Monday, August 04, 2014

The Light, While You Have It (John 12:35-36)


During a 4-hour drive last Monday, I was reminiscing with Matt and Heather about our last trip to Nepal, and we recounted a painful incident that occurred. I was leaving Matt and Heather’s apartment, carrying two big suitcases down a flight of marble stairs. When I started down the stairs, the lights were on, and I was watching every step carefully. By the time I reached the fourth or fifth step, the power had gone out and it was pitch dark. I missed the next step and, let’s just say I took the express route to the bottom. As I was lying at the bottom of the steps, I just knew that I probably had a concussion and a broken leg. Thankfully, within a few minutes, I was able to stand and put weight on my leg, but I walked with a limp for several weeks after that. Those sudden power outages are quite common in many parts of the world, and in Kathmandu, the power goes out without warning for 18 to 20 hours every day. I learned a very painful lesson in Kathmandu to never take for granted that light will always be available, and it is dangerous to walk in darkness.

That is the lesson that Jesus sought to instill in those who heard Him speak here in this text, and to all who read these words. The world is in a state of darkness, and Jesus has come to be the Light. So, we must make sure that we take the opportunity we have to respond appropriately to the light while we have it. As bad as a tumble down a marble staircase was, it does not compare to the destruction of being overtaken by perpetual darkness. So, as we look at these verses, let’s consider the dark state of the world, the availability of the light, and the appropriate response to the light.

I. The world is in a state of darkness.

Among the many trinkets and gadgets that I now possess from my late grandfather’s estate, my favorite is his Geochron. A Geochron is a world map that shows what time it is in every time zone of the world, and it is illuminated in areas where it is daytime, and it is dark in the areas where it is night-time. Now, if we had a spiritual Geochron that would show us the spiritual condition of planet earth, it would be all dark, with a few pinpoints of fiber-optic light breaking through here and there in some places, and large areas of unpenetrated darkness in many places. The testimony of Scripture is consistent on this matter: we live in a dark world.

Now, what kind of darkness are we talking about? I suppose if we were to ask some people, they might say that the world’s darkness is brought about by ignorance, and education could be the remedy. Others would say that poverty or disease darkens the world, and economic development or medical advancement would fix it. Some might say that oppression and injustice are the reason that the world is dark, and democracy would fix it. But, when we look it from God’s perspective, we see that none of these are the cause of the world’s darkness. In fact, these and many other conditions are symptoms, or effects, of the world’s darkness, but the root cause is human sinfulness. God’s assessment of the human condition can be found in Genesis 6, just before the flood, where the Bible says, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).

In Romans 3, Paul strings together a long list of Old Testament quotations to provide this indictment on the entire human race: "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).

Now, there are many who would scoff at that analysis of humanity. In fact, we find that there are essentially two views of humanity that are widespread in the world. One is the view that says that human beings are essentially good, and only become bad as they are corrupted by outside influences. Maybe someone here today holds that view. If you do, then you need to know that your view of humanity is at odds with the Lord’s own assessment. The biblical perspective is that human beings are born in a state of sinfulness, and it is the outworking of our sinfulness that brings corruption on the whole world. If you don’t take the Bible’s testimony as truth, all you have to do is try to raise children. We do not have to teach them how to sin, how to lie, how to disobey, or how to be self-centered. They come into the world knowing how to do those things. It is through parental discipline that they learn that they should not do those things, and ultimately it is only as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts and lives that they find the supernatural empowerment to overcome those tendencies over the course of their entire lives.

Because this is the natural-born condition of the entire human race, the world is consumed in spiritual darkness. And this is a dangerous thing. When I was a teenager, we used to go out in the woods of our neighborhood and play war games at night. We all dressed in black and covered our faces with black war-paint, and we would virtually disappear into the darkness of the forest. And Jesus says that this is what happens to us as we live out the darkness of our sinful lives in a sin-darkened world. He says that the darkness can overtake you. The word could be translated overpower, or master. Because the sinful desires of our heart are drawn to the spiritual darkness of the world around us, we can find ourselves consumed by the darkness, spiraling as it were into deeper and deeper levels of depravity.

If this condition is not remedied, then destruction awaits. Jesus says that “he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.” He or she is just going along, following their carnal desires, marching to the beat of the drum pounded out by Satan himself and echoed through the offerings of this world. That is how Paul describes the lives of those without Christ in Ephesians 2. He says that they walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,” and they live “in the lusts of [the] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph 2:2-3). The darkness has overtaken them and they are walking blindly toward destruction.

Of course, no one walks that path intentionally (or at least very few would). They “do not know where they are going,” as Jesus said. Of course, “where they are going,” is ultimately hell! Surely, if anyone knew or believed that the horrors of hell described in Scripture were real, they would not choose to go there. If only people would know where it is that they are going as they are swallowed up in the darkness of sin, they would be eager to find a way of escape! That is why we who have trusted in Christ must go out into all the world and “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We have to tell the world that there is an alternative to the darkness in the hearts of men, the darkness in the world around us, and the eternal darkness of hell. Thankfully, Jesus tells us what that alternative is, and it is found in Him.

II. Jesus has come as the true light from God into the world.

I know a lot of you suffer, as I do, from conditions that produce chronic pain. When you suffer from chronic pain, bedtime is something that can be quite dreadful. You are exhausted, but you know that the chances of a good night’s sleep are slim. You toss and turn and wake up over and over again all night long. If you are like me, sometimes when you see that first glimmer of daylight creeping in through the blinds, you kind of whisper a prayer, “Oh thank God! It is finally morning and I can just get out of this bed.” Well, in a similar way, we should behold the coming of Christ into the world as the dawn of a new day of grace and the end of the long night of spiritual restlessness.

You’ve heard people say, “Rise and shine!” That comes from the Bible. The prophet Isaiah foretold the day of Christ’s coming, saying in Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” Again, in Isaiah 9:2, we read, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.” When was this to happen? Just a few verses later, the prophet said, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” These very verses were referenced by the godly old man Simeon when he saw the infant Jesus being brought in for His dedication. They were cited in Matthew 4:16 at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had come as the Light into the sin-darkened world.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, it is written of Jesus, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Some scholars have insisted that the phrase should be translated, “the darkness did not overpower it.” No matter how dark the world was, it could not extinguish the light that had come in the person of Jesus Christ. He was “the true Light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:4-5, 9). Jesus spoke of Himself in these terms. He said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (8:12). And so He says similarly here, “For a little while longer the Light is among you” (12:35). This simple statement tells us two things that are extremely important to understand.

First, we must consider the unfathomable grace of God: “The Light is among you.” You realize that it did not have to be this way. God would have been perfectly just to allow every single human being to have his own way and perish in the eternal darkness of hell. But, because of His infinite love for His creation, and in particular for His image-bearers, He penetrated the darkness with the Light of Jesus Christ. He has intervened in our helpless state to bring Light into the sin-darkened world. It is a remarkable truth that deserves repeating, not just at Christmastime, that in the amazing love and grace of God, He has become a man in the person of Jesus Christ and made His dwelling among us (Jn 1:1, 14). You do not have to remain in darkness. There is a Light available to you. He can illuminate the darkness of our sinful hearts and transform us.

It is amazing how Jesus describes hell as a place of outer darkness (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), and yet of heaven it is said, “There will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them” (Rev 22:5). But the light is available to us here and now. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we read, “God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Why would you grope around in the darkness? Light is available to you.
But there is also a warning here. The Light is among you, but notice it is just “for a little while longer.” Obviously, He is speaking of His crucifixion, which was just a few days away for Him at that point. The Light that has come into the world is about to be taken out of the world. It will not be any easier for them to respond to and receive the Light that is available to them once it has been taken away. The opportunity is an urgent one. They must turn from the darkness of sin and embrace the Light of Christ while He is present among them! But there is another sense in which this is true for us all, even today. Every time the good news of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, the Light is shining in the darkness, and someone has the glorious opportunity to be rescued and saved. But, it is a mistake to assume that the opportunity will be present forever. There is a window of grace that could close at any moment.

A few years ago, I was down at Ardmore Park talking to a group of kids and I asked one of them if he knew Jesus. He said to me, “No, but one day I’ll get saved. First I want to have some fun, you know, party, live it up. Then maybe when I’m old, like 20 or 25, I’ll get saved then.” I said to him, “Do you know that Jesus would call you a fool if He were standing here?” He looked shocked. Then I quoted this to him, the words of Jesus in Luke 12:20: “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you.” He just turned and walked away. That is heartbreaking! I pray for that kid, and for so many others like him! They think they will always have another chance. There is no guarantee of that. Listen to the urgent pleas of Scripture:

2 Corinthians 6:2 – God says, “At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, NOW is the acceptable time, behold NOW is the day of salvation!”

Hebrews 4:7 – The Lord “fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying … ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’”

The opportunity is present even now for someone who is lost in the darkness of sin to turn to Jesus and be saved! There were probably plenty of people in that crowd thinking, “Well, maybe some other time.” Just a few days later, Jesus was taken from them. And even before then, notice the tragic words at the end of verse 36, “These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them.” That was the end of His public ministry. There were no more public teachings or sermons, no more miracles, no more interaction with the multitudes. What a terrible thing it would be for you to turn away from Jesus thinking that you could return to Him at a later time, only to find that He has gone away and hidden Himself from you -- or worse, to find that there is no later time, and your soul is required of you before you ever turned to Him.

Jesus is the Light of the World, and the Light is among you. That is amazing grace! But know this, the opportunity may be present for you only “for a little while longer.”

Now finally, considering the state of the world in the darkness of sin, and the availability of the Light of Christ …

III. We must make an appropriate response to the Light.

If you recall the previous passage, you will remember that the crowd had asked him, “Who is this Son of Man?” In other words, “The Scriptures teach us that the Son of Man will remain forever, and You keep talking about dying, so what kind of Son of Man are you?” We explored that question and its implications a few weeks ago. But notice here that Jesus did not answer their question directly. He had no intention of entering into a theological debate. Rather, He forced the issue upon them of what they would do with the Light of God while it was available to them. As long as they want to stand around and debate about it, they are procrastinating the major issue. Many want to do this today. They want to debate minor points of doctrine, philosophical theories, and existential issues. They’ll discuss anything to keep from dealing with the primary issue. The primary issue is always about what we will do with Jesus. So, as He speaks to them of the destructive dangers of darkness and the availability of the Light of God-in-Christ, He issues a series of imperatives challenging them to make the appropriate response to Him. And the same challenges are relevant to us as well.

He says, “Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you” (v35). Then He says, “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light” (v36). So there are three inseparable truths here about our response to the Light. There’s the response itself, the relationship that ensues, and the result.

First, the response: we must believe in the Light; that is, we must make a personal faith commitment to Jesus Christ. To believe in Him does not mean to believe in the intellectual or historical sense. It is not the same as saying that you believe that there is such a creature as a duckbilled platypus exists or that you believe that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. It would be the rare individual indeed who did not believe that a person called Jesus of Nazareth actually existed. When we speak of believing in Christ, we are talking about a matter of personal trust. Because we are all born into the darkness of sin, we have to deal with this matter of how we can stand before a holy God who will call us into account for all of the words, deeds, and thoughts of our lives. Man-made religions all have one thing in common: they all insist that there is some thing, a ritual, a deed, a performance of some task, that can be done to placate the deity and earn favor with him. But Christianity is uniquely different from all other belief systems and worldviews in that it proclaims that there is no deed that we ourselves can do to remedy our sinful condition. Instead, we proclaim that God has acted, by His grace and love, toward us to do all that is necessary on our behalf to save us from sin. He became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ, and satisfied the righteous law of God on our behalf by living a completely sinless and perfectly righteous life. And yet, He died in our place, taking upon Himself both our sins and the penalty of our sins, and conquering both sin and its penalty through His resurrection, so that we could be forgiven, clothed in His righteousness, and receive eternal life. This free gift of salvation is available to all who trust in Jesus Christ to save them. Will you stand before God bearing your own sins, or will you trust in Christ to be your sin-bearer that you might be saved on the basis of what He has done?

It is one thing to look at a picture of a 747 and say, “I believe that it could carry me across the ocean. After all, it has carried others, and seems to be a reliable and sturdy vehicle.” It is quite something different to step aboard the plane, take a seat, and buckle in for the journey. At that point, one has completely committed himself or herself to the safety and trustworthiness of that aircraft. So it is with Jesus. It is not sufficient for us to study Him as the subject of academic philosophy or theology, or to perceive Him in terms of historical trivia and curiosity. There must be a personal commitment of faith and trust that says, “I will be saved from sin and its penalty, not on the basis of what I have done, but on the basis of what Christ has done for me in His life, death, and resurrection.” We must not believe that He is one of many lights which we may choose to escape the darkness, but that He is the only true Light available to us, and our hope is in Him alone, or else we are hopeless. So, have you made that response of personal faith commitment? If so, then a relationship has begun.

That is the second truth. We have not merely become adherents to a system of dogma or an impersonal creed, but we have come into a personal relationship with God-in-Christ. Jesus said, “believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” The Bible describes human beings apart from Christ as being children of Satan (John 8:44) and children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Regardless of one’s biological family tree, or how loving a home one was born into, spiritually speaking, it is as though we were all born into the custody of a deadbeat, abusive father whose aim was our destruction by keeping us captive in the darkness of sin. But Jesus has come to rescue us from this miserable estate by brokering an adoption into the family of the most loving and nurturing Father imaginable, God Himself. He made this possible through the payment of the ransom price of His own blood in dying for us, and as we entrust ourselves to Him by faith, He ushers us into the family of God the Father. As is promised in John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” We have been born again into a new family, and have received the spirit of adoption, by which we can call out to God as our “Abba Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). As John will say in his first epistle, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

We have become sons of Light. The family traits are beginning to develop within as God transforms us by His Spirit into the likeness of His Son. In the ancient Semitic idiom, to be a “son of” something is to be characterized by the quality of that thing. A son of Light is one who actually bears the quality of the Light and begins to reflect that Light so that others can see it. Jesus said that He is the Light of the world (Jn 8:12), but He also said that we, His followers, are the light of the world (Mt 5:14). He is like the sun, the true source of genuine light. We are like the moon, which reflects the light of the sun into the darkness. So Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). That brings us to the third truth here.

Our response is a faith commitment in Jesus Christ, which issues in a personal relationship with God-in-Christ as His adopted children, and then which results in practical action. Our light shines before men as we live out the good works for which Christ has saved us. Our good works are powerless to save us, but once we are saved by faith in Him, He begins to produce in and through us the good works that shine forth His marvelous Light into the darkness that surrounds us. So Jesus says here, “Walk while you have the Light.” In Ephesians 5:8, Paul says, “you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” In the first epistle, John will say, “If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The Greek verb tense here in our text is a present imperative, indicating a command to continual action. The true child of God is identified in that he or she is continually walking in the Light of the Lord. Where there are the secretive and manipulative ploys of self-seeking, personal agenda-driven, deeds of darkness, we have good cause to question one’s spiritual birthright. Walking in the Light is, simply put, the open and public lifestyle of honoring the Lord through one’s ongoing conduct in the world.

Unfortunately, as evangelicals have placed the necessary emphasis on the importance of a personal decision to trust in Christ, we have unintentionally minimized the biblical emphasis on the evidence of genuine faith that is found in the ongoing perseverance in holy living. So, we have fallen prey in our day to a mistaken notion of “decision-ism.” People are falsely assured that they have peace with God because they prayed a prayer in Vacation Bible School as a child, when as yet they have not taken the first step of personal obedience to Christ with their lives. We seek to excuse and justify ourselves and others on the basis of a walk down the aisle, the praying of a prayer, or the rituals of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or regular church involvement. It is not that any of these things are wrong – in fact, they may all have been done in genuine faith – but rather, the question is, what is the testimony of one’s life since that time? We are indeed saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and not by works, as Scripture promises in Ephesians 2:8-9, but the evidence of the genuineness of one’s faith is found in the following verse, Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Friends, can we take an honest spiritual inventory of ourselves and ask, “Am I walking in the Light?” That is the true result of the response of faith and the relationship of adoption into the family of God.

We are born in the darkness of sin, into a world that has been darkened by sin and its effects. But thanks be to God, Light has come in the person of the Lord Jesus. That Light is available to you, at least for this moment in time. Before this moment passes, ask yourself, “Have I responded to the Light by believing upon Jesus Christ to save me?” If you have, then you have been adopted into the family of God as a son or daughter, and you have been called and empowered to live as sons of Light by walking in the Light of the Lord. As you live for Him and speak for Him, Light is breaking forth in the darkness around you, giving others the opportunity to respond as well. Arise and shine, that others would see the Light of the Lord in and through you and be drawn out of the darkness of their sins. If you never have before, my prayer is that you would this day. For if you remain in darkness, then the darkness will overtake you, and you do not know the destruction into which are going. While you have the Light, believe upon Him and be saved. Become a son of Light, and walk in the Light.

You have a strong arm; Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Lovingkindness and truth go before You.
How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance. {Psalms 89:13-15}




 




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