Shining light

Epiphany 5
Matthew 5:13-20

Whenever we wish to stress someone’s solid worth and usefulness, we may say of him or her that they’re “the salt of the earth”. I’ve never heard anyone called “the light of the world”, but that’s what Jesus says about everyone who belongs to him and follows him. We are, in fact, “the hope of the world”. That’s how great we are because we belong to the greatest King. We walk through the world as visitors. What a gracious greatness Christ Jesus gives us. To be called “the light of the world” is no mean title. It shows how much our Lord values us and counts on us.

We are amazed that he should exalt us so. And because he exalts us so, there can be no room for any Christian to have an inferiority complex. We are instead filled with immense gratitude and an eager desire to get on with the work our Lord calls us to do. Jesus says this about us to fill us with courage and confidence, because we believe that what we do for him will have results and be effective for all eternity. What a tremendous encouragement it is to know that the good works we do will have an impact on the world, so that the world will have to reckon with us.

Let’s look at what it means that we are “the salt of the earth”. The ancient world felt that there was nothing more useful than salt and light. Salt was seen as indispensable. A bag of salt was reckoned to be as precious as a person’s life. They believed that without salt, human life could not be sustained. The term “salt” is used for that which is permanent, that which lasts, and also to describe a person’s worth and wisdom.  Salt, however, is only of use if it gets out of the salt shaker and loses itself in the soup. Salt gives zest to food, making tasty that which tasted flat and stale.

A pinch of salt is effective out of all proportion to its amount. It has been said that it only takes 5% of active Christians to have an impact on society. Salt’s power lies in being different from its environment. We transform the world by being different from it. Only those who are not like the world can transform it. We are the salt God rubs into the wounds of the world. In the context of verse 12, Jesus is saying, “You are those through whose persecution the earth will be seasoned, purified and preserved.” With such a high role assigned to us, there can be no room for complacency about our calling. Salt is concerned with self-sacrifice, not self-preservation. Our words are to have an impact on the social thinking of our world. As long as we preserve our distinctive character, we will make the world a more palatable place to live. People aren’t impressed by a character a little better than theirs, but by lives directed and inspired by motives and principles that are unmistakably different.

We posses something essential, something non-Christians don’t have, so that we change the tone of daily life. Like salt, we act as a leavening influence in our world. We long to do ordinary things extraordinarily well, so that non-Christians are led to ask, “You’re so different! What makes you tick?” To not laugh at a cruel joke can season the atmosphere of a group. A healing factor enters in when we forgive someone who is difficult to pardon, whose actions seem unpardonable. Those to whom Jesus said these words were ordinary people, just like most of us. Jesus saw people in terms of their potential, in terms of what they could still become. When a person is united to Christ, he or she is no longer an ordinary person. That person no longer feels useless or worthless. When Christ affirms us, we become strong enough to withstand anything, to “take on the world”!

To be called “the light of the world” would have to be the greatest compliment ever paid to us. We’re light of the whole world, not just the light of the Church. Salt works quietly and internally, but light works visibly and externally. Christians stay in the world, touching even its questionable activities, in order to transform them. We don’t remain aloof from society, where we cannot affect it, but we become immersed in its life. Those who have the mind of Christ bring about a pervasive sweetening of life and of all human relationships.

Light is certain to be noticed. Something built on a hill will be seen. Christian character is a positive force for good in the world. Light enters into the darkness to dispel gloom and bring illumination and enlightenment. The darkness can never overcome it. We shine with the radiance that comes from Christ’s presence in our hearts. The radiance of a bride comes from the love she bears in her heart. We are light of the world, both by what we are and by what we do. The word Jesus uses for “good” here means that this is winsome, beautiful and attractive. What we do must not only be good; it must also be attractive. There needs to be a certain winsomeness in Christian goodness. This happens when all we do is done for God’s glory rather than for our own self-promotion.

Light makes growth possible. As light reveals beauty, so, too, we radiate with the joy of our salvation. As light was the first creation of God, so too we are the first fruits of his creation, who seek to brighten up life wherever we are with our acts of practical helpfulness. We cannot therefore hide ourselves in privacy or obscurity under the pretext of modesty. We exert influence just by being in a situation in prayer and love. We can be of good cheer because Christ has overcome the world. To confess Christ is like letting a lion out of a cage. Where we stand up for Jesus, life is refreshed as with a cool evening breeze. The gifts of Jesus are not just for personal enjoyment. We receive them to pass them on to others. Our value and worth is affirmed as we give of ourselves to others. The greatest contribution we will make to the conversion of others will be through the kind of lives we lead. We are more valuable to Christ than we could ever imagine. The glory of belonging to him is infinitely great.

Jesus’ Church here on earth isn’t some insignificant, unimportant organisation. It isn’t just another ingredient in the world, but it is the decisive one, because it is the one organisation that exists also for the sake of its non-members. So, let what God has done for you shine forth. The light itself is more important than the lamp. We let our light shine in this world in gratitude that God so loved this world that He gave us His only Son.

To those who are tempted to feel inferior to the high and mighty of this world, Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your heavenly Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” His Kingdom alone abides forever. You are the hope of the world. Hope sees the invisible, experiences the intangible and attempts the impossible. When everything looks hopeless, then hope becomes a virtue.

Dare to be different for Jesus’ sake. He’s counting on you. Go out into the world this week full of confidence and courage, sure of Christ’s blessing on all you do in his name. What a privilege it is to be “salt of the earth”, “light of the world” for your Lord.

Amen.

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