The Protestant Reformers cried, “Post tenebras lux”—“After darkness, light”—to signal and celebrate the unleashing of gospel light into the world. Such light was revealed in the resurrection of Jesus, and, by the empowering presence of the Spirit, it is expressed through the radiant life and witness of Christ’s Body, the Church. Here is how Matthew puts it at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).
Jesus did not utter these words to the intelligentsia gathered on Mars Hill in Athens. Neither was He addressing himself to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem nor the Senate in Rome (although they would have surely considered themselves “the light of the world”). No, He proclaimed this Sermon to ordinary men and women gathered near the shore of Galilee. They were undistinguished in power, prestige, and social position. They were, however, distinguished in the way that counts—their hearts were captured by Jesus.
Christ spoke to them collectively, with the plural “you.” While each believer is effulgent in his or her own way, God has willed that they would shine in community, as a community.
A night time cityscape, seen from afar, can be enchanting in its appearance. To a traveler in the distant darkness, it promises comfort, shelter, and opportunity. It provides an illuminated path. But in times of war, cities may try to obscure their light. The city of London, for example, employed blackout curtains during the Blitz, knowing that light could make them a target.
The people of God may take the same approach, having discovered that Christian truth can draw hostile fire. They may decide to cloak their radiance, huddling inside their houses of worship, whispering words of busyness and comfort to one another while the enemy does its worst outside. Jesus ridiculed this behavior, though He knew firsthand what public witness would cost.
God’s people were never meant to cower in fear, to nestle into a defensive posture. When Jesus said that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it [the Church]” (Matt. 16:18b), He did not picture a saint standing against aggressive gates. Gates are stationary; the Church is on the advance. And as the above text shows, supernaturally inspired acts of grace, integrity, fidelity, and compassion are powerful tools in the Christian’s ministry.
In light of this truth, we are following resurrection Sunday with a new series on the Sermon on the Mount. Having observed Jesus rise to the heights of heaven, we will now consider how that kingdom will come, “on earth as it is in heaven.” In view of this coming kingdom, we would do well to ask ourselves whether we are truly the light of our community—Do our neighbors have to guess why we exist as a church? Are we relying upon counterfeit light sources? Are we using “blackout curtains” to protect ourselves from public opinion? Are we in some way complicit in maintaining the community’s encircling gloom? Are we hiding our candles? A yes to any of these questions may signify more than a missional malaise. It may well cast doubt on whether we should be calling ourselves a church in the first place.
Please join us as we explore these truths in the coming weeks.