Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
— Matthew 5:14
Just a three-mile walk from the town of Nazareth is an ancient city called Sepphoris — a city so elegant in ancient times that it was known as the ornament of Galilee. Although it dates to Greek times, the city of Sepphoris was enhanced at the orders of Herod Antipas concurrent to the time Jesus was growing up three miles away in Nazareth. Many people from Nazareth were engaged in rebuilding this fabulous, wealthy city that was the northern home and administrative center for Herod Antipas.
The remarkable city of Sepphoris also became the center of trade and commerce in the northern region of Israel, and it was one of the largest banking centers of the Middle East. Because of the extreme wealth of this city, it had facilities that would normally be associated only with larger cities, such as a huge theater that had a constant array of dramatic presentations. The city had scores of beautiful upper-class villas to accommodate the wealthy people who lived there, and it was adorned with some of the finest mosaics that existed in the First Century. In fact, even today one can see some of the finest examples of early mosaics lying in the ancient ruins of Sepphoris.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
This city was exquisite in every way. Sophisticated and wealthy, it attracted visitors from around the world. Every day one could experience a wide range of different cultures, ethnic groups, and customs. People could be heard speaking Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic in the streets. It was a tri-lingual city known for being open-minded and for having an emphasis on learning, education, and business. This city was so splendid that it influenced the entire region of Galilee.
Three miles away was Nazareth, a small village occupied mostly by workers who were employed in the enhancement of Sepphoris. It was here that Jesus grew up with His parents. Jesus’ father was a carpenter, from the Greek word teknos — a term that describes not a carpenter as we think of that profession, but a highly skilled craftsman who works in stone. Or it could even be used to depict a construction-site supervisor. Considering the likelihood that a little town such as Nazareth would not have much work available for a man with these skills, it is likely that Joseph was involved in the high level of construction taking place in nearby Sepphoris.
Growing up next door to such a splendid city, there is little doubt that young Jesus stood in Nazareth and gazed upon “the city set on a hill” that was just a short distance away. From that viewpoint, and especially at night, the city of Sepphoris would have been a spectacular sight. The gleaming lights of countless torches and oil lamps would have shone forth from the city. It must have looked splendid as the lights sparkled and glistened from the majestic buildings in the distance.
Everyone who lived in Galilee also fell under the influence of Sepphoris. Its style, its learned culture, its banking system, its mixture of languages — all of these factors had an influence on Galilee. And by reading Jesus’ words in the Gospels, it is clear that this “city set on a hill” had an influence on Jesus too. Although He actually grew up in Nazareth, a small and obscure village, He was familiar and comfortable with words, phrases, and knowledge that would not be customary for a boy from a village.
For example, when Jesus told stories, He used illustrations that included vivid descriptions concerning the lifestyles of the wealthy, including the kind of clothes they wore and the luxury they possessed in their daily lives. He spoke of governmental authorities as if He had personal knowledge of the subject — a level of knowledge He could have attained by observation at nearby Sepphoris. When Jesus spoke about money, He used massive amounts of money in His examples — something a village boy would know nothing about unless he had seen it somewhere. And at times, Jesus even used banking terms when He related His stories.
Where did a boy from Nazareth learn about all of these things?
This “city set on a hill” almost certainly had a great influence on the life of Jesus from His early childhood, during the time He was growing up as a small boy. Living under the influence of that city helped to form His worldview and His appreciation of different cultures. It gave Jesus experience broad enough to enable Him to venture far beyond Nazareth and speak authoritatively to people on every level of life.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus was speaking to His disciples about being an influence in the world. He told them, “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” When Jesus spoke these words, His childhood view of Sepphoris in all likelihood stood out in His mind — the image of a city that shone so brightly that its light could not be hidden. The lights of the city penetrated the darkness and gave light to the night.
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus continued to exhort His disciples, saying, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
My friend, let me remind you that God saved you, redeemed you, delivered you, and filled you with the light of His Word. Don’t be ashamed of what God has done in you. It’s time for you to let that light shine brightly so it can penetrate the darkness in the lives of others and give light to guide them through the night they are experiencing right now in their lives.
If you’re like a majority of people, you have probably spent a lot of time putting yourself down and badgering yourself about your failures — and you’ve been tempted to largely forget about the great work God has done in your life. But it’s time for you to put an end to that downward spiral. Stop berating yourself over your missteps, and starting thanking God for the progress you’ve already made! Then reach out to someone else in need so you can become a godly influence to benefit another. That person can be touched, changed, and shaped by the light in your life.
I promise you there are people observing you and taking note of the light that is shining in your life. You may not be aware of it, but that person or group of people are witnessing the way you live, how you act, what you do, and what kind of excellence and attitude you demonstrate in your life. They are watching you — and you are making an impact on their lives.
What an opportunity you have to become a godly influence on someone else who really needs your example. As you lean on the Holy Spirit and do your best to obey Him, that light will begin to shine into someone else’s darkness. As you walk in obedience, the Holy Spirit will use you to demonstrate God’s Word to someone who really needs your influence. You, my friend, are a city on a hill, so let your light shine!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I am thankful that You believe I can be a light in someone else’s life! So often I am overly aware of my weaknesses and shortcomings, and I forget what a great work You have already done in me. Forgive me for not expressing my gratitude to You more frequently for the precious changes You have already brought about in my life. Many people sit in darkness and struggle to find their way in life, and today I hear Your Spirit beckoning me to let my light shine before men that they may glorify You and so that I might have a godly influence on someone else’s life. I accept the call of the Spirit, and I will do my best to let Your light in me shine forth to people who are seeking direction for their lives!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that God has done a great work in my life and that I have something I can share and impart to others who are seeking direction for their lives. I am finished with berating myself about what I’ve done wrong. God has done such a precious work in my life. From this moment onward, I will throw back my shoulders, hold my head high, acknowledge the good work that God has done in my life, and let His light in my life shine before all men!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of individuals with whom you hold special influence right now? Who are those individuals and in what ways do you think you are influencing their lives?
- Can you think of someone who is struggling in life right now and needs a good example to follow? Who is that person? How can you help him or her?
- Can you think of people who influenced you in the past with their godly example? Aren’t you grateful that they allowed God to use them in your life? Who were those individuals? Have you ever taken time to express your gratitude to them? If you haven’t already thanked them, what is stopping you from taking a few minutes to express your appreciation to them today?