140209 Matthew 5:13-16

Last Updated on Monday, 10 February 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Theme: A Good Reason For Doing Good Works

Right now I am looking out at a church full of seasoned sermon listeners. Most of you have been on the listening end of hundreds of sermons. Many of you have heard thousands of sermons. And if you grew up in the Lutheran church, or if you have been a member of this congregation for any length of time, there is a good chance that you have noticed a trend.

The sermon text changes from week to week, but the focus remains the same. The vast majority of Lutheran sermons stress the importance of what God has done for us and place a secondary emphasis on what we as Christians do for God. And there is a good reason for that.

Preachers (and I include myself in that group) never want to give the impression that our salvation depends on human performance. No matter how many good things a person does, those good things will never be able to cancel out the bad. No matter how good people try to be, on their own they can never be good enough.

Salvation is a gift of God's grace. Undeserved love. Unconditional love. A love that motivated God the Father to sacrifice his one and only Son. A love that moved Jesus to sacrifice his life for his friends, for his enemies, for the sins of the world, for you. You are saved because your Savior saved you. Period.

Unfortunately that is where a fair share of Lutheran sermons end. Maybe preachers are afraid that the precious truths rediscovered by Luther will somehow be lost again. Maybe our sermons are so focused on the work of Christ that we sometimes forget to talk about the grateful response of the Christian.

It doesn't have to be that way. It really shouldn't be that way because good works play an important role in the life of a believer. And it shouldn't surprise us that Jesus mentions good works early and often in his Sermon on the Mount. Addressing the disciples who had gathered around him that day, preaching to his followers who are gathered here today, the Lord provides us with...

A GOOD REASON FOR DOING GOOD WORKS

To make his point the Lord begins by making use of two metaphors, the first of which is: "You are the salt of the earth" (13a). What did Jesus mean by that? What property of salt is also a characteristic of a Christian? Common table salt is commonly used to season food, but you would be hard pressed to find salt and pepper shakers in the middle of Jewish dinner tables. So that's not the point.

The brutal weather we have been experiencing has turned salt into a precious commodity because it melts the snow and ice on roads and walkways, but what we consider to be typical winter weather was extremely rare in ancient Israel. So that's not the point.

In Jesus' day salt served another important purpose. Before the invention of refrigeration and vacuum sealing salt was the primary means to preserve food. Salt made food last longer. Salt kept meat from rotting and spoiling. The preservative properties of salt saved food...and lives.

That is the point. Like salt, Christians are the preservatives of the world. For the sake of his elect, God has chosen not to destroy the world. And because of the way we live, because of the witness we give, Christians make this world a better place...

If. That only happens if we live our faith. That only happens if we give a clear confession of our faith. But what happens if we don't? Jesus addressed that question when he asked: "If 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" (13b).

Salt that loses its saltiness has no real purpose. Salt that loses its saltiness isn't really salt at all, and because it doesn't have any value Jesus suggested that you might as well throw it away. But Jesus wasn't talking about salt, was he? He was talking to people who claimed to be his disciples, people like you and me. And in the middle of his sermon he gives us a not-so-subtle warning.

Being a Christian is a serious responsibility. Living as a Christian in an unchristian and increasingly anti-Christian world won't be easy. Cynics and skeptics will be watching your every move, and when you say things and do things that contradict your faith, they will be quick to call your Christianity into question.

Like it or not, Christians are always bearing witness to what we believe. The question we need ask ourselves this morning is: What kind of witness am I? Are my words and actions always seasoned with salt? Does the way I live my life have a preserving effect on the people around me? Or if I was put on trial for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict me?

When Christians do live their faith, they will be noticed too. When you confess your faith, you will stand out. Not like a sore thumb. Like a shining beacon. Like Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the light of the world" (14a). If those words sound familiar, it might be because Jesus applied them to himself when he declared: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).

Jesus is like the sun. He is the source of light. He gives light to the earth. He scatters the darkness of sin. His light and his love shine in our hearts. We are like the moon. The light doesn't originate within us, but it is reflected by us. A full moon isn't as bright as the sun, but it can light up the darkest sky. And you don't have to wonder if it will be there when you look up at night. You can count on it. You can rely on it. You can even set your calendar by it.

For the same reason Jesus didn't tell his disciples that they had the potential to be the light of the world or that if they worked really hard someday they might become the light of the world. If you are a Christian, if you trust in Jesus as your Savior from sin, you are the light of the world. And if you are a light, you will do what lights do. You will shine.

Jesus put it this way: "A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (14b-16).

Martin Luther once said that good works don't make a Christian, but a Christian will make good works. Sinful human beings will never be able to do enough to earn a place in heaven. At first that might sound depressing, but it is actually quite liberating because it relieves the pressure. It removes the heavy burden from our backs. We don't have to feel like we have to always be doing good. Instead we want to do good, and every good deed we do is a way for us to say "thank you" to God for everything he has done for us.

If love for God is the number one motivation for Christians to do good works, love for God's people comes in as a close second. When we see people in need we want to help them, not because it will make us look good, not because it will make us feel better about ourselves, not because it will earn us a chip that we can cash in later. Jesus loved people, and so do we. Jesus cared about people, and so do we. Christian love imitates the love of Christ, who came into this world not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Love for God. Love for our neighbor. Those are two good reasons for Christians to let their lights shine, but they aren't the only reasons. At the end of today's text Jesus reminds us that there is another good reason for doing good works. He encourages us to look beyond the impact our actions will make on this earth and envision how God can work through our good works to bring souls to heaven: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (16).

Do you realize what that means? When Christians witness to unbelievers the end result is that those unbelievers might become believers and some day they will be standing next to the rest of us in heaven. Jesus doesn't get into specifics here. He leaves it up to us to fill in the details. So let's do that. Let's spend just a couple minutes imagining how God can work through our good works to do his miraculous work of conversion.

You have just received some devastating news while at work. Maybe it's a lay-off notice. Maybe it's a cancer diagnosis. Maybe it's the news that a loved one has died suddenly and unexpectedly. You tell your co-workers what happened, and they don't say much because they don't know what to say.

A couple days later one of your co-workers stops to see you, the one who enjoys making fun of you because you are different. But this time the difference he sees in you forces him take a closer look at himself. He doesn't understand how you can be holding up so well. You aren't angry. You don't complain. A normal person would be visibly upset, but you seem to be at peace. And he wants to know, he has to know: Why?

That question gives you the opportunity you had been patiently praying for. You tell him about God's promises to never leave or forsake his children, to hear and answer your prayers, to make everything, even the bad things, work out for your good. You paraphrase Paul and explain that your present sufferings aren't worth comparing with the glory that awaits you in heaven (Romans 8:18).

Your co-worker walks away, but he comes back the next day. The conversations continue, and as they do they get deeper. He eventually accepts your invitation to church and enrolls in the Bible Information Class, and few months later your smile is almost as big as his on the day of his confirmation.

That's one story. So what's your story? Have you ever had an experience like that? Are you praying for an opportunity like that? You don't know when it will happen. You don't know where it will happen. But you have God's promise that he will bless every good work you do in his name. So let your light shine! Let your light shine brightly in a sin-darkened world! Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven! Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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