What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.13

“Christians Prevent Universal Spiritual Decay”

Matthew 5:13

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.13

Matthew 5. After being told that a celebrity singer started a campaign to ban the food additive sodium chloride, many Americans in southern California agreed that it is the right idea.

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The interviewer says …. “This celebrity has begun her campaign to keep everybody healthy by trying to get sodium chloride, the food additive, banned on an industrial and commercial scale. Do you think that is a good idea? We have banned trans fats and a lot of people are trying to get rid of the GMO’s. Do you think we should get rid of the sodium chloride?”

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One lady responds, “If it is to keep everyone healthy. I mean, no one wants to be fat and overweight.”

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Interviewer, “You’re not eating any sodium chloride are you?”

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Lady, “Not that I’m aware of!”

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Another lady replies, “I would support that campaign. She is a positive role model for a lot of people and has a lot of money, that’s a good combination. I don’t know what’s going on with sodium chloride myself, though.”

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Another man replies, “sodium chloride… That’s like toothpaste, right?” Interviewer says, “No that’s sodium fluoride. This is sodium chloride. A little bit different.” Man says, “Sodium fluoride keep, Sodium chloride ban it.”

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What would you say….? Little do these people know what they’re saying! They are saying, “We should get rid of salt!” Sodium chloride is table salt!

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But of course that doesn’t make any sense, at all! Unfortunately, their unwitting rejection of common table salt would soon end in their untimely demise… the Human body requires salt to function.

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In a similar way, the world’s wilful rejection of Christians and the truth they house also will end in the world rotting away. People simply don’t understand what they are saying when they want to do away with Christian principles found in the Bible.

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Nevertheless, Christians are called to influence the world as Jesus says in Matthew 5:13

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Matthew 5:13 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

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The foundation of this verse is the Beatitudes in the previous verses. Jesus is building on what He has just taught. He has just taught what a Christian looks like. Now the question is, “How does this play out? How does true Christian character play itself out?”

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In verses 10-12, Jesus ended those Beatitudes telling Christians they will be persecuted. One may think then it best to live like a monk. I mean, who would want to be persecuted? Let’s run. However, Jesus preaches the opposite of living life that way. Instead, we need to influence others.

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And so really, what you have in the Beatitudes is the saltiness of the Christian. If you have entered the kingdom of heaven, then each of those Beatitudes characterize you. And now God’s design for you is that you be influential.

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You are salt v.13; you are light, v14. You influence those around you. You do do that.

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1 Peter 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

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Titus 2:14 [Christ] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

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Jesus saves us and calls us …and gives us the fruit of the Beatitudes in our lives…and He does this so that we may live for Him in our good deeds and to live for Him in our words, proclaiming the excellencies of Him who [who] has called you.

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He has called us to influence others. Even if salt is fresh and pure, it is useless if it never leaves the box. Salt can’t do its job if it is only hanging around other salt.

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The question is, “How do we influence others?”

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TRANS: For that, we need to dig a little deeper. This verse is not easy to grasp and the interpretations on this verse are numerous; we’re going to have to dig a little bit this morning. First, Jesus is using a metaphor to help us understand an important truth.

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  1. Metaphor explained “You are the salt of the earth” Universal influence

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    Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” Whatever this is, it is universal. You are the salt “of the earth.” The world, all the people in it. The entire earth… it is universal.

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    And Jesus is speaking to those making a claim to being Christian. The emphasis in the text is on the “you.” “You yourselves” are the salt of the earth. Who is Jesus talking to? Those who make a claim to being in the kingdom. You remember throughout Matthew 5:3-12, each of the Beatitudes ended with a promise. For example, verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs… And you remember we brought out… ‘theirs alone’ is the kingdom of heaven.” And we said “theirs alone” because it is emphatic in the original Greek text.

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    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs…’theirs alone’ is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, when we come to verse 13, Jesus says, “you yourselves are the salt of the earth.” Who is he talking to? He is speaking to those who make a claim to following Christ, who believe their lives are described by the beatitudes. He’s talking to church goers, to church members, to those who pray to Jesus, and read the Bible and who say they are Christians.

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    It is true that Christians are salt. Christians do not have to pray that they be salt, or that they become salt; Christians are salt. They get done reading the Beatitudes and think to themselves, “Yeah, that’s me.” Jesus says to them, “you … You yourselves are the salt of the earth.”

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    ILL: But we still have difficulty with this verse. Part of that difficulty is our lack of understanding of the metaphor Jesus uses.

    A metaphor is a comparison; it compares 2 things. There are 2 parts to a metaphor: the picture and the truth it points to. In this case, Jesus compares Christians with salt.

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    So … question: How are Christians like salt?

    What a Christian is

    To answer the question we have to first understand what a Christian is. As we have said a Christian is someone whose life can be described by the Beatitudes.

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    He is poor in spirit…, He mourns over that fact. He has become meek, controlled by God. And he hungers and thirst for righteousness. Because of the mercy that he’s been shown, he shows mercy to others… And he is pure in heart, not hypocritical… He is forthright honest and transparent and he is also a peacemaker, making peace between God and man and between fellow humans… And because he tries to do that, he is at times persecuted.

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    This is a Christian. Is this you or do you just think its you? Or is this totally foreign to you? Jesus compares being a Christian with salt.

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    Unfortunately, we also fail in our understanding of what the ancient world thought of salt. Today, we do not have an appreciation for its value.

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    You can buy salt for $1/kg and doctors even tell you not to eat too much of it because they say it can cause high blood pressure. On top of that, we even spread it on our roads.

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    But salt was essential for life in the ancient world …due to its powers of preservation. It preserves food. Salt was called the “white gold” because it was so valuable. In ancient Greece, slaves were purchased with salt.

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    And evidently, there are 14,000 known uses for it. One, is that it keeps you alive. Hyponatremia [hypo-na-tree-me-ah] results when the body has too high of a fluid to sodium ratio, causing anything from headache to coma to death. But because salt was difficult to extract from the earth in the ancient world, it was scarce.

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    In some ancient societies, roads and cities developed as a result of the salt trade. The expression “to be worth one’s salt,” which means you’re competent and deserve what you’re earning, is most often said to have its roots in ancient Rome, where soldiers were sometimes paid in salt or given an allowance to purchase it. The Latin word for salt is sal. The word “sal-ary” is derived from the Latin “salarium,” which originally referred to a soldier’s allowance to buy salt.[1]

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    And many wars were fought over salt. One recent war was in Elpaso county Texas, called the San Elizario Salt War. 20 to 30 men died fighting for the right for private ownership of the dry salt lakes.

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    And the reason that salt was so valuable and why people were willing to die for it was because it preserved food. Without salt, armies couldn’t travel great distances and explorers couldn’t sail to new lands because their provisions would spoil without salt. If you could cut off the salt supply to an army, like the British did to the Americans, in the Revolutionary War, you could gain an advantage. You can’t win a war without food and so you couldn’t win a war without salt.

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    Salt preserves food … and it does so by attracting water. The water pulls the salt apart, separating the salt molecules and thereby drawing the water out of any food. Without water, the little bugs that cause the decay in the food die and the food can last for months or even years.

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    So, the value of salt in the ancient world is that it preserves; it prevents the decay of the food.

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    TRANS: Also, the Bible itself shows that the focus of salt, when used as a metaphor, is to emphasize preservation. The Bible shows this. For example in Numbers 18:19… Offerings are given to the priest to support them in their work, and it is called a covenant of salt. And it is described as an everlasting covenant… It lasts, it endures.

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    Also 2 Chronicles 13, Abijah speaking to Jeroboam says that God promised to David and his descendants that they would rule over Israel forever … By a covenant of salt. Forever. It lasts, it’s preserved.

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    Salt then can be used referring to metaphoric language … Even as it is stated in the text… it is used to give the picture of something that endures and lasts forever… The metaphor “covenant of salt” speaks to salts duration and the fact that it preserves.

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    Salt preserves is the idea.

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    ILL: Recent archaeological discoveries from Migdal, Israel… The town Mary Magdalene was from…suggest that in Migdal was a large fishing industry. They found fishhooks, fishing accessories, as well as 40 pools. Those pools are used to salt the fish. The town is on the sea of Galilee and the full name of that town roughly translates to “tower where the fish are salted.”

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    “Not surprisingly, the town is known for its salted-fish industry,” says one scholar.[2]

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    And because of the large crowd there that day, there were likely people… Other than just Mary Magdalene… who were from Migdal in Israel listening to Jesus…and they work with salt everyday and know exactly what they use it for: to preserve their fish.

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    Main Point: And that is the point: salt preserves.

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    Let’s go ahead then and draw the comparison. Just like salt preserves food, so also Christians preserve the people in the world.

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    But how do Christians preserve the people in the world? Just like salt prevents food from rotting, so also Christians prevent the world from rotting spiritually and morally. We are to influence the world in this way. Just like salt is rubbed into fish to prevent its decay, so also are Christians rubbed into the fabric of society to prevent its spiritual and moral decay. This implies then that the world is by its very nature… Rotting and needs preserving and God’s design is that the Christian do that.

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    The world is not becoming a better and better place in God’s eyes. Despite the advancements of technology, or social justice, or medical progress… Despite the skill and influence of professional athletes and the wealthy… The decrease in poverty rate, infant mortality, an increase in life expectancy, wealth, and literacy… Despite these things, the world is getting worse.

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    Besides, a large reason for these advancements we experienced is due to Christian influence.

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    Christians have in many ways influenced the world to help preserve it. But just like salt can’t reverse rotting fish and make it edible, so also Christians in the end cannot reverse what will inevitably come: the wasting away of this world until it is entirely a waste. But yet we are called to preserve it, help prevent that spiritual and moral decay.

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    The progression of human society as God outlines it in Romans 1… God gives them over to the lust of their hearts, and He gives them over to degrading passions, and then He gives them over to a depraved mind… This is taking shape. For the apostle Paul says 2 Timothy 3:13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

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    So, how do Christian prevent the moral decay of the world? 3 ways.

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    1. Preaching the gospel. How much evil has been prevented just because people have received Christ as their Savior? It is well-known that when evangelist Billy Sunday came into town that the bars would close down. Where there is a true Christian influence, there is the moral and spiritual preserving of that society. The righteous then are chosen to rule in the land. And where that happens, Prov. 29:2 says, everyone rejoices! Preach Christ’s powerful death and resurrection, and show people their sin and their need of a Savior.

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    TRANS: We also help prevent the moral and spiritual decay of the world by…

    2. Verbally testifying to the evil deeds of society: It was Christians who ended the slave trade: William Wilberforce in England in particular.

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    This is exactly what Jesus was doing…John 7:7 “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” Go on, testify that the world’s deeds are evil. In love, tell your neighbor; with gentleness, tell him he is a poor wanderer and that the Savior has died. Tell your councilmen, your legislators, and the like, that this or that is evil.

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    3. Finally, we prevent the spiritual decay of society by living like Christ lived: Because you are a Christian, people do not want to do nor do they want to say certain things in your presence. When the Beatitudes are in you are more and more coming out of your life, there will be shame on behalf of sinners simply because they are in your presence.

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    So we need to get out of the salt box and onto our soapbox and preach the truth and live it out before lost and dying world.

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    TRANS: However, it seems from the text that the salt of the earth could fail to actually be salt. And this is where it gets a little tricky…

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  2. Salt becomes tasteless can’t be made salty again, no good

Matthew 5:13 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

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Some of the salt of this world could fail to actually be salt.

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ILL: I asked my kids this question, “If salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again?” One replied, “I don’t know, ask a professional.”

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This is a tricky one. Of course, sodium chloride is a stable compound because sodium and chlorine form what’s called an ionic bond due to the sharing of electrons. So, for sodium chloride itself, it doesn’t actually lose its saltiness.

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ILL: However, in the ancient world what was known as salt was not refined. Today, you can buy near 100% pure salt, but not so in the ancient world. What was considered salt was filled with impurities. The possibility was very real that what was considered salt, when it came in contact with just enough water, could be easily emptied of the sodium chloride and so as to leave various minerals that may have even looked like salt, and was called salt, but it didn’t act like salt.

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And so if you have a block of minerals that used to have actual salt in it but the salt got washed out, how could you make it salty again? You can’t!

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So what is Jesus referring to then when he talks about salt becoming tasteless?

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ILL: Interestingly, in the original language you could read it this way. “If the salt has become foolish, how can it be made salty again?” The word for “to become tasteless” is actually primarily translated “to be” or “to become foolish.” Pronouncing the Greek word is helpful, “Moraino” or how about “moron-o.” Hopefully you’ve never called anybody that. He is a moron, a fool.

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For example, the same word is found in Matthew 7:26 this type of person is the type of person who hears Jesus’ words and does not act on them. He is a “foolish” man who has built his house on the sand.

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Or the fool, Matthew 23:17, is like the Pharisee whom Jesus calls “blind.” Or what about those five foolish virgins in Matthew 25 who took their lamps but no oil. And when they went out to buy oil, when the groom came, they were shut out of the marriage feast.

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To be a fool in Matthew then is not someone who, at the end of passage about the virgins, enters the kingdom…the sheep will be separated from the goats, the fools will not be put on his right but on His left with the goats. Fools are not in the kingdom.

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Jesus says back in our passage in Matthew 5:13, “you are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become foolish…”

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In light of the other verses containing this same Greek word, what is Jesus saying then? He is saying this: you who claim to be a disciple… remember, Matthew 5:1 Jesus is speaking to the crowds and He is speaking to His disciples… You who claim to have made it through the Beatitudes and believe yourself to be a disciple of Mine … if indeed you prove yourself to be saltless salt, you are not a disciple.

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What’s the command: You best persevere and keep on trusting in Jesus and demonstrating the reality of the Beatitudes in your life. You stumble, you fall, you sin, you best repent and get back up right away so that God’s truth is proven to be in you.

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ILL: It’s like an ancient salt peddler peddling what looks like salt and it may even taste like it at first, but with just a little bit of moisture, it loses it’s salty quality and is only good to throw away.

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Or it’s like the gospel when it is sown on the rocky soil, the rocky heart. The seed…the gospel was sown on that heart and it sprouted up quickly in that heart and withered and died because of the rocky soil underneath. Jesus likens that to someone who he says… believes for a while and in time of temptation, falls away.

This disciple never bore any fruit! The gospel never really took root, this person was never saved, he didn’t bear fruit.

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Who are these people then? Whether the rocky soil or the washed out salt, these are they who look like disciples of Jesus, but in reality they are not. They look like salt, but in reality they are not!

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But the reality is, true disciples of Jesus are true salt. They do not lose their saltiness. True disciples are indeed the salt of the earth. But if a disciples does lose his saltiness, that is, he becomes foolish and isn’t living out the beatitudes in his life, his life is showing that he was never true salt … never a true disciple to begin with.

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APP: This isn’t just true for individuals. What are considered Christian churches today have become foolish and have lost their influence. The church is sitting by and watching as people rush headlong into hell. Pastors failing to preach Jesus’ gospel at funerals because they fail to preach it in their churches too. The churches in our land are saltless!

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However, you, true Christian, persevere. Keep going. Live Christ’s words out in your life. Be a beatitude kind of influence on others.

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TRANS: But if you fail to persevere, if you fail to live out the Beatitudes in your life, if you do not have a life of good works for Christ, … If the salt has lost become saltless…if the salt has become foolish … and because you can’t make it salty again, what do you do with it?

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  1. Thrown out and trampled under foot

    Jesus says … “It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” That is a threat. At that time, people dumped their garbage and various things in the street to walk over it. It’s not salt, it simply looks like salt. It is in reality then nothing but dirt and should be treated like dirt.

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    The fish coming from the sea of Galilee needed salt. Food needs to be seasoned with salt, but once the salt has no saltiness, you can’t salt it again. Every food can be preserved by salt but salt itself which has lost its saltiness cannot be reversed. And that is the very judgment for the supposed disciple whose mission it was to save the world… But he has proven himself not to live up to that mission and so he himself now is lost for ever and is treated as the dirt and the garbage of this world.

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    He is “Thrown out!” Jesus says … imagine hearing that awful judgment.

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    Luke 13:28 “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.”

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    John 15:6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

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    But for those who are true disciples indeed, who follow Christ and in whom are the Beatitudes, it is they whom Jesus says….

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    John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not [throw] out.[3]

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.13

We can have confidence before God that we are His when our lives testify that we have the beatitudes … or rather, when the Beatitudes have us.

John 15:8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

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That needs to be you. Prove yourself to be one of Jesus’ disciples by producing His fruit. Abide in the vine. Know the gospel, live it out, grow each day, seek His face. Understand what He has done for you, so that you may live for Him.

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562 I Gave My Life for Thee

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Go to Matthew Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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  1. http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/where-did-the-expression-worth-ones-salt-come-from

  2. Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament: Their Enduring Lessons By T. J. Wray

    https://aleteia.org/2016/07/22/new-findings-in-israel-suggest-a-different-mary-magdalene/

  3. http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/54/54-4/JETS_54-4_715-748_Garlington.pdf

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