“Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NASB)
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
We often hear the phrase, “A city set on a hill” in reference to America’s exceptionalism. In a 1630 sermon by John Winthrop, an English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, is now famous mainly for its proclamation that “we shall be as a city upon a hill,” used to describe the expectation that the Massachusetts Bay colony would shine like an example to the world.1 John Winthrop wrote it to describe the America he imagined.
Ronald Reagan also loved the phrase. He used it over and over again, perhaps most notably in his 1989 presidential farewell address to the nation, January 11, 1989.2 President Reagan saw America in his mind as “a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and. peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.3
But what does this phrase mean in the Scriptures?
In Luke Chapter 2, the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon, a righteous and devout man, that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Simeon was bought into the temple by the Spirit; and when Joseph and Mary brought in the child into the temple Simeon blessed Him and said, “Now, Lord, You are letting Your bond-servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all the peoples: A light for revelation for the Gentiles; And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32). What powerful testimony of God’s faithfulness to keep His prophetic Word!
In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Christ was made “a light for the nations”, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6) “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ” (John 1:4-5 NIV)
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We are living in a time of gross darkness covering the earth and it’s people (Isaiah 60:2). These are indeed perilous times. There are wars and rumors of wars. Nations (people groups) rising against nations as we witnessed the rioting following the death of George Floyd, and the insurrection that took place at our Nation’s Capitol on January 6. People are proud and arrogant, narcissistic, money-grubbing, pretentious, and abusive. They rebel against their parents and will be ungrateful, unholy, uncaring, coldhearted, accusing, without restraint, savage, and haters of anything good. We can expect them to be treacherous, reckless, swollen with self-importance, and given to loving pleasure more than they love God. They may look or act like godly people, but they’re not. Why? They deny God’s power by taking matters into their own hands and placing others at risk. Scripture warns us to stay clear of these people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
What does it mean that believers are to be salt and light?
Becoming a “city sit upon a hill” is more than just saying so. Believers in Christ are meant to become preservatives to the world, preserving it from the evil inherent in the society of ungodly men whose unredeemed natures are corrupted by sin. It’s reflective in our faith in Christ being made in His image, our love for God and our neighbor, our daily actions and interactions with others as believers, and the fruit of righteousness we bear in His Name. Our good works are to shine for all to see!
Preaching of the gospel message is meant to rescue the believer from the dominion of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of the Son. If our gospel is “veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NASB)
Your light must always shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify our Father in heaven. I’ll leave you with this thought: If the gospel of the kingdom isn’t transforming you, how can you expect it to transform anyone else?
- Massachusetts Bay — “The City Upon a Hill”, U. S. History, https://www.ushistory.org/us/3c.asp, accessed January 22, 2021
2. Farewell Address to the Nation, Ronald Reagan Library and Museum, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/farewell-address-nation
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