Up until the 1970s there was an agreed morality in the West, grounded in the Judaeo-Christian ethic. As I indicated last week, this was the foundation for what developed, from the time of Alfred the Great, as the ‘Common Law’ of England and Great Britain. This was also influential in the development of laws in the United States, Canada and Australia.

At the heart of the ‘Common Law’ there was also something else. Monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, as well as justices of the courts of law, understood that they were accountable to a higher authority, the perfect lawmaker, God himself. Not that any of this made everyone Christian. But in bringing the light of God’s truth to bear it encouraged people to sort out their relationship with God.


Now all has changed. Few leaders in government or in society today would challenge the prevailing assumption that there is no morally binding objective authority or truth above the individual. Today words such as true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, have lost their objective meaning. Everything is relative. We are in a world without compass bearings.

There is at least one person who is at odds with these ideas: Jesus Christ. Today we turn to a second command he lays on his followers: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house…” (Matthew 5:14f).

‘Light’ is a metaphor for truth. Because we live in an age of relativism and tolerance we easily lose the impact of this imagery. We don’t see the moral darkness of life around us, let alone in our own lives. Part of the problem is the prevailing ethos that there are no absolutes.

Into our world which reckons it has the answers, Jesus says to anyone who follows him: “You are the light of the world…” Two ideas stand behind his words. The first is Isaiah 9 where the prophet speaks of the people walking in darkness and seeing a great light. On those living in a land where the shadow of death falls, a light has dawned. A child will be born. He will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”


Isaiah was foreshadowing the birth of God’s King. Jesus is the light our world desperately needs. We may treat him as a cute little baby at Christmas, nod our heads sagely when the words of Isaiah are read, but ignore him for the rest of our lives. Yet Jesus doesn’t remain silent. He calls upon those who would follow him to be as a light to the world.

Jesus’ reference to light picks up another promise from Isaiah: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you (Isaiah 60:1). This theme is taken up in John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son,* full of grace and truth. God has come to us in Jesus Christ.

During the course of his public life, thousands were drawn to him. Following his death and resurrection millions upon millions continue to come to him, worshipping him as the Lord and Savior of the world. People everywhere have come to see him as the light of the world.


‘How then can we be the light of the world?’ we ask. The context of Jesus’ words gives us the clue: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:16).

‘Everything you are, everything you do,’ Jesus is saying to us, ‘must reflect all that I have taught you’ (the Beatitudes, for example). ‘Live your life as I command and others will be drawn to hear God’s gospel. It won’t happen otherwise.’ It’s an awesome thought. We’re all involved. No-one who calls themselves a Christian is exempt. All of us are commanded to reflect the light of Christ in our lives to the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented: ‘Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.’