Phil Cox

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The Light of the World

19th May 2012

Right after the beatitudes, Jesus said:

Matthew 5v13-16
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

There is, of course, a great deal to be said about the idea that Christians are the salt of the earth, improving society and preserving what's good in it. This week, though, let's look instead at Jesus's amazing statement that His disciples (see verses 1-2) are the light of the world.

This means that Jesus's disciples - us - are called to be like Him, and to carry on His ministry.

John tells us in two places that Jesus described Himself as the light of the world. The first is:

John 8v12
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."

Of course, we all accept this without reservation. All followers of Jesus have the light of life. As Paul expressed it:

2 Corinthians 4v6
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The second time John records Jesus describing Himself in this way is when His disciples were asking Him about the man who had been born blind. They wondered if his blindness was some sort of punishment for sin, committed either by him or by his parents, but Jesus replied:

John 9v3-5
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Jesus went on to heal the blind man. In His own words, He was displaying the work of God. And He says that, because He was doing this, He was the light of the world. But he also says in this answer that this is true "while I [Jesus] am in the world".

While Jesus was in the world, He did what He described as "the work of him who sent me". Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, it's you and me - the followers of Jesus - who must do the Father's work. It's you and me who must display the work of God.

This teaching comes right after the beatitudes, and there's a strong connection between them:

  • To the extent that we are poor in spirit, and mourn, and are meek, and hunger and thirst for righteousness, and are merciful, and are pure in heart, and are peacemakers, and experience persecution because of righteousness - to that extent - we are blessed.
  • This blessing includes: The kingdom of heaven will be ours; we will be comforted; we will inherit the earth; we will be filled; we will be shown mercy; we will be called sons of God; and our reward in heaven will be great.
  • We will be called sons of God because all these things will result in our becoming (at least a little bit) like Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  • And, to the extent that we are conformed to the image of Christ, we too will function as the light of the world.

You and I are followers of Jesus, His disciples. We are called to be like Him. That's why we're called "Christians". And we must not allow our shyness, or even our humility, or our awareness that we still sin, to dissuade us from obeying Christ's command to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven".

How will our neighbours discover the love, mercy and goodness of God, if we don't display them?

Who will do God's work, if not us?

Jesus said "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.