Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20
Text: “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 underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
We continue our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this morning. The beginning verses of our text are familiar pictures of salt and light. In this portion of God’s Word, Jesus is also speaking about righteousness. Righteousness means being in a right or correct relationship with God. When we look at this term, we will see how it applies to the salt and light pictures of the Christian. This morning, we study the words of Jesus under the theme: LIVING A TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS. 1. Righteousness Demanded. 2. Righteousness Fulfilled. 3. Righteousness To Share.
We are going to begin with the last three verses of our text and work our way forward as we study “righteousness.” In verses 18-20, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
As we hear these verses, we are reminded of the righteousness that is demanded from each one of us. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Verse 20) In the eyes of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were some of the greatest people around. They were held up as examples to follow. The Pharisees not only claimed to follow God’s law, but the religious sect had added many other laws that they lived under. Now, even though theirs was an outward, hypocritical holiness, the people could not see this. When the people saw them, they wished that they could be like them.
However, Jesus said that their holiness, their righteousness had to surpass that of the Pharisees. Putting this in more modern terms, think of someone you greatly admire because of the type of life that they live. When you think of a good person, this is the person that comes to your mind. Yet Jesus is telling us here that you have to be better than them if you want to enter heaven.
The temptation for us is to compare ourselves and start to feel pretty proud of ourselves. There is always someone that we can feel superior to. Yet, note the tendency is to look for those who are “worse” than we are. However, Jesus does not say to look down, but to look up.
Jesus also shows us the necessity of this righteousness in verse 18, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law.” There are times when we like to tell ourselves that something we are doing is not really that bad. ‘It’s not a big lie. It’s just a little white lie.’ ‘I didn’t curse. I just used language I shouldn’t have.’ ‘I may have lost my temper, but everyone has to blow their top every once and again.’ However, by using the terms, “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law,” Jesus tells us that every single part of the Law is important. There are no big sins and little sins. Sin is sin. Just one infraction of God’s law is enough to send us straight to hell for all eternity. God demands absolute perfection. This demand of God will never pass away.
So, as far as living true righteousness, we see that God demands righteousness. God demands perfection. Where this righteousness is not present, we are lost.
That is the righteousness demanded of us. Now we turn our attention to righteousness fulfilled. Jesus said in verse 17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus told his hearers that he had not come to abolish the law. He did not come preaching something new or different from what others had proclaimed, including John the Baptist.
There were many times in Jesus’ ministry that his enemies accused Jesus of breaking the law. When Jesus healed someone on a Sabbath, his enemies accused him of working on the Sabbath. When Jesus’ disciples plucked some heads of grain and rubbed them between their hands to get rid of the chaff, Jesus’ enemies accused them of harvesting on the Sabbath. However, those laws were man-made laws, not God’s laws.
Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the law, that is, completely set it aside. Jesus came to the earth to keep God’s laws perfectly. He came to fulfill all righteousness. We rejoice when we read this because we know why Jesus came to the earth. He came to the earth to be my Substitute. Where righteousness was demanded, and we could not do it, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness in our place. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. The sins that we have committed were paid for on the cross. As Jesus suffered on the cross, he was suffering the torments of hell so that we would not have to. Jesus paid our debt completely. By faith, I receive the benefits of Jesus’ work. Now, instead of the hell that I deserved, I know that heaven is mine. Righteousness is demanded by our God for entrance into heaven. Where we could not do it, Jesus came and fulfilled all righteousness for our sake.
Now Jesus calls upon us to live in true righteousness. This is living in a way that gives glory to God. We might refer to this as our life of good works. Jesus tells us about the Christian life as being salt and light. He says in verse 13, “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.” Salt was used in Jesus’ day as a preservative. Here Jesus says salt is good for something, as long as it is salt. If it is not salt, it cannot preserve food. If the Christian does not preserve the people of the world with the Gospel teaching, he is not fulfilling his purpose.
Jesus also uses the picture of light. He says in verses 14 and 15, “You are the light of the world. 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.” Light can be seen from a long ways away. Even if a city has but one light in it, people can see it for miles around.
Jesus is telling us that the Christian is going to be noticed. They are going to be visible. When we live the way that God would have us live, we are going to stand out. When we refuse to join in an activity that would not please God, or stand up and say that something is wrong or sinful, we will stand out against the darkness of the world. Living as the light of the world will cause us to bear crosses. For that reason, we might be tempted to try and hide that light. However, God calls on us to let our light shine.
Why? Jesus says in verse 16, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Why do we let our light shine? We do so that others might see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. When we live as God would have us live, not only do we glorify God, but God can also use that instance to open the door for you to tell them about your Savior. For example, if you do not join in cutting down someone, but instead speak up for that person, defend them and say good things about them, people will look at you a little differently. You can use that opportunity to explain why you do what you do. This is our way to thank God for all he has done for us. He sent his Son to rescue us. We thank him with our lives.
In addition, when we live as Christians, others may see it and give glory to our Father. This is similar to when a child does well at a sport or another activity. Someone might say, ‘That is so and so’s son,’ or ‘That is the daughter of so and so.’ We want to let our light shine, not so that others will say what wonderful people we are, but what a wonderful God we have. We share that righteousness with others.
Righteousness. God demanded it. Jesus fulfilled it. We are called on to share this righteousness with others. May God give us the willingness to do so, when the opportunity presents itself. Amen.
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