Lamps and Stands
I imagine that many of you have at some time in your life taken a torch to bed with you and tried to read under the covers. It's a good bit of harmless fun with a safe little electric torch or bicycle lamp. You were probably a kid when you did it and I guess many kids still do after "lights-out" has been called.
You wouldn't have wanted to try to do that if you were around in the first century. The lamps that they had then were little clay pots with spouts. The pot would be filled olive oil and a wick lit in the spout would give off light more like a candle than our battery torches.
If you wanted to see in a room with this sort of lamp you'd need to hold the lamp up high so the light could diffuse as much as possible. Of course you couldn't stand all evening holding a lamp up with your hand so another solution had to be found. Sometimes a freestanding lampstand would be used and sometimes a small shelf jutting out a little from the wall.
The whole point of lighting one of these lamps was to see. No-one in their right mind would take one of these lamps and immediately cover it over with a larger pot which would immediately and completely hide any light there might be. It goes without saying that you wouldn't put this sort of lamp under a bed – the results could be disastrous!
So far so good – but "so what?" What is the point of it all? Surely I haven't come to listen to a sermon this morning only to find it's all about some early Middle Eastern Health and Safety Regulations?
And you would be right! Jesus drew this little word picture to focus the attention of his hearers on the importance of understanding purpose.
This morning we will think for a while about the following questions:
What was Jesus' purpose in coming into the world? What was it he came to do?
What are his followers to do in the world? What is their purpose?
Why was this necessary?
How could the disciples prepare themselves to achieve this purpose that they have as Christians?
Why did Jesus come into the world?
We've been looking at some of the things that Jesus had been doing. He'd been going around doing good? He'd performed a number of healing miracles and most recently he'd been criss-crossing the countryside preaching and teaching. He'd just told one of his famous parables to a large crowd that had gathered to listen to him and when his disciples approached him he explained to them what it was all about.
But we should pause a moment and ask ourselves the simple question: Why? Why was he doing all of this? What was the motivating force? What drove him? What purpose did he have in view?
Jesus, the speaker of the words of our text this morning, must have had a purpose in doing all that he did. Why else would he have left heaven and come into the world? But what did that purpose involve?
Well, we're not left in he dark about all this because elsewhere we are given some very clear indications about what was involved in his decision to come.
His first and great overriding purpose was to do his Father's will and to do the work his Father wanted him to. The apostle John records these words of Jesus:
Jn.5:30 "I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me."
Jn.17:4 "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do."
Once more Jesus tells us what the Father's will and purpose for his Son involved: the Father wanted his Son to be honoured and glorified!
Jn.5:23 "that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him."
Now we might think this sounds a little vague so let's flesh it out for the honour and glory the Father God intends for his Son is rich and multifaceted. One aspect of all this was that Jesus be known as the Light of the World (Jn.8:12).
Now do you begin to see where this is leading us?
The Light of the World was not destined to shine dimly in some remote corner and that be that. Jesus came into the world to be the Light of the World, he came to be seen and to illuminate others.
And this is precisely what we find him doing. Jesus would minister in a public manner for some three years. During that time he went from place to place and from crowd to crowd preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God. He also spent special times with his closest followers when he taught them in a more private way preparing them for the work that they would have to accomplish on his behalf.
At the end of these three years of active ministry he had created such a stir that the religious leaders feared for the stability of the nation and for their own entrenched positions of authority. Jesus was not operating in secret but openly letting his light shine. And so opposition that had been there right from the very outset of his ministry and which had steadily grown during that ministry now reached itself climax.
A little lamp in a room wasn't destined to be hidden but it would be lifted high from which point its light might be clearly seen. Similarly Jesus hadn't come in order to be hidden – he too would be "lifted up". Jesus' lampstand would not be a shelf on a wall inside a house but a cross on a hill outside a city wall.
There on the Cross of Calvary Jesus shines brightly to those who have eyes to see.
What does that mean?
Well in the light of his death we can begin to grasp just how serious our sin really is. We see there the lengths that men are prepared to go to in order to get rid of an innocent man whose teaching unsettles and crosses us – and we recognise that the seeds of the same wickedness are to be found in our own hearts too.
But more, far more, we see the length to which God the Father has to go if he is to deal with human sinfulness – the death of his Unique Son.
Not only so but we see in the light of the cross the length to which the Father is prepared to go for Jesus' death on the cross shows us the love of the Father as well as his own love for us. It was there on that cross of shame that Jesus secured the salvation he makes so freely available to all those who will repent of their sin and place their trust in him who is not merely the Light of the World but also the Saviour of the World.
What are Jesus followers to be in the world?
If Jesus is supremely the Light of the World then he also told his disciples that they would fulfil this role too.
Jesus was taking the major role preaching and teaching role – it was he the crowds wanted to listen to. The disciples were however in a privileged position – Jesus explained his meaning to them in private. In due course what was hidden, what was taught in private, would need to be made widely known.
The disciples (and all Christians with them ever since) have the responsibility of passing on the truth that they have received from Jesus. They were receiving then as part of a special apostolic team but the time was not far off when it would be up to them to take the message that the Master had so carefully and patiently being teaching them and share it to the world.
Do you remember the words of what has come to be known as the Great Commission? After the resurrection but immediately prior to his ascension to heaven Jesus gave his final words of instruction to his followers. This is what he said:
Mt.28:18-20 "And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.""
Let me highlight some of that:
"teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you".
The disciples were not to keep the message privately for themselves as if they had a light that they could keep hidden under a jar. No, their task was to make the message that for the moment was hidden and make it manifest ie. to show it forth in all its clarity, with all its sweetness, with all its pertinence and relevance. The task of Jesus' followers was to take this message and make it as accessible as possible. They weren't to allow anything to hinder the message getting across – they would use language that made it easy for folk to understand.
And not only were they to proclaim the message with their lips, their very lives were to proclaim it as they lived out the truth of it. The disciples were not simply to believe the truth and so allow the truth to make them good they were also to do good. One part of the way in which they would give irrefutable evidence to a watching world was by demonstrating love one for another.
The Father's purpose in sending the Son was that the Son amongst other things might be the Saviour of the World and for the world to benefit it would need to hear. This privilege of sharing the good news has not been entrusted into the hands of angels but of sinners who have themselves first benefitted from the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
Why was/is this necessary?
The world of men is spiritually a dark place with no light at all. There would be no point in lighting that small clay oil lamp outdoors in bright sunshine – the lamp only serves a useful purpose when all is dark.
Jesus came into a spiritually dark world, one in which men loved darkness rather light for their deeds were evil. His purpose in coming was to do men good but preferring their dark ways men resisted and go on resisting him still until and unless the Holy Spirit begins to work in their lives.
Until the Spirit begins his work men refuse to admit that there is anything wrong with the way they are living their lives or if they do admit to their being a problem they minimise its importance. But when the Spirit does come men and women begin to realise the scale of the predicament they are in. The more light the more they see themselves as God sees them and the result is sobering – they begin to understand they need help, they begin to want help, they begin to cry out for help "Oh, where is it to be found?"
And the Spirit continues his work of drawing men and women to faith and trust in Jesus. He arranges for them hear a gospel sermon, to have a spiritual conversation with a friend, to read some verses from the Bible. They hear about Jesus the only one good enough to open the gate of heaven to let people in.
The apostle Paul could write of the absolute need of divine intervention in the salvation of a sinner in this way:
Rom.10:14-15 "But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?"
But praise God he does send! He sends each of Jesus' followers to pass on what they have learned themselves. It is not the disciple's cleverness that is crucial for the power resides in the message itself – it is the power of God to salvation – but that message has to be shared.
Preparation for Service
So, after speaking to his disciples of the role that will be theirs to fulfil, Jesus exhorted them to take great care how they themselves listened to his teaching.
The stakes were high, the disciples mustn't presume, they must pay serious attention to everything that the Master in his wonderful loving kindness teaches them. In the first place their own eternal destiny is determined by their relationship to Jesus – they dare not be hearers of the word only; they must be doers of it as well. To do that they would have to take care how they listened.
Beyond their own personal salvation these disciples were being entrusted with Jesus' teaching so that they might in turn pass it on to others. How important that they should know what his message actually was and is – if they didn't get it right they would later find themselves as blind leaders of the blind and the outcome of that would be disaster.
And Jesus completes his instruction at this point with a spiritual principle of Christian living – you either progress or regress there simply is no standing still.
When I began seriously to learn French some 30 years ago I was taught a similar idea to the one I've just mentioned. In language learning (and it holds true in so many other domains as well) it is a question of "use it or lose it". A new word is learnt in class but it must soon be put into a regular sentence and used or else you'll quite simply lose it. You had it, or at least you thought you did, but if you neglect using it you'll find that it quickly slips from the memory.
In our walk with Jesus it is crucial that we put into practice what we hear. If you understand something from God today don't put it off till another day get on with it now and you will receive more and more and more.
On the other hand if you want to make shipwreck of your faith or if you are not bothered about your never-dying soul don't trouble yourself about how you listen, how you pay heed to the message, how it might be put it into practice in your life. No, don't worry about things at all and you'll soon find that any faith you did have was the temporary kind of faith that doesn't produce any fruit at all – and you'll have nothing of spiritual value left in your life.
If you have not yet come to Jesus in personal faith and trust what stops you from coming right now? You may have felt drawn before but haven't responded, well respond now for the danger is that the more you hear without action the more likely you are to think you have something when you don't and even what you think you have will slip away through your fingers to your everlasting loss.
Oh come to Jesus Christ and be saved!