Let your light shine

Please read Matthew 5 v 13-16 and then pray; Almighty God, I believe with the Psalmist that “the unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119: 130) May your Word provide guidance for my life and witness. May your Spirit always enlighten my understanding and empower my service for your kingdom, to the glory of Jesus my Saviour. Amen!

As we continue our journey through this season of Epiphany, we are continually discovering that we are being drawn towards the Light. Light is synonymous with the message and meaning of Epiphany, because Epiphany at its core emphasises the manifestation of God’s light and presence to the whole world. The presence and the light of God to the world are revealed in the person of Jesus; God’s Messiah; His specially chosen and anointed Servant. (Isaiah 42: 1, 6, 49:6) Jesus we discover, is the promised light for the Gentiles; the One who will “bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.” No corner of the earth will remain untouched by His light. His light will impact the entire globe!

If Advent celebrates and rejoices in the arrival of the Light of the world (John 1:9, 14), Epiphany glories in the unveiling of the Light to the world. In Matthew’s gospel, the verses that especially ring out with the message of Epiphany are to be found in Matthew 4: 12-17, for they are the verses that draw us back to the promise of the prophet Isaiah concerning the dawning of the light. After being baptised in the Jordon and tempted in the Judean wilderness, the ministry of Jesus begins. He is now unveiled to the people who live around the Sea of Galilee.

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

Land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordon, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

The moment Jesus began his ministry of preaching and healing – a great light hit the geographical area that had been spoken of by the prophet. Jesus began to light up that environment as he preached repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom, and as he demonstrated the kingdom’s presence through his ministry of healing and exorcism. (Matthew 4: 23-25) Darkness was being driven out by Jesus’s powerful authority. As the Light of holiness dazzled – demons fled. Light dawned across the land as the Servant of the Lord rose like the morning sun. The kingdom of heaven was being presented. It had come with Jesus and was now powerfully impacting one village at a time.

Jesus not only brought great light; he was the Light; for God is light. (1 John 1:5) As Jesus would later boldly declare;

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)

It is here where we have the message of Epiphany revealed exclusively in the person of Jesus Christ. He was not just light to the Galilean region of Israel; He was light for the whole Gentile world. He had come to bring light to all nations. He had left heaven in order to light up the entire world through the power of his sinless life, healing touch, pure teaching, sacrificial death, mighty resurrection, victorious ascension and reign. The light of his salvation was destined to reach out to the very ends of the earth. Wow! But it began here – in this geographical space and at this point in the history of our world.

How could/would the light of the gospel, the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus, spread to the very ends of the earth? The answer to this crucial question takes us to the heart of our text today where Jesus declared to his tiny number of recently chosen disciples; “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). God planned to place the light of Jesus and His kingdom into the lives of the “the poor in spirit.” These specially chosen disciples would be the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” There was to be a Jesus revolution and a missionary movement of light which would reach out to all corners of the world for which Christ would die and rise again. The light of God in Christ had come into the world and would soon move out to every nation under the sun. (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8)

You are the light of the world is just as emphatic and exclusive as I am the light of the world. To a modern western mindset which is now fixated on the idea of inclusiveness, exclusive claims like this, made by Jesus, seem shocking – but here is the Son of God speaking truth about himself and his humble followers. Jesus and those who follow him are the light of the world. This gives us insight into the NT understanding of what a Christian disciple is and how they are to live for God’s glory.

A follower of Christ becomes the light of the world only because, and by virtue of the fact, that they have received the light of the world into their lives and believed in his name. (John 1:12-13) Jesus, by his Spirit, comes to live within the lives on those who humbly receive him and his word. Christians receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour and in a supernatural process also receive;

  • The Kingdom of Christ (which is the kingdom of light – the reign of God).
  • The light and life of Christ (which is eternal).
  • The forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Membership into the body of Jesus Christ – the Church and Community of the living God.

The apostle Peter describes this beautifully in his first letter;

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1Peter 2:9-10)

Paul also writes similarly to the saints at Ephesus;

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord (5:8-10)

Notice how Paul says that Christians are light because they are light in the Lord. Their light comes from the Lord, who is now their Lord. It derives solely from their Saviour who is light for the Gentiles. (Ephesians 3:6) They are light only because He is the Light of the world and He now dwells in their hearts by grace and through faith. (Ephesians 2:8, 3:12,17)

The logic of Jesus’s teaching is therefore easy to follow. We can shine with His light only because we have welcomed Him and his kingdom of light him into our hearts and lives.

The logic continues. Because his disciples are the light of the world through their relationship with him, that light should not be hidden. The Christ-like life is not to be a secret and hidden life. The light must not be put under a bowl. The light is given to light up the house, or to light up the world which is covered in darkness due its present separation and alienation from the God of light and truth.

Disciples of Christ must be visible and active in the world of humanity. They are to live out their lives and shine their light before men – right in front of people. The followers of Jesus must never be tempted to hide away or keep a low profile. They are no not to be apologetic for their faith and hope in Christ. They must never be ashamed of Jesus or his words but rather must allow the light of Christ’s person and teaching to radiate from them, and warmly affect all around them. Christians individually and in unison are to make an impact which lights up the world.

As a Christian are you tempted to live a quiet life in modern Britain? Are you tempted to hide the light of Jesus in you rather than let it shine? Do you feel a pressure to keep your faith to yourself and in the private domain? Are you afraid to shine for Christ in the places where you work and where you enjoy leisure time? In our modern western world – the Christian witness is not always welcome because there is a clash of values where the light of Christ is not simply unwelcome – it is strongly resisted and opposed as it comes up against all manner and expressions of darkness. Jesus became a problem and was persecuted precisely because his brilliant light kept piercing the darkness of hypocrisy, injustice, dishonesty, sexual immorality, pride, false religion, corruption, and greed. If the light of Christ is in us, and we encourage it to shine, it will no doubt lead to opposition, criticism and even persecution. Jesus warned that those who abide in him (and his light) would not be popular.

If the world (where you shine your light) hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world it would love you as one of its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

It is interesting that Jesus’s teaching on “salt and light” comes immediately after the beatitude which speaks about being persecuted “because of righteousness.” Jesus knew what was coming for those who would bravely take up their cross and follow him. There was to be a continuous clash of kingdoms, his kingdom clashing with the kingdom of darkness. He summed up the reality of the situation in this way;

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3: 19-20)

So, the passionate call of Jesus, at the outset of his Sermon on the Mount is for his followers to be brave and fearless. This is a huge challenge because of the danger and the risk-factor, but it is one we must all face, pray earnestly about, and then respond to with faith. Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith obeys Christ’s call. Jesus has called you and I to be light – and light should not be hidden but must shine. If we do not respond to this challenge – darkness will simply increase and dominate our world. Paul challenged the Philippians to “become children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16) That challenge remains and it is one which we must embrace with an obedient faith.

You will probably be aware of the existence of a condition called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a mood disorder which results in depression and is mainly related to a lack of sunlight. It largely affects people during winter-time for obvious reasons. Sunlight is important for our health and wellbeing. The benefits and blessings of sunlight include; improvement to our sleeping patterns and quality of sleep; reduced stress levels; help in strengthening bones; help with keeping weight down; strengthening of the immune system; fighting off depression.

Other benefits could be mentioned – but we can see from this the significance sunlight brings to our bodies and souls. But the people of our world need another sunlight also. This is the Light of salvation and truth that comes from the Son of God who is the Sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:2) Light is deeply connected to life. Without the light – there can be no life because it is dependent upon it. Jesus came that we might have life and light in all its fullness. (John 10:10) If Christians in this world fail to shine their light in Christ – we are depriving the world of the saving light it so desperately needs. The light of Jesus has the power to disperse any despair, depression, or darkness, but it must be seen in our world for it to bestow its life-giving effect.

Jesus says that it can be seen through the good deeds of those who follow him. We must let the light shine as we imitate Christ and bless others through deeds of righteousness, goodness, compassion, and kindness. The good deeds come in all shapes and sizes – massive international works of compassion (Christian aid) to quietly visiting a sick person in hospital. Jesus spoke about how we might love our neighbour through compassionate deeds – clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, welcoming and being hospitable to the stranger, visiting the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25: 31-46) It is through all this Christ-like activity and service, giving and sharing, that the light of God shines powerfully in our world today in every nation. This light brings life and healing to the nations. And as Jesus stressed, the good works are to be done, not to virtue signal our own goodness, but to glorify our Father in heaven. (Psalm 115:1). In other words, we shine light for God’s glory not our own.

Although the Church in the UK is now relatively small – it punches above its weight when it comes to serving the nation and bringing forth light and love. Think of all that is done in virtually every community by Christian light-bearers. Food banks, youth clubs, children’s outreach, homeless shelters, luncheon clubs for the elderly, chaplaincies in prisons, hospitals, the armed forces, and educational establishments; debt counselling services, community cafes and advice centres; soup kitchens, parent, and baby/toddler groups. The list goes on and on. Light shines everywhere in this land through followers of Jesus. Good deeds flow weekly like the milk and honey of the promised land.

There is much talk in our nation and within our media at the moment about strikes. Many people are striking because of the cost-of-living crisis, inflation, and threats to their future employment rights. Imagine, if you can, what would happen to this nation if the Church of Jesus Christ decided to go on strike for a month. Think about all the things that would close – all the compassionate and caring outreach that would immediately stop. (This actually happened during lockdowns) If the Church were to go on strike even for a week, the darkness would descend and people would suddenly realise that precious life-giving light had disappeared. And if the present and growing anti-Judeo-Christian spirit takes a trenchant and lasting stranglehold upon our nation, I predict that a plague of spiritual and social darkness will descend upon and cover our nation like it came over the Egyptians whose leader refused to let the Israelites go and worship their God. As the Christian witness in the UK decreases – so the darkness increases. It is inevitable. The salt of the earth is the only thing holding back the social decay, and light of the world is the one power that frustrates and disperses the darkness.

Are we ready and willing to be the salt that will savour this nation? Are we ready and willing to be light that will resist and pin back the forces of this dark world? (Ephesians 6:12) Are we willing to put on the armour of light (Romans 13: 12-14) and clothe ourselves with the goodness and love of the Lord Jesus Christ? I read again this week how William Wilberforce along with other evangelical Christians confronted the abomination of slavery through their political bravery and tireless endeavours. He was light in darkness. He refused to compromise. He was salty – and he faced mighty opposition and persecution. In the end – light overcame the darkness. Martin Luther King did not hide his faith under a bowl. He shone a powerful light against the darkness of racial inequality and injustice. That is a light that still needs to be shone in our day. The fight is not over. Darkness can and does creep back.

May God so fill us with the Holy Spirit and power that we are given the boldness to be what Jesus called us to be.
In his words; You are the light of the world.

To our Father in heaven be all the glory, now and always. (Matthew 5:16)  Amen !

Rev Peter J Clarkson (5.2.23)