One Friday night I was getting in a little exercise. It was a rainy and cloudy day, but just around dusk, the sun came out for a short time. It was a wonderful moment. I was doing some calisthenics, listening to Vivaldi on the radio, and the sun burst through the window. Light began to enter the room, and as it did, I thought, That's beautiful. That light is beautiful.
When you live in Chicago, you know just how precious sunshine can be. Same goes for those who live in New York. I once read an article about a man who lives in a certain part of New York where, for several months, the sun never shone on the part of the building where he works. All of the skyscrapers, those urban canyons, were in the way. But this man found the one place where the sun shone at a certain time of the day for about a five to ten minute period. So each day he would stand in that one spot, just so he could get those five or ten minutes of sunshine. It shows you just how much we human beings are made to be in the light of the sun—how much we need it for our psyche, for our soul.
Life-giving light comes from God.
God has made nature in such a way that it is a teaching tool about himself. So many things in nature teach us about spiritual realities or reinforce spiritual realities. The sun in the sky is one of those teaching tools, because it teaches us several things about God.
All life on earth is dependent upon the sun. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants are able to take in the light and turn it into sugars of some sort. These sugars give life to the plants, and these plants feed several other life forms, which feed several other life forms, going on up the pyramid of life.
Just as the light from that sun gives light and life to everything on earth, so it is that God gives light and life to everything through his being and through his nature. Scripture says, "In him we live and move and have our being." We can't live apart from God.
Consider a handful of scriptures about God being light. First John 1:5 says, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light. In him there is no darkness at all." Speaking of Jesus, who is one with the Father, John 8:12 says, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'" When Jesus once healed a blind man, he said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Those of you who know Jesus as your Savior know what it's like to go from darkness to light—to move out from under the clouds of this world's confusion and sin and corruption and into the light of God's truth and salvation. God is the sun. He is the sunlight. He is the life giver. He is the joy of our hearts.
The light-giving light of God is too much to behold.
Here's another truth about the sun: when it gets too bright, it can be too much to behold.
From where we live, my wife and I have a glorious view of the sunset every night. Now and then, conditions are such that the sun rests just on the horizon, right below the clouds, and presents itself as an absolute fireball. When it's like this, we can't look at it. It's so bright, so intense, so blazing, that we have to close the blinds or turn the other way.
God is like the sun in this way, too. God is so holy, so transcendent, so above us, so majestic, so glorious, so pure, so infinite in his being, so perfect, that to be as we are right now makes it impossible to be in his presence unshielded, unveiled, face-to-face. We would instantly die. It would be like being carried away in a spacecraft and placed within touching distance of the sun. If you were to suddenly find yourself outside the protection of that spacecraft, you're a goner. That's how it is with God.
The Scriptures often speak of the power of God's presence, his holiness. In 1 Timothy 6:13, Paul describes God as "the blessed, the only ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal, and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever." What a statement about God that is! He lives in unapproachable light—like the sun! No one has ever seen him or can see him. In Scripture, people encounter God only through representations of himself or an angel of the Lord or a vision of some sort. No one saw God directly, face-to-face. No human can do that. He is too awesome and holy and pure and intense and righteous. Unless God veils his glory—like clouds in front of the blazing sun—you can't handle it.
Another example of just how awesome and holy God is, is found in the way the temple was set up. There was an outer court and then there was a section in the temple called the Holy of Holies. The outer court is God's way of saying, "You can't handle my presence, so you need to stay out here. The holiest of places—that's where the priest ministers." As you go deeper into the temple, there was an altar, a table, and some candles. Only the priest could enter, because he was consecrated to God. He had been anointed through an elaborate procedure to make him holy. This was so that he wouldn't just drop dead when he went into the holy place. In a small area in the back of the temple, in the holiest section, the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The Ark had to be behind a curtain, veiled. The priest could only go in there once a year—and this one-time visit was done through an elaborate procedure involving blood and other sacrifices. Through all of this, God was teaching the people about himself. He was telling them that his holiness was so great that not just anyone could walk up to him and say, "Hey! Yo, God! How ya doin'?" God is an awesome being who has to be treated with reverence and respect.
Because of his awesome nature, God calls on us to fear him. You see this proper fear when you read about angels in the Scriptures. When they come from God's presence and interact with human beings, there's no nonsense to their ministry. They are intense beings. They recognize that they have a message from an awesome, majestic, holy being.
The light-giving light of God cannot be ignored.
In July 2010, a scientist in England, Paul Crowther, professor of astrophysics from the University of Sheffield's Department of Physics and Astronomy, announced that he and his research team had discovered a star they described as the brightest star ever found in the universe. It is ten million times brighter than the sun. They've temporarily named the star R136A1.
Think about that: The star, currently named R136a1, is not twice as bright as our sun, which would be overwhelming in itself if it were the sun that our earth orbited. It is not just 10 times brighter, which is a light so bright we can hardly imagine it. It is not a hundred times brighter or a thousand times brighter than our sun. It is not a million times brighter! This newly identified star is ten million times brighter than our sun! How can anything be that bright?
The Bible says that God created all the stars—that he knows them by name. He doesn't call this new star R136A1. He's got some other name for it. God made all of the starts. He designed each and every one to say, "I made this. This is a reflection of who I am. This begins to tell you how great I am." Now, think about the number of stars that are out there. There are hundreds of billions of stars in any galaxy, and scientists say there are one hundred billion galaxies. So you tell me: how big is God? How awesome is God? How perfect is God? He is an amazing God, and his light cannot be ignored.
One midsummer, my son, Aaron, was in town from Scottsdale, Arizona, and we decided to go to Millennium Park for a concert. As we walked to the park, the buildings shielded us from the sun, but when we got to Michigan Avenue, it blasted us. Immediately we though, "That sun is hot." When we got to the park, the first thing we did was find seats under some trees. We would take little forays out into the sun, but we didn't stay long. The sun was too much, too hot. After the concert was over, we walked north on Michigan Avenue to go to a restaurant, and the whole time we were in the sun. We were on fire! We were ducking under awnings, sneaking into the shadows—anything to get away from the sun. But the sun—you can't ignore it.
Here's something you need to know about God: God both reveals and hides himself. If he didn't hide himself from time to time, I've already explained the consequences. So, God hides himself mercifully. But don't miss the fact that God also reveals himself, and he expects us to act on that revelation. God reveals himself through Jesus and through his Word, and he calls us to act on that revelation. God reveals himself through creation, so that every human being can know that God exists (Romans 1).
Every human being knows in the center of their being that God exists. We only deny it because we are trying to avoid his demands and his expectations. We know deep down that there is a God, but we try to argue it away with our minds. Why? We want to keep our distance from this awesome God with his holy laws. But we must be wise enough to know that just because this sun-like God is mercifully hiding himself behind the clouds, he's still there. We must be wise enough to know that one day there is going to come an accounting for the way we've lived. God will say, "You've known the truth. What have you done with it? Have you come to me, or have you avoided me?"
The life-giving light of God will raise up some, lower others. Isaiah 2 gives us a picture of what it's like for human beings to come into the presence of this R136A1-type God. Starting in verse 10, Isaiah writes: "Go into the rocks; hide in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty." That sounds contradictory, doesn't it? We want to hide from God, yet at the same time, God is splendid and majestic. But, you see, it's his majesty is so infinite that we can hardly take it. Verse 11: "The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low. The Lord alone will be exalted in that day." Notice the emphasis on a particular day that's coming. Verse 12 continues this thought: "The Lord Almighty has a day in store." The message is loud and clear: there is a day coming when things will no longer continue as they are now. The Lord has a day in store for all the proud and lofty. On that day, all exalted things will be humbled.
At this point in the text, then, Isaiah begins to speak metaphorically. He speaks of "all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan." God uses the image of tall trees—oaks and cedars—to speak of just how "tall" human beings, in their arrogance, think they are. God says he has a day in story for all these "trees." Verse 14 and following:
For all the towering mountains and all the high hills and for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel, the arrogance of men will be brought low, and the pride of men humbled. The Lord alone will be exalted in that day and the idols will totally disappear. Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty when he rises to shake the earth. In that day men will throw away to rodents and rats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship.
In other words, people will take their idols and throw them to the rats, to the mice, to the dogs, saying, "What good are these? I'm in the presence of a R136A1-like God—an awesome, majestic God." And these people "will flee to caverns in the rock and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty when he rises to shake the earth." This is a picture of the Day of the Lord that is coming.
The Bible teaches is that on this Day of the Lord, we will all stand face-to-face with God and give an account for how we've lived—every thought we've thought, every word we've spoken. We will deal face-to-face with a God who is moral, pure, and just. Because he is light, he will bring all the darkness into the light. That's his being. God will say, "No more secrets, no more shadows. It's judgment day." We won't have a lawyer to stand with us to defend us—unless we have a Savior. If we have a Savior, we will have an advocate who is able to plead our case with this God. The reality is, if you don't have a lawyer on that day, you're doomed. You can't face this God on your own. You don't have a prayer, because there is darkness in you.
The Good News, of course, is that God has provided an advocate. He has provided a lawyer on judgment day. And God doesn't just respect this lawyer; he loves him. The lawyer is God's own Son. With this lawyer standing by you on judgment day, you can stand before the R136A1-like God—the God whose light is beyond anything imaginable. And this God will love you and smile upon you and accept you. You will be justified in his sight. He will declare you righteous—just and acceptable before him. You will be forgiven of anything you have ever done wrong. This will all happen because of his son—not by some craftiness or tricks in the court. This will all happen because God's Son satisfied all the justice of God. The Son died on the cross—not for anything he had done wrong, but for our sin. And this awesome God said, "That satisfies my wrath against darkness." In the end when God sees Jesus, he says, "All is well. You are just."
This coming day is the most important day in your life. You need to be aware of it. You need to live every day with the awareness that one day you're going to stand before God. One day you're going to give an account for everything. I urge you to live in the light of that day that is coming. Be ready for that day that is coming—not by trying to be good enough, but by being in Christ. If you are in Christ, you will be ready. You will have a Savior.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Craig Brian Larson is the pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago and author and editor of numerous books, including The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan). He blogs on Knowing God and His Ways at craigbrianlarson.com.