Luke 8:16-18 “No-one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
Seeds get everywhere, in the cracks between the paving stones, in gutters, on the sides of sheer precipices and on the top of skyscrapers. If there is the slightest chance of life they will put down roots and start to grow. They will do what God designed them to do, propagate and multiply. So Jesus concludes the parable of the sower by referring to those who have been made a new creation by God. They’ve been designed to be fruitful; “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by perseverance produce a crop” (v.15). Love, joy and peace will be formed in them. They will gather in constituted churches. There will be a supernatural growth and the reason for this is that they had new hearts that God had created in them, “noble and good hearts,” immediately receptive of truth and holy living when they heard Jesus preach about these things. “That is how we are going to live,” they thought. They had new motives and desires because they had a new heart receiving new truth. The seed of the word was able to put down deep roots, and so in these people there was a hundred-fold harvest, a beautiful crop of Christ-likeness. That is the background to our text in which the Lord Jesus is addressing these people, true Christians, and telling them how henceforth they are going to live.
Now you will see immediately that in our text the Lord Jesus changes the metaphor. He stops comparing the Christian life to one in which there is fruit, to one which gives off light, a shining and illuminating life. It is a common picture throughout the Bible, but especially on the lips of the Lord Jesus. You become a Christian by the word of God entering your life; you then begin to be fruitful with heavenly fruit in a barren world; you then begin to shine with heavenly light in a dark world. So the theme before us builds on what we’ve read in the parable of the sower, that new lives in Christ are the lives that matter. You just get one shot at life. There is no re-run; there is no reincarnation. You will probably be allotted at least 70 years in this world and then in the world to come for ever and ever, and in our brief lifetime you should count for Jesus Christ. You should produce fruit, and you should shine. That is the challenge of our Lord’s words. Bear fruit for Jesus Christ! Shine for our Lord! And do that today where God in his providence has put you. That is your purpose in living.
This month 430,000 freshers began their studies in British universities, and this week in the Times a journalist was looking back to his time as a student and lamenting the waste of those years. He called the article, “What did I learn at Uni? Sorry, it’s all a blur.” This is how he described university life; “It is a monoculture, one fuelled by booze and an obsession with being ironic. For many, our university years are just an alcoholic blur of tedious arguments over the division of restaurant bills, ‘humorous’ reminiscences over Postman Pat and sitting, drunk, in people’s bedrooms listening to other drunkards using words that they didn’t really understand to spout ill-informed opinions about things that don’t matter” (Sathnam Sanghera, Times, October 7, 2008). Now it is in that unfruitful and dark world, as far as the life of Jesus Christ is concerned, that you Christians are called to be full of fruit and light for the God you serve. For many of you it is the greatest challenge of your life so far. You can only survive to do a good and decent job of this by knowing the word of God and doing what it says. God sends you into university equipped for your calling with his word in good and noble hearts. In our text Jesus says three things about the word.
1. GOD’S WORD IS LIGHT IN EVERY KIND OF DARKNESS.
Jesus says, “No-one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light” (v.16). We didn’t know who we were until we came to know Jesus Christ. What was this life all about? Who is God? Is death the end? What can deliver me from my burden of shame? What is man’s chief end? We need light on this, every person asks the question, “Why am I here?” There is a contemporary artist named Michael Landy who hit the headlines seven years ago when he destroyed everything he possessed in his search to find out who he was. He had in all about 7,000 possessions, and he sorted them into categories and he took over the Oxford Street premises of the old C&A store and he laid them all out there covering the floor for everyone to see all he had. Is a life the sum of the things that a man possesses? Then Landy put them all on a conveyor belt to be pulverized and bagged up for burial in a landfill site. Everything went; his Saab car, his socks, some works of art that his girlfriend had made – and she had won the Turner prize – his birth certificate and passport. He destroyed everything he had except the clothes he was wearing. He shed everything, and then he has had to work out how to reconstruct his entire life. How could he discover his true self?
What Michael Landy has done is to draw images – portraits of the faces of many of his friends and his two sisters in minute detail, every hair, and freckle and pimple. He has sought to discover himself in creating the image of fellow men, people he knows. He is thinking just now, in his pursuit of self-identity, that this is the way he can know himself, who and what he is, through this relation to other people. He has worked so hard clutching his pencil, drawing with such meticulous detail in all these portraits, that the tendons in his hand have tightened, and his fingers have curled into a claw. They still haven’t recovered. He draws obsessively even at this moment as I’m preaching the word of God to you so that you can understand who you are in relation to the God who is, who made you in his image and who speaks to us. Landy draws for seven days a week. He is seeking to put his life together and discover himself in this reconstructed world of his.
Now the word of God tells us who we are, that we are men and women who have been made in the image and likeness of God, and though that image has been marred by sin and the fall the divine likeness is still there. Most particularly the Lord Jesus is the express image of God, and when you look at the life and hear the teaching of Jesus Christ you are seeing who God is and then, and only then, you can know yourself. The Christian church is saying that we know who we are when we know who God is. That is the light from God which we’ve got, and that light must shine wherever we are, in tutorial groups, in waiting outside the school with other mums waiting for our children to run out, and in talking to men and women. “You are made by God and made for God,” is our message to them, “and your hearts will go on being restless until you know the God who made you.”
Now we are told that this is ‘the information age,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth age or the wisdom age. We’ve got oodles of information and data and opinions, but where’s the truth in all this? Who at the university, amongst the staff and the students, really knows what it’s all about? Who really knows God? Who really understands the deepest spiritual problems that destroy people? Who has a handle on how to have a right relationship with other people and with God? Who really knows how to live as God wants us to live? That kind of knowledge doesn’t come from Radio 4 or the Ten o’Clock News. You don’t find it in an advertising agency. Politicians don’t tell us. Only when we come into the pool of light that God pours forth does the darkness of ignorance and fear go away. And where is this pool? Where does God shine his light? In and through Jesus, and his word, and through those who follow Jesus.
So the Lord tells them, “No-one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light” (v.16). So each one of you students is to let your light shine because Christian students and staff are the university’s only hope of knowing God! Not the intellectuals, not the scientists, not the doctors, not the bankers and economists, and not the politicians but those that have the light of the gospel in their lives can shine. Maybe that sounds arrogant, but it’s not. When, as a Christian, I understand what Jesus expects me to be, it doesn’t make me arrogant. It makes me humble. It’s a bit scary. It is laying on me a responsibility so great that I can’t bear it in my own strength. What is there in me that can prevent the university’s decay? What can I do to enlighten the world? Of myself, nothing! I’m just like everybody else. I don’t have some inborn superiority to others. It’s only as I trust Jesus, it’s only as he flavours me as salt and illuminates me with his light, that I become salt and light. There’s no room in genuine Christianity for arrogance.
Let your light shine before men, is the exhortation of Jesus. Don’t be ashamed of your identity. You don’t have to feel inferior to the smart crowd. When I was a student at school and college I wish I’d been top of the form and got straight A*s in every subject I took, but there were other boys and girls much more clever than me, most of them were not Christians. I wish I could have played a musical instrument and have drawn pictures, and been morally a better young man, but I wasn’t. There were more moral boys than me in school. Yet I don’t have to be intimidated by smart or powerful or cultured or upright people who oppose Jesus. The light I shine is the light of Jesus Christ not me. He is the light. A little child who can sing “Jesus Loves Me” or “There is a green hill for away” is showing deeper wisdom than a brilliant professor who doesn’t believe in Christ. As a Christian, I don’t have to be shy and say nothing about my faith. I can lift my head high as I look to my Saviour. I can feel great dignity at my high and holy identity. Because of Jesus, I am the light of the world. That’s not just my puffed-up opinion of myself. That’s what the Lord Jesus calls me. “YOU are the light of the world.”
What does it take to be light? It takes two things: it takes being different from the world, and at the same time it takes being involved in the world.
i] First, to be light for Christ, you must be different. Light is different from darkness; if it’s not different, it’s not light at all. If you consider yourself a Christian but you’re exactly like everybody in the world around you and you’re not different in any way, then you’re not a Christian at all. A Christian is different from others. But there’s more to light than just being different.
ii] The second thing it takes to be light for Christ is that you must be involved. Light doesn’t do any good when it’s placed under a bucket. You do not put your bedside light under the bed. It does what it’s designed for when it’s brought out into the open and put on a stand. “In the same way,” says Jesus, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
“Let them see the light!” says the Lord. Be different . . . yet involved! It sounds simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s always a temptation either to go with the flow and do whatever the world does, or else, if we insist on being different, it’s tempting for Christians just to form our own little cliques and colonies and customs and have as little to do as possible with those who aren’t like us. It is when you are different from other people and yet stay involved with them that you have most influence. Of course it can be awkward. In fact, it can be downright troublesome. It can provoke opposition. That’s the challenge. Of course we dress like them except we take some thought of modesty. There are no special blazers for Christians. We go to the same lectures. We eat the same food they eat. We sing in the same Madrigals’ choir, we play in the same rugby teams, and because we stay so close to them, and because we are like them in so many ways, the differences become all the more striking to the people who know us, and all the more upsetting. Christians are as different in their morals and beliefs as light is different from darkness, and yet they are so involved that people can’t ignore them or feel totally comfortable in their presence. They have to react. They feel threatened because living right among them are people who are so very different, and our friends will react either by cynicism and mockery or by becoming Christians themselves, and the greater the mockery the more the conversions. That is the power and blessing of God. That’s what happens when Christians live as salt and light, when they are in the world but they are not comfy in the world; they feel they don’t belong to the kingdoms of this world; they are members of the kingdom of heaven. They are different, and yet they are involved. Favoured people in the world can spot this. They see their good deeds and they come to praise the heavenly Father. “This is the power of God!” So, God’s word is light in every kind of darkness.
2. GOD’S WORD BRINGS EVERYTHING TO LIGHT.
The Lord Jesus says, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (v.17). I am preaching God’s Word and you are listening and these words enlighten us all, but they are also unmask our secrets. We have all heard of men who were invited to a service who wriggled through a searching sermon and then accused their friends of having told the preacher all abut them. Of course they hadn’t said anything; the word was doing its disclosing work. It was bringing their lives out into the open and making them look at what they were doing. Ultimately that is what we want. You wouldn’t continue watch the weather forecaster who always promised sunshine and blue skies. It wouldn’t take long for you to know that she was a fake, that the piece of seaweed she felt every day as she left her flat was permanently locked into “Scorcho”! You’d say, “We are not going to listen to her. She is always sugar and spice and all things nice.” You want the truth about what lies ahead, but, on the other hand, you don’t want the weather forecaster to be mocking you as you face another day of gloom. You don’t want her to say gloatingly, “Relentless rain all day; not a sight of the sun, and the same tomorrow, and tomorrow.” and to say it with a smile on her face. We want the preacher to speak the truth in tenderness and constantly to remind us of the way of forgiveness, don’t we? We want to hear the good news of Jesus.
In Proverbs 4:19 the Bible says, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” We want to get you out of that darkness; we want to point out to you what is making you stumble. The word of God does that. For example, more students than ever in British history are developing drinking problems. That’s incontrovertible. More people than ever before are becoming alcoholics. That is no fun. Their loved ones want them to change; the company they work for even has a rehabilitation programme that’s covered by insurance. But many refuse help. They don’t have a problem! Sure, they enjoy a drink like the next man, but the think they are handling it pretty well. Meanwhile, they can’t figure out why their family lives are such a mess and their jobs are in jeopardy. They are in deep darkness, and they do not know what makes him stumble. Alcoholism comes from within us; the source of our cravings is our inward lusts. We have a heart that says, “Give me more! Give me more!” You need a new heart, and God gives a new heart to sinners who ask him earnestly to create on within them. Be not drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit of God.
Again, let me ask you what films do you watch; what websites do you visit on your computer? Are you getting addicted to pornography? You say that it is ‘for research purposes.’ They all say that. They sink into the slough of films and photos and unspeakable images. They ignore God’s will for sex and childbearing within marriage, and then they can’t figure out why many have sexually transmitted diseases and why the marriage bed is unhappy. Who have you been calling on your mobile phone? God knows. God made you, and he gave you a conscience and he made you to live in union with your spouse. Without the Bible the new prophets are media people; they have become the pundits and philosophers of our age and they speak reverently of ‘evolution’ as the explanation of what is the purpose of life. They tell us that man evolved by accident from primordial slime. Do we wonder why men treat each other like dirt? The Bible tells us that it is God who made us, and not we ourselves. In him we live, and move, and have our being until now. He is the one who brought you here this morning to hear these words from his book. Isn’t he kind to you? 90% of students refuse to read the Bible, even though a Gideon Bible is in the drawer in many of their rooms. They wouldn’t think of praying about important decisions. Can’t they see the connection with their lives being in such a muddle, lacking purpose and meaning and direction? What of the horrible mistakes they make!
God has given us his light; “Thy word is a light to my path.” God’s word has the power to expose. Why do people love darkness instead of light? It’s because their deeds are evil. That’s why some people don’t return to this church after the first time. They will say, “I didn’t understand him;” it is partly true, or ‘It was too long or too old-fashioned” again partly true, but that was not the reason they left. They didn’t want their hearts illuminated by God. Light is the criminal’s enemy but light is a child’s best friend. For some, light is protection; for others, it’s a problem. That’s always been the case. Back when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Lord went ahead of them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). This fiery cloud gave God’s people a sense of his nearness; it guided them and gave them direction; it protected them and made them feel safe.
But the armies of Pharoah pursuing the Israelites felt very differently about the pillar of fire. You see, when God’s people reached the edge of the Red Sea and stopped running, the pillar of fire went from being in front of them and it moved to their rear, where it stood between them and the enemy. All that night, while the Lord was preparing a path of escape through the sea, the fiery cloud gave light and comfort to God’s people. To the hostile troops of Pharoah, it brought a terrifying darkness (Exodus 14:19-20).
That’s what always happens with the light of the world. Jesus Christ is welcomed by his people. Many of you went to church the first time, but you went back and you’ve never stopped coming. What had been hidden to you about Jesus Christ was revealed, that he came into world not to keep company with other religious men, proper, solid citizens, good-living, righteous men and women, but he came to look out for those who have walked in darkness and who stumble. That hidden truth was brought out into the open. Jesus was a seeking Saviour. He came to search for those how had fallen into temptation. He did not come to condemn you but to save you. He came to take to himself your guilt and your blame. He offered to remove from you your sense of guilt, and to give you grace to live with your failure and helplessness and sorrow for the past falls. He brought your sin out into the open place before his throne, not to parade you before others but in order to tell you that there was forgiveness for those actions. It is the righteous men of the world who brought a woman caught in adultery and flung her publicly before Jesus wanting his condemnation. But Jesus said, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more.” Aren’t you glad that God is one who delights to show his mercy? Here is love vast as the ocean, loving kindness like a flood.
So we’re left with just two options: we can either turn toward Jesus and keep moving closer and closer to his light. We can come to church each Sunday and sit under the most searching biblical preaching we can find, but preaching that is full of the immeasurable grace and love of Jesus Christ for sinners and keep trusting him, and keep looking unto him, or else we can love the darkness and keep moving further and further away from the light. We’ll maybe find a pulpit from which our prejudices will simply be rearranged every service we sit there. The Bible describes the possibilities this way: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of the dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Proverbs 4:18-19).
You and I are not designed to function well in the dark. We need to see where we’re going. When you get into a car at night, what do you do? You turn on the headlights; you don’t want to drive a car in the dark. So why drive your life full speed ahead in the dark? When there’s an electrical power failure in the evening, what’s the first thing you do? You go look for a flashlight or a candle so you can see something. So how can you be content to go on living in spiritual darkness? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” and it is true!
3] GOD’S WORD WILL LEAVE US RICHER OR POORER.
The Lord Jesus said, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him” (v.18). Some people come here with faith as small as a mustard seed but they keep coming and the seed keeps growing. “Whoever has will be given more.” Other people came with some interest in Christianity, enough to bring them once to church, but away they went never to return, never to go to church again, and even that little bit of interest they had is taken from them; “even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.” The words of Christ never leave us the same as when we hear them. “Therefore consider carefully how you listen.”
What is it to consider carefully how you listen? What is the right way to listen to a sermon? I will tell you (taking the words from Philip Ryken of Philadelphia); in five ways; with a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.
i] A soul that is prepared. Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor opens his mouth on Sunday. However, listening to a sermon actually starts the week before. It starts when we pray for the minister, asking God to bless the time he spends studying the Bible as he prepares to preach. In addition to helping the preacher, our prayers help create in us a sense of expectancy for the ministry of God’s Word. This is one of the reasons that when it comes to preaching, congregations generally get what they pray for.
The soul needs special preparation the night before worship. By Saturday evening our thoughts should begin turning towards the Lord’s Day. If possible, we should read through the Bible passage that is scheduled for preaching. We should also be sure to get enough sleep. Then in the morning our first prayers should be directed to public worship, and especially to the preaching of God’s Word.
ii] A mind that is alert. If the body is well rested and the soul is well prepared, then the mind must be alert. Good preaching appeals first to the mind. So when we listen to a sermon, our minds need to be fully engaged. Being attentive requires self-discipline. Our minds tend to wander when we worship; sometimes we daydream. But listening to sermons is the climax of the worship that we offer to God; we are repenting or rejoicing or understanding or determining to change by his grace. Don’t insult his majesty by looking at the people around you, thinking about the coming week, or entertaining any of the thousands of other thoughts that crowd our minds. God is speaking, and we should listen. Maybe write things down.
iii] A Bible that is open. It will help you to remember truth, where on the pages, right side or left, half way up a column or at the bottom is that passage. Also you need to make sure that what the minister says is in keeping with Scripture. The Bible says concerning some people from Berea whom Paul met on his second missionary journey, “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). One might have expected the Bereans to be criticized for daring to scrutinize the teaching of the apostle Paul. On the contrary, they were commended for their commitment to testing every doctrine according to Scripture.
iv] A heart that is receptive; listening to a sermon—really listening—takes more than our minds. It also requires hearts that are receptive to the influence of God’s Spirit. Something important happens when we hear a good sermon: God speaks to us. Through the inward ministry of his Holy Spirit, he uses his Word to soothe our sorrows, heal our wounds and drive away our fears. Those are all affairs of the heart, not just matters of the mind, so listening to a sermon can never be merely an intellectual exercise. We need to receive biblical truth in our hearts, allowing what God says to influence what we love, what we desire, and what we praise.
v] A life that is ready to spring into action. The last thing to say about listening to sermons is that we should be itching to put what we learn into practice. Good preaching always applies the Bible to daily life. It tells us what promises to believe, what sins to avoid, what divine attributes to praise, what virtues to cultivate, what goals to pursue, and what good works to perform. There is always something God wants us to do in response to the preaching of his Word. We are called to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). And if we are not doers, then we were not hearers, and the sermon was wasted on us.
Do you know how to listen to a sermon? Listening—really listening—takes a prepared soul, an alert mind, an open Bible, and a receptive heart. But the best way to tell if we are listening is by the way that we live. Our lives should repeat the sermons that we have heard. As the apostle Paul wrote to some of the people who listened to his sermons, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2-3).
11th October 2008 GEOFF THOMAS