Light and Darkness Manuscript


“The light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Matthew 8

This is a very simple sermon. It is this: light is life. When we come into the light, when we live in the light, we have life.

Romans 1 describes darkness: “though 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.” That darkness. The darkness of sin, the darkness that makes us think wrong. Darkness is death. Things that stay in the darkness fester and rot and lead to death. Staying in darkness kills us.

Jesus is light. When we are in Jesus, we are in the light.

That’s as simple as it gets.

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

The Gospel is simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Yes, we can complicate it, and yes there are mysteries beyond our comprehension. The Trinity is a barn burner, something I believe without claiming I can fully understand it. But sometimes, we need to return to our basics, our grounding, what roots us.

When we allow darkness in our lives, when we conceal what is evil or what pulls us away from God, we are at a double risk. The first is simply that we do ourselves damage. The darkness has a powerful appeal. An old lyric by the Indigo Girls captures it:

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable/
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

That’s Gospel truth in secular lyrics. Darkness has a hunger that is insatiable. It will eat you alive. What it offers to satisfy us only leaves us hungry for more, because it can never fill that space inside us. But man, it feels like it can. That’s the lie.

So the first risk of darkness is that it hurts us. We may not feel it, know it, or recognize it. But Jesus is pretty clear about what happens to us in darkness: “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

The second risk of darkness is that we feel shame and want to keep hidden. The common condition of all humanity is that, when we step into the darkness, we have the urge to go further in so that we don’t have to face our shame.

You know why I make so big a deal of grace? Because it’s the truth. And because if it’s our habit to acknowledge that we are sinners and that we sin and fall all the time, then repenting gets easier. If we create a reputation for ourselves that we do no wrong, it become harder to confess when we’ve fallen. If what we know about darkness is that God rescues us from it, then coming back into the light is cause for celebration, not shame. If you put the shame we feel on one side of a scale and put the delight God takes in us on the other side, our shame is as nothing. Not even a feather. But that’s not always how we experience it, is it?

I’m being totally serious here. People commit suicide because they can’t bear the shame they feel over having sinned, especially sins that lead to public humiliation and/or many damaged lives. But you know what Jesus says? “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance.” And if you hear that and think, “Yeah, but he’s talking about sinners who are repenting and become followers of Jesus, not Christians who aren’t supposed to sin,” then I think you’ve misunderstood who we are. Church is the gathered sinners. We aren’t the righteous, except in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us his righteousness—that’s part of the deal—and takes our sin upon himself. We’re still the sinners who repent.

This is what the Apostle John, who really got it that he was a sinner loved by Jesus, wrote in his first Epistle: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;7but 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.8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

You and I are sinners. We fall into darkness sometimes. No, that sounds too passive. We dive into the darkness sometimes. We go plunging into darkness, chasing things that promise us life but deliver death. The wages of sin are death. And then we go, “Oh, crud, I’m in the darkness again. Don’t I know better? How many times is this?” Then we have a decision to make. Every time, we have a decision to make.

God loves for us to live in the light. Jesus died for us so that we can live in the light. And still, if we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. Living in the light, for us, means constantly returning to the light after we’ve strayed in the darkness and, over time, growing in our belief that God knows what he’s talking about. The hope is that we come to recognize the signs when we are creeping toward the darkness and start to turn back sooner. The day when we turn back from the darkness before we enter the darkness is a great day!

As I said, this is all simple stuff. I’m not telling you this because you’ve never heard it, I’m telling you this because there is darkness in our lives. We have allowed areas of darkness to enter our lives. Jesus calls us back into the light. Here’s a verse I love—Colossians 1:13

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus has rescued us from the power of darkness. Darkness has power. If you don’t know that, you have not understood our enemy. Darkness has such power that we could not free ourselves from it but needed rescuing. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus died and resurrected and through that act, rescued us from the power of darkness. Darkness now has no power over us, meaning it cannot control us unless we give it control, and Jesus can always bring us back. When we say “we were dead in our sins,” we mean we had no way out of the darkness. But Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus gives us a way out. Jesus Himself
is our way out.

God has not only rescued us from the power of darkness, “the dominion of darkness,” he has also transerred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. We are taken out of the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. 7”In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.

That means our lives, which were being used for evil, are paid for by Jesus’ suffering and transformed into forces or good, for light in this dark world. That’s redemption.

Trusting that you’re tracking with me, I want to get very specific and then look at this broadly.

In a rental car driving back from Costa Rica, I talked with three friends about some darkness in my life. Now, glory to God, it was darkness in my mind and not in my actions, darkness that was calling me with a hunger that’s insatiable, and I, being me, a redeemed mess if ever there was one, chose to talk with my brothers about it. I kind of presented it as a hypothetical, but they’re my friends and saw through me. I needed them to. It was a good discussion, and we all chipped in, but the crucial part of that transaction was that I brought some darkness within me into the light, where Jesus can give me life. Literally, by speaking those words I was following Jesus, choosing not to walk in darkness, and having the light of life brought into me by my brothers, jerks that they are. They asked good questions. They made bad jokes. They did what friends do. They asked what would have happened if I had continued in darkness, which honestly is a great question to ask, especially when I haven’t made the wrong decision, because it allowed me to look down that road and say, “Oh, yuck.” They empathized with my struggle, which is nice. Having people sit loftily above you and fail to imagine how they could be that bad a sinner, well, if that’s what your friends do, may I recommend new friends? That’s what Job’s non-friend friends did.

Here’s my list: I recognized that the thoughts I was having were darkness, not light, Satan calling to me, not Jesus. I chose not to follow them. But that wasn’t enough, so as an act of will, I chose to speak them out loud to my brothers in Christ, my fellow redeeemed compatriots, because darkness cannot bear light. Jesus’ light brings healing to anything we’ve kept in darkness. Anything.

Here’s the other list. Check it for yourself.

I could have told myself it was not that big a deal. I could have rationalized that it was just bad thoughts, so what? We’re in a very stressful time personally within a very stressful time corporately and it’s understandable that my brain might go sideways. I could have told myself that I’m too mature still to be dealing with this. Obviously, I’m not, but aren’t I supposed to be? Or shouldn’t they think I am? What will they think of me? Will they think less of me? Will they tell people?

Those are all such reasonable-sounding thoughts. But none of them are the voice of Jesus. That’s the darkness calling.

This is not a sermon on accountability or on having good friends—pretty sure I’ve given that sermon here at some point—but I’m very blessed with good friends and I pray God blesses you that way, too.

One more point on darkness. Being in the darkness, as it sounds, means we will have trouble seeing. We’re talking symbolism here, something we can understand to help us grasp something that we cannot yet understand. To me, the scariest part of being in the darkness is convincing ourselves that we’re not really in the darkness at all. It usually happens by degrees. I hate seeing this and I’ve definitely seen it too often.

In Matthew 6, right smack in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this: 22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

In context, Jesus is talking about money and possessions. Immediately before this, he says, 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Then he says the eye is the lamp of the body and a healthy eye will make your body full of light but an unhealthy eye will make your body full of darkness. Right after this, he says No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

So how does the health of our eye relate to being in light or darkness? Remember, Jesus is using symbolism. This is not an optometry lesson, it’s spirituality. It’s discipleship.

If your eye, the part of you that registers and seeks and brings in light, is healthy, then you will be full of light—the light we’ve been talking about, Jesus’ light, the light that gives us life. But if your eye is unhealthy, instead of bringing light into your body, it will bring in darkness—but you’ll think it’s still light. That’s why Jesus says, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Being in darkness is bad, but to be flooded with darkness while you believe you are in light? What’s more dangerous? How will you repent? Why would you repent?

The strongest example we have of this is the Pharisees, who believed that they knew God better than anyone else, but were completely blind to God incarnate, standing right in front of them, calling them to repent. They told Jesus his power came from Satan. The Son of God comes directly to you, demonstrates his power, and says, “Come, love people like I do,” and you say, “No, you’re the devil.” If the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

I want you to note that their version of being in the darkness but refusing to see that they are in darkness, is all religious. It isn’t that they no longer believe in God; they believe that they know God better than everyone else, better than Jesus, the Light of the world as he stands there talking to them; that’s exactly what keeps them in darkness. This is utter blindness.

It can go either way, of course. I’ve also seen people decide that what they used to call “sin” was actually just fine, after all, and the only real problem had been feeling bad about it in the first place. I call that tragedy.

But if we’re going to be honest about the world we live in, I’ve also seen people freed from legalism and guilt over things that I believe had nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but were exactly the empty law-keeping Paul talked about. Colossians 2 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”?22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.”

So here we are, trying to walk with Jesus in the light, and we need to discern what is light and when we are in darkness. We need faithful friends who sin like we do, love Jesus like we do, and can speak truth to us: “Yeah, that’s darkness, Come out of there.” Even better if we have the friends who can also say, “Dude, you’re being a Pharisee. Come out of there, too.” The good news is that, astoundingly, Jesus wants us in the light even more than we want to be there. We’re all conflicted and want to have life in Jesus but also sort of flirt with the darkness; Jesus, in whom there is no darkness at all, is not the least conflicted. He just wants us in the light. Ultimately, that’s where our hope is. John experienced this personally: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Even if this starts to seem complex, it’s still simple. Recognizing darkness and loving light comes through loving Jesus. When I spend time with Jesus, when I immerse myself in the Gospels, when I give myself to the things that help me know him more deeply—for me, loving young adults, recreating, writing in my journal, reading spiritual truth from good writers, hanging with the other faithful, redeemed sinners—I grow in my ability to distinguish light from darkness. I grow in my love for being in the light with Jesus, doing his Kingdom work.

I want to close with a glimpse of the big picture. We all know a lot about what’s happening here right now in our beautiful, beloved Nicaragua. It’s horrible and it’s scary. I believe it is also a picture of walking in darkness instead of light. John 3

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

It may have started with some small darkness. It may have started with some minor-seeming self-deception. I’m guessing there were moments when people could have spoken the truth and challenged the darkness, but that didn’t happen. Or it was rejected. And it grew. It multiplied. There is a dominion of darkness and a Kingdom of light. Those aren’t just physical realities, nor merely when people decide to do good stuff or bad stuff. Those are spiritual realities, spiritual realms in warfare. When mothers whose children have been killed march in protest and people murder some of those marchers with sniper rifles, we’re seeing the kingdom of darkness right in front of us.

Going back to our first two verses: “The light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

People are walking in darkness all around us. That’s always true, but it’s out in the open now. Jesus is the light of the world and He shines in the darkness. The darkness has not and will not overcome it. We follow Jesus. We are in Him, in his light. We do not walk in darkness, even when the darkness is all around us. When you see darkness like this, there’s nothing appealing or tempting about it. It’s ugly and brutal. This is what darkness really is, no matter how it dresses up.

Our job, as I see it, is to keep on being light. I know a lot of us feel helpless and scared. It is scary. Nothing wrong with feeling scared. That’s common sense. But letting fear control us is different. I know we’re praying, and that’s exactly what we have to do, that’s what we do first and that’s no small thing. In truth, that’s the biggest thing. To quote John Bunyan, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.” That sounds pretty good right now.

The other thing I know to do is keep calling people back to focus on Jesus. With my human eyes, I can’t see right now how God is going to bring peace and justice here, but I am believing he will. Ultimately, our hope is not in human solutions, but in God’s love and grace. People come to know Jesus in crisis, when they know their need. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. This is the time to speak up about our hope. Share your light. Come, Lord Jesus.

2 thoughts on “Light and Darkness Manuscript

  1. Jean

    “The Trinity is a barn burner” Tell me more about ‘barn burners’. It’s a phrase my parents used, usually to describe a very close game or competition where the opponents were evenly matched.

    • The original reference was to a Dutch farmer who confronted the rats infesting his barn by burning the barn down. I think of it more as connoting something very intense and exciting and a bit overwhelming. I think it’s often used for sports events this way–an exciting and intense game–and that often works out to an evenly matched game. I don’t know that the rats were an even match for the fire. I’m not sure I like how the analogy works here, but neither am I an even match for explaining the Trinity.

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