The St. Paul’s Pulpit
Delivered on April 29, 2018, by
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D. at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. (Acts 1:1-4)
In one of my former churches, there was a man who, toward the end of his life, developed congestive heart failure. As you know, when people have this condition, it is very difficult to regulate the fluid level in their bodies. In some cases, to prevent too much fluid from accumulating in the body, the doctors will insist that their patients eat no more salt. This particular man and his wife, who were members of our church, lived to eat out. They knew all the waiters and waitresses in town on a first name basis, but when the doctors took him off salt, needless to say, much of the joy of his life was taken away. I think if a doctor ever told me that I had to give up salt, I may say, “Well, if I have to give up salt to live longer, I might have to decide not to live longer.” What is life without salt and hot, hot pepper? Salt has always been very important to enhance the flavor of food, and in the Biblical days salt was even more important and precious. Our text for today shows us how important salt was on so many levels, especially in the spiritual life of the people of the Old and New Testaments.
You may be thinking that you didn’t hear anything about salt in the text I just read. In these opening verses of the book of Acts, Luke informs Theophilus that he is going to continue the story of Jesus that he began in the Gospel of Luke. In many ways, Acts is volume two of the work, continuing the story of all that Jesus began to do and teach. In the book of Acts, Jesus continues to work, the only difference being that Jesus now continues his work through the Church. But before Jesus ascends to the Father, he spends some time with the disciples, a period of time that we, as a church, are celebrating and studying during this season of the year. In this series of sermons, I have been speaking of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, but the ones that we have recorded for us in Scripture, are not the only times Jesus appeared to the disciples. He spent 40 days with them between Easter and the Ascension. Acts 1:4 tells us what Jesus was doing with his disciples during that time. Luke tells us that during those days, Jesus “shared salt” with his disciples.
Again, you didn’t hear a reference to salt when I read the account from the King James Version. The King James version says, “And, being assembled together with them, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.” The salt is contained in the words “being assembled together.” There are several ways to translate the Greek word that is translated “assembled together.” It can be rendered “assembled together” or “gathered together.” But many modern translations realize that the sense is of that phrase is “being gathered together for a meal.” If you study this word deeply in the Greek dictionaries, you will find that one of the translations is “when he was sharing salt with them,” and I believe that is the proper translation. During these 40 days, Jesus was sharing salt with his disciples. In other words, once again, he was sharing table fellowship with them.
Sharing salt was a way of symbolizing fellowship. The simplest of meals in the ancient world was bread and salt. To break bread with someone was to share salt with them. When we gather together as disciples of Jesus in this body, sharing salt symbolizes our fellowship with Christ and our fellowship with one another. We are one body, one people, because Jesus has shared bread, shared salt with us, emphasizing that we are in covenant with him and with one another.
Luke tells us that Jesus “shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” During these 40 days, what is Jesus doing? He is teaching them. Again, in what context is he teaching them? He is teaching them in the context of a meal. He is teaching them and sharing salt with them.
In our study so far, we have seen the importance of meals in the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, especially in the gospel of Luke. As Luke continues the story of what Jesus is doing through his church in the book of Acts, the importance of meals appears again, and it all begins with Jesus sharing salt with them. In Biblical days, the concept of sharing salt was important, not just in Israel, but throughout the middle east. In one of the Apocryphal books, The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach, the writer shows how important salt was in the ancient world: “The principal things for the whole use of man’s life are water, fire, iron, and salt, flour of wheat, honey, milk, and the blood of the grape, and oil, and clothing” (26). In the book of Job, Eliphaz says, “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?” (Job 6:6). Salt was important to act as a preservative and to make food taste good. Saying that Jesus was sharing salt with his disciples would not have been an unusual idea in Biblical times. There are three points I want to make this morning about why Jesus shares salt with his disciples.
First, by sharing salt with his disciples, Jesus is strengthening his covenant bond with them. To understand the significance of what it meant for Jesus to share salt with his disciples, we have look back in the Old Testament and see how important salt was in the making of covenants. In Leviticus 2:13, the Lord said, “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.” Notice the phrase, “the salt of the covenant of thy God.” Salt was so important in the sacrificial system, that even a pagan king like Artaxerxes of Persia knew how important salt was to the Jews. In Ezra 7:21-24, we read of a decree that he made to make sure that Ezra and had everything they needed for worship in the temple to be reinstituted after the exile:
And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.
Artaxerxes put some limits on what was to be supplied to the Jews, but notice that there were no limitations to be made on salt, because so much was used in the sacrifices. When Ezekiel was describing the New Temple that would come into being, we read, “When thou hast made an end of cleansing it, thou shalt offer a young bullock without blemish, and a ram out of the flock without blemish. And thou shalt offer them before the LORD, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up for a burnt offering unto the LORD” (Ezekiel 43:23-24). In these sacrifices, God was entering into covenant with his people, and these salt sacrifices were a constant reminder of the permanence of that covenant. As you know, back in these days, salt was used as a preservative. Salt was used in the making of covenants to symbolize the permanence, the incorruptibility of the covenant. In II Chronicles 13:5, Abijah told Jeroboam, “Ought ye not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?” In other words, the covenant God made with David was a perpetual covenant; that is, God had made David an unbreakable promise. Salt was used in the making of covenant to show that both parties considered the covenant to be binding. I will say more about this in a moment, but when we enter into covenant with Jesus, it is a covenant of salt—our covenant with him is lasting and binding. Christ made himself known to them in the breaking of bread. For 40 days he shares salt with them. How does Jesus assure the disciples again and again that he is present with them? He keeps eating with them–he keeps sharing salt with them.
Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, a covenant of salt is made. When we participate in Holy Communion, we are assured that he is present with us, for he is always sharing salt with us, assuring us of his permanent presence with his people because he has made an everlasting covenant with us.
We see in the passage in Leviticus 2 that we have a description of the meat offering. As we know from the reading the book of Hebrews, these sacrifices that were offered in the Old Testament were pictures of the one sacrifice of himself that Jesus would make on the cross. Therefore, the meat offering that is described here is a symbol of the death of Jesus on the cross. The meat offering in the Old Testament was sometimes an offering of thanksgiving. What does “eucharist” mean? Eucharist means thanksgiving. The meat offering was a eucharistic offering, an offering of thanksgiving, and part of the meat offering was reserved for the priest to eat. The meat offering was not merely a eucharistic offering, but also a eucharistic meal.
Sometimes the meat offering was not just an offering of thanksgiving. It was sometimes a sin offering that was burned by fire on the altar. We know that Jesus offered himself as a sin offering, offering himself in our place, to die in our place, and just as the meat offering was consumed by fire, the fire represents the fire that Jesus went through on the cross–his great sufferings on our behalf. As I mentioned, the priests would then eat a portion of that meat offering–that sin offering. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, we come to eat the sin offering, the body and blood of Christ that was offered for us. Remember, this meat offering was a covenant of salt—permanent, inviolable, unbreakable. When Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion, he was instituting a meal that signified God’s unbreakable covenant with us. It is a covenant of salt. Remember that it is the sacrifice of Christ which purchased eternal life for us. Our Lord promised that if we would believe in him, believe in his sacrifice, enter into covenant with him, we would have everlasting life. Salt is the symbol of the covenant, the symbol of everlasting life that Christ purchased for us. On the night when the Lord instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion, he said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.” Jesus shed his blood so that we might enjoy the blessings of this new covenant. Every time we celebrate Holy communion we are celebrating this new covenant that he has entered into with his people. Just as Jesus has been with them in the breaking of bread, as we have seen, he is with them here in the sharing of salt. But whether we are talking about the breaking of bread or the sharing of salt, the reference is the same—the eucharistic meal. When our Lord shared salt with his disciples, he was instituting a new kind of table fellowship with his people, a sharing of salt, reminding them of the binding, permanent nature of the new covenant. When we celebrate holy communion, we are celebrating the new covenant that guarantees our eternal life as we partake of “the food of immortality,” as St. Ignatius called it. Our Lord shares salt with us to preserve and keep us, since salt is a preservative. What do we say when we give you the bread and the wine? “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life…. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” Salt is a preservative. When we partake of the body and blood of Christ during Communion, we are nourished and strengthened knowing that our Lord has made a covenant of salt with us. He will preserve us and bring us to everlasting life. Each Lord’s day, this covenant of salt with God and his people is renewed. In Biblical days, salt did two things—it made food taste good and it was a preservative. The sacrament of Holy Communion does the same for us. It is the most wonderful food that we will ever taste, causing us to remember the countless blessings that Jesus purchased for us on the cross. Holy Communion is a preservative. It enables us to persevere in the Christian faith through all our trials and temptations.
What I want you to see is that salt is the symbol of the covenant. In Numbers 18:19, we read these words, “All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee.” Notice again that it is a covenant of salt. Back in these days, even among people in other nations of the world, treaties were sealed with salt; that is, they ate bread and salt as a sign that their treaty was binding. We eat salt with our Lord as a sign that our covenant with him is binding. As a matter of fact, when the Greeks translated the OT into Greek, in the translation called the Septuagint, they translated the phrase in Numbers 18:19, “covenant of salt,” as “a covenant of everlasting salt.”
We see then, first, that sharing salt means that God has entered into a permanent, lasting, durable covenant with us. Second, sharing salt signifies that we make a covenant of salt with him. When we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, we are entering into a covenant of salt with our Lord. Remember how the Lord said, “with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.” What do we offer to the Lord when we come to the Holy Sacrament? Just before we partake of Communion we pray, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.” During the sacrament of Holy Communion we offer our souls and bodies as living sacrifices. But remember that no offering, no sacrifice, can be offered without salt; that is, without a binding commitment. Every Lord’s day we make a covenant of salt with our Lord. Just as Jesus has been with them in the breaking of bread, as we have seen, he is with them here in the sharing of salt. But whether we are talking about the breaking of bread or the sharing of salt, the reference is the same—the eucharistic meal. Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it is a service of covenant renewal—the opportunity to once again offer ourselves as sacrifices in a covenant of salt, because we are promising God that we will keep the covenant promises that we made in our baptisms, to renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, and to obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of our life.
We have seen so far that the sharing of salt during Holy Communion means that God reaffirms his commitment to us and we reaffirm our commitment to him. Then, third, when Jesus shares salt with us, we become the salt of the earth. Jesus makes use of this idea of the covenant of salt in Mark 9:49-50: “For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” A few years ago, I went to the doctor, and as I was sitting on the examining table, he felt of my ankles, and he said, “Been eating a little salty food, I see.” I wanted to say, “Yes, because Jesus said, “Salt is good.” But why did Jesus say “salt is good.” As you can see, Jesus is quoting from the passage in Leviticus that that we have been looking at this morning. Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. But notice that Jesus commands us, “Have salt in yourselves.” Where do we get that salt? We get it right here in the Holy Sacrament when Jesus shares salt with us just as he shared salt with his disciples during these 40 days. When we have this salt in ourselves, then we can become the salt of the earth. Remember how Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Just as salt is a preservative for meat, Christians act as salt in the earth. That is, without Christians, the world would decay, become corrupt, and putrefy. By our holy lives, by the love that we demonstrate in the world from day to day, we keep the world from decay. Even our speech is designed to preserve peace in the world. Remember how Paul said, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:5-6). Since salt added so much flavor to food, the symbol of salt was used to refer to someone who had the ability to be a great conversationalist, someone who revealed by his speech that he always had the appropriate word to say–something to say that would be beneficial to those who were listening to him. In their actions and in the speech, Christians preserve the world. We are the only force in the world, especially in this country, that is keeping this nation from total barbarism. It seems to me that the world is increasingly, at a rapid pace, just about to get to that place. How is that happening? It is because Christians are losing their saltness. You will notice that in both Matthew 5:17 and Mark 9:50, there is a warning about the possibility of losing our saltness. We will lose our saltness if we do not constantly feed on the Word and Sacrament. We have a great mission in the world—to preserve it from total corruption. But we cannot preserve the world if we do not have salt in ourselves, and we will not have salt in ourselves, if we do not share salt with Jesus, by entering into covenant with him and constantly renewing our covenant with him at his table.
Luke also records this saying of Jesus about salt losing its flavor in his gospel, but in a different context. In Luke, just before the verse where Jesus says, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out” (Luke 14:34-35), he says, “ So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 13:33). Jesus is saying that if we are not absolutely and totally committed to Jesus Christ to be his disciples, we lose our saltiness. Here at the sacrament of Holy Communion is the place we come to renew our covenant with him to be his disciples. We make a covenant of salt.
Jesus shares salt with his disciples for 40 days because at the end of the 40 days he is going to give them the Great Commission to send them out into the world to baptize the nations, and no doubt, they were making a covenant of salt with him that they would do exactly that—making a total commitment to bring the world to Jesus Christ. During these 40 days, Jesus was “salting his disciples.” He was giving them flavor, intensifying the flavor of their lives so that they can be witnesses. Sharing salt is mentioned just before he gives them the Great Commission four verses later. They need to be salty so that they can be witnesses throughout the world. When Jesus was sharing salt with them, he was preparing them to be witnesses of the new covenant. What was Jesus doing with his disciples during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension? He was strengthening the bonds of the covenant with them–giving them assurance of the permanence of the New Covenant and strengthening their level of commitment to him as he is about to send them into the world to bring the world to his feet. Now we see why it is so important for us to participate in Holy communion—why it is important to come and let Jesus share salt with us. In the Biblical world, salt was a necessity to maintain proper health. In these hot, arid conditions of the Middle East, it was difficult to maintain proper levels of body fluid, so salt was a necessity to physically survive. We cannot survive spiritually without the salt of the covenant, without coming to this table and allowing Jesus to share salt with us. In Ezra 4:14, the Samarians send a letter to Artaxerxes. This letter has an interesting line in it. They write: “Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king.” The word “maintenance” actually means “salt.” This phrase means that they were in covenant with the king, and the king provided for their necessities from the palace. This “maintenance” is what happens in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We eat the salt of the palace. The ruler of the entire universe shares salt, the absolute necessities for our spiritual life and growth.
Jesus shared salt with them for 40 days. Remember that 40 days is often used in Scripture as a time of preparation. Moses was on the mount of God for 40 days and 40 nights at the time of the giving of the Law. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil before he began his public ministry. Now the disciples spend 40 days with Jesus as a preparation for the ministry that they are about to perform, and he prepared them by sharing salt with them. We are not prepared to go into the world and proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom of God unless Jesus shares salt with us; that is, unless we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. After Jesus spends this 40 days sharing salt with his disciples, they are prepared to receive the power from on high, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that they can accomplish their mission. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, we have the privilege of receiving the blessing that the disciples received during these 40 days—sharing salt with Jesus. Let us draw near to the King of kings and Lord of lords and eat the salt of the palace. Let us once again let him share salt with us so that we might be reminded that he is always present with us. Let us renew our covenant with him so that we might become the salt of the earth. Amen.