The nature of discipleship

I wanted to share some thoughts with you today about the nature of discipleship.  Generally speaking, when the Bible gives more than one illustration to make a point, it’s a pretty strong indication that the point being made is significant.  It is like seeing a sentence that is in bold type, and underlined.  With that in mind, I’d like us to consider what it means to be salt and light.

I remember people being referred to as the salt of the earth when I was growing up, even before I ever encountered the expression in the Bible.  These were people who tended to have a reputation for being good, honest, reliable and worldly-wise.

Even if the expression was also used by Chaucer in his Summoner’s Tale of circa 1386, it originated in the Bible from the passage in our Gospel reading today. I used to work in Northwich in the North West of England which is a town known historically for its salt-mining industry even dating back to Roman times.  We know how important salt used to be; it’s helpful to remind ourselves why.  Not only was salt almost unique in its uses; to season, to purify and to preserve but we also know from other passages in the Bible that salt was sacrificial (Leviticus 2:13a, Ezekiel 43:24), covenantal (Numbers 18:19, Leviticus 2:13b) and moral. 

Whether we are referring to salt itself, or to people we know to be the salt of the earth, what is clear is that salt is not salt for itself; it has purpose, it is seasoning for food; and Jesus’ disciples were called not to simply be for themselves but for the earth.  They too had purpose and intent.  It’s clear that the disciples were vitally significant and necessary to the world in their witness to God and his Kingdom.  That is our calling too, speaking into how we are to be in our communities, bringing seasoning, seeking to purify and to preserve.  We must seek to do this with purpose and intentionality.  That’s why the former Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” For the disciples, and for us, to lose our saltiness is to lose our very identity and purpose as followers of Christ.  Unless we are real, honest and authentic how can we expect people we encounter in our community to take us seriously?

When we encounter the words “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden”, it’s no surprise that we perhaps find ourselves drawn back to Matthew 4:16 “…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” The disciples—that is, the Christians—are the light of the world by letting their works shine just as salt is only salt when it salts.  But this isn’t about pride:

There was once a church which, like many others, had a beautiful stained-glass window just behind the pulpit. It depicted Jesus Christ on the cross. One Sunday a guest minister who was much smaller than the regular pastor came to take the service. A little girl listened to the guest minister for a time, then turned to her mother and asked, “Where is the man who usually stands there so we can’t see Jesus?”  Isn’t it interesting to hear what observations children often make? That little girl’s words are a challenge to any preacher.  It’s all too easy for many preachers of the Word to get caught up in their image and the way in which the ‘present is wrapped’ that they fail to reveal the glory of Jesus Christ and his light. Paul gloried in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14) and made it the centre of his message.  That’s why Paul said:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

For us as disciples, as we seek to have the mind of Christ and to carry that Christ-light in our life and ministry, and we do that seeking to be guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit’s leading.  At the end of the day it’s never about us, it’s always about Jesus; we carry such treasure in our jars of clay.  A good test of the teaching we receive is to ask ourselves in what way does it point us to Christ and encourage us to enter into a deeper relationship with him?

The passage then moves on, as Jesus makes quite a remarkable statement “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”  I have encountered so many Christians who hold views including the Law or the Prophets are no longer relevant, or that Jesus came to replace the Law – NO!  Jesus did NOT come to abolish or replace the Law or the Prophets.  He came to fulfil or surpass them.  When people seek to interpret the Law on their own terms is when things begin to fall apart; that’s what the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law were doing.  When we encounter the Law, we should not experience condemnation; we should experience grace and transformation as we seek to love it, learn it and live it.  In every aspect of his life, death and resurrection Jesus fulfilled the Law.  The Law helps us realise our need for God and the poverty of our spirit; it shows us how incapable we are of living rightly.  The Law leads us to Christ, the Law reveals the state of our heart. It is when we walk with Christ as disciples of Christ that “our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing will quickly appear; then our righteousness will go before us, and the glory of the LORD will be our rear guard. Then we will call, and the LORD will answer; we will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

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