The Sermon, part 3: The Light and the City

Read Matthew 5:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6 NLT)

r4x3-1600Have you ever been in hiking in the woods at night? I have been. For anyone who has been camping, you know that it is pitch black in the forest at night. When I was a teenager, I went on an all night excursion on the Appalachian Trail with a couple of my friends.  I can remember how our parents were not so happy with us for doing that because of the danger of walking around the woods, over rough terrain, in the pitch-black darkness. Thankfully, we did have a couple of flashlights, otherwise we may not have been so lucky as it was really dark in there.

Speaking of flashlights, that brings me to this devotion’s focus within the famed Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. What could Jesus possibly mean by saying that the disciples are the light of the world? What is the purpose of a light, such as a lit candle, a lantern, a light bulb, or a flashlight? Why would anyone turn on a light?

For those who are thinking in terms of a “spotlight”, I would caution them to pause and look at the context of the passage. Jesus calls his disciples the light of the world and then reminds them that the purpose of a light and/or a lamp is best served on a stand, as opposed to being hidden under a basket. Why is that? Because, a lamp on a stand gives off light to everyone in the house, allowing them to see their surroundings and find their way from room to room without stumbling.

In other words, the light Jesus is referring to is the kind of light that points the way. It is the light that illumines the area for all to see where they are going. The purpose of the light is not to draw attention to the lamp, but to “The Way.” The disciples, according to Jesus’ metaphor, are the lamps that shine the light out for the world. The light is not shining for the world to see them, but for the world to see “the Way”, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Along side of this metaphor Jesus puts forth another one, only that this one stands in contrast to the other. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” This metaphor points us to an inherent truth of what it means to be Christ’s disciples, as well as what it means to be the bearer of the light. Though these two metaphors are in contrast with one another, they are so purposefully and the one cannot work without the other.

If you have ever gone to the city of San Francisco, it is a magnificent city to see. It rolls up and down hills and is impossible to miss as you approach it. Jerusalem was also a city on a hill and Jesus’ metaphor is also a warning. In Isaiah 2:2-5; 42:6; 49:6, we see that God refers to Israel, and Jerusalem, as being the light for the gentiles. God had planned for God’s people to be the city on the hill, for all to see. It was by the example of Israel, by their righteous (just) living, and by their visible relationships with neighbor, with each other, and with God that the world was to be redeemed. God had hoped that people would see Israel, as a younger sibling looks up to their older brother or sister, and follow their lead.

Unfortunately, time and time again that had failed to come to fruition. Israel split from Judah, Judah became as corrupt as the next kingdom, and the people had failed to truly witness to the world the hope, healing and wholeness that God was offering to the world. Jesus’ metaphor is reminding his disciples that Israel’s call is their call, that God is wanting them to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord. In doing so, the world would see them and follow their lead. Yet, as the light metaphor reminds us, it wouldn’t be them that the world would be actually seeing and following, rather it would be “The Way” to which they are pointing.

In order for people to see Christ through us, we have to be visible to them. We have to truly display Christ in our lives, in our attitudes, in our actions, and in everything we do. When our actions, words, thoughts, and examples are mirror reflections of the world around us, we fail to be the city on the hill, we fail to be the lamp on the stand, and we fail to be the light of the world. The question for us is, will we let the world get the best of us and fail in our mission. Will we be agents of division, politics, biterness, strife, enmity, and the things of this world, or will we be Christ’s lamp on a stand, like a city on a hill, visibly representing Christ and shining the light on “The Way” that is Jesus Christ? Now is the time to choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The lamp burns bright when the wick and oil are clean.” – Ovid

PRAYER
Lord, clean my wick and fill me with your holy oil that I may burn bright and shine the light on the way. Amen.

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