Matthew 5:14-16: Light of the World

Read: Matthew 5:14-16

The use of light to describe truth and righteousness in is a common thought among virtually all ancient cultures. For his hearers, Jesus is declaring that they were the light bearers that bring light to the world. He uses two metaphors to describe the positions of such people, one being a light on a stand in the middle of the room and one being a city on a hill. Lamps were placed on lamp stands in the middle of a room or house to illuminate the whole room, as most houses in that day and time were one room homes, one lamp was sufficient for the entire home. Likewise, a city was placed on a hill usually because it was easier to defend from an attack, but also gave it high visibility. In ancient Israel, building were made from white limestone that was highly reflective. A city could be seen from miles away even at night because of this. Both of these communicate the idea of high visibility.

Throughout the Old Testament, God wanted to bless Israel so that they would be the light bearers on earth. His purpose was to use Israel to draw all nations to himself. Deuteronomy 28:1 declares that if Israel would obey God’s law, that they would be set high above the nations of the earth. Psalm 67, often times called the “Missionary Psalm”, makes a similar declaration where God would shine on Israel so that the nations would know the ways and salvation of God. This theme is also found in the prophets too. Isaiah on multiple occasions uses the same metaphor of light to talk about God’s salvation being brought to the earth (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 60:3). Ezekiel 36:16-37 describes how God wanted to bless Israel so that his name would be made known among the nations.

For the Christian, the same is true. God wants to use Christians a way of making himself known among the nations. Jesus also calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12). While Christians are not the Christ, they are like him in that they bear his image and spread his truth. The call to actions is twofold then: Christians are not to hide rather to be seen by the world. This is not for the purpose of self-promotion, rather for pointing people to God. Jesus says that the purpose of good deeds was so that people would praise God in heaven, not the man performing the deeds. By doing what is right and good, the world can see God and give him the praise for it.

Lord, help my light shine before all men!