5th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #839
Text – Matthew 5:15
Nor do people light a lamp & put it under a basket, but on a stand, & it gives light to all in the house.
HIDING THE LIGHT
The importance of light is demonstrated for us at the very beginning of God’s Word: “…the earth was formless & void, & darkness was over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2 NAS) Has it occurred to you to thank God that He didn’t leave things that way – formless & void with darkness over the surface of the deep?
That doesn’t sound like an inviting place to be. Fortunately, our heavenly Creator continued, “…and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light…’” (Genesis 1:2-3 NAS) It’s the very 1st thing that Yahweh calls out of the chaos – light! Our heavenly Father is not about hiding the light, but sin is all about that.
With our thoughts, our words & our deeds, how do you & I manage to hide the light? How about the time we judged another person’s motives without talking to them? Check! Or the time a popular new student arrived at school & you were immediately jealous? Maybe it was a popular new co-worker of whom you were jealous? Check!
What are some of those words we say that bring down darkness upon another person’s soul? Stupid? Fool? I hate you? You make me sick? Could it be you think you’re a better person than that for not telling them to their face? Talking about them behind their back can actually be a lot more fun – for the sinful nature!
What about the evil we do, & the good we leave undone, which bring chaos into the life of our neighbor? Leaving them in need because we’re too busy looking out for number one? Bagging them with the project because we have more important things to do? Those are ways of sinning by leaving good undone. How about the evil you’ve committed against your neighbors? Would any of you like to share? That would really liven up the sermon. Some of you might even take notes!
Our heavenly Father is not about hiding the light, yet sin is all about that. St. John elaborated in 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, & people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (ESV)
You know, it’s still that time of year when most people wake up for the day while it’s dark outside. So you have to turn the lights on & it hurts your eyes because they are still adjusted to the darkness. More & more that’s an appropriate metaphor for the spiritual lives of the people in our culture. Things that used to make people blush are standard fare today.
It’s in our music. It’s on our television. It is all over the news media today. What would’ve been considered pornography 60 years ago, is family entertainment in our day. Even if we are not directly involved in it, by not speaking up against it, you & I are hiding the light.
The simple act of praying before your meal in a restaurant is an easy way of putting Christ on a stand so He can give light to all who are around it. Have you been hiding the light? Even if you don’t think horrible thoughts about your neighbor, or verbally abuse him, or physically assault him, are you still hiding the light? It’s easy to do.
Our sinful nature is powerfully strong, & entirely corrupt. We see that in our thoughts, our words & our deeds: “…the light has come into the world, & people loved the darkness rather than the light…” (John 3:19 ESV) There’s no denying it. By nature, every single one of us, every single day goes busily about the work of hiding the light.
And that is why Jesus came into our world. It’s for that reason the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh & blood, while saying of Himself, “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12 ESV) To comfort & encourage us, St. John also recorded these words for you & me to hear, & believe, & put our trust in: “The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5 ESV)
Those last words ought to remind you of another verse spoken by our Lord: “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) Along with our sinful nature the world is powerfully strong, & entirely corrupt. Yet our Savior has not left us helpless or without the power of His encouragement.
For that is what the Gospel reading from Matthew is doing in the hearts of those who believe the very Words of God: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” That may seem like a tall order given the obvious nature of our sins, but remember, Jesus has already overcome the world. He has also overcome our sins.
Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is in the section frequently referred to as The Sermon On The Mount. To a large extent, it can be seen as Jesus’ blessing of His disciples in the words we call the Beatitudes followed by the proclamation of the calling He has given us to be salt & light. The implications of that calling are spelled out in the rest of Jesus’ sermon.
The order of it is significant. Without the blessing of Jesus, which we call the Beatitudes, no one can receive & live in the calling our Lord then gives. These blessings form a sort of ‘doorway’ through which Matthew’s readers & hearers must pass if they are to grasp aright Christ’s teaching in the Sermon. These are the last four beatitudes:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the reign of heaven!” (Matthew 5:7-10) When we are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers & persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then we are salt & light in the world. Then we are blessed, & the world is blessed through us by the almighty & all-knowing power of God’s Holy Spirit. Yet, praying before a meal in a restaurant may bring persecution upon us, for the peace we offer to the world will at times be rejected. The very offer of peace will cause us to be hated & persecuted by some.
So, back to the beginning of Jesus’ sermon. Beatitudes 1–4 (Mt 5:3–6) proclaim that human creatures who have nothing in themselves to offer God nevertheless receive all the gifts that have come through Jesus. All the blessings of God’s reign in Christ are given to the spiritually bankrupt, & that is why we are now profoundly & eternally blessed.
Beatitudes 5–8 (Mt 5:7–12) pronounce further blessing upon Jesus’s disciples who, by virtue of their relationship with Him, have begun to be merciful, have received pure hearts, now work for Gospel peace, & may even suffer persecution.
From beginning to end, the Beatitudes presuppose the “preaching of the Law”; only those who’ve begun to repent (3:2; 4:17!) will hear & be encouraged to live out what Jesus is teaching. For such, our Savior speaks powerful, strengthening, reorienting gospel, both to Jesus’s original disciples & to all who will believe their message today.
God’s children know that, in spite of their sins, the Lord makes His face shine upon us. Knowing His face to be merciful, we then reflect that mercy as salt & light to our neighbor. As we resist the temptation to hide the light we bring true life into the world. That’s what the reign of God is doing through us. It is calling light out of the chaos of our culture.
As John 3:19 stated, “…people loved the darkness rather than the light…” (ESV) John 3:21 speaks of the times we resist that temptation: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (ESV) The reign of God brings light into the world. Our sinful nature would rather have the light be hidden. The light hurts. Our saintly nature recognizes that the light, after the initial pain, also brings blessing. God’s children cannot actively hide their faith for long without endangering it. Like a candle, our faith can only be covered so long before it goes out.
The task of witnessing, of shining the light, involves exhorting the people of God to live lives of good works that will act as salt & light in a rotting & dark world. As God’s children you are no longer darkness. You are no longer dead. What hill has the God of the universe set you upon? To where & to whom & to what have you been born again to give the light of Christ?
It is through the vocations you’ve been given that your heavenly Father desires to bless the world – father, son, mother, daughter, student, teacher, employer, employee, politician, soldier, elder, usher, acolyte, husband, wife, neighbor, co-worker, doctor, nurse, technician, in all those ways & thousands more, it should be obvious to the people around us that God loves them & blesses them & cares for them.
We are not here on earth just to satiate ourselves, our wants & our needs. God does have a plan for your life. Yahweh Himself has prepared a purpose in advance for you to walk in, & to shine in. As I apply the Word to your lives, I’m also applying the life that God gives us through His Word, to your lives.
You, in turn, take that life out into the world with you. It salts the people around you, it brings light into their lives of darkness. Ultimately, the light of good works, in the lives of Jesus’s disciples, reveals the character of God the Father.
Having filled His empty disciples with blessing (5:3–12), Jesus names them salt & light, sending them out to their vocations & their communities as those who bless others with the goal of revealing what the Father of the Lord Jesus is like. Just as surely as salt is a blessing & light brings hope & clarity, so Jesus’s disciples, by their good deeds, show others who their Father is.
O Christ, our true & only light, enlighten those who sit in night; let those afar now hear Your voice & in Your fold with us rejoice. Fill with the radiance of Your grace the souls now lost in error’s maze; enlighten those whose inmost minds some dark delusion haunts & blinds. O gently call those gone astray that they may find the saving way! Let every conscience sore oppressed in You find peace & heavenly rest. Amen.
 Matthew 5:14 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet