The Bible passage God is giving us today is Matthew 5 verses 17-20. Let’s read it together. ℗
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:17-20)
We’ve been talking about the Sermon on the Mount and last Sunday, we discussed the meaning of Christians being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
In the Bible, salt is used to purify sacrifice. It’s likely that babies were rubbed with salt for purification when they were born. We also read how the prophet Elisha purified the cursed water in Jericho by throwing salt in a stream of the city. All these cases imply the purifying aspect of salt.
But salt was also used to describe the unchanging nature of God’s covenant. Salt doesn’t change and it preserves food. So, salt purifies and preserves. But the most important role of salt is that it gives flavor to food.
So, the fact that we’re called to be the salt of the earth means that we’re called to purify the world, preserve it from decay, and let others know the true, heavenly flavor of an abundant life in Jesus Christ.
But as we live in the world as Christians, we’re to be very careful to not to lose our identity as the salt of the earth. Salt that loses its saltiness can’t be used properly. Instead it’s just thrown outside and trampled.
So we should make every effort to keep the precious identity we find in God by not allowing worldly values to be mixed into our perspectives and by continuing to remain in Jesus. When we follow the world, we’ll lose our saltiness. But if we decide to follow Christ in the midst of the world, we’ll be used in God’s purifying, preserving, and enriching ministry for the world.
We also talked about the metaphor of light. It has significant meanings in the Bible. It wasn’t just the first thing God created. It refers to God Himself and Jesus Christ His Son.
John 1 says that there was light of life for all mankind in Jesus. He came to the world to shine in our darkness and gave us true light. We see God’s light which drives out our darkness and restores us. God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. That’s how we become light of the world in Jesus Christ.
We ourselves were darkness, but Jesus’ light has come into our lives. Jesus drove out every darkness in our hearts and filled them with His light instead. As Paul said,
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8)
Now, as the light of the world, we need to learn how to live as the children of light. We should light the world by testifying to Jesus’ light through our words and actions. That’s how we glorify our heavenly Father. As Jesus said,
“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
The Meaning of Keeping the Law
Now, let’s move on to the next teaching Jesus taught on the Mount. After talking about the 8 Beatitudes and the teaching about salt and light, Jesus began to discuss the true meaning of keeping the law.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17).
In Jesus’ time, many teachers of the law and the Pharisees tried to test Him by asking many questions, especially about the law. That was because they thought Jesus acted against the law. For example, Jesus did many things on the Sabbath which they thought were unlawful according to their understanding of the law.
But Jesus never went against God’s law. What Jesus opposed was not the law itself, but the traditions of the teachers of the law. They had set many regulations around the law which are not written in the Bible. The problem was that they saw their traditions as having equal value to God’s law.
For example, when Jesus healed a man whose hand was shriveled on the Sabbath, Luke 6:11 says, “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Lk 6:11)
But Jesus didn’t break the law of Sabbath by healing the man on that day because there’s no law in the Old Testament that says, “You should never heal the sick on the Sabbath.”
It only says, “For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death” (Ex 31:15)
So, it shouldn’t be considered unlawful for Jesus to heal someone on the Sabbath because it didn’t really mean that He worked by doing so. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had extended the meaning of ‘work’ and condemned many people with their traditions.
So, Jesus asked them,
“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Lk 6:10)
From the Pharisees’ point of view, it was unlawful to save life on the Sabbath even though it was good to do so, which showed that they actually failed to keep the law. They likely considered themselves experts in the law because they had spent their whole lives studying and memorizing the law, but they missed the spirit of the law, which is most important.
So, Jesus rebuked them, saying,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness...” (Mt 23:23)
In this sense, Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He has come to let us know what it really means to keep the law by showing us and reminding us of the spirit of all the laws, which is love.
One day, an expert in the law came to Jesus and asked Him a question to test Him.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36)
And Jesus answered,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)
What Jesus is pointing out here is that love must be the spirit and the highest standard when it comes to obeying God’s law. Even if we keep all the laws, if we don’t have love for God and for others, it means nothing. Obeying the law only has meaning when it is accompanied by our genuine love for God and for others, which the Pharisees lacked and Jesus showed through His life.
Jesus also added, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20)
When I read this verse in the past, I was frustrated. I thought, “How can my righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees?”
It’s not a small matter because whether or not we can enter the kingdom of heaven depends on it. We must have righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter the kingdom of God.
Then, how can we have such righteousness? They were much better at knowing, studying, and memorizing the law. They were very strict in keeping God’s law. They tried very hard not to violate the law. Then, how can we have righteousness that surpasses theirs?
But then I found that the righteousness Jesus talks about here is different from what I thought righteousness is. I might never be more righteous than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law outwardly. But if I recover the spirit of the law in my heart, which is love, and if I try to keep the law through God’s love being poured out in my heart through Jesus, I can actually be more righteous than them.
On the outside, the Pharisees seemed to keep God’s law perfectly but they didn’t have love. They didn’t have Jesus. Rather, they rejected Him and abandoned Him because Jesus’ way was different from their tradition. It means that the righteousness they had had nothing to do with Jesus’ righteousness.
But we’re different. When we believe in Jesus, even though we haven’t lived righteously in God’s sight, God considers us righteous because Jesus’ righteousness has entered our lives and we are clothed in the robes of His righteousness.
Those who keep the law for their own righteousness out of a sense of obligation and fear have clear limitations. They only do what the law says to do. But those who keep the law out of their love for God and for others don’t have any limitations.
There are many kinds of laws in the world, which shows that we’ve lost our trust and love for other people. But we don’t have laws in our families because we love and trust each other.
I believe that’s the spirit that Jesus wanted to remind His followers of. Love fulfills the law. In fact, if we loved one another perfectly, we wouldn’t need any laws.
So, what Jesus was really against was not the law itself, but empty formalism. What Jesus was pointing out when it comes to fulfilling the law was not our outward actions, but the internal states of our hearts, which is more important in God’s sight.
To illustrate this, Jesus gives 6 examples in the next paragraphs in Matthew 5, which are laws about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and love. Jesus starts each case saying, “You have heard that it was said…”
Then He goes on to state what the audience had heard about laws regarding such subjects. They had heard, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment… You shall not commit adultery… Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce… Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made… Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth… ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy…” (Mt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43)
Then, Jesus reinterpreted each law by emphasizing their hidden meanings.
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court… anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart… anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery… do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne or by the earth, for it is his footstool… do not resist an evil person… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 35-36, 39, 44)
This is how Jesus explained the real meaning of the law. He spoke about the fundamental spirit of the law.
The law says not to murder. But Jesus goes deeper than the outward action. He sees the motivation behind murder, which is hatred. The act of outward murder is only the result of internal hatred which we commit in our hearts.
Those who don’t know the real meaning of the command not to murder would be satisfied with the fact that they haven’t actually killed the person whom they hate and say that they haven’t violated the sixth commandment.
In a worldly court, that would be accepted, but such an excuse will never be accepted in God’s court because God judges not only our outward actions but also our motivations and the internal states of our hearts.
David told his son Solomon, “You, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” (1Ch 28:9)
He also wrote in Psalm 7:9, “You, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.” (Ps 7:9)
God also said to Samuel,
“…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1Sm 16:7)
These verses explain how important it is to have the right heart and motivation when it comes to keeping God’s law. Because the internal sin of hatred is the root of the outward sin of murder, God considers both the same, which means that to God, there’s no difference between hating someone in our hearts and killing the person.
That’s what Jesus really wants His followers to understand. Without knowing this, we’ll never truly obey God’s word.
And if we really understand this principle, we’ll naturally realize that there’s no one in the world who can claim to be righteous in God’s sight. We may look righteous outwardly but we know how sinful and dirty our hearts are.
Jesus once said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts - murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Mt 15:19)
And the prophet Jeremiah also said,
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”” (Jr 17:9-10)
So, the fact that God sees our hearts and judges them may frustrate us because we know that there’s no place we can go to flee from God’s judgment.
But, in the midst of deep despair, we find God’s grace. Because He knew that we can never become righteous on our own, He sent His one and only Son Jesus Christ. The Son of God bore all our sins and weaknesses, including our internal evil states of mind, and achieved perfect righteousness by shedding His precious blood and laying down His life on the cross on our behalf.
Now all those who believe in Him can be justified and stand righteous before God’s presence. That’s the biggest blessing we received from God. And now, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus Christ, God allows us to do things that we were unable to do ourselves. Now we can keep God’s law with all our hearts. That’s the new creation that we’ve become in Christ Jesus. In order to make this possible, Jesus Christ died on the cross.
So, I want us to think one more time about what Jesus achieved for us so that we can truly and sincerely follow His ways, obeying God’s word and loving Him and others with all our hearts according to God’s will.
Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding us of what it means to obey Your law. The more we understand what it means to keep it, the more we realize how impossible it is for us to do so.
But we thank You, Lord, because we also know what You’ve done to save us from both our outward sins and their roots, the sinful natures in our hearts.
Now we profess that because of Your grace and the noble sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we’ve become new creations.
So Lord, please continue to work in us and teach us so that we can follow Your way with all our hearts. We can’t do it ourselves. So we rely on You, Your love, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Please always be with us and strengthen us so that we can overcome our sinful nature and follow Your will and so that we can glorify Your holy name through our words and actions.
We thank You and love You, Lord.
In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen.
1. What do you think is the true meaning of keeping God’s law? Why did Jesus say that we must have better righteousness than that of the Pharisees to enter the kingdom of God? How can we have that kind of righteousness?
2. What do you think makes it hard for you to keep God’s law? What are some obstacles in your life that keep you from following God’s word with all your heart?
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:13-16)
Two weeks ago, we finished the 8 Beatitudes. And I want us to discuss some more teachings written in Matthew 5-7.
In these chapters, Matthew collected some teachings Jesus taught on a mountainside, which is called “the Sermon on the Mount.” The 8 beatitudes are also part of this.
After teaching the 8 blessings, Jesus started to teach His disciples how they should behave in the world using two metaphors—salt and light. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…” and “You are the light of the world.”
We need to think about why Jesus used these two metaphors to describe His followers. We might ask questions like, “what are some aspects of salt and light that Jesus compared His disciples to?” and “what does it mean to live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world and what would it look like?” These are the questions I want us to think about through today’s sermon.
The Salt of the Earth
So, let’s first think about the metaphor of salt. Even though this metaphor is used less often in the Bible compared to light, we can find some passages where salt is used.
1) The Purifying Aspect of Salt
First, salt is a symbol of purity. So, it was often used in sacrifices.
For example, when God was teaching the Israelites how to make a fragrant blend of holy incense for the holy place, He said, “It is to be salted and pure and sacred” (Ex 30:35). Salt has nothing to do with fragrance, but still the incense was to be salted because it symbolizes its holiness, purity, and sacredness.
We find another case in the Bible where salt is used to purify. God said to the prophet Ezekiel about the birth of Israel, “On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths” (Ezk 16:4)
Here, we can understand some of the actions such as cutting a baby’s cord, washing them with water, and wrapping them in clothes. But why were babies rubbed with salt?
From this verse, we can infer that it was an ancient custom to rub newborn babies with salt. It’s likely that they did it to purify the babies.
We also read an example of salt being used to purify sin. 2Kg 2:19-22 says,
“The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.” (2Kg 2:19-22)
This is what happened right after the prophet Elisha took over the prophetic ministry of Elijah. In this passage, the city refers to Jericho. Even though it was located in a good place, the land wasn’t productive because the water was bad.
It was certainly the result of rebuilding the city. After conquering Jericho, Joshua pronounced an oath, saying, “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: “At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.” (Jos 6:26)
However, Jericho was rebuilt when Ahab was king of the northern kingdom of Israel. 1 Kg 16:34 says, “In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun” (1Kg 16:34)
So, it’s likely that the water in Jericho was also cursed as a result of rebuilding the city. So, when Elisha stayed in Jericho, the people of the city came to him to ask him to do something about the water.
Then Elisha ordered them to bring a new bowl with salt in it. And when he threw the salt into the spring in Jericho, the water was healed and recovered its productive capacity.
So, salt was used in the Old Testament for purification. But that’s not the only thing that salt represents.
2) The Unchanging Nature of Salt
Salt is often used to preserve food because it prevents spoilage. So, salt is also used in the Bible to show the unchanging nature of God’s covenant. God said to Moses,
“Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.” (Nm 18:19)
Here, the everlasting aspect of God’s covenant is reinforced by the metaphor of salt. Just as salt doesn’t change, God’s covenant never changes.
So, according to these passages about salt in the Old Testament, the fact that Christ’s followers are the salt of the earth means that we are called to purify the world tainted by sin and prevent the world from decaying. In order to equip us for this job, God has given us His word along with His promises and covenant and Jesus has given us the gospel.
3) Salt Gives Flavor
However, there’s one more important aspect of salt. Salt not only purifies and preserves, but it also gives flavor. Giving flavor is more beneficial than preventing decay when it comes to the roles of salt. In fact, that’s the most important characteristic of salt.
There are many kinds of ingredients that give certain flavors to food, but saltiness is only obtained by salt. Nothing can make food salty except for salt, which is essential in cooking.
I like to cook so I enjoy making different kinds of food, mainly Korean food, and I use different kinds of ingredients according to the kind of food I make. But there’s one thing that I always use without exception, which is salt. I can’t even imagine making food without salt. I don’t use it a lot, but even a small amount of salt plays a significant role in giving flavor to food.
That’s the purpose of Jesus coming into the world. He didn’t come to this world just to prevent it from decaying. The main purpose of His incarnation, death, and resurrection is to save the world and allow human beings to have abundant life in Him. As Jesus said,
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10)
Just as a small amount of salt gives amazing flavor to a whole dish, and just as a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies to produce many seeds, Jesus came to the world and laid down His life on the cross to give us more abundant and blessed life. We find true purpose and happiness in life in Jesus. And as Christians, we’re to follow His example by laying down our lives for others.
We need to remember that Christians are in the world, but not of the world. We live in the world, but we don’t belong to it. If Christians are completely separated from the world, who would go into the world tainted by sin to make it pure again with the gospel of Jesus Christ? So, we must go into the world.
But as we’re living in the world, we must be very careful not to lose our identity as the salt of the earth. As Jesus said, “If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Mt 5:13)
Technically speaking, salt can’t lose its saltiness because NaCl, sodium chloride, is a perfect compound. Nevertheless, Jesus still warns us of the possibility of salt losing its saltiness because that can easily happen in a Christian’s life.
Most of the salt used in Jesus’ time was not obtained by distilling salt water, but extracted from saline swamps, so a lot of impurities were mixed in it. And the more impurities that were mixed in the salt, the less taste there was. People didn’t use such low-quality salt in their food. They just threw it outside.
That’s what Jesus warns will happen when we lose saltiness as the salt of the earth. If we lose our identities as Jesus’ disciples and if our lives are mixed with impurities such as worries, temptations, and desires of the world, we’ll lose our saltiness and identities as Christians and no longer carry out the mission God has given us in Christ.
Rather than purifying the world, we will be affected by the corruption of the world. Rather than preserving the world from decay, we’ll find ourselves becoming rotten. And, rather than giving good flavor in the world, we’ll end up being thrown out and trampled. That’s what will happen if we lose our saltiness.
So as the salt of the earth, we should make every effort not to lose the precious identities Jesus has given us by continuing to try to remain in Jesus, keep ourselves from worldly things, and renew our minds through God’s word rather than conform to the pattern of this world. That’s the fight of faith that we should continue to fight as Jesus’ followers.
Rather than following the ways of the world, we should follow God’s word so that we may serve as preservatives in the world where there’s no absolute moral standard. And by following the example of Jesus’ life, we are to be able to present the true meaning of blessed life so that others around us can also find true happiness and purpose of life in Jesus Christ and live a new and abundant life in Him. I believe that’s what it means to serve as the salt of the earth.
The Light of the World
Now, let’s think about the metaphor of light. The metaphor of light is used often in the Bible. Light refers to God Himself since 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 Jn 1:5)
Light was what God first created. Before God created light on the first day, the world was formless, empty, and filled with darkness. But God’s light drove out darkness and everything was put in order in the light.
The Bible also says that Jesus, the Son of God, came to the world as the light of the world.
John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness…” (Jn 1:4-5)
Just as God first shined His light in the world filled with darkness, Jesus came to the world as the light of the world and shined his light on us.
Before the light of Jesus shined in our lives, we lived a chaotic, empty, and dark life like the world before creation. But, when we were empty, lonely, and lost in darkness, ℗ “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2Co 4:6).
Now, in Jesus Christ we no longer live in darkness because “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).
These are what light mainly refers to in the Bible. It refers to God, His creation, and Jesus Christ. However, it doesn’t end there because Jesus said that we’re also the light of the world.
Before God shined His light on us through Jesus Christ, we not only lived in darkness but we ourselves were darkness. But Jesus drove out the darkness in our hearts with His light and filled them with His light of life instead. Now, Jesus no longer sees us as darkness, but light because of the light He has given us.
The apostle Paul did a great job describing this truth. He said, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8)
Now, as the light of the world, we need to learn how to shine the light of Jesus to those around us through our lives. Just like how Jesus’ light shined on us in darkness, we should also light the world by testifying to His light of life through our words and actions.
In this sense, what Jesus taught on the mount gives us some important insights about what it means for us to become the light of the world.
When Jesus compared His followers to the light of the world, He explained three aspects of light.
First, it’s not concealable. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Mt 5:14).
There is nothing clearer than light in the darkness. We can even see a little candlelight clearly if it is dark. Likewise, if we truly receive Jesus’ light, it can’t be hidden. So, if people around us don’t notice any light from us, we should check if we’re really in the light.
Saltiness is sensed by the tongue and light is detected by eyes and both please people. A town on a hill can’t be hidden even in the middle of the night because of its light. Even though we can’t see particles of salt in food, we all know if it’s seasoned with salt or not.
Likewise, if we’re really the salt of the earth and the light of the world, those around us must be able to notice the flavor and the light. How we think, how we speak, how we spend our time and money, how we treat others, and how we behave must be different and distinguished.
This is possible only when we remain in Jesus and are filled with His light. And if we really live that kind of life, those around us will notice it and be drawn to it. That’s the first step to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ through our lives.
Second, the light is for everyone. Jesus continued, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Mt 5:15).
The reason a lamp is put on its stand, not under a bowl, is to shine the light on as many things and people as possible. The light of Jesus isn’t for a specific group of people. It is for everyone on earth. There’s no discrimination in His light.
Then, we’re also to try to approach all kinds of people, including our enemies, not just those whom we want to get along with.
Third, the purpose of shining the light is only for the glory of God. Jesus said,
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
As Christians, we are called to do many good things in the world. But, what’s more important than doing good things is the motivation behind it.
If our good deeds do not reflect who God is, or let others see the glory of God, but only build our own reputations, it means nothing. There would be no reward left in heaven for us because we already received our reward here in this world.
That’s because the ultimate purpose of us being the light of the world is not to reveal our goodness but to allow others to see God’s true light through our words and deeds, come to him, and glorify him.
Today, we talked about what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world according to Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
What makes me sad is when I see Christians losing their saltiness and light. A lot of Christians just exist in the world as salt without saltiness and a lamp without light. We’re called to be the salt of the earth that purifies the world, prevents the world from decaying, and gives good flavor to the world by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it’s hard to find Christians who are respected by non-believers for their lives because they’ve lost their saltiness.
We’re called to shine the light of Jesus on the world through our words and actions so that those around us can experience God’s goodness and love and return to Him, glorifying Him, but our light is so hidden that no one even notices that we’re Christians. That’s not the kind of life we’re called to live.
Now, I want us to look back on our lives and return to God, repenting of our past wrong decisions and failures. I hope and pray that we can all recover the saltiness and bright light that God has allowed us to have in Christ by going back to Jesus and remaining in Him so that we can truly serve as the salt of the earth and the light of the world, following Jesus’ way.
Heavenly Father, thank You for letting us know what kind of beings we’ve become in Christ through Your grace. Thank You for calling us to be Your salt and light in the world.
We humbly confess that we’ve failed many times to live according to Your calling. Rather than shining Your light in the world, we’ve often assimilated to the world. We’ve lost our saltiness and light.
Now Lord, we want to recover the precious identities You’ve given us. We want to stand up and live for You and Your glory again. But we can’t do it alone. So we humbly lay down our thoughts and wills and invite You. Please come and fill us with Your light of life so that we can really live as Your salt and light wherever we are.
Let us be filled with Your presence and give thanks to You in all circumstances so that Your goodness, faithfulness, and love may be revealed through our lives. We pray that only Your name be glorified through our words and actions.
In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen.
1. What do you think are some reasons that Christians lose their saltiness and light nowadays?
2. What do you think it means for you to be the salt and the light of the world? What do you think are some ways you can live in accordance with this calling?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10-12)
We’ve been talking about the Beatitudes Jesus taught on the Mount, and last Sunday, we started to discuss the last blessing.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10)
The world never says that persecuted people are blessed, but Jesus said “blessed are those who are persecuted” not because persecution itself is a blessing, but because those who are persecuted will ultimately inherit the kingdom of God after going through hardships for righteousness, which refers to Jesus.
So, we focused on the relationship between being a Christian and persecution. Why should Christians be persecuted in the world? That was the main question we addressed in the last sermon.
The first thing we looked at was how Jesus brought us peace. To solve the problem of sin and reconcile us with God again, Jesus had to sacrifice His own life, shedding His blood on the cross to pay the ransom for our sins. In other words, we can have peace with God only through Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice.
And now, because all Christians are called to serve as peacemakers in the world and deliver the message of reconciliation to others, we also must join in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. Without suffering, we can’t really carry out the ministry of reconciliation that’s given not only to a few devoted, faithful Christians, but to all Christians who believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
I emphasized one of the important aspects of Christians’ persecution. I said that general hardships are given regardless of our will, but Christians’ persecutions are chosen.
It means that we can always join in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice wherever we are if we are willing to do so. It also means that if there’s no suffering or sacrifice at all in our lives as Christians, that’s because we don’t choose to join in Jesus’ suffering, not because suffering isn’t given to us naturally.
To explain this, we looked at the apostle Paul’s life. Before encountering Jesus, he lived a good and stable life. But after meeting Jesus, his life changed completely. He had been a persecutor of believers and churches but he then declared that he was filling up in his flesh what was still lacking in regard to Christ’s affliction, which means that he actively and willingly chose to suffer for Jesus by proclaiming the gospel no matter what He faced along the way.
So, I think the word ‘choice’ is key to understanding the meaning of Christian persecution. We can choose whether or not to suffer for Jesus. If we make the decision not to talk about Jesus and the good news He brought us to our friends or family members, we don’t have to run the risk of their judgment.
However, if we choose to deliver the good news to them, we may risk losing them. That might be the one of the ways that we can join in Christ’s suffering.
I’m not saying that we should go outside right now and proclaim the gospel. What I want to emphasize here is that true Christians are those who willingly choose to join in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice in whatever form it may take.
Christians and Persecution
That’s what we mainly talked about last Sunday, and today I’ll dig deeper into the meaning of Christians’ persecution. Why should Christians be persecuted on earth? And how can we endure, overcome, and even rejoice in suffering as Christians? These are the two questions I want to answer today.
So, why are Christians persecuted on earth? We can answer this through what Jesus said in the gospel of John.
Let’s read Jn 15:18-20 together.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…” (Jn 15:18-20)
This is what Jesus told His disciples right before He was arrested by soldiers. Here, Jesus clearly mentioned the reason His disciples would go through hardships.
The world would hate them because they didn’t belong to the world, but to Christ. Likewise, if we belong to the world and follow its ways, there’s no reason for the world to hate us. Rather, it will love us. But, if we follow the way of Jesus in the world, it will hate us and persecute us in all kinds of ways.
Christians can be defined as those who live in the world but don’t belong to the world. Even though we live in the world, we’re not of it because Jesus chose us as His own. Although we have our citizenship in this world, our true citizenship belongs to the eternal kingdom of God.
And, as God’s people, we’re called to follow God’s will and not the ways of the world. And if we do so, the world will hate us just as it hated Jesus, His disciples, and the first Christians.
So, it seems that being a Christian and undergoing persecution are inseparable. As Paul said, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2Tm 3:12).
If we really want to live a Christ-centered life, not following the ways or values of this world, but the word of God, we’ll face persecution. We can’t avoid suffering.
Likewise, we can’t accept the gospel of Jesus Christ without suffering. As Paul also said, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2Tm 1:8).
Nevertheless, we can keep walking in the face of persecution because Jesus, who overcame the world, is with us now and gives us eternal peace, joy, and hope through which we can also overcome the world. As Jesus said in John 16:33,
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)
We may experience troubles because of the name of Jesus. We may encounter many situations where we need to make a choice to sacrifice and suffer for Jesus. But we don’t have to be afraid—rather, we can actually rejoice in those moments because Jesus is always with us, strengthens us with eternal peace, and gives us true joy in Him.
Joy in the Midst of Persecution
That’s what makes Christian persecution unique. One of the characteristics we find in the persecution of early Christians is that they rejoiced in the midst of severe persecution.
As you may know, the history of the church started with persecution. From the first time people started to gather as a church, those who believed in Jesus were subject to persecution.
When the first church appeared in Jerusalem as a result of Peter’s proclamation, the Jews didn’t see it as a different religion but as a heresy of Judaism because most of the first believers were Jewish people who believed in the God of Israel. The difference was that they, the Jewish Christians, also believed in Jesus as the Son of God whom the religious leaders had crucified.
So, the first persecution was carried out by Jews. The apostle Paul was one of the persecutors. So, needless to say, the apostles of Jesus Christ were often arrested, interrogated, beaten, and even killed. But we don’t find any record in the Bible that says that they were greatly disappointed or intimidated by the persecutions. Rather, they rejoiced in the midst of them.
Acts 5:40-42 says, “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:40-42)
The more the apostles were severely persecuted, the more they rejoiced. Nothing could stop them from proclaiming the gospel. Not even severe persecution and death could block their ways or cover their mouths because they rejoiced in suffering for Christ.
Hebrews 11:38 does a great job describing such bold Christians. “The world was not worthy of them” (Heb 11:38).
Because they weren’t even afraid of suffering, sacrifice, persecution, and death, there was nothing left for the world to use to stop them. Because they were so filled with unending joy, they were ready to risk even their lives for the gospel.
Then, we might ask, “How could they rejoice in the midst of such severe persecution? Where did their joy and courage come from?”
Joy in the midst of suffering is a common characteristic that we can find in the lives of many predecessors of faith.
Paul said, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”; Peter said, “rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ”(1Pt 4:13); and Jesus said, “…when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me, rejoice and be glad…” (Mt 5:11-12).
So, how were they able to rejoice in suffering? What was the power through which they could overcome so much persecution and where did it come from?
These questions can be answered by just one event—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Before being crucified, Jesus told His disciples that he would rise again on the third day. And as He said, Jesus died and was buried, but rose again from the dead in three days. It began rather quietly, but soon had a huge impact on the whole world.
First, it completely changed the disciples’ lives. Before seeing the resurrected Jesus, they were terrified. They were gathered together, locking every door because of the fear that they would also be killed like Jesus. They had no hope. The one they had followed was crucified and they faced the same danger.
But, Jesus appeared to them and showed His resurrected body with His hands nailed and His side pierced. And this is the first response the Jesus’ disciples showed. John 20:20 says,
“The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (Jn 20:20)
Now, their fear was gone and heavenly joy, peace, and hope took its place. Then, after seeing the resurrected Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to openly proclaim the gospel. And the core message of their proclamation was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
From that time on, nothing could stop them from preaching the name of Jesus. Persecution and even death couldn’t cover their mouths because they were filled with the overflowing joy and eternal hope they found in the resurrection of Jesus.
The reason they were able to rejoice in suffering for Jesus was that they knew that they would also be resurrected with Him after this life.
Peter, who had betrayed Jesus three times because of his fear of death, now rejoiced in suffering for the name of Jesus Christ because he turned his focus to the future glory that God would give him at the end of his journey of faith to which nothing in this world can compare.
After saying “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1Pt 4:13), Peter added, “so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1Pt 4:13b-14)
That was the key factor that made Peter rejoice in his suffering—his eyes were fixed on eternal glory. He rejoiced in participating in the suffering of Christ not because he enjoyed the suffering itself but because he was looking forward to the eternal glory that will ultimately appear.
The same goes for Paul. He faced many hardships until he was executed, but he never stopped proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was able to do so because his eyes were fixed on the future and eternal glory that God would give Him, not on temporary things of the world.
So Paul wrote, let’s read it together,
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2Co 4:17-18)
Paul also said,
“I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Php 3:10-11)
Paul said that his suffering was light and momentary. But we know that it wasn’t light or momentary at all. He was insulted, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and exposed to death over and over again from the moment he met Jesus and started to proclaim the gospel.
His suffering wasn’t light or momentary, but heavy and constant over a period of many years. Nevertheless, Paul said that those were only light and momentary troubles. That’s because he compared them to eternal glory.
Paul’s eyes were fixed on what’s unseen, glorious, and eternal, not what’s seen and temporary. Because he was so filled with the hope of joining in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he was even ready to become like Jesus in His suffering and death. Paul knew that he couldn’t join in Jesus’ glory and resurrection without joining in His suffering and death. This faith enabled him to rejoice in suffering.
The more severely he was persecuted, the more Paul rejoiced because he felt that he was getting closer to the glory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that’s the point of view that we all must have as Christians. If we lose the perspective of eternal glory of the kingdom of God, we’ll never be able to join in Jesus’ suffering in this world.
What we need to keep in mind is that all the things we see now in this world are temporary and that the eternal kingdom of God is waiting for us. What’s more important, how we live eternally after death is determined by how we live here on earth for a comparatively short amount of time.
If we choose to suffer and sacrifice for Christ here on earth, we’ll also join in the glory of the resurrection when He returns. But if we’re ashamed of the gospel, what will Jesus say to us when He returns?
Jesus said, “Whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it… If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mk 8:35, 38)
Hebrews 11 lists the names of many faithful Christians, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. But what captures my attention most whenever I read this chapter is the record of unnamed Christians.
Hebrews 11:36-38 says, “Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (Heb 11:36-38)
This is how the first Christians kept their faith under the Roman emperor Nero’s severe persecution. Their hardships go far beyond our imagination. It’s hard to even read about it.
They could have easily avoided this suffering. They just had to deny the name of Jesus. But rather than denying Jesus and living a comfortable life, they chose to wander, suffer, and face persecution and death for the name of Jesus. And Hebrews 11:35 gives us a clue about how they made such a decision.
“Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.” (Heb 11:35)
The reason they could not only endure the suffering but even rejoice in it is because they put their hope in the resurrection of Jesus which is glorious and eternal and far outweighs all the suffering and hardships they went through.
That’s the perspective I want us to discover today. If we could really see and feel the eternal glory of the kingdom of God, we wouldn't care about anything in this world. Rather, we’d willingly and gladly choose to join in Jesus’ suffering with the desire to join in His resurrection and glory.
So I hope and pray that all of us here can have true faith in God so that we can fix our eyes on what’s unseen, glorious, and eternal and so that we can follow Jesus, taking up our crosses and rejoicing in joining in His suffering.
Heavenly Father, we praise Jesus Christ, Your Son, who died for us and was resurrected from the dead. In every difficult situation, we can find peace and hope in You, Lord.
We want to thank You for letting us know the meaning of believing in and following Jesus. Please open our eyes so that we can see eternal hope in you. Allow us to keep participating in Your mission even though persecution will follow us, and fill us up with the Holy Spirit and true peace in You so that we can boldly proclaim the gospel wherever we go.
O Lord, please open our eyes and allow us to find living hope in You.
Help us fix our eyes on what’s unseen, glorious, and eternal so that we won’t be moved by anything in this world, including the suffering and hardships that we may encounter as we follow Jesus.
We pray in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
1. What kind of peace, joy, or hope do you find in Jesus? How is it different from the peace, joy, and hope of this world?
2. Have you experienced hope for the resurrection and the kingdom of God? How has it changed your perspective or lifestyle?