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Monday, August 28, 2023

What Did Jesus Mean: You are the Salt of the Earth?

Have you ever heard the expression:  “That guy ain’t worth his salt!”  What does that mean? It means they aren’t worth their pay.  There’s a reason someone is or isn’t worth his salt. In the ancient world, salt was sometimes used as currency—the Greeks, Romans, and Spanish Moors all used salt for money in certain situations.  In fact, our modern word “salary” comes from the ancient Roman word salarium, which was the salt sometimes paid to solders (instead of Roman coins).  Salt in the ancient world was rare and as valuable as money.  That brings us to today’s lesson from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:13
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

You are the salt of the earth
If you are Christian, a follower of Jesus, you are the salt of the earth.  Christians provide something essential this world needs.

We’re a bit spoiled in our modern world and we take salt for granted.  Usually, we consume too much salt, but a certain amount of salt is essential in your diet.  If you don’t have enough, it can lead to muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.  Eventually, lack of salt can lead to shock, coma and death.

Have you ever noticed the slightly salty flavor to Gatorade or Powerade sports drinks?  That’s because they put sodium in the drinks (one of the minerals found in salt).  Intense sweating during strenuous exercise can flush sodium out of your body—leaving you lethargic, even when you drink enough water. The sodium in Gatorade puts it back.

In biblical times, salt was expensive and hard to come by, but salt was also essential.  In addition to being required in a person’s diet, salt was essential for preserving meat before refrigeration.  In case you didn’t know, modern refrigerators didn’t become common until the 1930s (less than 100 years ago).  Before that, one of the most common and reliable ways to preserve meat was with salt.  If you pack enough salt around a big hunk of pork, you get a perfectly preserved and delicious ham—something that can be slaughtered in November and enjoyed for Easter dinner 4-5 months later.

Not only does salt preserve meat and provide and essential minerals in your diet, salt also brings out the flavor of our food.  Can you imagine how bland your food would be without any added salt?  Can you imagine how a potato chip would be without any salt?

So when Jesus says His followers are “the salt of the earth”, He is making a bold statement.  Christians are incredibly valuable and essential—like the right amount of salt in your diet, without it you cannot live.  And Christians are a preservative in this decaying world.  Without our preserving influence, evil would completely take over and consume this world—causing it to rot and completely spoil.

And when Christians faithfully follow Christ, we bring out the flavor of life.  True Christians are not boring—as the world often claims.  We are full of life and joy and love.  Jesus and His New Testament followers were never accused of living dull lives.  It was the opposite.  Their detractors accused them of spending too much time feasting and drinking with sinners and having a good time.

Losing Our Saltiness
Now, this second part of verse 13 confuses people.  How can salt lose its flavor?  The salt in your salt shaker doesn't really have an expiration date.  It doesn't lose it's saltiness.  However, in Jesus’ day in Israel, they mined salt from the Dead Sea.  The concentration of salt in the dead sea is about 33%--10 times as salty as the ocean.  Salt water can be collected into shallow pools until the sun evaporates the water leaving behind the salt.  Then, the salt was stored in a cave or barn—usually right on the ground.  Over time, the salt on the bottom of the pile would leach into the dirt on the ground and some of the dirt would get in the salt too.  This “bottom salt” was too dirty and nasty to eat.  And the dirt was too salty to use in a garden—the high salt content would kill the plants.  So this salt that had lost its flavor was only good for one thing—to be thrown on the walkways where it would kill weeds and anything else growing and people could walk on and a barren path where nothing would grow.

Now what does that have to do with you?  If you follow Jesus, you are the salt of the earth—adding flavor and essential things to this world, preserving a broken world from spiritual decay.  But being salty for Jesus inevitably means being different from the world.  Most people don’t want to be different.  There’s something in our DNA that we want to fit in.  We don’t want to feel like outsiders or outcasts who are different.  We want to be part of the group.

Well, God designed us to be social creatures.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to fit in.  That’s just part of being human.  Unfortunately, sin takes that natural desire inside us and twists it all out of wack until we are willing to do anything just to fit in with the group.  We may even adopt attitudes and behaviors God says are sinful because society says it’s fine.  At the same time, we may turn our backs on holy living because the worldly people all around us live unholy lives.

What good, though, is salt that has lost its saltiness?  What good is a Christian who lives an unholy life?
Not only have you lost your flavor and preserving power, somehow your unholiness now poisons the world like salty dirt thrown into a garden.  There’s nothing more bitter in this world than Christians who know they’re supposed to live for Jesus, but who are still caught up trying to live for the world.  They can’t be happy living for Jesus because they still want to sin, but they can’t be happy sinning because they feel guilty for not being faithful to Jesus.  So, they live divided lives, pulled completely in two by these competed convictions.  

It’s OK To be salty, to shine bright, to stand out.  Don’t be afraid to be different.  That’s the definition of Holy—when you’re set apart from everything else by God as different.  

We take salt for granted.  We also take light for granted in our modern world.  Of course, we have just as much sunlight today as people in ancient times.  What’s different now is what happens when the sun goes down.  We can just turn on a light today but in Bible times, you had to burn up expensive oil in a lamp or wax candles.  And the amount of light these gave was roughly 100 times less than an electric light we use today.

That’s why looking up at the trillions of stars in the night sky in ancient times was so dazzling.
King David said in Psalm 8:3-4, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”

And when Jesus and his disciple were camping on the outskirts of Jerusalem, they would look across the valley and see the shining city on Mount Zion, shining like twinkling jewel—with thousands of oil lamps flickering from afar, contrasted against the utter darkness of the night.  And with the glow a campfire shining on their faces, Jesus could say something like: 

Matthew 5:14-16
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.  Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

We are called to be different—to be salty, to shine brightly.  When Christians truly live the way Jesus calls us to live—when we love others the way He loves us—it shines out for all to see.  You don’t even necessarily have to say anything.  Sometimes your actions speak volumes.  

On the other hand, when Jesus is Your Lord, you can’t help but say His name and talk about how He’s saved you and changed you and how He’s filling your life with His light and love.  People will see His light in you and you need to be ready to explain it when they ask:  “Why are you so different?  What is this light that shines inside you?”  Be ready to tell them “so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  Don’t hide your lamp under a basket.  Place it up high on a stand, where it gives light for everyone to see.  And like a moth is drawn to a light, people will be drawn to the Lord.

Some of you may say, “My life’s so messed up. There’s no light there to see.”  I get it.  Sometimes we go through dark trials and it can feel like there’s nothing good there to talk about.  But what you don’t realize is everyone’s going through something.  It’s not about having a perfect, bright and sunny life all the time.  It’s about seeing a perfect God pulling you up out of your brokenness and filling you with His wonderful light.  You don’t have to lie and tell everyone your life’s perfect.  Tell the truth.  Share your struggles.  But also have faith to see how Jesus is there with you in the midst of your darkness.  He hasn't left you.  He is there.  You just have to recognize Jesus is there and share how you’re trusting Him to save you.  God is the light in your story.  So don’t you hide it under a basket.  Let your light shine and be salty!

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