(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)

This passage - one that is often misinterpreted - is closely related to the Parable of the Sower. It, too, is about God's truth and how we react to it.

(B) Truth's proper purpose.

"No-one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed." v16. I like the way the Authorised Version puts it: "Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel(bucket), or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick." Mk4v21.

This most certainly does not mean what it is quoted in common parlance to mean. We speak of someone 'hiding their light under a bushel' when he or she keeps quiet about their talent or accomplishments.

The lamp or the candle in this saying of Jesus represents the truth. A lamp has a definite purpose - to shed light. It should therefore be put where it will serve its purpose - on the lamp stand.

There are broadly two kinds of truth. When I read my daily newspaper it contains a lot of truth about a wide range of topics but very little of it is likely to influence my behaviour. I always enjoy the obituaries. I am sure that by and large they contain the truth about notable people who have died. However this information does not impinge upon my conduct. On the other hand when I turn to one of my cookery books the truth it contains cries out to be practiced. If I adopt a new recipe and implement it my culinary experience will be enlarged.

The truth of God which Jesus made known through his teaching needs to serve its true purpose. Just as the candle needs to be placed on the candlestick so Christ's truth has to be put into practice.

A lamp does not serve its purpose if it is put under a bucket. It will do absolutely no good there. God's truth is useless if it is put into the back of the mind and never acted upon. I have taught about believer's baptism in a variety of contexts. When I taught Religious Education in school children were intrigued to watch a video of the practice and interested to learn what it signified. I have dealt in church services with the purpose of baptism. It marks a new beginning. It is a public acknowledgment of one's faith in Jesus. It is a way of identifying with the family of God. This may be all very fascinating but that is not why I preach about baptism. Baptism is meant to be practiced. It demands to be practiced. Yet numerous Christians in Baptist churches put this great truth under a bucket and remain disobedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is just one example. There are just so many great truths taught by Jesus that are ignored by Christians. If we hid the lamp under a bucket we can never be what Jesus wants us to be. He said: "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Mt5v16. This statement in Matthew follows on from the Beatitudes - they exist as a blue print for Christian living and as such demand to be practiced. If we implement them our good deeds will be evident; we will be the light of the world; God will be praised.

(C) Truth's inappropriate treatment.

"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." v17.

This does not make much sense in the context in which it is found. It is by no means certain that someone who hides the truth under a bucket is ever going to bring it out into the open and act upon it. God's truth remains hidden is some people's lives until they die.

A literal interpretation of Mark4v22 reads: "For there is not anything hidden except that it may be manifested." (See 'The Interlinear Greek English New Testament' by the Rev. A. Marshall.) I take this to mean that nothing is hidden other than to stop it being manifest or known. The only things we hide are the sort of things that would be only too obvious if we didn't. A man wears a wig to disguise his baldness. A woman applies makeup to cover a birthmark. A dodgy second-hand car salesman hides rust damage with a coat of paint. We don't hide things that don't need hiding! No-one puts darkness under a bucket! An unblemished complexion requires no disguise.

There are three reasons a man might put the light under a bucket:

(1) He doesn't want to be found out.

A burglar, a poacher or even an adulterer might put the lamp under a bucket to make good his escape and avoid detection. Men and women like to keep secret information that will be to their discredit. President Richard Nixon did his utmost to hide the fact that he authorised the break in to the Democratic Party Headquarters.

God's truth finds us out and shows us up. One of the Scriptures I nearly always quote at funerals is: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. John3v36. This is a shaft of brilliant light. It confronts men and women with a stark choice - either believe in Jesus and receive eternal life or reject him and never enter into eternal life. It is a short statement that shows men precisely where they stand with God. It finds them out. Sadly most of those attending funerals shove this light under a bucket and do not let it influence them in any way whatever.

(2) If it is going to be inconvenient.

It has been known for a family to put out all the lights in the house if they expect an inconvenient visitor.

There is no doubt that much of God's truth is inconvenient. We are told to meet regularly together, to pray often and to practice hospitality. Well this is not always very convenient when we have others things that are more pressing and so we hide the light under a bucket. Jesus tells us: "If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." Mt5v41. Under Roman law a soldier was able to press a civilian into carrying a burden for 1 mile. This could be very inconvenient! Jesus is in effect saying: "Don't resent this and rebel against it. Be the sort of person who willingly obeys the laws of the land - however inconvenient." Christians are very apt to hide this little light under a bucket. We are inclined to hate all the rules and regulations imposed upon us by national and local authorities. They make work and it is tempting to ignore them. If we do then we also ignore what Jesus taught and hide his light under a bucket.

(3) If it is going to be costly.

Some years ago when I used to go carol singing around my village there were one or two people who turned off their lights and sat in the dark because they did not want to come to the door and give money to charity.

Another of the great and shining truths of the New Testament is found in John's gospel. Jesus said in reply to a query from poor old Thomas: I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me." John14v6. Jesus' knowledge that he and only he is the way to God the Father gives him the authority to say, "Follow me." This is what he said to Levi sitting at the seat of custom who got up, left everything and followed him. (See exposition on Luke5v27to32.)

It was very costly to Matthew to respond to Christ's call to follow him. It is always costly! The truth is there to be practiced. Faith is active and issues in works. It is only insofar as we put the candle on the candlestick that our light will shine before men and they will see our good works and praise the Father in heaven.

The knowledge that following Jesus will be costly results in so many men and women in the pews who hear the gospel truth putting the light under a bucket. Like the rich young ruler of old they hide the light because they do not want to change their life style.

(D) A calculating attitude to the truth.

"Therefore consider carefully how you listen." v18.

Once again I find the equivalent passage in Mark's gospel in the Authorised Version very helpful to understanding the meaning of Jesus' words. "Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you... ." Mk4v24.

'Heed' is an excellent word as it involves more than listening or, indeed, listening carefully. If we heed advice we both listen to it and act upon it. Jesus message is clear: "Listen to what I tell you and do as I say." We must practice the truth. It is not only foolish to ignore God's word but also reckless to adopt a careless attitude toward it. The cook who has a cavalier approach to the recipe for pastry and just chucks some flour and fat together, stirs it with a spoon and pops it into the oven for 10 minutes is not going to be agreeably surprised by the result.

It is easy to bring our measuring stick to God's truth; to approach it in a calculating, negotiating and compromising frame of mind. Shadrack , Meshack and Abednego must have been tempted to overlook God's command not to bow to idols of any sort when told to fall down and worship the image of gold set up by Nebuchadnezzar on pain of being cast into the burning fiery furnace. The state often pressurises the church to compromise. In China the state regulated churches are prohibited from preaching certain truths like the second coming of Christ. In my own country Christian registrars are expected to 'marry' homosexual couples. Whenever the church compromises on the truth it loses respect.

Many Christians bring a measuring stick to a Scripture like: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Mt6v19. It is amazing how wealthy some Christians are in the light of this advice from Jesus.

Jesus said: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Mt5v7. If we are just kind to our family members or Christians we like but never help those we dislike we are guilty of only partial obedience to Jesus.

Believers are inclined to pick and chose from Christ's teaching a bit like a lady shopper in a boutique. Just imagine the commands of Jesus hanging like garments on a series of pegs. Consider Mt5v42: "Give to the one who aks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." I can imagine a shopper rejecting this because the price is too high. Then there is: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Mt5v44. This is turned down because it is rather drab and boring. The discerning shopper wants something a bit more red blooded - something bold and daring. Further along we discover hanging: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Mt6v3. This is not something that shows us off to the best advantage and is quickly dismissed by the image conscious shopper. As for the unfashionable: "You cannot serve God and Money." (Mt6v24) that's left swinging on its hanger. A nifty little number: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Mt7v1) is very unpopular because it looks a tight fit and would prove very restrictive.

Jesus teaches that if we bargain with God we shall get what we bargain for and nothing else.

(E) The law of increase: Truth's reward.

"Whoever has will be given more.... ." v18.

Or according to Mark4v24and25: ".... and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given."

Something can be gained by listening to the truth but much more can be acquired by putting it into practice. A Medical student buys the lamp when he studies and passes exams. If he never practices he puts the light under a bucket and his knowledge begins to atrophy. However, if he practices - puts the lamp on the lamp stand - more is given. When his knowledge is put into action the doctor begins to see the relevance of what he knows. He learns from experience and has new insights into his subject. Above all, he who has learned about healing becomes a healer.

If we practice forgiveness - more is given - we become forgiving. If we practice prayer we become prayerful and know from experience the fellowship and power of prayer. If we practice humility we shall become meek and lowly of heart and will discover that Christ's yoke is easy and his burden is light. It is as we adopt Christ's teaching that different facets are added to our character - facets that shine - polished facets that gleam and sparkle. Then the words of Jesus will become true. Our light will shine before men and they will see our good works and glorify our father in heaven. We become the jewels for his crown.

(F) The law of decrease: truth's ineffectivess.

"Whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him." v18.

If a lamp is put under a bucket it will eventually go out.

What happens to the man who has read all there is to read about swimming but never actually practices it when he is thrown into the sea? He drowns!

The pews of our churches contain many like the non-swimming expert on swimming. They buy the lamp. They hear the truth and find it interesting, attractive, satisfying and moving. Such people seem to have. They have precious knowledge of the gospel but that knowledge is put under a bucket. It is never practiced. Hearers only, never submit to Jesus, follow him, obey him or actively serve him. It is a dreadful thing to know about salvation, baptism and righteous conduct and not to have acted. If the gospel light is put under a bucket it will go out. It will not be burning bright when you most need it. When God kicks over the bucket there is no light there - no living, active faith - no evidence of a changed life - no sincere devotion to the King of Kings and Lord of All. You have lost what you seemed to have. Put your lamp on the lamp stand - be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.

(G) Conclusion

When Jesus' family turned up to see him and could not get near because of the people crowding around him he took the opportunity to reinforce the message he had been putting across in both the Parable of the Sower and the Lamp. He said: "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." v21. If we want to be in a family relationship with Jesus there is only one way. We must obey him - at whatever cost.