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John 12:35-36 1
35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

Matthew 5:14, 16
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Background

Our verses are taken from the familiar dialogue of Jesus about salt and light. For this study, the concentration is on the word light. “You are the light of the world.” The Greek word used in the original text is “kosmou,” a derivative of the word kosmos.  The choice of the word kosmos is significant. In the New Testament, kosmos is often used to mean the world that is opposed to God. The kosmos loves “the darkness rather than the light; for their works (are) evil” (John 3:19). However, “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In Matthew’s Gospel, we now find that Jesus has appointed us to bring light to dispel the darkness of the kosmos and defines it as our sacred duty. This is a most appropriate lesson for the Sunday after Pentecost. We have been equipped with the Holy Spirit and now it is time to shine!

Kosmos is also a significant word in another sense. The kosmos is the whole world—the East, the West, and everything in between. Christ calls us to light up the whole globe. He says, “Go, and make disciples of all nations“ (Matthew 28:19). Not everyone can go to a foreign mission field, but there are plenty of mission fields in our own communities. We can also support foreign missionaries by our prayers and financial support.

Light is a familiar metaphor in Scripture:

  • Psalm 36:9 says of God, “in your light we see light.”
  • Psalm 119:105 says of the Scriptures, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
  • Isaiah 42:6 told Israel that God intended them to be “a light to the nations,” i.e., to all the world.
  • Jesus adopted the metaphor for Himself in John 9:5, saying, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
  • Here, Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus’ tenure on earth was limited. He charges His disciples with providing illumination through the witness of their good works (v. 16).

To first look at our verses from John, we find that these are the last words of our Lord’s public ministry. After this, Christ spoke only to His followers in the seclusion of a sympathetic home at Bethany, and in the sanctity of the upper chamber. By these words, Christ is pleading with those who had so long rejected Him. For this point, Christ is the “Light” and He is going away. Hence, the darkness will come because of his absence. If we stopped here, it would be a depressing point of Scripture and history.  However, Matthew, years later, writes the “rest of the story.” We are to become the “light.”

Before Christ’s departure from the earth, He points to the utility of light, especially the way light spills over into its surroundings. The lights of a city on a hill are a beacon to others. A lamp is meant to light a room, not to  be dimmed or restricted under a basket. Christ makes the connections between salt (verse 13) and light and righteousness explicitly in verse 16, declaring that we ought to be like the light that comes from a city on a hill, or that uncovered lamp. It is the role of the Christian to not only enjoy the goodness of God but to reflect it so that others might see the shape of God’s grace and glory.  Why, because we are grateful to God.

Notice that the light in this metaphor does not belong to us, it is not our light but is an overflow of God’s light. We are but the mirror, the reflective surface. “Our good works” are not ours in that they do not belong to us. We are not the source of these good works; we are only the conduits of God’s righteousness.  The Christian life is meant to point toward a greater reality, like street lights, lighting the way to God’s righteousness, not our own. Yes, we may serve as “the light of the world,” but the glory for that light is not us or even our achievements. All that glory belongs to “your Father in heaven” (verse 16). Occasionally in life, we need turn around and see who is following us. Then ask yourself, are they being led to God?

How then do we become this “bright guiding light?” This type of light, our light can only be derived from a relationship with Christ. Our light is not our own, but is the reflection of Christ’s light. We are to live in such a way that our good works give glory to God. Good works are in keeping with the principle of Christian love. If we love one another, our love will be manifested in acts of mercy. Such acts give God glory. People who reject the church and its teachings cannot easily dismiss the witness of those who devote themselves to the service of others. Sacrificial service draws people to Christ. Mother Teresa is the classic example, but every community has its saints who devote themselves quietly and powerfully to the service of those in need. These are the light of the world.

Christ intends each of us to be a light—some smaller and some larger, but all shining brightly, a thousand points of light, million points, a billion! If every Christian had their light turned on, this would be a very different world!

Items for Discussion

  • Turmoil, divisiveness, hatred, fill the times we are in. What do you see the “light coming from our cities” accomplishing?
  • The Christian Church is under attack too. How can it respond (safely) to Matthew’s call to be a beacon in the world?
  • Why do you think that our metaphor of light includes both cities and homes (a lamp)?
  • There has been a breakdown in the responsibilities of the “home” and the “cities?” What is it and how can we help correct it? 
  • How does fear dim “the light?”
  • What happens when a person attempts to become the source of “light” rather than “reflection of Christ’s light?”
  • How do we connect with, or get Christ’s light? Do we need to learn it?
  • What is the responsibility of the Christian Church in fighting evil in our world?

Discussion Challenge

  • Evil forces always divide, spread hatred, cause fear – Can you think of the sources of evil in our world today and how we can help overcome those sources?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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