We all have some idea of the power of light. As a child we may have marveled when a new restaurant or car dealer announced a grand opening with a powerful search light. If you have ever been at sea at night and witnessed the power of the strobe light pulsing from a lighthouse, you know something of both the power and importance of light.
One of my childhood memories illustrates the power of light. We lived on a small farm — outside my bedroom window, about thirty yards away, was a large weeping willow tree. My dad had mounted a security light further down the path from the tree. As I lay in bed one windy night the menacing shadows cast by that light began to creep across the walls and floor of my bedroom. As the winds began to howl those willow-tree shadows took on the shape and size of monsters! My heart raced and sweat began to drip onto my sheets. Finally, in panicked desperation, I cried out for my dad. When my dad stepped into the room, he flipped on the light and instantly the monsters fled.
The light has the power to dispel darkness.
What then does it mean when Jesus indicates that we are the light of the world?
The Messianic Promise
In the Old Testament we discover that God had called Israel to bear His name and thus become a light to the nations. Israel however had profaned God's name (Ezekiel 36:20) by their impurity and disobedience in the reaching of the nations. God promised that He had a choice Servant, His Chosen One (Isaiah 42:1) who would become a light to the nations. I, the Lord, have called you for a righteous purpose, and I will hold your hand. I will keep you, and I make you a covenant for the people and a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6 HCSB). It was not merely that this anointed Messiah would restore the tribes of Israel, His mission would have global impact. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).
The storm clouds of death and darkness arrive more quickly in John's Gospel than in any of the others. As early as chapter 7, some of Jesus' would be disciples have already deserted him, and the plots against His life have begun. In that gathering gloom Jesus declared: I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
It's Your Turn Now!
Imagine the impact when The Light declared that the disciples were the light of the world. You see, following Jesus doesn't simply mean that we have or enjoy the light; it means that we are the light. We know with certainty that the early disciples knew the Messianic mission to become a light to the nations had now become their calling.
Acts 13 presents an intriguing scene. Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch of Pisidia. The leaders of the synagogue invited Paul and Barnabas to give them a message of encouragement. As you can imagine, Paul seized the opportunity to declare Jesus. The response was overwhelming as many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, desiring to hear more of the message of the Lord. The Jews, however, were incensed and began to insult Paul. Paul then indicates that since they had rejected the Word, they had shown themselves unworthy of eternal life. He then declares his intention to take the message to the Gentiles. He confirms this decision by referring to a commandment of the Lord: For this is what the Lord has commanded us, "I have appointed you as a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47). Do you recognize Isaiah 49:6? The message and the mission of the Messiah has now become the responsibility of His followers, His church. When we receive the light, we are to become the light. God's plan for lighting a dark world is to reveal Himself in and through His followers.
The Power of the Light
Light, like salt, affects its environment by being distinctive and by changing it. The salt preserves, cures, flavors, and makes fire burn with intensity. Light dispels darkness! It casts out fear! It points the way to safe refuge!
Is it any wonder that Paul encouraged the Philippian believers to be obedient and serve the Lord and one another without grumbling and disputing? Why? So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world (Philippians 2:15).
Light is more visible when the darkness seems to be its most intense. When you have a totally dark room, a candle stands out with great clarity. I sometimes hear Christians despair about the gathering darkness in our world. Rather than wringing our hands and complaining, we are to be light! When we stand out like stars in the darkness, we draw attention to our Lord. Our light will be so distinctive that the people in darkness will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. When we are light, we do not draw attention to ourselves but point people to our Father, who is the very source of our light.
What a powerful image! Our light is to be so distinctive that people who see it will recognize that it cannot be produced by human effort, and they will look beyond us to the Light of the World. This is what happens when we love the unlovely, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and offer the inner cloak to the man who has just defrauded us of our outer cloak. Yes, the Kingdom citizen is different because he looks like the Father (Matthew 5:45).
The Lamp Stand and the City
Jesus used two different pictures to illustrate the visibility of light. The lamp stand is an individual light like the one on your bedside table. This indicates that every Kingdom person must be prepared and willing to share the light of her story. You have a story to tell. When you tell someone about how God has changed you, you are letting your light shine. Notice that the impact of our life (salt) must be backed up by the witness of our lips (light). Every Christian should learn how to share his faith. If you don't know how, ask a more mature Christian to help you to learn. If you are a pastor, make sure you offer training opportunities for your laity. For example, you can take a service and take them through a simple tract or help them mark a New Testament with The Roman Road.
The lights of the city on a hill suggest the collective impact of having several lights gathered in one place. If you've ever attended a candlelight service, you have seen what happens when a single candle spreads its light to hundreds of others. When we join our light to that of other believers, we become that city set on a hill. I am always amazed and disturbed when I encounter someone who claims to love Jesus and yet has no desire to relate to other Christians. How can a Kingdom person not desire to join their light with that of fellow believers to light their community with the gospel?
The Bottom Line
Jesus didn't say we possess the qualities of salt and light. He said we are salt and light. These affirmations of our Kingdom calling are key ingredients in our passion to embrace His mission to the nations, embody His name, and obey His Word. This is the passion and thrust of EKG.
It is a timely and critical issue. Jimmy Draper recently related that more than 10,000 SBC churches did not baptize a single person last year. The North American Mission Board reports that 50 percent of our churches baptized five or less last year. The International Mission Board tells us that there are 1.54 billion people on this planet who have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. According to the statistics provided by EmptyTomb.com, evangelicals in North America gave $2.9 billion dollars to reach them. Less than $2 per lost person! During the Easter season we spent $2.8 billion on Easter egg candy. We spent as much in one week celebrating the resurrection as we did in fifty-two weeks declaring the resurrection!
I believe that God has richly blessed us for a reason – that we might be a light to the nations. EKG is about spiritual awakening, and when it occurs it will manifest itself in bold witness and generous giving. I believe the greatest years of our convention lie before us. But we must ask the Father to cure our spiritual "My-opia" and give us a passion for Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.
Acts 1:8 Challenge
In the next issue of SBC LIFE we'll demonstrate how the Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative works in harmony with the new Acts 1:8 Challenge from the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.