It’s funny how life works sometimes. Quite often we find ourselves in a topsy turvy, inverted upside down world. “Bad” becomes good. Morality becomes mundane. Base becomes best. The common is condemned. Extravagance is exalted. Luxuries are lauded and the praise of necessities is neglected.

Think about it. When was the last time you were genuinely sincerely thankful for cool crisp air to breathe? The ability to take a walk while watching the sun set? The strength to push your eyelids open and the clarity to see clearly the beauty of God’s creation. When was the last time you paused to applaud the light that illumines your steps?

It isn’t the extravagant elements of life that are taken for granted. Have you ever heard of this happening? After a long and financially profitable talk with Ed McMahan, a husband hangs up the phone and his wife says, “Who was it honey?” The husband calmly replies, “Ah, nobody.” A couple is bored to death with their new home. A young teenage girl yawns as her mom and dad show her the new car they bought for her sixteenth birthday. A young child sleeps till noon on Christmas morning. The high points in life are celebrated and paraded around for everyone to see, and rightly so, but it is the essential elements in life that keep up going. Air, water, light, food, shelter, love, relationships – this is the stuff of life. We tend to assume the basics of life will always be readily available to maintain our existence.

Our fascination with the flamboyant and the unfamiliar invades every facet of our life. We tend to idolize the people who are eccentric and bizarre. John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and Kurt Cobain have been dead for years, yet you can find posters and t-shirts of these eccentric icons in any music store. The life and times of J. Paul Getty grabbed headlines and turned heads, but what about the common, the consistent, the constant pillars of life that have come to stay. There are everyday common folks who have made a deep impression on our life and been our stability in the storm. How do we honor those folks? Do we try an emulate the ones who are a steady stream of hope and encouragement or do we idolize the “roman candles” of the world who go up in a flash?

The uniqueness of Jesus lies in the fact that He never put pressure on any of His followers to rise to the level of greatness as the world describes it. Jesus never sat Judas down and gave him a copy of Zig Ziglar’s, See You At The Top. He didn’t say, “Judas, if you will play your cards right, wear power colors, and be aggressive you can be the head of the Department of Treasury some day.” Jesus didn’t pull John off to the side on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and say, “John, you’re young, you’re energetic, and you’re a visionary. If you will surround yourself with driven men, never take a day off, and work with a goal, you can corner the fish market some day. Who knows what the possibilities might be? One day you might even own a worldwide chain of seafood restaurants. I can see it now – Long John Silvers!”

Jesus had far greater aspirations for those He loved, lived with, and died for. Jesus knew the goals of the Gates’ of the world, He knew the triumphs of the Donald Trumps, and the marketing savvy of the Michael Eisners. Jesus also knew that if He could so motivate His troops, His followers, to commit to a common vision, they could infiltrate the world some day. He gave them a mission.

This morning we are going to take a look at the mission of the followers of Jesus. We as followers of Jesus are called to be salt and light in a tasteless and darkened world. Take out your Bible and let’s read together from Matthew 5:13-16.

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 by men. {14} “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. {15} 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. {16} In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Mat 5:13-16 NIV)

Jesus not only challenges His followers to be the most basic, yet essential, elements of life, but He pronounces them as having already arrived at the lofty position. In today’s world, the high praise of Jesus wouldn’t be nearly as coveted as it would have been to the early followers of Jesus. We would much rather prefer to have Jesus say, “Mike, you are the CEO and Chairman of the Board of the world!” Jesus was on a mission and His mission was to bring light into a dark world, to flavor a tasteless planet. Jesus’ mission would be worldwide and His mantle would be passed to the women and men who chose to devote themselves to Him.

Salt and light. Invaluable, yet not valued by most of the people who enjoy their benefits daily. To those who heard the words of Jesus the announcement came as a shock to their system. Jesus stood on the hillside and smiles as He openly confessed His high opinion of His followers. He described them as being “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” What a profound proclamation!

To tell the truth, those first followers of Jesus were a motley crew. Some of them were fishermen – smelly, rough talking, straggly-looking fishermen. Some of them were women with a bad reputation. He had some followers who were tax collectors and as far as Jews were concerned tax collectors were cheats and crooks. They were considered “unclean” – untouchables. Some of Jesus’ followers were political fanatics called Zealots. The Zealots were Jews who refused to pay tribute to the pagan Roman Emperor and in 74 A.D. found themselves hemmed into a corner on top of Mount Masada. The Zealots had retreated there from the Romans who decided to pursue and kill them. Before the Romans arrived, the 970 people locked inside the mountaintop fortress committed suicide.

The vast majority of Jesus’ followers were just common, ordinary folks – folks from all walks of life and from all segments of society. They were young and old, rich and poor, male and female. Precious few of them were well-known, and almost all of them were uneducated and untrained for the mission to which they were being called. It was a mission of love and hope that would reach the end of the earth. To these uneducated and untrained followers Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world!”

Jesus’ words not only apply to Peter, James, Joanna, and Martha, but they apply to you as well. They apply to all of us who are seeking to follow Him, who have made Him “Lord” of our lives. Jesus thinks highly of you, of your purpose in life, and the possibilities that lie before you. He has given you a mission.

I know, there are some of us here this morning who are hearing the challenge of Jesus and thinking to yourself, “I appreciate the offer, but my boat is full. I have a family, a demanding job, and more responsibilities than I can manage. My mission is to make it through another day, pay my bills, and maintain my sanity.” I understand. On my voyage each day, along the channel of life, I rarely see a boat that isn’t full. Many of the boats I see are sending out an “S.O.S.” There are many other people here this morning who are intrigued by the word of Jesus. “The mission” sounds appealing, but so does being an astronaut or a surgeon. Many opportunities sound appealing from a distance but details tend to give us a clearer picture of what is required of us. We like the idea of being part of a worldwide mission of hope, mercy, and love, but we need to know the details.

For the next few minutes I want us to examine the role of salt and light in God’s world. From the earliest recorded history salt has been a prized possession both for its preventative purposes and its positive flavoring capacity. Salt has been used across the course of history in a number of preventative ways. One of the functions of salt was to inhibit bacterial growth in meat. The presence of salt would prevent meat from spoiling, by hindering the growth of unwanted bacteria. Another use of salt is recorded in a book studied by Jewish priests, the Mishnah. According to the Mishnah, in the winter, in the temple of Jerusalem, the priests used to throw salt on the steps leading up to the altar of sacrifice, to prevent the priests from slipping as they performed their duties. We use salt in a similar way on our sidewalks, driveways, and streets even today. One final way salt was used in a preventative way was to place a small lump of salt on an aching tooth to kill the pain.

Salt wasn’t simply used to prevent things from happening, but it was also used to cause things to happen. One of the main uses of salt was to flavor food. Even teenagers in Jerusalem couldn’t bear the thought of going to the movies without buttered popcorn with lots of salt. Salt was used as a purifying agent for newborn babies. In Ezekiel 16:4 we find folks rubbing salt on newborn babies as a purifying and cleansing agent. Salt was used to repair broken items. If the corner of the table happened to be broken by rambunctious kids playing in the house, salt would be mixed with water, shaped into the desired form, and then allowed to harden like cement. One final use of salt was to help the all-important oil lamp to burn brighter. The Jews would take a lump of salt, drop it in the bottom of the lamp, and then the flame would burn brighter.

We are the salt of the earth! Our mission is to be both a preventative agent and a facilitator for good and growth. Our society has become a bastion of bacterial growth that is seeking to spoil everything from hope, to families, to abundant fulfilling life. We are to flavor every environment we enter in everyday life. We are to flavor our homes, work places, and the market place with the flavor of God’s Word. Add a dash of reconciliation where bitterness prevails. Sprinkle on a touch of mercy where justice might crush. Shake a little gentleness over the platter of power. Just a bit of love where hate has left a void. Flavor the world with the savory, stimulating, and much needed herbs and spices of God’s Word.

Every chef knows the importance of using the right spices to flavor the food. Oregano on corn might not be a good choice. Neither would bay leaves on baked potatoes. The same is true for you and me as followers of Jesus who are called to flavor the world. If we do not even know what we are to be adding to a tasteless society then we are worthless in the hands of God. Jesus put it this way, “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 by men.” If we fail to maintain the life-giving relationship with the Lord we will soon lose our saltiness and find ourselves unaware of God’s mission for our life. If we will remain rooted in God’s Word we will be able to help saturate an insipid society with the refreshing Word of God.

Jesus says our role as His followers is to exist for the sake of those around us. All too often we have the tendency to want to retreat into our Christian sanctuary of sanctity to shield us from an insane world. Many of us have tasted of the fruits of the world and found them sour. Because of our experience we want to get as far away from the things that brought us the most pain. We must realize that we are the salt of the earth. We are called to infiltrate the insipid and bring about the brilliance of God’s will by the power of the Word of God. We are not called to be isolated from, or to live in separation from the world and its real life problems. Jesus calls us out into the world for the sake of the world that is dying apart from Him! He intends for us to have a power and an influence upon those around us. Common salt, with its power influence for good and to restrain the undesired is an excellent symbol of our role as believers in the world. Just as salt attacks bacteria and unwanted elements we too may be called upon to restrain evil from our homes, job sites, and neighborhoods. Common salt can help to make a bland item on the menu into a mouth-watering masterpiece. We are to have a preserving, purifying, and passionate influence on everyone we meet.

Salt is not the only symbol Jesus used to describe those followers gathered on the hillside one afternoon many years ago. Jesus said,

{14} “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. {15} 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. {16} In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The Mission
Matthew 5:13-16
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