Here are a few verses from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14-16:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 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.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
These words come in the context of Jesus giving amazing teachings to His disciples. For the disciples, it must have been surprising that their leader Jesus, all of a sudden tells them that they are the light of the world. Who is? Us? Some fisherman from nowhere important and with nothing special about us? And we are supposed to be the light of the world?
I react that way. We are the light of the world? Surely it can’t be us? But Jesus is pretty clear that it is His disciples who are the light of the world. So how can we be the light of the world?
To answer that question I first want to look at who is the light of the world before us.
John 8:12 says
12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
So Jesus is the light of the world. It is important that we grasp this, because we can’t be the light of the world unless we are in relationship with and connected to Jesus. And we can’t be in relationship with or connected to Jesus without trusting in His death and resurrection to save us. In what way is Jesus the light of the world? Jesus is the King, the Lord, come to earth to establish His eternal Kingdom and redeem humanity, so that we can be reconciled to God. Jesus lights up this world by removing the darkness of sin. Jesus lights up this world by establishing an everlasting Kingdom, based on loving God and each other self-sacrificially. Jesus lights up this world by taking on our darkness on the cross. Jesus lights up this world by rising victoriously over death. Jesus lights up this world by bringing a new time period of the Lord’s favour (cf. Luke 4:16-21).
Jesus then gives us this promise: ‘he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ Wow! So the way to get in on the light of the world is to follow Jesus, who is the light of the world. Following Jesus, means not walking in the darkness of sin, where death rules over us; it means walking in the light of Jesus, following Him and being illuminated by who He is.
Here is an illustration that comes to my mind when I think about the light:
Imagine a dark room. There’s a candle in the middle of the room. And you have a mirror. You start off by facing away from the candle. So there’s light in the room, but your mirror is completely dark. You begin to turn towards the light. What happens? You start to see more of the light. And as you turn more and more, you continue to reflect more of that light to the rest of the room. What does all of this mean? You are now shining your light by reflecting the light source – the candle. If we are facing away from Jesus, then no matter what we’re doing, we can’t be reflecting His light to the world around us. And if we are facing towards Jesus, then we must be reflecting His light to the world around us.
Jesus gives us a number of illustrations and it will be helpful for us to consider each one in turn to understand more fully how we can live as the light of the world.
‘A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.’ What does this mean? I think it’s pretty straightforward as a metaphor. If there is a city on top of a hill, you can’t hide it.
If we’re the light of the world, we should be like that city on the hill. We should not be able to be hidden.
‘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.’
Imagine someone lighting a candle, only to put it under something to hide it. Let’s just think about how ridiculous that is. A candle’s purpose in this illustration is for light. So to cover the candle is to take away its purpose. The candle is not fulfilling its purpose of bringing light when it is hidden. Obviously, it would be absurd for someone to put a candle under a bowl. I think Jesus wants us to think it is just as ridiculous for Christians to not shine our lights. Jesus the light of the world has made Christians to be the light of the world, reflecting His image, so to hide that is just as stupid as putting a candle under a bowl. In contrast to hiding the candle, one puts it on a candlestick, so that it is displayed before others. In the same way, we as Christians should reflect Jesus’ love openly to the world around us. Jesus’ love is not a secret for us to keep between a small group. Jesus’ love is filling the whole world as God establishes His Kingdom here.
‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’
In this verse, Jesus makes it clear how all of this applied to the disciples and applies to us today. The bottom line is that as Christians we are called to shine our lights before other people, so that they can see our good works. Why? So that they too may glorify our Heavenly Father.
Let us glorify our Heavenly Father in our actions and with our words, by reflecting Jesus’ light to the world around us.
If you are a Christian, keep persevering! This life has all kinds of challenges; continue to trust Jesus and shine His light to the world around you.
If you aren’t a Christian, join the family! God is welcoming you into relationship with Him as an adopted son or daughter. He calls us all to repent and trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation, so if you have not yet done that, then please do. Go for it! So that you too may glorify our Heavenly Father and shine the light of Jesus to the world.