The Kingdom of God in the Gospels - 4:
The Kingdom Citizen's Changed Relation to the World
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-16
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Suggested Songs: 204:1,2; 328:1-4; 408:1-3; 448:1-3; 469:3
Sermon by Rev. Harry Van Dyken
Minister in the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 21, No. 9
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
In considering with you the kingdom of God, we have noted that its nature is unique. It stands apart and is different from the kingdoms of this world — its principle of growth is that of the mustard seed, its principle of power is that of the leaven. We have seen that the prospects for kingdom citizenship are prodigal prospects. those who have wasted their life. We insisted from God’s Word that even though the Pharisees challenged this with a counter—proposal that the kingdom was made up of the best of mankind,, that is, of the Pharisees, Christ rebukes them and seals that rebuke with the call of Matthew the publican. We have also observed that the prodigal entered the kingdom. Even though it was impossible for this waster of the Father’s substance to enter, but that he rather gravitated to the swine trough, yet, by the grace of God, he comes to himself and goes back to his Father. Here too there was the older son who presented the alternative of feasting for his goodness and obedience, his sacrifice in staying at home with his father. But the Lord says, No, it is the prodigal who enters the kingdom.
Now I want to consider with you The kingdom citizen’s changed relation to the world. I want you to notice with me:
1. Its Basic Separation;
2. Its Necessary Application; and, finally,
3. Its Glorious Purpose.
The kingdom citizen’s changed relation to the world: It seems a little strange, beloved, that one must talk at one and the same time of basic separation and necessary application. Yet that is precisely what our Lord is talking about. This is indicated already in the beatitudes, the blessings which the Lord has spoken over His children. Those beatitudes are a proclamation of the truth which set men apart. I know that modernism and liberalism have taken this Sermon on the Mount and these beatitudes and claimed them for their own. They say, this we can use. This is the heart of the gospel. And yet, having taken them, they have taken the heart of the gospel out of them. They have taken away the basic, biblical principle of interpretation and have replaced it with that of the world, of humanism. Having done this they can proclaim from the housetops that here, indeed, is the revelation of the true way of life. They have couched this proclamation in biblical and Christian terminology. We hear them declare that in this way the final goal of the gospel and the purpose of man, is worked out by man’s own doing.
There are those who do not go along. There are those who disturb this nice way of interpretation, people who talk about total depravity and the awfulness of original sin. The modernist says, "If you just read this the right way, then you will realize that if man just works a little harder, if he pulls a little stronger, he will indeed lift himself out of the mistakes, the lack of fulfillment, that to which he has not yet attained." Christ says it is good for nothing but to be trodden under the foot of men. You know, Church of Christ, basic to this distinction is not the works or the actions of men, but the truth; doctrine! Basic to this distinction is the truth of the Word of God.
It isn’t that modernists require different actions and works. No, it is a different principle of works, a different source of works, a different origin of works. They have done what Paul speaks of — they have taken Jesus and remade Him according to their own image. Paul says let such be anathema; let them be accursed. They have created an idol and have called him Jesus. It is much the same as what Jereboam the son of Nebat did — that which made him famous so that his name appeared over and over again in the Word of God: "…Jereboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He made the golden calves, made them after his own imagination and said, This is Jehovah, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." So also today the modernist, the liberal, and anyone who would change the Word of God according to the fancies and imaginations of men, are taking that idol and saying, "Here is the God who will save you. That salvation will come through your own efforts and works." As Jesus was proclaiming the Word of life to His disciples in John 6, "You must eat my body and drink my blood." When He told these truths, which were hard to understand and to receive, many left Him. Then He asked His disciples if they would not also leave. The separation was becoming more clear. It was a separation, a line of cleavage between the children of God and the children of Satan — between children and bastards — between those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness and those who hungered and thirsted merely for the things of this world. When this became clear, Christ said, "Who do men say that I am?"
There were various answers that came. Then came the answer of Peter. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Others had left Him because His sayings were hard sayings, not so much because He asked them to do things that were hard to do. The requirements of life within the kingdom are rigid, as we will see more fully in the next sermon, the Lord willing. But it is not because He asked them to do so much. They left Him because He said, "You must believe! You must eat My body. You must drink My blood." And it didn’t fit in with their favorite doctrine of work-righteousness. So the separation was made clear and those who went with Christ were a very small group. That is why Christ said, "My kingdom is not of this world." When He said that, He lost another part of His followers. But that part didn’t belong with the children of the kingdom either.
"Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its pungency and its power to bite, what is it good for? It must remain unadulterated! If it does not, then it has lost its savor and wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing but to be cast out, trodden under the foot of men.
Modern, scientific man scoffs at this and says, "Well, you see, Jesus Christ did not understand that salt can’t lose its savor, its pungency. Salt can’t change that way." Do you know why they say it? It isn’t because Jesus did not understand the nature of salt. It is because they do not understand the nature of the truth of the Word of God. It is because Christ is not speaking here at all about salt changing internally. What Christ is talking about is: if salt is mixed up with adulterating materials, if that salt is mixed up with the things of this world, then it cannot do its work any more. Then it has lost its power, its savor. Then it is good for nothing.
That happened in Jesus’ time. Salt became mixed with other matter, with dirt, and so on. When that happened they would spread it on the roadways to walk on to settle the dust. Christ said that that was all it was good for. It is that particular use of adulterated salt that He takes here and applies in figure to the kingdom of God. That is how the salt will lose its savor. For this reason, Christ is saying that salt, to be real and meaningful, purposeful salt, it must be separate. It must be pure. It must maintain its identity. It may not get all mixed up with other things!
Notice that Christ does not say to His children, "You ought to be salt." He says, "You are salt. You are the salt of the earth. But what kind of salt are you? Salt that is mixed up with this world of corruption, that is all mixed up with the curse of God upon sin, is so adulterated that it brings its own destruction. Such salt is like Sodom and Gomorrah." When Abraham prayed to God, he said, "If there be ten righteous — if there is that much salt in these cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, then Lord, wilt Thou spare it?" And the Lord said, "Yes, I will."
What had Lot done? What happened to this salt when it went there into these cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? Did it then reach to the rottenness of these cities in such a way that they either cast the salt out or changed it? No, it did not work that way. Lot’s family became adulterated with the rottenness of the world, so that finally, when the Lord reached down into Sodom and Gomorrah to take out the salt that was left, He took only Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. Lot’s wife became a testimony as she turned into a pillar of salt. She became a testimony to this awful reality. Even in the family of Lot that is left, the two daughters then turn to incest in order that they may somehow provide seed; provide children for their father.
That is the story of the salt of the earth as it went into Sodom and Gomorrah, a story of a man who said, "Yes, I want the kingdom of God. But I want money first. I want my little part of this world." He turned his face toward Sodom. That is why the Word of God says to us over and over again, and says it so clearly and emphatically, "Come ye out from among them and be ye separate! Ye are the salt of the earth." That is what the world hates. That is why Christ said, "They hated Me, they will hate you." They did hate Him. If only He had used a little more diplomacy! If only He had been a little softer. If only He had not said to those Pharisees, "You generation of vipers; you hypocrites; you Satan’s children; you whited sepulchres!" If only He had been a little more careful, He would have had many more followers.
They hated Him because He was the salt of the earth, the salt of God sent down into this world, and He refused to be mixed up with its corruption. He calls to His church, "Come ye out from among them!" "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name’s sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven." They are the salt of God!
But be careful, lest you become that of which Christ said, "Good for nothing!", just as Israel was over and over again when they refused to be the salt of the earth; when they wanted to be like the nations around them. God caused them to be a path for the nations to travel over from Egypt to Syria; from Babylon to Egypt. The nations walked across that salt. It was trodden under foot!
Ye are the light of the world — not the earth which is subject to corruption — but the world. You must stand out as a light. Stand out as a city set on a hill clearly stands out from the surrounding area. Here too, you must see that the demand is for separation. Our Lord says, you don’t light a candle to put it under a bushel. You don’t light it to hide it. You light it so that it stands out in the darkness and casts light into that darkness. You don’t light an electric lamp and then paint it black to try to hold the light inside. Then it is useless! Its purpose is that it may shine forth. So too, God calls His children as the light of the World to be separate and follow Him.
You see, what we are is not original light; it is not original salt. It is because we are in Him who is the light of the world, in Him who said, "I am the light of the world." It is because we are in Him who was and who is the salt of the earth. Therefore we may also be hated, as He was hated, but not as Judas, one to the twelve. Judas thought that he could be this salt (and in a certain sense he wanted to be), and yet he was so anxious for filthy lucre and for the things of this world that they got so heavy for him that he sank with it, as it were, into hell! But if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." But if you put that light under a bushel it isn’t light anymore. And that is never what light is. Light always dispels darkness. It never allows darkness to dispel it. Therefore its necessary application: separate, yet applied. I want very quickly to say to you, church of Christ, that these two things go together. You know that it was because Christ maintained His separateness that as He brought the Word of God in all its purity, the application was so meaningful. If He had become one of them, that application would not have had any real meaning at all, of course. But because He applied that salt in all its truth to that rotten earth, where the salt was needed, and brought the light into that dark world where the light was needed, they pushed Him away and separated Him. They will do the same to us. If we are true in our separation, then we are in a position to make real application. If we are true in our application, if we bring the salt of the Word of God to bear on the festering rottenness of this earth, if we bring the light of the Word of God to shine into the darkness of this world, then the world will see to it that we stay separate! They hated Me. They will hate you!
You know, there was a man named Peter who denied His Lord. Then, on the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was poured out, this leader of this little, persecuted hand stood up and dared to say to the Jews, "He that was delivered up according to the determinate foreknowledge and counsel of God, you with wicked hands took and slew. And ye by the hands of lawless men did crucify, whom God raised up, being loosed from the pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be holden of it." Do you know what happened? Three thousand souls were saved! After a few days Peter and John ended up in prison. Then men feared to join themselves to them. They separated and isolated them. They stayed away from them, unless they themselves became part of them, the church. When Peter and John were questioned by the Jews by what power and in whose name they had healed the man born lame, they said, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth doth this man stand whole before you." How undiplomatic! How crude! It was a rather brutal application of the salt and the light. So they were separated! They were separated because that salt and that light retained its character. Therefore the Jews separated them and cast them into prison. They tried to destroy them. And yet three thousand were saved! Not too long after that the number of those that believed was increased to five thousand!
You know, Luther was a man who was not noted for his diplomacy. He was noted for this, that in a corrupt church he held up that light which he had discovered in the Word of God. He wanted to hold it up. He wanted to pour salt, the salt of the Word of God into the sores of the church. The church hollered and kicked — kicked him clear out! It was about a teaching, a doctrine — it was about justification by faith! It was about the primacy of the Word of God for faith and life.
Calvin, in his day, was not noted because he would compete with the men of the world. Calvin was not noted because he joined the organizations of this world to witness in them. Nor was he noted because he was so outstandingly successful in business methods. He was noted because he stood above his generation as a city set on a hill, as a light, as salt. He was clearly applying the Word to the corruption of his time. And God used him in a wonderful way.
Our relationship to the world involves separation and application, but not in our own strength, church of Jesus Christ. This is integrally tied up with what Christ said in the immediately preceding context. He said, "Yours is the kingdom of heaven; You shall be comforted; You shall inherit the earth; You shall obtain mercy; You shall be filled; You shall see God; You shall be called the children of God; Yours is the kingdom of heaven. And in that power you maintain your separation from the world and you apply yourself as God’s instruments of salt and light to the world."
It is for a glorious purpose! "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." We wonder sometimes, church of Christ, how this is possible by building up hatred. Because Christ said that when we do these things they are going to hate us. When we talk to them this way, they are going to hate us. How shall this glorious purpose be served in this way? How shall Peter get up on the day of Pentecost and say, "You murderers, you killed the Lord of life." And three thousand believed? If only Christ had not used such hard words, the crowd would have followed Him longer. If Christ had not tried to direct their attention away from that physical bread, and directed it to Himself and told them, "Now you have to eat My body, and you have to drink My blood," He would have stayed on speaking terms with them much longer. If Peter had only not been so brutally blunt on the day of Pentecost, he might have talked to these Jews a whole lot longer. But the glory of God was at stake.
The glory of God does not allow itself to be mixed with the works of Satan. The glory of God and the holiness of God do not allow themselves to be mixed. All that Christ has made the church to be, all that Christ has pouted into that church, as they are also in Him, He does not allow to be mixed with the world.
How then is God glorified? He is glorified, beloved, by the three thousand who were saved as they lifted up their voices in "Hallelujah!" He was glorified by the other thousands who refused Him, upon whom His righteous judgment shall come because they pushed aside the salt because it was biting. It was! They refused that light because it exposed the rottenness and darkness of their life. But even there, Christ says, "Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name’s sake." Rejoice? Rejoice when the application of salt and light brings this reaction. "Rejoice for great is your reward in heaven. For therein is My Father glorified." He glorifies Himself in His great work of redemption, and He glorifies Himself in His awful work of judgment, as the Word of God comes to divide and to separate.
Church of Christ, let us take this interpretation which Christ Himself has made: the kingdom citizen’s changed relation to the world. Indeed the world will say that the wisdom of God is foolishness. But God says that the wisdom of man is foolishness with Him. And, therefore, He does not use it. But He breaks through with a wisdom in Christ His Son; a wisdom of blood, a wisdom of salt, a wisdom of light. He gives this to His church and says, "Now apply it!"
In your separation, in your uniqueness, in your being pushed out, apply it to the world. Do it that the great and glorious purpose of God may be fulfilled, that they may glorify His name. Beware, lest Christ pronounce us as a church unfit, good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men. It is such awful judgment! It is judgment which cannot come on the world. That judgment cannot come on the world for they were never salt! They were and are rottenness, and for their rottenness they shall be judged. But the church is called out to be salt. If the Lord must say as He looks at us, "You are good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men," what awful judgment. That is what happened seventy years after the birth of Christ when the Romans overran Jerusalem and the blood flowed deep in the streets of Jerusalem. It was Jewish blood, the blood of Abraham’s children who had refused to be salt and light! They were trodden under the foot of men in God’s judgment.
Beloved, it is happening in the church of Jesus Christ today. It is happening all around us. They are tampering with the Word of God. They are pouring all kinds of foreign substances into it. It isn’t salt anymore — that is, that church isn’t salt anymore. Do we care much for the church? Do we care enough to watch it with a careful eagle eye, as it were, to see that it retains its separateness, its purity, its saltiness and light, and that it applies it? Do we care enough that whether in acceptance or in rejection, however men may react to it, out of it comes the glory of Him who has spoken to us in Jesus Christ, and who has made us His church for His glory?
Then His glory will be that which He prayed He might share with us! Amen.