14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16
Yesterday evening, after the U.S. Capitol Building was secured following the violent assault by protesters, the legislators reconvened to complete the Electoral College certification process in connection with the recent presidential election.
I watched the proceedings for a short time and heard several legislators plead for national unity following the unprecedented turmoil. A few mentioned that the world was watching and that the United States must go forward as the “city set on a hill,” a beacon of democracy to the rest of the world.
Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, politically-minded colonists and Americans have misappropriated Bible passages for their temporal ends. Faith and politics have been conflated for so long that many/most can’t distinguish between the two.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus Christ DID NOT have in mind the United States as the “city set on a hill.” It’s quite clear from the context that He was referring to His followers. Believers are the city set on a hill. The church, the body of believers scattered throughout the unbelieving world, is the city set on a hill. Our message is NOT political, it is rather the GOOD NEWS! of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. This Good News! of salvation in Christ Jesus knows no national boundaries or political affiliations.
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’” – John 18:36
Addendum: Ronald Reagan famously referred to America as “The Shining City Upon a Hill” in his same-titled speech delivered in 1974 (see here) and in several speeches thereafter. But the notion didn’t originate with him. Preacher John Winthrop had claimed that designation for the Massachusetts Bay Colony 344 years earlier in 1630 (see here). The notion that America was in an anointed, covenant relationship with God has been preached from American pulpits ever since.