Purposes: Jesus & the Church

Posted: August 21, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 5:13-20, “Purposes: Jesus & the Church”

Vss 13-20 provide a bridge from the end of the Beatitudes to the bulk of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches about the heart of the OT Law & how it relates to the heart of God in the kingdom of Heaven.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of the marks of one of His disciple.  The person who comes to Christ comes in humility, casting him/herself upon the mercy of God for forgiveness & life, and then displays the characteristics of Jesus Himself in our lives as He gradually conforms us to His image.  With true discipleship comes distinctiveness, which the world will rebel against & in which we can expect persecution…yet the whole time we can live in magnificent transcendent joy, knowing that we truly have been made children of the Most High God through the work of Jesus Christ.

With that in mind, an obvious follow-up/concluding question is: “Why?  What’s the purpose for all of this?  If God has saved us through Jesus Christ to live in this world as Jesus’ disciples, what purpose do we serve here?”  Jesus tells us clearly.  We are salt & light – pointing others to Jesus Christ to become His disciples, just like we are His disciples.

At the same time, Jesus doesn’t just tell us OUR purpose; He also speaks of His purpose.  Jesus fulfills the Law.  The righteousness we strive for, but can never achieve on our own, He lives out to the full – and makes it possible for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven as one of His disciples.  We point people to Jesus; Jesus brings people to Heaven.

Matthew 5:13–20 (NKJV)
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

  • Salt.  In the OT Law, salt was added to grain offerings (Lev 2:13), but most often salt was known as a preservative.  Prior to modern refrigeration, salt was rubbed onto meat to save it from putrefying too quickly.  Salt was also seen as a valuable commodity.  Keep in mind that for ancient times, getting salt wasn’t merely a matter of going to the grocery story & picking up a canister of table salt; salt was difficult to come by.  Generally, salt was either mined out of the ground, evaporated from salt water, or drawn up out of salt marshes.  Wars were fought over salt in Poland & Italy.  Salt even had an important role in payment – the word “salary” comes from the idea giving Roman soldiers money to go purchase their individual supply of salt.
  • Now bring it to what Jesus taught regarding the Church.  We are the “salt of the earth.”  We have a purpose & a value.
    • Our purpose: preservation.  It doesn’t take a social scientist to see that our world is rapidly decaying all around us.  Our own American culture seems to be decaying at an accelerated rate!  Yet God does something about this through His Church.  We are the preservation agency of God.  As Jesus’ disciples, we are His Body – His hands & feet that reach out into the world around us.  As Jesus acted against injustice & religious hypocrisy, so ought we do the same.  As Jesus brought healing & comfort, we are to bring the same.  As Jesus delivered the word of life, so ought we do likewise.  Our very presence among other people has an effect for Jesus Christ simply because He is in us.  Just as His presence permeates our lives, so do our lives help permeate Christ among the people around us.
    • Our value: priceless.  Now don’t go getting a big head about it. J  Our value isn’t due to us; it’s due to the One who purchased us.  We’ve been bought at an immense price – not with gold or silver or precious stones, but with the priceless blood of the Son of God.  We have an immense value to God, and He desires to use us for His purposes and His glory.  Thus we are “salt.”
  • Note this is something we ARE.  Jesus proclaims His disciples to be salt (and later, light).  As Bonhoeffer points out, Jesus does not say “You must be the salt,” or “Ye have the salt,” but rather says “You ARE the salt of the earth.”  The tendency for us when we read these words from our Lord Jesus is to make them either a command or a possession.  A ‘command’ in that we could choose whether or not this is a function we want to fulfill as Jesus’ disciples – or a ‘possession’ as if the salt is simply the gospel message divorced from the Church that we merely pass along.  Jesus does not leave us with either of those options.  We ARE the salt of the earth.  This is something that Christians are, simply by virtue of the fact of being in Christ. 
    • Regarding the idea of a possession, we need to remember that the gospel of Christ & the Christian forever go hand-in-hand.  We cannot be separated from one another.  It may seem a bit basic – but it’s important to remember.  Along with the good news comes great responsibility.  The Great Commission is not something we can simply shove off onto someone else.  We sometimes get a tendency to think that as long as we’ve given our offering to our local church & put a Christian bumper sticker on the back of our car, that we’ve done all we need to do to share Christ with the world.  We simply don’t have the luxury of being so detached.  How can such a casual treatment of the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ be compared with salt?  If a piece of meat has been salted, you know it – it flavors everything it touches.  Likewise, we’re the salt of the earth.  We’ve been entrusted with the gospel to direct people to Jesus Christ through our preserving influence (among other things) – we must personally be involved; that’s the only way we’d be “salty.”
    • Regarding the idea of a command, if we are not acting as a preservative of God in this world, perhaps we need to reexamine ourselves to see if we’re truly saved.  After all, a true disciple of Christ IS salt.  To act as anything to the contrary would to be “good for nothing,” and show ourselves not to belong to Christ Jesus.
  • (Spurgeon) “The great lesson is, that if grace itself fails to save a man, nothing else can be done for him. “If the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? ” You can salt meat, but you cannot salt salt: if grace fails everything fails.”

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

  • Not only are we salt, but we are light.  As with the idea of salt, we need to adjust our mindset to ancient thinking.  Light to us is rather casual – if it’s dark somewhere, we just flip the nearest switch (or turn on our cell phones), and we’ve got all the light we need.  Not so in the ancient world!   There were no halogen street lamps in Jerusalem, nor overhead lightbulbs, nor even flashlights.  When the sun went down, people had the light of the moon & the stars – and that was it, unless you lit a candle or a torch of some sort.  Any sort of light in that kind of pitch black area would stand out dramatically.  And that’s the idea for us as disciples of Jesus Christ.  We’re to stand out in a dark world & provide direction.
  • Keep in mind that light can be one of two kinds: generated or reflected.  The sun generates its light as it burns through massive nuclear combustion; the moon simply reflects the light that the sun has already generated.  “So what?” So it’s important to remember because this is a distinction between the Lord Jesus & us.  Jesus also said that He is the light of the world (Jn 8:12).  Obviously He is the glorified Lord in the flesh who came to seek & to save the lost.  He can illuminate a person by granting them life – taking them from their death in sin to giving them a new start in a new spiritual birth once they surrender their lives to Jesus in faith.  That’s Jesus’ role.  Yet how do we function as the light of the world?  Obviously we cannot grant anyone a new birth?  No – but we can reflect the light of the One who can.  If Jesus is the “sun,” we are the “moon” – reflecting the light of Christ among the world & drawing people to Him.
  • Jesus gives a couple of examples of what this is like.  Example #1: the city. Many cities were often set upon hills in order to help protect them from attack (among other things).  Imagine travelling to one of these cities in the darkest of nights & seeing the light off in the distance.  There wouldn’t have been a way to hide the city if they so tried – ANY light would have lit up the night.  Even in the daylight, the cities would shine in that a common construction material was white limestone – the sun would reflect off the buildings.
  • Example #2: the lamp.  Although candles and oil lamps were often used, it’s not as if every house had the same sort of lighting that we expect in our modern homes.  In conserving oil, lamps would be put on lampstands to spread the light around to as many people in the house as possible.  Obviously, that was the lamp’s purpose.  Someone didn’t light a lamp in order to remain in darkness; they intended to show light.
  • How does this relate to the Church?  A city is lit up on a hill to help direct people to its gates.  A lamp is placed on a lampstand in order to help people function.  Those who are disciples of Jesus Christ help direct people TO Jesus Christ.  Those are in the Church help others around us with what Jesus has already given us.  Just as with the metaphor of salt, we are to have an effect on the people around us.  Jesus goes on to explain in vs. 16…

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

  • How does God use the light that we reflect of Christ?  As a lighthouse.  We give direction to people, showing them the source of salvation.  Just as lighthouse points the way to safety to ships in danger, so do we point the way to safety to a lost and dying world.
  • Note how God does this.  Is it through our teaching & doctrine?  No – it’s through our action.  That’s not to say doctrine isn’t important (it is!), but people will only take our doctrine seriously when they start seeing it applied practically in our lives.  The actions we take demonstrate the doctrine we truly hold. James 2:15–17, "(15) If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." [] Giving food to someone does not earn our eternal salvation, but the fact that we have eternal salvation is demonstrated when we share food with the hungry (or whatever example).  Our doctrine is demonstrated by our action.
  • The point?  Good works matter!  Because of the twin heresies of ancient legalism & the modern social gospel (which attempts to offer a salvation without Christ as Savior), evangelicals sometimes tend to shy away from good works of service.  Both legalism & the social gospel use good works as a method of earning salvation (which is heresy), but that doesn’t make the good works themselves meaningless.  God wants us to do good works because in our good works, men will seek God & give Him glory.
    • This is how God intends to use us!  To deny the role of good works in the lives of true disciples of Jesus Christ is to deny one of the very purposes of God for His Church.  Ephesians 2:8–10, "(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." []  So do them!  We are salt & light – may we be effective as such!
  • Jesus moves from our purpose to His purpose…

17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

  • Jesus does not destroy the Law.  The phrase “Law or the Prophets” would have been commonly understood to be the entire Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures).  The “Law” was generally thought of as the 1st 5 books of Moses (the Penteteuch) & the “Prophets” included everything else – not just the prophetic books we typically call the prophets today (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.).  All the other OT authors wrote with a prophetic “voice” in that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, just like Moses.  Thus when Jesus says He did not come to destroy the “Law or the Prophets,” He’s distinctly saying He did not come to destroy the Old Testament.
  • What DID Jesus come to do?  Fulfill it.  Jesus does not destroy (tear down) the Law; He fulfills the Law.  Keep in mind that Jesus would often be accused to attempting to destroy or subvert the Law (especially in rules regarding the Sabbath).  From the outset, Jesus proclaims that He does nothing of the sort.  In fact, He raises the bar in that in Him we see the Law & the Prophets (everything of the OT) absolutely fulfilled.  All of the promises of God are “yes” & “amen” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20) – the whole of the book points to Him.
  • Question: “I can understand how Jesus fulfills the prophecy & promises of the OT, but what about the Law & the Commandments?”  Everything about the Law is fulfilled in Christ!  Scholars sometimes divide the Law into 3 categories: moral – civil – ceremonial.  Jesus fulfills it all.
    • Moral: Easily summed up in the 10 Commandments.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the only One who has ever kept the 10 Commandments absolutely perfectly.  All of us have fallen short in all 10 of the 10 (if not by the letter, than by the spirit of the Commandment, as Jesus will demonstrate in the next section in the Sermon on the Mount) – all of us sin & fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  Not Jesus.  He kept the moral law to absolute perfection.
    • Civil: God gave the civil laws to the nation of Israel not only to provide them with a practical government, but to help set them apart from the nations around them – to show themselves as holy people dedicated unto the Lord.  All of these laws find their fulfillment in Christ.  Not only is He the perfect One of Israel, He is the perfect King.  In His millennial reign, every aspect of the civil laws find perfect fulfillment.
    • Ceremonial: These ran the gamut from the various laws regarding the sacrifices to the regulations demonstrating purity (no wearing mixed fibers, or mixing the crops in the field, etc.).   Jesus is our great sacrifice & our grand High Priest.  Jesus is the pure & holy Lamb of God, untainted by sin that perfectly fulfills every ceremonial requirement the Law demanded.
    • In Christ, all of this is fulfilled!  How so?  Through His death & resurrection.  Whereas He kept all of this perfectly & all of it spoke of Him, we failed the Law in every respect.  The Law demanded our death, yet Jesus died on our behalf.  Jesus perfectly kept the Law, and yet Jesus also perfectly fulfills the punishment that the Law requires because we could not keep it.

18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

  • Keep in mind the Law is still in effect.  Everything written in the OT is still absolutely inspired by God & given to the world.  Because we live in a New Covenant under Jesus Christ, we get the idea that the Old Covenant (the Law) is completely obsolete & irrelevant.  But Jesus tells us exactly the opposite is true.  Everything about the Law is absolutely in effect until it is fulfilled.  In fact, this age will not pass away until all is fulfilled.  Every promise & prophecy finds its fulfillment in Christ, but not every prophecy has yet been fulfilled.  There are still prophecies regarding the rapture, resurrection, 2nd coming, judgment, and more that are yet to occur.  We know they WILL occur because Jesus will see it through, but they are yet future.
    • Note that “fulfill” is a different word in Greek for vs. 17 & 18.  In vs. 17, the word (πληρόω) means to fill up; in vs. 18 the word (γίνομαι) comes from a root that means to come into being.  ESV translates this “accomplished,” which is good.  Jesus came to complete (fill up) every requirement of the Law, yet the world did not end upon His 1st coming.  We await until the 2nd coming of Christ until every final prophecy will be accomplished.  Yet in all of this, ALL of the Bible finds it’s fulfillment in Christ.
  • BTW – what’s a “jot” & “tittle”?  In English, it’s the dot of an “i” or the cross/dash on the letter “t”.  In the Greek, it’s a reference to the “iota” letter – the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet (or the “yod” – the smallest letter in the Hebrew aleph-bet), and a small marking on a letter that distinguishes one from another (like the diagonal mark turning a “P” into an “R”).  Basically, Jesus is referring the most minute aspects of the writing.
    • This is a powerful statement of Jesus’ view of the inerrancy & inspiration of Scripture!  Jesus doesn’t merely uphold the concepts found in the OT; He upholds the smallest aspects of its grammar & writing as well.

19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

  • The law cannot be annulled or set aside or broken.  It MUST be kept completely.  Those who break the commandments (no matter how minor it might seem to be) & teach others to do the same are going to be least in the kingdom of heaven.  Note that Jesus’ attention here is on the teachers.  Obviously all of us will break the Law; the problem comes in when we think we are justified in doing so because we’ve been taught that breaking the Law is OK.  Is there grace & forgiveness available for those who break the Law?  Yes – praise the Lord!  If we confess our sin in repentance, God is faithful to forgive us & cleanse us (1 John 1:9).  Yet do we revel in our ability to break the law simply because of the promise of forgiveness?  Absolutely not!  As Paul wrote to the Romans, we present ourselves slaves to the one we obey, whether it is sin or obedience (Rom 6:16), thus we cannot abuse the grace of Christ.  We’ve got to be careful to understand that though the law is fulfilled in Christ, the law is not banished from the world.  The world still falls under the condemnation of the law, and it is that law itself that brings us to Christ.  Were it not for the law, no one would truly understand sin.
    • The problem is in our understanding of how the law is to be used.  The law is good, when it is used lawfully (1 Tim 1:8).  The law DOES inform us of sin (Rom 7:7); the law does not bring salvation.  The law DOES take us to Christ (Gal 3:24); the law does not give us the salvation of Christ.  The law was never meant to provide salvation because no one (outside of Jesus) can perfectly keep it.  If we’ve broken one part, we’re guilty of all (Jas 2:10), thus we all fall under the condemnation & are in desperate need of the grace that Jesus offers.
  • Question: “So what is Jesus saying here?  Is Jesus saying that we as NT believers need to try keep the OT Law?  Do we need to live as OT Jews in not wearing mixed fibers & observing the 7th Day Sabbath & eating kosher meals, etc.?”  No – absolutely not.  This was actually a common heresy combated by the early church called “Judaizing.” (The idea that someone had to be a good Jew before they could be a good Christian…) Any time we come up with a difficult teaching in the Scripture, we need to compare it with teaching that we can more easily understand.  What else does the Bible tell us on this?
    • Righteousness comes completely apart from the Law.  IOW, doing our best to observe the Law of God cannot make us righteous.  (Rom 3:21-22)  Righteousness never comes through the law; it only comes through faith in Christ.  As Paul wrote to the Galatians, if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain (Gal 2:21).
    • Attempting to keep the Law will only bring bondage.  It’s faith in Christ alone that brings freedom.  If we endeavor to justify ourselves by the work of the law after we come to Christ, we become a debtor to the entire law & show ourselves to be apart from grace (Gal 5:3-4).
    • The apostles, when directly confronted with Judaizing, specifically repudiated the idea.  They recognized that they could not place upon the Gentile believers a burden that they themselves were not able to bear (Acts 15:10).  They had been saved by grace in fulfillment of the promises of God; so are we.
  • So what DOES Jesus mean here?  Be careful to keep our full context in mind.  We’re looking at one phrase of a larger sermon that Jesus had already been teaching.  Coming out of the Beatitudes, Jesus had demonstrated that His disciples seek after righteousness – they truly hunger and thirst after righteousness.  We have a heartfelt desire to live as Christ would have us to live – but more than that, we hunger after that perfect righteousness that only comes through Christ.  Jesus Himself fulfills the Law perfectly.  Thus if we’re going to fulfill the commandments, we need to be IN Christ.  IN Christ, the commandments are fulfilled on our behalf, because JESUS filled them.  Romans 8:3–4, "(3) For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, (4) that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." []  The same word used by Jesus in vs. 17 is used by Paul to the Romans – the requirements of the law are completely filled up for us because of Jesus’ work on our behalf.  Can we truly “do” the law?  No – but Jesus can & did.

20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

  • The result of perfectly fulfilling the law?  Citizenship within the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus had spoken of the kingdom of heaven in the Beatitudes, showing that it belonged to those who were poor in spirit (spiritually bankrupt) & persecuted for living as disciples of Jesus Christ.  IOW, those who belonged to Jesus had the promise of the kingdom of heaven…and as a result they showed they possessed a perfect righteousness.  Question: how can someone who understands he/she is spiritually bankrupt & in desperate need of salvation possess a perfect righteousness?  After all – they are the ones that understand their NEED for righteousness.  They must be MADE righteousness, and that’s exactly what happens through the work of Christ.
    • Through Christ we become citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  We have the promises of everlasting life, forever dwelling in the presence of the glory of God.  The promises of the Bible show heaven to be a real place & a real kingdom that is absolutely glorious & free from the stain of sin.
    • The kingdom of heaven is also something for which we’ve got a foretaste of right now.  We live as citizens of the kingdom now, which is how God uses us as salt & light within the world.
  • Note the contrast with the scribes & Pharisees.  This is going to play a major role in the next section on the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus compares the man-made traditions & the Pharisaical interpretation of the Law of God with what the heart of God actually is regarding the Law.  The scribes & the Pharisees thought they had it all down pat.  They had their systems & their rituals & as long as they abided by the letter of their interpretation of the law (and their loopholes), they earned their own righteousness & their place in heaven.  Jesus turns them all on their head!  As much as the Pharisees valued righteousness, Jesus makes it plain that even their best efforts at righteousness will not gain them entry into the kingdom of heaven; people must be better than even the Pharisees.
    • God isn’t looking for righteousness through man’s traditions; He’s looking for true righteousness.  Only Jesus does it all!  We must be found in Christ, clothed in HIS righteousness!

Conclusion:
Jesus speaks of our purpose & His purpose.  Our purpose is to be used by God for good works; Jesus purpose is to fulfill the requirements of the law on our behalf.  To some, this may seem like a contradiction.  After all, if we’re saved by the grace of Jesus Christ because our good works could not earn us any true righteousness, why would God specifically call us to do good works as salt & light in the world?  Yet this isn’t a contradiction at all.  The Law of God calls us to perfection – good works simply being a part of that.  Jesus’ work on the cross & the resurrection gives us the perfection we never had, and now our good works simply testify to what God has done.

Thus vss. 13-20 demonstrate a cycle of Christian discipleship.  We who are saved direct people who have broken the law to Jesus.  Jesus fulfills the law on their behalf & gives them entry into heaven.  In turn, their lives change & they start directing people to Jesus.

If you’re already a disciple of Christ, how are you doing as salt & light?  This is something we simply ARE; this is what Jesus does with us.  As Jesus told the disciples in Acts 1, He was making them witnesses.  It wasn’t their choice whether or not to be a witness; the only choice was how effective they would be for Christ.  Likewise as salt & light.  Does the work of Jesus Christ permeate our lives – or are we more known for our sin than our Savior?  Does the gospel of Jesus Christ shine all around us – or have we attempted to hide it.  If it’s truly there, it cannot be hidden; it simply goes with being a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

At the same time, as a disciple of Jesus, know that you have a grand freedom.  You are free to perform all the good works you can perform to the glory of God – without the condemnation of the law hanging over your head.  Be careful not to get caught up in the bondage of legalism…Jesus has fulfilled the law perfectly on your behalf & has granted you His righteousness.

Maybe you’re more in the position of examining your heart.  Perhaps you had called yourself a “Christian,” but you never showed any signs of being “salty” or had the light of Christ shine through you.  Maybe you’ve realized for the first time how you’ve been condemned by the law of God & how desperate you are for the righteousness of Jesus.  Today is the day you can experience the salvation Jesus offers & can be assured of your citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. Surrender your life to Christ by faith today.

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