in the ocean - he is out of his element in this present world system, because his citizenship is in heaven. That is a very apt illustration of our condition: we are not of the world, but we are in the world. We do not love the world, but we are called to be a witness to the world. So you have this seeming contrast within the word of God, of how we are to live holy lives, how we are to be godly in Christ Jesus and strive, by the Holy Spirit, to live a life that is pleasing to Him - yet it cannot, and it ought not, be in isolation to the world.
Of course that is illustrated beautifully in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He had contact with the world without contamination from the world. Indeed, He was called the friend of sinners, yet the writer to the Hebrews goes on to interpret that He was also holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners - and that is so refreshing, isn't it? To realise that these Beatitudes, spiritual principles, can be lived in the midst of an awful, sinful world - that it is a truth that true separation from the world can be without isolation from it! Hence the error of monasticism, where men and women lock themselves away from the world and isolate themselves, and subtract themselves and separate themselves from everything that this world is - how it is in total error about the mystery of what is in Christ, the great mystery of the gospel, the wonderful thing about this gospel of Christ, is that a holy life can be lived in the midst of a sinful world!
It is seen in the illustrations that the Lord Jesus gives us of what our lives ought to be within the world. They're conspicuous, aren't they? They cannot be missed - look at them, verse 13 to 16. He gives us the illustration of salt, then there's the illustration of light, then the third of a city set on a hill - they cannot be missed! Indeed His words contradict the growing concept today: 'Live a holy life, be a Christian, but don't broadcast it or bother anyone else with it'. The word of God teaches that the believer cannot display all these Beatitudes in splendid isolation from the world, it is just not possible!
Now, I want you to take yourself to the scene where the Lord speaks these words, and He says to His disciples - directly addressing them: 'Ye are the salt of the world'. I'm sure that perhaps some people in that gathering, in the multitude, might have thought it absurd to call them the salt of the earth. If you think of who they were: some of them fishermen, some of them terrorists, some of them publicans, and hated by all of society - and here is the Lord Jesus calling them the salt of the world. Literally in the Greek it means this: 'You alone are the salt of the world' - in other words He's saying: 'Out of the whole world you twelve disciples are the salt of it, and you alone'! That's remarkable, isn't it?
In the Old Testament the prophets were the salt of the land of Canaan, but now in the New Testament these apostles would be the salt of the earth. You know if you take a handful of salt in your hand, and put it all over your dinner - or maybe you can take it along a long road, those millions of grains of salt - one handful of them will have a tremendous effect, indeed, a widespread effect. When we consider the effect that the apostles had on our world, indeed they turned it upside-down, we can see how true it was that they were the salt of the world.
Now, salt in our society is taken for granted, but in the ancient world it was of great value. Indeed, I'm led to believe that Roman soldiers had salt rations, and they would revolt if the rations were changed in any way. The English word that we have 'salary' literally means 'salt money'. You've heard the saying that a man 'is not worth his salt', or that a man 'is worth his salt' - and really what you are saying is exactly what the ancient world said about salt: it is valuable, and we can measure a man's work by it.
So the Lord says to His disciples, and - because we are His disciples also - He says to you today: 'You are the salt of the earth'. What picture was He painting in that illustration? Well, the first thing I want you to note is the reason there needs to be salt - the reason there needs to be salt. If you go into the Old Testament, you find that the sacrifices there were never ever made with leaven. Leaven was symbolic, or typical, of sin - and never was leaven to enter into any sacrifice, but the sacrifices were always to have salt within them. Leaven is a picture of a corrupting force within the world, this antichrist system - but salt is seen to be something that is pure, something that is white, something that is holy and acceptable unto God. We find that right throughout the whole of Scripture, salt becomes emblematic of the covenant between God and His people. In ancient times, in the secular world, salt was symbolic of fidelity, of purity, of friendship.
But what I want you to see, in the light of what the Lord Jesus says here, is that scripturally salt is to be seen as a picture of spiritual health - spiritual health! Of course, the epitome of spiritual health is the gospel of Jesus Christ, isn't it? As we look all around us - unless we're blind in our sin, or blindfolded Christians - we cannot fail to see that there is decay all around us. Daniel, in his great vision, saw the meaning of the image. It was revealed to him the fact that political powers would decay, they would go from gold to silver to brass, and then to iron and then to clay. What he was seeing was this: history, started with clay in Adam - made from the clay of the ground - but history will end with clay, and all the great battlements, all the great empires and status symbols of men, will turn one day to dust again in the face of a holy and a wrathful God. We see that happening in our midst, we see the religious world is decaying - for Paul says that men have a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. The Lord Jesus Himself said: 'Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?'.
We are blind if we cannot see that we are in perilous times, we are in the times that Paul spoke of, we are in the end times - and when we think of the decay, and when we think of the subject of decay, after decay there comes a falling apart, and what we are seeing in our society today is a falling apart of everything around us! Marriages are falling apart, families are being broken up and scattered, law and order is laughed at. The basic institutions of our society are threatened near to extinction, and many of the structures that we see in our society, that look healthy from the outside, are rotting in the inside - and it is only a matter of time before they collapse and they fall around our ears! As one writer said: 'The corpse is rotting away, and the eagles are gathering together'.
Now, in that backdrop, you can see the need for salt, can't you? Can you see, in the tone of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is saying - His motivation is - that it is criminal for a Christian disciple to isolate or insulate himself, and stand at the sidelines and wait for the great collapse of society? The contrast is that between Jonah and the Lord Jesus - what did Jonah do? He went outside the city of Nineveh and he sat down and he waited for the judgement and wrath of God to fall upon those people - but what did the Lord Jesus do? It says He went in and looked over the city, and He wept, and He wanted to woo them to Himself.
You have Abraham, who knew the corruption of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet he prayed that that city might be spared. You have Paul in the book of Romans who knew how blind Israel was, yet he was willing to be accursed that Israel might be saved. You can see Joseph in Egypt, you can see Daniel in Babylon, and all of those individuals in the midst of a decaying world that was falling apart around them, they were divine salt for good! Granted, their ministries did not prevent the ultimate collapse of the nations - but let me say this: they left everyone in those nations without excuse.
Now my friends, that is the need for salt, that is why we need salt - and we need to be salt in this world because of the awful corruption, depravity and sinfulness of this world system around us. Then we see, secondly, from this picture of salt that salt brings preservation: the preservation that salt brings. You will know, I'm sure, that in the ancient world there was no ice-making machines, there was no refrigeration, and the only way that they had to preserve meat was to salt it down and rub salt into it, or soak it down in a saline solution.
Do you believe humanity is rotting? Do you believe that? I hope you haven't swallowed the evolutionary philosophy that is channelled into children in school, and to us through the television and the radio and the newspapers, periodicals and magazines. We are continually bombarded by it: that humanity is getting better and better by the day - it is a lie! It is rotting, it is decaying, and that is why God had to destroy it with a flood - but I want you to note that after the flood they were as sinful as they were before the flood. Humanity does not, and cannot, change - and what the Lord Jesus was saying in verse 13 of chapter 5 of Matthew's gospel is this: 'Humanity without Me is a dead body, rotting and falling apart. You, My followers, are the salt of the earth that must be rubbed into the flesh to halt that decomposition'. He is saying that the Christian must be rubbed into the world.
He didn't say, as many modern Christians say: 'You are the sugar of the earth' - meaning gentleness and winsomeness without truth, not the offence of the gospel or the stumbling block of the cross. But what He was saying is: 'If you are to be the salt of the earth, you will be disadvantaged to be salt'. It will not be nice to be salt, because as you are rubbed into the world that salt will hurt the world. When God's people are amongst those who are raw towards God, their presence will hurt! You see the man that is without God, and is wrong before God, is like an open wound - and when you come in, and if you come in, with a holy and righteous life it will aggravate it, it will irritate him - the annoyance and distress he will feel will bring spite toward you and hate and persecution - hence the persecution in verse 11 and verse 12.
You see, that's why we're still here. Do you ever think about this? The reason why the Lord didn't rapture us as soon as we were converted is that we are to be here for the Holy Spirit is within us, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the church of the Living God, and through that Holy Spirit in the church He convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement to come. The reason why the world hated the Lord Jesus Christ, the reason why the world fed the Christians to the lions, is that if He, and if we, had not come and spoken unto them they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin.
Now my friends, let's be honest with this: are we being rubbed into the world? Are you? As Christians, have we saturated the world system, infiltrated it, in order to turn people away from the darkness of Satan unto the kingdom of God's glorious light? Do we work like a preservative, like an antiseptic on the effect of decomposing life? Do we rub life and soul into people around us, into the society that we live in, into the workplace that God has placed us in, in the family that we have jurisdiction over, are we salt within it?
Now you know as well as I do that there are certain people, and in their company you have to be spiritual. They have a preserving influence on you. But then there are other people, and when you're in their company you think nothing of dropping down the guard and saying something you know you shouldn't say, and talking in doubtful conversation. What that is simply illustrating to us is that salt has a preserving effect, it brings with us a precious, a holy influence on society. My friend, if we were what we ought to be, our influence on society would reduce the crime level, it would restrain ethical corruption, it would promote honesty, it would quicken the conscience of unbelievers, it would elevate the general moral atmosphere to an all-time high. Can you imagine what the presence of such salt in the military would mean, in business, in education? But the antithesis of that is that if their presence is not there, and if the Christian is not rubbed into the midst of the world: all we do is hasten the surprising levels of depravity we see around us today! You see the truth is this: we are meant to be unlike the world, and salt is essentially different from the world - and that is why, when it is rubbed in, it has a preserving effect.
Thirdly, the illustration the Lord gives us is that salt has a savouring influence - the savouring that salt gives. You will know that salt flavours things, and certain foods without salt are insipid, maybe even sickening. What the Lord Jesus is saying is: Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Oliver Wendel-Holmes (sp?) once said this: 'I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers'. You can laugh at that if you want! Robert Louis Stevenson said once, in his diary after going to church, and it seemed to be an extraordinary phenomenon - he wrote: 'I have been to church today and I am not depressed'. The perception of the world is that we are the opposite of salt upon life, isn't it? That we are not the savour and the flavour of life, but we are that insipid tastelessness, and unsavouriness of life. We seem to hinder everything that is pleasure, but all the Lord is saying to us is: 'Ye are the salt of the earth, and you must discover once more that lost radiant flavour of the Christian faith'. He is saying: 'In a worried world the Christian should be the only one who remains peaceful. In a depressed world the Christian should be the only man or woman who remains full of joy!'.
Do you have a savouring influence on those around you? Do you? Do you have a positive influence? Do you exude aura that life without Christ is insipid and is dull? That's not what our culture teaches us, our culture attempts to numb itself with pleasure and with drugs, and with a pleasure-mania - and people are literally dying of boredom around us! The entertainment industry thrives on making life look better, on making it more fun and luxurious - and good within it is often portrayed as evil, and evil as good. Evil is seen to be more exciting than good, isn't it? But that is a lie! Young people, whatever you do, don't believe that lie!
The truth of God is this - do you believe this, Christian? Think about this: that holiness is more exciting than sin. Can you think of the influence that we would have on society if we were more courteous, if we worked harder, if we produced the best musicians and artists and craftsmen and students? But fourthly - and I do want to finish this message with you today - there is a thirst that salt causes, a thirst that salt causes. Jesus made people thirsty for God! You see that, don't you? He attracted people to God, He repelled the Pharisees and the legalists, but the ordinary sinners, the ordinary people were attracted to the Lord Jesus. Now the question is too obvious: do we make people thirsty for Christ?
You know from taking one slup of your soup, or one bite of your dinner, whether it's been salted or not - don't you? The question is: when people take one bite of us, do they taste Christ? There is a thirst that salt causes, and then fifthly the Lord Jesus says there's useless salt. Now, please look at this - verse 13: 'If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?' - if the salt becomes tasteless. Now today the salt that you have on your dinner table when you go home, chemically speaking, it's been refined so many times that it's impossible for it to lose its saltiness - it's an extremely stable substance, it can't become tasteless. But in Palestine, the type of salt that they had could be diluted, or even adulterated - so if you came along and put a load of water in the salt, and mixed it all up, that wasn't good enough to preserve meat. Or perhaps there was some sand mixed in, or soil, or dirt, mixed in with the salt - and it wasn't pure. So the salt could be diluted, or it could be adulterated - and either one of those two things would do one thing: it would make the salt lose its preserving influence.
Someone has said: 'If we are not affecting the world, the world is affecting us'. Are we exporting or are we importing? Are there greater influences coming into the church than going out of the church? If we are not salting the world, do you know what it means? The world is rotting us! Matthew Henry said: 'Salt is remedy for unsavoury meat, but there is no remedy for unsavoury salt'. Now please don't dilute the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, because He says: 'If the salt', and the salt is the believer, 'If the salt has lost its savour, there's nothing can be done!'. It is to be thrown out and trodden under foot of men! Why does He say that? Because if the salt is adulterated or diluted - the purpose of the salt to fight deterioration, it has been deteriorated itself, and that purpose is lost! Do you know what He's speaking of? Uselessness - and He says that uselessness invites disaster.
Do you know something? There are some substances and when they become useless for one thing, they can be useful for another. You think of grapes: you have a lovely bundle of grapes on your table and they're there primarily, the greatest thing is for your refreshment, but when the grapes rot what do you do? Well they can't be used for your refreshment, but if they're sweet grapes you can plunge them and make them into wine - or if they're not sweet enough for the wine, then you can make them into vinegar - and if they're not even good enough for vinegar, you can use them as fertiliser to fertilise other vines and make more grapes! There are many uses for many things that become useless - but let me say this: there is no use for salt that becomes unsavoury! For it is cast out and trodden under foot of men in the street - the street was the rubbish dump of Palestine. Do you know what the Lord Jesus is saying, and do you know what the message is to you today? Are you a rubbish Christian? Are you?
There is a need for salt. The Lord asks: 'How will it be made salty again?'. Do you know why I know that there are rubbish Christians, and do you know why I know that those rubbish Christians are thrown out on the street and trodden under foot of men? Well, one reason is the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel! And the second reason is: you can search all of Asia Minor for all the great churches that you find written in the word of God, and you'll not find any of them! Why? Go to North Africa, look for the church of great Augustine - you'll not find it! Why? Because they lost their salt, and they were thrown out and trodden under foot of men.
My friend, I've so much to say to you, but I want to end on this note: in a country like ours, and a city like ours, that claims such a high density of believers, why do we have so little influence? Why? Perhaps in the last 50 years or more they've done more for peace, they've done more for social matters, and influenced society politically and every other way that you can imagine - but I believe that we have entered into a new dark age. Spiritually we are in another Dark Ages - and the only way to get out is if we prevent it! Am I placing too much responsibility on man? No! Christ said: 'You are the salt of the earth. You are the preserving influence. You are the savouring factor to society. You are the one that will rub life into this world'. He tells us that we need again to find our saltiness! That will only happen when we live a holy life, and that holy life is brought into contact with a dying, decaying, depraved world.
Let us pray, and as we bow our heads - we heard recently about a 'Blue Moon' service, and you know it grieves my heart that - as far as I can tell, and many in this assembly - there are some here today and the only thing that makes you Christian is the fact that you come and warm a seat on a Sunday. My friend, that is not what a Christian is - a Christian is the salt of the earth. My question to you is: have you lost your savour? For you need to beware that you're not thrown out.
Father, these are hard sayings. They do not comfort us, but they trouble us - but one thing we do know is this: we want to be what He wants us to be. We want to be holy, we want to make a difference in the home and in the school, in the University and in the workplace. We want to be the salt of the earth, and we pray that through us that You would overflow Your blessing to a dying world. In the Saviour's name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "The Salt Of The Earth" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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