Matthew 5.13--“You are the Salt of the Earth”

Two stories about our Challenge and Opportunity in 2000:


A.  The Man of La Mancha as a caricature of our present challenge--Don Quioxte was a dreamer of “impossible dreams.”  He tilted windmills, loved those unlovable and unable to return this love and he dared to go where even the brave dared not go.  Poor Sancho Panza was an eternal survivor, a faithful follower who never dared to dream or initiate on behalf of something better. 


                                                      Which spirit represents us?  We must dream to revitalize the Church from maintenance to a growth mode.  We desire more than mere survival.  We must have a passion to face the challenges of the secular city. 


B.  Once a woman owned a fine winery.  For more than two centuries her family had made the finest wine. She had the finest grapes and vats in the culture.  One day the wine developed a bitter taste.  No one could explain why.  Winery experts visited from all over the world to discover the reason for the wine’s sudden bitter taste.  After prolonged study, each expert reached the same diagnosis--the vats had outlived their usefulness.  There was no way to clean and restore the old vats.  How was she to respond--after all the vats had been in the family for centuries.  As the days and weeks passed, customers continued to diminish until one day no one came to taste or buy the wine.  The only remaining customers were the faithful family members for whom the family traditions were more important than making New Wine.  The owner had the information she needed to restore her winery to its former glory, but she lacked the courage or the dream to make the necessary changes to produce new wine.


                                                      The wineskin is The Church.  Today many congregations have become irrelevant to a hurting, unchurched world and are unable to offer new wine to a new generation.  If we are to effectively witness to Christ in the Secular City we must do so with new wine skins.


                                                      People without tools or vision or purpose tend to drift from experience to experience, even from crisis to crisis.  Their aimless life is easily dissipated in fruitless or even harmful directions, since they have no goals that establish priorities and thereby preserve them from some follies (e.g. Mash and triage).  Any church, corporation or institution can survive for a little while on the unarticulated dream of the founder or on the surge of the economy; but before long it will fade into irrelevance, if not bankruptcy, unless it repeatedly formulates and recovers its goals (not its message)!


                                                      But goals provide more than aim and incentive.  They also provide a set of criteria by which to measure performance.  (Make lists of what you are going to do today, this week, this year, etc.)  This list helps to eliminate false expectations (e.g. check lists of families, companies, schools, teachers, preachers, governments, etc.). 


                                                      We are responsible beings and we have choices to make and promises to keep.  These in turn provide us with criteria by which we can in some measure access the discipline of our spiritual progress--“Grow in grace and knowledge.”


                                                      Goals, then, are powerful things.  When someone wants to take over or redirect a movement or even an individual career, one of the first things he or she does is to meddle with the goals of that movement or career (e.g. conflicts in politics, political parties, school boards, Church leaders, the courts and certain behaviour of persons).  One of the first things he or she may try to do is to restate the party’s goals in order to bend the organization to the new mode-- (e.g. Jesus’ final commission (Matt. 28); the Constitution; The Bill of Rights, Amendments, Hitler’s Mein Kampf).


                                                      The manipulation is not new.  The same efforts are expressed in John 6.14-15; some of Jesus hearers intended to appoint Jesus king by force.  They wanted Him to replace the Roman overlords and re-establish the kingdom to its long lost splendour (e.g. Abraham and Hagar, David’s goals and Bathesheba). 


                                                      Satan himself (Matt. 4 and Luke 4, the temptation) attempted to co-opt Jesus by offering Him the kingdoms of the world without the pain of the cross.  When Peter (Matt. 16) insists that Jesus will never go the way of suffering and death, Jesus recognizes the same source and responds, “get thee behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt. 16.23).  The attempt was to foist on Jesus a modified set of goals, a revised mission and eliminate suffering and the cross.




                                                      There are attempted take-overs of Christianity today as well.  The first step in this attempted subversion is an attempted Redefinition of the Church’s mission (e.g. Acts 2 - Marxist revisionist history, sharing community wealth and living an Islamic appeal to Luke 24 - the Emmaus Road - no cross atonement for sin).  Right wing economic and political agendas also try to subvert the Gospel.  Liberation Theology appeals to Exodus as the archetype of freeing slaves and Jesus’ concern for the poor.  All of these revisionist subversions are purely arbitrary in their selection of scripture motifs.  And the selections are complete destructions of the unity of the promise motif of scripture.  History is littered with attempts to co-opt the Gospel to a cause that destroys the Gospel and Jesus’ mission!  The Church must answer the questions asked by our global village in the 21st century, which are at least (1) What was Jesus’ mission?  (2) Why did He come? (Matt. 1, Immanuel, God with us)  (3)  How does the Church carry out our Lord’s mission in our Global Village?  If the answers it provides are not exhaustive, at least they are crucial.


                                                      In the context of Jesus’ healing miracles stands the suffering of The Cross (Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant).  All sickness is the consequences of sin--sometimes directly, but more often indirectly (see esp. 8.16-17 and the quote from Isa. 53.4).  Jesus’ lordship over sickness confronts all forms of scepticism, the scepticism represented by the teachers as well as the denial of miracles after Hume’s attack and the developments in science.  Talk is cheap for all post modern sceptics.  Jesus both then and now, encounters compulsive crowds.  His mission was and still is, forgiving sin and transforming sinners (e.g. Romans 12.1-2).  We are here reminded of the radical culture of the 1960s.  During the radical sixties, when Western universities were aflame with groups of radicals (e.g. Yuppies) the radicals had not radical solutions.  All human efforts call for a radical solution, i.e., go to the heart of the human tragedy.  The human dilemma is not economic injustice but sin.  Economic injustice is merely a symptom; and capitalists, Marxists and naturalistic humanists focus on Symptoms and never get near the radix (the root of the problem) at all. 


                                                      But Jesus does--He is the only pure radical.  He came to forgive sin and transform sinners where our Lord’s work is abundantly clear, i.e., His community is Salt and Light; there a society is largely transformed.  Until His people live out the most radical transformations in society, His ministry will be invisible to culture at large--families, the work place, the university, and the government--searchers in the Global Village.  Jesus’ mission - “to seek and save the lost” - is fundamental to His ministry and ours.  Then only can or will His people sing “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.”




                                                      This meant that He came to call the despised and the disgusting elements of society to Him (9.9-13).  In order to carry out His mission He calls Matthew the tax collector.  His booth was at the border between the territory of Harold Antipas and Philip, not far from Capernaum.  Tax collectors were not held in high esteem.  The tax forming system meant corruption was widespread, and to many Jews, tax collectors were traitors because they were not serving the Jewish people but the goals of their overlords. Their lifestyle invariably placed them in radically corrupt circumstances.  Jesus called Matthew because he had to be fluent in Aramaic and Greek and accustomed to keeping accurate records.  His preparation placed him in circumstances to keep the notes on Jesus’ ministry and ultimately his gospel.


                                                      The focus of interest is not Matthew’s scribal habits, but on he resulting dinner at which many tax collectors and “sinners” joined Matthew and Jesus.  Jesus’ response to the questioning Pharisees was at the heart (radix) of the issue.  He declares, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Jesus aligns them with the apostates of ancient Israel (e.g. Hosea and Lk. 15).  Hosea marvellously reveals the same circumstances for Jesus and us.  Jesus was affirming the purpose of the coming Messiah, not dividing humanity into two groups, the righteous and the unrighteous.  Here is a beautiful picture of the essential nature of the Messiah and His mission.  His mission was grace in pursuit of the lost (e.g. The Hound of Heaven).  In order to forgive sinners, He had to entangle Himself with sinners.


                                                      There are at least four marvellous lessons to be drawn from the passage:


                                                      I.  Christians must learn profound gratitude for the salvation that has won us.


                                                      a.  Christians are not better than unbelievers, but we have been forgiven of our sins and promised eternal life (Resurrection).


                                                      b.  Growing awareness of the magnitude of our sin can only result in growing thankfulness.

Jesus reminds us that He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners;” far from being offended, we are retrieved.




                                                      II.  Christians will also learn from Jesus’ example.


                                                      a.  We will not develop a posture of supercilious self-                                                      righteousness toward those whom society dismisses.

                                                      b.  Jesus came to call the despised and disgusting elements of society.

                                                      c.  We must remember that our forgiveness is never cheap (e.g. the story of a Christian woman who visited a condemned Nazi officer after the Nuremburg war trial.  That officer was responsible for millions of brutal deaths and especially of her parents and siblings, and her own torture.  She heard that he had repented and when she approached him, he wept and begged her for forgiveness. She moved from rage to mercy.  Was forgiveness so cheap? 


                                                      III.  Immense hope for the person who likes to follow Christ.


                                                      We will never feel good enough.  He came for the sick, the broken and the needy.  He invites sinners to Himself and He forgives and transforms them.  He does so because He died and rose again for sinners.  That is why we sing the song “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sounds that saved a wretch like me!” 


                                                      IV.  His effective dealing with sinners also empowered His followers to be radix--Salt and Light in our lives, families, work places and our relationship with all the institutions of our culture.  God’s people are the third race who is sent out to pour new wine not into old and ruined wine skins, but into New Wine Skins.


                                                      What was Jesus mission?  Why did He come?  He came to save His people from their sins; He came to transform sinners.  God is no longer localized in a Temple in Jerusalem; now it would be “localized” in the person of God’s son, our Savior!


                                                      WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?!    The Authentic Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth and the mission of our Lord can forever be placed in the hands of witnessing people.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    MATTHEW 28



James Strauss

Lincoln, IL 62656