Those who enter the kingdom of God do so through repentance and faith. God welcomes them into His kingdom; giving them a new heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Matt 5:6). The Beatitudes, as we learned earlier, describe the character of a Christian; namely, what Christ is developing in them. In our next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus prepared His disciples for the impact that their good character and good works would have on the world.
The Bad News: Persecution
John Macarthur has said: “Christian character consciously or unconsciously affects other people for better or for worse.” With the last of the Beatitudes, Jesus prepared His disciples for the negative reaction (persecution) that will come as a result of their witness. Christians should not expect everyone to celebrate their righteous character. Shortly before Jesus was crucified, He told them:
If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)
In the last Beatitude (5:10), Jesus said “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Peter puts it this way, “If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler” (1 Peter 4:14-15). Paul wrote “In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Righteousness attracts persecution so let us not be surprised when we encounter resistance from the world. We are in the world but not of the world. Sometimes resistance means you are doing the right thing on the right path.
The Good News: Salt & Light
Let us not shrink away from our calling in the face of persecution. Jesus Christ intends for His followers to bear witness in the world and not to live in isolation from the world. Our Christian character is on display. Sometimes we encounter persecution, but do not forget that God is glorified through His followers’ witness. He uses two illustrations: salt & light.
Salt of the Earth
Jesus said that His disciples are “the salt of the earth.” Salt (Sodium chloride) is extremely important for life. Sodium “is an essential nutrient…that the body cannot produce itself. It plays a vital role in the regulation of many bodily functions and is contained in body fluids that transport oxygen and nutrients. It is also essential in maintaining the body’s overall fluid balance.”
Before the days of refrigeration, salt was used to hold back the spoilage and corruption of meat. Salt inhibits and prevents harmful bacteria from growing in food by drawing out water molecules and replacing them with salt molecules. With this in mind, Jesus called His followers “the salt of the earth.” Jesus intends for His followers to hold back and fight against the corruption and moral depravity of the world. The presence of Christians in the world is a powerful force to hold back evil.
Jesus followed this with a warning: “But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty?” The salt of Jesus’ day came from the Dead Sea and usually contained other components. It was not completely pure Sodium chloride. Herein is Jesus’ warning: Christians are the salt of the earth and must be careful not to allow the corruption of the world to corrupt their gospel impact. Christians who lose their saltiness are not impacting the world; they are imitating the world. If we live just like the world, we are like salt that has lost its savor. For example, Christian teachers and principals should be opposed to corruption in schools. Christian business owners should be just in their deals.
Light of the World
Jesus next said that His disciples are “the light of the world.” The primary purpose of light is to illuminate: to make things visible. What does Jesus want made visible? In John 12:46, Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” Light is used to describe belief in Jesus and also the good works that result from that belief.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He commanded Paul and Barnabas by saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). This command is not just for Paul and Barnabas. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world by holding firm to the word of life” (Phil 2:14-16).
The light must not be hidden. Just as it is pointless to light a lamp and hide it under a basket, so it is also pointless for Christians to possess the light of the gospel and refuse to show it. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Let us go into the world in the name of Jesus. Let our Christian character and our good works be visible. Let us not shrink back from persecution, but fight for righteousness in our city, state, country, and world.