Imagine for a moment that your country is in crisis, and you are elected President to fix it. Imagine you have a guaranteed plan to bring peace and prosperity to the nation, and you can call anyone you wish to serve by your side. What kind of people would you choose? You would probably pick the best leaders, economists, and strategists you could find, right? Popular people. Influential people. People with charisma and power. No one would pick little, insignificant people for such an important task.
Unless they were Jesus.
It’s fascinating to consider who was in the audience as Jesus gave his Sermon. In addition to the disciples, we’re told a crowd listened on (Matthew 5:1, 7:28). That crowd was probably made of people from the surrounding areas who’d just sought Jesus for healing (4:23–25). And what a motley group they were. Some had been sick, others had suffered seizures, some had been paralyzed, and a few had been demon possessed. They would’ve included simple farmers, peasants, and homemakers—not society’s movers and shakers. And so what Jesus says next to them is profound—and resilience-building.
People of Influence
Jesus’ words become more personal here. Instead of referring to “those” whose lives are grounded in the values of his kingdom, he says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12).
Then he says:
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 underfoot (Matthew 5:13).
Think of the saltshaker you use to prepare meals—salt enhances flavor. Now think of a butcher curing meat to keep it from going rotten—salt prevents decay. Jesus uses this image to enlist his audience into a highly significant calling. They are to be enhancers of what is good in their villages and homes, and they are to positively influence society to stop it going bad. These peasants and homemakers are to be his change–agents in the world.
I once visited an impoverished neighborhood of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Homes were made of corrugated iron, and electricity wires dangled live above us. I was there to interview families about how churches were helping them combat unemployment, drug use, and crime.
In one alleyway I climbed a rickety ladder to a small room to meet a mother and her son. But just a moment later, someone rushed up saying we had to leave immediately. It turned out a machete–wielding gang leader was gathering a mob to ambush us. We left quickly!
We visited a second neighborhood, but there we had no problem. Later I discovered why. As I visited each home, another gang leader (the most feared in the region) stood outside guarding us. It turned out his daughter was being fed and educated by the church, and because Christians were standing by her, he wanted to stand by us.
Those Christians in Santo Domingo had neither social status nor political power. Most were as poor as their neighbors. But they were enhancing their community and halting its decay. They were being the salt of the earth, and their community was changing.
People of Light
But Jesus has something else to say to those listening to him:
You are the light of the world. A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14–16).
Think of a city’s buildings lit up at night—light pierces darkness. Think of a torch pointed into a dark room—light reveals what is hidden. In the same way, Jesus calls his audience to shine with good deeds. By doing so they will help dispel the world’s darkness, reveal the unseen God they’re following, and show their neighbors another way to live.
You’ve probably never heard of James and Anne before. They haven’t been on TV, written a book, or held office. They’re just a young Christian couple living in communist China. Until recently China had a one-child policy. Any couple having a second baby facing discrimination and financial penalties. So when Anne became pregnant again the couple knew what their government wanted them to do: they needed to abort.
This pressure only intensified when medical checks revealed the baby Anne carried had significant heart defects. Their doctor told them plainly, “You need to abort.” In a country where little support exists for the disabled, it was the “logical” thing to do.
Then came pressure from their family. James and Anne could never afford to raise a child with special needs alone, and in their culture a disabled child would bring stigma to them all. Their parents told them flatly, “You need to abort.”
Their government, doctor, family, and culture—James and Anne faced pressure on every side. But to each they gave the same reply: “We will not abort. Even if our baby is disabled, she is a gift from God and made in his image.” Little Chen Yu was carried to term and born safely. James and Anne had seven weeks with her before she died.
James and Anne’s bold deed didn’t go unnoticed. Their doctor was so moved by their faith he said, “If every parent treated their children as you did, we would have a different nation.” He then asked if they would speak to his medical students, sharing the reason why they treated Chen Yu the way they did. And so a couple without power or position became a light to their world, showing another way to live by giving it a glimpse of the unseen God.
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…” These words of Jesus are significant considering our theme. As the experts say, a second factor in building resilience is having a sense of achievement, whether through pursuing a goal, mastering a skill, or doing work that is personally significant.
While Jesus never tells us to master a hobby or set ourselves a career goal to achieve, he sets us up for accomplishment of a higher order. Instead of choosing the elite and powerful to join his mission, Jesus picks the least likely candidates: common folks who do practical acts of salt-and-light love in the power of his Spirit.
Towards the end of his Sermon, Jesus talks about prayer, assuring us that we can trust God to give us what we need. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread,” he says, “will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7–11). On another occasion Jesus said something similar, but with an intriguing twist: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13, emphasis added).
The Holy Spirit is key to living out all the Sermon calls us to. The Spirit comes to live inside us when we believe, reminding us of Jesus’ words and empowering us to live them out (John 14:15–18, 23–26). As the apostle Paul later explained, it’s by the Spirit that Jesus works from within to make us more loving, joyful, faithful, and kind (Galatians 5:16–26), and, like a river, flows through us to touch and serve others (John 7:38–39; Acts 1:8). This means the Christian life isn’t about trying harder but asking God’s Spirit to fill us and work through us. It means salt-and-light accomplishment requires little more than our humility, availability, and willingness.
We might feel like nobodies some days, lacking influence in the world. But Jesus positions us to be people of profound achievement. We are stronger than we know.