Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2013
Dear Friend in Christ,
We have a lot to celebrate even in the midst of darkness, or I should say especially in the midst of darkness! I want to celebrate the light that still shines and will shine more and more until the perfect day (see Proverbs 4:18).
There is an old story about a rural church that needed some renovation. The pastor proposed some fresh paint and a chandelier. A member objected, “A chandelier will cost too much; no one here can play one, and what we need is light!” True, what we need is light!
Without light, we cannot see and then we stumble in darkness. We have seen what darkness does in a culture that rejects light. We saw it in Nazi Germany, the U.S.S.R., China and the Middle East. The list is long. And, we have seen what the light does when a person or a nation turns to Jesus (see Proverbs 14:34).
Light travels at 186,000 miles a second; it comes suddenly striking the eyes and gives vision. Without light there is no sight and no vision; without vision, people perish (see Proverbs 29:18). Danger surrounds us but light enables us to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death”; with light we fear no evil because He is with us. In His light, we see light (see Psalm 36:9).
This is the season to celebrate the entrance of God’s light into the world, and to rejoice because He has shown us the way through the dangers of life. Light is most appreciated when it comes into the darkness. The darker the night, the brighter the light!
John 1 tells us that Jesus is the Word of God that brought light into a darkened world. In Him was life and the light of men. The darkness could not and cannot extinguish it; light came to the world in a small baby in a small village in a very small nation. Very few even noticed. Herod tried to extinguish it. Later, the Romans and the leaders of Israel tried to put it out. They used every means including the Cross, but now more than one billion people confess that they have seen that eternal light.
The fact that the light of Jesus, full of grace and truth, has spread to the nations should not surprise us because the prophets foretold it centuries earlier. John was alive when it happened, but others saw it coming long before it happened.
Numbers 14 records that Israel walked in darkness, failing to see the promise of God, rebelling against Moses, and refusing to enter the Promised Land. That generation perished. But verse 21 records that even in that darkness, God promised to fill the earth with His glory (radiance). He said, “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” That is an amazing prophetic word given perhaps 1500 years before Jesus entered. Even more amazing, it came in a time of darkness and rebellion.
Moses was a “seer” who saw the light when others only saw darkness. He saw beyond Israel to a time when the whole earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord. He understood 3500 years ago that God’s light was for the entire world, not just his people.
Psalm 27 is one of my favorite passages. It was written when David was in a time of trouble and darkness. But he said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” In verse 5, he said, “In a time of trouble, He will hide me.”
The light of God’s presence brings salvation, strength, and courage. The light of God hides us or protects us from the dangers that lurk in the darkness. David takes the universal promise of God’s light to the world and makes it personal. His light is my light.
One reason that I love Psalm 27 so much is that it was given to me in a time of trouble. In late 1967, I had given my salary back to the church that I was pastoring because I believed that to be the will of God. In addition, even I was about to go to New Zealand to minister, there was serious disunity among the leaders of the church caused by some outside influence. So I spent three days at a remote cabin seeking God. That is when the Lord gave me Psalm 27.
I could say more about that story, but the conclusion was that God provided generously, the trip as great, and the Lord took me into a new dimension of ministry. He was, and is, my light and y salvation; the strength and courage of my life. The Lord wants to make “the Light of the world” personal to us, especially in times of trouble.
Isaiah speaks about the light often. In chapter 60, verse 1, he says, “Arise and shine for your light has come! The glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” This will happen though darkness covers the earth (see verses 2-3). The glory of the Lord will arise over us, be seen, and draw others to the light.
It may sound humorous, but these verses came to me at a traffic light. I was waiting for an arrow that would allow me to make a left turn and the light skipped me not once but twice! I was thinking about running a red light when suddenly my arrow turned green. Then I thought of the verse, “Arise and shine; your light has come!” Yes I know, that is an odd interpretation, but without light, moving forward is unwise.
Habakkuk struggled with the darkness, violence, and the suffering around him. He argued with God about it and then got quiet to see what God would say. The answer was a history making response: “The just shall live by his faith” (see Habakkuk 2:4). Then in verse 14 God promised, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory (radiance) of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Habakkuk was disturbed about the darkness, but the Lord instructed him to have faith in the light that would come and cover the earth. Most of us can relate to Habakkuk’s problem. The darkness is disturbing, but we need to trust God. Faith brings light in the darkness.
Malachi gave us the last book in the Old Testament. He also lived in troubling times: families were breaking up, the temple was corrupt, parents and children were estranged, and Israel was dominated by the Persian Empire (Iran). But the Lord told him, “Your eyes shall see, and you shall say, ‘The Lord is magnified beyond the borders of Israel'” (see Malachi 1:5).
In verse 11 of that chapter, the Lord said, “From the rising of the sun, even to its going down, my name shall be great among the nations.” Even as Israel profaned the name of the Lord, He proclaimed that light would shine from East to West.
The prophets understood that darkness could not conquer light and truth. And they understood that the light that came to Israel was in fact for the entire world, though Israel often failed to see that (see Exodus 19:5). In like manner, the light in Church is not merely forthe Church but the entire world, especially those who walk in darkness.
Malachi also prophesied that the Sun of righteousness would rise with healing for those who feared the Lord (see Malachi 4:1-3). Light would come to those who revered the Lord’s name. Light has healing properties, beyond what I can address here. Light can destroy bacteria and germs. Natural light contains healing whereas darkness is conducive to disease. So it is in the Spirit. Those who prefer darkness do so because of evil. The righteous come to the light (see John 3:19).
Jesus is the light that the prophets saw (see John 8:56). And 2000 years ago, Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us-the Light of the world. Like John, we have beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. I can say that because that same light, the one the shepherds saw, is still with us to shine on our path. The night was dark, but the light was glorious. His light shines brightly, even more brightly in the darkest night.
Have you ever sat with other Christians, discussing Jesus, and then sensed His presence? He promised to be there: Did you recognize Him? Did you feel like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? (see Luke 24:13-35). I had that experience recently while sitting in a restaurant with a friend. We were discussing the Cross and things the Lord had showed him from Isaiah chapters 50 and 53. I love those chapters. We could sense His presence as we talked.
It is exciting to discuss Scripture in His presence because He sheds more light as we talk. His presence brings light and revelation: “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (see Psalm 119:105). My friend and I had both experienced danger and darkness but God’s light had come and saved us.
I do not think that we can fully celebrate the light that entered 2000 years ago until we experience that same light in our lives and fellowship. Darkness is scattered when we do just as it was then. We can be as joyful as the shepherds were on that first night or when the prophets rejoiced to see Jesus’ day. Joy to the world! That is more than a Christmas carol; it is an experience.
Too many of God’s people are stumbling in the shadow of death, to say nothing of the rest of the world. We are much like Israel was in Jesus’ day. Evil is often called good and good evil (see Isaiah 5:20). When Jesus went to Galilee, Matthew says, “Those who walked in darkness saw a great light” (see Matthew 4:16). He healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, and preached the kingdom of God. That is what “the Light” did and what He still does. That continues to happen when we come to Jesus. Systems and methods cannot do that, but Jesus does.
Christmas is a celebration of the light that has come. This light that is brighter than the lights on the tree or even brighter than the noonday sun (see Acts 9:3; 26:13). It is the light that exposes darkness, illuminates our path, and saves us from destruction. It cleanses and heals our wounds; it drives out evil thoughts and intentions. And, it is available as we seek His face.
I pray that Christmas will be all of that to us. In the world there is tribulation (extreme pressure), but through Jesus there is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. And the Good News is that all of that is not just for us; it is for whosoever believes on Him, from East to West, brighter than the sun at noon day, the light of the world! Have a blessed Christmas season! His light is the reason.
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Scripture Reference: Proverbs, Psalms, John, Numbers, Isaiah, Habakkuk, Malachi, Exodus, Luke, Isaiah, Matthew, Acts