Suddenly, Sinai Specifications Seem Simple
Matthew 5:12-20, then 21-26
“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches bothers, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Context is King. New paragraph, new focus, new words but same scene. Last time we saw the introduction of Jesus to the re-telling of the Law. We must remember the context–to whom is Jesus speaking when he says, “you are?” The followers found in verse one and in verse two are the ones Jesus is teaching. Disciple means follower, and the twelve have yet to be named, therefore we don’t know names, but it is fairly well established that Andrew, Peter, James and John, at minimum, were present based on the context of Matthew. We have the who–Jesus and his followers, the where–a hill near the sea of Galilee, the when–early in the ministry of Jesus, the why–retelling of the Law, Jesus is true Israel come to fulfill that which Israel could not, now let’s look at what he says.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
Transubstantiation; is the literal changing of the bread and wine, taken during the communion or the Lord’s Supper, into the blood and body of Christ because Jesus said, “This is my body.” Question, what is the theological term for followers forming from flesh into salt? It must be taken literally– Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Food for thought. I promise, you didn’t come up with transubstantiation, you were taught it. If you don’t believe in transubstantiation, you were taught that as well. It’s why I used to begin every Bible study by saying, “unless you are learning for yourselves, you only know what you have been taught.” Tradition can be a wonderful thing. Communion, when done properly, is a great tradition. Baptism, literally; to dip, that is emersion, is also a great tradition, when done properly. But never sacrifice the Word of God for timeless traditions that one cannot explain the reason why it is done. “It’s tradition” in not an answer. Nor is, “it’s how we’ve always done it.” One needs to know why. Remember, the leaders of Israel had traditions too. In fact, they have a book, two or three actually. The Mishnah and the Germana, which comprise the Talmud. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant christians also have their version of tradition telling, they’re called commentaries. Some, in order to disguise, call their commentaries, “missives.” Watch out for those! If nothing else, my missives are meant to trample on traditions. Nevertheless, some, possibly only two, traditions are good but one must ask why, from time to time. If no reasonable answer is given, abandon ship! Speaking of metaphor, is the follower of Christ literally salt?
No, context is King and we clearly see Jesus using analogies, such as salt and light. I don’t know of a single pastor or preacher, theologian or teacher that takes these things literally. Which may seem odd based on how much disagreement and division there is on apocalyptic language used in the Bible. Metaphorical meanings are used to highlight and amplify truth, like we read here. “You are the salt of the earth.”
Now, however, we do have some differing opinions from many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers concerning what is meant by the metaphor. Many commentators are quick to point out that salt, especially in those days was used as a preservative. They then go on to teach that followers of Jesus preserve the world. In some aspects, this is true but it is not in the context, notice; “but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again?” Jesus is clearly speaking of flavor qualities of salt and not the preservative qualities. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers will also teach the ability for one to lose their salvation based upon the following: “It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” However, the Bible clearly states that salvation is eternal, see John 10:28+29. Voddie Baucham summed it up perfectly when he said, “folks, if we could lose our salvation, we would have.” Either Jesus has the power over sin or he doesn’t. If one cannot work one’s way into salvation, how could he work his way out? We need to consider the entire context and see the meaning of the metaphors. Salt is flavorful but if it loses its flavor, that is its tastefulness, why keep it on the table, it’s useless? It doesn’t mean that it is no longer salt, it’s still salt, it simply has lost its flavor. Salt is salvation, flavor is not. Jesus continues:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” As I have stated previously, I was fortunate enough to study for a short time in Israel, which is a very good indication that I attended Liberty University. I did, and am thankful for the experience. While we studied near the sea of Galilee, I noticed a city on a hill. It was following the sunset and I saw the lights of this city on a hill–it couldn’t be hidden. One may think, this was in modern times with modern lights and a modern city, the people then wouldn’t have seen the same scene. True, to a degree, I certainly saw a brighter city, nevertheless, consider the context. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Truly I was blessed (happy) to see a similar image the followers would have seen. We all now see how metaphor can amplify truth. Jesus was using their culture and surroundings, which we can also see, to demonstrate the walk of the followers. We are not saved by the good work we do but like the “beatitudes” we don’t do good work to obtain the direct object but because of the direct object. Context is King.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.”
Using the CAGED method, taking our Vitamin E, that is expository exegesis of examples, we know that the Bible does not contradict. Paul writes to the Galatians: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” We need to examine closely what Jesus says.
He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill. Jesus doesn’t cancel the law but fills it up. What Israel couldn’t do, Jesus is. If that makes any sense. Jesus words and the context will clear things up, a bit. Notice also, “the prophets.” Again, Jesus is not negating the prophets, he is fulfilling them, he is filling them up. Everything in the Old Testament points directly or indirectly to him. Matthew certainly understood this and constantly compares Jesus to prophecy. The word translated to fulfill literally means to fill up to capacity.
“For (conjunction) truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” Jot, or tiddle is the smallest stroke, and iota the smallest letter, for King James readers and Greek students. Jesus zooms in on the smallest bits of the Law. However we must remember that Paul writes; “you are not under law but under grace.” He writes this in Romans and Galatians. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, what Jesus is indicating? Are we under the Law? That’s not what he says, he says that the Law will not die, until all is accomplished. However he did say, and Matthew recorded, that the Law will not die. Is the law still in effect or not? The law is indeed in effect for the lawless. 1 Timothy 1:8-11, “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” Once again our New Testament tutor helps place passages in perspective. How else will God judge but by the Law? And who is the fulfillment of the Law?
Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches bothers, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Annul literally means, to declare invalid. Context is King. Jesus is confusing me, I admit it. I struggle with this part of the passage. I dig deep in the Greek, read the entire context, consider the genre and certainly see the author’s aspiration to his audience. However, in my brain there is still a disconnect. I understand fully that he is fulfilling the law and it’s requirements. And I understand that we need to know and teach the Law, but the need to keep it? Is that a metaphor? Does he imply to keep it close to our hearts understanding he is the fulfillment? He doesn’t say, follow, but “keep,” literally it should read, does. That sounds more like following than to keep close to one’s heart. Many pastors and preachers theologians and teachers will say that Jesus is not talking about the ceremonial law but the moral law. But that is nowhere in the context, that’s an assumption. Try this: follow the moral law, follow everything thing Jesus says in the next few chapters….Oops, you already failed. The Bible is clear, no one can follow the law, it is why Jesus came. Rather than make something up that I believe to be true, I would rather move on, leaving a mystery, and not leaving a lie. If I had to guess, I think Jesus is referring to himself and his fulfilment of the Law, based on context and the rest of the Bible. Again, notice the apparent contradiction in the following verses:
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” While we know that the scribes and Pharisees had it all wrong, they knew the Law. They studied the Law, they were steeped in the Law. Or were they? Did they truly understand? Do we understand? How can one’s righteousness exceed the Pharisees, they were followers and teachers of the Law? Or were they? The context is beginning to become clear, and that is we’re thinking incorrectly.
I hate to leave off here but continuing would run very long. The context is easier to digest in bite-sized bits. However that does leave us on the edge of a proverbial cliff. I believe the future context will clarify yet this passage is still difficult. As we continue in the context, I believe it will help us rightly divide the word of truth. It may help you to read ahead, remembering Jesus as true Israel and the fulfillment of the Law and prophets, that is, the Old Testament. Look for metaphor when the literal lacks illumination. Use the CAGED method as you read. Pay close attention to the author’s aspiration to his audience. Because this “new law,” is actually more difficult to keep that the ancient law.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent.”