Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 2. Light
Mt 5:14-16 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.
In these three verses Jesus uses 3 analogies and then concludes with an instruction. The three are light, a city, and a lamp on a lampstand. Now most Christians are aware of Jesus’ own claim, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” (Jn 8:12) but fewer are sure that Jesus said, “YOU are THE light of the world” to US, to all his followers. In order to unpack this amazing claim we should perhaps ask, 1. What does light do? 2. How can we say we are the light of the world, what is our source of light? and then 3. How does that work out in practical terms in everyday life?
What does light do? In its very simplest way, light illuminates otherwise dark places to reveal what is there. Now there are various outworkings or results of that, but that is basically what light does. So what are those outworkings. Imagine you wake up after a long period of being in a coma and you are in absolute darkness, and then suddenly a light is turned on. What happens?
Well first of all the light shows up what is there, how things are, what is going on around you, if you like. Light reveals the condition of the room or the world, the state of the world that was previously hidden in the dark. Now from that, second, light therefore reveals a) what is bad and b) what is good, in the world (room) round about you. (Remember, we are only dealing with general principles first of all.) Also, third, light will show how movement is possible, where you can go. In the dark, possibilities are unclear. As soon as a light is turned on – or the sun comes out – pathways become clear and obvious, a door from the room becomes obvious.
What is Our source of light? Well obviously it is Jesus or, to be more precise, the Holy Spirit living within us. If we are to ‘shine’ it is to be him through us. Of myself, I have nothing that can shine in the dark, but with him within me I will shine in the dark. Because he is the light of the world and because he lives in us, we become the light of the world. We aren’t usurping his position to say that, we are just letting him express himself through us, thus revealing light.
How does this work practically? Well, we said that light reveals the world, reveals what is good and bad and also reveals possibilities for change and movement. So, OK, first we reveal that the real world is not only material. It is both material and spiritual. Our lives are to have a spiritual dimension, a spiritual expression that says to the watching world, “Hey, this is reality, are you experiencing this and if not, would you like to?” Second, by the love and goodness of our lives we will a) show up others (not to be negative but to show that ‘bad’ contrasts with our ‘good’) and b) show there is an alternative to their ‘bad’; it is possible with God’s directing and empowering and enabling to live ‘good’! Third, by presenting a good, wholesome example or alternative to so much of what is happening around us – and why we can be living like this – we reveal a possibility that can be reached out for, a relationship with God that was made possible by Jesus dying on the Cross and his Holy Spirit now being available for us today.
So much for the basics, but that is just the first phrase. What is this about a city on a hill and a lamp on a lampstand? Well they are both illustrations of putting light where it can be seen, and where it can shine out over a bigger area. To the person whose inclination is to hide away and keep out of sight, and to the recluse who wants to go and live in the desert to avoid the pollution of the ‘world’, this comes as a direct challenge: get out there where you can be seen, be the person God has called you to be, full of love, full of grace, full of goodness, full of humility, but full of courage and boldness. Shine! Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You are in fact God’s poster-people, those He wants to display to the world.
Yes, those we show up will be defensive and hostile but that is more their problem than ours. Others will see and think and ponder and realise they are unhappy with the life they live and wonder about yours and why you are like you are – and they may just ask, what is it that makes you like you are? That’s why the apostle Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15)
That needs a little thought and preparation. Think how you can give a short testimony of how you have experienced God’s love, in a gentle and respectful way, not brash or arrogantly. Think how you can tell that it has been a learning exercise, to realise God is there for you and that He loves you, that you can learn about Him from His word, and talk to Him in prayer. Some people are hard-hearted and callous about God and won’t want to know, but others, those who ask you questions, have seeking hearts. They are the ones who, when they see what you do or say, and the way you do it or say it, may be stirred by your “good deeds” and open their hearts to Him and become one who praise and glorify Him.
To conclude, if you want to see a classic response to the amazing testimony of God’s good provision, read the Queen of Sheba’s response to King Solomon when she went to visit him. Find it in 1 Kings 10:6-9. Solomon not only demonstrated the wonder of what God had done, but by her language it is clear that he had explained to her all about the One he followed, and as he shared, she believed. That was light being shed.