Now we're turning to Matthew's gospel again and chapter 5, to the Sermon on the Mount. The week before Children's Day, last week, we looked at the subject of 'The Salt of the Earth' and how we, as believers, are to be the salt of the earth - and that is the name that the Lord calls us. Now we're turning to the second illustration in those verses of scripture, from verse 14 to 16 of chapter 5 - let's read that together.
The Lord speaks again: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven".
The very first word of verse 14 is the word 'ye' or 'you'. It is astounding even to read that word at the very beginning of this statement of the Lord Jesus: 'You, yes, you are the light of the world!'. What an astounding statement! In fact, I think it's one of the greatest statements that our Lord ever made, because He stands among this company of people and specifically His own twelve disciples, and says to them: 'You are the light of the world'.
Once that was a title that was given to the nation of Israel. You will remember, in Deuteronomy chapter 26, God said to His own people Israel: 'The Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken'. But we see, as we enter the New Testament, that that great privilege that the people of God occupied, Israel, had been removed from them - and, if you like, in light of verse 13 they were salt that had lost their savour, they had been cast out to the street and trodden under foot of men. Now, in verse 14, the Lord removes that privilege from Israel and now gives it to His own disciples. Israel, who had once been a light in the world to all the Gentile nations, that privilege was being taken off them, they were now in darkness and the Lord Jesus' disciples would have to illumine them!
As we read the New Testament we see that Christ came not just to trim the wick of the old lamp of Judaism, but He came into the world to raise up new lights, new luminaries, in the church of Jesus Christ. Christ's disciples now would be the salt, the remedy, against human corruption. But now we see, in verse 14, that they would be the light against human ignorance - and just as the Lord Jesus Christ had come into the world as God's Sun of righteousness, as the Light of the world, now He turns to His disciples as He anticipates leaving the world, and He says: 'You are the light of the world'.
That is the first thought that I want to bring to you today, that you are light in this dark world. You are light in this world's darkness! If you were to turn to John chapter 3, you would see there in verse 19 that this world is shrouded in the deepest, depraved, degraded darkness that you can imagine. The Lord Jesus as a commentary upon that says: 'This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil'. Darkness is one thing, but intentional darkness is quite another. It is one thing to be subject to darkness, it is another thing to choose to shelter underneath it.
This world that we live in has chosen darkness rather than light! The world, I believe, reasons very much like Lady Macbeth when she said: 'Come thick night: And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell: That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark'. They long for the darkness of this world to cover over their evil deeds, and blind the almighty, holy God from their depravity.
Of course, we know from the book of Genesis that the original state of nature was one of darkness, and it took the act of God coming in and saying: 'Let there be light', to bring light into it and to bring life to it. Human nature is the same: it is in deep, dense darkness. It is ignorant of the attributes of God, it is ignorant of the character of God, it is ignorant of its own state before a holy and a righteous God, it does not recognise its duty toward God - to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever - and it does not recognise, it is blind to, the destiny of all sinners if they do not come repentantly to God.
For the average man death is a leap into the dark, isn't it? He doesn't know where he's going to - and indeed, it seems that when man boasts about his darkness, and the darker he seems to admit himself to be, the greater he is in the eyes of men, the wiser he is! When a Professor stands up, or a theologian nowadays, and says: 'Well, we just can't know, we just can't be sure. You have your belief, and I have mine, but we can't be absolutely sure' - and they pull this shroud, this veil of darkness, over the truth of God - why? Because men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.
This darkness is a spiritual darkness that is deadly. Just as you're liable to fall and hurt yourself in natural darkness, just as you drive along the road and if you have no headlights - or there's no lamplights along the road - it's very dangerous to do so. Like a vessel out on the sea, and perhaps it has no lights, perhaps it has no navigation system, and perhaps there are no lights to guide it into the harbour - it is very dangerous! It could hit the rocks, it could hit another vessel. The Lord says we are the light of this world - isn't that remarkable? A world that is shrouded and has been plunged into the deepest darkness, Christ says to you and I: 'You are the light of the world. You are the luminaries, you are the guides, you will be the help of this world, you will be the ones who will deliver this world'.
I think that this is, perhaps, one of the greatest compliments that were paid ever to Christians: that Christ calls them - in John 9:5 He calls Himself: 'I am light of the world' - and now here He says: 'You are light of the world', and He calls His disciples by the very same name He calls Himself! All He is saying when He does that is: 'I want you to be like myself'. That's a big request, isn't it? To be like Christ as He was the salt of the earth, to be like Christ as He was the light of the world, to be like Jesus. It may be all you ask, but it's a big thing to ask isn't it? If Christ had not called us the light of the world, and we called ourselves that, it would be the height of arrogance - wouldn't it? It would be the height of presumption to think that we could say: 'We are the people, the light of the world' - but here is the Lord, standing with His disciples, and He wants to bring to their attention that there is a great need for light in this darkened world.
I don't know about you, but there are times that I despair because of the dense darkness of the age in which we live. Do you not? Are you not sometimes beside yourself as you think of what is going on in our nation at this moment, in our world? But you know, the lighthouse would laugh at us, because he has more sense than we have - because he realises and knows that it is needed all the more in the darkest of places, that's where light needs to be! What a privilege! That's what it is - it ought to be exciting to think that we are light in perhaps the darkest hour of history that there has ever been! In Philippians 2, in his day Paul said: 'In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, you are to shine as lights. You are to be my light in a darkened world!'. It's more than simply reflecting the light of the Saviour, the inference of the statement is: we actually become light ourselves! We become the light of God.
In Ephesians 5 and verse 8 Paul said: 'For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord'. He doesn't say 'You were sometimes in darkness', he says: 'You were darkness' - and not 'now you are in the light', but: 'you are the light of the Lord, therefore walk as children of light'. Now, of course, our light is derived from the Lord Jesus - of course it is! But, you know, isn't it a great mystery to think that although it is from Him, somehow it becomes ours - even though we don't contribute one individual ray to the light that we have, the church of Jesus Christ becomes that light!
If you think about it for a moment, if we are the light of the world we ought to do what light does naturally speaking. Light reveals things as they really are. I'm sure you've had the experience of fumbling into a home late at night and it's dark, or maybe you've been into a house that you've never been in before, and you don't know what to expect - and it's not until you turn the light on that you see the layout of the room. When light is shed on a situation, it shows things as they really are.
Light also promotes life. Indeed, I am told that even our broken bones flourish and mend better in the light, in the sun and in the heat. Light is persistent, natural light is - it goes into the deepest and the smallest little crevices all over nature, into the slightest crack, light will flood into the darkest place. Light awakens - I don't know whether you've ever been up at about half past four in the morning, but if you are you will hear what light does. You will hear the birds singing, you will hear all of nature awakening, because light awakens things. We are to be light in this dark world.
But the Lord says a little bit more than that, because He's emphatic in the statement He makes. This is my second point: you must let your light shine! It's alright being light, but you've got to let that light out! You've got to shine your light! Now, in a Biblical context, the Gentiles - if you like - lived down in the valley, they were the dogs, they had no thought of God, they didn't seek after God, they worshipped idols and they were pagans and idolaters and filthy sinners - down in the valley. Then the Israelites, they lived on the plain - if you like - they were higher, they had the God of Israel, they followed the ten commandments, the law of God, they were the chosen people of God. But now we are going from the valley, to the plain, to an even higher scale: we're going to the church of Jesus Christ. They are to be a people set upon a hill, because they have believed in Messiah. They have been elevated, they are one with Him, justified by His righteousness, possessed by His Spirit. Israel on the plain is made a possessor of earthly blessings in earthly places, but the Christian - the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ - becomes a recipient of spiritual blessings in heavenly places.
It may be more desirable to live in a place that we are not in public view. It may be more comfortable to be in a place where we are a secret disciple, but the Lord Jesus is saying - verse 13, 'the salt of the earth', verse 14, 'the light of the world' - that is impossible! 'If you want to be My child you must let your light shine, you must be like a city set on a hill, you must be like a lamp on a lampstand giving light to all of the house. I have forbidden', He says, 'I have forbidden that you hide your light!'. What the Lord Jesus is saying is there is a great deal expected of sons and daughters of God. You can't hide your temper, you can't hide your character, you can't hide your demeanour, you can't hide your actions, you cannot hide your word - therefore in your words, in your actions, in everything that you do and are publicly, show yourself to be a son of God!
Now, in the illustrations that the Lord gives that we must that our light shine, there are four things that I want to outline from them. The first is this: He is saying your light must be visible. Look at the two illustrations He gave, verse 14 and 15. He talks of a city set on a hill for all to see. He talks of a lamp set up upon a lampstand. Now you know that there is no way, at all, to obscure a city on the crest of a hill - and I believe the Lord, perhaps, was turning and looking actually to a literal city by the side of Him up on a hill. You can't hide it, it's meant to be seen. If you think of a lamp - and remember that the houses in Palestine were very dark, they had no electricity, they had only perhaps one circular window not more than 18 inches long. All they had was a little lamp like a sauce-bowl filled with oil, and a wick floating in it. Normally they put that lamp in a high place, so that it had the greatest effect in all the house, so it spread everywhere. Perhaps they were going a message down to the shop, and they didn't want to put the lamp out, so they would put a bushel over it - a measuring bushel - to cover over the light.
What the Lord is saying is: a city set on a hill, a light on a lamp stand - that the primary duty of light is to be seen, do you get it? That, therefore, is what He's saying to you: you have got to be seen as a Christian, as a believer. Christians are meant to be seen - and as one person says: 'There can be no such a thing as secret discipleship - for either the secrecy destroys the discipleship, or the discipleship destroys the secrecy'. It's a contradiction! You can't be a follower of Christ and no-one knows about it! You notice He didn't say: 'You are the light of the church'. He said: 'You are the light of the world'. It must be visible.
Secondly: it must be effective. The sense of the lamp being put on a lampstand is so that it could light up - indeed, as the Lord says - give light to all the house. That's why He said: 'Don't put it under a bushel. Don't cover it up'. In Luke 11 He says: 'Don't put it in a vault. Don't put it down in the basement'. Although it may shine in a secret place, there are no people in that place for it to affect. It's got to be elevated, it's got to be put to a sphere and a place where it can affect other people - and the sphere of light that is given in verse 14 is the world! Look at it: 'You are the light of the world'. Isn't it wonderful to imagine that when you put a pound into your missionary box, that can be a beam of light to a little child in Africa? Isn't it? When you get onto your knees and pray for young boys and girls and adults in China, under persecution for their faith, that you can actually be shining the light of God round a world that you cannot possibly get to!
But I want us to see, specifically, from verse 15 that the Lord says that that light set upon a lampstand is to send light to the house - to the house. One author says: 'The light that shines the furthest, shines the brightest near at home' - isn't that true? Paul said to Timothy: 'Learn first to show piety at home'. I think this is the need of the hour - there are many things that we need to do, but there's one thing that is needful for our families, and that is to be the light not just in the church, but in the home. There's many a person comes into the church and they are the light of the church - and sometimes their over-piety and over-pious nature in the church is often over-compensating for a lack of holiness in the home! The Lord is saying: 'You've got to be a light where the sphere is your family, where the sphere is your home, where you affect your neighbours, where you affect your work colleagues. If you're not that light, you're useless!'.
Christians - this astounds me, you know - Christians are meant to be the world's real standard. We are meant to be the ones, like a thermometer, that show to the world around us what is right and what is wrong. Now, you know about this - I hope - from experience, that the facts speak louder than the words. Because you ask a man a question: 'Is that right, or is that wrong? Is it right to go there? Is it wrong to do this or that?' - the reply may come: 'Well, it is wrong because so-and-so is a Christian and they don't do it'. Isn't that true? But what is happening today is: when men are asked is this right or is this wrong, the sad reflection upon our holiness today is that they license people in going to sin because believers are doing it!
Whether we are comfortable with it or not, we must realise that many in the world observe Christians to know what is right and wrong - and that's why they often are the ones to point out when we are inconsistent. Isn't that right? They are the first to point the finger, why? Because they are looking, for we are the light! If this is the case, and I believe it is, we can't afford to take our standards from tradition or take our standards from each other - we must learn of God, we must look to the light, and we must also realise that when we dabble in the pleasures and sinful practices of this world, the line of demarcation becomes blurred and we're not any longer taking the light to the world but we're borrowing their darkness!
We are to be a guide to the world. You know the Lord Jesus Christ was that in Mark 7 verse 24, for it says that: 'He entered into a house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid'! It's like trying to hide sprayed perfume, to try and hide the fragrance of a Christ-like life within you! That's what we need today: a life hid with Christ cannot be hid from others. I hope you've noticed that - I know people and they're like that: they stand out among the rest. They're maybe not always the most gifted people, or the most wealthy, or the most influential, but they have a landmark life - they have a life that you can look to and say: 'There is a holy man, there is a holy woman'.
The challenge is 1 Thessalonians 1 verse 6, where Paul says: 'Ye became followers of us, and of our Lord'. That's a wonderful statement. Do you know what that is saying? Put it in our situation, ask the question: if the men and women outside this Hall became followers of us, would they find themselves being followers of Christ? Would they find that we are the light of the world, following our Christ, our Lord who said: 'I am the light of the world'? Are we people - oh, that God would make us people who others could point to and say: 'Now, that is a Christian!'.
It must be visible, it must be effective, and thirdly it must be unhidden. Normally men would not put light under a bushel, but isn't it strange that what they wouldn't dream of doing in the natural sense, in the spiritual they so often do? The believer often puts his light under a bushel. Do we hide our light? The question we must ask first of all, if we are hiding our light, is: is it light at all? Lloyd-Jones said: 'If we find in ourselves a tendency to put the light under a bushel, we must begin to examine ourselves and make sure that it really is light - for Christians are meant to be visible'. Like Christ in that house: we cannot be hid! Salt in the earth, making an irritation to an unholy and adulterous generation. A preserving influence, as the world decomposes, that we are the ones who stand up and are counted, and attempt by the Spirit to stop the rot. But we often put our light under a bushel.
Sometimes it's the bushel of cowardice, like Joseph of Arimathea. He had been lit, he had been a candle lit by the Lord, and no-one would have known it for he busheled his light - and it's recorded in the word of God, listen: 'He was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews'. What about in the workplace? What about on the street? What about your next-door neighbour? Do they know that you're child of God? Or if you told them that you were a child of God would they be astounded because of the life that you live?
Sometimes it's the bushel of apathy. Paul said: 'If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost' - that are lost! I think that the most dreadful thing that has ever happened in our society today, and within the church, is that that word 'lost' has been emasculated! We no longer realise what it means to be lost - and if we don't realise that, that's a bushel over our light. It makes us apathetic to the lost, we become unmoved at the millions who are Christless and on their way to hell! Let's face it: we are desensitised to the lost, and to the reality of hell. How do I know that? Well, we live in a society that kills it's unborn, and it doesn't bother us at all - isn't that right? Millions of little babies are cut up in the womb on the NHS* - and that desensitises us to death and to hell.
(*National Health Service)
There's the bushel of silence. You remember Lot - how do I know that Lot was silent? Do you know why I think he was silent? Because when he spoke to his family about Christ and God, it says he seemed as one who mocked - 'You're speaking about God? That's rich coming from you!' - and that can be a bushel upon our light. Because we're fearful we've been silent so long, but my friend can I urge you - in the light of the judgement seat of Christ - to take the bushel of silence, cowardice, apathy, away and to let your light shine!
Then there's the bushel of inconsistency. One man put it well: 'Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say'. There was once a story told of a shipwreck off the coast of Florida. The storm came by night and it was so fierce that the howling wind came to the lighthouse and actually broke one of the windows of the lighthouse, and the wind was going to blow out the candle. Therefore the guard of the lighthouse climbed up and he put a bit of tin in the place where the window should have been. There was a great vessel that was coming at the aspect of where that piece of tin was, and they couldn't see the light of the lighthouse and they crashed into the rocks - what was the reason? There was one specific aspect of the life of that lighthouse where the light was not shining! It was blind. Sometimes one of our sides are inconsistent - and, you know, that causes awful damage.
Fourthly I want to ask question: how can I shine more? You've listened to this, perhaps you're wanting to shine visibly, shine effectively, shine in a way that you're not hidden by cowardice and apathy and silence and inconsistency - well, here's the answer! Donald Gray Barnhouse explained it this way, he said: 'Christ was in the world, and when He was in the world He was the shining sun that is here in the day and is gone at night. When the sun sets the moon comes up, and the moon is a picture of the believer or the church, because the moon reflects the light of the sun'! It doesn't shine with its own light, it shines with a reflected light.
How can we shine? A man on one occasion went camping with his wife, and brought a matchbox with him. When they bought it there was little sign that said on it that it glowed in the dark. When they turned the lights out in the tent, they were going to test it out - and they went to strike a match, but they couldn't find the matchbox because it didn't glow in the dark. When the wife took the torch and looked at the writing down the side of the matchbox, she found written in French these words: 'If you want me to shine in the night, keep me in the light'. If you want me to shine in the night, keep me in the light.
We need, more than ever, in a dark and a sinful world to keep and expose ourselves to the light of the world, Jesus Christ - and then we will become the light of the world, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. The face of Jesus Christ is where that glory shines: 'But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord' - look to Him! Bathe in His light, spend much time in prayer and in the word of God, and in fellowship with God's people - be under the shadow of God's light!
Thirdly and finally I want you to see that your light will reflect upon another. Look at verse 16 as we close, verse 16: 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven'. That word 'good works' means attractive things, things that don't repel people, but things that attract people to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are being good - not in a theatrical sense, not to impress people or to win friends, but you are being good for God - it will glorify God! Some of us, you know, we're good to get a pat on the back from men.
Dr Alexander MacLaren said: 'Candles are not lit to be looked at, but that something else might be seen'. You're lit, my friend, hopefully with good works - not that you should be seen, but that God should be seen, that His glory should be seen. Like John the Baptist, who said: 'I must decrease, but He must increase' - he was saying: 'Don't look at me, look at God'. We are the sons of God, but we only reflect the light of God - and you can see that in his life, because it says not that he was a shining light, but it says of John the Baptist: 'He was a burning and a shining light' - it cost him! He was burnt up being a light unto the world.
Can I say, as we close, that in our nation: prison reforms, medical care, control of a perverted and perverting alcohol trade, abolition of slavery, abolition of child labour, the establishment of orphanages, the reform of the penal code - all of those areas of social reform were spearheaded by men of God! George Whitefield, John Wesley, Howel Harris, Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce and others - at a time when the church, in those days, was a full moon dazzling the world with the light of the Lord Jesus Christ - I believe at this moment of time it is only a thumbnail moon with very little light that shines on the earth. We have got a challenge, my friend, the challenge is that in the densest of darkness - if we live a life that is pleasing to Christ - we can light this world! Will you take the challenge? Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus: 'You are the light of this world'.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the Lord Jesus who is that ultimate light of the world - but we are called by Him to be that light now that He has gone to heaven. We pray, Lord, that Thou wilt help us and give us grace to be cities set on a hill that cannot be hidden, to be candles put on a candlestick that will light our houses, our homes, our workplace, and - yes - our assembly, and all that we come into contact with may be lit by our light. We pray in all these things that our light may shine before men, seeing our good works, and they may glorify Thee. Lord, that is what we long for - our ultimate prayer is that Thou should be glorified in our holy lives. So hear us Lord, and help us, in the Saviour's name we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "The Light Of The World" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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