You are the Light of the World

Read again with me from Matthew 5:14-16 –  14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

In these  verses Jesus describes our function as God’s people. In one word it is influence. When we live by the principles of the previous beatitudes we will have a profound influence on the world we live in. This is not the impact of government policy or political revolution, but rather the influence of individual character. It is the influence that Jesus wrought upon His world in the first century.  It is the influence of both doing and saying.  As we noticed last week, God introduced light into a dark world; first in the creation of physical light of the universe; next in the incarnation and revelation of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus declared in John 8:12  “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (NIV) In exactly the same choice of words, He states here that we (as His people) are the light of the world.

 I.   “You are the Light of the World” – This is one of those statements that should cause us to rejoice about our situation in the world. If we are the light of the world, then we must be “in the light” ourselves. It is a glorious thing to be living in the light, and not groping in darkness.  Paul told the Ephesians “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord…” Ephesians 5:8). He told the Colossians in Col 1:13He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.   But Jesus’ words are designed to describe, not just our blessed position, but our serious responsibility. We not only have received the “light” of the gospel of Christ, we have become reflectors of that light.  The world must see God in us, and through us.

A.  Again we notice that Jesus here is not issuing a direct command, but stating a fact.. You ARE the light of the world. As with verse 13, the word “you “ is emphatic in the sentence – You and you alone…   As God’s people, we are the reflection of His light to the world. The question is whether or not we will allow our light to shine, or will be hide it.

1.  Light does not struggle to be noticed when it is introduced into a dark place. Light is the opposite of darkness. That seems too obvious to mention, yet there is a prevailing conclusion that God doesn’t expect his people to live much differently than the rest of the world. (“We must strive to coexist because, after all, we are all the same”.)  If we are following Christ, we will expose the darkness of the world we live in. I like this statement about Noah – “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”  Hebrews 11:7  –  Noah did not build the ark to condemn the world (God ‘s light of revelation  had already done that), but when he built it he did condemn the world because light exposes and condemns the darkness.  Don’t be discouraged if people view your lifestyle as condemning others. It may mean your light is shining bright enough to be noticed.

B.   But if we are lights then we are meant to shine.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden; you do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. (Can see Las Vegas from miles away)

1.   Jesus’ words clearly reject a monastic approach to godly living. God does not want us to isolate ourselves from the world, or hide out in a church building, feeling superior to others. We must be seen by others to fulfill our purpose as lights. But we must be careful here. This visibility is not about us.

2.    As God’s people, Israel was the recipient of God’s revelation.  As “people of light” they were to let that light shine in the world.  But their obedience was to point people toward God, not themselves.  Matt 6:1-2Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  V. 5 –  “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  This leads us to a vital question answered in this text:

 II.   What is the purpose of our light?  It is easy to list the number of things that physical light does for  the environment. Our world could not exist without it. But the spiritual light that flows from the life of God’s people has only one purpose – “that they (the world) may glorify your father who is in heaven. “

A.  Can others see what God has done (or is doing) in you?  (Cruising by a glacier in the fog; what a tragic notion.)  If others cannot see the evidence of God’s work, they have no incentive to turn to Him.

 III.  “Let your light so shine…” – Can you see the halo above my head?  No, and you didn’t expect either, did you? So what is this light that Jesus is describing that I must allow to shine in the darkness? How do I obey this command?   

  • Peter says God’s people we are called to be ready to give an answer for our hope. The early Christians went everywhere preaching (proclaiming) the word. Light through teaching.

A.  But the most powerful method of dispensing light is contained in the text itself:  “That they may see your good works “.  Nothing points to God more clearly than doing good. God always does what is good – morally, ethically and practically.

1.  Peter described Jesus in Acts 10:38, as one whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, who went everywhere “doing good..”  

2.  Consider Luke’s description of the Jerusalem church as they dispensed their light in Acts 2:45-47: He says theysold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.”  They were making a favorable impression upon others through their unity and generosity.  

a.  One author recounted seeing a pair of Cardinals at a bird feeder in the winter. One was healthy; the other had a broken beak and could not pick up the seeds. The healthy bird fed the other bird, seed by seed. The author’s comment was that it would not be hard to imagine that the bird with the broken beak would easily be persuaded to worship the God of his friend. We have no authority to make the church into the Red Cross. But we have every reason to believe that good works are evangelistic and speak well of whom we serve.

3.  Paul used the term “good works”  8 times in his letters to Timothy and Titus. It was vital that these evangelists urge the members of God’s church to practice and maintain a pattern of doing good. If they did not learn to do this, their light would not shine – Titus 3:8 – This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.  What have you done for others that would point them to God?

B.  But let me suggest that the most powerful list of “good works” that shine in a dark world are found in the context of Jesus’ sermon itself.  This is  Jesus’ list in the sermon on the Mount summarized for you: (turn to Matthew 5 and follow along. – Does this challenge you enough?

  • Work on your heart first (5:21-28) – (murder and adultery begin there)
  • Take sin seriously (5:29-30) – (pluck out your eye if you need to)
  • Keep your vows and stay married (5:31-32) – (God hates divorce)
  • Always tell the truth (5:33-37) – (your yes be yes; your no be no)
  • Do more than is expected of you (5:38-42) – (go the second  mile)
  • Do good to those that hate you (5:43-48) – (If you love only those who love you…?)
  • Don’t be a hypocrite (6:1-18)- (do not do it to be seen by others)
  • Seek spiritual things over the material things (6:19-24) – Lay up treasures in heaven)
  • Don’t worry, trust God (6:24-33) (seek God and His righteousness FIRST)
  • Don’t try to pick the speck out of your brother’s eye if you have a log in yours (7:1-6)
  • Ask God for everything you need  (7:7-12)
  • Follow the truth wherever it leads (7:13-23) – (the narrow way that few find)
  • Obey God’s commands consistently (7:24-27) – (build your house on the rock)

If I did this would the world notice me?   This is the essence of light in a dark world.          1 Peter 2:11-12, 15 –  Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.  … 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men

 IV.   “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a bushel…” –  I want to close our consideration of this passage with a look as verse  15 – Jesus states the obvious. No one intentionally hides a lamp under a basket.  It would defeat the purpose and plan of the light. This is the other half of Jesus implicit command: I must allow my light to shine by not allowing it to be hidden under a basket. 

A.  Baskets that hide our light :

  • Hypocrisy – is it possible to do the right thing, but do it insincerely so as to rob the good work of its light?  Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for keeping the law too carefully. But when they set aside issues of the heart to focus on outward conformity their example became darkness.  Matt 23:13-15 – “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
  • Fear – Fear is the opposite of faith, and every disciple has been confronted with this light killer. Peter had the opportunity to shine in Jesus’ darkest hour, but he was afraid of the words of a servant girl. Are you afraid of the darkness?
  • Worldliness or compromise1 John 2:15-16   Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world.
  • Rudeness –  Col 4:5- 6 – Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.  6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
  • Self righteousness – “you think your right and everyone else is wrong”
  • A lack of joy –  In john 16 Jesus told his disciples that He would give them a joy that the world did not have and could not provide. Do your neighbors see that joy in you, or do they see a murmuring , grumpy person whose bad attitude about life turns them off.

 Conclusion:  Is your light shining in this dark world?   We are the light of the world, this is our purpose.  1 Peter 2:9 – 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 


If you are not a Christian, how can you lead others out of darkness? If you are not a Christian, you are living in the darkness. Come to the light of the gospel and begin reflecting the glory og God to others.

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