Matthew 5:13-20 [Jesus said:] 13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus walked on the earth, He attracted a large crowd of people. There were many reasons why so many followed Him, or rejected Him. They followed Jesus for healing, for forgiving, for a Christian fellowship, or for a ticket to heaven. On one occasion He sat down among people on a slope and taught them some bottom-line truths about how He wanted them to follow Him. This is the grand “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapter 5 through 7. We can see an overall theme: “Be different” in Jesus’ teaching. Time and again Jesus instructed people to be different from the world in which they were brought up and lived. He stated at least five times: “You have heard . . . but I say to you. . . .” This is what Jesus wants us to do: to hear from the world, but listen to Him and follow Him. We are called to be different. If we don’t obey the law of God, but instead follow the world, we can never be the salt and light of the world.
Jesus saw through all the indifference, pride, hypocrisy and peer pressure of others. He was determined to instill character in His disciples. His teaching cuts into the heart of all and remains to this day the most comprehensive definition of the Christian counter-culture which is to offer a lifestyle totally different from the world system as it has evolved through the ages.
Jesus said, “You have heard.” Yes, we all have heard what the world wants us to hear and to live accordingly. What it tells us has been updated from time to time for two thousand years. What the world today has told Jesus’ modern followers is different from what it had told Jesus’ contemporaries. The world and our life is the changing context and what Jesus taught is unchanging text — the truth of God. For sure, whatever the world says has been different from what Jesus said from the very beginning. Jesus continues to tell us “but I say to you. . .” Ancient and modern Christians alike all thank God for healing, forgiveness, Christian fellowship, and a ticket to heaven. But we have the same challenge: Do we want to listen to the world or listen to Jesus? Who is the boss, or the Lord? This is a watershed question we have to answer.
Some Christians wonder whether Jesus’ teaching is obsolete or does it remain the absolute truth through the ages? Are Jesus’ moral values too strict for modern people to follow? Why is it wrong to follow the trend of the world? The main question remains the same. Are we going to live according to what we have heard from the world, or according to what Jesus says? Are we going to be assimilated by the world? The church does not have police power to force people to obey Jesus. Therefore, it is our choice to willingly follow Jesus’ teachings. This is the value of our faith. As a pastor, I only have the Bible. I can only teach and encourage people to believe that Jesus’ teaching is absolute truth forever, His yoke is an easier one and wrong choices will mess up this life and the life to come.
Nobody is an island. When there is more than one person, there have to be rules and laws. At least, we need to have an order to decide who speaks first while others listen. If there were no traffic rules in the street, I don’t think I could get home safely today. Before God had created this physical universe, God lay down the rules and laws to govern creation and to regulate human behavior. John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word of God, “the law,” controls everything.
As the descendants of Adam and Eve grew in number and in sin all over the earth, every tribe and nation had to develop its own rules and laws to maintain the order and continuity of a specific society. The Israelites are the only people chosen by God to receive God’s Law: the Ten Commandments. This set of the laws became basic rules for Jews and Christians for their morality and behavior. This country took pride in making her constitution and the laws of the land according to the Ten Commandments. That’s why in many courthouses in the United States, there are stone monuments on which the Law of God is carved. Our Lutheran Catechism teaches these ten laws. One of the reasons why so many people desire to immigrate to this country is because they believe that this country was established upon the divine law of God. Unfortunately, since I came to the US for theological education in 1989, the stone monuments of the Ten Commandments have been removed from courthouses one after another, from public schools, and from the heart of people, especially of the younger generations. Through mass media and the internet, the world says to our children and grandchildren, “Hey, you are the owner of your own body. Be your own boss.” It persuades them to discard God’s law of sexual purity and morality. The reality is that Americans move farther and farther away from God’s law, in ignorance and in disobedience. So far nobody has been able to tell what is wrong with the Ten Commandments. In this society, there is a vocal anti-Judeo-Christian minority and a silent majority that condones day after day the removal of God’s Law from the courthouses, the hearts of people and even from the church.
Jesus was right in foreseeing in Matthew 5:19, “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Those who are dying to remove God’s Law want to break the Ten Commandments first. They trash God’s Law and teach people to disobey God. They will be called least in the Final Judgment. Thankfully, the atheists, antagonists, and the liberals are not able to remove God’s Law from the Bible. God continues to assert His laws through the Bible. Some have told me many times, “Oh, Boy, for sure this world is so different from 50 years ago.” The fundamental difference is that people reject Jesus as Lord, disrespect the authority of the Bible, and trash the Ten Commandments.
Americans take pride in their freedom. The history of this country proves that whenever personal freedom clashes with traditional restrictions or even biblical values, personal freedom has prevailed eventually. Any pre-established norms will give in to the outcry for freedom. Like children who always push the limits to break the rules of their parents, Americans like to push even the boundaries that were set by God. Personal freedom tries to remove the Ten Commandments and any restrictions, like on marijuana. It was finally legalized. Historically and biblically, the tendency for increased human liberty and the decrease of accountability will lead humanity into a very dangerous no-return zone. It seems that this irresistible tide sends out a message that God’s Law in the Bible will finally be discarded, no matter how much we faithful Christians try to hold the frontline. Pessimistic Christians consider it a losing battle that the liberal tendency finally will get our children and grandchildren. The startling question now is: “Are we going to obey God’s Law, or to compromise, surrender, and even go along with the world instead of resisting the tide?” We all need to answer this question.
Not only is the world mighty enough to marginalize Christian churches, but the church itself often compromises and collaborates with the world. In history German Lutheran churches condoned and even supported Adolf Hitler. Today’s churches to a large extent discount and dilute Jesus’ message. Many pulpits preach that Jesus is love alone without justice and Law. Our Synod assembly elected a homosexual Bishop, Guy Erwin, on May 31, 2013. Nine days after this election, he didn’t go to his parish but joined the LA Gay Pride Parade on a convertible with a sign on it saying, “Lutheran Bishop Elect and his partner”. A website called “Gay God” videotaped the parade and broadcast the footage through the internet. Guy Erwin had the right to pick his life style. But he joined the blasphemous people as a Lutheran bishop, and demonstrated to Christians and non-Christians alike how to disrespect the Bible. Disobedience of God’s Law is the deep root of the problem we are facing in church and society. It seems that Jesus came only to indulge people with His love. If anyone wants to talk about law, justice or accountability, that person will be labeled as unloving and outdated. This is “Political Correctness”! We faithful Lutherans are not going to follow the disobedient church leaders but follow Jesus.
Jesus was not legalistic or law-oriented, but He did not compromise God’s law. The true Good News is that the Law of God is only fulfilled in Jesus’ grace and truth. In spite of the resistance to Him, Jesus did not give in, but said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” No one is able to abolish the Law of God by using Jesus’ forgiveness, mercy and love. His good news is the continuation and the fulfillment of the Law. It will be accomplished through the ages until the end of the world. The changing social context cannot alter the unchangeable text — God’s absolute truth. It doesn’t matter how liberal the world becomes, Jesus and His true followers are not going to bow down to the world. Christians are called to obey God’s law as their witness to God. If you don’t believe in Jesus divine eternity, you don’t believe in Jesus. Your choices are to obey God, or to compromise. If you compromise, you may have an easier and looser life, but you will be called least in heaven. Therefore, when you suffer loss in God’s presence, you cannot hold anyone else responsible. Jesus declared clearly in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus is right. In this world, the majority of people do not accept Him as Lord and Savior, and even in the church, only a minority of Christians enter the narrow gate and walk on the hard road after Jesus’ heart. They will be called great because they obey the law at a cost.
The world is eroding and decaying in morality and spirituality in two ways: it attracts people with debasing values, and by teaching and applauding them for doing the same. Many Americans choose to leave biblical values behind and uphold personal freedom over any traditional values and boundaries. This is the reality, trend, and tide of the world. When it comes true, Christ and His obedient followers will be marginalized and mocked as narrow-minded, outdated, and unloving. We Christians continue to face the challenge: to follow Jesus or to follow the world. Because Jesus is such a loving Lord, He is absolutely strict about human sin. Jesus really doesn’t want anyone to end up in hell. He cares about our eternal well-being more than the indulgent moments in this life. Jesus values holiness over human happiness. He still stands firm and tall for His followers. He doesn’t compromise His law and principle to anyone who might be a President or a bishop. There is no twilight or ambiguity in His truth.
Some believe that according to the changing beliefs of the world, biblical laws and principles will finally give way in another decade or century. This is the test of faith for everyone. We have no doubt about Jesus’ eternity in Matthew 5:18, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” It doesn’t matter who is in power and what he or she says, someday we will all be held accountable because of whom we have followed. God is not going to be mocked.
Jesus calls you and me to be the salt and the light. Both salt and light are not corruptible. Salt constantly releases its saltiness to the world to keep it from further corrupting. Light is a pure and higher source of energy to penetrate into and expel the darkness. How can we be like these two incorruptible agents in the world for God? Just stay firm and abide by the word of God. Resistance against the eroding world and tide is our witness to God though our saltiness and pure light. People may not come to church, but they open their eyes wide to see if we really are “different” from the world.
In the Bible and in Christian movements, people of faith have paid the price and are still paying the price for what they believe. Joseph, in Genesis, resisted the evil of the ten brothers and the world. In whatever circumstances, God’s truth was his first priority. His moral values were expressed through his faith and actions. God used him greatly because he refused to compromise with the world. Daniel refused to conform to the royal life style of Babylon. He honored God with his words and deeds. Both remain the role model of salt and light for all. We all hear from the world, but we listen to Jesus. We live in this world — the constant changing context, but we live according to the unchanging biblical text — God’s truth. This is the reason Jesus saves us and calls us — to be different from the world as the witness to the glory of God.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.