“See the Light, Be the Light” (Matthew 5:13-20)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2020

“See the Light, Be the Light” (Matthew 5:13-20)

Two weeks ago, during this Epiphany season, the Gospel reading was from Matthew 4, and it included this verse: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” The great light that they saw, the light that had dawned on them, was Jesus, as he began his ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and gathering disciples. Jesus Christ is the light that shines in the darkness. As he himself would later say, “I am the light of the world.”

Now today we move from Matthew 4 to Matthew 5. And in our Gospel reading today, Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” So, which is it? Is Jesus the light of the world or are we, his disciples, the light of the world? The answer of course is “Yes. Both.” Jesus is the light of the world. And we, his followers, are the light of the world, also. But each in the proper order. First and foremost, Jesus himself is the light. And then secondarily, we are the light of the world. And so our theme this morning: “See the Light, Be the Light.”

Matthew 4, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light.” Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world.” Today we’ll see how we get from one to the other. So let’s start with some questions: Who are those people dwelling in darkness? What is the great light that has dawned on them? And how do we then come to be the light of the world? And now that we are the light of the world, what does that mean for our lives as Christ’s disciples?

“The people dwelling in darkness,” “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death.” Who are they, those darkness-and-death dwellers? That’s us. We live in the shadowlands. Darkness and death are all around us.

It was like that when Jesus came on the scene. And it’s still like that today. This sinful world is a place of darkness and death. That was the world that Jesus came into. A place where a violent ruler like Herod slaughtered innocent children to suit his lust for power. But the world today is no different. It’s a place–America is a place–where over 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the last 47 years, since abortion became legal, simply because those children were inconvenient and unwanted. But often, the darkness and death around us is of the more common variety. Just yesterday, a church member I knew from Grace-De Soto passed away after being in a one-car accident, probably the result of a heart attack. This kind of death we get used to, but not really. It still comes as a shock. And it tells us that we’re still living in the shadowlands of darkness and death.

Darkness and death–sometimes it’s easy to see, when it’s “out there” and “not us.” But we need to come to grips with the darkness inside each one of us. We each have a dark side, don’t we, the side we don’t want people to see. But God sees. He knows the sinner inside each one of us. The darkness we hide from others is not hidden from God. And death is on the way, for each one of us. “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali.” Land of Bonne Terre, land of Farmington, land of Ste. Genevieve. Take your pick, there’s no avoiding the inescapable truth: We are the people dwelling in darkness, in the region and shadow of death.

But now the Good News: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” That’s what this Epiphany season is all about: The light of Christ breaking into this dark and deadly world. We have seen a great light, on us a light has dawned! Jesus himself is the bright morning star.

The light of Christ has dawned; the light of Christ is shining. Jesus’ ministry of preaching and teaching and healing brought light into the lives of people dwelling in darkness. Jesus’ ministry manifested him to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior sent from heaven, bringing the blessings of the kingdom of heaven to people here on earth.

Jesus announces the arrival of that kingdom and calls all of us sinners to turn to him to find it: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He heals the sick and delivers the demonized. He shows what his mission will accomplish, by undoing the domain of the devil and reversing the curse of death. Christ will redeem these bodies of ours and restore this fallen creation. And Jesus teaches. He calls disciples to follow him and learn from him. He teaches them the blessedness of being his disciples. It’s a blessedness that doesn’t always look so blessed, but it is, nevertheless.

The light of Christ has dawned; the light of Christ is shining. Jesus’ ministry, his mission of bringing light and life into a world of darkness and death–that mission will lead him to the cross. There Jesus took our darkness and death into his own body. He suffered for our sins, the righteous Son of God, crucified in our place. And darkness came over all the land.

The darkness and the death had to be conquered in order for the light to shine. And now the light is shining. Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. The light of his all-availing sacrifice, the light of his glorious resurrection–that light has dawned upon us, as sure as the dawn that arose on Easter morning. And in that redeeming, saving sense, Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the only light there is.

So how can Jesus then say to us, “You are the light of the world”? How can both be true? But that’s just it. Because Jesus is the light of the world, the only true light there is, we his disciples now are the light of the world, in a derivative sense. Because we are connected to Christ, we Christians are light also. On us a light has dawned. On us the light is shining. And now through us that same light shines out to others, to a world in need of light.

Think of the sun and the moon. The sun, of course, is the source of light. But the moon is a reflector of the sun’s light, and in that sense, it too gives light to the earth. That analogy can help us understand what Jesus is saying here. He himself is the true light, the source of the light we have in us, for we have none in and of ourselves. But we do reflect and we do shine forth his great light to others.

Jesus says to us today: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

“You are the light of the world.” Notice what Jesus is not saying. He does not say, “You need to work your way up to become the light by your own inner righteousness and striving.” No, nothing of the sort. You “are” the light of the world, present tense. You already are the light, by virtue of being Jesus’ disciples. That’s nothing you did. That’s something Jesus did, by calling you to himself. When God baptized you, he made you his child, Christ called you to be his disciple, and the Holy Spirit enlightened you with his gifts. In your baptism, you became a Christian. The light of Christ has dawned on you. You have seen the light. Now be the light. Simply put, be who you are, that new person in Christ.

“You are the light of the world.” You reflect and shine forth the light of Christ. Now let your light shine before others by your life of good works. Gasp! A Lutheran preacher talking about good works! I thought Lutherans were against good works! No, no way! What we are against is thinking that we can earn our salvation by virtue of our works. That, we reject, because the Bible rejects it: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight.”

Our works cannot contribute one iota to our salvation. Only the completed work of Christ does that. So, you and I don’t “need” our good works. But our neighbor does! Your neighbor needs your deeds of love and mercy done out of a living faith in Christ. Your neighbor who is hurting can sure use your help. Your neighbor who still dwells in the land of darkness and death needs to hear the good news of Christ and the light and life he brings. And your life, Christian, your good works and your good words may be just how God reaches that person for Christ. In that way, then, you are being the light. Christ will use our good works and our Christian witness to bring his light to the people who see us.

So let that light shine! Don’t hide it under a basket. Be who you are, a new person in Christ, alive in the Spirit. Live fully in Christ’s light, enlightened here regularly by Word and Sacrament, lest your light grow dim. Forgiven and renewed and refreshed, you will naturally shine forth the light of Christ to others. The good works you do will help your neighbor and bring praise and glory to God. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” That’s where the glory goes, to God, not to us. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.”

“Let your light shine.” Are there people in your life, in your family, at your work, to whom you can be a light for Christ this week? Who needs your help? How can you help them? Look for those opportunities, as God lays them before you. There is the place for your light to shine. Be who you are, in Christ.

See the light, be the light. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. See him, and walk in his light. And this is how you then will be his light to others.

Published in: on February 8, 2020 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: