Christ’s Vision for the Church (8)
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5.14
He subjoins two comparisons. A city placed on a mountain cannot be concealed; and a candle, when it has been lighted, is not usually concealed, (verse 15.) This means, that they ought to live in such a manner, as if the eyes of all were upon them. And certainly, the more eminent a person is, the more injury he does by a bad example, if he acts improperly.
- John Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels, comment on Matthew 5.14
A unifying image
Christ’s vision of the Church as a city set on a hill provides an image that unifies all the images we have considered thus far. The city is where citizens live, and where services are provided and God dwells in His temple. From cities, armies go forth conquering and to conquer. Cities can preserve good culture and morality through their institutions and laws; and they can influence other cities by their shining example.
Thus, in the vision of the Church as a city, Christ draws as into a reverse prism all the varied colors of light, suggested by the images we have previously examined, into one brilliant, radiant ray and image. The city image houses and reinforces all the other aspects of Christ’s vision for the Church, and combines them into one permanent locale.
In Hebrews 12.22-24 the writer indicates the particular city we must think about as we ponder this aspect of Christ’s vision for the Church: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who areregistered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”
We in the Church are to think of ourselves in terms of the ancient city of Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, the capital city of the people of God, the temporal locus of the Lord’s presence, and the one city frequently represented as the spouseof God. Jerusalem, positioned on Mt. Zion, offers a commanding and clarifying vision for how we should think about our churches. And this is particularly clear in two Old Testament passages.
The first is Psalm 48. Here the sons of Korah present the city of the Lord as His holy dwelling place, a city where the praises of God rise continually unto Him (v. 1). It is a holy city – all its avenues, dwellings, and institutions devoted to embodying the righteousness of the Lord (vv. 1, 3, 12-14). And to its neighboring cities, as to distant nations, the city of God is a source of joy and beauty, spreading the transforming power and influence of the indwelling God to the ends of the earth (vv. 2, 8).
So esteemed and radiant is the city of the Lord that its enemies cower in fear before it, hastening to escape its influence and powerless to resist its strength (vv. 4-7).
The lovingkindness of God emanates from the city of Zion (v. 9). Joy and rejoicing fill its streets because of the judgments of the Lord (v. 11), and His praise spreads out from the midst of the city to reach to the ends of the earth (v. 10). The city of God is a source of strength for all generations as it follows the direction and example of its King (vv. 12-14).
A holy place, a place of joy and rejoicing and praise, a place which spreads such wholesome influence that it is regarded as the source of beauty and joy for the whole earth, a place that not even its most hardened enemies can resist or overthrow – Jesus thinks of His Church in these terms, and so must we, so that we equip and prepare our churches to live up to so compelling a vision as we see exemplified in Psalm 48.
The second passage which depicts the Church as a city set on a hill is Micah 4.1-8. This one is particularly relevant because it is designated as a vision to be embraced and pursued for the last days (v. 1), the times in which we presently live (cf. Acts 2.16, 17).
In Micah’s vision, the Church is to be built as a fortress on a hill, to be seen and admired and desired by all nations (vv. 1, 2). This is God’s goal for His Church, and it must be the goal of all who undertake to build in His Name. So desirable is residence in the city of God that, contrary to the natural order of things, people “flow” uphill to enter it (v. 1).
It is a city where people learn the ways of God so that they may walk in His paths (v. 2). From this glorious city people go forth into their daily lives embodying and proclaiming the Law and Word of God (v. 2), exercising righteous judgment in all the everyday situations of their lives (v. 3), and bringing theshalom of God wherever they go (v. 3).
From among the last, the least, and the lost of the world are gathered together a people for the Lord, that they might become “a strong nation” under the rule of their holy King in Zion (v. 7). The city of God is thus both a sign of the Kingdom and rule of God and the primary outpost from which that rule extends on earth as it is in heaven (v. 8).
Jesus did: Do we?
There can be no doubt that Jesus had these two passages in mind when He envisioned His Church as a city set on a hill. The question is: Do we?
Dare we think of our churches this way? Work to see our churches realize such a vision? Trust the Lord for such a full and influential (“exalted above the hills”) and transforming vision?
If we do not preach this vision and urge the people we serve to embrace and pursue it, we not only rob them of their true heritage, but we scorn the Lord’s vision for His Church, preferring our own, perhaps safer or easier or more entertaining vision to His. Jesus says His Church is to be a city set on a hill, but we too often treat it as a kind of spiritual safe haven or religious social club, of use and benefit for its members only.
The Church is the sign and outpost of the Kingdom of God, a city set on a hill to show the way to all the world. Plead with God to give you the courage to embrace Jesus’ vision for His Church and for your church as well.
“This is the city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden, the lantern that is not concealed under a meal tub but known to all and universally renowned. Not every one is a citizen of it, but only those for whom the Lord is ‘great and exceedingly worthy of praise.’”
- Augustine (354-430 AD), Expositions of the Psalms 48.2
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).