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Post Tenebras Lux

14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

The Protestant Reformers cried, “Post tenebras lux”—“After darkness, light”—to signal and celebrate the release of the gospel of grace. No longer would they labor in the gloom of performance-based salvation. Their new hearts knew better than that. No more anxious calculation of one’s shining moments in hopes that merit would accrue. Now they shone self-forgetfully, as do new creations in Christ.

Jesus did not speak these words to the philosophical intelligentsia gathered on Mars Hill in Athens. Neither was He addressing the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem nor the Senate in Rome, though they would have surely considered themselves “the light of the world.” No, He preached this Sermon on the Mount to ordinary folks gathered near the shore of Galilee. They were undistinguished in intellect, power, wealth, and bearing. They were, however, distinguished in the way that counts—they were enthralled by Jesus.

He spoke to them collectively, with the plural “you.” While each believer is radiant in his or her own way, God has willed that they would shine in community, as a community.

A night time cityscape, seen from afar, can be magical in appearance. To one traveling in the distant darkness, it promises society, shelter, provision, and opportunity. It gives direction and illumines the path with its glow. But in times of war, cities may do all they can to block their light. Londoners minded their blackout curtains during the Blitz, knowing that light could make them a target.

The people of God may choose the same policy, having discovered that explicitly Christian teaching and living can draw hostile fire. They may decide to mask their radiance, huddling in the interior rooms of their houses of worship, whispering words of busyness and comfort to one another while the enemy does its worst outside. Jesus ridiculed this behavior, though He knew first hand what it could cost.

God’s people were never meant to cower, to settle into a defensive posture. When Jesus said that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it [the Church]” (Matt. 16:18b), He did not picture a brave stand against aggressive gates. Gates are static; the Church is the aggressor. And as this passage shows, supernaturally generated acts of grace, integrity, fidelity, and compassion are enormously powerful weapons in the Christian’s war for hearts and minds.

A local church does well to ask itself whether it is truly the light of its community—“Do our neighbors have to guess what we understand the Bible to teach? Are we deferring to counterfeit light sources? Are we using “blackout curtains” to protect our approval rating? Are we complicit in maintaining the community’s twilight gloom? Are we hoarding our candles?” A yes to these questions may signify more than church malaise. It may well cast doubt on whether this is a church at all.