"Powered by Touch"#87-43
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 21, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 5:21-32
Did you know that in your hand you have the power to generate light? The average human body at rest, at any given moment, produces excess energy in the form of heat, roughly about 100 watts worth. In the sense, you literally have energy just waiting to be used for something like powering a light bulb.
And it was this line of thinking that led Ann Makosinski, a young inventor from Canada, to create the hollow flashlight. Ann was only 15 years old when she invented it. Her hollow flashlight is battery free, and it generates light by the touch of the human hand. Ann put it all together with little thermoelectric tiles that convert heat into electricity, and she entered it into the Google Science Fair in 2013—and won.
Ann's award-winning prototype lights up the moment you touch it. Because it's true, you have in your hand the power to generate light. Maybe this isn't a new idea to you if you're a follower of Jesus, or you're considering following Him, and you've been listening to the things He says. He said to His followers, "You are the light of the world. So let your light shine."
He said that in the Sermon on the Mount, it's recorded in Matthew chapter 5, which we've been listening to on this program. Jesus says that His followers, because of their relationship with Him, they are light. They are light for the world. Now, obviously He's not talking about thermoelectric-generated light, and He's not even talking about candlelight or lamplight. Jesus is speaking figuratively, something He did a lot of, which we'll talk more about later.
He's using a metaphor. He's drawing on His followers' common experience of lamplight and candlelight and sunlight to help them understand their calling as His followers. And His first followers, all being Jewish would be familiar with this metaphor.
They grew up listening to the Hebrew Scriptures, and as the poet from Psalm 119 said to God, "Lord, Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." So I thought we could follow the light of this metaphor today, and see how it might illuminate us to better understand Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Consider five observations about light. Number one, as we've already seen, light can be generated by the touch of a human hand. Number two, light can be filtered. Number three, light exposes. Number four, light gives life, and number five, light helps.
Number one, light can be generated by the touch of the human hand. This was a lesson from Ann Makosinski's hollow flashlight. It lights up the moment you touch it, but it's a pretty dim light. Ann Makosinski's prototype generated roughly 24 lumens of light. That's not very much light. The run-of-the-mill AA battery-powered flashlight generates four times that much. So you do literally have in you the power to generate light, but it's not very much light.
And the same can be said of this light that Jesus is speaking of in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says that His disciples are God's light for the world. Now this isn't a new idea. Jesus is from Israel and God called all of His people Israel to be a light for the world. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said to Israel, "I will make you as a light for the nations." God called Israel to shine the light of God's story and God's Law because the nations were living in darkness and without the light, they would wither and die. And even before God called Israel to be the light, this was the calling of all human beings. Every human being was created in the image of God, to reflect and to shine God's light, but humanity turned away into the darkness.
Nevertheless, there are still pulses of light in every human being. It's true because as the Bible says in Romans 2:15, "The work of the Law is written on their hearts." The light of God's Law is in every human heart. You can see this in common moral standards among people and human societies. Consider this rule: whatever you would wish others to do to you, do also to them. Now that's a pretty common rule. Even if they don't always follow it, everybody recognizes that this rule is legit, it's the golden rule. And Jesus says that if you know that rule, then you have all the Law and prophets summarized in one statement. See the light is still there, even if it's only eking out 24 lumens. It's there even among the people who don't yet know Jesus.
Number two, light can be filtered. I have a little military-style flashlight, and it's got various filters on it. There's a red filter and a green filter and a blue one. Red filters are good during nighttime because they're less likely to ruin your night vision. And green filters are good because the human eye can distinguish more shades of green than any other color, and so it helps make the outlines and the edges pop. And this is why greenlight is used in night-vision goggles.
So those filters have a purpose, but at the same time, they distort your vision. You wouldn't want to use night-vision goggles to paint your kitchen or to pick out your Sunday best. Filters distort the light. And the same is true for the light that shines in the human heart. We all apply filters that distort the light.
And this was true even for God's people, Israel. The people of Israel had the light in their hearts. They had the light of God's Law etched in stone and taught by Moses, but still they filtered it, they distorted it. And it's these distortions that Jesus is addressing in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus saw how the teachers of His day were distorting God's Law. They made it monochromatic. And as you listen to Him in this short section of the Sermon on the Mount, you'll hear Him address these distortions, particularly in two Commandments: "You shall not murder" and "You shall not commit adultery."
So listen to what Jesus says.
"You have heard it was said to people long ago, 'You shall not murder.' And anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I Myself am saying to you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And anyone who insults his brother, says to his brother, 'Numbskull,' will be answerable to the council. Anyone who says, 'You fool,' will be answerable to the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar in the temple in Jerusalem, if you're offering your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then resume offering your gift. Be quick to be well disposed, to be friendly towards your opponent while he is still with you on the way. Otherwise, that opponent will hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And I'm telling you the truth. You will not get out of there until you paid the last cent.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery,' but I Myself I'm saying to you. Anyone who looks upon a woman as to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if your right eye is causing you to stumble and fall, tear it out and throw it away from you. Because it would be better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand is causing you to stumble and fall, cut it off and throw it away from you. For it would be better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
"It has also been said, 'If a man divorces his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I Myself am saying to you, if a man divorces his wife, except in the case of adultery, he causes her to have adultery committed against her. And anyone who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery." The words of Jesus, Matthew 5:21-32.
Number three, light exposes. Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself that puts you in a bad light? You look at the photograph and it takes you a minute, but then you realize, "Oh, that's a picture of me." And you think, "Oh, this is what other people have to look at when they see me?"
See, we all have this picture of ourselves in our minds. And just like you, I want to see myself in the most flattering light. But sometimes I am exposed, and I see myself unfiltered. I see things in me that I don't normally see or that I don't want to see. But other people can see, the people closest to me can see. God can see.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus pulls the filters from God's Law. See, the filtered version of God's Law that most of us operate with focuses on the really bad stuff: "Don't murder anyone." "Don't cheat on your spouse." "Avoid crimes against humanity."
But Jesus exposes the deeper truth about hateful emotions, about angry insults, and lustful thoughts. And this unfiltered light exposes us and our tendency to treat a human being like a thing to be used and thrown away when we're through with it. This distorted self-centeredness inside all of us is part of the same root system as the worst crimes against humanity. And if left unexposed, it will lead us all to hell.
Number four, light gives life. Scientists say that the sun gives physical life to everything in our solar system. None of us would be alive without the constant faithful, warm light of the sun. But the sun doesn't care about you as an individual. For example, if you were to stare into the sun with no filters, no protective lenses, that unfiltered light would burn your eyes into permanent blindness in seconds. And the light would not feel badly for you. It would not reach out to you to comfort you. And this is where the analogy between God and light reaches its limit.
God is different. He's not a heartless diffusion of photons. He is the Father of Jesus. And in Jesus, He becomes your Father. Jesus exposes you and me to God's unfiltered light because He loves you. He wants to turn you around and keep you from being exposed to the fire of hell. He loves you: even when your anger causes you to be out of control; even when you know that your lust is destroying you, but you can't seem to stop; even when your marriage has failed, your friends have gone away, and you're alone in the dark—even there your Father is with you and for you.
He's not angry at you. You're not something for Him to use and throw away, He loves you. He sent His Son to become a human being for you, to restore God's image in you, so that you could shine in the way that He's always planned for you. Jesus died the death that you deserved and took our darkness away. And as sure as the sun rises in the east, Jesus is risen from the dead.
The last book of the Bible says that when Jesus returns and the new creation is revealed, we will see Him face to face. And then we will have no need for the light of a lamp or the sun because God Himself will be our light.
Number five, light helps. The day that I realized that I could use my smartphone as a flashlight was a good day. See, 20 years ago, when I got my first cell phone, it was just that, only a phone. But now my smartphone is more like a Swiss Army knife. It has so many tools, and the tool that I use the most, may be the flashlight, because light helps, you know this. In every job that you do, a little more light will always help.
My phone flashlight is a tool, but it's a certain kind of tool. I wouldn't use it to try to hammer a nail or to tighten a bolt. And Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is like that. His teaching can illuminate any situation, but in this sermon, Jesus is not giving you every tool you'll ever need for any job imaginable.
For example, in verse 22, He's not telling you, just don't ever call anybody a fool and you'll be good. No, it's more complicated than that. Don't try to use His flashlight as a hammer. There might be a time for you to call someone a fool—just as Jesus does in Matthew 23:17. And Jesus is not telling you actually to tear out your eye. He's speaking figuratively, not literally. Don't use His flashlight as a hammer; use it as a light.
Of course, Jesus is not saying never to call anyone a fool, no matter what, but if you're in a situation where you have to call out someone's foolish behavior, you can do it without hatred in your heart. And of course, Jesus is not saying that anger and murder are exactly alike in every way, but they are alike in the way they destroy life.
And of course, Jesus is not saying that lust and adultery and divorce are the same without exception, but they are the same in the way they destroy God's gift of marriage. And no, Jesus is not telling you to saw off your arm, but He is telling you that in your own struggle against sin, you will need to make sacrifices that may feel like losing a limb.
So there you have it: five observations about light. Natural light can be filtered. Unfiltered it exposes us. It also gives us life and helps us, but you'll still need a hammer for those nails. And don't forget the first one—that light can be powered by the human touch.
This was the lesson from Ann Makosinski's hollow flashlight. She said that she invented it for a friend. Ann's mom was born and raised in the Philippines. And Ann had a friend from there and she was talking to her friend, and she said that she was having a hard time with school. Her family couldn't afford electricity, and so it was difficult for her to do her homework at night. And so Ann decided to do something to help.
She made a light that could be powered by touch, and God did something similar. He made a light that can be powered by touch. He made you. See your life is fraught with difficulty and danger. You live in a dark world with anger and insults, lust and betrayal, fractured friendships and broken marriages, but God sent His Son to become a human, not to condemn you, but to reach out to you, and by His touch ... you shine.
Would you pray with me? Lord, let Your Word in me be a lamp to the feet and a light for the path. Amen.
Reflections for June 21, 2020
Title: Powered by Touch
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Once again, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Joining me again is Dr. Jeff Gibbs, a long-time pastor and professor within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Thanks for being here, Dr. Gibbs.
Jeff Gibbs: It's a pleasure, Mike.
Mike Zeigler: We've been listening to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapter 5. In this section, we hear Jesus say, "You've heard it said, 'If someone divorces his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce.'" Now I'm assuming there's some first-century background on this.
Jeff Gibbs: There is. Jesus says, "This is what you've heard it said." And we actually know a fair bit about this from studying the evidence that's available to us, that there was quite a debate among, at the very least, two schools of Pharisees. There are different kinds of Pharisees, teachers of the law. And one was a much more strict school. One was much more loose in how they understood the issue of marriage and divorce. And there's even evidence that there were lengthy discussions about the proper way, I'll just say it, the proper way to divorce your wife. We know what the basic wording of a certificate of divorce was in the first century. It was something like, "You are now free to remarry any Jewish man." As simple as that.
And so when Jesus says, "You've heard that it was said that you will write a certificate of divorce," He's attacking the view that said, "Well, what's the husband's responsibility here?" And some, at least—I don't want to say that everyone was saying this—but some at least were saying, "Well, your responsibility as a husband is to make sure you give her this certificate so that she can get remarried." And Jesus just kind of explodes that.
Husbandly faithfulness and duty is not about properly divorcing your wife. You're not supposed to divorce her at all. That's what God originally intended. A man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife. And the two shall be one flesh. God's will or God's intention is that marriage would last for all of life. And Jesus is reclaiming that.
Mike Zeigler: It's clear that Jesus recognizes there's a right way and a wrong way to apply God's Law. So what would be an example of a wrong way to apply His teaching about divorce here?
Jeff Gibbs: I think a wrong way would be to try to take what Jesus says and figure out how many specific situations when we divorce are okay and how many aren't. And I'm afraid sometimes Mike, that that's what we do. We try to take Jesus' sweeping truth, and parse it out, and analyze it, so that this is an okay divorce and this is not an okay divorce.
When in fact the impact of what Jesus is saying here, and He's addressing primarily husbands, is "Don't divorce your wife." That's what He says. Now that's a strong word from God. It depends on your situation. That can be a hard word from God. That can be a glorious, confirming word from God. That can be a word from God that calls me back to my poverty of spirit. And so I go out through the door and come back in again, and Jesus meets me at the doorway.
But I think that we need to simply believe what Jesus says about the husband. Again, He's primarily speaking about the husband's responsibility. It's not to divorce your wife in the right way. Don't divorce her at all. And then we go from there.
Mike Zeigler: What then would be a right way to apply His teaching here?
Jeff Gibbs: Premarital counseling—if I can say it that way. Marriage and falling in love in our culture are very complicated things as we all know. But I think young men, young women, middle-aged men, middle-aged women need to understand that marriage is, I'll say it this way, serious business. Now I love my wife very much. We've been married almost 47 years. And we've had ups and downs, and blah, blah, blah, like everyone else. But marriage is not about me being happy. It's about me voluntarily taking on a commitment to be a certain person for this other person. And then the glorious thing is that the other person does the same thing. And when it works well, it works beautifully. It doesn't always work well. So yeah, it's a positive understanding of marriage that makes it something very important. And as the old service says, "not to be entered into lightly" or inadvisably, if I can say it that way.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us.
Jeff Gibbs: Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)