You are the Light of the World

You are the Light of the World

Sermon on the Mount #1 – “You are the Light of the World”
Reading: Matthew 5:1-21
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

As we journey through the Gospel of Matthew we have come to the first significant block of teaching – the Sermon on the Mount and will be challenged to consider what it means to live out this ethical teaching from Jesus. From the profoundness of the beatitudes to the confronting teaching on anger – Jesus is encouraging us to hear these words and put them into action. Jesus teaching has the power to turn us and the world upside-down and we are invited to be the light of the world that reflects this teaching in all we do and say. Join us as we dig deeper into this amazing passage.


We are up to chapter 5 in our Narrative Lectionary journey through the Gospel of Matthew.  We have read the birth narratives of chapter 1 and 2, Jesus being baptised in chapter 3, and last week chapter 4, Jesus being tempted in the desert and calling his first disciples to follow him.

Last week I reminded you that Matthew structured his gospel around five different blocks or what we call discourses.  Each discourse starts with some action – telling the story of what Jesus was doing, where he was going, the miracles he did etc – and then is followed with a block of teaching. 

The first discourse runs from Matthew chapters 3-7 and the action part has been the baptism, temptation, calling the disciples and we have come to the block of teaching part … the Sermon on the Mount.

I mentioned a few weeks ago a helpful hint to reading the gospel of Matthew is that Matthew likes to structure things together to reveal a main point.  There is a deliberate flow leading to a conclusion.  So one way of understanding Matthew is to read it backwards … jump to the point that Matthew is trying to make, and then use this to understand the passages that lead up to it.

For example, what is the main point that Jesus/Matthew is building up to with the Sermon on the Mount?  Let’s jump to the last bit and take a peak…  Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Everyone who hears these words and puts them into practice… Matthew is spelling it out that the words we have just heard are not theoretical or prompters for some intellection conversation … the Sermon on the Mount teaching is supposed to be lived out, something that we need to hear AND put into practice.

And you can see this play out within the teaching… take verses 14-16 from our reading as an example…

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built 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.”

Ok – that’s solid teaching … but remember that for Jesus/Matthew it is all about putting into practice, so Jesus goes on and says…

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Are you seeing the pattern.  The Sermon on the Mount is teaching with a practical application.  We hear the words and put them into practice.

Ok – so now we are clear on the point that Jesus/Matthew is building up to, lets jump back to the beginning of our bible reading but let’s read it with these glasses … we need to hear these words and put them into practice.

Matthew 5:1,2 – “when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

Matthew is packing a lot into this introduction. 

The reference to the mountain is like speaking in code to the Jewish audience that something special is just about to happen. The Old Testament is full of examples of people going up a mountain and something amazing happening.  Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice, Moses and the 10 commandments on Mt Sinai, Elijah meeting God on the mountain, etc.  Jesus heading up on a mountain to teach it is re-enforcing that what he is just about to say is important.

The other question that comes from these two verses is … when it says “and Jesus began to teach them” … who is the “them”.  Is Jesus teaching the crowd or the disciples?  Or both? 

Verse 1 clearly tells us that Jesus saw the crowd, Jesus knew the crowd was there and by scooting up the hill, was accommodating the crowd – making sure the crowd could hear him.  However, I want to suggest (and so does other commentators) that this teaching is directed to the disciples – while encouraging the crowd to listen in and engage with it.  

Can you see this subtle difference?  I think that the moral and ethical teaching found within the SOTM is not something that Jesus demands the whole world needs to do bur rather it is for the followers of Jesus to live out. 

It is like Jesus was saying, “if you are with me, if you trust me … then let these words change you and challenge you to reconsider your way of living.

And Jesus started to teach … verses 3-11  …  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  [etc]

These words are some of the most profound teachings of Jesus and at the same time some of the most confusing.  We could easily spend the next 8 weeks looking one at one of these statements line by line. 

And we find them confusing because on the surface they are not worldly true.  If we look around, not all mourners are comforted, the merciful are not always shown mercy and the meek definitely do not inherit the earth.  These statements do not reflect the reality of the world we live in – so instead of being worldly true, there must be a spiritual truth in these words, a glimpse of something beyond or bigger. 

About three years ago I preached a sermon here on the Beatitudes and shared several different ways of understanding what Jesus might have meant by the word blessed … it is a cracker of a sermon if you wanted to go back and have a listen.  But I wanted to pick up on one of the ideas I shared back then and break it down a bit further. 

One of the commentators I was reading back proposed the thought that Jesus might have been contrasting the Beatitudes with the teaching of the philosopher Aristotle who lived about 300 years before Jesus. 

Aristotle teaching was quite popular during Jesus time, particular a series on teaching about how the goal of life happiness.  Part of Aristotle’s teaching was a famous series of statements on what it means to be happy or to have “a flourishing and thriving life.”  300 years later, it is like Jesus saying “And how is Aristotle’s teaching working out for you?”  Are you flourishing?  Are you happy?  No?  Then here is a different way of thinking about blessing.  

This highlights a larger theme of Jesus’ in the Sermon on Mount.  It is like Jesus is pushing back against the status quo, against the accepted teaching or ethical framework and instead saying there is a better way.  There is a way that leads to life, a better way of thinking, or living … one based not on worldly philosophies but on kingdom values.

Take as an example the line in the beatitudes

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

If you look at this from a worldly happiness point of view it doesn’t make sense.  A time of mourning or deep loss is not happy.   Aristotle himself said to those who were mourning, that they should accept death and move on quickly as it goes against the life goal of happiness. 

But Jesus in the Beatitudes put forward a different way … to those in the process of mourning, in God’s kingdom you will be blessed and comforted.  As children of God, we know that when we turn to God in those difficult times we experience a loving and compassionate God who is there with us, bringing comfort and help.  It may not immediately bring happiness but we would say that we are … blessed.

Do you know what I mean?  For those of you who have experienced loss or the pain of grief … did you at points within during that pain experience a peace, or have a settled-ness come on you?  I have heard stories of people say, “if it wasn’t for my faith, I don’t think I would have made it through the grief”.  When I ask, “what is it about your faith that bring you comfort in the midst of grief” … most of the time the answer is something like, “I am not sure.  It is just knowing that God was with me.  That my faith was like a rock I could hold onto”.  I once heard a person say, “It was like when Jesus was not only holding me in my brokenness, he was gentle putting me back together again.”  This is what it means to be blessed.

You can put this idea alongside anyone of the beatitudes.  The world says that this is the way to happiness or success … but Jesus says there is a better way that leads to life … a blessed life.

This pushing back against the current teaching is the same approach in the second half of this chapter (which we didn’t read but I encourage you to read sometime).  But here Jesus is not pushing back against worldly teaching but against the religious teachers understanding of the Torah, of the Bible.  In verses 21-47, Jesus uses the pattern…  You have heard it said (or you have been taught this) … but now I tell you …

You have been taught not to murder, but I say that if you are angry with a brother or sister it is just as bad.  You have been taught “Do not commit adultery” but I say that the lust of the mind is just as bad.  You follow the teaching, “An eye for an Eye”, to pay back in equal measures, but I say turn the other check, give your coat as well, walk the extra mile. 

You adhere to the teaching to love your neighbour but hate your enemies … in God’s way we need to love our enemies and pray for your persecutors.

(And remember that this is not theoretical .. we are supposed to be putting this into practice, to living out this teaching).

Anyone else thinking that this teaching is too hard, that Jesus is setting the bar to high.  Jesus is setting a high bar.  In verse 20 Jesus says that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law otherwise we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  … and then Jesus in verse 48 tells us to be perfect just like our heavenly father is perfect.

Keith Green, a Christian singer, songwriter in the 1980’s once said that Jesus doesn’t offer any compromises when it comes to this teaching.  The bar is set high – because this is the way that brings life and transformation.  Jesus doesn’t lower the bar to make it easier for us to put it into practice but at the same time Jesus doesn’t leave us to continually fail.  We are jumping ahead in our journey through Matthew … but we already know the good news of Grace.  Jesus doesn’t lower the bar but offers to give us a leg up to get over it.  Through the grace of God we are able to strive to live out this teaching in a way that transforms our lives and transform the world.  That is what forgiveness and Grace is all about … but more of that later.

So how do we respond to Matthew chapter 5?  How do we pick up the challenge to live out this Kingdom Teaching?  In this first part of the Sermon on the Mount we can see Jesus offering us a model for Christian living which stands against the worldly thinking. 

This teaching reminding us that true blessedness is not found in wealth, power, or status, but in following Jesus.  The challenge we have is to live a life that puts this teaching into practice.

But it is hard to wrap this sermon up well because we are still have two more chapters in the Sermon on the Mount to go. 

Jesus/Matthew still has more to reveal to us yet.  Right now it is like being in the middle of an orchestra where all the instruments are tuning up.  It is a bit all over the place and hard to see the bigger picture … that that will come.  A time is coming when everything will start coming into tune – and we will see how it all flows together – and our spirits will go, “Ah, I get it now.  Now I can see why this … is … the way to life” 

In the meantime, let’s remember that we are indeed the light of the world.  The world is looking at us, may we be reflecting the light and love and grace of God in all we do and say.  So in the words of Jesus, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God in heaven. Amen.