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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART TEN

PRESENTED ON 06-07-08

 

       Today will mark the tenth sermon in our series dealing with the Sermon on the Mount.  In the first seven sermons we covered the seven Beatitudes which provide us with an overview of what our attitude needs to be in response to the grace of God.  In the eight sermon we saw how Jesus shifted from instructing us as to what our attitudes should be to instructing us how these attitudes must be expressed in the world in which we live and what kind of response that may produce. In the last sermon we discussed Jesus' statement that we should be the salt of the earth and saw that by putting into practice the attitudes that Jesus presented at the start of his Sermon on the Mount we become like salt in the world.

       Salt is enduring. It preserves and stabilizes that which it comes into contact with.  It makes its presence felt in very specific ways.   That is how we are to be as Christians.  We are to be enduring and stabilizing and in this manner make our presence felt in specific ways.  Being the salt of the earth implies being out and about in the world and interacting with our fellow man. 

       Jesus, however, did not stop with the salt analogy.  He continued to speak of how we are to make our presence felt in the world by using the example of light, an example that we find repeated in other NT writings.

       Matthew 5:14-16: "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.

       As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be identified as such by how we behave.  We should be easily distinguished from others.  We should not be practicing our Christianity undercover.  We should be expressing Christianity in an illuminating manner.  Our Christianity should be obvious and readily recognized by everyone around us. As the old saying goes, if you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  Jesus placed a great deal of emphasis on being a light to the world as is seen in various statements He made throughout His ministry.  Luke records Jesus saying the following: 

       Luke 8:16: "No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.

       Luke 11:33-36:  "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.

       In all three statements made by Jesus regarding being a light, we see Him pointing out that we are not to hide our Christianity.  Apparently hiding our Christianity was foreseen as a real problem and Jesus consistently warned against it.  Why would a Christian want to hide his Christianity?

       For one thing, we humans are often fearful of being different.  It seems to be a tenet of human nature to want to fit into the crowd and avoid being looked upon as different.  We humans strongly desire to be accepted and we therefore will do almost anything to avoid being viewed as behaving outside the box.  You can look at almost any area of social interaction and feel the pressure to conform. 

       Look at fashion. We all tend to want to conform to what the established norm is as to the clothing style of the day.  I remember as a young teenager, I just had to have a pair of spades.  Spades were a style of shoe that had wings and a somewhat pointed tip.  Suede shoes were also in style and if you wore a pair of suede spades you were in fashion heaven.   I also remember a certain type of jeans with rolled up cuffs that revealed a white inner lining were the rage of the day.  And then there was the pink shirt. You just had to wear a pink shirt if you expected to be looked upon as being in style.   Conformity to fashion is strong, especially for young people.  As we grow older we become less concerned about such things. 

       Conformity to fashion, however, and other such peripheral areas of life is not usually the problem when it comes to letting our light shine as Christians.  It is in the area of ethical and moral behavior that we are either a light or we share in the darkness of the world at large.  The whole focus of the teachings of Jesus was to facilitate light.  Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

         We see in the NT scriptures a great deal of emphasis placed on walking in the light as opposed to walking in darkness.  Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20).

       You notice how most crime is committed in darkness.  Most burglaries are committed at night.  The majority of homicides are committed under the cover of darkness or at least out of view of the general public.  Very few crimes are committed in broad view of witnesses to the crime.  But the light versus darkness motif as found in scripture has a much broader application than just applying to criminal activity. 

       In scripture light is paralleled to the way of righteousness and the darkness is paralleled to the way of sin. Jesus was the personification of righteousness.  Jesus represented the absolute righteousness of God the Father.  Apostle John made it clear that in God there is no darkness at all.

       I John 1:5-7:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  

       God is seen as pure light in whom there is no darkness at all.  To have fellowship with God is to walk in light.  If we walk in the light as God is in the light we as Christians are able to have fellowship with God, with Jesus and with each other.  What does it mean to walk in the light?  Apostle Paul defines it for us.

       Ephesians 5:8-9: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).

       Being a light to the world is all about goodness, righteousness and truth.  It is all about how we interact with the world on a daily basis.  It is all about how we conduct ourselves in public.  It is our conduct that either acts as a beam of light or, because of its absence, allows darkness to prevail.  Our life as a Christian is a constant struggle to insure we are a light to the world as opposed to participating in its darkness. 

       When we leave the house in the morning to drive to work and are confronted with challenging traffic conditions, how do we react?  Do we express ourselves in colorful language and hand gestures at a driver who cuts us off or do we maintain level headedness and simply go with the flow. 

        Once at the our place of employment, do we participate in the gossip, tittle-tattle and rumor mongering that is so common to work environments or do we distance ourselves from such behavior and do our best to maintain respect for the boss and our fellow employees.

       When standing at the water cooler were someone is telling an off color joke do we join in with the laughter or do we refrain from giving attribution to what is being said.  Do we strive to consistently do our best as an employee or do we look for ways to take advantage of our employer such as taking sick leave when we are not really sick.

       When walking along at the local county fair while sipping a cool drink, do we discard the container by throwing it on the ground or do we take the time to find a trash bucket to dispose of our waste.  Do we litter or do we make every effort to maintain a clean environment.

       Are we quick to believe an evil report about someone or do we first check out the facts before making a judgement.  Do we investigate the truth of a matter with due diligence or do we simply go with the flow and ignore evidence?  Do we rush to judgement instead of first determining the truth of a matter?

       These are just a few of the daily dynamics of behavior that determine whether we are a light to the world or a participant in its darkness.  It is our expression of righteous character that results in our being a light to the world. 

       We are all familiar with lighthouses which are built along the shores of lakes and oceans.  The purpose of a lighthouse is to act as beacon of light to warn vessels on the water that they are nearing a shore line and to take the necessary precautions.  As Christians, we are to be that beacon of light to warn others so that they may take the necessary precautions.  We do this by first of all setting the proper example so that by our behavior others may pick up on what we do and behave accordingly.  When this is accomplished God is glorified because through us the light of God becomes manifest. 

Attorney story:

       A story is told of a very worldly-minded attorney in the 19th century who had no regard for Christianity. After years of ungodly living and scorning of Christians, he grew old in years and went to live with his sister who happened to be a Christian. Her son was a pastor, and he had opportunity to engage the old man in conversation about Jesus and even recommend some books to him. Some time later, ill in health, the old attorney asked to confess his faith in Christ publicly. The nephew was eager to get the full story and wondered if the conversations he had with the old man had been instrumental in turning his callused heart to Christ. But as the story unfolded, the pastor discovered that it was not his words or the books that he recommended but it was the godly life of the pastor’s sister, with whom the old attorney was living that was responsible for his conversion. He saw her godliness and radiance as a Christian in every situation, and it caused him to seek Jesus so he could experience what he saw in his sister.   

Ten Boom story:

       And then there’s the story of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom. Corrie and Betsie were sisters living in Holland during World War 2 who along with their father hid Jews in their home in order to protect them from being rounded up by the Nazi’s and carted off to concentration camps.  Finally the Germans discovered what they were doing and the Ten Boom family were themselves carted to concentration camps with the sisters finally ending up at Ravensbruck which was a German camp for women prisoners. Corrie and Betsie were officially registered as prisoners there on September 8,1944.

       Ravensbruck was the only major Nazi concentration camp for women, and about twenty European nations were represented there. At the time of Corrie and Betsy’s incarceration, the population of the camp was about 80,000.  By the end of the war more than 132,000 women and children had been imprisoned in Ravensbruck.  It is estimated that 92,000 of them died there by starvation, execution or weakness.

       Ravensbruck was worse than any other prison they had been in. The first two days they had to sleep out in the open. There was pouring rain, and the ground became a sea of mud. Then they were packed into a huge barrack-room. It had been built to house 400 people, but there were now 1400 prisoners in it. They had to sleep on straw mattresses filled with choking dust and swarming with fleas. Even the guards did not like going into the barrack-room because of the fleas.

       Roll-call was at half-past four in the morning. There were 35,000 women in the camp, and if anyone was missing they were counted again and again. So it often went on for hours. If the prisoners did not stand up straight the women guards beat them with riding whips.  The work was extremely hard. Corrie and Betsie had to load heavy sheets of steel on to carts, push them for a certain distance, and then unload them. All the time the guards shouted at them to work faster.  They were only given a potato and some thin soup at lunch-time, and some turnip soup with a piece of black bread in the evening. The prisoners who were doing lighter work had no lunch at all.

       If the prisoners became ill, the guards took no notice of them unless their temperature was over 40C, which meant they were seriously ill. Then they had to join the long line for the camp hospital. But nothing was done for them when they finally got there. When the hospital was full, the weakest prisoners were taken to gas chambers to be killed. Then their bodies were burned. The tall chimney above the ovens in the center of the camp was always belching grey smoke. This was the "hell on earth" to which Corrie and Betsie had come.

       When the prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck they had to give up everything they had with them. Corrie somehow managed to smuggle a small Bible into the camp.  When they first moved into the barrack-room, the terrible conditions there made the women angry and selfish. There were constant arguments and fights. Everyone suffered so much that they spent all their energy looking after themselves.  Betsie prayed that God would give peace to the barrack-room. Very soon the atmosphere changed. The women became a little more patient with each other. They even began to make a few jokes about their troubles.

       In the evenings, after a hard day's work and a miserable supper, Corrie and Betsie took out the little Dutch Bible. At first a small group gathered around to listen, and then more and more women joined them. The guards never came in to stop them, because of the fleas. So Corrie and Betsie thanked God for the fleas!  The women came from many countries, including Poland, France, Germany and Russia. Corrie translated the Bible from Dutch into German; someone else translated the German into Polish, and so on.

       As they were able, while living in the most miserable of conditions, they attended to the needs of their fellow prisoners and showed by example the love of God.  Betsie died at Ravensbruck but Corrie was released and became a much sought after speaker as she traveled around the world telling her story which she put in print in the still popular book entitled “The Hiding Place”  which later was made into a movie.  Some years after her release, Corrie was giving a presentation after which a German guard from Ravensbruck who was in her audience came up and introduced himself asking for her forgiveness and desiring to become a Christian.  All of the horror of Ravensbruck flashed before her eyes as she looked at this man.  But the light of God once again was reflected in Corrie as she said “I forgive you.”   

       Jesus said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Our good deeds are to be seen so others can benefit from what they see.  This doesn’t mean we blow a trumpet before us announcing our good deeds.  The scriptural example is to go quietly about our business as we demonstrate the way or righteousness.  A beam of light makes no noise.  You will never hear light.  Light makes itself known in one way and in one way only and that is it shines.  It illuminates that upon which it comes into contact.

       The nature of light is to shine. There is no such thing as light that does not communicate itself. There is no such thing as self contained light. Light may originate in a distant star and travel a span of light-years, but it does not get tired of shining and cease to shine. Its nature is to shine. Christ has made us lights in the world, and we are not self-contained. It should be the nature of the Christian who has been made light to communicate the light given to him.

       Light is that which enables you to see or that which makes vision possible. Light goes with sight. Light illuminates.  You can’t see in the dark.  I remember visiting the prison called Alcatraz near the Golden Gate Bridge in California and during the tour the tour guide had us go into a solitary confinement prison cell and closed the door.  It was pitch black.  You could not see your hand in front of you.  Without light our eyes are virtually useless.  With this in mind it is interesting as to what Jesus said about light and the eye.

       Luke 11:34-36: Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.  See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.  Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."

       It is God’s will that we live in the light and that light fills our entire body.  To be filled with light is associated with having life.  While there are some plants and animals that can live in darkness, most living organisms require light. Jesus said He is the light of the world and those who follow Him will never walk in darkness.  Following Jesus is to experience the light of life. 

       A true Christian cannot be hid.  He cannot escape notice.  A person who is truly living out the principles expressed in the Beatitudes will stand out.  The person who truly realizes what the grace of God means to him will not want to hide his Christianity under a bushel. The important thing is that we remain cognizant of the source of our light.  Our being a light is to reflect the light that is Christ Jesus.  Just as the physical sun causes the planets and moons in our solar system to reflect light, so it is that we reflect the light of the Son of God.  Jesus said he is the light of the world.  As disciples of Jesus we are to reflect that light consistently in our conduct and in all we think say and do.

SERMON ELEVEN