Let Your Light Shine!
Reverend Bryn MacPhail / January 19, 2003
As we make our way through the Gospel of Matthew during the next couple of months, I do not want you to think that we are moving through this book aimlessly, or without any purpose. What I hope you will see is that Jesus is imparting information to us of great significance. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explains what the Christian should look like—that is, how the Christian should live. And this, of course, has implications for the Church as well.
What this means is that with each exposition from Matthew, what should become manifest is our purpose as individual Christians, and as a Church.
If we reflect on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for any length of time, we shall see a principle of paramount importance rise to the surface. That is, if we are to succeed in battling sin and the evil one, we must be committed to, and dependent on, the all-sufficient Word of God.
So, the first lesson we learn from Jesus then is that we must be Bible-centred Christians, and we must be a Bible-centred Church. And this requires more than lip service. When I say ‘Bible-centred’, I am speaking of the capacity to think biblically. We must become so familiar with the Bible that we become adept at applying biblical principles to every situation.
Today’s lesson, which immediately follows the ‘Beatitudes’ in chapter 5, has to do with our responsibility in this world. I’d like us to zero in on verse 14, which begins with a statement that Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes as ‘one of the most astounding and extraordinary statements about the Christian that was ever made.’ Jesus says to His disciples, “You are the light of the world.”
First, let us note what is implied in the statement, “You are the light of the world.” What is implied is that the world is in a state of darkness. Now, of course, the world never sees itself in these terms—perhaps, you do not see the world in this way either. We like to think, we prefer to think, that we live in an enlightened period. Yet, repeatedly, the New Testament declares that those living apart from Christ are in utter darkness.
The apostle Paul reminds the Colossians of this, in his letter to them, “(God) rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son”(Col.1:13). And, to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk then as children of Light”(Eph.5:8). It is important to recognize that human beings are not light by nature. Light must first be imparted to us before it can go forth from us.
Secondly, let us note whom Jesus is speaking to. It is not the Rabbis, it is not the Scribes, it is not the officers of the Sanhedrin, but it is His humble followers that are called “the light of the world.” And notice that Jesus gave them this distinction at the very outset of His ministry. Jesus does not say, ‘Follow Me and I will make you lights in this world’, He says, “You are the light of the world.” This distinction, you see, is not given on the basis of knowledge or spiritual maturity, but on the basis of one’s proximity to Jesus. And since this designation is not given according to ability, it is a designation that is rightly claimed by the ordinary, average, Christian. It is applicable to every person who calls upon the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, who once said, “I am the light of the world”(Jn. 9:5) also declares to His followers, “You are the light of the world.” These two statements must always be taken together since our light depends entirely on our relationship to Him who is “the light of the world”.
Presbyterian minister, Donald Grey Barnhouse, used to say that when Christ was in the world He was like the sun. The sun gives light, but when the sun goes down, the moon comes up. The moon is a bit like the church. The moon shines too, but it only shines because it reflects the sun’s light.
What I don’t want you to miss here is the unassailable truth that every Christian is a light in this world of darkness. For the Christian, there is no arguing whether we are in possession of light. What is in question, what remains undetermined, is how effectively we are reflecting the light that has been given to us.
Jesus, who makes us light, explains how nonsensical it would be to cover this light with a bushel. And what is implied here is that possession of light does not guarantee an effective use of the light. That is why Jesus issues a command, “Let your light shine in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”(5:16).
The call here is for a thoughtful use of the light entrusted to us. Our light must not shine in isolation. Our light must not shine in a manner that best suits us. Our light is to shine in such a way that those living in darkness might see there way out of the darkness. Our light is to be shined with a purpose.
There is evidence that our society has some comprehension of the darkness that exists in our world. And, in response to the darkness, politicians are busy proposing laws, the acquisition of knowledge and formal education is being emphasized, and nations are learning the value of cooperation. But friends, this has been tried before to no avail. The problem of darkness is too great to be solved by these superficial means. Is there any hope then? Yes! Jesus says that if our light is shined in a certain way, people will begin to glorify our Father who is in heaven. Paul says that when light of Christ is shined, God will rescue individuals from the domain of darkness (Col.1:13).
What does all of this mean for us? Surely, what we are meant to conclude from Jesus’ words is that there must be something marked, and distinct, about our character, if we are true Christians. Just as light is distinct from darkness, so the Christian should be distinct from the nonChristian. If we go through life talking and living like everyone else we show ourselves to be poor stewards of the light—or worse, we call into question whether we even possess the light of Christ.
Do we have the Holy Spirit? Then the fruits of the Spirit must be manifest. Have we been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ? Then there must be a difference of habits and desires between us and those who belong to the world. Clearly, to belong to Christ means far more than being baptized and attending church services.
If it be true that we possess light, we must become aware of our tendencies when shining the light. It seems strange, at first, that Jesus would reference covering a lamp with a bushel because no person would really do this. But surely, this reference is intentional because of our tendency to cover the light of the Gospel with other things.
It should be noted that a bushel, also known as a peck-measure, is a good, and useful, article. It was a commonly used household item in Jesus’ day. And so one of the things that I see the bushel representing are the pursuits of ordinary life. It is often the case that we neglect our religious responsibilities, not because we are engaged in ungodly matters, but because we are immersed in the important affairs of ordinary life.
But what does Jesus say to this? He says no one would ever think of covering a lamp with a bushel. Even if we are engaged in good things this is problematic if these good things interfere with your ability to shine the light of the gospel.
Friends, where does serving Christ rank on your list of priorities? I fear that, for many people, Christ gets our leftover time. I fear that serving Christ is an afterthought which follows the completion of our household, vocational, and family responsibilities. If this describes you, your order is backwards for Jesus tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”(Matt.6:33). For when we seek our good and necessary affairs of ordinary life first, what we have effectively done is covered the light of the gospel with a bushel.
Now, why would Jesus put the kingdom of God ahead of all of the important things we have to do? What is at stake here? What is at stake are human souls. While we enjoy the light of Christ, multitudes need rescuing from the domain of darkness.
Do you see clearly the goal of shining our light? We shine our light “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Who do you think the “they” is a reference to? I can tell you that it is not necessarily a reference to those you are sharing a pew with. Jesus lays out the way Christians should live and He insists that we be this way in order to cause the people of “the world” to glorify God.
Have you ever heard of the phrase, "Sunday Christian"? The inference being made there is that certain people behave much better on Sunday, at church, than they do any other day of the week. I think this is something we are all guilty of at times. We come to church with the "Everything is great in my life" look on our faces. We know that we only have to be like this for an hour or two, so we carry on the facade.
It seems, however, that Jesus is calling us to the complete opposite. Jesus is calling us to our best behaviour, not for an hour on Sunday, but the hours and days we spend in “the world”—the hours we spend among people who do not regard Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Friends, the church is not the place to pretend we are healthy, it is a place for spiritual healing. It is the place where we receive the medicine of the Word of God, it is where we gain strength from fellowship with other Christians. Some might say that the church is where we get our "batteries charged". For when our batteries are charged, it is only then we will be effective lights in the world.
As individual Christians, and as a church, we may be engaged in many good things, but if we are neglecting to shine the light of the Gospel we are failing on a critical level. If we are covering the light of the Gospel with the important affairs of everyday life, we are disobeying and dishonouring the command of Christ.
Friends, Jesus bids us shine, so we must shine. Shine the light of the Gospel in whatever context you find yourself, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.