[This sermon is one of a series entitled “Sermon on the Mount, Concentrating on the Beatitudes,” which is being preached on Sunday mornings by Pastor Tim Senter.]
In our message last week we considered our Savior and the five appearances He made on that resurrection morning. We also considered that during His short 40 days on the Earth in His resurrected body that He was seen of over 500 people (1 Cor 15:6). These are simply the eyewitness accounts (given by five different people). There is far more evidence outside these accounts. Our faith in the promise of eternal life rests in His resurrection, the first resurrection unto life eternal. Leadership involves setting the example. This is undoubtedly the most perfect example of leadership man has ever witnessed. No one else except God can subject himself to death, then return from the dead, and ask you to follow Him. Although we concentrated upon Jesus resurrection, how He was put to death cannot go without notice. He was tortured in the most inhumane and brutal fashion. He willingly subjected Himself to this brutality for one reason – because His love for you compelled Him to do so. What a great, loving and sacrificial God we serve in Christ Jesus.
Now we go back to our normal studies in the Sermon on the Mount. When we last talked concerning our Lord’s sermon, we discussed the difference between earthly and heavenly treasures. One item that must be plainly clear is that the treasures we build, whether heavenly or earthly, are voluntary. These are decisions outside of regular business decisions. They result from choices we make in our lives to either honor God, or serve ourselves. Yes, your business decisions must be guided by our Christian worldview. However the discussion of treasures is one where we consider the choices we make with our spare time, hobbies and even work-related issues. We can choose to go either way – to testify of God, or seek the pleasure of the world and man. Although the treasures we lay up in Heaven can be born from general business transactions, the comparison Jesus is making is one of our choices to fulfill our hearts’ desires, or deny self for God. Where “lay up for ourselves” is the key phrase; it points directly at specific choices we make in life. Lloyd-Jones notes:
Sin blinds the mind of man to things which are perfectly obvious; and so, though they are so obvious, man in sin does not see them… Take the question of worldly treasures. It is a simple fact that none of them continue. There is no need to argue about that; it is obvious truth…[Yet the natural man is] jealous and envious of one another, they will sacrifice everything for these things – these things that are bound to come to an end and which they are bound to leave behind them.[i]
The Christian on the other hand is enlightened through the Word of God concerning the things of God. The Christian’s enlightenment guides him to more productive decisions with life, and especially leisure time. It is no longer a material concern about me, mine, or what I have. To the Christian all issues are now spiritual. With respect to an unbeliever, the Christian desires more than anything that everyone receives the gift of salvation and begins to focus eternally. The Christian’s right heart concentrates on great spiritual treasures in Heaven.
That was a rather long review. It is vital that we first understand the world’s lack of real value in order to understand the next point. Matthew 6:22 and 23 are where we will focus our attention today. We should note that this section of scripture is an illustration for what was before. It gives us clarification concerning our heart’s focus on the world. Jesus has just told us that we can and do quite easily sin, even when we try to worship. He has just encouraged us to be somewhat introspective and assess our true heart’s condition concerning the things in our life. Then He told us to even look at what we do in our own personal time and consider whether or not we are being selfish. Now, our Savior tells us how our heart can so easily be led away from purity. He tells us how easily we fall prey to covetousness. He tells us how easily we sin.
What we find here should be alarming to most of us. It is doubtful that we consider ourselves to be as evil and sin filled as the scripture describes us. The fact of the matter is that we are quite wicked in our normal daily operation. Sin, even for the most penitent, is as easy as a fleeting thought where we rationalize, “everyone does that.” This is especially true of our eyesight. So much worldliness would be shut out if we were unable to see.
I wrote to my sister-in-law recently concerning my nephew’s spiritual condition. Wesley has a medical condition that resulted in his being born blind. This, as you may be able to tell, sets up some interesting things in their household including some wonderful discussion with William, Wesley’s brother. Janet asked how Wesley’s medical challenges were related to sin. The reason she asked? Because William made the comment, “God saw the devil coming… and he did not want the devil to make Wesley sick or evil.”
“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger” (Ps 8:2).
If there were any one sense that tempts man most, it is eyesight. We are visual creatures. Men and women are normally first attracted to one another visually. When it comes to food, visual appeal makes things more appetizing. Sight itself is the most oft used sense of the body besides touch.
What we should be doing is permitting our eyes to see only those things that they should. Your lamp should illumine God, not the world. However, we often accept many visual temptations as normal processes in our lives. We rationalize what we let ourselves see when we should be turning away more often.
Consider the truths then in these two verses – the lamp and the darkness. Man can illumine darkness (the things of the world) with his lamp (his eyes). Throughout scripture, darkness is correlated to worldliness, sin and spiritual blindness. Our lamp can actually be focused on these dark issues. We could think of these dark issues as horrid pictures that we shine a light upon to carefully consider. At first it is just curiosity. Then it turns to morbid fascination. In verse 21, we find our hearts’ desires are a driving force in our lives. Here we look at a proper way to feed and influence that heart – through a lamp singularly illuminating the things of God in our life.
I. The Lamp (Verse 22)
We might find it strange to say, “The light of the body.” The word “light” here is not a normal word for light, but is actually “lamp.” The indication is that the lamp is the eye, or the thing that illumines the body. The eyes are the way for our bodies to collect light. This next comment is not meant to be harsh – but blindness results in darkness. We can be intellectually enlightened, however we cannot see real light without eyesight. We also do not understand the literal truth of a lamp lighting a path without eyesight. The blind live in the dark quite literally, whether physically blind, spiritually blind or intellectually blind. The discussion here deals with all three aspects of blindness or enlightenment. More specifically, Christ is admonishing us to control the portal through which we receive physical, spiritual or intellectual light.
“The light of the body,” or literally “the lamp of the body” is the eye. Your physical person is literally influenced by what you see. If we see something flying at us, we attempt to avoid it. If we see a bright sunny day, we want to go for a walk. If we see rain, we want to close our car windows. What we see makes us move. If we saw a tornado headed toward us, we would move to safety. When our eyes see danger, we are enlightened and take action.
Another thing our eyes do is present things to us. My favorite color is blue. Blue is calming and a very pleasant color. When I see things that are blue, my eyes are attracted to them. The lamp of my eyes picks up this color and draws me to it.[ii] There are a number of studies on visual sensitivity and acuity for marketing purposes. All of the candy racks in store check-out lines are designed from the findings of these studies. It is all visual temptation and the allure of tantalizing treats. Those things deal with our eyesight. Our covetousness is activated by sight more than any other sense.
We have talked about the bad or negative side of seeing or experiencing the world. How about the positive? Seeing in its varied ways (eyesight, or for the blind, the extra sense of touch or hearing) can provide us ways to glorify God. The light that enters the body through these lamps can be that of the world, or that of God. What do we read? What do we see that we can do to further the cause of Christ? What things in the world do we see that we should fight against? If our eye is wholly focused upon the Lord, then we see things in a different perspective and view things with a spiritually enlightened heart, mind and soul. Seeing the world and its sin in operation helps the believer understand what they will be saved from.
What does the scripture mean, “if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light”? This is a question best explained with the illustration of a monocular lens versus a pair of binoculars. If you look through a monocular, you are guaranteed to see one picture, always. If, however, you look through binoculars you might see two pictures, though the object is to see one. One must pull the two eyepieces together such that the view becomes singular. If you spread your binoculars, your eyes become divided in their view; your mind attempts to process both pictures. Unfortunately, God did not make us like a chameleon with two independent eyes. We are unable to process two pictures. We were made with a dominant eye and our brain will attempt to get us to focus on the one picture. One eye will demand of the other. Some people experience nausea when they look through binoculars and cannot focus the lenses together. Our eyes see together as one most of the time. If we are drawn to see two things independently, we are divided in our vision and divided in our decisions. Conversely, if we pull the binoculars together and focus on the one view presented, we better process the picture and can pick out the item in the distance for which we search. This is much of what is meant here. We should focus our eyes such that they look to one thing, the godly over the worldly. There will be temptations to divide our vision or attempt to incorporate the ungodly with the godly; however, we are encouraged to resist including the darkness with the light.
There is good and bad light depicted here. Broadus in his commentary notes:
“The “single” eye forms but one image of its object and does not blend that with the images of other objects; the “bad” eye forms different images of the same thing, or blends different objects in it’s confused vision. So the single eye really sees; while the bad eye practically does not see at all. If the eye be single, the whole body will be “full of light…””[iii]
What light do you regularly put before your eyes? Just as with treasures in Heaven, this is a choice. Do you seek to see both the world and the light of God through your view as enlightening? Do you permit them both equal influence? In doing so, you give bad light access to your soul. Darkness enters equally with light. You should only permit the brilliant pure light of God. Christian, His Word gives us a spiritual enlightenment with which no worldliness can compete. Look singularly toward eternal life and the provider of that life. This spiritual light should drive the whole body physically and mentally. God is light. Jesus is the light of men. Focus upon these lights, Christian. If we look through the binoculars of life, our tendency is to spread them and develop two individual pictures. However, we cannot serve two masters. It is foolish and confusing to try to blend two different pictures when you are looking through these binoculars. We are supposed to use them to help us see better to begin with. A pure and complete focus upon Christ, the light of men, and the light of the Father, gives the Christian a heart and soul full of brilliant heavenly light and drives the body to serve in this light. Jesus encourages us to focus our eye’s lamp upon the complete light of God.
If we have a good lamp properly illuminating our souls, we see God and trust in His spiritual provision. If we have a bad lamp, it dims or darkens our spiritual perception.
II. The Darkness (Verse 23)
The word for evil is used here to indicate the opposite of the light. It is not darkness, but evil. Evil itself is then further correlated to darkness in this very same verse. Many places in scripture do this. The reason we need to see the forces in such a diametrically opposed fashion is because quite literally they are exact opposites. Mixing one with the other at all lends to nothing but grayness, haziness and leads to corruption.
Psalm 49 tells us about the self-absorbed and prideful individual. The rich who boast of their abundance tell others they need nothing. However, their hunger for wealth is never satisfied. There is no price the world can pay to redeem a soul, yet the wealthy will claim the good things they do as evidence of their worthiness to enter the perfect Heaven of God. This natural man sees life happen around him. People live, people die whether they are enlightened or not, whether spiritual or not, whether godly or not. They set up memorials after themselves. However, they are the fools. They will go into the ground and be ushered into the torment of Hades. These men will never see light for they have never sought true light – the light of God. These people have always sought the darkness. They have always thought of themselves as great and above others. These people seek only those things that honor themselves, benefit themselves, glorify themselves or embolden themselves. They never seek the light of God which is meek, humble and submissive. The one who sees nothing except the world and what they want to see for themselves, sees nothing but the darkness described in Matthew 6:23.
I envision this as a hurricane or oil lamp that has lots of soot on the glass. If we have burned a hurricane lamp for a long time, the soot from the burning oils collects upon the glass. We might still get some light from this lamp but it would be better to clean the glass. If we are lazy, we may attempt to use this dirty lamp to see while doing very fine work. You cannot thread a needle in this dim light. You probably cannot see true colors because the lamp’s light is tainted. If you stubbornly stick to using the same hurricane lamp without cleaning it, you will never really see what is truly in a dark corner lurking there for you because you choose to use a dimmed light that is in effective. As your deliberate ignorance further darkens the lamp, you continue to miss more and more dangerous things in life.
The warning to us in this verse then is to not permit our lamp (our eyes) to gather darkness or the black dirty soot of the world. This dulls our vision and inhibits our ability to see the dangers in the world. Another aspect of this is that when one is unable to see the dangers with proper enlightenment, they are more susceptible to temptation. We are to avoid filling our body with worldly darkness. We should instead fill it with life and light. Darkness does not just prevent you from seeing here on this Earth. Darkness will result in an eternity without light. Just as light eternal is manifested by taking in Christ’s light on this Earth and seeking more of it, darkness eternal is manifested by taking in the darkness of the world and continually seeking more of it.
Praise God there is hope for each one of us. The dark soot of the world can be washed out of your soul’s hurricane lamp. The blood of Jesus Christ washes this sin-tainted glass clean.
Many commentators make the point that the eye in verse 22 that is single and collects the light properly is healthy, while the eye that is evil is unhealthy because it does not see the true light. I do not know what age-related macular generation (AMD) looks like to the individual. I do not know that anyone can actually know without going through this horrible disease. I have heard and read descriptions of it though. The eyes first lose their ability to center on things. Vision is distorted and dim. Colors fade out and look gray. Details begin to fade away as the disease progresses.
Another aspect of AMD is that as the disease progresses, you need more light to do normal everyday things. Because the fuzzy and darkening center of the eye gradually collects less and less light, one needs more light to see what others might see normally. The blurry spot in the center of the diseased eye gradually gets larger and darker. Interestingly enough this is only true of the central vision not the peripheral vision. There is never complete loss of vision.
What causes AMD is that the part of the eye that changes light and images into nerve signals and sends them to the brain – the macula – is slightly affected. What is affected is not the whole retina, just the part that brings things into sharp focus. The macula is this part. It provides our ability to focus on detail such as a period or an individual thread.
This illustration shows the heart of man and the way we operate. Just like AMD, we have a disease in our heart called sin. This sin works to darken everything that enters our body, mind and soul. It causes us to see worldly things blurry at times, such that we think we can accept some sin in our lives, as long as it is not too much. We can watch a little pornography on an “R” rated movie as long as we don’t watch it regularly.
Our sinful heart takes certain colors away. The bright and brilliant colors carried in pure light get clouded with the grayness of sin. You no longer see the kaleidoscope of crisp clear colors, but a panoply of blurred colors that are tainted with black. In the kaleidoscope you can see each color clearly. In the panoply, you simply see an impressive collection that is melded together as some splendorous spectacle. When they blend, we find that meekness does not stand as a brilliant yellow, but blends into self-servitude becoming opaque. Mercy is not a vibrant purple, but blends into personal aggrandizement and becomes impure and obscured.
Sin distorts pictures in life and it takes much of the detail of God out of our testimony. Our hearts cause us to boast about ourselves, look at ourselves, see our own successes and think that we have the answers for everyone else. This type of loss of detail also makes us forget where we came from and our failures such that we become short with others who might make mistakes. We become unforgiving in our testimony and we hurt people.
Sin takes the sharpness and clarity of godliness out of our lives. We forget to see life as it is – a glory to God. Instead, we look at life as a service or a matter of simple survival in our work place, in our homes, or in our community. We no longer see the glory of God, but instead we look to glory in ourselves. We lose focus on the light of God and His eternity. It is grayed out and fades away as the clarity of our purpose fades.
As sin grows in the heart, it requires more light from Christ to turn the person back to Him. God is longsuffering though and at times He will take drastic steps to turn the life of His loved ones back to Himself. This increased light is required. Just as AMD gradually destroys a part of the retina in the eye, man’s heart is gradually destroyed by sin.
This is much of what happens to those gradually lost in the world. As the things of the world slowly distort their view of God, they tend to look increasingly with a blurred view. Instead of the bright brilliant colors of the rainbow where we see God’s creation of light, we begin to mix in the science of the world that teaches we cannot believe the scriptures. The natural man who suffers this spiritual degeneration slowly inculcates the things of the world into their life and begins to rationalize ways to fit the worldly in with the godly. Gradual ingestion of darkness leads to these types of rationalizations:
- Days in Genesis can mean millions of years. Science is so precise and exact and there are really smart people finding these facts. The bible is a spiritual not a science or history book.
- Jesus drank wine and after all, why would God give us wine or talk about it in scripture if we were not meant to drink it right?
- God gave us entertainment and the things of entertainment to enjoy, so why shouldn’t we sample all the entertainment out there?
- Every other business out there is dishonest to an extent, at least mine is mostly honest.
- Churches collect money and operate like a business. Why shouldn’t we operate our church like a business? These big churches have big buildings and beautiful grounds – we can have that too.[iv]
- God wants us to be visible so we can testify to others. We have to promote ourselves.
- They hurt me when they did that. I’m not ready to forgive that person yet.
- I worship God on the mountain and I always feel closer to Him in His creation.
- We have to fit in, so joining in on an off color joke occasionally is just part of being accepted by my co-workers. It does not mean I agree with them.
- When I said those words, I really didn’t mean anything by them. They are just words.
Those who would express these sentiments may claim to walk in the light, but because of the darkness they have permitted in their testimony, they actually have no vision at all. All of these depict instances of individuals rationalizing what they want through the blurry macula of sin. They have a sinful degeneration.
Vision provides us direction. It guides us. If one always ingests darkness through their lamp, their vision is blurred and becomes confused. Much the same is true about following possessions or following Jesus. One cannot seek both equally. If one keeps their eye on the light of man, the other will follow with His grace. You cannot seek God and mammon. You cannot seek the light and the darkness. One will either despise the other or take it over. For you, I pray you forgo the world for the light. There is hope for you in this.
Unlike AMD, sinful degeneration begins at conception and continues through death. We have to fight this sin disease all our lives every day. In this way we fight to keep God at the center of our focus. We fight to keep our lamp shining upon the things of God. We use our lamp to fill our hearts with His light. We also fight by accepting the blood of Christ to wash the glass of our hurricane lamp. This way our lamp can gather pure light – clear and clean.
[i] Lloyd-Jones, D Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, One-volume edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 371.
[ii] Some are thinking, “ I thought you were colorblind.” I am but only in median shades – the shades that are at the edge of other colors are challenging to me. Back to our discussion.
[iii] John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew, (Kregel: Grand Rapids, 1990), 146.
[iv] There is nothing wrong with having a wonderful complex that glorifies God. The problem is how this is developed in the purpose driven, business driven or seeker driven church. These churches ask those who attend what they would like and cater to the whims of those followers. They provide services for money, glory and grandeur not spiritual growth.