AN UNBELIEVER LOOKS AT GOD'S CHURCH
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Living Christmas we sponsor here at Messiah has been a blessing to our church and has been a blessing for many in our community. Many have told me that. This year an older gentleman who was our guest told me that he has seen many live nativities in his life, but he said this one is the best he has seen. I am not boasting about it; I want to acknowledge how much work our members put into it. In fact, we can use more participation to take the load off those who work extraordinarily hard. The chairman, Darrell, works many, many hours taking care of details. He readies the stage and sets up lights that give the Living Christmas an ambiance that is so pleasant. Paul, our music minister, gathered all the musicians and vocalists and choirs and planned and practiced all the music. The children practiced, under the direction of Courtney, sang and had a fabulous skit. The hospitality, a huge task, was prepared by Lori and Reba with the help of so many bringing dozens of cookies. Sandie did the publicity to send 15,000 invitations. Bob organized the setting up of the set. I could go on and on. There are a ton of details. People don’t understand unless they really look inside the committee and see what needs to get done.
But that’s the way it is with a lot of things. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl. They made it look easy, but lots of planning and strategy and practice took place. A pianist plays flawlessly in the concert, but hours and hours of practice preceded it all.
The objective of God’s Church is to win people for Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus really explains a strategy. If “An Unbeliever Looks at God’s Church 1) he sees the believer first; 2) In the believer he sees Jesus.
Jesus was on that hillside in Galilee and was preaching this most famous sermon. He is speaking to believers. He says about them – he says about you and me, “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 to them.”
People like salt. We season our food with it. So is Jesus saying that when we are the salt of the earth we leave a good taste in people’s mouths in a figurative sense? I hope we do, but that isn’t what Jesus means.
When Jesus speaks about Christians as the salt of the earth, the Christian must not naturally be a jerk, but we should probably think more in terms of jerky – as in beef jerky. Jerky is meat that has had salt applied to preserve. Salt takes the moisture out of the meat so no bacterium has an environment to grow. Salt is a preservative. Christians are a preservative.
In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve decided to go their own way. Instead of respecting and loving their Creator, the rebelled and from that day on the world began to decay. Look at nature. Look at human beings. From the day the tiniest child is born, that child marches toward death and decay. Every one of us here is on that road at various points. Some have a longer journey, others have a short journey. But understand very clearly, the journey one way.
Sin infects every generation. While it is true that there is nothing new under the sun, and it seems impossible to invent new sins, there are more people than ever doing them; people have become bold in sin. In fact, some sins are considered fashionable these days.
Here is where the Christian as the salt of the earth comes into the picture. We are here to hold the line. We are here to tell the world that God draws a line in the sand. We are called slow the decay down. Otherwise all lawlessness would break out.
Moral decay and truth decay is even occurring in his church. Thrivent, the Lutheran Insurance Company, because it is a fraternal organization, must give profits away to charities. Policy holders wanted to give money to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States. Thank God, good salt of the earth Lutherans have protested. That has stopped. That’s the good part, but the bad part is they are not providing gifts to either side of the issue anymore. No pro-life groups are getting gifts either. Over fifty pro-life groups received funds to finance their organizations.
Frankly, Christians are being called on to be the salt of the earth with the new government health laws. By paying taxes the government is subsidizing insurance plans to fund the abortifacients. It is time for salt of the earth people to protest. It is time to let the world know that life is a gift of God. Babies are precious gifts from the Lord.
Even the Pope was strongly told by the United Nations, no less, to change the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding abortions and not forbid it. There are not many times when conservative Lutherans root for the Pope, but we ought to here. Francis, your church needs to clean up a lot of things in what you teach, but when it comes to the issue of life stay strong.
The same needs to be said about God’s gift of marriage. God’s definition of one man and one woman is under attack. We certainly can’t rely on the government to do the right thing here. Again we need to stand up against truth decay. We need to make God’s position known at the ballot box and every other way we can. We are here to preserve the truth as the salt of the earth.
We preserve the world when we continue to preach the Law and the Gospel. We do not believe in relativism, the view that no one has the absolute truth. Relativism states that truth and validity can vary from one person to another.
Jesus says there is absolute truth and he is the one who has it. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” God’s word is truth. That’s what a salt of the earth Christian believes.
When people in Jesus’ time established contracts or made covenants with others, each party sealed the contract by eating a couple of grains of salt. The contract was permanent and no one was to change it or break it. Christians, who are the salt of the earth, feel that way about the contents of God’s word. The truths about sin and grace, the truths about law and Gospel will never ever be irrelevant and out of date. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself” always apply. Turn the other cheek. “Love covers the multitude of sins” is always right and good. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” is valid for all time.
But we are not only the salt of the earth, we are also the light of the world. There are two different thoughts here between salt and light. Something needs to be done with salt. It needs to spread and applied to something. As the salt of the earth we need to reach out and do something. Light, on the other hand is something that we are.
He even says that we are like a city set on a hill for people to see. Jerusalem was such a city. When the Bible says people traveled up to Jerusalem, they literally went uphill. When they went away from Jerusalem to – say Nazareth – they went down to Nazareth. It was downhill. So people saw Jerusalem from a distance.
When you go through Chattanooga and go west, you can look off one side of the road and see all kinds of lights. If you look off to the other side and see Lookout Mountain there are all kinds of lights up there from homes. It is most impressive.
When Jesus says we are a city set up on top of hill we are separate entity. We are different. We live differently. What our purpose for living is different. People are watching. I do believe Christians come under extraordinary scrutiny. When the Christian screws up, many, who are not part of that city on a hill, jump all over it. But this also happens. When God’s people live with contentment, love unselfishly, raise families to love each other, endure trial with resolve, people see that too. Jesus promises, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” You are the light of the world! Let it shine. Be bold in the faith – Don’t leave people wondering!
When people see God’s people living and loving and letting their light shine, people see Jesus. That’s what verses 17 – 20 tell us.
Maybe some of you are saying, “Pastor, I think that is a little optimistic and not realistic.” My light doesn’t shine all the time. I don’t always feel like I am the salt of the earth. We have a light in our kitchen over the kitchen sink. It goes out a lot because we use that light a lot. Like that light we don’t shine all the time. Jesus deserves more than that.
That’s when we can share Jesus. “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.” The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were supposed to be the Jewish religious experts. The commoners were to go to for spiritual answers. When it was evident that Jesus knew more than they did, the leaders hated Jesus. Jesus taught differently from the way they did. They liked to heap guilt on people and manipulate them with their guilt. Jesus once said about them, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything, they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” They ignored their own sins and exaggerated their own spiritual goodness. They were spiritually dishonest.
But Jesus tells us here not to look for heaven in your own ability. That’s a losing battle. The salt is not always potent and the light flickers and even seems to go out. But that is why Jesus came. “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.” This verse is a sermon all by itself.
Let me ask you this question: Is being perfect the requirement to get into heaven? Jesus says, “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.” Don’t get the idea, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did that Jesus bypassed the Scripture. He didn’t.
When Jesus says that he came to fulfill the Scriptures, think about what that means. First of all, all those commandments in the Bible – you know the ones - the ones that we have failed to do – he kept. He kept every one of them! He didn’t set them aside. He did what no other person man could do. Not one letter was violated. Yes, God demands perfection to get into heaven. Jesus was perfect. But it doesn’t stop there. He lived for us so we get the credit. That’s how he fulfilled the Scripture! But it didn’t end there.
Prophecy upon prophecy was also fulfilled –by Him. From Genesis, and the crushing serpent’s head, to Malachi’s promise that the Sun of Righteousness would come with healing in his wings were all fulfilled by him to the letter. Born of a Virgin; born in Bethlehem; preaching in Galilee; giving light to discouraged and despairing, healing the sick and the blind; his world changing career was all prophesied and fulfilled to the letter. Why? To save the lost!
When we understand our place as the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we are showing just how much Jesus means to us. Those outside the city see Jesus though us because they see Jesus in us. So remember who you are.