The Gift Of LightErwin W. Lutzer | December 20, 1998
Selected highlights from this sermon
Light versus darkness is a motif used throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. As we read through the Gospels and Epistles, we learn that in order to permanently defeat the dark realm of Satan, light had to enter the world. That light is Jesus Christ.
Through Jesus, our spiritual lives can flourish. We are able to navigate our difficult paths in this world. However, God’s light is not always comfortable. He often exposes what we try to hide in the darkness. But it is only when we come to the light that the darkness flees and we can experience true fellowship with God.
I have often wondered, as perhaps you have as well, whether or not someone coming to this planet from outer space during the Christmas season, and parking his flying saucer in the Daley Plaza, would ever come to any understanding at all as to what Christmas was really all about. He might assume that it’s a time of busyness, a time of buying, a time of selling and a time for friendships, but I wonder if he would be able to uncover the real meaning of the Christmas story.
Now there are different ways that we can describe it. If you’ve been a part of our services during the last weeks you know that we spoke on Christ – The Gift of Life (“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”) and Christ – The Gift of Love (God is love - “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to die for us.”) And today we speak on Christ – The Gift of Light.
For example, it says in chapter 1 of John’s Gospel (and you can turn there if you wish) that Jesus Christ came as the light. Today I am going to speak on a number of different passages. It will be a topical message. I will be quoting some verses. We may be looking at only two or three, but I’m thinking of John 1:3. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Verse 4, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Now you need to understand that in the Bible the words light and darkness are a motif that is played throughout the entire New Testament. For example, in the book of Matthew it says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And those who have sat in the shadow of death, light has come to them.” You need to understand that those words darkness and light don’t just simply refer to the absence of light, but darkness rather is a realm. Satan is the prince of darkness.
In the Old Testament remember during the time of Moses the plagues came to Egypt. It said that there was a darkness that could be felt. We’re talking about a moral and spiritual darkness. In fact, there are various ways that that darkness can be described. First of all, there is emotional darkness. It says in Isaiah 9 that there shall be no more gloom for those who are situated in the region because Jesus Christ is come. It’s a prediction of the coming of Christ, but fulfilled in Matthew 4 where Jesus went about healing all the sick and casting out demons. Light had come, but there was gloom before Christ came.
Today I speak to some of you who are going through those times of gloom. I speak to those of you who are going through a time of difficulty and there seems to be such emotional heaviness on your soul, and you are in despair because you don’t see where there might be hope. Christ has a word for you.
There is emotional darkness. There is also moral darkness. It says in 1 John that if we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another, but if we walk in sin, we walk in darkness, and do not walk with God.
You look at all of the addictions that we read about today. They take place in the darkness. They are usually secret and the more secret they are the tighter the chains become. Darkness! And there may be some of you here who are in the shadows of darkness, and you wonder if there is any possibility of coming to the light, having a clear conscience and walking with God. Well, the Christmas story has something to say to us because Christ came to bring light.
There is religious darkness. Remember Jesus said in John 9, “I am come that those who do not see might be able to see, and that those who think they see might be made blind.” He was talking about the religious leaders because they didn’t acknowledge their blindness. Therefore He did not give them light. He did not give them sight.
Years ago my wife and I were in the Shedd Aquarium here in Chicago. You see all of these weird fish. By the way, have you ever seen how many weird fish God decided to create? I want to be reverent here but I’ve seen some of them and as I walked by I said, “Lord, what in the world were you thinking?” (laughter) Some of them have eyes but the eyes are closed. Now some of these fish can tell the difference between light and darkness, but they can’t see anything specific. It’s sort of like the general store that I grew up next to. It was a general store so it didn’t have anything specific. Obviously I am going too fast for some of you. (laughter)
You know, there are religious people like that. They swim around in their aquarium. They say to themselves, “We can tell light from darkness.” Unfortunately, though they have glimmers of light, they do not see. And if you tell them, “Look, leave your aquarium. Come to another aquarium and let Jesus Christ open your eyes and He’ll give you light,” they think to themselves, “Well surely we already have that light.” And so they remain in darkness. There may be some like that that I am speaking to today. Religiously you are in darkness.
Now even in the Old Testament already God was spoken of as a God of Light. For example in the book of Malachi the Scripture says, “When I sit in darkness the Lord shall be a light unto me.” Psalm 27 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
But with the coming of Jesus Christ, instead of all these flashlights, as it were, what you have now is the blazing light of God. The glory of God was seen, and even the imagery there, as we talk about the Christmas story and the angels coming to the shepherds, they shined the light, again symbolic of the coming of Jesus Christ. And John says, “We beheld His glory.” As long as we are in this body we will never see God more clearly than we see Him in Jesus Christ.
What I’d like to do for the next few moments, and my remarks will be brief, is to give you three reasons why light is so desperately necessary, and why the coming of Christ therefore was so necessary.
First of all, it is because light is essential to life. You’ll notice that the text that we read in John says, “And the life was the light of men.” You find that over and over again John particularly connects light and life. Why? There is no such thing as life without light. All that you need to do is to take the plants that you have in your house, and instead of having them by the window (assuming that they aren’t plastic plants) you take them and you put them into a dark basement and you simply leave them there in the dark. And you’ll soon see that they will not grow. They will die.
There would be no bananas, no oranges and no apples if it were not for light. The whole photosynthesis, the process that God created where you have these various chemicals being transformed with radiant energy, particularly with light and giving life and energy, would stop. Now don’t miss the analogy. Just like we need the sun for physical life, in the very same way, we need the Son of God for spiritual life.
One day a skeptic said to a Christian, “What advantage is there to being a Christian?” He said, “The sun shines on me just as it shines on you.” And the Christian very wisely said, “But I have two suns. I have the sun that shines on my body, but I also have the Son that shines in my soul.” Some of you have never experienced that, and you don’t understand the wonder of having a clear conscience, of knowing God, having a purpose in life because suddenly you have been connected to the Almighty God. And it isn’t just simply eternal existence. It is eternal life. “I came that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” and you can’t have that life without light.
Years ago we used to sing a song that I don’t even think is in our hymnal. But some of you are old enough to remember it.
The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin.
The light of the world is Jesus.
Like sunshine at noonday His glory shone in.
The light of the world is Jesus.
Oh come to that light, ‘tis shining for thee.
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
Once I was blind, but now I can see,
The light of the world is Jesus.
Would you remember that no light – no life; no sun – no life; no Son of God – no spiritual life.
Let me give you a second reason why light is so important. It’s because light is essential for guidance. I’m thinking here of John 8:12 where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” By the way, did not notice how light and life were connected again? But what He’s saying is, “If you follow Me you will not stumble because I am walking in the light, and I will ask that you walk with Me in that light.”
Years ago out on the farm when I was a little boy we used to go from the house to the barn, and we had a couple hundred yards to walk maybe, but we’d always used a lantern in the night, particularly in the winter. And the lantern didn’t give you enough light so that you could see all the way where you were going, but ten or fifteen feet around you. It was enough so that you could take the next step, and as you carried the lantern it took you all the way there because as you walked, the light kept coming along with you.
Now there’s a very interesting verse in Proverbs, and I’ve often pondered it. It says, “The way of the wicked is darkness. They do not know over what they stumble.” What a remarkable passage of Scripture! You see, if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are walking in darkness. Now you can see physically, and you think to yourself that you have life figured out but no matter where you go, no matter what you try to do, no matter what new pleasure you try to integrate into your experience, it always ends up being empty and it has a bad aftertaste because you are looking for something that cannot be found in the dark. Some things can only be found in the light. And for the peace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, you must come to Him. You must come to the light.
But notice that the text says that they do not know that over which they stumble. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen people lurch from one sin to another, from one marriage to another, from one pleasure to another, and what they are really looking for is somehow that fulfillment for which they were created, but because they are looking in the wrong places it cannot be found, and they continue to walk in darkness. But their problem is compounded because they think that the darkness is light, and they can’t tell the difference.
You know the Scripture says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” When you come to Jesus Christ you know where you began and you’ll know where you end up because the whole way you walk in light.
Light is essential, first of all, for life. It is also essential for guidance, and third it is essential for fellowship. If you want to you can turn to the passage but it’s found in 1 John. I’ll simply quote it and you may know it by memory. It says, “If we walk in the light as He (that is God) is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Light is essential for fellowship, and the reason is very clear because God is light. In fact, John says, “In Him there is no darkness at all.”
In every one of us there is some darkness, but as we come to the light and we expose our lives to Him and we open up all the secret closets where we have all of those things hidden that continue to bring darkness to our souls, it is then that we walk with God, because we walk in light. Now Jesus said in John 3 that people do not love the light. He said that the light comes and there are those who do not love the light because their deeds are evil, but the people who love the light come to it and they discover that their deeds are really wrought. Those deeds have their origin, I should say, in God.
Now you know that walking in the light is difficult. It’s because we want to keep our private lives hidden. We do not want to be honest with others, and we don’t even want to be honest with ourselves or with God. And so we say to ourselves, “I want to be king of the castle. I do not want God’s light to come in.” And that’s why Jesus said that men hate the light and they love the darkness because under cover you can do things that you wouldn’t want to do in the daylight.
No matter what you think of President Clinton, the simple fact is that his response was the response of natural human beings. That does not mean that it was a right response, but you see, shame makes liars out of us. Shame leads us to all kinds of deceptions. Shame causes those deceptions to grow within our souls, and if we never expose it to the light, to the light of God (and oftentimes to the light of others), we discover those bondages, and those addictions and those sins. And the Scripture says that we must walk in light.
You know, of course, I’ve told you before that I was reared on a farm, born about five miles from a town of 75 people. Its population has not grown much since then. I think it is now down to 25, but it was a little town. It was one of those, you know, you’ve heard me say where the mayor and the village idiot were the same person it was so small. (laughter) It did have one street lamp. Now as kids, if we ever got to go to this town in the evening (and you can imagine it was buzzing with activity), we noticed that if we were far from that street lamp there would be a long, long shadow behind us, but as we kept walking and walking and got closer to the lamp, and even when we finally got under the lamp, there was almost no shadow. Suddenly with that light shining right on us you could look around and no shadow was to be found.
Years ago there was a book written entitled Out of the Shadows. It had to do with various addictions that people get themselves into. So listen very carefully. The closer we get to Jesus Christ, the light, the less darkness, the less shadows, and the more direct communion and fellowship with God who is light. I urge you today to come to the light.
I think of that woman in a third world nation where people always went to the river to wash clothes. And she had this huge bundle of clothes, but the clothes were so dirty that when she got to the river instead of taking the bundle apart, she was so embarrassed because other women were washing clothes there as well, she just took the whole bundle and kept dipping it in the river, and then she took it back home that way. And that’s the way we are sometimes. God brings various sins to our attention, various kinds of things that need to be exposed to the light, and what we do is we hide them and keep them to ourselves, and we say, “There’s no way I can expose this to God. There’s no way I can give this to Him.” Oh yes, you can. And in walking in the light there is life and there is guidance, and there is fellowship.
How can we summarize all this today at a time when we are thinking about Christmas, and we are thinking about the Lord Jesus Christ coming as the light of the world?
First of all, I need to remind you that light and darkness cannot coexist. They can’t be together. Paul says in the book of Corinthians very clearly, “What fellowship is there between light and darkness?” You can’t have two of them. You can have the darkest cave imaginable, but no matter how dark that cave is, when the flashlight is turned on the darkness cannot protest and say, “You will not dissipate us. We will not leave.” It must leave.
You’ve heard me say before that when you go into Ace Hardware you can buy a flashlight. But darkness has no power of its own. You can’t buy a “flash dark.” You can’t say, “You know, we have too much sunshine in our home and there are times when I just don’t like all this light coming through. Do you have a ‘flash dark’ so that I could just shine some darkness in the light?” You can’t do that. But you can buy a flashlight with the energy of the batteries and the bulb and all those gismos that work together, and as a result of that, once the light shines, the darkness must leave because light is intolerant of darkness.
There are some of you who perhaps are like fungus on the walls of a cave. You are living in darkness. You may be in moral entanglements, in spiritual entanglements or in religious entanglements. Or you may even be a Christian and it’s just a neglect of God, and all of the darkness begins to creep upon your soul, and it’s time for you to come out of the shadows under the light of God. And it’s time for you to understand that even Satan, if there is one thing that he hates, it is the light. He always works undercover.
And when God saves us it says, “He who spoke light into existence.” You remember that God who caused the light to shine out of darkness is the one who has shined in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is defined as God bringing light to the soul and reality, so that we are no longer deceiving ourselves and others because we finally are revealed for who we are in the presence of God, who will go on loving us anyway as long as we acknowledge our sins and come to Him. Darkness and light cannot coexist.
Secondly, even when we walk in darkness, God does see us and the darkness is like light to Him. “Thou has searched me and known me,” the Psalmist says and then he goes on to talks about how God watches and sees all things. He says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” And then he says, “Even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” I’d like to remind you that God already sees you. Even as you walk in darkness He knows all of those hidden places that we have kept from Him.
Robert Fulghum in his book All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, said that in October the children would often play hide and seek. And then, he says, there was always one in the group who would hide so well that no one could find him. And eventually everybody gave up because they said, “Who knows where he is?” He says, “As I write this, the neighborhood game goes on, and there’s a kid under the pile of leaves under the window where I am. He’s been there for a long time and everyone else has been found, and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going over to the base and telling them where he is hiding. I thought even that maybe I should just set the leaves on fire.” He says, “Finally, I just opened the window and yelled, ‘Kid, get found.’” He said, “The kid was so frightened he ran away crying, probably all the way home.”
You know, there are some of you who ought to just get found. Come to the light. Come to Jesus Christ. The Bible says that the reason that He came is not that He just might be a baby in a manager as we think about at Christmas time.
Later on He said, “I am the light of the world. He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness.” He says, “If you follow Me you will not stumble because we’ll walk together in the light.” And in the light of honesty and truthfulness, it is there that we discover fellowship with God. And the very thing that we abhor, namely the light, is the very thing that can give us life and forgiveness and cleansing, and the Christmas story plays itself out as Jesus Christ comes to live in our hearts and become the light of life.
There’s a story I read this past week of a man who was a miser, and as he was dying even, he said to his daughter as he whispered with weakness of breath, “Blow that candle out.” And she said, “Well, Daddy, I want to keep it burning because you might need something,” and he said, “I don’t need light to die.” And that’s true. You don’t.
If you don’t have light to die, you know the Bible says you will be in outer darkness. Now that’s the imagery again. Outer darkness means cut off from God. It means living with all of those deceptions revealed, but having no answer for them. It means living forever cut off from fellowship with God and the love of God, and that is what it is to die in darkness. What a terrible, terrible tragedy! Don’t die that way, and don’t live that way. I urge you to come to Christ.
I read again the text that we began with. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness,” but unfortunately in the lives of many, the darkness has not understood it. Moral darkness, emotional darkness, religious darkness! Come to the light. That’s the message of Christmas.
Let’s bow for prayer.
Our Father, we want to thank You today because You have been faithful to us. You have loved us. You sent Jesus to die for us. You sent Him to show us who we are that we might know who You are and that we might walk with You all the days of our life. Oh Father, we ask that You shall give us the grace to come to the only One who can forgive us and cleanse us, the only One who can show us the reality of our sin, and then pour grace in our hearts. For those who are running, for those who are hiding, Father, today, may they get found.
Before I close this prayer, those of you who do not know Christ as Savior, why don’t you just talk to Him and say, “Lord Jesus, please save me. Today I come to the light. It’s painful but I need it.”
For those of you who are listening as Christians, and all kinds of shadows have grown up in your life because you’ve walked away from the lamp, come under the lamp. Come to the light. Let God cleanse you and make you whole.
Father, do in us and through us all that You would desire. We worship the Christ Child. We worship Him as Savior and Lord and King and the God of all light. Amen.