Thursday, August 28, 2008

we need a night light

“You are the light of the world.” – Matt 5:13

Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. Once again, Jesus’ words are scandalous. After all, God called the Israelites to be “a light to the nations” (Is 49:6). Israel was supposed to be the light of the world. And so when the new Moses “calls out” a new people to travel up a new mountain, one naturally wonders what Jesus is up to. The answer is simple: he’s forming a new Israel. That’s why Jesus says, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:13).

Jesus knows our world in all of its darkness. Our world is where people demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Matt 5:38); where people love their neighbors and hate their enemies (Matt 4:43); where people “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others” (Matt 23:4). But Jesus teaches his new mountain-climbers a different way, a different ethic, a different lifestyle. “Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Bear one another’s burdens.” You are the light of the world.

We can’t become lights on our own. We need to experience what C.S. Lewis calls “good infection.” In other words, if we want to warm up, we sit next to the fire. If we want to get wet, we jump in the pool. If we want to become light, we spend time with the Source. After all, Jesus wants his church, the new Israel, to be the light of the world because he is “the light of the world” (Jn 9:5). If we want to become lights in this world, we spend time with the Light of the world. We need a little good infection.

After all, Jesus calls us to become like him. And Jesus both teaches and perfectly demonstrates everything that he calls his church to be. On the cross, Jesus turned the other cheek. On the cross, Jesus loved his enemies. On the cross, the heavy, hard-to-bear burdens of our world were tied up and thrown on Jesus’ shoulders. This is what it means for Jesus to be the light of the world. And Jesus’ church is given the same vocation.

“You are the light of the world.” This is what the church is all about. It’s not about a building. It’s not about a style of worship. It’s not about half the things the church bickers over. On the contrary, the church is about mountain-climbers who take seriously their vocation to be light – to become like Jesus. In fact, the word “church” only appears three times in the four Gospels combined (every occurrence is in the Gospel of Matthew). And the word translated “church,” ekklesia, literally means “a group of people called out.” And so by definition, the church is a group of people called out to be “a light to those who are in darkness” (Rom 2:19); a group of people called out to “live as children of light” (Eph 5:8); a group of people called out to “shine like stars in the world” (Phil 2:15).


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