"Salt, Light and Christ’s Compassion"
Sermon: January 3, 1999
Text: Matthew 5:13-16 and 9:35-38
In Matthew 4:19 Jesus said: "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." That is an invitation to your Christian calling regardless of your occupation, age, status or gender. Jesus is about the business of winning souls because He is filled with compassion for those who yet remain outside the fold (for sheep), or net (for fish). We are to be joined to His mission rather than the other way around! We are those for whom redemption is our reality. To say such a thing is to be profoundly altered—it is this that separates fishers of men from the fish. As followers of Jesus, we claim that nothing carries as much importance as this: attaining the salvation of the Lord. Woe to those who having attained it are lazy in the work of extending the harvest. They are unprofitable laborers. Can there be any more wicked form of selfishness than to have obtained an eternal inheritance and eternal life and to live non-applied and unconcerned about the lost condition of others?
So here are some characteristics of those who would be faithful to the call to be fishers of men. They will be salty, luminous and compassionate. They are to be different from the rest of unredeemed mankind! Therefore, those who follow Jesus into harvesting souls will be held in contempt. Why? Because even though it is not explicitly judgmental, it is implicitly so. At the very least, the harvester is saying, "I am the fisherman. . . you are the fish." That will earn you contempt in an age void of standards, in an age when any act of discrimination will earn you a swift, cultural rebuke ("Who are you to judge?!" etc.). Forget that discrimination is a sign of maturity and that a lack of powers of discrimination is both foolishly and fatally infantile.
We are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Those who would refuse to allow us to be salt, and who seek to compel us to hide our light, vainly imagine that the world will be a better place if we’d just be like them. If we would just stop judging each other, if we would just stop comparing ourselves to each other hierarchically, unfavorably, everything would be fine. Indeed, their curious notion is that no one is any better, or worse than anyone else. . . no opinion less valid or more valid, more or less ignorant, more or less informed. Surely, the fishing expedition will be troubled if the fishermen are so ideally indistinguishable from the fish! What an escape from personal responsibility and accountability is masked in the "cult of tolerance" currently being pressed on Christians in our culture. First, we are told that that there are to be no standards of truth, or for comparison everyone’s religious ideas are essentially the same. If that be true, please note that Jesus’ mission was pointless, a fool’s errand. Why should Jesus die to reveal anything, if all religions are co-valid and truthful? IF all mankind needed was a little love, surely there was enough of that in the world to suffice and the cross is rendered superfluous.
Listen. No matter how badly we are treated, no matter how severe the ridicule and contempt we are subjected to in the "tolerant multiculturalism" of our day, we cannot give up the mission of Christ to the lost, the perishing. Sometimes all you can do is warn the bus driver that the bridge is out and get off the bus—so intent are the self-destructive on keeping moving. The prophets went to Canaan, but we are salt to the world. The world is oblivious to its need for the salt and light we bring—just as the lump of dough has no clue as to it need for the yeast! But insensibly and irresistibly, we are to work our way into the whole mass of it and change its character!
The doctrine of the gospel is salt! It is penetrating, quick, powerful (Hebrews 4:2) and it reaches to the heart (Acts 2:37). Salt cleanses, refreshes, flavors and preserves. The world may seem worse than ever, but it nothing as depraved as it would be were the salt of Christians removed from it. Take out the influence of Christians and death reigns. . .remove the followers of Christ and the world becomes, by necessity, a huge putrefying and stinking mass of corruption. Salt is united in Numbers 18:19 with the everlasting covenant of God! Salt was required to be part of all sacrifices in Leviticus 2:13. Pliny wrote, "Without salt human life cannot be sustained." He spoke truer than he knew! We must, of course, be gospel seasoned ourselves—with the salt of grace as we are urged in Colossians 4:6. All our speech is to full of grace so that, having salt within ourselves (Mark 9:50), we have peace with one another. Our very lives, informed by living principles of grace, will constantly be working out the corrupt dispositions until all rottenness is gone—at that point no corrupt communication will proceed from our mouths to trouble our relationships! This is the salt that releases peace between us. This is the savor of Christianity, this is how we are under the influence of that salt.
It has been said that we are either a living sacrifice to God’s grace, or a dying sacrifice to His justice. Therefore the wicked are to be salted in hell with everlasting fire (Ezekiel 10:2) and with brimstone (Job 18:15). For those concerned with why those in hell are not consumed being the fuel thereof, let them note that it is by divine action that they shall remain to be perpetually consumed and tormented. Nature’s laws do not prevail in hell. Some will not wait for eternal punishment, but the very pleasures they live in shall consume them in the here and now. So we have Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt because she would not flee the pleasures of her flesh in submissive obedience to her rescuing God. She would not flee and so perished.
To be salt is both to be good and to do good. And the good that we would be and do is directed at the world for whom Christ died. Our view of the lost is far too tame to motivate us to anything more than say "hello" maybe. Picture the lost’s desperate condition. They are lying in ignorance and wickedness—a vast mass of putrefying corruption, filling the atmosphere with the stench of their everlasting death and hell. There is always a scent of brimstone around the damned, covered though it be with perfumes and scents. This is what Christ sends us to salt, to hold back the decay, to purify and flavor with the aroma of heaven, and, if possible, render those who are willing acceptable to God. We are to be scattered throughout the land like the ancient Levites that the whole nation might be truly salted! What good is salt in heaps? How useless the holy huddles of salty saints, adding salt to salt. Salt is meant to be dispersed, meant to communicate its seasoning.
And that would be a problem with good, savory salt. . .salt that hasn’t lost its crisp purity, unadulterated salt! But, unfortunately, some of the salt meant to season others has become unsavory itself and so void of spiritual life, truth, zest and vigor. This is very sad. Such salt cannot perform its proper function. According to scripture such salt is irrecoverable. . .for there is nothing with which it can be re-salted! Matthew Henry wrote, "As a man with reason is a Christian without grace. . . a wicked Christian being the worst of all men—the wicked minister being the very worst of all Christians." Such are doomed to ruin and rejection by God, cast out utterly and only fit to be trampled under the foot of common, unredeemed humanity!
Similar truths can be applied to light, although the application must naturally be somewhat limited to the visual. Pliny as wrote that nothing is more useful than sun and salt to mankind. The light is sweet, and welcome. . .the whole verdant realm of plant life depends on light. And we on it! On a spiritual plane, the whole world continues to sit in darkness until Jesus Christ is lifted up, exalted by His disciples. That would be us. We are re-created to be lustrous and conspicuous! As Jesus said, "A city set on a hill cannot be hid. . .nor do people light a lamp and hide it under a basket!" That would be to set light to work against it’s very nature and purpose. Now, when you let your light shine, you should realize that some will admire, study, and seek to emulate your light. But others will revile, hate and study how to extinguish your light, or witness. That division is inescapable. But we are talking about the activation of something deep and real here. . . your Christian witness is the summation and perfection of all your best. The character that Christ puts upon us dignifies us, causes to be E. F. Hutton conspicuous. . .when you do stand up for Christ, when you exalt Him and shine, you will inevitably cut quite the figure. That is because Jesus Christ honors those who honor Him!
If we turn from Matthew to Revelation, we find that the seven churches are represented there as lampstands (Rev.1:20). Those lampstands are removable. By faithfulness we are to prove ourselves worthy of continuing to burn and to shine. . . preachers are to shine by the message they preach, but all are subject to the same demand: be salt, be light. Light is for instruction, for direction, for quickening and for comfort (Job 29:11).
If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.
If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides,
So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)
Jesus said, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." We must be salt, and we must be light. But we also need to follow his lead. Matt. 9:35-38 sets forth that pattern. In verse 35 we learn that He went to the poor and obscure places—not just to important, big places. He preached the good news of the kingdom. Wherever He went He found people hoping to hear something, gathered in places of expectation—in synagogues. Today families might gather in homes to hear, yes, and to receive prayer for healing. Now Jesus was moved by compassion for the lost and isolated, the people who were of no account, and we will only follow Him where compassion drives us. If we love our neighbors, we will follow Jesus’ example. He took notice of the multitudes, the multiplicity of needs, and He was filled with pity for their condition. He felt for the blind, lame and sick. . .so must we feel for the homeless, lonely elderly, frightened, abused and isolated. We must have compassion for the ignorant, and the careless whose brave front of spiritual indifference is only a show—they are all perishing. In the bowels of His compassion, a compassion towards souls, Jesus ached for them to be brought in, given shelter, a spiritual home. We must cultivate compassion for souls. . .for those who faint being vexed, weary and defeated. . . for those who have strayed, who have lost their divine direction, who are ignorant of the nature and extent of divine law. All around us are exhausted people who do not know where there is real food and drink. . .who more than an invitation, need to be shown the way to the table!
There are many who purport to be shepherds and they are no such thing. Some are in it for power, to advance some cause or to seek their own glory. Jesus therefore excited His disciples to pray for these lost sheep. He was also realistic, there are few good preachers, but those who are ill-taught should be eager to be better taught. The harvesters are few. . . just like Peter and John and the miraculous catch, they had to call for help. . .for much help. So will we be in days to come. It would be a shame if harvest time were to arrive and the corn should stand in the field and shed and spoil because we were not ready to gather the harvest in. Many are prone to spiritually loiter these days, the laborers are still too few. Pray. Pray more when things are discouraging, complain and fear less!
Ministry is harvest work that must be done in due season—it cannot be held back. Pray then for a spirit to work and to succeed at our work (Psalm 10:17). Desire more workmen, even if those who come are able to eclipse us in every way—keep our focus on the Lord of the Harvest! If we do our all, it will suffice and the barns will be full to overflowing.