Well it’s about that time of year again. That time when time is usually on our minds. In just two short days it will be one year later than it was a year ago, which usually prompts us to look back over that last year and figure out what we liked and usually more often what we didn’t like that we want to change next year. My mailbox has already been flooded with flyers for local gyms trying to guess what those goals might be for me.
But never minding the failed resolutions that inevitably come out of this, the real problem with all of that is that it tends to have a failed focus. The things we are proud of the year before and the things we strive to change in the next… well… are they the right things?
Today, let’s look at what the apostle Paul had to say and consider our past and our future in light of those words that God had him write. At the beginning of our section he writes:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If anyone had reason to be proud and confident, it was Paul. He was a paragon of virtue. He was born of the right people, God’s own chosen nation. He followed every command from God and every tradition of his people. He was part of the moral elite, the Pharisees. If he was around today, he could be bragging on Facebook about how all three of his perfect children were excelling in their own extra-curriculars while showing photos from his last tropical vacation, the new house he’s building, the promotion he got this year, and how he hit his target weight in half the time expected.
And what does Paul say about all these things he should be bragging about?
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And now what does he say about that life? He considers it a loss. He doesn’t just find that entire life to be worthless, he actually considers it detrimental to his life. In fact, he considers everything a loss when it is compared to the greatness of simply knowing his Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if you remember back, if you were here for our summer series on the book of Acts, you may remember that this was not a conclusion that Paul came to on his own. He didn’t suddenly realize that all that was wrong and worthless. God had to reveal it to Paul.
In that confrontation on the road to Damascus, God appeared to him and made Paul aware of exactly how wrong and backward his life had been from start to finish. God taught Paul that everything of his own he thought he should be proud of was in reality something to be ashamed of, and there was nothing good in himself. The house, the job, the vacation, the perfect life – those things were all hurting him, not helping.
Why? Because they weren’t good enough. They couldn’t save him. No matter how hard he tried to do everything right and have the perfect life and have people love him and all that, it wasn’t good enough for God. God demands perfection. What’s more, God requires that he himself be the focal point of our lives. That we do everything for him. Paul hadn’t done all those things for God, he did them for himself! Everything he thought was worth anything wasn’t just a waste of time, it was actively keeping him away from the God who could save him.
It was at this point, at the bottom of everything, when Paul had all hope in himself cut out from under him, that God showed him his mercy and grace in Jesus. And Paul understood the only thing worth anything in this life is Christ himself. Paul gave up hope in himself and clung to the hope of Jesus as his savior, trusting that Jesus alone is the only way he can possibly be rescued.
Now Paul’s experience may sound outlandish, and maybe the circumstances are. But those aside, this is the experience that every Christian goes through to come to a knowledge of their savior, the same Christ. Each one of us has to realize: I am sinful. I cannot save myself. I need Jesus. Only he can help me. Only he is worth anything in my life.
And so, the question now is, as I’m looking back over 2018 and looking on to my plans for 2019 – do my thoughts show that I’m convinced of this truth?
Do I really consider everything I have apart from Christ is a loss? Do we really “buy” that, or are we feebly clinging to the notion that some of what we have or do or are is worthwhile, profitable, useful? Sure, there’s plenty of stuff it’s easy to look at and identify as useless and harmful. We know that indulging our sinful temptations is harmful to us. Sin damages faith, it hurts our relationship with our God and it risks our eternal life.
But of course, God himself gives us great things to be used for our recreation and enjoyment…what about those? Even with those we must be cautious. These gifts are to be used to enrich our lives of service to him. They are a means to an end. They help us relax, recharge, lift our spirits so we can continue our work for God. But when the gift becomes the purpose, when all our time and energy gets poured into one hobby or recreational pursuit, it ultimately becomes a loss for us, because again, it is distracting us and taking us away from the only thing that is to our gain, our Lord Christ.
But even that doesn’t go as far as Paul was talking here. Remember he listed off all the great things about himself that he had claim to. Every achievement or source of pride – what did he say about them? He considered a loss. And for the same reason: they served to distract and take him away from our God. It is the same for us.
We need to see that there is no difference here. It could be the grossest display of sinful indulgence or it could be chasing a goal that isn’t our Lord or it could just be plain old pride in myself and my abilities and accomplishments. They all do the same thing: they lead us away from God. The best of who we are, the best of what we have and do in our lives…these too are a loss! Pardon me for a moment while I get a little complicated. They are a loss when we view them this way. Let me elaborate.
If I look see the best I have as the best I have, then where is the focus? If the best I can do I view as the best I do, then where is the focus? If I am proud of myself for my accomplishments, for the things I have done with the strength of my hands or the skill of my intellect, then I am worshiping myself and am taken away from God. Even if I take pride in all the good things I do for God, that I give him my money and my time without complaint, that I am a helpful member of the church body, then I am still worshiping myself for how great I am.
It doesn’t matter what does it, it doesn’t matter how it comes about, whatever it is, if our focus slips from looking ahead to eternity, then it is a loss to us! What is to our gain, what we do need is to keep our eyes forward, on Christ, as Paul tells us here. He had plenty to be proud of, plenty to indulge in, but his reaction was anything that kept him apart from Christ, anything that caused him to focus on himself or anything that wasn’t Christ was a loss to him. And why? Because only Christ had what he truly needed. Forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness.
This is why it is so dangerous to let the things of this life steal our focus away from Christ. Just like Paul, all the best we have… can’t save us. We do not measure up to God’s standards. Without Jesus, we are dead. We would be cut off from God and left to an eternity without any of his mercy or grace. There is nothing worse than that. There is no goal to set that is more important than avoiding that outcome. But we cannot avoid it ourselves. Nothing we have changes this for ourselves.
Only Jesus makes a difference. And it makes all the difference. Where we are unworthy and have nothing good to offer, Christ makes us worthy. His life of obedience is credited to us, and his innocent sacrifice on the cross eliminates the debt we owe our God. In Christ, and only in him, are we saved. We are declared innocent before God our Father and we are promised a heavenly home is prepared for us at the end of our time here. Through him we will, as Paul says here, obtain the resurrection of the dead.
When we understand and accept this dynamic between us and our God, it changes how we view our lives and it changes why we do whatever it is we do. When we recognize that nothing we have to offer is good in its own merit, we no longer do things out of pride or for praise or for any reward. Rather we do the good we do because God has made it possible. He gives us the strength, the time, the ability, and it’s the blood of Christ that washes our actions and makes them good for God. And we keep this attitude by keeping our looking ahead to Christ. With eyes on him, on what he’s done for us and on where he’s waiting for us – that sets our goals and mind straight for the coming year. As Paul concludes our section today:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As Paul says, we have not yet fully attained this goal of looking ahead to our God. We have not fully become as like Christ as we would like. But we do strive always to be better at it. Not by waking up each day and promising to “do better”, that will get us nowhere or even take us backwards. The way to pursue Christ is by renewing our focus each day on him. Learning from him, studying him, growing closer to him. That is what Paul is striving for here.
And when we do that, there’s a natural side-effect: Christ’s power will work through us to accomplish what we cannot on our own. We will grow to be more like him. Now, we recognize that this work will never be completed in this life. We will always have room to grow in him. But that is not an excuse for us to simply give up and say “good enough!” We should never be satisfied with how far our devotion to Christ has progressed! This should be our number one goal every year!
But if you look back over the last year and think: well I sure didn’t do that, then I have good news for you. Our devotion to God is not perfect and we should not despair when we do not live up to God’s standards. We strive, strive, strive… but never despair when we fail. It is because we fail that we have a savior. It is because we fail that Jesus died. And it is because of Jesus that our failures are forgiven. Forgotten. We show our love to God by showing him what he’s worth to us, but our expressions of love to God are simply that, they are not what keeps us in his favor, they are not what make him love us. There will be times of failure and every time we return to him, he has forgiveness for us.
Brothers and sisters, forget what is behind. Forget the things that drag you down to this world and hold you here. Forget your pride and yourself. And don’t look back with regret either. Forget your own failures; God already has. Leave the past in the past. Strain toward what is ahead. Look ahead to the prize that God won for you. Press on toward it. Make that your goal for 2019 and beyond. Reach for Christ every day like your life depends on it. God is reaching back for you, taking hold of you, guarding and guiding you every step of every day. Stay close to him, draw close to him. You are a forgiven child of God, you have absolutely everything to look forward to in him. Amen.
Throughout the Advent season we’ve been focusing on the theme of Light. Today, we’re going to draw that all together and take one broad look at the light that God provides us as his children, from start to finish. We’ll start at the beginning, when light was new and perfect. We’ll see that light lost to sin. But then we’ll see God immediately light a candle of hope in the promise of a Savior. And then, throughout the centuries, that light will grow brighter as God expands on that promise, revealing more and more about the Savior, until at last we see him revealed in the flesh. Naturally we can’t possibly focus on every prophecy of Jesus today. But we’ll look at a select few and see the blessings the light brings for us today and always.
We begin at the beginning:
Light Destroyed: Genesis 3:1-8
It didn’t take long for man to ruin what God created. What they had was perfect. Not just the light that shone from the sun but the light that was in them. Adam and Eve did not know pain or suffering. They didn’t know want. They didn’t know anger or jealousy. And they knew their God. They were made in his image. Holy. It was paradise.
But the temptation was that it could be better. The temptation was that they could have even more. The temptation was that they could be like God himself. They did the one thing God told them not to do. “Love me, trust me enough not to do this.” was his command. But instead they loved themselves more. And light within them was destroyed.
Suddenly they did know evil. It was them. Suddenly they knew shame. Suddenly they knew fear. They ran from God. They hid from each other. Holiness was destroyed. Pain and suffering and death would be their lot from then on. God can only accept the holy, those in his image. Adam and Eve were not anymore. And their children were born in that image, not God’s. Down through the generations, everyone born naturally is not born in the image of God. We are born in the image of our fallen parents. That sinful nature meant Adam and Eve were cut off from God and his grace. It was a dark and dreary road ahead, one filled with nothing but misfortune that would end in eternal death.
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Light Focused: Genesis 15:4-7,15
We don’t know exactly how much later it was when God revealed more about the Messiah to a man named Abram. It was a long time. The great flood had come and gone, and the earth was once again being populated. The promise of a man, born of a woman, who would crush the serpent’s head was the gospel until that point. But now, much later, God focused the light of that promise in on one place, and one family.
Abram trusted God. God made him a number of promises. Not the least of which was that he would have a son, born of his wife, and through that son would come a nation’s worth of people. And through that line, all peoples on earth would be blessed. The new news was that the Savior promised would come from his family line. And what’s more, we now had a place. The land of Palestine, which would be known later as Israel, was where this would happen.
It was during a moment of doubt, needing reassurance that God showed Abram light. He brought him out and showed him the stars to reassure Abram of God grace, mercy, and faithfulness. And Abram’s trust in God’s promise of the Savior made him righteous and holy in God’s eyes, just like our own faith that brings salvation.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Light Brings Clarity: Numbers 24:15-19
God continued throughout the ages to illuminate the picture of the Savior. He used a prophet named Balaam to teach us what the work of this Savior would be like. He saw a bright star coming out of Jacob, one of the sons of Abram, shining its light on the world.
And then we learn here more about how the Savior would accomplish his task as the prophecy turns… aggressive. Yes, the first promise of the Savior said he would crush the serpent’s head. But here, it seems an even greater battle would be fought. Though the prophet uses the names of real nations at the time, the intent is clear. This Savior would fight as God’s chosen champion. He would wage a battle so fierce that none of his enemies could stand.
Sin itself. The Devil. Our own death that haunts each one of us. These are the greatest enemies we have. And through a fierce battle, God’s chosen would destroy these enemies for us and win our victory. You and I have the benefit of knowing this fight did not take place on a grassy plain with swords and shields but was fought on a cross for us. But the message is still the same. God’s champion will fight for us, and the victory will be ours through him.
15 Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
16 the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
18 Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
19 A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.”
Light Brings Healing: Isaiah 9:2-7
Having all our enemies defeated is a great thing. But it is not our only problem. Removing all the outside forces does not fix the wound within. It doesn’t fix the darkness we are born in and it doesn’t suddenly make us acceptable in God’s eyes. The devil could not exist, there could be no outside temptation and you and I would still break God’s law every day. We would still be broken inside, born in human image, not the holy image of God.
And so, the prophet Isaiah further reveals the work of the Savior to us. There’s more to his work that just crushing the devil and his enemies. He has something for us too. Isaiah proclaims a light dawning that heals us. The light itself brings us peace with God. It heals us from within. It makes us whole again. The burdens we have within ourselves will be shattered and we will be at war with God no more. Instead we will belong to his kingdom. We are not holy. But the light makes us holy. The Savior heals his people, ends their struggle, and brings them in to his kingdom.
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Light Arrives!: Luke 2:8-14
It took a long time by our standards. Not by God’s. Throughout history God taught his people more about what to expect from the Savior. And he worked history until the everything that he promised would happen exactly as he said. When the time was exactly right, the very event we celebrate today came to pass. Jesus was born. God made man, come here as one of us to fight our battle and heal us from within.
This is our good news, our great joy. We do not see him from afar anymore. We know him. All these prophecies would be meaningless if nothing came of them. The angels, God’s heralds, announced his arrival in glorious light to the shepherds. And they proclaimed peace. Peace between God and man because the Savior would restore the light that was lost at the beginning. He would defeat the enemies and bring us healing. The baby born contains every hope we have worth clinging to.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Light Forever: Revelation 22:21-27
That we know Jesus, that we see him and have watched his work for us does not mean there is nothing left to be revealed. The light continues to grow brighter. There is still more to come for us. Yes, we saw God fulfill his promises. We have seen Jesus grow and live as one of us but not like us. He kept the image of God. He did what his Father asked. He was obedient where we are not. And we have seen him march into battle with death and the devil. We watch the serpent strike him on the cross, but in vain. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We know that death did not hold him. We know the serpent’s head is crushed.
The battle is won. And Jesus took his perfect life, wove it into a brilliant garment for you to wear, and gave it to you. It covers all your wrong and makes you holy to God. The image is restored. The relationship with God is restored. And there is one more promised to be fulfilled: eternal life with him. Yes, our greatest problems are solved by Jesus, but the fact is – we’re still here. We may be healed by the light, but this world is still broken and decaying. And so, we won’t stay.
That is our goal, the city of light. Light better and brighter than even the sun. The light of the glory of God. Where everything will be the way God always meant for us to be, before the fall. The baby born, Christmas, it’s a great thing to celebrate, but today let’s finish by celebrating what that truly means for us. It means paradise restored.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
We are continuing our series called the Light of the World. We have already heard that the Light shines against the Darkness of this world and that it shines into the darkness of our own hearts. But today we want to unveil in Scripture how Jesus’ light shines through you.
Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Shine?
The lesson for this morning comes from Matthew 5:14-16. In this section, Jesus says: You are the light of the world… (v.14-16)
In context, the “you” is a reference to the people that were listening to Jesus out on a mountain.
By extension, it is a reference to people that listen to Jesus’ words in the 21st century.
By specific extension, it is a reference to people that are listening to Jesus in a cozy little church building in North Raleigh on December 23rd, 2018.
And Jesus has an important edict for you. He says, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine.”
It’s similar to putting up Christmas lights. Maybe this happens to you. You put all of the lights up. You intricately string the lights around the tree. You pass over branches and under ornaments. You have it all nicely arranged and then? You gather the family around with a mug of hot cocoa to plug the lights in and…
You might say to the lights “SHINE! That’s what I bought you for. Shine already!” You might turn and twist and prod and poke and replace the little bulb that “I think it looks burnt out.” All along the way you start muttering: “Shine already.”
When you tell a light to shine, you are simply telling it to do what it is was made to do.
And when God tells us to shine, he is asking us to do exactly what he made us to do.
God tells you to shine:
Because that’s what light does.
Growing up, one of my sisters saved up some money and bought a little mechanical sunflower from Radio Shack. The little mechanical sunflower was an alarm clock that when it went it off – it didn’t make one of those loud BEEPING noises. Nor did it make one of those obnoxious CLANGING sounds.
It was worse.
Whenever the alarm went off it began to sing:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.
Haven’t you noticed, how much I love you; so don’t take my sunshine away.”
It always sang in this high-pitched chipmunk voice.
It always sang very early in the morning.
It always sang when I didn’t feel like being anybody’s sunshine!
Maybe Jesus’ words strike you like that.
Pastor, I don’t feel very much like shining. I’ve been really cranky this Holiday season.
Rather than jolly, I’ve been “jelly” of all the other mom friends on Facebook who have it together enough to get Christmas photos taken – and in the mail – and with actual words on them!
Rather than merry, I’ve been mercilessly badmouthing my coworker Fred so that I might get the biggest Christmas bonus this year.
Rather than cheery, I’ve been rather dreary. Because Christmas doesn’t distract from the fact that my life isn’t going so well right now!
And honestly…I FEEL like a screw up.
I FEEL like a sinner.
I FEEL like a no good, dirty rotten scoundrel.
I feel like a terrible husband, a horrible mom, and a very bad child.
I do not feel like a light at all.
How can I possible be one?
Do remember this phrase from a sermon or two ago?
“You were once darkness, but now…you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Do you get it?
You are not a light based on what you do for God; but on what God has done for you.
You are not a light based on how you lived; but on how Christ lived.
You are not a light based on how you feel; but on what Christ felt for you.
And here’s what Christ did.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly – in a brilliant flash of light – conquering sin and death.
And now He has made you a light.
Like a match that lights a candle, Christ lights the fabric of our hearts.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you his child.
He calls you HIS LIGHT.
Even when you don’t feel like light.
That is exactly what you are.
Because that is what Christ made you.
But that’s not even the end game. Look at the next point:
“You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (v.14)
Glorify is an interesting verb. It means to make brilliant. To light up. To exalt brilliantly.
It’s a word associated with hosts of angels shining brightly in the sky on the very first Christmas.
With Jesus’ face when it shone brightly on a mountain outside Jerusalem.
With the glory of the light filled resurrection of Jesus.
And the word has a subtle shift when it comes to those who don’t have the ability to manifest actual, physical, visible light:
When we see the amazing thing of our Savior’s birth, we glorify God.
When we see the brilliance of his face on the mountain, we glorify God.
When we hear of the amazing truth of his resurrection, we glorify God.
And when we let our light shine before people, they see it and sometimes – they glorify God too.
It’s like a chain reaction.
God enlightens your heart.
You become a light.
Then, he uses you to share the message of his glory.
He brings them to the light, too.
God wants us to shine, because that’s how the light spread
To put it differently:
God wants us to share our faith because that’s how faith spreads.
II. Tips on Shining
1) Hide it Under a Bushel? NO!
That’s a phrase from a famous children’s song, but I think it finds its origins in this section from Matthew. Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” (Mt. 5:14)
That doesn’t make much sense does it? I doubt, for instance, that any of you spent hours adorning your Christmas tree with Christmas tree lights only to cover it with a big, black shroud.
Nor would it make any sense to buy ask for a brand-new lamp for Christmas. One from Joanna Gaine’s collection. Open up the present at Christmas, run over to a nearby outlet, plug it in, turn it on, and then place a big old bucket over the top of it.
It doesn’t make much sense to cover any kind of a lamp.
Similar – it doesn’t make sense to cover up your faith.
And yet, it’s so easy to do.
Don’t cover up your light.
Don’t hide it under a bushel.
Or a bowl.
Or a non-Christian everyday life veneer.
Don’t hide your faith.
Let it shine.
2) Put your Faith in a Prominent Place
Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand so that it gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
We’ve been talking about getting some new LED lamps in the parking lot. And I was talking to the Duke Energy guy and he started discussing with me the amount lumens, the wattages and the shine radius. The shine radius allows you to see where the light of the new lamps will touch. He even had graph paper with little lines to show exactly how far we might expect light to go and the best position to place the fixture on the pole to get maximum exposure.
Why not do the same with our faith?
Why not position ourselves to maximize the sharing of our faith?
Rather than hide it, place your faith in a prominent place of your life.
Talk about your Savior with a family member who doesn’t believe in their Savior.
Make sure your Christmas cards mention the reason for the season.
Tell your kids that Jesus loves them.
Don’t shy away from posting inspirational Bible passages on social media.
Don’t stop asking your spouse to join you for worship.
Don’t remove the Jesus’ background from your computer just because that one guy in the cubicle next to you doesn’t love it.
And let your faith shine through your actions -
Hold more doors than normal.
Make someone else a cup of cocoa.
Give a very generous gift to someone that you know needs it.
Let your light have a prominent place in your life and then…
3) Be Non-Selective in Shining
Because it is so easy to be picky and choosy with whom we want to share the message of Jesus.
Let’s see – I’ll invite that coworker who I know already knows about Jesus. But that one guy – that I’m unsure about? I’ll just wish him Happy Holidays.
And I’ll be sure to give a nice Christmas card to neighbor A. But neighbor B? He’s kind of my enemy. So…no card for him.
I will absolutely share the message of Christmas with my family – except for cousin Bob, because his sexual preference makes sharing Jesus, kinda, uncomfortable.
Jesus says that when someone puts a light on a stand it “gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
Lamps aren’t selective.
They don’t stop shining when they are around someone who makes them uncomfortable is around.
You don’t stop shining either.
So, here’s the challenge. You still have time.
Think about someone that makes you nervous.
Someone that you don’t necessarily like.
Got them in mind?
Cool. Now, go and shine.
Shine the light of your Savior into their heart.
For motivation? Think of your Savior!
He died for you while you were knee deep in disgusting sins.
He rose for you while you treated him like an enemy.
He brought his message of love to you while you were doing the very things that he hates!
Because of his non-selective way of shining on us, we are non-selective in the way that we shine, too!
4) Share in Your “House”
Because it mentions that the lamp on a stand gives light to everyone in the house. (v.15) It doesn’t give light to people outside the walls of the house, because it’s just a small table lamp. It can only be expected to shine so far.
Because it might be impossible for you to let your light shine to someone in China.
it will be really hard to let your light shine to someone in Australia.
It may even be difficult to let your light shine to someone across town.
That doesn’t mean that we stop shining.
We simply shine wherever God has placed us.
That means in your literal home.
…With your spouse.
…With your children.
…With the guests that join you for Christmas meals!
But it also means…anywhere you have spherical influence!
…at the hair salon.
…at the Starbucks.
…in line at the grocery store.
…to your mail person.
…to your UPS guy.
…The FedEx guy.
…to your Amazon Prime delivery guy.
…at the health club
…at the brewpub.
…even with your fellow friends at Raid night!
Whatever your sphere of influence is, be sure to shine!
Show love with your actions.
Share the message of Jesus.
Because we have kind of a big task.
God tells us to shine around the world.
Even when we understand our sphere of influence and we aim to let our light shine in North Raleigh…
But remember – you aren’t shining alone.
You aren’t responsible as one little candle with lighting up the whole city of Raleigh.
You have each other.
You have other Christians.
You have your Savior.
And Jesus? He’s not just another candle.
He’s like one of those gigantic, 10,000 lumen LED spotlights at a football stadium.
He shines brighter than anyone.
He shines brightly with you.
He shines brightly through you.
Last Christmas I took a car ride with my family up in WI. When you go home to family, sometimes you assume the role that you did back when you were younger. Meaning that, on the car trip, I was relegated to the back seat next to my 2-year-old niece named Harper.
And she wanted to watch the Cookie Monster, “C is for Cookie” video on her mom/my sister’s phone. So, my sister passed it back to me and I thought I’d set it up.
I pressed what I thought was the YouTube button.
The screen stalled.
I tried to get to the settings.
It remained stalled.
I swiped up and swiped right.
I was stuck on a screen of death.
I said, “I think I broke your phone.”
I said to Harper, “I don’t think you’ll be able to watch Cookie Monster.”
I held up the frozen screen, “See? It’s stuck.”
Harper shook her head.
She grabbed the phone from me.
Touched a few buttons.
Cookie Monster Video.
Sometimes you can learn from a kid.
Whether that kids is 12, 6 or 2 years old, sometimes you can learn from a kid.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience – especially with technology or Paw Patrol character names.
But…what about theology?
What about the deep mysterious things about our relationship with the Almighty, All Holy, divine, eternal God?
That’s probably NOT a kid thing…
At Jesus’ time, the religious elite did not think they could learn anything from little kids.
They didn’t think they could learn anything from common folk.
They thought a relationship with God is something that only the best of us (and you probably aren’t the best of us) could accomplish.
They believed in ascetic morality. “I have studied the amount of beard hair necessary to properly please God and I have grown my facial follicles accordingly. Trimming them each at exactly 30 cm – the number of holiness.”
They believed in exponential giving. “Here is my 10% tithe of cash for the church. And here is my 10% gift of seasonal spices – cumin, dill, nutmeg. And here’s 10% of the nutmeg that I bought down at Food Lion. And here’s 10% of the candy cane that my toddler was just licking.”
They believed in master-level scholarship. “I got straight A’s in Hebrew school, studied under Professor Gamaliel, and have been a part of the synagogue’s Torah reading club for 20 years! I think I just barely have enough knowledge for God to kind of like me. You? A plumber? Hmm…Well…I’ll pray for you…”
Essentially, they believed that a relationship with God is something that only the best of the best, the top of the top, the most impressive of the most impressive could ever hope to obtain at the end of an 80 plus year life of impressiveness!
But Jesus spoke differently. He said:
I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden the things of God from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Mt. 11:25)
As in, God didn’t make His message some kind of Mensa level puzzle.
As in, God doesn’t need you to buy his love with a Fortune 500 stock investment.
As in, God doesn’t reveal himself ONLY to hermits, who live on some snow mountain in the Himalayas, sipping green tea, fasting, and meditating within himself to remove all sinful urges.
God reveals himself in a message so simple that children can understand it.
A while back one of my little friends was having a hard time with some of his friends. He had knocked down a block tower, called the teacher “stupid” and hit an assistant.
I asked him to calm down and when he did, we talked about how what he did was wrong. And God didn’t like it when we hurt other people that he had made.
And my little friend got very sad. Lip quivering. Tears in his eyes.
And I said to him, “But do you remember what that thing is on the wall?”
His eyes perked up immediately:
“And who was on it?”
A smile formed on his face: “Jesus.”
And what did he take away on the cross?”
He lifted his hands in the air: “Our sins!”
I said, “That means Jesus forgives you. I forgive you. And…”
He interrupted: “And God loves me.”
He was absolutely right.
But here’s the thing: I have sat in the counseling office with adults. Grown men and women – learned men and women – long time Christian men and woman -- who have confessed their sins to me – who have struggled with guilt and shame – who have been in tears over the things that they have done wrong…
And I have asked: What’s that thing on the wall there?
That’s a cross, but…that doesn’t help me?
Sure He’s the Savior…but Pastor do you realize how bad what I did was?
Pastor…I just don’t know if I believe it. Do you have a list of things I can do to make up for it?
Just because a child says it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Just because a child says it doesn’t mean it isn’t DIVINE truth.
And here’s the divine truth – that those little children are about to teach us:
God looked down from heaven.
God saw our sins.
God sent His Son Jesus to be born as a human.
To live perfectly.
To die innocently.
To rise from the dead triumphantly.
To give us the absolute, complete forgiveness of sins.
And then…because God wanted us to have forgiveness and a peace filled eternal relationship with Him so badly…God made his message so simple, so divinely accessible that even a child could know it.
Even a child could teach it.
Even a child could preach it.
That is what is about to happen.
With the kids' program, you’ll probably see a couple things.
You’ll probably see a few kids cry.
You’ll probably see a few kids fidget.
You’ll probably see one kid in the back wave to his whole family.
It’ll probably be a bit off key.
It’ll sometimes be too quiet; it’ll sometimes be too loud.
It’ll probably be very, very cute.
It’ll also be true.
It’ll also be divine.
It will also be life changing.
It’ll also be eternal life giving.
Listen to them.
Because you can learn something from kids.
And today… you must learn something from them.
This isn’t just a kids’ message…
It’s God’s message.
Today we are continuing our series called the Light of the World. Last week, we heard that Jesus, the Light of the World, shines against the Darkness. He shines against the darkness or terrorism and racism, cancer and car crashes, guilt and shame.
But maybe, last week, you got done thinking:
That’s right pastor! You tell ‘em. I’m gonna take your message and share it with all those people who living in darkness out there.
I will share it with that guy who cut me off in the Belk’s Christmas Wrapping station line.
I’ll share it with that woman who honked her horn, waved her finger at me and cut me off in the mall parking lot.
I’ll share it with my brother who told me that he doesn’t want to spend time with our family at Christmas. He’s being the darkness and he needs to hear about the light.
To be fair…
That all may be true.
But today, Jesus says worry less about the Darkness out there; worry first about the darkness inside here. Our goal is to get help identifying the darkness in our own hearts, reconsider the uplifting message of Jesus and get some guidance on how to let our light shine this Christmas season. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Darkness that Was…
The lesson for this morning comes from Ephesians 5:8-14. Ephesians is a letter written by a Jesus’-commissioned pastor named Paul to Christians living in Ephesus. Look at what he writes: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (v.8)
The reality is that no one’s heart is naturally filled with light.
Apart from Jesus our hearts are filled with darkness.
To prove that point – let’s think about it logically and then anecdotally:
Logically speaking, God creates Adam and Eve. They are sinless. Their hearts are filled with light. But then, before they have any kids, they sin. They choose to step into the darkness. They become greedy, selfish, prideful, liars. Their hearts become filled with darkness.
Then, these humans with sin-darkened hearts have children.
And just like crocodiles give birth to crocodiles…
And reindeer give birth to reindeer…
Humans with -sin-darkened hearts give birth to children with sin darkened hearts.
Darkness passed on.
Think of it like a Christmas light chain. If the first Christmas light goes out, then what does that mean for the rest of the Christmas lights? The whole thing goes out! The chain has been broken. The first light is not able to provide the power to power up the next Christmas light. The result? They are all darkness.
It’s the same with humans.
The first humans sinned.
All are sinners.
All have sin darkened hearts.
Including – you.
Anecdotally Speaking. Do you know the story of Scrooge? The Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol classic. There are many different versions of it. I, personally, enjoy the Muppet classic. In all of these versions, Scrooge is not very likable. He’s grouchy. He’s gloomy. He’s mean. He’s greedy. He’s Scroogy. You know you’re not doing too well when a verb is developed after your name that essentially means: “being a jerk.”
But here’s the thing about Scrooge. Scrooge is perhaps the most-easily-able-to-be-identified-with-character in Christmas mythology.
Because the difference with Scrooge and all of us isn’t that Scrooge was mean and we aren’t.
The difference is that Scrooge was just worse at hiding it.
Think about your heart.
Are you always MERRY and BRIGHT?
Or do you get unnecessarily angry at that coworker because if he did his job better you’d have more time for Christmas stuff?
Do you think things at your kids that you would never repeat in front of these good church folk here?
Do you have a hard time not wanting to gaze at the Victoria’s Secret window at the mall – even though you aren’t a woman and you aren’t shopping for your wife?
Do you think, “Man! Why do I have to buy a lousy gift for that lousy guy – They deserve a punch in the face. If only I could figure out how to box it…?”
Here’s the truth.
Humans hearts are naturally filled with darkness.
Our hearts are naturally filled with darkness.
The most urgent issue isn’t out there.
It’s in here.
II. The Light that is…
But look again at our text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (v.8)
Fellow believers, pay careful attention to the verb tenses to teach about what you are.
Those of you who don’t believe, pay careful attention to what the verb tenses teach about what you could be.
Meaning before Jesus.
Meaning before faith.
Meaning that was the case, but….
It is so no longer.
Meaning this is your NEW reality.
You are LIGHT.
And you aren’t light because you figured out how to go from light to darkness on your own.
It isn’t because you scrounged up your spiritual lighter of trying hard.
Or you rubbed a stick of “let’s do better” together with a stick of “try harder” in your heart and some kind of spiritual ‘good works’ fire was built.
You are light in the Lord.
Because in Jesus is forgiveness.
Forgiveness for the dirty sins of your hearts.
Forgiveness for the secrets you want no one else to know.
Forgiveness for those sinful thoughts you are deeply embarrassed that you ever thought.
In Jesus is forgiveness.
He cleans out the darkness of guilt.
He leaves us with the bright light of holiness.
It’s like a Christmas tree. When you light that Christmas tree up, even the wall next to it shines brightly. Think about it. That dead space of darkness that would otherwise be darkness becomes brighter when light shines upon it.
The same thing happened in our fellowship hall. We moved out the preschool stuff, freshened up the paint, and put a brighter color on it. Now, the light reflects off those walls and they are brighter than ever before!
Christ is the Light of the world.
You are light in Christ.
III. A “What Now” for Shining this Christmas
With all of that in mind, God gives us some very specific commands this Christmas. You might call it a host of “What Now” commands for shining this Christmas season.
It starts with this:
(1) Live like Your Dad!
Ephesians 5:9 says this: “Live as children of the light.” Because children tend to do what their family does.
Think about the royal family! They gather in Buckingham palace. They dress in the finest British fashions. They drink their tea with their pinky in the air and celebrate the Christmas season in a royal affair. If one of them wore one of those ugly Christmas sweaters to the ball at Buckingham palace, well…they’d be told: “Live as a royal child.”
Or if one of your kids comes home and says, “My Friend, Jonny said that his the Tarheels are the best! They’re house is covered in Baby Blue. They have coach bobbleheads throughout. I’m thinking for Christmas I want a Tarheel jersey.”
And you say: “Nope. You’ll get the Coach K Biography – and like it.”
Essentially God says to us:
You are my child.
You are my son.
You are my daughter.
You are a part of my family.
Live like you are a part of my family.
And how do I do that?
(2) Find Out What’s on God’s Christmas List
Look at what Ephesians 5:9 says, “the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth, and Find out what pleases the Lord.” (v.10)
Because if you don’t know what’s on someone’s Christmas list then it suddenly gets harder to get them what they want. Christmas lists help you know what they want. It tells you that Cindy Lou wants a Rainbow Dash doll and little Bobby wants a Pokémon watch. Christmas lists prevent you from making the fatal mistake of getting Uncle Dan a Cabbage Patch doll.
The same thing is true with God.
We need to find out what he wants and give him the gift of living accordingly.
Because too often we think to ourselves:
“I know what God wants. God wants me to be happy. And what makes me happy is writing a nasty email to my coworker. Just living as the light God!”
“I know what God wants. God wants me to unstressed. So, he’s cool with me losing it on my kids – as long as I don’t leave a bruise.”
“I know what God wants. God wants me to be with my soul mate. So, I’m going to go ahead and cheat on my wife because it makes me happy and that’s what God wants. Just down here being the light of the world God.”
Find out what God actually wants…
Not what you want God to want.
And you can find it out by examining God’s Christmas list.
“Pastor! That sounds nice. But where would I find some kind of Christmas list. Surely, God didn’t write it down and preserve it for centuries for me to clearly and easily read.”
Yes, he did.
It’s called the Bible.
In it, you literally have a list.
A list of Ten Commandments.
Plus, all kinds of other insights – ways to please God and live as the Child of Light that He has made you.
But you have to read it to know what it says.
You have to study it to know what God wants.
Make that a key part of your Christmas preparation.
Spend time in God’s Word.
Here at worship.
At home on your own.
Have everything to do with Godly deeds and then…
(3) Have NOTHING to do with Dark Deeds
That’s exactly what verse 11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
Because if you’re going to bear fruit of righteousness, unrighteousness is fruitless.
If you’re are going to bear fruit of goodness, badness is fruitless.
If you are going to bear fruit of truth, deception is fruitless.
Notice it doesn’t say:
Have some to do with evil.
Or, a bit to do with.
Or even, mostly nothing to do with.
But…NOTHING to do with.
Block the old boyfriend on Facebook that always makes you think…just for a minute of leaving your spouse.
Getting rid of the alcohol that will cause you over the edge.
Avoid that party that’ll just lead to dirty jokes and four-letter words.
Drop that grudge that’s been ruining your family Christmas for years.
And in this area – give special attention to the deeds done in secret. Verse 12 says, “It is shameful to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”
This shouldn’t surprise us.
It’s easier to do dark deeds in the literal dark.
It’s easier to do dark deeds when no one is watching.
Hear God’s Word to you right now – don’t just clean up your public life.
Clean up your private life.
(4) Expose the Darkness to the Light
And…maybe you’re in the midst of a dark deed.
Maybe you’re dealing with an addiction or a vice or some kind of sexual impulse.
Maybe you know it’s wrong and you want to stop, and you yearn to stop, but…
…you just can’t.
Listen to God’s Word in verse 13:
Everything exposed to the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
There’s a man who I once worked with who came into my office.
His eyes were bloodshot.
His hair was amuck.
He was downtrodden.
He took a deep breath. And said. “Pastor, I’m addicted to drugs.
And I can’t stop.
no one knows.
My family doesn’t know.
My friends don’t know.
I’ve wanted to stop, but I just can’t! And I’m so sorry.
I just feel like such…darkness.”
And I said.
You aren’t in the darkness.
You are forgiven.
You are in the light.
Because here’s the thing – now that he told me. I could offer forgiveness. I could encourage him in what he was doing. I could remind him of his desires. I could check in with him. I could connect him with others who could do the same.
He took the deed out of the darkness.
He took it into the light.
By God’s strength, he conquered that addiction.
Do the same.
Expose the dark deeds to the light.
Like mold that grows in the dark, but dies in the light, your sins will die.
Confess to God.
Confess to others.
And if someone confesses to you, don’t hold it against them.
Don’t withhold help.
That’s amazing they trusted you with that!
Share God’s Word.
Help them stay in the light.
Because you and I friends – we are a part of the light! Jesus made it so. That’s why Paul concludes:
Wake up, O Sleeper! Rise from the dead. And Christ will shine in you. (v.14)
Because beating these sins can seem like a daunting task.
They might seem like a challenging task.
It might seem like something that is absolutely impossible to do.
But you aren’t doing it alone.
Christ will shine in you. (v.14b)
That’s the one who defeated sin.
That’s the one who defeated death.
That’s the one who did the impossible for you now working to do the impossible through you.
Think back to the Christmas light chain. If the first light is dark, the whole chain is dark. But if you take that dead, broken light out and you replace it with a new, working light – then? The whole chain becomes bright. Every light that is connected to the first light is empowered to give light.
You are connected to Christ.
He is the Light of the world.
Therefore, you too, are light in the world.
Live as the light of the world. Amen.
It is Christmastime, correct? It’s the holidays! Everyone is supposed to be holly jolly and everything is supposed to be merry and bright.
And maybe you’ve even felt like that!
You wake up with a smile on your face.
Your pumpkin spice latte is already cooking in your pumpkin spiced latte maker.
You put on some sparkly Christmas socks, turn on Bing Crosby, and sit by the fireplace.
Everything is so merry and bright!
You check your news feed.
11 killed in synagogue massacre.
3 killed in roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
KKK numbers rising.
And on Facebook…
Aunt Hilda still struggling with cancer.
Cousin Johnny is getting a divorce.
Your friend Melanie committed suicide around this time three years ago.
It’s supposed to be a bright time.
But life can be so…dark.
How did it get this way?
Today we will focus on how the Light of the World shines against the darkness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How’d it Get so Dark?
To find out the answer to that question, we need to go all the way back to the beginning, the very first book of the bible called Genesis. It literally means “beginning.”
And “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (1:1) At the end of it, there is a small little phrase that God utters about creation. He says:
“It was very good.” (1:31)
That’s an important phrase. Because when God says, “Very good,” he means something very different than when I say it.
For instance, when I finish up wrapping a Christmas present, there’s crooked tape here, off-kilter tape there, and a big gap in the back exposing that it’s a box from Target…and I get done and I say, “It’s good.”
Understand. That’s not what God means.
When God says, “It’s good.” God means, “Perfect.”
That means when God created the world, there weren’t any of the “dark” things that we mentioned before.
There was no such thing as terrorism.
There was no such thing as racism.
There was no such thing as adultery.
There was no such thing as addiction.
There was no such thing as cancer, criminal offenses or cattiness in the church fellowship hall.
God made the world good.
There was no darkness.
Before I get into that you need to understand something about perfection.
In God’s mind, the concept of perfection involves love.
And in God’s mind, the perfect concept of love is not coerced, but freely and willingly given.
I think we get that. Case and point: If you have an Alexa robot, one of those Google inspired devices that can be programmed to listen to your voice and do whatever you ask it to do – and it does it. In addition to the Alexa robot, you have an Alex, a human child, who gets his toys stuck in the carpet, forgets to clean up the LEGOs and generally makes messes even when you tell him to clean up.
QUESTION: Between Alexa and Alex, which one would you say loves you?
Alex, of course.
Because Alexa is literally programmed to do whatever you say.
Alex can choose to blow snot bubbles or to come and give you a hug.
And when he chooses to give you a hug – that’s love.
God knew this.
When God created humans, he made them with the ability to love to him or to not love to him.
Specifically, he gave them one specific way to show this unforced, non-coerced love:
God said to them: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-27)
Did you follow that?
God told them to show love to him by not eating from one specific tree.
No thank you notes necessary.
No finger paint art work that says, “I love you.”
Just don’t eat from the one tree.
It’s like when preschoolers come and give me a hug around the legs so that I can’t move, and they say, “Mr. Pastor, I love you.”
And I say, “Thank you. But do you know what will show you love me even better than this hug? If you line up like I’ve told you to do, about 17 times.”
Adam and Eve had a chance to show active love for God by not eating from the tree.
So how did they do with that?
One day, the two of them are walking through the garden. As they pass by the middle where the one tree that they aren’t supposed to eat from is located, a snake begins to talk to them.
Yes, a snake.
The snake is none other than Satan, the devil, Lucifer. The exact origins of Lucifer are unclear, but a few things to note:
God created him.
God created him in the same way he created humans – with a choice to serve him.
Lucifer chose to NOT serve God, but to oppose him.
And that’s exactly what he does here.
He says, “Did God really say that you must not eat from the fruit of this tree?” The answer is yes.
He says, “...You will not die.” But God said they would.
He says, “You will become like God.” But they already were.
Whom should you believe?
The Holy, perfect God who created you and gave you the whole world?
Or a talking snake?
Adam and Eve look up at that fruit.
They see its faux shine.
They grab it off the branch.
They sink their teeth into it’s delicious nectar.
And, for the very first time, they taste:
Look at what happens:
Then, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (v.7)
For the first time ever, they experience mistrust. “What is she looking at my 3 pack of abs? Stop judging me. There’s not a lot of exercise equipment in this garden.”
For the first time ever, they experience anxiety: “I wonder if I’m enough for him. He’s been looking at one of the other women…in this garden of so many women.”
For the first time ever, they experience judgment: “He does look like he’s had a few too many blueberries lately.”
For the first time ever, they experience marital disunity: “Leave me alone while I go over here and cover myself. You go over there and cover yourself.”
And then: They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, so they hid from him. (v8)
For the first time ever, they experience fear of God: “What will he do to us?”
For the first time ever, they experience shame: “I don’t want him to see me like this.”
For the first time ever, they experience guilt: “We did the one thing we shouldn’t have done.”
And when they do come out of the bushes to talk to God:
“It was the woman! She did it!” Not my wife. Not my love. That woman.
“It was the snake! He did it!” Not me. Not my fault. I am the victim here! Some animal.
“It was the woman YOU put here God.” Really…the evil is on YOU.
Do you see it?
Darkness is firmly a part of history now.
Sin is here.
Sin is here to stay.
And God responds as only a Holy, Light-filled God who hates sin can respond. By doling out consequences:
Pain. Painful childbirth. Painful toil. Painful slivers and hangnails. Painful arthritis and headaches. Painful diseases and injuries.
Relationship Issues. He’ll be a jerk! Because he’s a sinner now. He’s had a taste of the darkness and it won’t stop him from calling you things that you should never call a woman. And to be fair – you won’t take it sitting down. You’ll tell him that you NEVER loved him and he’s a worth pile of dirt.
Work Issues. Because now it won’t be fun. Now there will be weeds in the ground. Now there will be computer crashes. Now there will be plumbing issues. Now there will be back stabbing, infighting, and gossip that ruins your career.
Death. For “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (v.19) This is the origin of cancer, of car crashes, of terrorism, mass shooting, and terrifying nights in the E.R.
And that’s just the beginning…
It’s only gotten darker.
It’s only gotten crueler.
It’s only gotten harder to deal with.
II. The Light Shines against Darkness
Did you know that God didn’t just give consequences to the humans?
He also gave consequences to the snake.
God says he’ll crawl on his belly (v.14)
God says the snake will eat dust all the days of his life. (v.14b)
Some scholars wonder if maybe the original form of the snake had some little tiny legs. (Which is pretty horrifying thing to think of. Long, slithering, disgusting with legs?)
But then – pay careful attention to the final consequence for Satan:
I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head. (v.15)
Did you hear it?
This is more than just a consequence for the devil.
This is a promise for the people.
One day someone will come who will crush the evil one and destroy all of his power.
One day someone will come to overpower the evil.
One day someone will come to shine against the darkness.
One day…right around the very first Christmas:
In Jesus was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
This is why Christmas matters.
We live in a world of darkness and death.
We needed the Light. We need Life.
And we have both in Jesus.
Because our world is only darkness.
And adding darkness to the darkness to try and get rid of the darkness, doesn’t work.
For instance, no one ever says, “It’s dark in here. Let me get out my sunglasses because I’m sure that will make things brighter.”
Or: “Honey, I know you’re scared of the dark. Let me turn OFF the hallway light. That’ll make it easier to see.”
Adding darkness to darkness only leads to more darkness.
Since we live in a world infected by spiritual darkness, we cannot expect the light to come from that darkness.
We cannot expect the light to come from ourselves.
What I mean is, the solution to the darkness IS NOT and CANNOT EVER be:
“Just try harder.”
“Do your best.”
They are all a version of:
Let’s add more darkness this darkness because I’m sure that will make it brighter.
The light of the world needs to come from outside of the world.
The light of the world needs to come from the place of light.
The light of the world needs to come from heaven itself.
That light of the world is Jesus.
And like a candle coming into dark room…
Jesus shines against the darkness.
And he always overcomes it.
Think about that. No matter what kind of darkness you are dealing with this holiday season, Jesus is the light that will overcome it.
When you’re dealing with the darkness of a relationship that has spoiled, he brings the light and says, “I will never leave you.”
When you’re struggling with the guilt of some kind of sin you committed around this time six years ago, Jesus says, “I forgive you.”
When you’re dealing with the dark effects of racist attitudes to you at work, Jesus shines the light and says, “I love you as you are.”
When there’s nothing but drama and disorder amongst your family, Jesus speaks to you and says, “We are at peace.”
When there’s financial struggles that leave you filled with anxiety, Jesus says, “I’ve got this” and drives the darkness away!
The light overcomes the darkness.
Even in the darkest of times.
There is no greater darkness in this life than death.
There is probably nothing that you will face in life greater than death itself.
Or that of a loved one.
That’s exactly what a man named Jairus was dealing with.
His daughter was sick.
And he had done everything he could think of to fix her.
He went to the doctor.
He went to the physician.
He got medicines and herbs and essential oils.
So, as the darkness of “I might lose her” settled in, he made his way to Jesus.
“Please sir! Help my daughter. Please sir! Do something. Heal her.”
But as Jesus and Jairus made their way to his house, what little life was left in her eyes…went out.
And when Jairus made his way to his daughter’s bedroom, he no longer saw her.
Only a cold, lifeless body.
As Jairus began to sob uncontrollably, clinging to his wife as if she could soak up the dark sadness that had overcome his soul.
Jesus walked past.
He approached the girl’s body.
He took her hand.
He looked her in her cold, dark eyes and said:
As Jairus watched, her eyes – he saw it:
She sat up.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the life that brings light even in the face of death.
Years later Jesus himself faced death on the cross.
He died, but then came back to life.
He is the light of the world.
He is the LIFE of the world.
And the life always overcomes death.
Again – consider that deeply –
In Jesus, you will conquer death.
You will conquer death in all its form.
That arthritis that reminding you of decaying body, Jesus will overcome that.
That pain in your heart from missing a dearly departed loved one, Jesus will overcome that.
That cancer that leads you to a hospital bed, Jesus will overcome that.
That child that you lost, Jesus will overcome that pain.
In fact, Jesus brings LIFE!
To you. To me. To all who believe.
III. What Now?
The only way to overcome the darkness is with Jesus. Make that your number one this Christmas season.
Make sure you tell your kids about Jesus.
Make sure you meditate on your Savior.
Make sure you’re in worship.
Make sure your singing Jesus songs.
If you don’t get all the lights up…
If you don’t get all the presents wrapped…
If you don’t get all the mistletoe hung…
Those things don’t make Christmas bright.
May He shine as a light against whatever darkness you are facing. Amen.