As you may know, President Trump gave the annual “State of the Union” address this past Tuesday evening. And like most every President who has given a similar address to the nation, he did a good job of celebrating the things that he thinks are going well right now. In particular, he mentioned blue-collar jobs on the rise and growth in manufacturing. But also like every President who has given a similar address to the nation, he also highlighted some areas that he believes need some attention. In particular, he mentioned deadly violence across our country, health care and prescription costs, and the deteriorating transportation infrastructure within our growing, constantly-on-the-move, nation

Whether or not you agree with him, and whether you typically agree more with President Trump, with certain Presidents who came before him, or with whichever President you hope will come after him, I think you do agree with every President who has ever addressed the nation in at least one way. There are some things that you believe are going well, and there are certain things that make you worry about the direction our nation is going. I bet you sometimes look at our smallest babies and wonder what kind of world they’re going to grow up in. In fact, I’d like you to do something for a moment. With someone next to you, I’d like you to talk about what in the world today makes you worry about the direction things are going

Karen and I were watching some television a while back when a commercial for some superhero show came on. Someone said to the supposed hero: “The fate of the world depends on you.” And I asked Karen how often she thought that line has been said in television or on movies - “The fate of the world depends on you.” According to Hollywood, our world has been on the verge of total annihilation quite often. And apparently, we have a 100% success rate in saving it. But the one constant every time is that the fate of the world always depends on someone. The person who says, “The fate of the world depends on you” is always talking to someone. Sometimes that person has a cape. Sometimes they have super powers. But as you think of what it is that makes you a bit worried about the way things are going, whom would you consider to be the best person in the world to do something about it? 

President Trump and any number of other Presidential candidates will tell you that they are worthy of your vote this November because the person who occupies the Oval Office is in the best position in the world to make the best kind of difference. Well, with tremendous respect for every individual who has ever occupied that incredibly difficult and demanding position, Jesus disagrees. There is at least one other person Jesus genuinely believes is in a better position to impact this world than even the President. He tells us who that is with the very first word of our sermon text from Matthew chapter 5.

13 “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. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Jesus uses two-word pictures here: salt and light, to explain the impact one person can have. Light is easy to understand. There is a way through this dark world, and those who show it are like lights on a dark path. Salt is important for a different reason. Salt makes my popcorn taste yummy, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about salt as a preservative. Before the days of refrigeration, perishable foods like meat and fish were packed in salt because the salt prevented it from going rotten. Jesus’ point here is that, if this world is going to be preserved, if someone is going to prevent it from going rotten, light needs to be shone and salt needs to be applied. Two important words here are “salt” and “light.” But there are three other important words.

We already mentioned one. That is the word “You.” Very simply, Jesus is talking about you in this section, no matter who you are, no matter how you got here, and no matter how long you’ve known about him. The second important word is the word “are.” “You are.” Not, ‘You might be,’ or ‘God sees some potential in you, and by golly, someday you might become a valuable part of his kingdom.’ No. God believes you are incredibly valuable to this world at this exact moment, exactly the way you are. You don’t have to become older or younger, shorter or taller, smoother or wrinklier, smarter, stronger, wiser, or anything other than what you are right now. “You are.” And the last important word is “the.” In other words – you are the only one. Jesus believes that there aren’t even any other options. If you don’t do it, then it won’t happen. The fate of the world, in God’s eyes, really does depend on you.

Now, if you think that sounds strange, just remember it probably sounded strange to them too. If you were to go down to the Jerusalem casino because you wanted to place on bet on who the Savior of the world was most likely to choose as his disciples, the poor, unknown, rough-around-the-edges and least-likely-to-be-found-in-church-on-the Sabbath people he was talking to here wouldn’t have even been a betting option. The Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, however, would have been the favorites at about 1000 to 1, because they cared very deeply about keeping all of God’s commandments, and everyone knew it. They were the kind of people parents pointed out to their children and said, ‘why can’t you be a little bit more like them.’ But because Jesus didn’t choose them, he actually got a reputation as someone who didn’t care about God’s laws. So Jesus, knowing he had this reputation, and knowing these disciples would be wondering if it was legit, wanted to assure them of the exact opposite.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Notice there are only two categories here. You are either “great” or you are “least.” But whether you are great or least, in both cases, Jesus said that you “teach.” In other words, every life impacts the world without even trying. It’s just a question of whether it’s a good impact or bad. Jesus emphasized how to make a good impact when he referred to “the smallest letter” of God’s law. When Jesus said “the smallest letter,” he literally said “one iota.” An iota is the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet, and it is the smallest letter of all. Jesus is saying that keeping even the smallest piece of God’s laws is incredibly important. And you can see how strongly Jesus believed that by looking at his life.

Jesus’ enemies wanted to prove that Jesus didn’t care about God. But when he was on trial, they couldn’t find one person who actually saw him break any of God’s laws, even the smallest ones, so they had to hire professional liars in order to condemn him as guilty of anything. But anyone who looked at his life honestly knew – this is a person who cares about God. And Jesus’ point here is that the way we are salt, and the way we are light, is by doing the same thing. He tells us to “let your light shine so they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The world should see our lives and come to the conclusion that you are a person who cares about God. We should be known as people who know God. And how does a person do that? How does a person become that? The same way that Jesus did – by keeping every iota of God’s commands.

A couple years back, I was teaching a group of 8th graders, and we were talking about baptism. One of the students raised her hand and said, “What if you believe everything the bible says, and you know you should be baptized, but you decide not to be? Will you still go to heaven?” In other words, what if you overlook just one law? What if you know you’re supposed to forgive someone from the heart, but you don’t because it feels better to stay mad at them. What if you just cannot show respect to your spouse or a certain politician, even though the bible commands us to do those things? What if you believe that sharing a bed with someone you’re not married to isn’t really all that serious when you consider the world we’re living in? What if you know you’re supposed to lovingly rebuke someone whom you know is living in a sin, but you choose not to because you’re afraid it’s going to have a negative impact on your relationship with them? What if you do everything right except for one thing? Will you be ok? Do you know what? The bible never says “yes.” It never says that paying attention to most of God’s law is acceptable to him. In fact, here, Jesus told his disciples that if their righteousness (how often we do the right things) does not surpass that of the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, they will “certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

Now, at this point, someone might start to think that Jesus was preaching two very different sermons here. He starts out so positive – talking about how valuable each of his disciples is. But then he seems to go entirely in the opposite direction, getting them to a point where they probably don’t feel very good about their lives at all. But it really is just one sermon. And he preached it in its entirety because Jesus wanted his disciples to see something that is easy to miss when we talk about what it is that makes someone’s life valuable and important.

Nicholas Winton was a young stockbroker in Britain during WWII while the holocaust was happening. He heard about the horrible things being done in the concentration camps, and he wanted to do something about it. So he figured out a way to use his job as a stockbroker to smuggle holocaust prisoners into Britain without anyone noticing. He didn’t tell anyone what he was doing. He just did it. And nobody knew anything about it. He kept detailed records, though. He recorded in a scrapbook the names of each person he rescued – all 669 of them. But he never showed that book to anyone. 

50 years later, just a few years from death, long after the holocaust was done, Nicholas received a free ticket to the filming of a television show called That’s Life! He was going to be a member of the studio audience. And at one point during the show, the host pulled out the scrapbook Nicholas had recorded all those names in. His wife had recently found it when she was going through the attic. She contacted the host of this show and told her about it. The host of the show told the entire audience what that book was and pointed out that Nicholas was sitting right there among them. And then she opened the book and said, “Nicholas, it says here that you saved the life of a young lady named Vera Dimmant. Well, Nicholas, we found Vera, and she is here with us today. Vera, would you please stand up.” The woman who was sitting right next to Nicholas stood up. It was a touching moment. They both started crying. And then the host said, “And if there is anyone else in our audience tonight whose name is in this book, who owes their life to Nicholas Winton, would you please stand up.” Almost the entire room stood up. They had contacted as many of those 669 survivors as they could find so they could all celebrate the man who had saved them.

Now I want you to think about what all those lives would look like, how different they would be, how long ago they would have ended, and how much pain it would have caused their families, if the man sitting in the middle of them all had not been so determined to save them. If you do that, then you will probably know how the disciples would have felt at the end of this sermon if Jesus were not standing right there in front of them, determined to do the same thing.

Jesus was there because he knew that if our hope, our future, and our heaven depended on the righteousness of our lives, even the best-looking lives in this world would never have it. But if it depended entirely on him - on his ability to keep God’s laws and on his willingness to sacrifice, on his ability to write our name in his book of life by washing us so completely of sin that God in heaven looks down on us and comes to the conclusion that you are the most obvious fit for his kingdom; if it depended on his willingness to use a whip, thorns, nails, and his own bloody skin to prove that God will not give up on you for any reason, then no matter how many times you fall, no matter how many missed iotas there are in your existence, you would always have a reason to stand up and keep going. You would always have a reason to live. We live for him.

And I want you to imagine that all the people in the world were standing for Jesus, doing the same thing. What if every heart that is heavy with sin saw the same cross you and I do when we come to worship each weekend? What if every soul that is struggling saw Jesus struggling right alongside them? What if everyone whose heart is broken saw the one whose body was broken just for them? What if everyone saw their names written in God’s book of life and knew that victory over everything in this dark world is a gift that has already been given? Do you think things would be better? Do you think people would be different? There is only one way we will be. Remember who you “are” in Jesus Christ. You - are - the - salt. You - are - the - light. You are. So go be who you are. And save the world by showing it more of the One who already did.