Across the bristling grasses and the breezy palm tree dance lies a long lagoon, all liquid, mirror for the sky’s expanse. Underneath a white-hot sun it becomes a brilliant blast and my eyelids squint to slivers letting just a glimmer past: just the essence of the power, just the outline of the heat, just impressions of the splendor and the tantalizing beat. If, laid open to God’s shining, I could be but half as bright, mirror molten by reflecting glory of the Living Light, fire ignited in the noon glow as I’m changed beneath his rays, eyes around would have to notice my resemblance to his Blaze.
I was taking a day off to be quiet, apart with the Lord. A friend had told me about a space near a convent, beside a lagoon. It was perfect. As I sat there practicing silence, I could not miss the way the tropical sun was sharing its glory by lighting up the waters. It was peaceful and mesmerizing, even if it was too bright to really focus on. I couldn’t help but yearn to be able to reflect the divine light that way in my life.
In his Sermon the Mount, Jesus actually said that is just what we should do:
“You are the light of the world — like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matt. 5:14-16 NLT)
One thing is sure: this world is a dark place. Every day there are headlines about war, cruelty to innocent people, corruption, pandemics, famine, raging fires and destructive winds. Sometimes all the electricity in a city goes out and it is days until it is restored. Night is suddenly terrifying. People dig out lanterns, candles, whatever they have.
It was always an adventure for us to go spend a night in a remote village there in northern Côte d’Ivoire where we were serving. We had to give up the comforts of a house in town, where there were bathrooms, beds and lights. But when we would sit in a courtyard with friends around a fire in the evening, the dancing flames would light up the whole sitting area. And when we looked up at the night sky there seemed to be hundreds more bright stars than we had ever seen in town. You’ve heard the saying, “The darker the night, the brighter the stars” (Fyodor Dostoevsky). In fact, similar phrases show up around the world because it is so obviously true.
But I did make sure I had a little flashlight to light the way to a private spot in the bush or an outhouse near the courtyard, checking for scorpions or snakes on the path. All sorts of danger lurks in the dark. We need light.
God is light, and when he came to earth to save us, he came as light. Jesus said: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5 NET) His light was so powerful that many people could not stand the glare, because it showed up what was hidden in all the dark corners of their lives. But others crowded to him like moths or termites swarming to a lamp. They could not resist the magnetic pull of health, hope and unexpected loving welcome.
Jesus gave these new disciples an enticing promise: “I am the light of the world.The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NET).
As the NET note says, this is “a description of his effect on the world, forcing everyone in the world to ‘choose up sides’ for or against him.” (cf. John 3:19–21). They could hang on to their shadowed life paths or come to him and be granted real life in the light.
So what did he mean when he told the disciples listening to him there on the mountain, “You are the light of the world”? He was explaining that they would be visibly lit up, like a city on a hill that can be seen by everyone. His light would be burning in them, shining through them and illuminating others. Paul explained it this way:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light — 9 for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth — 10 discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11)
The Lord’s light now shows up in a disciple the way that it does in his Master, who is light. It exposes nasty, dying stuff, so some people won’t like it. As Jesus had just explained in the previous verses, a true disciple would get pushback. On the other hand, they would be like their Father, “children of light.” They would look like him; the light would show up in their love of truth, their goodness, and their determination to do what is right.
This can attract seekers who wonder what makes these people different. I am reminded of an older man in that village where we often visited, who for years was determined to resist this new “Jesus Road,” as it was called. But the more he saw changes in people he knew, the more he saw love reaching out to all the villagers through certain Jesus followers, the more he began to wonder if this new way was really true. Like a moth drawn to a lantern, he was watching. One night he had a dream. He was in a totally dark place, very scary. He could hear voices around him but could not tell whose they were. Suddenly there was some light coming toward him, and he recognized my husband Glenn, holding a candle in his hand, surrounded by Jesus followers from the little village church. Then he woke up. What was all that about?
He went to the village pastor and asked him. The pastor, Fouhoton Pierre, told him, “The light is Jesus, and Glenn brought us the Good News about him.”
So the next time we came out to the village, he told Glenn about his dream and asked him what it meant. Glenn answered, “That light is Jesus!” Yes, the Light was drawing him in, and he made his decision to follow that Light. He became, himself, a child of the light.
When we truly follow our Master, his light shines through us, or we could also understand this as reflecting him to others. If we don’t live out his truth and instead participate in what is going on in the dark, we are no longer lights in the world. In fact our dark ways may persuade others that there is no real light – that it is all just some story. That is like hiding a lamp under a basket. It does not light up the dark.
A truth that has wowed me these last few years is something Jesus’ disciple Peter shared:
“ . . . he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)
Participation in the very nature of God, his character, comes through intimate relationship. “In other words, it is this extraordinary teaching of the mystical union between the believer and his Lord.” We actually become more like him as we walk with him, allowing him to change us. He is living in us, always at work. This will astound those who do not expect to see this. And some will be drawn to him.
That last part of this section in the Sermon on the Mount underlines this positive effect:
“Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5:16 NLT)
This is not about showing off. It is not about us. It is all about our Father when we are true “children of the light.” We don’t hide our faith or the way that Jesus is at work in us, transforming us, leading us.
We do not have to be important people, full-time ministers, or celebrities. Who was Jesus talking to there on the mountain? They were the crowds! “These were the ordinary, unremarkable, some might say backward people of Galilee. Not the powerful Romans, the wise Athenians, or the religious scholars in Jerusalem . . . His listeners were no one special.”
So every single one of us who is devoted to Jesus can sing:
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
 Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, (Eerdmans, 1976), 142.
 Jethani, Skye, What if Jesus Was Serious? (Moody Publishers, 2020), 42,43.