Christian, You Are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14)
It is a striking statement, is it not? Are you surprised by these words, or have they become commonplace to you? Easily passed over. I wonder if the people who were gathered around Jesus that day, hearing these words, did not look about themselves shyly, wondering, can he really mean me? Am I the light of the world? Surely he exaggerates. Do you, Christian, feel commended or confronted when you read these words of Jesus? Is you response, "Well of course I'm the light of the world! I'm a Christian, aren't I?" Or is it, "How can this possibly be?"
Jesus said elsewhere that he himself was the light of the world. Yes, we approve of that. It was Jesus who gave sight to the blind, after all. But it is this same Jesus who also says to a group of rather unimpressive followers, "You are the light of the world."
I am one who feels confronted by these words. I need to ask, how can it be? Because I have to confess to you, if I were to say that I am "the light" in my workplace, it would be a laughably inaccurate statement. It would embarrass me to say such a thing in public. Yet, am I worse than these early followers of Jesus. These folks are hardly paragons of Christian virtue. They are, at the most literal level, simply followers of one in whom they have sensed authority, power, wisdom. They know nothing of the cross at this point. Like Peter, they would be affronted by the very suggestion that the Galilean teacher must die for the sins of the world. Furthermore, we readers of Matthew's Gospel also know, as these men and women did not, that it wouldn't be long before every one of them would desert the man they are now so eager to hear. He would be left alone by them. The sun would be darkened, and his blood would be poured out in utter loneliness.
And yet, if the Savior's words are meant for us at all, and if we are essentially no different than the crowds to whom they were originally spoken, then we must confess that we are the light of the world despite our sin, our failings, our faltering testimony and our less than exemplary lives. We are required, I think, to let these words confront us. And so I ask again, How can it be?
I believe that these simple words of Jesus are able to usher us into truths that will quite literally occupy our hearts and minds for all eternity. The Apostle John records Jesus saying, "I am the light of the world." And here Matthew records him saying, "You are the light of the world." The great English preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, addressing this apparent contradiction, wrote, "These two statements must always be taken together, since the Christian is only the 'light of the world' because of his relationship to Him who is Himself 'the light of the world.'" Lloyd-Jones goes on to say:
You remember how the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians v, where he says, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord". So not only have we received light, we have been made light; we become transmitters of light. In other words, it is this extraordinary teaching of the mystical union between the believer and his Lord. His nature enters into us so that we become, in a sense, what He Himself is. It is essential that we bear in mind both aspects of this matter. As those who believe the gospel we have received light and knowledge and instruction. But, in addition, it has become part of us. It has become our life, so that we thus become reflectors of it. The remarkable thing, therefore, of which we are reminded here is our intimate relationship with Him. The Christian is a man who has received and has become a partaker of the divine nature. The light that is Christ Himself the light that is ultimately God, is the light that is in the Christian. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." "I am the light of the world." "Ye are the light of the world." The way to understand this is to grasp our Lord's teaching concerning the Holy Spirit in John xiv-xvi where He says, in effect, "The result of His coming will be this: My Father and I will take up Our abode in you; We will be in you and you will be in Us." God, who is "the Father of lights", is the light that is in us; He is in us, and we are in Him, and thus it can be said of the Christian, "Ye are the light of the world."Yes, Christian, you are the light of the world, because the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Of course you are an inadequate vessel, and yet Jesus has put it quite bluntly. You, such as you are, are the light of the world. I have deemed it so. I have sent my Spirit to make it possible.
There is certainly much more to be said about being a light, and Jesus himself does not stop here. Nevertheless, we can say without equivocation, Christ in you, Christian, is the hope for which the whole world yearns. Christian, you are the light of the world! Do you believe it?
[The entirety of Lloyd-Jones' sermon on this passage can be found here--among various other Internet places--and is collected in his wonderful book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.]