“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are 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 in heaven.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the strangest amusement park rides I’ve ever been on was at Fuji-Q Highland in Japan. The park at the base of the famous Mount Fuji is home to what was once the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the world, Fujiyama (which I rode, but that’s another story). For this ride…attraction, really…you sit down in a room that looks like an old, run-down barn, in a high-backed chair up against a wall with a little ledge in front of you. On the ledge is a pair of headphones. When the experience begins, you put on the headphones and the room goes completely pitch black. From there, a sound track plays and the floor vibrates with what sounds like a person being horribly beaten by a torturer of some kind. At the end of the recording, a sinister voice says, “You’re next,” in Japanese (my host family translated for me afterwards). Now, if you take the headphones off, all you hear is a roomful of actual screaming people, unnerved by the sounds, the vibrations, and the lack of light. And really, that’s the key to the ride: the darkness. Light is a powerful thing. It is far more powerful than we normally imagine it to be. And in a world awash in darkness, it is something Jesus’ followers have been called to be. Let’s talk about it.
One of the things we see again and again across the New Testament is that followers of Jesus are supposed to be different. The reason for this is simple. Jesus was different. He was different from the world around Him. He was different from the world around Him in ways that were both obvious and subtle. If we are not also different from the world around us, how is anyone going to recognize us as His followers?
What Jesus brings out in this famous admonition for us to be light, though, is that we are not to be different just for the sake of being different. You have perhaps known someone who embraced being different just to be different. That doesn’t generally accomplish anything other than making us weird. Weirdos aren’t likely to convince many people to enter into the kingdom of God. Instead, we are to be positively different. Our being different should make the world around us a better place. Our being different should actively entice people to consider a relationship with Jesus. The imagery Jesus famously used for this is that we should be like light.
The apostle John described God as being light. He said that in God there is no darkness. I think he meant this both figuratively and literally. God’s presence is nearly always described as emanating light. It is a brightness so intense that we can’t handle it unless He makes us able to handle it. When Moses was given even a muted glimpse of God’s glory, His face glowed so brightly for several days afterwards that the people made him wear a veil as he went around the camp so they weren’t overwhelmed by it. At the same time, evil and sin are consistently represented by darkness in pretty much every religion and culture and even comic book story we’ve ever told. We are drawn to light as a people. I would argue this is because we are made in the image of a God who is light and we naturally drift a bit in His direction even as we remain chained in darkness by our sin.
As Jesus followers, we are to emanate His light into the world around us. We are not to be ashamed of His light shining through us. Rather, we are to lean into it. We are to let our light–which is merely a reflection of His light–shine with pride and confidence. And how do we do that? By living out His character and commands with faithful consistency. We don’t glow. That would be silly. But our goodness (which, again, comes from Him) can serve as a contrast to the ungodliness of the world around us. If we live into that goodness consistently, that contrast will become sharper and sharper over time just like the contrast between light and darkness. When it comes to those two opposites, there is no question which is which. Light is light and darkness is darkness. Light drives out darkness by its very nature. Darkness itself has no power or form or substance. It is simply the absence of light.
Light does a couple of powerful things for us. First, it allows us to see. Our vision happens because packets of light bounce off of an object and enter our eyes, creating the map of an image which our brains translate into an object we understand. Even if we are seeing something we’ve never seen before and whose identity we cannot comprehend, we at least know that we are seeing something. If we try to walk in darkness, we are going to be overwhelmed and overcome by obstacles in our path. I remember trying to walk from my bedroom to my bathroom in the dark when I was in high school one time. I had made the journey many times in the middle of the night across the pitch dark basement where my room was. I knew the path perfectly well. But in the darkness on this particular occasion, I misjudged where I was on the floor and ran straight into the corner of the wall outside the bathroom door. I found it with my forehead at full speed. Then I saw some light, but it was just the flash of pain in my head. I understand why people say they see stars when they hit their head.
Light doesn’t only allow us to see, though. It also allows us to see in color. Color is a function of light. It does not exist without light. Color happens because light interacts with the particles of a particular object. Those particles naturally absorb some wavelengths of light. But they reflect others. When that light is on the visible spectrum, the reflected light corresponds in our brains to a certain color. When our eyes receive those packets of light, our brains translate the wavelengths as color. No light, no color.
As followers of Jesus, our presence in the world should allow the people around us to see. They can see what the real world of the kingdom of God actually looks like. More than just that, though, our presence in the world helps them see the beauty of the world for what it really is. In other words, we are different from the world, but our difference makes it better. Our being different makes it better because we are different like Jesus was different. Now, this won’t always be received well. Shining a light in the eyes of someone who has been in a dark room for a long time is not going to be a welcome experience at first. Waking up someone by shining a bright light in their eyes is probably going to result in their chucking a pillow at your head. Shining light on someone who is trying to do something they know they shouldn’t be doing isn’t going to be particularly welcome either. That’s why security lights help reduce crime.
Yet our call in Christ is not to concern ourselves with the pushback we may receive. It is to shine our (His) light. People who are living in darkness may recoil from the light at first, but they were made for the light. They were made to desire the light. If we keep shining (and, by “shining,” I mean reflecting the character and commands of Christ) consistently, many will begin moving in the direction of the light. That’s what it’s all about.