Jesus, the Light of the world, came into our dark, sin-filled world to bring hope, forgiveness, and salvation. And he calls his followers the light of the world, as well. We shine and reflect Jesus’ light when we obey his commands and live for him.
When Jesus calls us the light of the world, it’s because our lives are to shine brightly. When our outward actions glorify God, we point others to him—we live as a radiant source of hope in a dark world.
Throughout history, Jesus has been sending light into a dark world. “Light” is a significant metaphor in the Bible, and runs through the whole of Scripture. In the first words of the Bible, God’s creative activity sparks the universe into existence:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said… let there be light. And there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:1-4a).
God made sure his light would continue to go with his people, sometimes shining brightly for all to see—like a pillar of flame to lead them through the wilderness—and sometimes shaded by selfishness and sin. And then the prophet Isaiah spoke to God’s people, exiled in the land of Babylon, far from home, seemingly far from God’s light:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:1-2).
The Gospel of John tells us that God’s light shined a new way through baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
Jesus taught his disciples that God’s light shines through all of his followers. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
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 a bushel basket, but on the lampstand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Jesus warns us not to hide our light. After all, what good is light if no one can see it? In 2 Corinthians 4:6, the Apostle Paul writes:
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Each of us has been given the greatest treasure—the light of Christ. A flame is a powerful thing, but it must be protected or it could be extinguished. If we hide Jesus’ light, it can’t survive. Our relationship with Jesus exists to be shared. We carry something valuable within us—the light of Jesus. And it’s what we carry on the inside that gives us value and purpose.
Jesus also warns against spiritual blindness, which plagued religious leaders such as the Pharisees. One of those leaders, Nicodemus, came to see Jesus under the cover of darkness. John 2:23–3:21 reveals the important theme of light vs. darkness.
John intentionally reveals that Nicodemus came to see Jesus at “night”—secretly. As a well-known religious leader, Nicodemus likely didn’t want others to see him meeting with Jesus. Imagine the context of these final words from Jesus to Nicodemus. There they were together, in the darkness of night, when Jesus said this:
And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21).
Jesus challenges Nicodemus about the nature of true faith; it’s a call to seek and follow Jesus in broad daylight and for all to see, not in secret, in the dark. Nicodemus had come wondering about Jesus’ identity, but Jesus concludes the conversation by essentially asking Nicodemus: “Who are you? Are you a person who loves darkness? Or will you be a person who boldly walks in the light?”
Jesus challenges Nicodemus to examine his own motives and choices. We, too, ought to consider our own spiritual pursuit. Are we pursuing Jesus with an authentic, sincere faith? Do we hide away in the darkness, or do we truly and boldly seek him?
Note: We do see Nicodemus again in Scripture, and it’s obvious that things have changed for him as he boldly and publicly aligned himself with Jesus (John 19:39).
Being lights for Jesus in a dark world isn’t always easy, comfortable, or even safe. We’ll face ridicule, rejection, and possibly physical harm. But we need to remember that our allegiance is to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of this world.
Jesus didn’t urge his followers to “Be safe!” In fact, his parting words often conveyed just the opposite, as we discover from the Luke’s Gospel:
- “Do not be afraid” (Luke 5:10).
- “Be a testimony to me” (Luke 5:14).
- “Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).
- “Take nothing for your journey” (Luke 9:3-5).
- “Proclaim the kingdom of God!” (Luke 9:60).
- “Go and do what I do” (Luke 10:37).
- • “Be awake and alert!” (Luke 21:36).
As we train teenagers (and ourselves) to shine for Jesus—to live and breathe and move as Christ-followers—here are some sayings that communicate Jesus’ truths.
- Keep it in the light! Nothing neutralizes our impact for God’s kingdom faster, broader, and deeper than shadow living. Whatever we do, we should train kids to live their lives in the light—away from the shadows that give God’s enemy room to operate and leverage to sideline us.
- Be Christ’s! J. Sidlow Baxter, the venerable English pastor and author, used to tell about a retired Scottish pastor he often passed on the lane near his home. Baxter once asked the old man, “How are you keeping?” The man responded, “I’m not keeping, I’m kept.” Of all the things we can “be,” nothing beats “Christ’s.”
- Be dangerous! In John 14 Jesus tells his disciples a staggering truth—“The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things…” (The Message). Are we expecting teenagers to do greater things than Jesus? Wild at Heart author John Eldredge said we’ve erred in telling Christian boys their highest calling is to be nice when we should be telling them to be dangerous-for-God. Amen.
- Stay awake! Much of our culture is living life asleep at the wheel. That’s one reason why we see so many roadside wrecks in families today. Jesus told us to stay alert because there’s a “roaring lion” stalking us—he wasn’t kidding.
- Be strong and courageous! When God placed the mantle of leadership on Joshua after Moses’ death, he charged him to be “strong and courageous” three times in four verses (Joshua 1:6-9). God doesn’t have to repeat himself, but he does because he’s humble and loves us.
- Be true! Rather than elevating safety as our filtering lens, how about reminding each other to speak and live the truth in every environment?
- Armor up! St. Paul’s parting advice for everyday living? “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).
- Live large! Living small means to live disconnected from our true nature and calling—living large means to agree with God about our place in his great rescue operation of bringing light to a dark world.