The story of how Jesus identified himself as “the Light of the world” is remarkably beautiful and instructive. It happened on the day following the spectacular nighttime ceremony known as the Illumination of the Temple, which took place in the temple treasury before four massive golden candelabra that were topped with huge torches. It is said that the candelabra were as tall as the highest walls of the temple, and that tat the top of these candelabra were mounted great bowls that held sixty-five liters of oil there was a ladder for each candelabrum, and when evening came, healthy young priest would carry oil up to the great bowls and light the protruding wicks. Eyewitnesses said that the huge flames that leapt from these torches illuminated not only the temple but all of Jerusalem. After the torches were roaring high above the people, the Mishna tells us:
“Men of piety and good works used to dance before them with burning torches in their hands singing songs and praises and countless Levites played on harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and instruments of music.”
The exotic right rite celebrated the great pillar of fire that led the people of Israel during their sojourn in the wilderness and spread its fiery billows over the tabernacle. It was in the temple treasury the following morning, with the charred torches still in place, that Jesus lifted his voice above the crowd and proclaimed, “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
There could scarcely be a more emphatic way to announce one of the supreme truths of his existence. Christ was saying in effect, “The pillar of fire that came between you and the Egyptians, the cloud that guided you by day in the wilderness and illumined the night and enveloped the tabernacle, the glorious cloud that filled Solomon’s temple – that was me?”
The incredible fact that Jesus Christ is the light of the world is foundational to our thinking and must control it as we examine the unforgettable words of Matthew 5:14-16, where our Lord applies the metaphor to us.
“Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 The Message
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:14-16 NLT
To understand the importance of light you have to experience the absence of light the total darkness that ensues. “In Canada it is possible to go camping hundreds of miles away from any city or town. If it is a cloudy night, and there is no phosphorus in the area, the blackness is total. A hand held three inches from you face cannot be seen. But if there is a city nearby, perhaps a hundred miles away, the darkness is relieved. The light from the city is reflected off the clouds, and the night, once perfectly black is no longer quite so desolate.” (Carson)
This idea of being a light has been abused by some you have drawn attention to themselves or some pet cause when in reality what Jesus is teaching is simply to be in the world but not of the world. “The norms of the kingdom of Christ, worked out in the lives of the heirs of the kingdom, constitute the witness of the kingdom. Practically speaking it means that authentic Christ followers refuse to rob their employers by being lazy on the job, or to rob their employees by succumbing to greed and stinginess. They are first to help a colleague in difficulty, last to return a barbed reply. They honestly desire the advancement of other’s interests, and honestly dislike smutty humor. Transparent in their honesty and genuine in their concern, they reject both the easy answer of the doctrinaire politician and the laissez-fare stance of the selfish secular man. Meek in personal demeanor, they are bold in righteous pursuits.” (Carson)
Being the light of Christ is a foreboding and awesome challenge, yet Christ spoke these words early on in Him ministry so that He would have time to demonstrate their importance.
What kind of a light would it take to light the whole world? Would there be a place where the light couldn’t reach? What kind of power would it take to light the whole world?
It is an amazing thing when it dawns on you that as a Christ follower you have been given a gift and responsibility by our Lord. You are to be a light to the world.
What does this look like? What does it mean? The scripture that we read a few moment ago explains exactly what our Jesus had in mind we he uttered these words.
1. This light is to be personal.
“You’re here to be light.”
Right up front we are reminded that this issue is about us. You are here to be light. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. When we read or hear these words it should cause us to pause and evaluate our contribution to God’s light in the world.
You are here to be light. How are you doing with that?
“Keep open house”
What a powerful and suggestive phrase. The Bible teaches that we are to live lives that are above reproach. We are to be consistent with our lives so that we are the same in private as we are in public. Keeping an open house so to speak is being able to live so that no one can find any fault with you and how you serve God.
Daniel is a great illustration of this. There is a story from his life found in Daniel 6:
1 [a]Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. 2 The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. 3 Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.
4 Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. 5 So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”
6 So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! 7 We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. 8 And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 9 So King Darius signed the law.
10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.
God has always been about us living for Him in a way that honors and brings attention to His word.
“Be generous with your lives.”
Truly this is personal. All of us our stewards of the gifts that God has given us. We make choices every day to live generously or selfishly. You may not have money to be generous with but you can be generous with your life.
We live generously when we give back to others. This week is a week that has been set aside to honor volunteers in our country. Let me give you a little insight into the life of the church in America. We are so thankful for those who are able to volunteer their time and understand why they are doing it in the context of a church setting.
We have begged for people to get involved because the larger a church grows the more people it takes to make it happen each week. Recently we put a flyer for softball sign-ups in the worship folder one week and one for children’s ministry sign-up the next week. Do you want to know the score on that one? 70 to 1. Seventy of us are going to play softball and one of us signed up to work.
Now listen to me very carefully. There is nothing wrong with softball. I plan on playing myself but here we are in a church that God continues to bless by bringing people in our doors who desperately need to have their lives changed with the message of Christ and it takes people who will live generously with their lives to make that happen.
Howard Hendricks described the church. He said is was a lot like an NFL football team. Twenty-two people down on the field desperately needing rest, 70.000 people in the stands desperately needing exercise. There is no place like the church to see the Pareto principle in action; 20% of the people doing 80% o of the work. I know I live in the past sometimes but I go back to the day when church was two hours on Sunday morning and two more hours on Sunday evening and another hour and a half on Wednesday night and it seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal to attend a service and work a service or vice a versa.
I am convinced that most of us in here are stretched in our lives until there is not much of a margin to work with. I get that and I understand that but then you have the words of Jesus saying, “live generously with your lives” you’ve got to figure out what that means for you.
Now let me go one step further. There are some in this room who truly view their jobs as a ministry and I agree with you and encourage you to keep that up. Maybe there is not way you can be involved in the local church but I still need to say these things for the majority of those sitting in the stands watching the “game” each Sunday.
Giving back is a foundational truth of being a Christ follower. That can be done in many different places but today I needed to share the tension with you a little bit so that maybe some of you will think about being a part of the ministry of the church. Be generous with your lives.
2. This light has a purpose.
“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.”
Obviously we zeroed in on this phrase today. All you have to do is look around the room and you will see that we are talking about you and I bringing out the God-colors in the world.
This takes it way beyond working in church. This whole concept of being a light is bigger than the local church in many ways. When one of you gets on an airplane and flies to some remote part of the world and you share your faith you are being a light and reflecting the colors of God in the world. When one of us steps into the world of an alcoholic or drug abuser and commit to helping that person we are letting out the God-colors in the world. When you get involved with an organization that is taking care of women with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies you are bringing out the God colors in the world. When you work in the food pantry and actually engage those you are serving you bring out the God colors in the world. When you befriend a teenager who is struggling with making the right choices and you share your story and struggles you are bring out the God colors in the world.
When you pray for that person at work whose life is the pits and you show that the love of God you are bringing out the color of God in the world.
It is very easy to go to church to worship God with our church friends, dine out with our church friends, invite our church friends over to watch movies and special programs, have our church friend's children over to play with our children, go to church socials with our church friends, and pretty much communicate via phone, e-mail, whatever, almost entirely with our church friends. Then we have the nerve to say, "The world is going to Hell in a hand basket!" Let me give you this thought.
We are not soldiers in an army housed in barracks, and uniformed to be separated from the world. On the contrary, we are to be infiltrators, seeping out into the workplace, the road-sides, our neighborhoods, even as far as the ends of the earth. We assemble to hear His word, be encouraged, hear Jesus stories, worship and celebrate with music, and to be so infused with the Holy Spirit that we become like Jesus for the rest of the world.
We are to literally become the body of Christ, so that we may infiltrate our society with God's love and light; going to whatever lengths necessary to move people into His Kingdom. We can't leave "church" at church in order to accomplish this. We cannot leave God in the Bible after we close it. We have to keep Him (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) with us wherever we go. We have to keep our eyes on Him, our hearts on Him, and our ears listening to His every direction; meanwhile, keeping our fingertips on the pulse of the society in which He has placed us to minister to His world.
Once a grade school teacher told her class the next day would be show and tell. She said, “I’d like you to bring something that is an object of your religion. The next day a little Catholic girl brought a rosary and explained its meaning. A little Jewish boy brought a menorah and he talked about what it meant. A little protestant boy brought a casserole in a covered dish. It was the only real object of faith he knew. We were put here for a bigger reason than that. We have a higher calling. That’s why we teach that there should be 3 C’s in everyone’s life. Celebration, community and call suggest we have a great purpose.
3. This light is to be public
“God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.”
I love the wording of today’s scripture. Remember the context. Jesus is doing is first real teaching for these twelve men who have given up their lives and livelihoods to follow him.
God is not a secret to be kept. Take Him with you this week into the places you go. Take Him into your meetings and boardrooms; take Him into your factories and classrooms. Take Him to the ballpark and the grocery store; take Him into the relationships you are working on in your own home.
Remember God is not a secret to be kept.
4. This light is powerful
“By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
People seek power everyday. They will go to great lengths to achieve power and authority. There is nothing more powerful than the light of God being shone properly through our lives. Do you catch the depth of this message today? Look at this part of the scripture again.
“By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God” Amazing! This should be the goal of every true and authentic follower of Christ. We have been placed on this earth and given a great trust. We have been given the light of God and we have been instructed by Jesus himself to let it shine.
Hugh Latimer (b. approx. 1485/90, d. October 16, 1555) was a famous Protestant martyr.
Latimer was born into a family of farmers in Thurcaston, Leicestershire. From around 14 years of age he started to attend Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was known as a good student. After receiving his academic degrees and being ordained, he developed a reputation as a very zealous Roman Catholic. At first he opposed the Lutheran opinion of his day, but his views changed after meeting the clergyman Thomas Bilney.
In 1510, he was elected a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and in 1522 became university preacher. He became noted for his reformist teachings, which attracted the attention of the authorities. During King Henry VIII's reign he was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London (1539 and 1546) .During the reign of Henry's son Edward VI, he was restored to favor as the English church moved in a more Protestant direction. However, when Edward's sister Queen Mary I came to the throne, he was tried for his beliefs and teachings in Oxford and imprisoned. In October 1555 he was burned at the stake outside Balliol College, Oxford.
Latimer was executed beside Nicholas Ridley. He is quoted as having said to Ridley:
Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.
The deaths of Latimer, Ridley and later Cranmer — now known as the Oxford Martyrs — are commemorated in Oxford by the Victorian Martyrs' Memorial which is located near the actual execution site. The Latimer room in Clare College, Cambridge is named after him. Do you know what a candle does to give off light? It consumes itself. We burn so that others might see. We allow ourselves to be a light by allowing pieces of our live to be consumed by God.
Reggie McNeal tells the story of how an electrical generating plant in Texas works: “First, huge shovels dig house-sized scoops of lignite coal. Pulverized and loaded onto railroad boxcars, the coal travels to a generating plant in east Texas, where it is further crushed into powder. Superheated, this powder ignites like gasoline when blown into the huge furnaces that crank three turbines. Whirring at 3,600 revolutions per minute, these turbines are housed in concrete-and-steel casings 100 feet long, 10 feet tall, and 10 feet across. They generate enough electricity for thousands of people. A visitor to this plant once asked the chief engineer, ‘Where do you store the electricity?’ ‘We don’t store it,’ the engineer replied. ‘We just make it.’ When a light switch is flipped on in Dallas one hundred miles west, it literally places a demand on the system; it registers at the generating plant and prompts greater output.” You can’t keep God’s power and grace in a jar. It cannot be stored, it was not meant to be; it can only be used as it is given. It is not to be stored, but to be lived out in the world which desperately needs it. The Bible says, “Arise; shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be see upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3). Rodney Buchanan