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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

The Darkness Before The Light

12/09 The Darkness Before the Light; Audio available at:

<<Griswold Christmas Lights (23 sec short clean version)>>

Christmas lights. Why are Christmas lights a thing? Why is there a whole aisle of just Christmas lights? We put them on our houses, on our trees, around our windows and doorways, all down main street, little twinkly Christmas lights everywhere. Why?

Here’s some verses in Luke that help us understand why. Zechariah prophesied over his son John:

Luke 1:76-79 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Matthew, in chapter 4, quotes the prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2.

Matthew 4:15-16 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

We are enamored by lights shining in the darkness, at least in part because it is an echo in our souls of our hope for a light to overcome the darkness. When you see all those twinkly lights this time of year, remember that there is a longing in every human soul for a light that will overcome our darkness.

Jesus came to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.

Deep Darkness in the World

This longing goes all the way back to the beginning

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

There’s this theme of darkness and light throughout the bible. God overcame the darkness at creation by his Spirit, by his Word. The light, he said, was good.

Already by chapter 3, man sinned and went his own way, and he hid from the light of God’s presence in the shadows of the garden.

Ever since, there has been this tension between the light and the darkness.

Darkness Linked with Death

Did you notice in those verses in Matthew and Luke that ‘darkness’ is synonymous with ‘the shadow of death’?

Luke 1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Matthew 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

The wages of sin is death. Because we are sinners, death looms over our entire lives. We live under the shadow of death. You never know. None of us know how long we have. We often distract ourselves from this reality – until some crisis or event crashes in and shatters our delusion, snapping us back to the reality that we are mortal. We are finite. Every moment, every breath is a gift. We live under a dark cloud. We dwell in a land of deep darkness. We sit in the shadow of death. Hence this longing in every heart for the light, to be out from the shadow, to see light overcome the darkness.

Blind To The Darkness

But before the light can be appreciated, welcomed, received, the darkness must be felt. This was the problem of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and it remains a problem for many in our day.

We live in denial. We refuse to believe that it’s really all that bad. We refuses to see the darkness.

We might agree and say ‘Yeah, it’s a really dark place out there. There’s really bad people doing horrible things and they need Jesus.’ If that’s what your find yourself saying, be careful, you might completely miss the meaning of Christmas. You might completely miss it and miss out. You see, Jesus came to be the light in a dark place. He entered in to the darkness. If you are saying ‘those people over there really need the light of Jesus’ you are putting yourself into a different category. ‘What they are doing over there, that’s really dark. But not me. I’m not in the dark. I can see just fine.’ Be careful, you are saying ‘I don’t need Jesus.’

Jesus was not very kind to hypocrites and finger pointers. He had sharp words for those who looked down on others and thought too highly of themselves.

John 9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

The worst kind of blindness is when you think you can see and refuse the gift of sight that is offered to you. Jesus came to offer sight to the blind, but those that deny that they are blind refuse to receive his healing.

You see, it’s not just dark out there. It’s dark in here. It’s dark inside, in me. My heart is the problem. My heart is dark. I need Jesus.

Reaction to Light; Rejection and Hatred

We don’t often notice just how dark it is until the light gets turned on. Our eyes adjust. We get used to the dark. We get comfortable in the dark. You’ve been in a room that slowly gets darker and darker and you don’t notice it, until someone walks in and flips a light switch and bam! Blazing light! What’s your reaction? Turn it off! Turn it off! It hurts! I was comfortable in the dark.

We all have this deep longing in our hearts for light to overcome the darkness, and Jesus is the light of the world, but there is always a reaction when the light gets turned on.

We looked last time at John 1, where Jesus the eternal Word, who was with God in the beginning and who was God, became human and entered our world. We are told of Jesus in verse 4:

John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …7 [John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

You see, Jesus coming into the world as light says something about the world. It says something offensive about me. Jesus the light coming into the world says that the world is a dark place. And it is a dark place because it is made up of sinners dwelling in deep darkness. The world is a dark place because my heart is dark. This is offensive. I don’t like to be told that my heart is wicked. That my heart is deceitful. I don’t like to be told that I’m blind, that I’m living in utter darkness. That’s offensive.

We looked last time at John 3:16, where God gave us his only Son. John 3:19 says

John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

We are not just in the dark. We love the dark. We have this love affair with darkness. We are ashamed and afraid and we don’t want to be exposed, so we hide in the shadows. We don’t want anyone to see what we are really like. We know we don’t measure up.

Do you see what this is saying? The light has come into the world; Jesus has come into the world. And we love the darkness and hate the light. We hate Jesus. ‘Whoa! That sounds harsh. I don’t know if I would say it like that.’ Jesus says it exactly like that. ‘I wouldn’t say I hate Jesus; I respect him as a great man, a great teacher, a prophet.’ You can’t say that. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘he has not left that option open to us.’ He claimed to be God. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic …or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. …you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” [Mere Christianity]. Jesus divides. You are either for him or against him. You either hate him or you fall at his feet and worship him. You can claim to respect him as a great man, but that’s not being intellectually honest. If you believe in him, you must receive him completely, as he is, everything he says. And that includes some really painful things to swallow. Receiving him as the light of the world means confessing that my heart is dark, wicked, desperately wicked.

Jesus The Exclusive Light of the World

Notice, Jesus says the light has come into the world, the true light.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Jesus does not claim to be a light in the world, one among many. He is the light – the only true light of the world. Jesus is exclusive. You follow Jesus or you are in darkness.

Jesus Only; Not Jesus Plus

In Matthew 17, some of Jesus’ disciples got a glimpse of his glory.

Matthew 17:1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail th’ incarnate deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” [Hark! the Herald Angels Sing -C.Wesley]. For a moment, as it were, the curtains were drawn back and the pre-incarnate glory of the Son of God blazed out. The light of the world was so bright in that moment, they couldn’t look at his face.

Matthew 17:3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Moses, the one to whom the Law was given, the author of the Torah, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets were there speaking with Jesus. Peter thinks this is great. Three of his heroes; Moses, Jesus, Elijah. We should just camp out, get autographs, bask in the glory. Peter wanted to honor these three, enshrine these three. But the Father would have none of it. He thundered from heaven interrupting Peter before he could finish his thought, putting him on his face.

Matthew 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

What was the message that came through crystal clear to the disciples as their faces were pressed against the dirt? God does not share his glory. Jesus is the only Son of the Father. He is not one among the prophets, givers of God’s word; he is the Word. He alone is to be honored. He alone is to be listened to. He alone is the light of the world. The Law and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament, Jesus said, was pointing to him. It is all about him. Jesus did not come to abolish the law or the prophets; he came to fulfill it. All the scriptures find their answer in Jesus. It is not Jesus plus the law, Jesus plus the prophets; It is Jesus only. We do not enshrine three lights, three great teachers; Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Moses and Elijah were anticipating Jesus, pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the only, the unique Son of the Father. Jesus is the light.

He took our Darkness and Night

We all have this deep longing for a light to overcome the darkness. At Jesus’ last supper, when Satan had entered in to the betrayer, when Judas left, John tells us “And it was night” (Jn.13:30). This is more than just a description of what time it was. Jesus had said in John 9

John 9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

I am the light of the world. But night is coming. Judas went out. And it was night. Later, in the garden, when Judas kissed Jesus to identify him to the authorities,

Luke 22:52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This is your hour, and the power of darkness. Jesus could have blinded the crowd with a blaze of transfiguration glory, but instead, he allowed himself to be seized, led away, ultimately to be crucified.

Luke 23:44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Jesus, the light of the world, endured darkness for me. Matthew tells us:

Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus took my darkness, he fell under the shadow of death, he was made to be sin (2Cor.5:21); He bore our sins in his body on the tree (1Pet.2:24). The light of the world conquered the darkness by being extinguished by it. He was swallowed up by the darkness, and in doing so, he swallowed up death forever!

The Necessity of The New Birth to See

The light of the world came, but he was not received. He was hated.

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How is it that we receive him? How is it that we see him for who he is? We are blind to our own darkness and need of him. Those who receive him are those who were born of God by the will of God. God caused us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3).

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We sinned. We hid from the light of God’s presence in the darkness. God overcomes the darkness in our hearts by his Spirit, by his Word.

Acts 26:27 …I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

God’s word and his Spirit opens blind eyes.

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe you see, maybe for the first time, that you are in the dark, and the only light is Jesus. May God open your eyes to the truth of who he is. May God by his Spirit and through his word shine in your heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Receive him today. Believe in his name.

December 13, 2018 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment