Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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No Easy Discipleship

Matthew 5:13-20

 I think some of us wrestle with the question “How do we relate the two parts of the Bible to each other?”  What does the Old Testament mean for us, as people of the New Testament?

 On one hand, some Christians just seem to throw out the whole Old Testament.  They hear, “The Bible says _____,” and they say back, “Yeah, but that’s just the Old Testament.  We don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore.”  Sometimes this is done without even realizing that many things from the Old Testament are also in the New.  And on the other hand, there seems to be a tendency, I think a growing tendency, of some Christians to go in the opposite direction, to act as if they are Jewish, even to the extent of insisting on worshipping on Saturday, eating a kosher diet, and so on.  Of course, most of us live in the middle.  We understand that we are New Testament people, but we still value the Old Testament and hold on tightly to at least some of it.  How should we understand this relationship?  

 We’ll come back to that question in time, but first, let’s start at the beginning.  

 Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.”  What is the significance of salt?  

 Salt was used as a fertilizer.  It was added to manure with the belief it helped crops to grow.  It probably didn’t help, but that’s beside the point.  They thought it did.  

 Second, salt was used as a flavoring.  It makes things taste better.  Back at Christmas time, I had lunch at the nursing home where my mother lives.  The potatoes had no salt added to them, no doubt because some residents had sodium restrictions.  I understand the reason; they just didn’t taste very good.

 Third, salt was used as a preservative.  It helped to keep food from spoiling, which was very important 2000 years before refrigeration was invented. 

 And finally, the glistening white of pure salt was used as an image of purity.  They said of salt that it came from the two purest things in the world:  The sea and sunshine.  Because of this association with purity, salt was added to sacrifices.  

 What does all that mean for us?  It means that we should help good things to grow.  We should preserve goodness.  We should be the kind of people in whose presence it is more difficult for people to do wrong and easier to do right.  We should

make life more palatable; offering hope and joy and peace.  And we should be pure and holy, offering up a life worthy of sacrifice.  

 “But what good is salt if it loses its saltiness?”  This might not make sense to us, but it did to Jesus’ listeners.  Most of the salt in Israel came from the Dead Sea, which is very salty.  But the Dead Sea also contained a lot of impurities.  So, if you left your Dead Sea salt sitting open on a humid day, the salt would start to leach out and leave behind all the junk, and the junk was good for nothing.  It was thrown out onto the street.  If anything loses its essential quality, it becomes worthless.  

 “You are the light of the world.”  Light also symbolized purity, as well as truth and goodness.  “You are a city on a hill.”  That’s how the Jewish people described Jerusalem, the city of God, a city on a hill, the light of the world.  But Jesus said in John 9, “I am the light of the world.”

 “Don’t hide your light.”  The lights used in 1st century Palestinian homes were oil lamps, a little dish of olive oil with one or more wicks burning in it.  They didn’t give much light, so they were placed up high to make the most of what light they gave, often on a window sill.  You certainly wouldn’t want to put a lamp under a basket.  It would cease to give light; it would cease to do its essential function and thus become worthless.  There is no such thing as a secret life of discipleship.  Either the discipleship will destroy the secrecy, or the secrecy will destroy the discipleship.

 “Let your good deeds shine for all to see so they will praise your heavenly Father.”  The word for “good” here is the Greek word KALOS, which meant not just “good” but also “beautiful, attractive.”  Our deeds should be attractive, drawing others to God.  

 We should notice how Jesus phrases all this.  He doesn’t say, “You should be salt and light.”  He says, “You are salt and light.”  Jesus is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and if we are identified with Jesus, then we become those things.  Our job is to live into the reality of what we already are in Jesus.  

 Jesus goes on, “I have not come to abolish the Law and prophets.”  The Jewish people said God’s Law is abolished by disobedience.  To disobey the Law is to rebel against the authority of the Law Giver.  

 “I have come to fulfill the Law.”  Jesus comes to reveal true meaning of the Law.  What did Jesus say about the Old Testament?  He said, “The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole Law and prophets hang on these.”  That is the true meaning of the Law.  

 Jesus didn’t deny the truth of the Old Testament.  He denied the way it was misused by the Scribes and the Pharisees.  They added on to the Law endlessly.  They wrote the works called the Mishnah and the Talmud to keep expanding the Law and applying it in every conceivable situation.  The result was tens of thousands of pages of rules and regulations.  They argued endlessly about the Law, even to the point of arguing whether or not it was permissible to pick up your own child on the Sabbath day, or did that constitute “work.”  They were more concerned with outward obedience to the letter of the Law than they were with issues of heart obedience and character.  

 So how should we read the Old Testament Law?  The best wisdom of the Church is this:  First, if it’s repeated in the New Testament, then it’s a no-brainer.  It’s still God’s law for us.  Second, the moral laws of the Old Testament also still stand for us.  The issues of right and wrong behavior still apply to us.  But the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus.  We don’t offer sacrificial lambs anymore because Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb.  And finally, the cultural laws of the Old Testament also no longer apply to us, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any value.  For example, I read recently from Deuteronomy 24, where it was commanded that when you harvested your field of grain, you were not supposed to return and go over the field a second time for anything you missed.  You were to leave that grain for the orphans, widows, and foreigners in the land.  Most of us don’t harvest grain fields anymore, but the principle still stands:  God wants us to take care of the vulnerable around us.  

 The point of the whole passage is that discipleship, Christ-following, without obedience to what God has revealed and without doing good works is meaningless and valueless.  There is no such thing as easy discipleship.  To be a disciple is to be committed to doing what God tells us he wants us to do.  

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