Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Since the beginning of creation, God has been dispelling the darkness with his marvelous light. Genesis chapter 1 says, “Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the water. God said, ÔLet there be light,’ and there was light, and God saw that the light was good.”
Remember when Moses, after receiving the Ten Commandments, came down from Mount Sinai having just left the presence of Yahweh Himself. It says his face radiated the light of the glory of God. Also, when God’s people journeyed through the desert on their way to the Promised Land, the Spirit descended upon the tabernacle. The shekinah glory of God’s light filled the tabernacle as it literally glowed with His presence radiating His glory. The light was the visible manifestation of our invisible God, our infinite God in His glory and light.
John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, talked about Jesus’ birth this way: “In the beginning was the Word. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness has not understood it.” Another translation says the light shines in the darkness but the darkness cannot swallow it up, or the darkness cannot overcome it.
This is a hopeful and powerful promise! Light always dispels darkness. Darkness must flee. When John is writing of Jesus, he calls Jesus is the true light who comes to every person as He comes into the world. The light is Jesus. Throughout the Scriptures, we find the imagery of light and darkness used to explain the understanding of the battle of good and evil. The reign of God to bless and give life is contrasted with Jesus’ description of the “prince of darkness,” who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. It’s the image of darkness and light permeating the biblical witness of the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.
Now, by our own experience, we know the world is a dark place, a place of chaos and evil, hidden corruption. People struggle to accumulate wealth, money, land, and power. In the process, they become hate filled. They download discouragement. Many live in despair and hopelessness. They even impose destruction and death.
On a cosmic level, the world is a dark, sick place. Sometimes in our despair, we feel stuck. How can we ever get out of it? Nations are at war. Racism is rampant. People murder one another, thieve from one another, abuse each other. People are caught up in addictions Ð dark, destructive, dangerous, dying. Where is the hope?
We who believe in the living God, we who believe that Jesus has come to reveal the heart of God to us, we find our hope in Jesus, the Son of God, the Light of the world.
Have you ever noticed how some people embody darkness? When they enter a room, it feels like someone turned out the lights. They are negative, hypercritical of every one and every thing, quick to find fault, pessimistic, cynical, even predatory, on the attack, destructive. Compare how that feels with the type of individual who is energetic, full of laughter, and bubbling with joy. Compare it with people who are winsome, peaceful, and fun, who see things on the bright side, who are encouragers.
Some may say, Well, they’re just kind of Pollyanna, separated from reality. Maybe, or is it that, through eyes of faith, they see the presence of God and the power of God at work in the world? They see Jesus’ Spirit at work and so hold onto hope.
I also know my own heart. I have a sinful, sick heart. The Bible says, “Our hearts are deceitful above all else and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Again John, in the third chapter, says, “Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (vs. 19).
We might think those people “out there” are the enemy. They are the people in the dark realm, and we’re the ones who are good in the light. Luther taught that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between me and you. Rather, the line runs down the center of my own sinful heart. All of us have a sinful, shadowy dark side.
Ever since Adam and Eve ran to hide from God after disobeying in the garden by partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we also run to hide our wrongdoings. We stay in the cover of darkness where we can rationalize and perpetuate our bad behaviors. I don’t have to look for darkness “out there” somewhere. When I’m honest with myself, I see my own heart is full of darkness. Because of darkness, many people are lost, confused, far from God, and they live with despair, anxiety, and depression.
That is why the good Lord sent Jesus to be our Savior. In the darkness of a cold December night, a virgin girl gave birth to the Light of God’s love. Remember the angel’s words to Joseph, “Call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The sky was full of glorious angels singing at his birth. The prophet Isaiah long ago said it this way: “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in the land of the shadow of death, on them God’s light has shined.”
Also associated with Jesus’ birth, remember how the whole of the cosmos reoriented itself to welcome Jesus as the Wisemen followed the star to the place where the Son of God lay in a manger. Jesus is the light of the world, so when He says in a description of Himself, “I am the light of the world,” it is no accident. He is the revelation of God’s release of power and life to dispel the darkness, to overcome evil, to give us victory.
Many of us understand the phrase “walking in darkness.” Many of us, before we woke up to the full privilege of faith in a relationship with Jesus, could quote well the truth of a familiar Christian song that says we “wandered off to find where demons dwell.”
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus told a parable about the prodigal son and the elder brother. Many of us have had a prodigal journey where we spent a portion of our life living far from God. We were lost in our sin, in the darkness of our rebellion, and woke up to find ourselves in the pigpen of life, broken and alone and sad. Others of us stayed in the church and, like the older brother, did all the right things. Yet we were living in the darkness of duty and obligation. We never cherished the Father’s heart. We never understood that the whole of our relationship with God was based on the beautiful light of the grace He gives us in Jesus Christ.
I remember years ago as a pastor taking a youth group from our church to the Black Hills of South Dakota. While we were there, we visited a cave. Under the bowels of those hills, a tour guide turned out the lights while we were far under the earth. I’ll never forget how black it was. I could not see the hand in front of my face. In fact, there was no way I could ever find my way out of the darkness.
So Jesus comes as the light of love shining into my dark dilemma. Jesus comes and whispers to me from the witness of a friend, from a message I might hear in a worship service, from the gentle compassionate care of a parent, or the lyric of a song, and I hear the truth of the light of Jesus. I see the light of grace radiate from His face. And finally, in my spirit I say, Come in, Lord Jesus. And when Jesus comes into our lives by faith, it’s like the dawn’s sunlight of a new day, and in Jesus’s light all our past sins are forgiven. All our shadows flee, all our dark rebellion melts, and we welcome the power of Jesus’ light. This is why it says in II Corinthians 5, “In Christ you are a new creation. The old has passed away; everything is new.”
This passage in Ephesians 5 tells us boldly, our new identity as people of Jesus is to be light Ð light glowing with magnificent glory of God’s Spirit offering hope to the world. It says boldly LIVE as children of life. Live as children of light. Live distinctively. All will be goodness as we learn what pleases the Lord.
I know this in my own heart. I am keenly aware of the debt I owe God for not only the gift of life, but also for the forgiving salvation He provides through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I owe Him a debt I cannot repay. Out of gratitude and love, I long to discover His will and how I might best serve Him to bring Him pleasure and to fulfill His mission.
It also says in Ephesians that we should expose the darkness. We can confront the darkness by living opposite from the culture around us Ð counter-cultural, like salmon swimming upstream, like a single candle in a dark place, like a rat scurrying for cover in a basement when the light is turned on. We can be different and distinct from the world, most of whom are selfish. We, as the children of light, can be giving and generous. Most of the world curses the people around them. As children of light, we can make it our commitment to bless the people God brings to us. As children of light, we can forgive instead of seeking revenge or holding a grudge. And while most in the world might seek to abuse and use people, we can love them with Jesus’ love. The preeminent quality of the children of light is love. We can live full of confident hope.
I remember when David, who later was King David, was hunted by King Saul like a dog in the wilderness. Yet he said in Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. whom shall I fear?” We know who we are, whose we are, and what our future will be because of Jesus in our life. Of course, we’ re never perfect in our desire to shine, so we need to seek the light of Jesus’ forgiving love, not as a one-time event but a daily rhythm where we come with our regrets, our mistakes, and failures and ask Jesus, yet again, to shine the light of His love in us.
I’m told a story of Ben Franklin who decided to show his neighbors a special way to light a lantern outside their homes. He purchased an attractive lantern, polished the glass and placed the light on an extended pole in front of his house. Each evening he’d light the wick and hang out the lantern. Before long, his neighbors noticed the light; Even those far up the street noticed the warm glow around his house. The people passing by his house were delighted because it made walking in the dark so much easier.
Soon other people placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually the city recognized the need for well-lit streets. This led to a cultural phenomenon of streetlights. Cities and municipalities hired people to be lamp lighters, to turn night into day Ð a nostalgic, former image of a singular man walking a darkening city street as dusk descended, extending his staff to ignite each dark, cold lamp stand to life with a small flame. He would light the way along the lonely city lanes so those who were out after dark wouldn’t lose their way.
Now, in our day of modern technology, electricity and all the advances, we might say the lamplighter is a past occupation no longer needed. But in the work of the kingdom of God, light dispels the darkness. God needs us to live in our identity as the people of light. God needs us to be lamp lighters who share our passionate love for Jesus with other people so their hearts can also be ignited with the flame of faith and Jesus’ Spirit could come live inside of them. Then all of us, together with the presence of Jesus’ Spirit within us, may become children of light.
Jesus said it. “You are the light of the world.” Through the light of your faith the darkness will flee, and Jesus will shine.