“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
If one rushes home after Sunday morning church services, on television there is a news show known as “Meet The Press.” Each week some leader is given the hot seat and thoroughly questioned on issues. Let’s do the same thing with Jesus and the text. Let’s play, “Meet The Congregation.”
Before we commence, some background. The world to which Jesus came was dark and difficult. Sixty percent of the population were slaves. Rome was in power. There was an emperor and no constitution. The army enforced Rome’s will with force and violence. There was no set tax percentage. The tax gatherer made up the rules as he went along. There were no public schools. Only a fragment of the population could read. There were no hospitals, no rest homes, no orphanages, and there was no gospel. Man worshiped imaginative myths, and slew animals and read their entrails to discern the future.
And we think we’ve got it bad today!
So it was, to such a world as this Jesus was born. His first thirty years were spent quietly in Egypt, then Nazareth as a carpenter. But by age thirty Christ was baptized and launching his public ministry. This, the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s first sermon.
“So, welcome Mr. Jesus to “Meet the congregation!” Obviously our world is in a mess! Some questions . . .”
What Are You Doing About It?
The central word in the text is “light.” In John 9:5 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
Several years ago I went on a 185 mile rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon out west. And I stopped by K-Mart and purchased a dollar flashlight beforehand. Big mistake! First night out we camped riverside in a boulder field. About two a.m. I awakened and needed the portable toilet we had placed across the field, downwind, in some scrub trees. I grabbed my trusty buck light and ambled over. But now I needed to return to my bed roll and the light wouldn’t come on again. I fiddled with it, it flickered weakly, and went dark for good. So, here I am 200 yards from my bed, it’s inky dark, no one can hear me yell over the river’s voice. And rattlesnakes come out at night to soak up the warmth of the boulder field. Talk about feeling helpless! I’ll never take light for granted again!
So it was in Jesus’ day. No street lamps. No car head lights. No flashlights. No wall switches. Only flickering oil lamps. And as it is with light, so with knowledge.
In John 8:12 Jesus said, “He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” But how does one gain this light, this truth? How can I shed light on death? How can I light the path toward a good marriage? How does one know life’s meaning? What is right and wrong? And is there truth from God? Does He even exist?
There are two ways to discover truth. One is by human speculation. This can be very casual or highly academic as man tries to figure things out himself. The second means of finding truth, light to live by, is divine revelation. And what Jesus is saying to a world in the dark is, “I have come to light your way so you can walk in reality.”
This is what the prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
Now, for a second question. “Jesus, who will aid you in shedding such light?” And in the text, Jesus says, “You are the light . . .”
My friend, this is a huge compliment! For the same Jesus who said in John 9:5, “I am the light . . .” Now turns to his disciples and affirms, “You are the light . . .” In other words, “You are what I am!”
To whom was Christ speaking? To Peter and James– fishermen. To John– a merchant. To Paul– a sailmaker. To Nicodemus– a court officer. To Luke– a physician. To Lydia– a textile importer. To Martha a housewife and Timothy a teenager. To such as these Jesus compliments, “You are my continuation! You are the light of the world.”
Sadly, the church has lost something of this today. A mill worker complained to me, “One can’t be a Christian and work where I work.” I was introduced recently as a minister. “Oh,” the man said, “You’re one of those paid to be a Christian!” Our thinking, you see, has become, “I cannot be God’s light of truth where I am. But the preacher can. He has studied. He gets paid. He’s the professional.”
And Jesus will have none of it! To common folk like you and me he breathes, “You are the light.”
If you look into the night time sky, scientists explain that some of the light has journeyed billions of miles and hundreds of years to reach your eye. You see, light ranges far from its source. And in the text Jesus is explaining that the light of God’s truth in him finds its continuation in you and moves on further to others.
During the nineteenth century a forgotten Sunday School
teacher in Chicago led a shoe clerk to Jesus. The teacher’s name was Kimball, of whom you’ve never heard. The shoe clerk, however, was Dwight L. Moody.
Moody became an evangelist and over his ministry had an influence on F. B. Meyer. Meyer began to preach on college campuses. One of the students he impacted was J. Wilbur Chapman who worked with the YMCA.
Chapman in turn brought a former pro-baseball player named Billy Sunday to preach in Charlotte, N. C. The revival was so successful local churches arranged for a second meeting with the preacher Mordecai Hamm.
A crew foreman on a dairy farm, Mr. Albert McMachon persuaded some of his summer help, some local high school boys, to attend with him. And that’s how Billy Graham became a Christian.
“You are the light . . .”
Where Do We Shine?
Now, for a third question: “Where? Where do we shine?” And Jesus answers, “You are the light of the world.” We shine at church for certain. In classes. In small groups, at prayer, in meetings. But our light carries out to the world of clubs, marinas, factories, schools and housing developments.
Living shore-side, we’re aware of local lighthouses. For ships at sea, a beacon of light across a dark, stormy ocean can be a life-saver.
Exploring our region, I’ve found three lighthouses. There is the little known Paige’s Creek Lighthouse. During 1864 in the Civil War federal gunboats shot the top out of it, and it has never been fixed. “Old Baldy” is the second lighthouse, the oldest one on the East Coast. It, too, no longer works. Only a very low wattage bulb illuminates the top. Then there is the Oak Island Lighthouse working at full strength, it’s light beam visible for miles away guiding ships to the harbor.
These area lighthouses symbolize us and our area churches. Some of us have quit shining because we’ve been hurt. Others of us have replaced the light of Jesus Christ with some low wattage unbiblical message. Yet, thankfully, there are some churches and Christians who light the way boldly, consistent as a lighthouse.
In Matthew 5:13 Jesus called us the salt of the earth. The Greek word for “earth” means “geography.” God has given us each a piece of geography to flavor with Christ. Here in Matthew 5:14 Jesus calls us the “Light of the world.” In Greek, the word “world” is “kosmos.” To the Greeks it meant order. Their idea of beauty was orderliness. Indeed, we get our word “cosmetic” from this. So, the essence of beauty is order.
God is saying, “What I want is beauty and order. I will bring it by shining it through you.” Thus, in Christ, we become living demonstrations of godly order in our lifestyles, in our singleness, in marriage, at work and at play.
Clearly, then, all of us are a witness to Christ’s light in everything we say and do. As Jesus said, “A city set upon a hill cannot be hid.”
I was at a conference waiting to speak. We were having a banquet. We were awaiting the opening prayer when I noticed a big slice of pecan pie at each place setting. Now, I love pecan pie. And I was starved, so I began to nibble on my desert. A few minutes later I became aware of a real tussle going on between a mother and her child. The mother was saying, “No, you can’t eat your desert first! It’ll spoil your dinner.” With that the child pointed at me and said, “He did!”
Our witness cannot be hid.
We’ve asked what and whom and where of Christ in the text. Now, let’s ask how. “Jesus, how do we shine?” And Christ replies, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.”
It is vital to remember that we are not saved by works. We are, however, saved by faith in Jesus for a life of good works. James 2:17-18 warns us that, “Faith without works is dead.” A person who claims to be a Christian, yet has no accompanying works, is highly suspect as a Christian.
Consider the works of Jesus. He healed the blind, the deaf, the lame. Maybe you’re to serve as a physician. He taught the masses preaching. Is this your calling? Okay! Perhaps you’re not a preacher or a physician. Then maybe you can wash dirty feet, serve drinks at a wedding, or teach twelve how to pray.
In John 14:12 the Lord confidently predicted, “Greater works than I do will you do.” Think about it! Our Lord only had three short years to minister here. So far, I’ve had over 34! It is likely I’ve had the chance to preach to more persons than Jesus! Ditto for doctors and healing. And servants who cleanse dirty feet.
When I was a very young child my parents bundled me into the car once a month and took me to Hickory, N.C., for a weekend visit to my grandparents and my great grandmother. Sunday morning came, the visit was brief, so we skipped church, choosing instead to cozy together around the breakfast table. That is, all except my Great Grandmother Espey.
Mrs. Espey got dressed and sat in her chair in the living room waiting for her ride to church. I watched her struggle to fit her swollen feet into high lace up shoes. As she huffed and puffed, I quietly wondered, “Why does she go to such lengths to attend worship? Why would she leave us to go? What is so important about church?”
Mrs. Espey was the first to witness Jesus to me. She was the light of my life! And now, years later, I know Jesus and worship and why it is all well worth the struggle!
Now for a final question in our interview with Jesus, “Meet the congregation.” “Why?” “Why do we shine?” And the Lord replies, “Let your light so shine before man that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” In other words God’s light in us is for his glory and not our own.
An interesting contradiction presents itself here. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus urges us to, “Let your light shine before men.” But later in Matthew 6:1 Jesus cautions, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them.” Which is it, Jesus? To show or to hide? Is this, indeed, a contradiction or a caution for balance?
I think Jesus is saying enigmatically, “When tempted to show off, hide. And when tempted to hide, show forth.
Some examples, when offering a tithe, a large one, that could garner you great prestige in the church, hide! Give in secret!
On the other hand, in the classroom when abortion is being debated and the Christian pro-life position ridiculed and you’re tempted to hide, speak up!
Always make certain your motivation is to God’s glory and not your own. Every preacher should forever remember that only God is great. Our goal is never to get people to say, “What a great preacher you are!” But “What a great God we serve!”
In science there is an observable phenomenon known as phototropism. You may observe this by noticing how a plant will grow toward the light. And when we are become the light of the world people grow toward Jesus.
Over 1,600 years ago Ambrose tutored a lost boy given to wild excesses. When the youth began to grow up, he converted to Christ and wrote his life story, The Confessions of St. Augustine. Of his tutor he wrote, “I began to love him, not at first as a teacher of truth, which I despaired of finding in the church, but as a fellow creature who was kind to me. He did not use any arguments. He built a bridge of love from his heart to mine, and Christ walked over it.”
Ambrose was Jesus’ light to Augustine.
In 1832 when German author Goethe lay dying, his last words were, “Light! More Light!” And such is the cry of our world today.
Let’s be what Jesus says we are.
Lord Jesus, shine through me! Amen.