Register or log in using Church Center for directory, small groups, giving, and more!

Sermon on the Mount: Salt & Light

Speaking to a mixed crowd, Jesus declares that his followers are salt and light, but what does that mean?

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

I have a confession. After the message last week I wanted more… I wanted David to explain to me what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness and what it means that that person would be filled, or what does it mean to inherit the earth?

I even woke up on Monday morning at around 4:30 am with the Beatitudes on my mind trying to figure out how they apply to my life and how I would explain it to someone else. I was actually planning to talk to David at our Monday morning meeting about how he should have explained more of what they meant.

But… that was the point wasn’t it?

Jesus made those statements to his disciples and then just let them hang. They were meant to force them to think about it, process them and want more. But Jesus did not give more… at least not immediately. 

Could you imaging being on that mountain and hearing Jesus say, “You are blessed by God if you are mourning because you will be comforted.” If you were mourning the loss of someone you might have been standing there listening and thinking, “Blessed? What does he mean? Who is going to comfort me? When will I be comforted? Why is that a blessing?”

Many of the teachings we are going to encounter in this series of teachings on the mountain are meant to be meditative. In other words, they are mean for you to ponder them, think on them over and over looking for meaning and application. Often there are several meanings and levels to understand and embrace. 

REGARDING Meditation:

I often find it helpful to look at the tenses of verbs to better understand some of the application.  For instance, the person who mourns is blessed (present tense) because they will be comforted (future tense). Then you realize that MOST of them are like this, except the first and 8th - 

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” 

Why is that tense different? The kingdom of heaven is theirs. And why are the groups of blessings sandwiched between two that say “the kingdom of heaven is theirs”?

Meditate on it. Ponder it. 

BIG PICTURE: is that the “blessings” on the mountain are meant to teach about what life in the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be like - partially experienced in the present and yet to be fully realized, but all possible because of the chosen one of God who came to establish God’s kingdom. It is an upside down kingdom when compared to the world around it.

Are there applications for today? Yes. Are there implications for the future? Absolutely. The more you think about them the more your learn about Jesus, the Father, the Kingdom and living in this new reality. 

Let’s move on to our next passage and we can look at some tenses and I will (hopefully) help you unpack some of the possible meanings we are meant to grab hold of.

Matthew 5:13–16 CSB

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Speaking to the disciples, he says, “you are”… This is present tense. You are 2 things (at least). 

Salty

Jesus was sitting on the mountain with an unspecified number of disciples and telling them, prior to his atoning sacrifice, that they ARE (present tense) the salt of the earth. 

There is not really a description given as to the application of the salt. What characteristic of salt was he referring to? 

If that was the list Jesus was referring to, which uses of salt did he intend us to understand? Most pastors I know like to make the application to preserving or healing, but what about that weed killing or constipation relief? I am sure there are some spiritual applications there as well 😂

It is natural for us to do a few things when trying to understand a passage like this:

  1. apply our knowledge of salt to the biblical teaching and thus shape our theology and application.
  2. because we know what Jesus WILL command his disciples, and we know how the story ends, it is natural for us to use that to influence how we interpret this passage. 

Neither of those is wrong as long as the interpretation we come to aligns with the rest of scripture. That is a critical part of meditation!

However, since we know that Matthew is being very careful to connect the teachings of Jesus to the Law & Prophets, it would be wise for us to begin our meditation there. Perhaps we should ask, “What do the law and prophets have to say about salt??

There are at least three uses of salt in our Old Testament that I think we can draw some possible understanding and connection from this morning.

Salted Grain Offerings

Grain or cereal offerings are gift of worship that acknowledge God as the source of provision and prosperity. Leviticus chapter 2 is all about them. 

Leviticus 2:13 CSB

13 You are to season each of your grain offerings with salt; you must not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God. You are to present salt with each of your offerings.

These offerings were to be presented with salt. A portion was offered to God as a burnt offering, the rest was given to the priests to eat. It was considered the holiest part:

Numbers 18:19 CSB

19 “I give to you and to your sons and daughters all the holy contributions that the Israelites present to the Lord as a permanent statute. It is a permanent covenant of salt before the Lord for you as well as your offspring.”

We are not told WHY salt was to be added and never omitted, but it is a part of the offering.

IF this is part of the salt reference that Jesus was referring to from the law and the prophets, then he might have been declaring that those that follow Jesus are a gift to God and a testimony of the provision and prosperity of God through the offering of the Messiah. They are holy, and belong to the priest who is presenting the offering (which we could then assert Jesus into). 

SALT was part of the grain offering which belongs to the High Priest (Aaron) and his descendants. As followers of Jesus we are an offering to God that is given to our High Priest, Jesus. 

You are the salt of the earth = You are a gift to God and a testimony of God’s provision and prosperity through Jesus. You are holy and belong to Jesus.

Covenant of Salt

There is a unique phrase that showed up at the end of that Numbers 18 passage, “covenant of salt”. I think we should look there next:

Numbers 18:19 CSB

19 “I give to you and to your sons and daughters all the holy contributions that the Israelites present to the Lord as a permanent statute. It is a permanent covenant of salt before the Lord for you as well as your offspring.”

The covenant of salt was about fellowship or relationship. It was a type of phrase used in the Arab world to talk about having a meal together - and once you did that you were family. 

One of the characteristics of a covenant of salt is its permanence. We see the word that mean permanent or “forever” used twice in this passage. 

I was surprised to find out that there is another passage that talks about a covenant of salt:

2 Chronicles 13:5 CSB

5 Don’t you know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?

The covenant of salt was made between God and David - that his throne would endure forever, or that the Messiah would come through his line.  Though I would expect that any unconditional covenant that God makes permanent, both of these passages talk about a covenant of salt and its permanence.

NOTE: in 2 Chronicles 13, the confrontation is between 2 kingdoms: one makes their own gods, assigned their own priests and their own king. The other was doing what God required. The ones who were following God were the ones who were part of the covenant of salt, and the others were defeated. However, the others (the Northern Kingdom) might have been considered “trampled under foot” and those that had lost their saltiness.

Jesus IS God’s fulfilment of that covenant of salt made with David. So if this is one of the references that Jesus wanted his listeners to connect, he could have been saying that they were partaking of the covenant.  This is very much in line with Matthew’s gospel thus far: Jesus is the son of David that is establishing the kingdom of God on earth and his followers (in all generations) are people of salt - partakers of that covenant, people set apart as a nation for God. 

Moses presented a similar covenant promise between God and the nation Israel in Exodus:

Exodus 19:5–6 CSB

5 Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, 6 and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”

Jesus, as the new Moses, took that promise and ascribed it to all of those who will be his disciples - from all of the nations.

That is, after all, the main message Jesus was teaching right? “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” And you are blessed, or will experience the full blessing of God in the future because God has sent his chosen one (Messiah) into the world. 

If this is part of the salt reference Jesus was wanting his hearers to connect to, he might have been saying that his followers are the covenant people of God. His listeners were experiencing the fulfillment of the covenant promise of God because they were standing in front of the promise to David - the one who will sit on the throne and rule the Kingdom of God. 

SALT was part of permanent covenants. As followers of Jesus we are a permanent part of his kingdom. 

You are the salt of the earth = You are God’s chosen people for all time. He has entered a relationship with you that is permanent because of the work of Jesus.

The Bowl of Salt

The last salty reference I want to look at goes back to one of the prophets that I got to teach about: Elisha. Remember, Elisha appeared as a prophet and type of Messiah, and many of the works recorded about him point to the work and person of the Messiah, Jesus.

2 Kings 2:19–22 CSB

19 The men of the city said to Elisha, “My lord can see that even though the city’s location is good, the water is bad and the land unfruitful.” 

20 He replied, “Bring me a new bowl and put salt in it.” 

After they had brought him one, 21 Elisha went out to the spring, threw salt in it, and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. No longer will death or unfruitfulness result from it.’ ” 22 Therefore, the water still remains healthy today according to the word that Elisha spoke.

Elisha took a new bowl, a new vessel, with salt in it and used it to undo the curse that was placed on the water. New vessel, salt applied, death reversed. Wow, so much that could apply here. 

The MAIN connection, without diving too deep into the rabbit hole, was that the application of salt, by the prophet of God, brought life to that which caused death and infertility. 

If this is part of the salt reference Jesus was wanting his hearers to connect to, he might have been saying that his followers are meant to be used by him to bring life and healing to that which has been poisoned around them. 

It is not that we are salt and therefore we bring life. It was the work of God, through the prophet who used the salt that the curse was lifted. God wants to pour us out into a world that is full of death so that it can experience life and blessing the way it was originally designed to.

You are the salt of the earth = God wants to use you to bring the message of life and healing to the world around you.

The challenge:

The hard part of Matthew 5:13 is that part about salt that loses it’s flavor being worthless and good for nothing but being trampled. 

One literal way to interpret the Greek is “if you act foolishly, how will the earth be salted?”. 

We are the chosen people of God, offered as a gift to our high priest (Jesus) to be used to bring healing to the world. From this passage we are told that it is possible that we can live in such a foolish way that we can become useless for the purpose God intends. 

CAUTION: this passage does NOT teach that we can sin so far that we cannot be redeemed! On a very short-sighted look at these verses we might think that, but we must always check teaching against the rest of scripture and that Bible does NOT teach that!

It is saying that we can become useless to God by NOT living up to what we ARE in Jesus. Remember, this is PRESENT TENSE. You ARE the salt of the earth! When you fail to be salty you fail to do what God has called you to do. As you meditate on this more, think through what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain:

Deuteronomy 5:11 ESV

11 “ ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

To take god’s name in vain means that we bear his name (call ourselves his people) and then live like we do not know him and disrespect him and his words. Those people will be punished, which is what we read about in our Matthew passage - they will be cast out and trampled upon. 

The contrast to losing our saltiness is presented in the second half of the teaching - being the light of the world by letting our “good deeds” or “good works” show before others. If we act wisely and represent our Father well, we bring glory to him.

Light

So, let’s move on from salt to light:

Matthew 5:14–16 CSB

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Light of the world. Jesus said to those disciples, sitting on the mountain, that they are the light of the world. In Matt 5, again we have the present tense, “YOU ARE the light of the world”. 

Again, Matthew is primarily focusing on passages that talk about the Messiah and how Jesus is the Messiah and fulfills the law and prophets. So let’s see what Jesus might have been referring to.

The prophet Isaiah spoke about Israel (and the Messiah) this way:

Isaiah 49:6 CSB

6 he says, 

“It is not enough for you to be my servant 

raising up the tribes of Jacob 

and restoring the protected ones of Israel. 

I will also make you a light for the nations, 

to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

In Isaiah 49 we read that ISRAEL is the light for the nations. That was the design from the very beginning when God made his covenant with Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants (see Genesis 12). 

Yet, we know what the crowds came from all over the region and included many Gentiles (non-Jews) as well as descendants of Abraham. It would appear that Jesus was trying to relay that the NEW Israel, the new people of God were those that follow him, regardless of their lineage. 

This is a teaching that the disciples certainly tuned into later on. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas quote this same set of verses:

Acts 13:47 CSB

47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: 

I have made you 

a light for the Gentiles 

to bring salvation 

to the ends of the earth.”

The context of that is that the good news of the Kingdom of God was not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles - the nations (what the word Gentile means - ethnos). 

Light is meant to be seen.

Jesus gave some cool insights into light - it is meant to be on display, it is meant to be seen, to be very visible. Why else would you have it, right? It would be stupid to turn the light on and then cover it up so no one can see it. 

However, the Jews had been hiding their light, keeping it only to themselves and not including others, especially the nations. They had made their faith an exclusive club and kept their light hidden to the rest of the world. Jesus is calling them out and back to their original purpose of being a light to the nations. 

***WOW I love this! We sing “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” but how often are we just as guilty as Israel of keeping it to ourselves?

Because we have the gospel from John, we know that Jesus called himself the light of the world:

John 8:12 CSB

12 Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

Jesus is the light, and Jesus said this his disciples are the light. 

If this is the reference Jesus is making when he says that his disciples are the light of the world, perhaps he is saying that HE is the light, and we are lights. All of us that follow Jesus are to consider ourselves as lights to the nations - the peoples around us, to point them to Jesus. 

We are not meant to hide our faith or keep it within the walls, we are meant to shine to all around us. 

You are the light of the earth = God wants you proudly reflect him - to live in a way that people around you see Jesus in you and want to know him.

Continuing the Meditation.

From these illustrations of salt and light we could be thinking about a lot of things now! And we have certainly NOT exhausted all of the possibilities! FOR EXAMPLE: Check out Isaiah 60 this week and see how it connects the present tense with the future. However, I think there are a few things we can continue to meditate on regarding being salt and light:

IDENTITY:

We could be honing in on our identity as followers of Jesus. We ARE his covenant, holy, chosen people. We are members of his kingdom. We are an offering to Jesus.

MISSION:

We ARE called to bring healing, life and light to the world around us. 

I do not think any of us struggles with the theology of this so much as we struggle knowing HOW to do it. That is part of mediation as well - the application. God might use you to write about Him. God might want you to have meals with people inside and outside the church. God might want you to talk about him with a co-worker. Pray and ask God to show you how to live out your identity and mission.

I mentioned that our mediation needs to be in alignment with the rest of scripture. So, let’s look at a few verses as we close that I believe help reinforce these thoughts on salt and light.

I think Isaiah 42 actually connects both the identity and the mission together:

Isaiah 42:6–7 CSB

6 “I am the Lord. I have called you 

for a righteous purpose, 

and I will hold you by your hand. 

I will watch over you, and I will appoint you 

to be a covenant for the people 

and a light to the nations, 

7 in order to open blind eyes, 

to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, 

and those sitting in darkness from the prison house.

I will appoint you (as priests and kings) to be a covenant people (salt) and a light to the nations in order to take people out of bondage and into freedom (Moses - exodus).

Listen to the way Peter connects all of these thoughts together from both salt and light: 

1 Peter 2:9–10 CSB

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Do you see the connection? It all flows together. 

Let’s go back and read our passage again:

Matthew 5:13–16 CSB

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Jesus was speaking to his disciples and he told them that they ARE salt and light. 

If you are a Jesus-follower, you have both an identity and a mission. Because of Jesus, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  You are to be careful how you live so that you are faithful to the identity and mission you have in Jesus.

  • You are a holy people
  • You are a gift to God
  • You are a permanent part of God’s kingdom
  • God has chosen to use you to bring life and healing to others
  • You are God’s reflection to the peoples around you

You ARE the salt of the earth. You ARE light to the nations. It is not a question of whether you want to share your faith or tell people how awesome God is - it’s that you get to! You and I ARE the ones God has chosen to use to help people move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. May the Sprit help us live up to this calling we have in Jesus.


Join Our Mailing List

North Country Fellowship Church
NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.