READ : John 1:3-5
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 1:4,5 rsv
Have you ever thought of what a blessing it is to have sunshine? Those of us who live here in western Michigan know something about that. I’m told that our part of the country has fewer hours of sunshine per year than any other. Sometimes in the winter, we can go through a two-week period when we never see the sun at all.
But we shouldn’t complain. Think of what people have to deal with in the town of Tromso, Norway, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Imagine this now: the sun does not shine at all in Tromso for two months of the year. The result: what you might expect. People there become uptight, restless, fearful. They’re preoccupied with thoughts of suicide and death. Many seem to develop a “don’t care” attitude. There’s low productivity at that time of year and a general slowdown in life. Everyone feels tired. There’s much insomnia, with quite a rise in the sale of sleeping pills, pep pills, and tranquilizers. Citizens put on lights everywhere to create the illusion of sunlight. Some even put neon fixtures over their living room windows to give a kind of sunshine effect. When the sun finally comes again, Tromso people really celebrate. How they rejoice in the light!
Today I want to think with you about another kind of radiance – a light even more necessary for us, even more joy-producing. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, at verse 4: “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.”
Think about that. Someone is being described here as “the light.” Not “a bright person,” not “the bringer of light,” but “the light.” This one is said to be the light of every human being, the light that enlightens everyone. He is also called “the Word,” the “only Son,” and “the life.” His name, the gospel tells us, is Jesus Christ.
This is another of John’s amazing affirmations. He says that the eternal Word who was made flesh, the only Son who came among us as a man, is the light that enlightens every human being. Every bit of understanding, every grasp of truth, every measure of enlightenment that has ever come to the human race has come from this one we call Jesus. Think about Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant minds the world has ever known. Einstein was a physicist, a remarkably imaginative thinker. He put together data from the observable world along with some spectacular hunches and came up with what is called his theory of relativity. It was a prediction of the way things work in this universe. Since his time, that theory has been tested in a number of ways and, often, dramatically confirmed. Einstein was somehow able to envision realities in his mind that correspond with the way things operate in the physical universe. It was as though the Creator had let him glimpse the secret. Jesus is the light who made those leaps of insight possible.
But the best light He provides is not about the created order but about the Creator Himself. He is the supreme revealer, making the Almighty known. He makes it possible for us to see God with eyes of faith. Every glimpse of the glory that anyone has ever been granted has come from Him. He, Jesus, is the light that enlightens every one of us.
And, John adds, He is the light “coming into the world” (v. 9). He is light making its personal entry, arriving on the scene like the sun rising after a winter of gloomy darkness. Those who recognize Him celebrate more than the residents of Tromso do at the returning sun.
SHINING IN THE DARKNESS
Here’s the second great affirmation: “The light shines in the darkness.” For Jesus to come into the world, for Him to be born as a baby and to share our humanness was like light piercing the shadows. Suddenly in the midst of the darkness and the sadness there was light.
We wonder, what is the darkness spoken of here, in which the light comes to shine? In the prophecy of Isaiah, it was said that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (9:2). This darkness represents in part our human ignorance of God. Though His glory shines all around us in the created order, we don’t seem to see it. Though He makes Himself known in His Word, we don’t seem to hear it. Because we resist the light, we become less and less able to aprehend it.
Here’s how Paul describes that process, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). They suppress the truth about God; they hold it down. And, continuing with Paul, “what can be known about God 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” (Rom. 1:19-21). In spite of all the light about us from God’s created order and from the Word made flesh, we don’t see. Our senseless minds become darkened. We are blind because we will not see.
But the darkness is more than ignorance, even wilful ignorance. There is in this world a mysterious, malignant opposition to the light. That is the deepest kind of darkness. Have you ever turned over a big slab of rock on a bright summer day? Activity usually follows. All kinds of little creatures run for cover and go burrowing into the ground. They’re trying to get away from the light into the darkness again.
Sometimes the flight turns to fight. Sometimes people who love darkness hate the light and try to put it out. When Jesus came into the world, He entered enemy-occupied territory. He encountered the forces of darkness who did not welcome His light. They began to plot how to get rid of Him, how to snuff out the light of the world.
Why do we do that? The light exposes things we would rather keep hidden. Ask those who light our major cities about that. As candle power goes down, the crime rate increases. Turn up the light and your chances of cutting down crime improve. People who don’t want their evil ways to come visible are those who shoot out the lights. And those who are not willing to confess their sins to God will stay as far away as they can from His searching light. They’ll do all they can to extinguish it.
NOTHING CAN PUT IT OUT
But here’s a joyful word, another great affirmation. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
How the hosts of darkness tried to put out the light! Remember King Herod? When he heard from the wise men of the baby born to be king, he resolved to slaughter all of Bethlehem’s children. He wanted to quench the light at its first shining. When Jesus proclaimed in Nazareth the light of God’s truth, His own countrymen were enraged at Him. He spoke of God’s concern for those outside the bounds of Israel, and they couldn’t bear to hear that. They took Him out of the city and tried to cast Him over a cliff. They didn’t want the light. He escaped, but as He moved along through His ministry, scattering the darkness in word and work, opposition against Him mounted. The authorities plotted how they could trap Him and turn Him over to the Romans, how they could falsely accuse Him, how they could arrange for His execution.
Satan, the prince of darkness, was behind all of this. With his temptations in the wilderness, the devil tried to turn Jesus aside from His mission. It was he who stirred up the cruelty of the mob and the envy of the authorities. Satan put it into Judas’s heart to become a betrayer.
Jesus recognized what was happening. When they came to arrest Him, He said, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). In Gethsemane, Jesus went through the anguish of terrible darkness. When He was crucified, even the sun refused to shine. It seemed that the unthinkable had happened. A disaster worse than the banishing of the sun from the skies had happened on planet earth. The light of the world had failed. The Lord of life went down into the depths of death. It seemed for a time that the darkness had overcome the light.
But only for a time. Easter morning was like a new sunrise for the world. The Son of Righteousness arose with healing in His wings.
The hosts of darkness had tried to prevent it. They had rolled a huge stone in front of His tomb. They had set up a guard. They would see to it that this troublesome light would never shine again. Wasn’t it ridiculous what they were trying to do? Imagine a man standing beside the sea as the tide is coming in. In a tiny voice, almost drowned by the sound of wind and wave, He says, “Tide, stay back! I forbid you to come in.” Pretty laughable, isn’t it? What chance has he to hold back the mighty ocean?
Or imagine someone on a mountain peak facing toward the east just before dawn. “Sun,” he cries, “stay below the horizon! I forbid you to rise today.” We’d wonder about his sanity, wouldn’t we? Presuming to defy the dawn! But how much more foolish it was for those who thought they could barricade the tomb of God, who thought they could keep the light of the world from blazing forth again!
The visions of the book of the Revelation give us a glimpse of the risen Christ. John on Patmos shares with us his vision, “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle around his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:12-16) Do you note that – “his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” The light was shining and the darkness could not put it out.
How people rejoice when this great light shines upon them. You know what sunshine does for our spirits. It restores our joy. It gives us zest for our days. It makes things grow; it nourishes life. It reveals to us the way things really are. All of that is a picture of what Jesus Christ does for those who trust in Him. And these great gifts no one can take from us. The light shines on, and the darkness has not overcome it. Alexander Solzhenitsyn described his arrest by the authorities in Russia in this way. “The circular upper hall is bathed in electric light and from the depths of the station along two parallel escalators Muscovites [residents of Moscow] rise to meet us in serried ranks. They all seem to look at me as if expecting me to shout at least one word of truth. Why am I silent? Because the Muscovites standing on the escalator stair are not numerous enough. My cry would be heard by 200, perhaps 400 people. But what about my 200 million compatriots? I have a vague premonition that one day I will scream out to all those 200 million.”
Yes, and eventually he did. His cry was heard across Russia and around the world. The light of truth which tyrants sought to eliminate burst forth from the shadows. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Paul put it this way, “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8). The truth that has come to the world in Jesus can never be vanquished. In the midst of all the gathering darkness, in spite of all the opposition of men and demons, the light of the world goes on shining.
Prayer: Father, may every person sharing this program rejoice in Christ and come to the light. In Jesus’ name. Amen.