Lamps and Light
Ps.119:130 "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple."
Jesus delighted in using pictures as he spoke and taught people the truths they needed to hear and to think about. He referred to things that his listeners would recognise at once and easily be able to follow. Yet if they bothered to reflect on what he said they would realise that the things he was talking about were very important and not at all mundane.
So this morning as we continues looking at Luke’s account of the life and ministry of this oh so important man we’re going to be confronted with some picture language about lamps and light. As we set out we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to illuminate the words of the Bible so that we will understand what they are about and that we may be brought to put our trust in the Saviour.
I guess all preachers have their favourite illustrations, the stories they like to tell in order to explain the points they are trying to make. Illustrations stick in the mind and can help us to see how the truth applies to our very real lives.
Jesus being the best of teachers used a lot stories and illustrations and he wasn’t averse to using the same illustration at different times and in different circumstances to make a different points. We meet with just such an illustration here in v.33:
"No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light."
Why did he use it here and just what truth does he want us to grasp?
To answer the question we must remind ourselves of the context.
While speaking to the sceptical in the crowd that was steadily growing around him, Jesus had just been comparing himself to King Solomon and to the well-known OT prophet, Jonah. The bottom-line of what Jesus had said was this:
I am more important than either of these two famous men of the past and my ministry is more important by far than the work they achieved.
It was a great claim but then Jesus was never shy about the claims he made for himself. If you take the time to read for yourself the various things Jesus did in fact say about himself during his time on earth you’ll have to decide for yourself what kind of person he really was and is. He could have been profoundly mistaken of course and in that case why on earth bother listening to anything else he had to say? Or perhaps he was a nut-case, a man with delusions of monumental proportions, and again if that were the case you’d be better off steering clear of him. But you must also face up to the possibility that he was exactly who he said he was – and if that is the case as I and all genuine Christians believe it to be – then we should sit-up and take note of him: he is the most significant man who has ever walked on the face of the earth!
It is in this context of positively comparing himself with Solomon and Jonah that Jesus now introduced his illustration about the lamp.
And a lamp is not meant to be hidden but set in such a place as to be visible and from where it can shed its light.
What is the link?
Jesus has come to be seen and to shed his light in a dark world! God sent him with the express purpose not of hiding him secretively away but that in coming he might shine forth as "the true light, which enlightens everyone" (Jn.1:9) as "the light of the world" so that whoever followed him might not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (Jn.8:12).
The wisdom of Solomon had shone brightly and the Queen of Sheba had responded. Jonah’s preaching had shone with the truth and the Ninevites had responded but Jesus had come to shine far more brightly still.
It is so important that we take Jesus seriously – both what he said and what he did – because it is so serious Jesus didn’t hesitate to make clear just how important he was! It was not that he was desperate to lay claim to some desired status for himself but because we so desperately need him and to know as much about him as possible.
To the same end the Christian church when it is functioning properly is always proclaiming the truth as it is in Jesus. That is the reason why, Sunday after Sunday if you come along you’ll hear more about Jesus. We all of us need him. Praise God that he sent him and didn’t hide him away but set him, as it were, on a stand that we might benefit from his light!
Jesus’ illustration points to the fact that quite simply we are meant to see Jesus and to live in the light he sheds abroad.
The Eye is a Lamp Too
As Jesus continued the picture is changed. No longer is he seen as the lamp, the source of light, but the eye is now described as being the lamp of the body. It is the organ through which light passes to affect the entire body.
v.14 "Your eye is the lamp of your body."
Now immediately we have to take into account two different matters both of which are very important for us:
The quality and characteristics of the eye itself
The object that the eye habitually looks at and focuses upon
Firstly, Jesus talked about a healthy eye and a bad eye:
v.34 "When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness."
Different translations bring out something of what this means:
The word "healthy" is also translated "single", "sound", "good", "unclouded"
While the word "bad" also means "evil", "unsound", "diseased" or "unhealthy"
Now Jesus is not talking about physical sight, he is using a picture to help us understand spiritual concepts and his real concern is with our capacity for spiritual sight. Yet if we continue to think for a moment about physical sight the parallels should help us (to see clearly).
Some of you here have suffered from cataracts. Little by little the lens in your eye became cloudy – the progress was small and you didn’t notice its onset but bit by bit your sight was affected. There was a blurriness to your vision, colours may have lost something of their vibrancy – had nothing at all been done you would have eventually lost your sight completely.
And of course there are many other ailments that can stop us seeing clearly but we don’t need to go into detail about all these as the conclusion is already easy to draw:
The condition of our eyes affects the way in which we see and appreciate the world as what is true of our physical eyesight is true equally of our spiritual.
In the spiritual sphere we simply do not have 20/20 vision and we’re hampered in a variety of ways from seeing things as they really are. Our value system and our prejudices affect our appreciation of the truth. If the truth we hear doesn’t fit in with our notions and preconceived ideas we’re likely to reject or wrongly interpret the new data we’re receiving. Men and women are by no means morally or intellectually neutral we all have our biases. When truth comes along and calls us into question we may not act reasonably at all. Reason would call for an overhaul of our lives to bring them into line with the truth but the great problem with us is that people "love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil".
When it comes to spiritual matters we should never assume that we can work everything out on our own – we need help, God’s help. But do we ask for it? Have you ever prayed for God to give you his Spirit so that you might "see"? You should you know. The Psalmist had learnt this centuries before when he prayed:
Ps.119:18 "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law."
Or as the Voice puts it:
"Let me see clearly so that I may take in the amazing things coming from Your law."
So the first problem has to do with our own ability and capacity to see clearly
Secondly, the light that enters our lives is not only affected by the quality of our eye but upon the object that the eye habitually focuses upon.
If you hide yourself away in a darkened room with only a candle burning your eyes will adapt to the candlelight and after a while you’ll be comfortable there. Open the curtains and let the sunlight flood the room and for a moment your eyes will hurt and you’ll need to shut them or turn away from the brightness.
Of course no-one in their right mind and in good health would prefer to go on living by candlelight when the sun is shining brightly outside. And yet that is just how so many do live when it comes to spiritual matters. The Christian message could be likened to a call to leave the darkness of the shadowlands and live in the wonders of full sunlight – but sadly so many don’t realise that at all. I do hope that you’re not one of them.
So what is it that you habitually look at? Is there any significant time given over to looking at Jesus Christ? Do you think about what he said? Do you try to understand what he did and why? Do you seek to understand how what he said and did might apply to you and affect your life? Or do you quickly turn from these matters – just for Sunday mornings perhaps you say to yourself as you fill your life with other things. And there are just so many distractions out there – believe me I know! Plans for the future, family, possessions, holidays. In another context Jesus told his disciples to make sure that they had treasure in heaven because:
Mt 6:21 "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
In the crowds that surrounded Jesus many, while seeing him with their physical eyes, did not "see" him for who he truly was – the leaders criticised and others wanted the excitement of more signs. But there were some that "saw" and became his close followers.
What can be said about you?
You may know a lot about Jesus, you may be able to talk about his miracles, you may be able to repeat some of his teaching but have you ever personally looked to him as the Saviour of the World, the Light of the World? Have you seen him high and lifted up on a cross dying for sinners and realised that that meant dying for you too?
On another occasion Jesus spoke to some of the Jews who were gathering around him and told them something most of them didn’t like hearing; he said to them:
Jn.8:36 "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
He could have said something very similar here about light, his light; he could so easily have said:
"If this lamp illuminates you you will be illuminated indeed"
Has Jesus lit up your life? Is he still lighting it up?
v.35 "Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness."
Did you realise that the light in your inner being could be in reality darkness and not light at all? It all depends upon the health of you spiritual vision and what type of things you spend your time looking at.
You don’t need to be like that. If you turn your eyes upon Jesus, if, by faith, you look full in his wonderful face then you’ll find that the things of earth lose their appeal, they will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. Look to Jesus, the Light of the World, and the former darkness of your inner being will be replaced as you are filled with his light – how brightly you will shine then!
This light theme is found repeated over and over again in the Bible. Isaiah the prophet spoke several times about it centuries before Jesus was actually born. He saw very clearly what Jesus’ coming would mean:
Is.9:2 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined."
Has this light shone on you?
This is one way of describing how you become a Christian.
The light of the truth shines on you and you realise some essential things are true and exceedingly relevant now to your life. You realise that:
God is holy and you are not
God hates sin yet you are a guilty sinner
The wages due your sin is death
Jesus – the sinless God-man – died so that guilty sinners might be pardoned
The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus
So you repent, you believe and you receive what you need but don’t deserve
On the first day of Creation God spoke and said: "Let there be light and there was light." (Gen.1:3). And when a person becomes a Christian it is because God speaks again:
2Cor.4:6 "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
What a change! What a transformation! But as great as that it is it is only the beginning! We must take care that we go on and on looking to Jesus that his light might go on and on shining brightly in our lives. Writing to those who had already become Christians the apostle Paul said:
2Cor.3:18 "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."
Phil.4:7 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
And there is nothing better or more worthy of our attentive thoughts than the Lord Jesus Christ himself.