Scripture Reference: John 3
The Light Reveals UsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 6, 2015
Scripture Reference: John 3
Selected highlights from this sermon
Nicodemus, filled with fear and shame, visited Jesus at night. Jesus confronted him with a series of truths that unveiled and exposed the human condition—our love of darkness.
But the Light has come to break us out of that darkness. Jesus came declaring the truth and the way to God. He entered the darkness and suffered in order that we may enjoy the light of God’s presence.
Do you remember back in 2012 when on the news there was that story about a TSA agent who stole a computer, and the news media, in order to catch him, set up a sting? It was a trap. They took various computers and put it through at the airport screening, and on those computers there was a tracking device, and there also was a buzzer. So they tracked it to this man who was 30 miles from the Orlando Airport. And they entered his house and they said, “You know, we’re looking for a computer that was taken from the airport. Did you take it?” Oh no! “You’re sure you don’t have it?” Oh no, no! And they said, “Well, why don’t you check your house again. We’re going to set off a buzzer so you can find it very easily.”
So the thing buzzes. He shows up at the door, gives them the iPad. And they said, “Well, you said that you didn’t take this from the airport.” He said, “My wife took it from somewhere. I don’t know where she got it but she said that she did it.”
Genesis 3 all over again! (laughter) First of all, you deny it as long as you possibly can, and when you can deny it no longer, you blame someone else, and in context what you do is you begin to minimize it and say, “Well, it really wasn’t that big a deal.” Human nature!
We think, for example, of the police video. The police said one thing in their reports, and then when the video was seen, it was quite different actually. Have you ever thought of the number of lies, of thefts, of deceits, of mates who are unfaithful to one another, all of which is done that nobody ever knows about? It is never reported. It is never referred to. It just lies in darkness.
You may be wondering what the thesis of my message is today. I’ll give it to you upfront. Truth hurts, but lies hurt even more. Would you join me today in John 3, and that’s the book of John, which has 21 chapters. Follow along with me.
A man by the name of Nicodemus comes to Jesus and he comes at night. Very significant! And he comes at night because he doesn’t want to be shamed and he does not want the Jews to know that he is coming because Jesus was despised, and so he was filled with fear. Fear and shame made him come in the dark. Jesus didn’t chide him for that. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, come to me in broad daylight when everybody sees you.”
It’s alright to investigate Jesus in the dark. Now, eventually he is going to come to the light, by the way, but that will take a little while. And so Jesus dialogs with him, just like some of you may be investigating Christianity, and you are perhaps even anonymous. You don’t want anybody to know the fact that you are investigating the possibility of what Jesus is all about, and that’s fine. But what Jesus tells him is some incredible truth. It is an unbelievable discourse in John’s Gospel. For example, it leads us to John 3:16, the passage of Scripture that most assuredly is known to all of us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That was said to Nicodemus that night. I’m sure glad that Nicodemus did come to Jesus.
And by the way, speaking about the love of God, we must understand something, and that is that it has nothing to do with our ability to deserve it, to earn it. It is simply God’s sovereign choice to love, independently of our performance or our worthiness.
God says, “Why did I choose Israel? Is it because you were bigger than all the other tribes and all the other countries? No!” He said, “Is it because you were more loving? No, you are a stiff-necked people, but I simply chose to love you. Period.” And that’s the love that God has for us, and once we get past John 3:16, you’ll notice that it is not Jesus who came into the world to condemn the world. Now, eventually He is going to judge the world, but He is not coming in order to condemn the world at that particular point. Why? It’s because the world was condemned already. That’s what the text says: “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he did not believe in the name of the only Son of God.” So Jesus came to a world of condemnation. We were already condemned because of our sin so it certainly wasn’t because we were lovable that He loved us. No! And we must keep that in mind as we think about the love of God.
Now, having said that, what I want us to do is to look at what Jesus Christ has to say about light, because after all, this is a series of messages entitled The Light Has Come. You’ll notice in verse 19: “And this is the judgment (this is the verdict): the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 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.”
Let’s look at this passage now very particularly. First of all, we see it there in verse 19. Light has come into the world. Let’s count the number of words. Light has come into the world. Six words, and that’s a summary of what Christmas is all about. Light has come. That means, of course, truth has come into the world. Jesus is the truth. It means that purity has come into the world. It means that there is a way out of the darkness because He’s the way, the truth and the life.
A young artist was painting a picture and it was very dark, and perhaps you’ve seen this back in the days when people would do chalk talks, or chalk paintings. They would paint very, very dark clouds, and then suddenly with a stroke they painted light and a road. One artist said to a young man, “Never paint a dark picture unless there’s a road leading out.” Jesus is the way to hope and to help.
So the light has come. We no longer have to work in darkness, and light tests us because the text says that it is both loved and hated. Let’s talk for a moment about the fact that it says, “The people loved the darkness.” And that’s you and me.
Today as I speak I’m not pointing my finger at anyone particularly, because we’re all part of the folks who love darkness rather than light. And you’ll notice it says: “Those who do wicked things (and now it becomes a little stronger) actually hate the light.” Now you may argue with me. You may say, “I don’t hate the light. I don’t know Christ as Savior. I don’t receive Him but I love the light. I’d rather have peace than violence. I’d rather have justice than injustice. I’d rather have love than hate.” I get that, but what Jesus does is shines His light farther - all the way to the Gentiles, by the way. It says in the Old Testament that He is also a light to the Gentiles. It shines farther, it shines brighter, and it shines deeper into our souls.
Jesus asked the questions, “Why is there any injustice? Why is there this lack of peace? Why is there hate instead of love?” And so He begins to probe the human heart, and what He finds is not encouraging, though eventually in this message there is going to be massive amounts of grace.
But for now, let’s look into the human heart. You think, for example, of Jesus, as He stands there and gives the Sermon on the Mount. And what He says is, “You think that you have to go out and kill somebody to be a murderer, but if you hate your brother, you are already a murderer.” And “You think that you have to go out and commit adultery. Listen, if you lust for a woman within your heart, you’ve already committed adultery.” And “If you give your gift in church in such a way that you want to be seen and admired, you’re actually a hypocrite because all that you are doing is managing your image.” And so what Jesus did was He probed into the human heart in such a way, and we don’t like that kind of light, do we?
Now, if you talk about people who actually walk in darkness, we oftentimes (all of us) have retreated into the darkness because darkness can be a safe place. It can be a place sometimes where we get out of a jam, like the boy said in Sunday school, “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord, but a very present help in time of trouble.” (laughter) Darkness sometimes is comforting to us. But if you persist in your darkness what will happen is you will not even recognize it as darkness anymore. You’ll think that you are walking in the light.
You know, Rebecca and I have a friend who works in Bloomingdale’s who sends us beautiful perfume, and oftentimes sends me some cologne with fancy names that I can’t pronounce. I was looking at one this morning. It seemed to be Dolas & Gabbana (Dolce and Gabbana) probably flown in from Paris (laughter). Now I’m a farm boy. That, at least, is where I grew up, and some of you who were brought up in the city never really smelled a skunk in your life (laughter). I’m serious. You’ve driven along a road and, you know, it smelled, and you said, “Oh, that’s a skunk,” but you know, you’re beyond it.
Listen, I know what it’s like to be close to a skunk that considers me to be an enemy. (laughter) It is so debilitating you almost choke. Now do you think that the skunk is having a problem with what he’s emitting? I don’t think so. He says, “I’m just opening my bottle of Dolas & Gabbana.” (laughter) Have you met people like that? You see, what happens is we do not notice our own darkness, but we notice the darkness of others with clarity and with deep conviction.
How can you tell if someone is walking in darkness? First of all, they have a very critical spirit and the reason for that, you see, is if they can cut other people down, if they can show other people’s faults, what they are really saying is, “This person is more at fault than I am. I would never do that.” It’s covering their darkness and making up for their own emptiness.
And then they become very defensive. You know, they are the kind of people… Boy, you’d better think through about how you’re going to approach them because they will dig in their heels, and they will defend themselves until the facts are so strong that they may have to give in. But meanwhile they protect their darkness.
You know, why is it that we do that? Yesterday at the church here we had a marvelous lecture by a man by the name of Jerry Root, who is an expert on C. S. Lewis, and his topic was humility. Well, you know, I sometimes jokingly say, “I have a great message on humility. The problem is I haven’t found a crowd big enough to preach it to.” (laughter)
But what he said is that at root, the reason that we like our darkness and want to defend it is because we do not believe that we are radically loved and radically known at the same time. He said that if we really believed that He who knows us fully loves us completely, then it wouldn’t really matter. You know, we wouldn’t be threatened when our darkness is exposed because we’d say, “Here I am if I’m loved by God…” And you think of John 17 where Jesus is speaking about the elect, and He says regarding them, “Thou has loved them as Thou has loved Me, and Thou loves Me from before the foundation of the world.” If that could actually sink into our souls, then we would not be threatened when our darkness is exposed. And so Jesus said, “People love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil,” and He goes on to say that those who do wicked things actually hate the light.
You parents who sent a kid to college (you sent that child to university), and the child writes back and says, “Mom and Dad, I’m no longer going to church, no longer going to Bible studies because I’m an atheist now. I don’t believe in God.” Well, isn’t that interesting? And then the child will probably go on to give you reasons why. “I can’t believe in the miracles. The Bible has contradictions. It is an ancient book that has all of its roots in culture that doesn’t apply today,” and on and on it goes. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus gives an entirely different explanation for why they have left the light? And that is because their deeds are evil. It is a moral explanation.
I don’t at all discount the intellectual problems that some people have with Christianity, because there are problems, and working through that is something that we as a church are committed to helping you do. But at the same time, at root, oftentimes it is a moral issue. We hate the light. That’s why Huxley made the statement that the reason that we accepted Darwinism with practically no proof is, and I’m quoting now: “We did not want a God to interfere with our sexual mores.” So Jesus said, “That’s the reason that people love darkness rather than light.”
Now let’s go on for a moment and notice that the positive aspect is this: There are people who really are the light lovers. Verse 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.” Please don’t read this and think, “Well, this is where all the goody saints are. They are always under the light because all of their deeds are so wonderful.” You see, the way in which you get into verse 21 is you have to leave the darkness and you have to come into the light. And when you come into the light there is cleansing. There is forgiveness. There’s the acknowledgment of darkness. There’s the recognition that within us there may be certain closets that we have closed, and sometimes that darkness is not because of what we have done but because of what others have done to us. Either way, Jesus is saying, “Become a light lover, and if you do, be exposed in My presence for all that you are, and I will give you light.” What a gift that God has given to us at Christmastime!
Now how do we nail all of this down for us? First of all, could I say a couple of bottom lines here? First of all, we have to understand that Jesus experienced darkness so that we could walk in light. He experienced darkness. You know the Bible says that when Jesus was crucified, and when He cried out and said, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” darkness came across the whole earth. And there are several reasons for that darkness. God says in effect, “What is happening here no man can understand.” No man can see as our sin was placed on Jesus and He paid our debt.
But Jesus is saying, “Because I experienced darkness, and fellowship with the Father was even broken, not ontologically but in terms of the fellowship with the Father, you now can be exposed to the light. You don’t have to walk in darkness. And I am willing to go into your life in the various closets of your existence, the things that you have been hiding, the cisterns that have been closed and walled off. Just know that when you walk in there I come with you, and in the process your darkness will disappear.”
When I was out on the farm growing up we did not have electricity for many years. In November of 1952 electricity came to our farm, and I know that not because I review that date every once in a while. I just know how significant it was. I remember the days when we were able to take our lanterns and hang them up in the barn and say, “We don’t need these lanterns anymore.” We as kids used to flip the light switch just to remind ourselves that we didn’t have to light a lamp in the old kitchen any more. Electricity was a tremendous miracle, but one of the things it did was… On the farm here’s the house and here’s the barn. Right in between the two we had a huge yard light. I remember the bulb was 200 watts I think – something like that.
But we, as kids, used to play tag at night under the yard light. What we noticed was that the farther we were from the yard light, the longer our shadows. In fact, there were times when our shadows just went off into space. We couldn’t even trace them anymore. Darkness! But the closer we came to the light, and the closer we stood under that bulb, the shorter and shorter and shorter the shadows became until standing there we’d try to look down and see if there was any shadow at all. And there would be, but it would be very small.
To those of you today who are in your darkness, come to the light. Jesus will take the shadows of your life. He will give you hope because what He said is, “Because I endured darkness, you can enjoy walking in light.” And “If we walk in the light at He is in the light, we and God have fellowship one with another.” God has fellowship with us. We have fellowship with God. I urge you today to come to the light.
Second, I think what we must do is to realize that we must see the light, but for most of us we also have to feel the heat. You see, that man that I began this message with, who lied to the investigators regarding stealing the iPad, lied, lied, lied until he couldn’t take it anymore. Once they set off the buzzer on the iPad he had to produce it.
Today, as I preach this message, there may be a buzzer that is going off in your heart, and that buzzer is reminding you of issues that have never been brought to the light. And, you see, it is when we so begin to hate our darkness that we come to Jesus. And do you know what the Bible says? Jesus will do for us what He did for Nicodemus, and we know He did it for Nicodemus.
Paul says that we are translated from the kingdom of darkness (and there is a kingdom of darkness that is huge) into the kingdom of His blessed Son. And you see, it only happens when we experience the conviction of sin. And there are some of you here whom God brought to this church today that you might respond to Jesus, that you might say, “I just cannot manage my darkness any longer; I want to come to the light.” So we must keep in mind that that is true. Truth hurts but lies hurt even more.
Finally what we must understand is, and I’ve already hinted at it, only God can bring us from darkness to light. This is not something that you can do. It’s not a matter of saying to yourself, “Well, I’m going to walk in the light today, and I’m going to make some New Year’s resolutions that I am going to keep, and thanks to behavior modification, I am going to change and I’m going to be different.” No, you won’t. With enough time you’ll revert back to form. You’ll be the same person you always were. The Bible puts it very starkly and asks the question, “Can a leopard change its spots?” And the answer is no, and nor can you and I pull ourselves out of darkness unless God does it.
When Jesus was discussing this with Nicodemus, you remember what he said. He said, and I didn’t take the time to read it, but it’s there, “Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” This new birth is a birth from above. It isn’t produced because of human effort. It isn’t a matter of human will power. It is a gift of God, and if God is speaking to you today, you can respond to that Holy Spirit that is convicting you of your darkness, and you can come to light, and Jesus will transform you and bring you from one kingdom to another.
I told you at the beginning that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Now let’s turn to a passage of Scripture and you need not turn to it, but you might like to write it down. This is what we read now in John 19 regarding Nicodemus: “After these things (Jesus has been crucified, by the way) Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus…” And do you know what? I have the wrong passage here. I was talking about Nicodemus and this is about Joseph of Arimathea.
I am so glad that this is the first mistake I remember making (laughter) in all the years I have been preaching. Praise God for His forgiveness. (more laughter) I don’t know what I was thinking of but I do know that Nicodemus at the end (This is true. I just don’t have the right passage.) identified himself with Jesus. He now came into the light publicly.
In the beginning of chapter 3 he is actually one who (What shall we say?) is in the midnight of conviction, and later on he comes to the midday of confession. He does come to Jesus, even if I have the wrong passage. I promise it’s there. It is.
Where does this leave you? Once again, to refer to a lecture that was given here yesterday, Jerry Root asked the question, “What sound does rain make?” And the answer is really, no sound until it hits something – maybe an umbrella, maybe you’re going outside, maybe the roof of a car. Rain makes no sound until it hits something. In the very same way we don’t see grace until it is received. It can only be received by an open, willing heart. Do you have that today? Are you tired of darkness? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who comes to Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
In a few moments our leadership council is going to come. We’re going to have the privilege of having communion together and reminding ourselves of this - that Jesus gave His body and His blood to reconcile us to God so that we could be His forever. We need not walk in darkness.
Would you pray with me?
And Father we want to thank You today so much for these words of Jesus, and we ask, Lord God, for those who are struggling today to come to the light. They have so many issues. They are so overwhelmed. They may be saying to themselves, “There’s no way that I can come to the light. It costs too much.” Help them to know that whatever they pay will be worth it because truth hurts, but lies hurt even more, and they eventually lead to destruction. But we need help, Lord, because we are locked into our darkness unless you rescue us. Come to us, we pray, even as we give You thanks, in Jesus’ name, Amen.