In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus started by describing the qualities of those who are blessed in His Kingdom. They are very different from the things that receive respect and honor in the eyes of the world. They look like Him.
Faithful ones in Christ seek to grow in the humility of the poor in spirit, in their mournful sorrow against the ravages of sin, in the meekness of having all their gifts and talents firmly given over to Jesus to be used as He wills…and in their longing to grow in ever increasing righteousness. They cultivate a life of mercy that reaches out to those who are in need, a purity of heart that wants to be cleansed from any hint of shameful or sinful attitudes, a peacemaking spirit that seeks to bring harmony and understanding, and an utter devotion to God that is utterly loyal to Him even when it means persecution and loss.
Do you know people who have these beautiful qualities? Do you see how they have power in Christ to bring His goodness and light into any situation? It requires great bravery, internal strength…but not based on pride, for it is impossible to build a life on pride when humility is a core ingredient. It has to be built on trust in God that continues to strengthen in response to God’s discipleship as we travel through the life He has ordained for us (See Romans 4, 9 and Acts 17).
This growing faith gives believers the ability to be a blessing to the world. It starts when we first respond to Jesus and His purification in the deep places of our hearts. The Lord transforms us so that we can be His agents that transform the world. It is an important part of the spread of God’s Kingdom. We have a very sacred role to play in God’s plan.
A lot of times we are tempted to try to live for His Kingdom out of our own strength. We tend to want to do big, impressive things for God to show the world how great He is and how much we love Him. Isn’t it interesting that this seems to be exactly the opposite of how Jesus described those who truly bless God and are blessed by Him? Jesus spoke of the quiet, unseen things in the heart where the truth of who we really are resides. The foundation of all those wonderful qualities in the Beatitudes is devoted love to Him. Those qualities are merely the evidence of that surrendered love. It turns out that what He wants from us is also our deepest need: enthrallment in His love and utter dependence on Him.
If Jesus had followed the way of world, His ministry would have looked very different. He might have been tempted to follow Satan when the Enemy of God offered Him the all the kingdoms of the earth. That would have been impressive, but Jesus rebuked the Evil One instead. In the greatness of His meek strength, He chose the way of humble obedience. In the short run, it cost Him everything. In the long run, He won it all.
Whatever faith our outward religion seems to show, true faith begins in the deep places of surrendered love. But that isn’t where it ends. If we hide our gifts or don’t share what we have been given, we dishonor what the Lord has done for us. This is how Jesus described it:
“‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness,how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’”
Wow. Think of the last time you ate food that needed more salt. It can be pretty flavorless. But when you add salt, the flavor comes alive. It’s like eating a totally different food. Wherever the disciples of Jesus go, they should bring the flavor of the goodness of everlasting life. It changes the flavor of life in the here and now by adding knowledge of God’s love and the expectations of eternity. It infuses the joy that comes with the vibrancy of the Spirit inside us. The drudgeries and challenges of this fallen world don’t leave such a bad taste when they are overpowered by hope. The Lord uses our faith in His promises to reconcile the lost to Jesus. They can share in the same vivid hope and experience all the new flavors of life.
In the time of Christ, salt was also used to preserve food. It kept it from going bad. When His disciples are actively choosing to live a salty, vivid life, they bless the world and preserve righteousness on earth. Any community or culture that is blessed to have believers who are truly following the ways of Christ is a much healthier, more stable, less corrupt place. They bring their honesty, hard work, strong moral values, generosity, and their prayers. They act like Jesus, so they are everywhere protecting the vulnerable…acting to bring healing, relief to the poor, and love to the lonely. And though they are meek, they are unafraid of the bullies and tyrants. Once a life has truly been given to God, a tyrant has very little power. Fully alive and faithful Christians help keep the societies they are in from going over the edge into wicked self-destruction, and they offer the light of Christ as the better way for those who want to repent. This creates a beautiful cycle of regeneration within a community. The most wicked, disgusting sinner can find new life…the most hurt and broken soul finds a place of love and acceptance. These are the beginnings of God’s Promises…the foretastes of Heaven.
But if the disciples of Jesus let go of their purpose and refuse to bless as Jesus taught, they become useless and tasteless to the world. They have no effect, and society itself begins to rot. Even worse, they give the impression that their poor behavior, selfish unwillingness to act, and powerless faith reflect the best that Christ has to offer, and so they stand blocking the way between the lost and the God who offers them life. It is a horrible sin. As we read about Jesus’ life on earth, we will see that it was the thing that angered Him most.
Jesus gave another image of how His disciples are meant to be a part of His transforming work:
“‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.’”
Imagine a place of deep, thick darkness. Picture yourself trying to walk forward, not able to see anything at all. You might stumble down a hole or run into something. Someone could jump out at you and you wouldn’t know how to defend yourself. It would feel a little bit like being lost. It’s vulnerable.
Now imagine what it would be like if someone lit just one candle. It’s light would suddenly show the shapes and forms of everything around you. You would know so much more about how to go forward.
This world is a dark place. The people of earth are shrouded in confusion and deception. They have all kinds of false answers about the right way to live that actually crush their souls. It causes them tremendous pain, sadness…death. Satan and his followers relentlessly spread darkness through false religions, bondage to fleeting pleasures, and oppression. When a disciple of Jesus enters in and shows the love of Jesus by seeking to make peace amidst violence, or by showing beautiful humility against wretched pride, or by wholeheartedly trusting God instead of riches and power, it is like lighting a thousand candles.
There is a reason that the lives of people like Athanasius, Wilberforce, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, St. Francis of Assisi, Corrie TenBoom, Hudson Taylor, Mother Teresa, Dwight L. Moody, and Amy Carmichael resonate so deeply in the hearts of the people of this world. (And if you don’t recognize these names, look them up. Their stories breath life!) As they followed Jesus with radical humility and surrender, He made them beautiful. The fact of their beauty is impossible to deny. It touches even the hardest of hearts.
When followers of Christ show that there are ways the human soul is designed to live and other ways that crush and tear it, they provide the new, needed set of choices that make things right and whole again. Suddenly, the ugliness of Satan is exposed. Suddenly, righteousness is defined brightly against the darkness. The way forward is no longer a mystery. The light of Christ has made a way by shining through His followers.