verse XII – the beatitudes – light
Let us be light…
If you are anything like me, a scary thought, you probably prefer light to darkness, or more precisely cloudiness, as I specifically have in mind a string of cloudy, dreary days in Upstate New York that continue even as I write. Now, I love the beauty of the night sky, and the awe inspiring sight of the universe as it shimmers before our eyes. Yet, I love the beauty of a blue sky of a sunny day even more – as it inspires and exhilarates the soul. As we will discover, we, as followers of Yeshua/Jesus, are called to be a light inspiring hope in the lives of those around us.
Having considered the metaphoric usage of salt by Yeshua, we now consider the second half of the transitional verses of Matthew 5:14-16, specifically those addressing light: “You are the light of the world…a city on a hill…do not cover your light with a basket…but let it shine to God’s glory.”
We know from Scripture that Yeshua is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12), so how do we figure in the motif of light? Yeshua is the great light who came to rescue those in darkness (Matt. 4:16; cf. Col. 1:12-13; I Pet. 2:9). Now, as children of the light, we shine as light into the moral darkness surrounding us, while avoiding and separating from the deeds associated with darkness (Eph. 5:8-14).
In Genesis 1:4 we read:
וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאֹור כִּי־טֹוב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאֹור וּבֵין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ
“And the Lord saw that the light was good, and God made a distinction between the light and the darkness, separating them” (translation mine).
Light in Hebrew, אוֹר, ohr, reveals to the eyes and also the mind, as it is not only used for the illumination of space, but also the revelation of learning. Additionally, it can refer to a joyous countenance. Light, in all its meanings, is good (Gen. 1:3) – meaning its teleological, aesthetic and moral conditions. Darkness on the other hand, חֹשֶׁךְ, choshek, usually refers, not only to darkness as in the absence of light, but also misery, sorrow, obscurity, and secrets.
In an ethical sense, light and darkness are synonymous with good and evil. This can be understood as the ethical good commanded by the covenant Lord, as compared to fulfilling the desires of the flesh, contrary to His will, leading into darkness. Interestingly, the very first command of the covenant Lord in Scripture is that regarding light:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אֹור וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור
“And God uttered, ‘Light be.’ And light was” (translation mine).
While the darkness in Genesis 1:4 is not described as evil, certainly a great deal of evil can take place under its cover. A distinction is made between them; between the place of awareness, openness and joy, and the shroud of isolation, misery, sorrow and secrets.
As the creation narrative in Genesis 1 is leading to the formation of humanity in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26) as a reflection of His nature, light would be our natural abode – apart from darkness and the secrets, sorrow and emptiness therein. Man, in an ethical sense, is to be separated from the darkness. Yet, darkness, when used according to His design, is actually refreshing to the human body.
In Genesis 1:5 the Lord names light and darkness:
וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאֹור יֹום וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַֽיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹקֶר יֹום אֶחָֽד
“And God called the light day and the darkness He called night, and there was evening and morning, one whole day” (translation mine).
Names in the ancient Near East were not an arbitrary labeling of something. A name said something about the thing named. By naming light and darkness, the Lord defined its nature according to His will. While darkness is separated from light, day and night are the dominion of the Lord in which He set His creation, and they are the setting by which humanity exercises their purposes as caretakers of His creation.
Day, יוֹם, yom, therefore is for labor; night, לָיְלָה, lilah, for rest. This is their ethical usage. Still, we struggle against the darkness as a separated dominion that is alluring to the sin nature of humanity, later acquired. The Lord set light for man’s work. Night He set for our rest. Darkness, however, never allows one to rest.
Why, then, the motif of light in the life of the disciple of Messiah? How do we shine against it and into it?
A passive and active presence.
Yeshua’s illustration of His disciples being “salt” represented us, as a passive people, whose presence makes a difference to the world we live in – but as light, our role becomes both passive and active, signifying that what we do in the world makes a difference as well.
The human eye is nothing short of amazing. If one were to stand on top of a hill, with a clear line of sight, the human eye can see a flickering candle flame some thirty miles away on a clear dark night. So as light, what Yeshua is directing us to be is visible – we are to be a beacon, a point that people might see and draw hope from. The feeling of being overwhelmed by darkness, by pressure, overburdened and hopeless is all too common today – we as light, passively shining, will draw attention. For what?
As with salt, which can become contaminated rendering it basically useless, as believers we are not to cover the light in us – let us not cover the flame. Think of it in this way: If someone you know well suddenly found out that you were a follower of Messiah, would they be surprised? If they are, perhaps the covering needs to be removed – it does, actually. Yet, this does not mean we need to be boisterous, or a bible-thumper. Remember: passively reflecting Yeshua, actively being Him among others.
The ancient lamp.
In ancient Israel, lamps created light by burning oil. These lamps had to be tended. The wicks had to be trimmed. The oil had to be filled. Otherwise, the light would go out. Oil in Scripture is often understood to symbolize the Holy Spirit, and in this picture of the lamp, we might be understood as the wick.
In order for the light of Messiah to shine out, we must tend to our spiritual lives: prayer, adoration, worship, Bible reading/study, fellowship among brethren, presence in community, etc. This coupled with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives creates a testimony that shines out for people to see and draw hope from.
Does anyone light a light and place a cover over it so that no one sees the light? No, that would be nonsensical and wasteful – it must shine forth. This is why Yeshua says, “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.”
Messiah Yeshua admonishes us to shine bright in the world; not as a means of gaining favor with our Father in Heaven, but because we have been favored by Him. Shining out, through faith and good works (Eph. 2:10) is not automatic; but requires involvement on our part. The apostle James explains “faith without works is dead,” it is ineffective. James is not advocating a works based salvation, but a faith actively involved in life. This is where the messianic light transitions from being passive to being active in the world around us.
Salvation v. Works?
The apostle Paul explains, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Salvation, then, is by faith through the Lord’s graciousness, a point of agreement among all the apostles; however, we are created for good works in Yeshua that the Lord has prepared for us to shine out to those around us – so that when they see us, they see His workmanship.
This word “workmanship” can also be understood as “letter,” we are His letter, and that letter is our testimony that what He has done in our lives that He will do in the lives of others as well. And when people read us, as His letter, they should give glory to Him, not bemoan our presence.
Dr. John Frame offers an interesting thought regarding our interaction with the surrounding creation,
“So there is an antithesis, an opposition, between Christ and the world, and therefore between the believer and the world. Significantly, however, Scripture never tells Christians to leave the world. Obviously we can never leave the world in the sense of God’s creation. But should we try to stay away from other human beings, from human society contaminated by sin? Perhaps a little surprisingly, the Bible’s answer is no. Jesus prays, not that the Father will take the disciples out of the world, but that he will keep them from the Evil One (John 17:15). They are not of the world, but as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so he sends his disciples into the world (17:11-18). Paul did not forbid the Corinthians to associate with people who are immoral, greedy, swindlers, or even idolaters, for, he says, “then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). Like Jesus, we are to shine as lights of the world (Matt. 5:14; cf. Phil. 2:15). So we are to be in the world, but not of the world—a very difficult balance to maintain, to be sure.”
The story is told of William C. Burns, a Scottish missionary to China for twenty years. When he was departing Scotland someone asked him, “So you are going to China to convert the Chinese?” Burns responded, “No, I am going to China to glorify God.”
Let all that we do glorify the Lord (Matt. 5:16; cf. I Cor. 10:31). Shine.
Shalom. Be well.