Still Shining

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-5 rsv

Listen now to some of the most profound, majestic words ever written: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Those are the opening lines from the Gospel according to John. John is at the same time the most simple of Christian writings and the most profound. Someone has compared it to a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim. If you have had no prior knowledge of the Christian faith, this is the book for you. And if you want to know the depth and height, the length and breadth of God’s Good News in Christ, this book is for you. John Calvin called this Gospel “a key to open the door to the understanding of the others.” He urged that, of all the New Testament writings, this should be read first. We have great things in store for us. I send forth these messages on this marvelous Gospel with the prayer that God will speak through them powerfully to every heart.

The first eighteen verses of the Gospel according to John are sometimes called the prologue. They form a kind of preface, but much more than that. They are also a summary of the Gospel’s message. The Word of whom we read in the first verse is the center of the entire work. What the Gospel writer means by the Word becomes clearer and clearer as the Gospel moves along.

THE LIVING WORD

What do we learn right at the start about this Word? The Word was, the Word existed, “in the beginning.” That makes us think of the book of Genesis, doesn’t it? “In the beginning, God. . . .” Here it is, “In the beginning, the Word. . . .” Before all things, before all creation, before anything else began to be, there was the Word.

Next, the Word was “with God” or “toward God.” From all eternity, a relationship existed between God and the Word, a fellowship, a togetherness. There was never a time before all the ages when the Word was not with God.

Now for the most startling thought of all: “The Word was God.” He was one with God. He shared the being of God, personally distinct from but essentially one with Him. The Word was God.

We learn further that “all things were made through him.” He is the creative Word, the Word by which God spoke everything in the universe into being. Nothing, says the evangelist, has ever been made except through the Word. Remember how when God created everything, He said, “Let there be light, and there was light”? He spoke it all into existence. He brought this entire, amazing universe into being by His Word.

But that’s not all. Now we read that “in him,” that is in the Word, “was life.” All life is in the Word. There’s no life apart from the Word. Whoever or whatever partakes of life, receives it from the Word and possesses it only in the Word. There is no other source of life, except this living One.

This leads the evangelist to say something more: “The life was the light of men.” The life that resides in the Word, that comes forth from the Word, is the light which all human beings know. Whatever understanding we have, whatever truth we know, whatever reality we see comes ultimately from the Word.

THE SHINING LIGHT

Now I come to the verse of scripture which I especially want to think about with you today. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The first thought here is that the light which streams from God’s everlasting Word is shining in the midst of darkness. This is a world, the gospel tells us, that is lying in darkness. The shadowed existence we know is a judgment we have brought upon ourselves. We have rebelled against our Maker, spurned His presence, forgotten His gifts, disobeyed His commands. We’ve gone from the light of His favor into the gloom of estrangement from Him. Now darkness is our home, our native environment. It has also seeped inside of us, so that we are benighted within.

But the gospel tells us that the Light is shining in the midst of the darkness. Even in our revolt and ruin, we have not totally escaped its beams. The most depraved and darkened human being on the earth, living in the most unenlightened culture, still has some glimmers of the Light.

God, you see, has not left Himself without witness in this world. He has planted what theologians call “a seed of religion” deep in every human heart. Everyone has at least a dim awareness of the Creator. However twisted and corrupted it may be, everyone has some sense of right and wrong. In every culture you may visit, on any continent of earth, you will find people who deeply feel that some things are good and others evil. “The light,” John says later, “enlightens every man.” Each has some awareness of God’s stupendous creative work. It’s all around us, sending messages to our senses all the time. Some knowledge of the God behind everything still gleams in our inner darkness. The Light goes on shining.

So when I speak today, I know that down deep within you, something witnesses to the truth of what you will hear. Something tugs at you to believe. Conscience may be stifled, but it still whispers. Truth may be denied, but not completely dismissed. In the deepest of our darkness, the Light shines on.

DARKNESS CANNOT UNDERSTAND

Now listen to the other side of this affirmation. “The darkness has not overcome it.” The word translated overcome here means also “to grasp” or “to understand.” The first thing being said here is that the darkness has not accepted the light, has not welcomed it and rejoiced in it.

This is so about the light shining all around us in the created order. We haven’t loved the truth that this is our Father’s world. Listen to the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 1: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (v. 18). They suppress the truth. They hold it down. They do not yield to it or embrace it. “For what can be known about God,” Paul continues, “is plain to them because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened” (vv. 19-21). In other words, what light they had, they refused to accept. They pushed it away from them, as it were. They hugged to themselves their darkness. They did not court the searching light. They did not want its exposure of their lives. To acknowledge God and His light would have constrained them to serve and obey, and they did not want to. So they shut their eyes to the light. They did not love or seek it. I say “they,” but that means us – all of us.

The message of John’s Gospel is even more alarming. When the Word, the everlasting Word we’ve been reading about, became flesh, became human, when the eternal light blazed forth in our history, then too, we did not grasp it, did not comprehend it, did not take it in. Listen to John: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not” (vv. 9,10). In Jesus of Nazareth, the glory of God once blazed forth upon the world. People saw God’s splendor not now in a sunset but in the face of Jesus, His beloved Son. But they did not want to know Him and walk in His light. Even more, John writes, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (v. 11). When God came in the person of His Son Jesus to His chosen people Israel, to the center of their common life, they did not welcome Him. Though He spoke as no man had ever spoken and did before their eyes what only God could do, they did not acknowledge Him. They did not treasure the illumination He brought. Shockingly, tragically, they loved the darkness more than the light. They would not listen to the Word or walk in the sunshine. They said in His presence, “I will not believe.”

DARKNESS CANNOT PREVAIL

But it is also gloriously true that the darkness could not overcome the light. King Herod, remember, tried to snuff out its first beaming. He ordered the slaughter of all the infant children in Bethlehem, hoping to destroy the newborn Savior. Later, Jesus’ own townspeople tried in Nazareth to cast Him over the edge of a cliff, but that effort also failed. As He moved along through His ministry, teaching the truth, doing works of compassion, resentment against Him mounted. Religious officials plotted how they might destroy Him. The powers of darkness marshalled enmity against Him. He was spoken against, falsely accused. They arrested Him, convicted Him on trumped up charges, mocked Him, slapped Him, spit upon Him and finally hung Him up to die a death reserved for the vilest of criminals. It seemed for a time, when Jesus breathed His last on that somber Good Friday, that the darkness had overcome the light.

We have learned in our time about something terrifying in this universe that can actually swallow up light. We call it a “black hole.” In 1783 a Cambridge astronomer theorized that a star sufficiently massive and compact would have such a strong gravitational field that its light could not escape. Any light emitted from the surface would be dragged back by the star’s gravitational attraction before it could get very far. Now we know this to be true. Stars that collapse upon themselves become almost infinitely small and infinitely weighty, with such immense gravitational pull that even particles of light cannot emerge and be seen. Black holes seem to swallow up the light.

Golgotha was history’s infamous Black Hole. There it seemed that the Light of the world had been drawn down into the depths, never to shine again. But then came Easter morning, when with the rising of the sun, a far grander light appeared. Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, triumphed over death. The star of glory, which had seemed to be extinguished, blazed forth with new brilliance. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

So for all of us, friends, this is a day of marvelous opportunity. The light we have so long shunned and even tried to extinguish is shining still for us. If we will come to the light, if we will acknowledge Jesus as God’s living, saving Word to us, we can be forgiven. We can have our darkness scattered. We can be filled with His light and life.

There’s hope for this whole world because the light shines on in spite of the gathering darkness. And there’s hope for you personally if you will welcome the light and walk in it all the days of your life. Today I say to some of you, for whom the shadows may have come to seem like home: O come to the light. It’s shining for you. Put your trust in the One who died for you and rose again, in Jesus the living One, and live in triumphant hope. This light, friends, will never, never fail!

PRAYER: Father, for the light that has dawned upon the world in Jesus Your Son, incarnate, crucified and risen for us, we praise You. May every person today sharing this message, come to His light. Amen.