Seeing the Light
Seeing the Light
We're all familiar with the traditions relating to the Wise Men. For instance, for some reason we've decided there were three of them. The Bible doesn't say that, but it does say there were three kinds of gifts given. Other traditions have developed as to how they found out what was going on, and what the star was that purportedly they saw.
We can say that when those wise men saw the star, they followed it to its logical saw the light. You could also say there were far more people who saw the same light and didn't follow it than those who did see it and follow it.
The light that Christ has shown our world has resulted in many people seeing and following it, but there are many who have seen the same truth but have declined to follow through.
The sun shines on everybody. If you want to you can sit in the sun. If you prefer, you can sit in a cave. Your choice doesn't stop the sun from shining. It just means you decline to derive benefit from its heat.
So it is with Christ. His light continues to shine, but not all people respond to it as they ought.
Jesus said, "I have come as a light." John's Gospel has several themes that keep cropping up. One of those themes is life. Another one is light.
In chapter 1, he says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
Notice that at the beginning of his Gospel, John is making a powerful statement concerning life and light, and he links the two. He says, "In the beginning was the Word." "The Word" is a title for Christ.
John says the Word was continually in a state of existence. Whatever the beginning was, this Word, this Christ, this expression of the invisible God, had been in a state of continuous existence. He was in intimate fellowship with God, and he was God. He was responsible for everything being made. He is the source of all life.
Humans have a unique intelligence, moral sensitivity, and spirituality but lack faith, truth, and life.
How is this life that emanates from the eternal Word seen in terms of being the light of men? We can see the uniqueness of divine life in human beings in terms of intelligence, moral sensitivity, and spirituality.
Humans are the uniquely intelligent part of all the various forms of life. Could it be that man's intelligent capability is related to the light that comes from Christ, that he has given the gift of intelligence? Man has a unique moral sensitivity apart from other created life. Could it be that we're seeing the uniqueness of Christ operating and creating man with moral sensitivity? That is the light of men.
Edmund Burke said, "Man is by his constitution a religious animal." Look around the world at the different races, and you will find they are, without exception, incorrigibly religious. There is a spiritual sensitivity in humanity that is not in any other segment of life. If we accept that life emanates from him and is uniquely seen in human beings as light, then perhaps we begin to understand something about our humanity. Our relationship as created beings by Christ means that we were uniquely created in terms of intelligence, moral sensitivity, and spirituality.
Every time you read in the Scriptures about light you will also find a corresponding statement about darkness. The light and the darkness are always set in obvious contrast to each other. The Bible teaches that human beings were intended to live in obedience to and dependence upon God.
Instead, humans chose independence and disobedience. They were told that the day they disobeyed would be the day they would die. They traded life for deadness. If the light was the light of men, then when men became independent and disobedient, they not only traded life for deadness, they traded light for darkness. The result is that something has happened to our intelligence, something has happened to our moral sensitivity, something has happened to our spirituality. This result is having a phenomenal impact on our individual and collective lives.
We now have, because of spiritual darkness, because of separation from the One who is life and light, intelligence without faith. We have moral sensitivity without truth. We have spirituality without life. In other words, we are a shell of what we're supposed to be.
Diogenes Allen, in his book Christian Belief in a Postmodern World, states: "It has been taken for granted in the intellectual world that the idea of God is superfluous. 'We do not need God to account for anything' is a common attitude in the intellectual world. But today there are fundamental developments in philosophy and cosmology that actually point towards God. It is beyond the capacity of those fields of inquiry to make a positive pronouncement on this matter. All they can say is the order and existence of the universe pose real questions they cannot answer, and they recognize God is the sort of reality that would answer them."
In other words, in our postmodern world where it has been cool to ignore God, to decide that we do not need him to account for anything, there is a dramatic change taking place in the intellectual climate. Intellectuals are beginning to ask questions about existence. The questions they're positing, they're discovering, cannot be answered by their scientific disciplines. They are, therefore, having to accept that we have produced a generation who are highly intelligent but abysmally ignorant. They've had intelligence without faith. They have had rationalism without an acceptance of the One from whom all things come. That's our darkness.
There is no question that men and women have moral sensitivity. When we had in our society a basic core of Christian truth, it was relatively easy for the moral sensitivity of the nation to agree on certain things. But we have been rapidly doing away with the concept of Christian truth. We have not done away with moral sensitivity. We have just done away with a basis of agreement.
For instance, what hope is there of our coming to agreement on the moral question of abortion? There is not the remotest possibility of our coming to agreement on this, because Christian truth majors on the fundamental concept called the sanctity of life. If you take that out, you don't talk about the sanctity of life anymore; you just talk about the quality of life.
Quality of life is up to each individual to determine. If you take away a Christian concept called sanctity of life and put in its place a purely subjective, relative concept called quality of life, there is no possibility of agreement. Therefore, we have an illustration of what is happening in our society. We not only have intelligence without faith; we have moral sensitivity without truth.
We still have spirituality, but we seem to be at sea as to where we're trying to get.
In recent decades, there has been a attempt to do away with spirituality in the Marxist/Leninist segments of the world. However, Mikhail Gorbachev went to see Pope John Paul II, and during his time in the Vatican he said, "We have changed our attitude on some matters such as religion. The moral values that religion generated and embodied for centuries can help in the work of renewal in our country, too." Those in the Soviet Union have discovered that they can do away with spiritual life, but they can't do away with spirituality.
If you maintain spirituality and lose spiritual life, if you retain moral sensitivity and lose truth, if you have an increasing intelligence without faith, you've got darkness. You have lost that which is unique about your humanity. Christ said that he came into that darkness. He came to give us truth. He came to give us life. He came to give us the basis of faith. Christ came to shine light into our darkness.
The result is that some people will believe and some will choose not to believe. The Lord Jesus said in John 8:12 that he was the light of the world, and whoever would follow him would never walk in darkness. The alternative is that if they would not follow him, they would wallow without him.
This is a sketch of our world. He has created humanity, and in a unique way given us light. But we have chosen deadness instead of life; as a result, we've got darkness instead of light. We're now functioning with intelligence without faith, a moral sensitivity without truth, and spirituality without spiritual life. But Christ has come into that situation as the origin of all life and light to switch us on again, to give us truth, to give us life. He asks only that we believe in him, that we trust him, that we follow him. But some people incredibly choose darkness rather than light.
This Christmas you have a simple message for them. "I came to bring light into the world."
Some who meet Jesus will not believe, and some can not.
In John 12, John quoted Isaiah the prophet from Isaiah 53:1: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Jesus is picking up these words and applying them to his own ministry.
First, he is talking about those who have had the opportunity to see the light but would not believe. Notice how they are described in verse 37: "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him." But then it says in verse 39, "For this reason, they could not believe."
In my Bible I have underlined in verse 37 "would not believe" and in verse 39 "could not believe." I have linked the two. Notice carefully what Jesus is saying. He is saying there are some people who would not believe, and as a direct consequence of that there came a time when they could not believe.
This leads to one of the most interesting mysteries of the Christian faith. On the one hand, we have this idea of the free will of man; on the other hand, we have the idea of the sovereign will of God. Those who major on the free will of man seem to suggest that man is free to do whatever he wants. Those who major on the sovereign will of God seem to suggest that man is not free to do anything. He is simply part of the sovereign will of God, and he is helpless to do anything about it. I believe both extremes are wrong.
We have a great illustration here of the sovereign will of God and the free will of man operating. The free will of man is he has the opportunity to see the signs that Jesus performed, to hear the words that Jesus spoke, to be exposed to the truth, to see the light. He has total freedom to see all these things and disbelieve it all.
Jesus would put those people in the category of "despite all the evidence presented to them they would not believe." The free will of man.
Where the sovereign will of God comes in is he has sovereignly chosen to give man free will, but he has also sovereignly chosen that man will live with the consequences of his choices. If man chooses to go on refusing to believe, goes on in the category of would not, God has sovereignly decided that in the end the would become a .
Here is the serious aspect to the Christmas message: Christ has come as light, but there are those who would not believe. They feel they're exerting their totally free human will, and they are. But they're overlooking that by exerting the human free will, God will, in the end, sovereignly say, "Enough is enough. I will now ensure that your eyes will not see and your heart will be deadened."
The word translated deadened is literally calloused. There is a simple law that says if you go on banging your hand against a piece of wood because you're into karate, you will develop calluses. There is another simple law. If you go on closing your eyes to the truth, you'll finish blinded. If you go on closing your heart to the truth, it will finish calloused. God says so. The sovereign will of God.
There's another category of people Jesus talks about. He talks about those who believed but would not confess. Notice John 12:42: "Yet at the same time," (while there were many people whose eyes now were blinded), "many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God."
These people have seen the light. They've heard the truth. They've experienced the life, but they have refused to be unequivocally disciples of Jesus Christ. They declined to take their stand. They declined to confess with their mouths that which they believed in their hearts. They regard their positions, their power, and their prestige as more significant than the prospect of being judged, because they did not act on what they knew.
There is no shortage of people who have heard the Christmas message repeatedly and give a nod to it and say they believe it, but they never confess with their mouths and with their lives unequivocally that which they profess to believe in their hearts.
Jesus said, "I'm not going to judge them. I won't need to. The truth they knew and would not respond to will judge them in the last day."
Finally, what is the relevance to us? The Lord Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." But he turned to his disciples on one occasion and to their utter amazement said, "You are the light of the world."
That does not mean we are little christs running around. It does mean his disciples have the privilege and the responsibility of picking up on his ministry and perpetuating it. Jesus' disciples are intended to be people who, as he put it, let their lights shine. They live for the Father's glory. Wherever they shine there is a confrontation of light and darkness, life and death.
That is part of the challenge of being a Christian in the modern era. Do we have intelligence without faith? Moral sensitivity without truth? Spirituality without spiritual life? If light is intended to shine into those areas and you are the light of the world (assuming you're a follower of Jesus Christ), then clearly your responsibility and your privilege is to bring the life and the light of Christ to bear in those areas. You and I are the light of the world.
Stuart Briscoe is pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He is the author of over twenty books, including Mastering Contemporary Preaching.
(c) Stuart Briscoe
Preaching Today Tape #183
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Stuart Briscoe is minister-at-large of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and author of several books, including What Works When Life Doesn't (Howard Books).