Title: The Sermon on the Mount part 3
Scriptures to Read: Read Matthew 5:13-16
The Characteristics of True Righteousness in Relationship to the World
In Matthew’s account Jesus goes on to describe the characteristics of true righteousness in relationship to the world, and he points out two things.
1. First of all He says: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (5:13) – Here He describes the Jews as the salt of the earth and He refers to salt that has become tasteless. How can salt become tasteless? Salt as we know it is pure sodium chloride and cannot lose its saltiness. But in the Middle East of Jesus day salt was obtained from mineral deposits that were a mixture of several minerals and if it was exposed to rain or moisture from the earth the sodium chloride would be leeched out of it and it would become tasteless. Now just as their salt contained within it a salty flavoured component, so Israel contained within it a believing Remnant who were intended by God to be the flavour of righteousness in the world. They were to possess the characteristics of true righteousness for all the earth to savour. So the Jews were the salt of the earth. But they had lost their flavour of righteousness because so many of them were following the Pharisaic tradition of righteousness instead of the true righteousness required by the Law. They had become tasteless. Such salt, Jesus says, “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men”. This indeed is what has happened to the Jews. They were removed from their land and both they and their land have been trampled underfoot by Gentiles. In passing it is worth noting that this is not the final state of the Jews, but following that train of thought would take us away from our present study.
2. Secondly, He says: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (5:14-16) – Here Jesus describes those who attain the true righteousness required by the Law as the light of the world. And the prophet Isaiah describes the righteousness of Jerusalem in the Messianic Kingdom as a bright light for all the nations to see. Isaiah 61:11-62:2 says:
“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet,
Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness,
And her salvation like a torch that is burning.
The nations will see your righteousness,
And all kings your glory;
And you will be called by a new name
Which the mouth of the Lord will designate”.
And so Jesus says, just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden at night, but its light can be seen from a long way off, and just as in a house we light a lamp and put it where its light will be useful, so those who attain true righteousness should allow their good works to be seen so that others will glorify their Father who is in heaven. He has already pointed out that the righteous will suffer persecution. Now He encourages them to persevere in their righteousness in spite of persecution. As a result, others will glorify God, and come to faith in Him.