“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14 (NIV)
Jesus continues to speak to us from His “Sermon on the Mount,” and one poignant charge from that multitudinous message is still relevant today. It is the one prefaced by His declaration in the key text: “You are the light of the world.”
In that declaration, He did not ask a question, express an opinion, or mince words. No! Without apology or theatricals, Jesus Christ made a categorical statement: “you are.” It wasn’t a case of “you will be” or “you were.” It was a very important message based on timing, and the timing was right for Him to declare those who believe and profess Him as Lord to be “the light of the world”.
Earlier on at the creation of the world, God had been confronted with thick darkness. As the Bible describes it: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:1-2. To confront this thick darkness, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” verse 3.
Later, when God became flesh and dwelt among men, He was confronted with a pervasive spiritual darkness that was as thick as the one at the creation of the world. Matthew 4 gives us a glimpse of what He experienced shortly after He began His public ministry as He journeyed from place to place:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and He healed them.” – Matt.4:23-24
A New Kind of Light
And now, during His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus saw a form of darkness that found a fitting comparison with the void and formless, deep darkness that He saw at creation. On a mission of re-creation and re-birth, He sat down on the mount to teach. He was surrounded by His disciples, and the great crowds which followed Him “from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan”- Matthew 4:25. It was against this background and to this multitudinous audience on the mount that He declared a new kind of “Let there be light”- words He uttered during His earlier miracle at creation.
In that poignant statement, Christ declared what He had known from the foundation of the world – namely, that man was created to make a difference in his world. He knows that we were created far above and beyond the best that we have accomplished so far. He longs to unleash the power that is inherent in every soul united in Him, and which is what the world needs to be able to see the God that we serve. And so, He lets us in on a secret that many of us still do not realize: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” By our confession of faith in Christ and a decision to live for Him, we need to embrace “You are the light of the world as our identity and also our divine mandate.
Christ continued His charge on the mount with how the light was to be disseminated. In His days, lamps were a common source of light. Their rightful place was on stands of different types—tables, sides of walls, suspensions from ceilings, anywhere up so that its rays would be spread to every corner of the room. Light was never meant to be placed on the floor and it wasn’t done. Not in Jesus’ time, not in our own days. Hence, Christ reminded His audience of the common sense approach to handling light: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” – Matthew 5:15.
Having reminded of what is commonly done, He then followed up with the charge: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16. And this is the part that every Christian has to take very seriously.
The Source of Our Light
Every light derives its source from somewhere. This source could be a hydro dam, wind or electrical or thermal generator or the sun. What is the source of the light that Christ declared us to be?
From Scripture, we know that the source of a Christian’s light is Christ Himself. Witnesses testified of this, and He said so Himself. Here are the accounts:
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that Light, so that through Him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the Light. The true Light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.” – John 1:6-10 (NIV)
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 (NIV)
“While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” – John 9:5 (NIV)
“I have come into the world as a Light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” – John 12:46 (NIV)
History bears record that Jesus, the Sun of righteousness – Malachi 4:2 is a reliable Source of light. His power is not affected by the weather or hindered by a lack of electricity supply. He powers our light unfailingly and unendingly. Getting connected to Him is far more reliable and renewing than all that the inverters, batteries, circuits, and other power sources of the world combined together can provide. Hence, if we want to shine brightly, Christ is the Source that we can safely trust to make it so.
The Nature of our Light
It is Public. Jesus, having declared us as “the light of the world” went further to
ask: ‘let Your light shine before men.’ Earlier, He had made a similar declaration
when He said “you are the salt of the earth”. Unlike salt however, which mixes in
with food and becomes invisible, the call to “let your light shine before men” is a
more public expectation. It is almost as though Christ was saying: ‘don’t become
hidden, make sure you can be seen’. Let it be clear to men that you are light that
dispels darkness and bear no mark of the darkness of evil habits or tendencies. Christ
wants that marked difference to be evident.
It is for Specific Purposes. The light that we are to be to the world is not a dim light.
It is to shine so brightly that men “may see”. No matter how brightly we shine
however, our being light is ultimately for the glory of God and not for personal
glorification. The world is in darkness and we might light up a whole house or nation,
but we are not thereby to glory in ourselves. We have been made light for specific
purposes—for our own spiritual growth, and ultimately for the glory of God. These
two purposes are variously described by different people in the Bible. Jesus said: “..
let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your
Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16 (NIV)
Paul & Barnabas: “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’“ – Acts 13:47 (NIV) It is possible only by God. Our human nature and dark antecedents indicate that if left on our own, we will either be redundant as light, or will self-destruct if put to use as light. Connection with God however as the Source of our light will help us achieve the purpose for which we have been made light. We will shine brightly to the extent that we are linked to the one true Source of bright light.
The Bible teaches us how to become effective lights. Here are some of the ways:
- So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” – John 12: 35, 36
- “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:8-11
- “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.” – Philippians 2:14-16
There is a lot more that can be said about being the light of the world, but this is a subject that ought to be the lifelong meditation of every Christian. Jesus stated it very simply and succinctly—we are the light. We are to let our light shine, the way light should. It is on the world’s grand stand that we shall shine brightly, visible in full glare. Our comportment, conversation, integrity, and example of our profession will all come under scrutiny. The nature of our light will be tested.
Christ said that our light must so shine that it is possible that men may see our good works, and realize the hope that is possible for fallen man whose sins have been washed away at Calvary. They will through the evidence of our own transformed lives, radiated by the light that we are, come to glorify our Father in heaven, the Saviour of the world. Such is the nature of that which we have been declared to be: “you are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”. Such is the basis of the apostle Paul’s caution to us that: “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” – 1Thessalonians 5:5, 6
To Ponder: It was the great American evangelist, D.L. Moody, who said: “We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.” What an astute observation! Why not connect to the greatest power Source today that your light might shine do so brightly?
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