Sermon: A City On A Hill

Matthew 5:14-16



14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)




Are we—as a church—an influence in our community? The question really can be opened up two ways: (1) Are we as individuals influencing our community? (2) Are we as an organization influencing our community?


As you ponder that, let’s consider the mandate that Jesus as given us as his disciples to be influences in this world.




Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 

Matthew 5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 

14 ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου· 

οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη·

15 οὐδὲ καίουσι λύχνον 

καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον, 

ἀλλʼ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, 

καὶ λάμπει πᾶσι τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ. 


First, notice that the “Ye” here is plural. This isn’t just instruction for individuals, it’s instruction for the church. 


One small ray of light will do very little, but when it is joined by many rays—the body of Christ—we can have great impact. The church in Baker will have great impact when we organize together and work together to reach out to our community.


Light is an influence because it pushes out darkness. All you have to do to realize the influence that light has is to try to find something in a dark room. 


Christians are to pushing away darkness, not giving into it. Many Christians think that we are supposed to be like the world in order to win the world…we’re supposed to be like Jesus.


The obvious difficulty is that in a post-Christian culture, a church that tries too hard to be “relevant” may in the process lose its very identity as the church. 


Rather than confronting the world, the church gets co-opted by it. It no longer stands a city on a hill, but sinks to the level of the surrounding culture.(Philip Graham Ryken, City on a Hill: Reclaiming the Biblical Pattern for the Church in the 21st Century (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2003), 22)


Light is also an influence because it acts as a guide. We think of a lighthouse in this regard. There isn’t enough light coming from a lighthouse to push away the darkness of the night, but it does pierce the darkness enough to guide a ship safely to shore. 


The taillights of a car can also be a guide. They tell you that a person is slowing down.


Light is a guide because it reveals truth. The lighthouse reveals the truth of rocks in the water. The Christian reveals the truth of Jesus Christ.


Jesus uses two illustrations about light to drive home His main point that we are to be influences in the world.




The first is: “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” This illustration has to do with concealment.


If you want to hide a city, you do what the founders of the city of Petra did. They built their city in a narrow gorge that only had one way in. Although it was built centuries before Christ was born (just a few miles southeast of Jerusalem), it wasnʼt discovered by the Western world until 1812.


On the other hand, look at Jerusalem. It sits on a ridge, 2500 feet above sea level. We read in the Bible that God meant for Jerusalem to be a light for Himself.


36 And unto his son [Solomon] will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there. (1 Kings 11:36).


Or, we can think about cities here in Montana. One of the delights for me to live in Eastern Montana (that I missed in Minnesota) is that you can see town from miles and miles away, and at night, it’s a beautiful sight. 


As a child, I remember the five of us crammed in the front and only seat of the ’73 Ford pickup, driving back to the farm at night. I would take a peek now and then at the lights of Circle, which were visible for many miles. That always amazed me. 


You can’t hide city lights. You can’t hide a city on a hill. Each Christian is supposed to be a shining city on a hill for God. Each local church is to be a shining city on a hill for Jesus.


The church is to be a city on a hill. Together we shine brighter.




Jesus’ second illustration is the light on a candlestick lights the entire home. A candle, also called a lamp, was not much more than a bowl filled with oil with a wick floating in it. It looked like a teapot, with a wick of flax sticking down the spout.


What is the “bushel” about? A bushel is simply an earthenware basket or a bucket. It is not of flammable material.


I have read somewhere that it was difficult to light lamps before the days of matches, so if they left the house they would cover the lamp with an earthenware basket, also called a bushel, to reduce the risk of fire.


But perhaps Jesus is simply making the point that it is senseless to place a light underneath a container…what good would that do?


Instead, when the occupants were in the house, they would place it on a candlestick, so the light would influence the entire room. A candlestick, or a lamp stand, might be a shelf on the center pillar of the home, or something similar.


Christians, the church is meant to give light to this world. We are a city on a hill. We are a candle on a candlestick. Commentator Leon Morris wrote:


The very purpose of being a follower of Jesus is to give light. Giving light is not an option, so to speak, which the disciple may or may not choose. It is part of being a disciple…


It is the nature of light to shine, and when people have received the light of the gospel they will shine in a dark world. (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992), 105)





Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

16 οὕτω λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, 

ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα, 

καὶ δοξάσωσι τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. 


What is “your light”? It isn’t a light of our own. It’s borrowed light. It’s a reflection of Jesus’ light in our lives. Jesus said that he was the light of the world, not us.


12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)


Being a Christian is humbling, because we recognize that we don’t have anything special to give, except that which is from Jesus. We are mirrors, and he is the sun.


Our good works are not supposed to bring attention to us, but to God. 


For a church to be an influence in a community, there cannot be competition between it’s members. Our united goal must be to bring glory to our Father in Heaven.


What are “good works” that we do together now to bring glory to our Father?


What are “good works” that we can do together to bring glory to our Father?

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