Read Matthew 5:13-16
We begin a study of parables. We know that Jesus taught in parables but we don't always know what we are supposed do with the parable. So, let's begin with some general parameters on parables.
Parables make a comparison. They use analogy sometimes with tools such as metaphor and simile. Some may even be considered allegory, that is each or at least many elements of the parable directly represent something else.
Others are more general but all should consider the context of the time. We can't always reduce a parable to a lesson learned or what many would consider a moral such as in a fable, but there is always something to be learned.
Sometimes the parable speaks to us without interpretation. Sometimes it begs to be dissected.
Sometimes Jesus compared things in heaven to things on earth or in our lives. He is the only one who can make this comparison. We may speculate. Jesus spoke in the first person with authority.
Sometimes his comparisons involved things that we all know. Such is the case in this first parable that we will examine, that of a lamp on a stand.
Jesus spoke to his disciples and told them that they were the light of the world. That's is a bold declaration by our Master because he is the light of the world.
Jesus is the light of the world; yet, he tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. Light is important and associated with God and his goodness. We do not live in the darkness but in the light. Angels are described as stars. We are children of the light.
Recall the time that Jesus and his disciples were at the Jordan and received news of the death of Lazarus. Many of the disciples were afraid to return to the area surrounding Jerusalem. Jesus told them that walking with him was like walking in daylight. If we live in the light, we don't stumble.
But Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. He didn’t say that we could be the light of the world. He said that we are. Our light cannot be hidden from the world so we need to live wise and holy lives.
We are commissioned not only to bring good news to the world but to be light in this world. What we do and say cannot be hidden from the world. Why would we want to hide it?
We are to be seen by the world. People should see how we live and speak and get a glimpse of God's goodness. People should praise God because of what they see in us.
We need to understand that we are the light of the world. Christ is the light but much like our commission, he has entrusted us with being light on his behalf. If we truly understand that then we must also understand that it is contrary to our Christ-given nature to hide our light.
A lamp is made to bring light to a whole room. We don't light it to hide it. We sing, Hide it under a bushel? No! It's a good song for today, but we should understand that the bushel was not a measure two thousand years ago. The measure described was probably even smaller than today's bushel, but the principle remains intact even if the basket size might have grown over the ages.
What we need to understand is that the light of Christ is not just for ourselves. It, like the good news that we have received, is to be shared with others.
What does that mean in our personal application?
Consider our approach to leading people to God. We could use the scare the hell out of them approach. It is valid logic. Live in paradise or burn in hell? Eternal paradise or eternal separation from God? In terms of simple dichotomy, this approach makes sense, in the context of what Jesus wants from us--to follow him--these hellfire and damnation approaches leave us ill-equipped for discipleship.
In the accept God's grace or else approach, accepting the ultimatum seems to be the end of the game. Being the light of the world is not the natural follow-on. But the natural follow-on to receiving the grace of God is to share the grace of God.
Salvation is not game over it’s game on!
Not to be a light to others is salt without saltiness. That is, to receive grace and not live by grace, leaves us in a worthless state. The parable is about a lamp on a stand but Jesus ties it closely with the metaphor of being the salt of the earth.
Salt brings flavor to life. It is the God-seasoning of life. Saltiness is abundance. Saltiness lets us savor life in bringing our Savior to the world. But what happens if we retreat from the world?
Our salt is no longer salty. We have gone from brining the very essence of life to being common material for footpaths.
What happens when we withdraw from the world by trying to hide our light? We miss out on being the people that God made us to be. We are the light of the world. Why would we deny who we are?
Our light must shine for it is from Jesus. We are called to shine for God lives within us. We are luminaries to the world. We are to spiritually enlighten the world.
You can't hide a city that sits atop a hill. Even our best stealth technology can't hide it. Likewise, we who follow Christ really can't blend in with the world. Why would we want to?
Sometimes it seems that we try very hard to camouflage ourselves as creatures who are citizens of the world; but it just aint' so. Our nature is to be light, live in the light, and share the light. That is who God made us to be. We realize the lampstands that we are as we grow in grace and give off more and more of Christ's light to a world that seems to grow darker and darker.
Sometimes we let our mistakes get in the way of letting our light shine before others. We think that we are not qualified to let God’s light from within us. We must understand something that came to clarity in the Christian world almost 500 years ago as we entered the period known as the reformation; that the law showed us what we ought to do, but grace shows us what God has done for us.
Our light shines when we get out of the business of measuring ourselves against unobtainable standards and live in the light of grace. Our message transcends any fraility in our human nature. Our light is God's love for us.
That love must not be hidden. We cannot live contrary to our nature. Such existence is not living. Salt that is not salty or light that is hidden defy the purposes for which they were created.
A disciple who does not share God's love in word and deed, speech and action, spirit and truth tries to live a dichotomous life. Such a person can only know dissonance in resisting their God-given nature and purpose.
Our charge is to bring God's light into this world so that people will know him as they come to know us and in those revealing encounters, we will bring glory to God.
The question before us is simple. Are we shining our lights?
Are we taking what God has given us and sharing it with others or are we reatreating from the purpose for which he made us?
Advancing or retreating?
Light or darkness?
Living or denying our God-given purpose?
Who lights a lamp and then sticks it under a bowl or under the bed or lights it just to hide it?
Here is something that is not explicit in the parable but was obvious to those listening to Jesus. Nobody lights a lamp in the middle of the day. It is just not effective because the sun shines so brightly. Light is needed in darkness.
One day, living fully in God's presence will be the only light that we need; however, today the world is retreating from God and his goodness and his light. We must shine now more than ever. Our mission--our God-given mission--has never been more important.
How is the world to know God's mercy if those who know God best shrink away from their purpose? Salt without saltiness and hidden lights won't get the job done.
Long ago when I was still young enough to drive from the east coast to western Oklahoma without stopping for sleep, I was somewhere between Weatherford and Clinton. My endurance was about gone and the effects of caffeine and loud music were becoming less and less. I could see the lights of Clinton in the distance. They stretched out across the horizon and then in an instant, they were gone.
That will wake you immediately. The horizon had gone totally black. Not only had the city gone but there were no stars in the sky. Everything was dark. When you have been driving for 24 hours straight and are already on the edge of consciousness, that experience will transport you immediately to the Twilight Zone. A dozen possible scenarios raced through my mind, none of them comforting.
Before I could resolve in my mind the concept of an entire city disappearing and every light in the sky going dark, the light emerged again. I had simply driven under an overpass that effectively blocked my vision of everything except the road immediately in front of me. My mind immediately reset to normal but those two seconds have stuck with me for almost 4 decades now.
A city that could not be hidden vanished instantly. It was gone. There was only darkness. I can't describe the mix of thoughts emotions that I lived in that instant but I was so relieved when the lights appeared again.
Imagine those two seconds of darkness as the world’s perspective of existence. The world longs for light. It is mostly looking in the wrong places, but it wants light. It craves light but sometimes gets comfortable with darkness.
How could God leave the world in total darkness? He didn’t. You are the light of the world.
Here the parable once more. This is from the New King James Version.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Let us not deny our God-given nature. Let us be like a lamp on a stand and bring the light of Christ to all those around us.
Let your light shine now, more than ever.