The light of the world. 5:13-16


The two parables of salt and light set the direction of the sermon on the Mount. God's children are the salt of the earth and a light to the world.

The passage

v13. In this verse Matthew records the parable of the salt. In the parable Jesus announces to his disciples that they are the salt of the earth. The Bible tells us that Israel was the salt of the earth, but now Jesus announces to his disciples that they are the salt, they are God's special covenant people and this through their relationship with Jesus. They are the new Israel in Christ, standing in the faithfulness of Christ, and therefore eternally "blessed", cf. v3-10. The old Israel stands outside God's mercy in Christ and is therefore no longer salt, but dross to be cast out and trampled underfoot.

v14-16. Matthew goes on to record the parable of the light. Unlike the other gospel writers, Matthew applies this parable in v16. Jesus' disciples are the light of the world, and as light they must shine. For a person who is salt, who is a member of God's covenant people, it's impossible not to shine, it's impossible not to radiate the divine kindness and mercy they have discovered in Christ. It's impossible to build a city on a hill that is hidden, or to light a lamp to give darkness. So, we must recognize that we are light in Christ and let that light shine into the darkness. In practical terms we must see to it that the gospel, the news of God's eternal mercy in Christ, shines into the darkness.

Let out light shine

Bonhoeffer puts it this way, "flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him." "The good word without the good walk is of no value", Stier. Of course, Jesus has in mind the heart of the deed, not the outward show. In dealing with piety he makes the point, "be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them", Matt.6:1-18?



Much of the hypocrisy of institutional Christianity is found in the desire to display ecclesiastical piety before the wider community. It is believed such righteousness validates the faith and so gains an opening for the gospel. The ends justify the means! The only trouble is "our righteousness is but filthy rags" and when we try to show ourselves otherwise, our hypocrisy smells to high heaven.

Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles. God's truth, entrusted to his people, was to radiate to a broken and lost world. This light glorifies God for it serves to gather the lost from the ends of the earth. Jesus gives the same purpose to the new Israel of God.

The demand that we be the light of the world is not a demand for a displayed righteousness. The righteousness we must display is Christ's righteousness - there is only one person who properly serves as "the light of the world." The true light is the Suffering Servant, Isa.42:6, 49:6, and Jesus is that light, Matt.4:16, cf. Jn.8:12, 9:15, 12:35, 1Jn.2:15. He is the true Israelite who knows the truth, proclaims the truth and lives the truth. He has faithfully followed God's way, and so in his life, death and resurrection, has brought "praise" to his "Father in heaven." By grace through faith we bathe in his light; we are light in him.

Jesus calls on the new Israel to be the light of the world, to radiate the mercy of God into the dark crevices of our broken world. So, let each one of us see to it that the good news of God's salvation in Christ gets out into our neighborhood and beyond. Let us become a gospel-focused people.


1. How can salt loose its saltiness?

2. In what way was Israel the salt of the world?

3. In what sense was Israel the light of the world?

4. Who is the true light and how do we let it shine?

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