Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
Welcome to orphan Sunday. Our aims this morning are to help you see (1) God’s heart for and actions toward vulnerable children and (2) His charge to us (His people) to join Him in both (His heart and actions), (3) in order that every one of us who are calling on the name of Jesus would gladly work to bless kids who desperately need our blessing.
I’m going to attempt to help you see those things in a somewhat roundabout way. Our passage for this morning, for instance, isn’t obviously or directly connected to vulnerable kids at all. In other words, we’re not going to start talking about caring for kids by talking about caring for kids. What we are going to do is take a look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16 because they provide a direct path from the nature of being a follower of Jesus to caring for the fatherless. Specifically, we’ll take eight steps together through these few verses which will lead us straight to Psalm 68:4-5 (God’s heart and actions toward the orphan) and James 1:27 (God’s call on our lives toward the orphan).
I’d like to say a very quick word before I pray. If you’ve been listening carefully to the sermons recently, and if you’ve done so (as you should) with an eagerness to live out everything God’s word calls you to, I imagine that you may be feeling a sense of overwhelmedness. Leave everything behind and hope in God in the face of the “impossible,” we’ve seen in Genesis. Give yourself, your money, and your kids to world missions, we saw during missions week. Scour the word of God for the will of God on every political issue, vote Christianly, pray for those who mean evil, and trust in God even if things unravel in our country, we heard last week before the election. And now, surrender your comfort and plans in order to care for vulnerable kids, we’ll hear this morning. Clearly God’s word calls us to each of these things, but actually doing any one of them—much less all of them—probably feels insurmountable. Three things: 1) It is. In our own strength this is impossible. 2) It isn’t. In God’s strength all things are possible. 3) The blood of Christ is sufficient for our every failure and the resurrection of Christ is powerful enough to change our hearts. Before looking to the vulnerable, then, let us look to Christ to be for us everything He requires of us.
Would you pray with me, asking God to fill us with His heart and a burden to obey His commands regarding the orphan, and all of that in and through and for Jesus Christ?
CHRISTIANS MUST SHINE – EIGHT STEPS
Beginning in Matthew 5 (and continuing all the way through chapter 7), immediately after Jesus began His earthly ministry, He took His first followers up to a mountain and shared with them what’s come to be called The Sermon on the Mount. Our passage, 5:14-16 was spoken near the beginning of the sermon.
Three verses, 69 words, one charge: Church, shine into the darkness in such a way as to bring glory to God. Let’s read the passage again and then follow it along its eight steps, straight to radical care for vulnerable kids.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
Step One: A Message for Jesus’ Followers
This passage is addressed, not to the whole world, but exclusively to the followers of Jesus. 5:1 says that “[Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” When 5:14 begins with the plural pronoun “you”, then, it is referring to Jesus’ followers. Step one (from this verse to radical care for vulnerable kids) is in recognizing that these three verses are addressed to those who are calling on the name of Jesus. If you are a Christian, then, this passage is directed to you. Listen up, Church.
Step Two: The Nature of Jesus’ Followers
The second step is in recognizing that first seven words are not a command but a statement of fact. They do not contain an imperative but an indicative. In these verses Jesus is not calling His followers to work at something, He is telling us that we already are something. He is declaring what is, not what ought to be. Therefore, “You are the light of the world” is not a charge to the Church to be the light of the world; it’s a declaration that Jesus’ followers are, by our very nature, the light of the world.
Step Three: The Nature of the Light
Step three from these words of Jesus to Orphan Sunday is in understanding the nature of the light that is natural to Christians. What kind of light are we? We are not the light of the world in the sense that we are able to produce our own light. We are not the source of the light. Jesus was not referring to us as self-generating light-makers. Truly, we have no ability whatsoever to make light on our own. Instead, by “You are the light of the world,” Jesus was referring to His light in us. Christians have the light of Jesus in us. Of this, in John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In other words, the kind of light Jesus refers to in this passage is the very light of Jesus. That’s good news as it means that it is not our responsibility to generate the light; it’s already shining brightly for all who follow Jesus. Jesus’ light is in us. What an awesome thing that is to ponder.
Step Four: The Recipients of the Light
The fourth step in moving through Matthew 5:14-16 toward care for the most vulnerable children is recognizing who the light is for. The light of Jesus in the Church, this passage teaches, is for the unbelieving world. Jesus’ declared, “You are the light of the world.” This means, in no uncertain terms, that the world is in darkness. The world has no light apart from Jesus and that which He’s placed in His followers. Jesus’ light in us is meant to give light to the world’s darkness. Grace, God made us to shine Christ’s light into our neighborhoods, families, schools, places of employment, kids’ sports, friends’ birthday parties, and everywhere else we go.
Step Five: The Impossibility of Dark Light
The fifth step flows from the second. Because Jesus followers are, by our very nature, the light of the world, our light must be seen. It can’t not be. To follow Jesus is shine. To be a Christian is to shine. The Church gives off light because it’s the Church. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Following Jesus is illuminating.
On a practical level, then, this means that if we are not standing out, if we are not shining Christ’s light into the darkness of the world around us, if the world isn’t noticing anything different in us, then one of two things is true. Either we are not Christians (which is another sermon for another day) or we are actively working to cover the light. Let that sink in for a minute, Grace. If each of us individually, and even more so all of us collectively, blend in with the world around us, if there’s no contrast between us and the world, then something is seriously wrong. And that leads to the next step.
Step Six: The Folly of Covered Light
Because it’s impossible for the Church not to shine, the only way the world not to see the light of Christ is if we do something to cover our light; that’s the sixth step and the heart of what Jesus mean when He said, “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.” Why would you even bother to light a lamp if you intended to cover it up. It’s impossible for Christians not to have the light of Christ, it’s impossible for that light not to shine in us, and it’s foolish for us to do anything to cover up Christ’s light in us. Would you let that sink in for a bit as well? Have you ever purposely tried to blend in or cover Christ’s light in you? Have you ever been silent or softened the gospel in order not to stand out? Jesus’ words are a subtle rebuke for all of us who have done these things…it’s foolish to do so.
Step Seven: How Jesus’ Followers Shine
All of this leads to the seventh step on our way from this passage to care for vulnerable kids. If you’ve payed careful attention, you’re already here. That is, you’re already wondering what (specifically) it looks like to shine the light of Christ to the world and what kind of darkness we’re shining into. How do Jesus’ followers shine and what is the nature of the world’s darkness? Look at v.16.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works …
Jesus’ followers reflect Jesus’ light when we do good works. Let me say that a slightly different way. The light-producing kind of Jesus following isn’t some undefined concept. It isn’t a mystical experience. It isn’t an individually determined thing. Following Jesus means thinking Jesus’ thoughts, feeling Jesus’ feelings, and imitating Jesus’ actions. God’s Word is clear that a growing appetite for and application of these things are the distinguishing marks of all Christians. We are not saved by them, but we are saved to them. The grace of God that pays for our sins also makes us holy and that holiness, this verse tells us, is the light of Christ in us. This means that when Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” it’s the same thing as saying, “You are marked by good works.”
And that leads to the other question: what is the nature of the world’s darkness? The nature of the world’s darkness is such that it does not think Jesus’ thoughts, feel Jesus’ feelings, or imitate Jesus’ actions. In fact, at best it thinks those things are folly and at worst it hates them. The world’s darkness is a moral darkness. It is spiritual darkness. It is a darkness that has no appetite for the things of God. It is a darkness caused by sin’s blinding and killing work. For that reason, when God’s people do shine before others (before the world) we’ll really stand out. And the closer we’re following Jesus, the more we’ll make others squint.
By God’s design, then, one of two things will happen when Christ’s light shines through us. Either the world will hate the light and despise us for shining it or it will, by the grace of God, be drawn to the light and turn to Christ. Those are the only two options. Grace, we must shine by living like Jesus in every way. The more we do, the brighter we will shine and the more the world will take notice…either to persecution or repentance.
Step Eight: Why Jesus’ Followers Shine
Finally, what is the aim of all of this? Why did Jesus give us His light and make us to shine into the world’s darkness? The aim of all of this is for God to get glory from the darkness.
16 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.
When we love Christ more than comfort, God more than the favor of men, when our lives scream “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” when the things of earth grow strangely dim and our hearts are tuned to delight in God’s grace, when doing good works is the cry of our heart, when we shine like the Son, the world will notice and God will be glorified. He is glorified by our delight in Him and in the repentance that our good works demands of the unbeliever.
Jesus, in speaking to His first followers, declared that He had put His light into them in order that they would be a light to the world. It is impossible for the people of God, the Church, to refrain from giving off light and it is irrational to cover it. We shine the light of Jesus by thinking Jesus’ thoughts, feeling His feelings, and imitating His actions, and we especially shine when we do all of that for the glory of God.
So what does all of that have to do with Orphan Sunday?
CHRISTIANS MUST SHINE – ONE APPLICATION
As you can imagine, there are lots of ways that this passage ought to play out in our lives as Christians. That is, there are lots of good works that will cause us to shine for the glory of God. And yet, on this morning, on Orphan Sunday, I want to talk about just one: shining in our care for the most vulnerable children.
In the beginning of this sermon I mentioned that while Matthew 5:14-16 doesn’t speak directly to caring for vulnerable kids, it does lead us on a direct path to it. Specifically, I said that Matthew 5:15-16 brings us straight to Psalm 68 and then James 1. Matthew 5:14-16 takes us straight to the glory of God and the good orphan care works that shine that glory forth.
Psalm 68:4-5 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! [God is greater than you can ever imagine. We see that especially in the fact that He is] 5 Father of the fatherless … in his holy habitation.
Likewise, in Psalm 146 we read…
Psalm 146:9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless…
God is great and we see that in his loving commitment to the wellbeing of the vulnerable kids. What good work might we shine forth then that will give glory to God?
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
We see this also in…
Exodus 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
Deuteronomy 27:19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Isaiah 1:17 … learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Again, I hope the connection is clear already, but I want to make it unmistakably so if it isn’t. Jesus is the light. His light is the light of life and righteousness. He has put that light in His followers. We shine that light when we walk in Jesus’ life and righteousness; which we will as Christians. Walking in Jesus life and righteousness means, in part, caring for vulnerable kids. In other words, one primary way that Matthew 5:14-16 is meant to play out in our lives as Christians is in caring for kids who need us to care for them.
The question before us, however, is this: What, specifically, does it look like for us, followers of Jesus, to join God in caring for vulnerable kids (especially orphans) in such a way that will truly allow us shine into the darkness of this world and give glory to our Father who is in heaven?
The fact is, in a culture like ours, in a culture that decreasingly values the lives of the vulnerable, almost anything we do for the cause of the orphan will stand out. In that way, there is a kind of shiny orphan care that fits neatly into our lives and schedules (and that kind can be good too). But there’s also a kind that disrupts and endangers and makes things harder and, frankly, makes no sense apart from a view to the infinite glory and grace of God.
I’ve never found this kind of shine captured better than in a recent article I ready (Don’t Adopt that One) by Emma Scrivener. She writes,
Imagine it: the perfect family. The three of them are inseparable. Theirs is a home, overflowing with laughter and love—magnetic, generous, complete. Nothing missing, nothing needed. Their heartbeat is security, trust, and above all, joy.
“Proud of you!”
“You’re the best!”
They don’t need anything. And yet they want to give. So much love, it can’t be contained. So they make a plan. An incredible decision, to bring someone in from the outside.
But who will they choose?
They can have anyone they want. The most attractive candidate, with a glossy, wipe-clean cover. A perfect gene pool; a guaranteed success.
Be smart. Don’t spoil what you have. Don’t risk what you’ve got. Think of your son—play it safe. Protect him. Protect yourselves.
But they keep looking.
A sealed envelope. Do not open.
This child will destroy you.
Boxes of case notes. A family of felons—murderers, rapists, criminals, addicts. Unwilling and unable to change; genetically damaged. Defiance that’s off the charts.
Give a home to this child, and it will wreck it.
It will rebel. It will refuse to recognize you. It will take your time, your money, everything you have.
It will eat your food and spit in your face. It will spurn your love and chase after others. It will sell itself to the highest bidder—then give itself away for free.
This child will take all you give and still want more. It will curse you and, while laughing, break your heart.
But there’s more.
It will put your perfect family through hell.
It will unleash an unthinkable nightmare.
This child will kill your son—if you take the child in.
Close the file. Go back to your world, the one you created. No one will think less of you. The very opposite! Protect yourself. Protect your son.
But they don’t.
“We’ll take him,” they say.
Though it cost us everything, this one. This one, a million times over.
The child that no one wants.
We will set our love upon him.
And we will bring him home.”
Tell me that doesn’t sound more like the love that God has for you and me in Jesus than almost anything else. Tell me that doesn’t sound more like the gospel of Jesus than any other kind of life. Tell me that won’t shine brighter for God’s glory than almost any other approach to life. If you don’t have a category for this kind of nothing-but-the-gospel-powered obedience, you’re missing out on an awesome opportunity to see and shine the light of Christ in an unmistakable way. Grace, may we be filled with people who want to shine the light of Christ this brightly.
And yet, having said that, as I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the only possible shiny orphan-care application. To be honest, it probably isn’t the best one for everyone. With all of that, then, I’d like to close by asking you to consider how you will shine brighter in caring for the vulnerable. To that end, I want to draw your attention to the three main ways you could do so.
First: family care. This is where we come alongside struggling families in order to help strengthen them before foster care or adoption are necessary. If shining a light in this way is something God is prompting you towards, please talk to Gerri or Lauren so they can tell you more about a ministry called Together for Good.
Second: foster care. This is where we work with the local government to care for kids who have been removed from their homes (at least for a time) because of some family difficulty. These kids need someone to care for them for a season while they await being reunited with their families or placed for adoption. If God is prompting you to shine in this way, please talk to me after and I can put you in touch with a few families who have gone through the process of getting licensed as foster care families.
And third: adoption. This, of course, is where we come alongside kids who need a family of their own. There are several families at Grace who have adopted as well. I would be truly honored to introduce any of you to families who have adopted newborns, kids through the foster care system, kids through private adoption, and internationally.
What’s more, several women have put together a handful of specific ways to get more involved in shining this light of Christ. You can find their list in the back. Would you seriously consider how you might more fully engage in one of these as a means of shining the light of Christ into the darkness of this world for the glory of God?
Grace, let us worship God for His unfailing love and care for the most vulnerable among us (especially kids). Praise Him for the fact that His care for physical orphans is a visible picture of His care for spiritual orphans (like you and me). Praise God for His mercy and Grace.
Let us confess any indifference we’ve felt for the vulnerable. Ask God to forgive you for hiding the light of Christ. Confess your desire for the easiest life instead of the most God-honoring life.
People of God, thank God that He cared for you and rescued you while you were an orphan. Thank God that He has chosen to use you (along with the rest of the Church) to accomplish His great purposes. Thank God for putting the light of Christ in you. Thank God for being the strength you need to do what He requires of you.
And, followers of Jesus, let’s join together in pleading with God to rescue the orphan. Pray that He’d heal broken families. Ask God to make our church shine brighter than every lie of the enemy. Ask God to help us choose Christ over comfort. Ask God to help us see the living gospel in the orphan care that’s already happening at Grace.