MATTHEW 5:14a (part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 5:14a (part one) “Ye are the light of the world.”

“Salt of the earth” defines a Christian’s subtle role in society, preservation by penetration. We infiltrate to arrest rot, to inhibit corruption, to prevent things from getting worse. “Light of the world” is our more blatant role. Light shines, and thus has a public nature about itself. Salt is inconspicuous, but light is conspicuous. Salt must let the purpose of its penetration be known. Believers are to point out ways which can make things better. Our Christianity is meant to be obviously seen.
By saying, “Ye are the light of the world,” Jesus again teaches us that something is inherently wrong with human society. Its need for salt proves it is corrupt, rotting away. The world’s need for light proves society is in darkness. Mankind boasts of its enlightenment, but our Lord’s verdict contradicts them. He declares they need guidance, teaching, light which has power enough to scatter ignorance.
Our Lord straightforwardly claimed, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (JN 8:12). As the light of the world, Jesus shines in believers, spreading His light through them to the world. Without this “light of life,” people do not know how to live. They can send rockets to Mars and perfect lasers, but when it comes to daily living, they sit “in darkness, wrapped in gloom, groping amid mists and fogs” (Morgan).

This century has seen an explosion of knowledge, with quantum leaps in science, medicine, technology, genetics, biology, chemistry, computers, etc. Yet at the same time, our knowledge of what makes life worth living has decreased. Extremely intelligent and knowledgeable people are often ignorant when it comes to knowing how to live. Our increased information has helped people mechanically, but not meaningfully. We work faster and sadder. We have become smarter and more depressed. We are geniuses and nervous. We are developing history’s greatest drugs, and becoming dependent on them. People have full brains, but empty hearts–heads full of knowledge, but spirits empty of purpose. Hear again the Psalmist (119:130), “The unfolding of Thy words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.”
When it comes to the basic fundamentals of everyday living, our Lord’s assessment is painfully accurate, the world is in a terrible state of darkness. To help dispel this midnight gloom, Christ sends forth His people to be His on-site lights.
Believers, note carefully our assignment. Jesus did not say, “Ye are the salt and light of the Church.” Out in a decaying, dark world is where He meant for our Christianity to be effective and apparent to all. Pity the world! It sinks in corruption, and gropes in midnight. It is rotting; as salt we must seek to preserve it. It is ignorant; as light we must seek to enlighten it. Do not view lost humanity with disgust or despair. Neither hate nor give up. Have pity and offer hope. Do not scowl at the lost, weep over them. God loves them and desires to bless them through us.
Dear lost person, see in these two metaphors, “salt of the earth” and “light of the world,” God’s great love for you. He deals with us believers in such a way as to be a blessing to you. Jesus works in us for you. God sends through us to you His tender love, kindness, and guidance. Forgive us Christians for not conveying His love as well as we should. Look past us to the Savior we inadequately portray.
Only Christ, teaching through His imperfect lights, can solve life’s deepest mysteries. The knowledge explosion did nothing to answer life’s most perplexing questions–what about death, the life beyond, Heaven, Hell? What about cosmic forces out there, God, angels, Satan, demons? What about the future, the end of the world, the Second Coming, Judgment Day? What about life, marriage, sex, meaning, purpose? To many life is a mystery, a riddle, they feel there is more, but what?
Apart from Christ’s light, when it comes to ultimate realities, the world’s level of enlightenment is pitch-black. This leaves people internally uneasy. Thus, they seek light. When a man descends into the midnight dark of a coal mine, he realizes his situation is unnatural, and thus puts a light in his helmet. People are made for the light, physically and spiritually. We are not made for the dark, for the impure, the immoral, the sinful deeds done under the cloak of night. We are created to enjoy Jesus, who is the Light. Thus, people in darkness are ever restless, wondering and wandering, seeking purpose, hunting answers.
As a result, America has become a topsy-turvy society where lost people are often more anxious to talk about spiritual things than Christians are. There are lost people in our own city who are more eager to hear the Gospel than we are to tell it.
The world’s thirst for spiritual meaning has made religion a hot topic. It is discussed in the news in some way every day–New Age, the Occult, Islamic fundamentals, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, the Religious Right, individual beliefs of national politicians, interest in angels, etc. The list goes on and on.
Folks are fascinated by, and are talking about, religious things. Much of this talk is worthless, some harms, some helps, but the important point for us believers is that people are willing, yea almost eager, to talk about religion. We need to jump into this cultural conversation and talk, talk, talk about Jesus. We alone can tell the world what they desperately need to hear, for only Christians know the truth.
There is only one truth, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. People are not given the option to pick and choose which religion is right. They certainly are free to choose their own religion, but their choice has no bearing on whether or not it is right. Someone illustrated it this way, is picking one’s religion like guessing the number of pinto beans in a pint jar or like choosing one’s own favorite song? In the first case, one’s answer is either right or wrong, there is no grey area, personal preference does not matter. In the second case, there is no right or wrong answer, personal preference is all that matters, each person chooses according to their own desires. In our culture, most people would say selecting one’s religion is like picking a favorite song, no choice is right or wrong, personal preference is all that matters. As Christians, we know better. The process is more like the number of beans in a jar. One’s answer is either right or wrong. Personal preference is not the issue.
On His face in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (MT 26:39). Jesus was not asking for a different way to die, He was not seeking beheading as opposed to crucifixion. The issue was God’s overall cosmic plan regarding salvation. The point was whether or not there was any way God could deal with mankind other than by what would happen the next day at Calvary. If other religions are right, if there could have been any other way, the Father would not have required His only begotten Son to drink that awful cup.
On Mars’ Hill in Athens, Paul confronted Stoics, Epicureans, and who knows what else (AC 17). He did not say they were right, nor did he place his doctrine as one more choice on a buffet smorgasbord. He preached Jesus and the resurrection, spoke of God who created everyone and controlled history, the One in whom we live, move, and have our being, One who will judge the world someday by Jesus, One who commands all men everywhere to repent. “Commands all” is significant. The issue is clear cut. One has the awful freedom to choose, but only one choice is right. As the light of the world, our task is to tell people which is the right choice.