Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, June 25, 2023

Message: Happily Different – Pt. 2 | Scripture: Matthew 5:14-16 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

Happily Different – Pt. 2 | Matthew 5:14-16 | June 25, 2023

Worship Songs: Holy, Holy, Holy; Here is Love (Sovereign Grace); Praise the Shepherd King; I Am Not My Own; Doxology

Full Manuscript


As some of you may or may not know, on Sunday, June 18, 2023, at roughly 4 am Pacific Time, four adventurers, thrill-seekers, and explorers, paid the CEO and founder of Ocean Gate, Stockton Rush, roughly $250,000 each to board, with him, a 22-foot-long deep diving vessel in order to see the Titanic wreckage in person roughly 12,000 feet below the ocean’s surface just off the coast of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. 

The facts are that all five crew members got in knowing that this had been Newfoundland’s worst winter in over 40 years, yet with the most daring and extreme optimism, each one wholeheartedly believed that the reward of seeing a 100-year-old shipwreck—one that has been shown from almost every angle in both reality (via TV or photograph) and in fiction—outweighed the risk.  And nearly an hour and forty-five minutes after the submersible had begun its descent, it and its crew would never be heard from again. 

While we know now that the submersible imploded upon itself that same Sunday due to some catastrophic internal failure, the world prior to Thursday morning thought it was possible that the five crew members aboard the Titan might still be alive.  And with that hope came one of the most extensive search and rescue efforts to find them—an effort that spanned the use of resources between two countries, their armies, reconnaissance aircraft, Hercules aircraft, sonar buoys, dive teams, marine experts, hundreds of volunteer men and women, Coast Guard ships, all of which covered roughly 10,000 square miles. 

The crazy thing is that these explorers upon the Titan went willingly into danger.  They paid a quarter of a million dollars each to be dragged thousands of feet into the darkest recesses of the earth, and they weren’t motivated by altruism or ethics.  It was for thrill-seeking, for adventuring.  They were people whose lives were so full of license and privilege that all there was left for them to do on this earth is that which is most perilous and reckless.  In fact, when we think of the circumstances, these people deserved very little of the attention and not to mention the concern that they received.

Yet, countless lives—men and women who have no true ties to these victims of their own negligence—risked their lives to go out into dangerous waters—into the darkness with the singular purpose to find them and, with every hope, to bring them back into the light.  And I hope you hear, in this, the object lesson for us, namely, that if so many are willing to risk their lives in order to bring complete strangers—fools, really—out of the physical darkness and into the light, how much more are we, who are no strangers to the folly of the world, to wade out into the midst of spiritual darkness and expose it to the light of Christ? 

Ours is a world that lives very similarly to the five voyageurs who recently perished.  Like those five, the world is filled with its own optimism and misguided sense of immortality.  But while the world believes with its whole heart that it’s getting to experience something that will add to the meaningfulness of its life, we, Christians, must develop a whole heart to see that it will not.  We have to be prophets in an era and amongst people that look adventurous to themselves but who we know are merely fools chasing after a hopeless fate—digging, so to speak, their own grave, and it’s incumbent upon us to help them. 

We are to wholeheartedly embrace who we were made and saved to be, and this morning, we’re talking about how we were made and saved to be light to a world caught in its own darkness.  So, would you turn with me now to our first point: we are to wholeheartedly embrace who we were made and saved to be as affected light. 

1) Be Affected Light

Follow along as I read Matthew 5:14a to you.  TWoL: 14 You are the light of the world . . .

Two weeks ago, we discussed the first of Christ’s two illustrations to describe the function of the blessed man in the world.  He is, at his core, a happy, blessed man, but it is in his happiness that he is, firstly, set free to be salt—salt that preserves, salt that flavours, salt that makes the world thirsty for the righteousness of Jesus because we, ourselves, have been made righteously salty.  And we are to be this salt scattered across the earth so that all might taste and see the goodness of our God. 

So, we see in that first illustration that the happy person overflows in his happiness in such a way that he or she prevents the world from running towards its own ruin and liberates it from being tasteless and mundane.  But this week, we also see that the Christian man or woman not only provides the world with an escape from its ill-fate—we don’t only help to solve its negative problems.  We, in our happiness, also bring to it an enduring, vibrant hope. 

And this is what Christ provides us with in his second illustration when he says, “you are the light of the world.”  Yet, before I can talk with you about the light part of the passage—that great, enduring, vibrant hope—I must first mention the implication of a sentence like this, and that is that the passage assumes a knowledge in the happy man or woman that the world is itself imprisoned in darkness. 

Now, you might say to me that this cannot be true.  We live in a time where humanity is progressing more rapidly and learning more efficiently than ever—this is true in both the theoretical and practical world.  You need only to think about where we live and the industry that surrounds us.  One brother put it this way to me, moving here and working in this part of the world is where the best of the best come.  It’s like the NBA of the working world.  You have outlets of basketball franchises around the world, but none play a style of competitive sport like they do here in America.  In the same way, the Bay Area is a hotbed of talent that the world is constantly comparing itself to. 

How is it, then, that I can stand here and say that the world is engulfed in its own darkness?  Well, to me, the proof is in the pudding.   As the world has progressed in its theoretical and practical knowledge—as it has grown in its understanding of how things work—so too has it digressed in its moral reasoning and ethical behaviour.  I don’t even have to mention LGBTQ or gender dysphoria movements, we need only take the temperature of the current climate and tensions between races and ethnicities in the world today, or the vitriol spewed between domestic, political opponents, or the uneasiness caused by the current greedy entitlement of young men and women destabilizing entire global markets, or to consider that which we call international diplomacy, which has become a contest to see which country can better gaslight all the others.  Ideas of integrity, genuineness, respect, dignity, reasonable discourse, and moral truth have all but disappeared from our ways of thinking. 

And the reason for that is because we think, arrogantly, that our knowledge can save us—that our current progress of things and ideas can solve our contemporary issues, when, in reality, we’re the very reason—our knowledge, our arrogance—for our descent into darkness.  We know so much, we invent so much, yet for the problems of the world—for the problems rooted in the heart, we solve so little. 

Just listen to the man, in an interview, who is considered, today, to be one of the smartest, wisest men in America according to worldly standards.  In this interview, the interviewer asks this man if he has an answer or a solution to the fact that these times in which we’re living right now are the bleakest in history.  And this was that man’s response, “Have there been times over the last four years where I was cursing up a storm given our political climate?  Absolutely.  Were there times where I felt as if our best impulses had been replaced by our worst?  Yes.  Have there been times where my basic optimism about the human spirit is tested, and I say to myself, ‘I’m not sure if we can get our act together to solve the big problems of the world.’? Of course.  All of it feels overwhelming. 

So, I have to stop myself at least three or four times a day and think, ‘I’m not sure we can manage this because we’re a bunch of chimps who keep making more problems for ourselves, but we’re still operating at chimp like levels, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a banana, somehow you still want everyone else’s banana, and we’re greedy, and we’re cruel.  All those things are true, and yet, what I also say to myself is that we have the capacity, somehow, to keep this thing afloat.  We will muddle through, and when we muddle through long enough, we get a little kinder, a little better, a little more open-minded . . . and eventually, the old generation—the one stuck in their ways, they’ll die out.” If I can sum up this man’s words, he is basically saying that, after admitting all the things he sees wrong in the world, “everything’s going to be alright.” 

This man’s name is former President Barack Obama.  Might I say, with all due respect to the former President of the United States, this kind of ignorance is humiliating for a man of his stature and education, and worse yet, it’s offensive to anyone looking for hope in the world we live in right now.  This is the kind of worldly commentary—this is the kind of dishonest optimism—that keeps us in the dark.  This isn’t hope.  It’s the devil trying to placate you with lies. 

And it’s this exact context to which Jesus comes, as he’s just told his people that the happy man will be persecuted for believing things that are directly antagonistic to the thoughts and opinions of the world’s best thinkers, like that former President of yours, and he says, “You are the light of the world.” 

Not that President.  Not that Pharisee.  Not that famously wealthy man or woman.  You, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, person who has one or maybe no college degree, husband who cannot balance his spreadsheets, wife who can’t decide on what to cook for dinner, son who is struggling on his math and English homework, neighbour who can’t decide where to stick his fence—you, dear sinner who sees his own sinfulness, who mourns its tragedy, who is meek in his rights, who hunger and thirsts for righteousness and is filled with mercy, purity, and peace—you are the light of the world. 

This is an absolutely staggering claim to make not only because if you’re Christian, you know how unfit you are for the task and the privilege that it is to even be considered for such things, but also because of what it means to be light, namely, the very thing that casts out all darkness around you simply because you show up.  And for those of us able to conduct any manner of introspection, we can tell you, immediately, that such a thought—that we cast out darkness is impossible because we’re normally the ones to flee from the light and give into our own darkness.  We’re the ones who need saving. 

But this is the effect of Christ coming into the world.  He comes saying, “I am the light of the world,” and he promises that “whoever follows him will not walk in darkness but will receive the light of life” (Jn 8:12).  It is because you have been given the light of Jesus—because he’s displayed the radiance of his own person, his own righteousness, his own sacrifice for your sake, and because he’s shone that light upon your own darkness—it is because the knowledge of his truth and his love have worked its way irresistibly into your heart that darkness—that your sin—no longer has any dominion over you.  His beauty cannot be hidden.  His joy in you cannot be repressed.  His love cannot grow cold.  His fellowship does not become stale or boring.  You’ve received the light of life. 

And as you taste of that light, as you drink in his righteousness, you become light, itself.  You become righteous not only because Jesus has shown himself to you, but because, in so doing, you can never be the same.  He is now your Jesus.  He is now your goodness.  Your life is his life, and his life is now yours.  If you’re to understand anything this morning, brothers and sisters, understand this—being the light of the world is more about your relationship with the King of kings than it is about your ability to serve him. 

You have to have the relationship in order to display and image him, and you can’t display what you do not know.  So, when Jesus says, “you are the light of the world,” he is speaking foremostly to the fact that you are people in an unbreakable relationship with him.  We have to acknowledge that he is the source of our brilliance and illumination before we, ourselves, can be brilliant and provide illumination.  It begins with a heart changed and transformed by the staggering beauty of Jesus that results in not only our reflection of him, but in our actual display of him as we turn our attention and affection towards him—as he becomes our life. 

The world doesn’t need you for your knowledge or your ability—that’s what it tells you it needs, but Christ comes into the world to tell you that its needs are even greater.  He comes to tell you it needs your happiness.  He tells you that it needs his light, which has become your light as you wade out into the dark because only you, dear Christian, have the answer and solution for that darkness.  Only you, dear ordinary, average sinner saved from sin, possess the extraordinary hope for salvation as one who has yourself been changed, affected, and saved.  Live, then, as affected lights in the world.  Give them hope in their hopelessness and show them the humility of Christ in the foolishness of their knowledge and in the arrogance of their hearts, just as he once did for you. 

2) Be Visible Light

Follow along as I read to you from Matthew 5:14b-16.  TWoL: 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.

The question that now faces us having been told that Christians are the light of the world is how, then, are we to function as light?  And Jesus answers us very simply by saying that being light means being visible in the darkness.  Now, this may seem obvious, and that’s because it is.  It’s such an obvious thing—to be light means to be visible, to be seen, to be something that cannot be missed.  You’d think that Jesus doesn’t have to explain what he means when he says, “be light.”

But the reality of the context is that he has to give these exhaustive comments explaining what light does because he’s dealing with people who look without seeing and who give ear without hearing.  These Pharisees and Sadducees surround Christ not with the intention of understanding his words but to trap him and to justify their sin.  So, in order to give these men no excuse, he tells them explicitly that light is not truly light unless it is seen and displayed to others.  The goodness of God in your life is not only for the benefit of your own sake, as the Pharisees were leading others to believe, but for everyone’s sake.  And even in his saying this—even in his own presence among them—they still could not see. 

This is the problem that Christ comes to confront.  He doesn’t come merely to say obvious things, but to point out how we ourselves have become blind to what should be obvious to us.  Darkness has become like light to us, so that when light comes, we are not only unable to figure out how to take it in, but once it’s been given to us, we don’t know what to do with it.  And Jesus is saying, here’s what you do with light—you don’t hide it.  You don’t keep others in the darkness. 

A study was conducted to see what would happen if people were left in prolonged darkness, and it was found that being in the dark, itself, doesn’t kill you, but it gives way to the development of a number of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and tuberculosis, all of which, if left untreated—if provided no sunlight—will kill you.  Thus, to willingly and decidedly keep someone in the dark, when you have light, is to consign them not only to death, but an agonizing one—a preventable one. 

And this is what light is meant to do.  It is meant to bring life by exposing and vanquishing the death that darkness leads to.  There’s this moving ride inside Disneyworld that is mostly in the dark until the end, where, just as your eyes become accustomed and comfortable with the shadow, lights on a car turn on out of nowhere to make it feel like you’re driving right into oncoming traffic, and it’s meant to startle you and inform you, “make sure you’re paying attention to the light!  Don’t get lost and comfortable in the darkness!” 

This is what the gospel is—it exposes your blindness and your drifting into oncoming traffic.  It’s a warning that if you do not pay heed to the light, all of it will come crashing to a horrific and miserable end.  One pastor puts it this way, “the worst things always happen under the cover of darkness; even the natural, unsaved man, degenerate and in a state of sin, would be ashamed of his sin in the glare of light. Why?  Because light exposes [and, in this case, it exposes the evil desires of our hearts].” 

Christians are supposed to be that light, which means Christians are meant to point out what is good from what is evil, but the warning must be communicated that we cannot do so if we, ourselves, remain in the darkness—if we give ourselves over to continued practices and patterns of sin—to hiding ourselves under a basket.  There is no hope for the world if the Christian is hidden.  There is no hope for the home if there is no light to distinguish intruders from residents. 

So, above anything, the initial way to let light do what it is supposed to do—the main way to stay visible is to, first, let the gospel continually do what it is meant to do to you—that is to expose your own sinfulness, to confront you constantly with the cross and Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, and to fill your once dead heart with the light of joyful, life-giving hope—hope that, by his sacrifice, you have been ransomed from sin, hope that you have been forgiven, hope that you can, by the gift of his salvation, be changed, repent, and obey the commands of God through the indwelling gift, power, and testimony of the Holy Spirit.

And as you do this, as you let light shine into your own life and as you preach the gospel to your own heart—as it becomes the very fabric of your identity—it will, inevitably, be seen by others.  It is as the troubles in your own life begin to affect you less and less, and as your intimacy with God grows deeper and deeper, that the eyes of men and women around you will look more closely, hear more attentively, and search more sincerely for what it is that sets you apart and frees you from the bonds of sin so fundamentally.

What’s more is that you’re not meant to do this alone.  The pronoun used throughout verses 14-16 is a plural you spoken of as a collective—or as verses 14b puts it, “you’re to be light like a city set upon a hill.”  Have you ever wondered why Jesus talks about a city set upon a hill?  It’s because Jerusalem—the city of David, the city of God—was a city surrounded by valleys—a city that was meant to be the high point of divine light shining for all the nations around it to see.  But instead of shining their collective light—instead of being joined in the choir of divine worship—they all went their own way and became like sheep to be slaughtered, unable to withstand the surrounding darkness of the world. 

So, what Jesus is doing here isn’t just making bold statements.  He’s making scandalous ones.  He’s saying, you, plural, Christians, are to be the new, holy Jerusalem, and you aren’t to wander alone from city to city as individual lights that can be swallowed up in worldliness, but as a throng of people intentionally placed together upon God’s holy mountain so that all might see the radiance of your combined and unified testimony. 

You are to be a newly defined people not given over to a worldly, natural identity but to a supernatural identity, one grounded in God’s revelation to us of his Son.  And this isn’t only so that we might be effective in proclaiming the gospel to sinners but so that we might proclaim it and keep one another accountable to it. Do you see the symmetry?  It’s as people outside of the city are pulled in to add to the light that people inside the city are to make sure that none go wandering off aimlessly or unintentionally into the night.  Light isn’t only meant to move outward and multiply its effect, it’s meant to ensure the continued warmth and security within. 

This people of God—this new Jerusalem—is to be a self-sacrificing people on mission for the sake of the gospel, first and foremost, in each other’s lives in here so that we might persevere joyfully out there!  I hope this is our desire church—that within these four walls, or wherever else you meet as covenant brothers and sisters, that you’re willingly and regularly shining a light.  That you’re laying yourselves down for one another—as those who know your poverty of spirit, who have mourned, and everything else, and who have been satisfied in your longing for salvation—you, in having been saved for more than yourself, are to abound in loving service to the people of God, and this is what brings glory to God.

This is the kind of community so steeped in gospel work that it compels the world as it looks from the outside in, and as they hear of our motivation in our Saviour, to be free from the shackles of their own lostness—from their own darkness.  And TCCBC, we are meant to be that community, and we are meant to shine that light upon a world that is hopeless without us.  We’re to go out intentionally to display it, even if the world rejects us—even if it persecutes us—even if it kills us because this is our hope—that Christ was crucified and buried for our sins, and on the third day, he was raised, seated at the right hand of the Father, and given the name above every name so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have life and light with him forever.  No more darkness.  No more shadow. 

Let your light so shine before men that they might see the happiness of your heart for the good news of Jesus, so that the compelling nature of this community might quicken their hearts to the truth of abounding life in Christ, and that they might, in seeing you, bring glory to your Father who is in heaven by coming to share in this great reward.  Be an affected light.  Be a visible light that is different and distinguishable from the world because you are different.  You have been set apart.  May we live knowing that we are the only hope in a world trapped in darkness, and may God enable us to go out together, to display his radiance, and to call his people home.

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