Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Shining Light of the Cross
Matthew 5:13-20 and I Corinthians 1:1-12
Our Epiphany Gospel reading for this morning in verses fourteen and fifteen tells us, "You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives Light to all in the house.".
I can't speak for you, but every time I hear or read those words, I am struck by how terrible I am at being the Light of Christ to those I come into contact with during the week. I can do a pretty good job in what I call a safe area, but when there is a chance of being ridiculed or laughed at, I am not very good at being the Light that Jesus wants me to be.
This was brought to my attention at Vals Pizza several weeks ago when I had lunch with a local pastor. By the time we had finished lunch and were walking out the door, he had told five other people, total strangers, about Jesus and invited them to worship at his church. Every time he spoke to someone, it was done in such a natural and loving way that he lived his life as a Light to the world. I was amazed and ashamed because I would not have done that in a restaurant.
I wondered why I wouldn't have done what he did. First, I would have thought it was inappropriate, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit I would not have done what he was doing because I was afraid to share Jesus with those in the restaurant. I would rather take the easy way out and hide my Light, actually Jesus' Light, under a basket, as our Gospel tells us.
I have done a lot of soul searching since then, and hopefully, I will do better in the future as I remember that I have been touched by the Light of Jesus, as verse four in the sermon hymn tells us.
Please join me in reading together verse four, "From the Cross, Thy wisdom shining Breaketh forth in conquering might; From the Cross forever beameth all Thy bright redeeming Light. Alleluia, alleluia Praise to Thee who Light does send, Alleluia, alleluia without end."
When I think of the Cross, especially the Cross that Jesus died on I usually think of sin, extreme pain, death, and darkness. But this hymn says, "No! from the Cross shines God's wisdom. From the Cross shines redeeming Light. From the Cross comes our great epiphany—that we will not be condemned! For Christ, the Light is crucified for you! The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, the Light nailed to a Cross, is the central truth of our faith that enlightens the human mind.
St. Paul says, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." This does not mean that he avoided other topics. In 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses many issues: marriage and divorce, the Lord's Supper and its proper practice, lawsuits, conflicts among parishioners, the hope of the resurrection, spiritual gifts, and the higher gift of love.
When Paul says to speak "only of Christ crucified," he means that as far as one's salvation is concerned, Christ crucified is all you need, for the Light on the Cross shows us the depth of our sin. Our sin is so great it took the blood of Jesus to cleanse us. If God willingly gave up his own Son for my forgiveness, for your forgiveness, he must like forgiving.
Yes, the Cross proves there is joy in heaven when even one sinner repents. And if we are forgiven in Christ, then we have been reconciled to the Father. And if we have been reconciled to the Father, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And if we have peace with him, the devil no longer has any claim on us, for we belong to God!
The Light of the Cross is the key to all wisdom, and once you have it, the Gospel reveals one truth on top of another. Those who don't understand the Cross see the Law as an enemy because God's Law is a constant reminder that they do not measure up. They hate it. And even among Christians, our sinful flesh still kicks and screams and puts up a fight when we are faced with the accusing finger of the Law.
But the new man—standing in the Light of the Cross—thinks much differently. He delights in the Law because he sees that the Law is cross-shaped. It's about denying ourselves (like Jesus did for us), taking up our own Cross (like Jesus did for us), and then loving him as he loves us.
You see, when you view the Law through the eyes of love, the Law becomes lovely because it pictures our Jesus. As Christ says in our Gospel, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). We are to delight in every commandment because, in the fulfillment of each, we see the Light of Jesus on the Cross.
When you see Jesus as the Light of the Cross, you start to eliminate wrong ideas about God, like the idea that your suffering happened because God is out to get you or because God is callous and doesn't care. Thoughts like that cannot be true. If he did not spare his own Son, he certainly loves you and clearly has your best interests in mind.
The Light of the Cross offers possible alternatives to your questions about why this is happening to me. Perhaps God is using this event to strengthen your faith or to teach you to pray. Perhaps he's conforming you into the image of his Son; he's making you more Christlike. Perhaps he's taking away an idol that was ruining your life, or he's simply making you long for the next life, for the new world to come when he wipes away every tear from your eyes. While we cannot answer all such questions specifically, we can be confident that whatever the answer is, it is rooted in his love for you.
Think about it: had you been there with the followers of Jesus on Good Friday, it would have seemed horrible and meaningless. You might have asked, "How can a good God allow this to happen?" The enemy seemed victorious. However, St. Peter proclaims that it was all "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). God knew what evil would try to do, and God used evil's intentions to accomplish his plans. They intended it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Likewise, God foreknew your suffering, and though the devil intends to use suffering to drive a wedge between you and God, God will work all things—even your suffering—for your good. The Light of the Cross reveals this! It reveals God's character—his love—and how he works all things, even evil things, for your good. Indeed, the Light of the Cross reveals all things. It reveals sin and grace. It gives us a joyous delight in the Gospel and helps us to delight in the Law!
And finally, let the Light of the Cross shine on your pain and suffering. It will give you the endurance and patience to withstand your trials with faith. So it is with good reason that Paul says, I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
"You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives Light to all in the house. In the same way, let your Light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Amen
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Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS