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A SHINING CITY ON A HILL!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, April 3, 2016

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).


Bishop J. C. Ryle said, “The Lord Jesus tells us that true Christians are to be in the world like ‘light.’ ‘Ye are the light of the world.’ Now it is the property of light to be utterly distinct from darkness. The least spark in a dark room can be seen at once…without [light] the world would be a gloomy blank” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015 edition; note on Matthew 5:14).

I hate to say it, but most churches are not like that today. By the grace of God, we pray that our church will be a “light to the world.” I’m going to tell you what a young man wrote about the churches today. His comments are very interesting.

Someone gave me what he wrote. It was written by Jonathan Aigner. I don’t know who he is, but I agreed with a lot he said. It was an open letter to the churches. Jonathan is a millennial, a young person born from about 1988 to 2005. Jonathan is about 28 years old. He said, “I am one of those enigmatic, paradoxical, media-dependent, coffee-drinking young people swept together under this millennial umbrella. Except coffee tears up my stomach – so I dropped the stuff. I’ve always been in church. I’ve never left, though I’ve come close several times. But I was always a misfit. Always a skeptic. Always a doubter. Always an outsider. And those other kids I went to church with, I’ve come to find that many of them were misfits, skeptics, and doubters too. Some of them still go [to church], but more of them have left. Some of them left because they had no desire to conform to an outdated cultural norm that demanded we keep up appearances by parking our butts in our regular church pew. They didn’t believe, and didn’t believe they needed to pretend that they did. They left because they didn’t fit in, and couldn’t pretend anymore. They left because [they] had never been taught how to be part of the church. The programs won’t bring them back. The coffee won’t bring them back. The contemporary worship – nope, that won’t do it, either.

We don’t want to be entertained in church. Follow the simple yet profound formula that’s worked for the entire history of the church – Gathering [together], preaching, breaking bread [eating together], going forth in service. Give us a script to follow, give us songs to sing, give us the tradition of the church, give us Holy Scripture to read. Let us participate in the drama of the gospel. It’s not supposed to be fun.

Keep giving us entertainment and there’s no hope. You can’t compete. You’ll lose every time. Just be the church. Be yourself. Sing your regular old songs.

Save us from ourselves. We need each other. We need to look into the faces of old and young, rich and poor, of different colors, races, and ethnic backgrounds. That’s right, we need community, not bound together by age or skin color, but created with the hammering of nails on a wooden cross. We don’t need you to be a therapist, we need you to be the church. We need you to grapple with us, to push back.

It’s not too late, church, but your tactics aren’t working.

It’s time for a new strategy.

It’s time to be uncool. To be radical. To be different.

It’s time to be yourself.

   Your Friend,

                Jonathan.”

When I read what he said, it brought tears to my eyes. I know it seems weird to some of you to see an old man like me cry. Millennials don’t cry very much. I don’t care. I don’t fake it. When you see tears in my eyes it’s because I don’t care if you think it’s weird. At least you’ll know it’s real! I asked one of our young men if he thought I was acting when I preach. He thought for a second and then he said one word – “no.” And he said it quite strongly. That made my heart sing! I’m 75 years old. I shouldn’t really be leading this church – but I’m all you’ve got. I know the only possible way I can get through to you is by being completely honest. I can’t pal around with you! How can an old man like me be pals with kids who are teenagers and young adults? No matter how much I’d like to do it – I know we can never really be pals, or buddies, or whatever you call friends today. There will always be an age-barrier. The only possible way I can get through to you is by being completely honest. And I think most of you know that I am speaking from my guts when I preach to you. I almost said “from my heart” – but “guts” is better. I never tell you anything that I don’t really believe – even late at night when there’s nobody there but me. I can’t be cool. It would seem crazy if I even tried to be cool. All I can do is tell you what I really feel and what I really think.

I think a lot of what Jonathan said is true. And it is my life’s work to try and fix it! Yes, I agree with that boy when he said, “Save us from ourselves.” Yes, I agree with him, “We need each other.” Yes, he was right when he said, “We need you to grapple with us, to push back.” The only way I can do those things is to be honest and open my soul, and pour out what I’m feeling. My pen was moving as I wrote these words. This sermon is not homiletically correct. It is a stream of consciousness, pouring out on the pages before me in my study. Someone reading it will say, “That’s not great preaching.” I say, “To heck with great preaching.” I do not want to be a “great” preacher. There is only one thing I want to do. I want to be with you and help you trust Christ. That’s it! That’s my life’s work!

“Save us from ourselves.”

Yes! I know that’s how many of you feel. I will do everything I can to save you from yourself. I may even make you mad at me. I will risk having you mad at me if that’s what it takes to save you from yourself.

Yes, I agree with Jonathan, “We need each other.” Lord help me, I know you need that. So do I. I went to the Pho restaurant with you last Tuesday night. For a long time I thought Mr. Griffith had a crazy idea. It seemed like just another meeting. How wrong I was. Mr. Griffith got it exactly right. Close to sixty kids were there. Six or seven of them were new kids who had never been in our church. There was no program. Mr. Griffith just gave one of his pontifical series of unrelated thoughts – what I call “Griffithisms.” We ate the food. And then the kids stood around and talked. Griffith came over and whispered to me, “This is the most important part. They need to be in a crowd and talking to each other.” It went on for about forty minutes.

Oh, yes! That’s what you can hardly find anywhere else today! A friendly crowd of young people talking together. Jonathan said, “We need each other.” From now on I will be in almost all the Tuesday night Pho meetings. I won’t be there to preach. I’ll just be there to soak it up – just to feel you around me and hear your voices. An old man draws strength from hearing young people talk. He doesn’t need to say a thing. He just needs to sit there and soak in the energy and warmth. Notice how I sit on a chair outside the bookstore every Sunday. I’m just soaking in your energy. I need it. “We need each other.” We’ll do “Pho” again a week from next Tuesday!

Jonathan said, “We need you to grapple with us, to push back.” Yes! And I’ll do that too. If I think you are wrong, I’ll tell you. If I think you should do something, I will “push back.” Because I have lived three quarters of a century. It takes a lot of living – to know about living. I will “grapple” with you. I will “push back.”

One of our young men told me something I’ve been thinking about for days. He was talking about our text,

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).

He said that young people coming into our church see it as a shining city on a hill, referring to our text. He said they see our church as the answer to their problems.


1. They were very lonely, but in our church they have friends at last.

2. They had no real home life. But our church becomes for them a happy home.

3. They knew there was something wrong with the world, something unfulfilling about the world. And they came into our church as an alternate world.

4. They knew, to some extent at least, that there was something wrong with them.


So they are joyful to be here. They think of our church as a shining city on a hill.

But what about young people who were born in our church? Actually that’s what Jonathan is – a “church kid” – born and raised in the church. Church-kids are far less likely to see our church as a shining city on a hill. For one thing, this church didn’t begin to come to life until recently. They remember the “bad old days” – which really didn’t start to end until about 2012 and 2013. So they endured, dragging themselves along. You had to be a “loner” to make it back then. It’s hard for some of our “church kids” to see that this is a new day in our church. I don’t blame them. I can hardly believe it myself!

We see it, but we don’t see it. A long time ago I told you that a church is like a big ocean liner. A really big ship turns very slowly. That’s what happened to the Titanic. They saw the huge iceberg in front of them. They turned the ship as hard as they could to avoid hitting it. But it was too late. The ship turned too slowly – and so it scraped along the side of the Titanic. The water poured in – and a few hours later it sank.

A church turns very slowly – like a big ship. Thank God our church did not sink. It almost sank, but it didn’t. Yet our church was deeply scarred. Four hundred people got on lifeboats and left our ship. Only a few of us were left. We lost our friends. We had to walk alone. A young person had to be a loner to even stay with us.

We rolled around on the water. But it’s very hard to turn a church around. It takes years and years to do it. But in 2012 some new kids came and stayed. In 2013 a few more came and stayed. By 2014 we started to cook. In 2015 it was even better. And now they are coming.

The water was churning! But then I got cancer and it took the joy and fire out of me. The Devil told me I was going to die, and it clouded my mind, and I couldn’t think straight. I gained a lot of weight and started feeling like an old man. So I took my family on a vacation to Cancun. They were running around, looking at the Mayan ruins. I stayed alone and looked out over the ocean. I read a book about the great revival on the Isle of Lewis. Gradually I began to feel a little bit alive again. You may not know it, but I am essentially an introvert. Yes, I can speak and it seems like I’m an extrovert. But I always have been a person who gains more strength from being alone than by being in a crowd. I spend hours alone in my home office. I wrote most of this sermon after 3:00 in the morning. Alone there in Cancun God began to tell me that our church was going to live again.

A week after we got back from Cancun I started preaching every night. And in only eight weeks 14 people were hopefully converted. All of them were new kids. I hardly knew their names! They were rolling in! Then I asked a missionary to preach for us. Dr. David Ralston was so thrilled by our young people that he wrote on his Facebook page,

     I preached last night and this morning here in downtown Los Angeles at the Baptist Tabernacle, where Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr. is pastor. Amazing services, every seat filled, half the people looked under 30 years old!...Great spirit, with many amens and applause as the message is preached. Pastor Hymers’ sermons are read online by 120,000 computers in about 210 countries in 33 different languages, also seen on YouTube.
     I do not know of another gospel preacher who is reaching that many people, that consistently, all over the world.
     I think of this ministry like a modern-day Spurgeon’s.

We had an all-time high of 10,780 computers coming to our website in one day last week! In one day, 10,780 of them! An all-time high for one day! I invited Dr. Roland Rasmussen to preach on Easter Sunday morning and we had a great time. And the 14th person was saved – Robert Wang! Then on Easter Sunday night Danny Thomas and two friends came and sang lively Gospel songs and I preached with great liberty on “Visions in the Night – An Easter Sermon.” We had a terrific banquet afterwards. People didn’t want to leave. A Chinese mother came to see why her daughter loved coming here so much. She looked concerned about what her daughter was getting into. But at the end of the banquet she came up and hugged me. She said, “My daughter never smiled until she came to your church.” Aaron Yancy’s father was laughing and joking with me. All the girls gathered around me and took pictures – what they call “selfies” – for a half hour. It was great! On Tuesday night I went to Pho restaurant and nearly sixty young people were there to eat and hear Mr. Griffith pontificate! We gathered for prayer in a big circle behind the restaurant and prayed. It was wonderful. It was cold, but it was great! On Wednesday night over 25 of our young people went to a park together. My granddaughter Hannah Kim Hymers was born on Wednesday. Life started over again. Our church is really becoming a shining city on a hill!

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).

My life, my love I give to Thee,
   Thou Lamb of God who died for me;
O may I ever faithful be,
   My Saviour and my God!

Sing the chorus with me!

I’ll live for Him who died for me,
   How satisfied my life shall be!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
   My Saviour and my God!
(“I’ll Live For Him” by Ralph E. Hudson, 1843-1901;
      altered by Dr. Hymers).

Not only do I see what a treasure this church is now – I also see what this church ought to be, what it can be, and by the grace of God, what it will be! In the visions of the night I see every corner of this auditorium filled with young people! And in those visions I see the Spirit of God coming down in wave after wave of revival! I see the happy faces of young men and women who have found Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their Lord! In the night visions I see young people weeping and praying, and shouting for joy like the old-time Methodists, and the old-time Baptists did! I see young men surrendering their lives to be preachers of the Gospel – and some even going to foreign fields as missionaries for Jesus Christ! I see a mighty church, bursting at the seams – with the love of God streaming forth from this place to the dark corners of our nation, and our world! I see Christ Jesus lifted up and pouring down His love to hundreds upon hundreds of lost and lonely souls in all the world, through the ministry of this church! And in the night visions I can hear them singing,

I’ll live for Him who died for me,
   How satisfied my life shall be!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
   My Saviour and my God!

Sing it with me!

I’ll live for Him who died for me,
   How satisfied my life shall be!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
   My Saviour and my God!

Please stand and sing “Fill All My Vision.” It’s number four on your song sheet.

Fill all my vision, Saviour, I pray, Let me see only Jesus today;
   Though through the valley Thou leadest me, Thy fadeless glory encompasseth me.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision, every desire Keep for Thy glory; my soul inspire,
   With Thy perfection, Thy holy love, Flooding my pathway with light from above.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision, let naught of sin Shadow the brightness shining within.
   Let me see only Thy blessed face, Feasting my soul on Thy infinite grace.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.
(“Fill All My Vision” by Avis Burgeson Christiansen, 1895-1985).

Praise the holy name of Jesus! He died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He rose from the dead to give you eternal life. Turn to Jesus! Trust Him! He will save you now and for all eternity!

If you would like to speak with me, or Dr. Cagan, or John Cagan, please walk to the back of the auditorium now. Amen.


If this sermon blessed you Dr. Hymers would like to hear from you. WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Matthew 5:13-16.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Fill All My Vision” (by Avis Burgeson Christiansen, 1895-1985).