Let Him In :: William Holman Hunt, “The Light of the World”

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World; Oil on canvas; 1901-1904.

In the seven letters to early churches which begins the book of Revelation, there is one verse that stands out above others as well known. In the last letter, addressed to the infamous church of Laodicea, Jesus issues a stern rebuke and call to repentance, emphasized with this statement: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). These words of the glorified Lord have effectively spoken to many people, leading them to open their lives to Jesus as Lord. What catches my attention is that these verses are written to a group of people and, not just any group of people, but a group of early disciples known as a church. What strikes me as deeply ironic is that Jesus stands outside the church community. He is standing at the door of the church fellowship’s gathering asking to be let in. Apparently, He is not in their midst.

William Holman Hunt was inspired by Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12), to paint The Light of the World. Hunt painted the same scene three different times. The original was painted in the mid-19th century and today is in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford. Shortly thereafter, Hunt painted a smaller version which today is in the Manchester City Art Gallery. The third and final version, Holman painted near the end of his life at the turn of the century. It was the largest of all three, bringing the figure of Jesus to life-size proportions. The painting was so revered it actually was sent on a world tour before eventually being purchase and donated to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where it continues to be held today. Jesus stands within an overgrown garden, knocking at a door with a handle only on the inside. The eye-catching frame, which surrounds the painting captures the words of Revelation 3:20, leaving us to reflect on the stunning situation: Jesus is on the outside of lives and even churches. Will the individual let Jesus in? Will the church let Jesus in?

A Prayer to God’s Majesty: gazing upon the mountains

“The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
    let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psalm 97:1-2)

In the distance, across Flathead Lake,
mountains tower, touching the heights,
shrouded in heavy cloud,
hiding the distant peaks from view.

You, God, are my God,
surrounded in clouds and thick darkness—
known, yet not fully knowable;
hidden, yet still perceptible;
available, yet mysterious.

Open my eyes to see You today.
Open my ears to hear You today.
Open my mind to know You today.
Open my heart to receive You today.

Enlarge my soul in the vastness of Your presence
and relieve me from striving that I might truly rest in You.
You, God, are my God,
surrounding me in the cloud of Your presence,
lighting up my darkness in the brilliance of You.

Love is Light Shining in the Darkness

The world around us has all sorts of darkness these days. There is the darkness that gathers around us in visible ways: violence, famine, global conflict, racial tension, unemployment, etc. For some of us, that darkness feels close and for others it feels distant.

However, I’d like to sharpen our understanding of darkness by remembering four aspects of Jesus’ life, and putting them into the context of light and darkness.

As the light of the world, first of all, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through His incarnation. As it says in Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Or as it says in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus’ incarnation shines the light of God, displaying who God is.

As the light of the world, second of all, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through His proclamation and teaching.  After Jesus’ powerful teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching,because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). Jesus’ teaching shines the light of God, telling who God is.

As the light of the world, thirdly, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through works of service and healing. Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, spoke of Jesus’ wonder-working power in this way: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). The works of service and the healing—these signs and wonders—display God’s purposes for humanity. And it is through His service and miracles shining God’s light, that Jesus also displays who God is.

As the light of the world, fourthly, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through enter into human suffering and transforming it. We read about Jesus’ transformative suffering on the Cross in the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 4, verses 9 and 10: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).  Jesus’ crucifixion shines the light of God, displaying who God is and just how far God will go on behalf of humanity.

Jesus was shining God’s light into the gathering darkness. As His followers we also have the opportunity to shine His light into the gathering darkness.

And those four aspects of Jesus’ light-shining life speak to us about shining light as well. We shine God’s light:

  • through living incarnate
  • through proclaiming good news and telling of God’s ways
  • through works of service and even miraculous signs
  • through entering into the suffering of the world through Christ’s transformative sacrifice

And so that we don’t lose sight of just how basic this is, the love for our literal neighbor saves us from abstraction about these things. Because often our ideas about life become abstract.

In her quirky book, How to Do Nothing, artist Jenny Odell talks about how neighborliness keeps us from being abstract. She writes:

My boyfriend and I live in a large apartment complex that’s next to the house of a family of four, and when we’re sitting on our balcony and they’re sitting on their porch, we can easily see each other….But we didn’t learn each other’s names for two years, and we may not have chatted at all if it hadn’t been for the neighborliness of Paul, the dad.

One day Paul invited us over for dinner. Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment. The interior of the house went from being an idea to a palpable reality….we probably all saw ourselves from a new angle. For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.

When we arrived back to our apartment, it felt different to me­–less like the center of things. Instead the street was full of such “centers,” and each one contained other lives, other rooms, other people turning in for the night and worrying their own worries for the next day. Of course I had already accepted all of this in an abstract sense, but it wasn’t felt.

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2019), 134-135.

Shining the light of God is something that is true, but is not intended to be abstract. It is intended to be felt. It is intended to be heard. It is intended to be like flesh and bone moving into the neighborhood.

Loving our literal neighbors – our apartment-mates, those in the condo next door, those in the duplex unit above or below us, those on our dorm floor, those in the retirement community, or those in the house next door – forces us to shine the light of God in ways that are real, practical, and tangible. If we cannot love our literal neighbor, then it is unlikely that we will truly love anyone else in our lives.

Real Identity: You are Salt and Light

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our series “Becoming Real” on the Sermon on the Mount by looking at Matthew 5:13-16.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”  (Matthew 5:13, 14)

“You are…”

  • The disciples
  • The crowds
  • Who is the “you”?
  • The unexpected ones in God’s mission

Metaphor and the Power of Mental Pictures

  • Jesus’ use of metaphor in Matthew 5:13-16
  • Why mental pictures are invaluable for life

“You are the salt of the earth…” (5:13)

  • The importance of salt: flavor, preservative, fertilizer
  • Discipleship and saltiness
  • Warning: don’t lost your saltiness

“You are the light of the world…” (5:14-16)

  • The importance of light in a town and a house
  • Discipleship and light-shining
  • Encouragement: let your life shine to God’s glory

Wholistic or Complete Discipleship

  • Discipleship of being and resting
  • Discipleship of mission and action

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in one or more of the following ways:

  • Consider memorizing one or both of the images here: Matthew 5:13 or Matthew 5:14-16
  • Sketch, draw, or paint one of the images from this portion of Scripture. Share it with someone when you’re done to start a conversation about what it means to follow Jesus.
  • Consider reading Professor Anthony B. Bradley’s article on this passage, “You are the Manure of the Earth
  • Explore parallels to this passage from other parts of Scripture, writing your own comments and thoughts about how these illumine Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:
  • Isaiah 9:1-2
  • Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34
  • Mark 4:21 and Luke 8:16
  • John 1:4-9
  • John 8:12
  • Acts 13:47
  • Ephesians 5:8-14
  • Philippians 2:14-16
  • Colossians 4:6
  • 1 Peter 2:11-12