Light in the Darkness – John 1

What good is darkness? Think about it. What purpose does it serve?

I will say that I like darkness for sleeping and am in some way annoyed by light, even dim lights. There is a nightlight in the hallway of our home, as there is also in the master bathroom. It amazes me just how much light comes from these dim bulbs, and I am forever closing those doors to keep the light out. My clock on the nightstand displays the time in red numbers, and I hate how bright it is. I often turn it at an angle so that it does not catch my attention.

Have you ever worked with photographic development in a darkroom?  You have to go to extreme measures to be sure that light does not break through cracks in the doorframe, etc. There is a warning light outside the door to be sure nobody breaks in at the wrong moment, because the light will ruin everything you are working on.

I’ve shared this illustration before — from my (now elderly) mother-in-law who was a little girl during World War 2, and she vividly recalls being told in blackout drills how critical it was to keep every light off — that even a lit cigarette was visible at night from the air.

In the vein of the Geico commercials, if they personified one about light, it would read, “If you’re light, you penetrate darkness; it’s what you do!”

And yes, that is true. Darkness is passive; light is active. Light breaks into and dispels darkness. Long before dawn fully breaks, you can see the light making its inroads, beating back the night sky.

Light dates back to Day 1.  God separated the darkness and the light, as in Genesis 1:3-4 …

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

The theme of light breaking the darkness and serving as the beacon and focal point of God’s presence is seen over and over in Scripture. After one of the curses on the Egyptians being that of the descent of darkness, the children of Israel followed a pillar of fire that represented God’s presence and guidance in in the wilderness. God was said to be the light of salvation for his covenant people (Psalm 27).

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of a light into the world, and how that light would particularly come and shine to the people who lived in Galilee, people who were on the fringes historically of what was “happening” in the world and who were away from the center of worship. Isaiah said …

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

And so the gospel writer John picks up on these themes to speak of the coming of Jesus into the world. It was indeed at a time of history of great darkness and despair … of centuries of unfulfilled hopes and dreams and ancient promises.

1:1 — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What are the descriptors of the history of mankind? Are they not words like sin, poverty, injustice, war, disease, death?  And though advances in science, knowledge and technology bring measures of benefit for mankind, they also bring new ways for man to more effectively accomplish all of the aforementioned evils.

Man’s light does not dispel man’s darkness due to the curse of sin.

But there is a divine light that penetrates the darkness. And it is not just the overflow of God’s brightness spilling all over the place. Rather, it is the specific coming of that light in the form of humanity–in the person of Christ. And as the text says in John 1, this is the true light that gives light to everyone.

The incarnation is indeed the beginning of the pivotal event(s) of history. And though we have no command in Scripture to celebrate or particularly remember this, the significance is worthy of the focus. And the central feature of this penetrating light is to bring us hope and joy. Even unspeakable joy.

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The End of a Long, Long Wait – John 1:1-18

Have you ever had to wait for a very long time for something hopeful to happen? Whatever that hope may be, if the wait was extended even over many years, surely there were times you thought it would never come to fruition. False alarms of aroused hope crushed you too many times to actually anticipate that the dream would ever find reality.

I have a niece in Texas, who along with her husband has endured the pain of childlessness. Though possessing a deep longing for children in their home, the hopes even of adoption looked as grim as the medical realities already absorbed. There were false hopes of potential opportunities, but the statistics seemed insurmountable and as unending as the hoops through which to jump and the curves to navigate … it all combined together to laugh in the face of any dreams of a family.

But in the darkness of this extended sadness, a call came from an expectant woman in Minnesota who had seen their profile and who hoped that possibly my niece and her husband could be the parents to adopt her little boy. A light broke through the darkness. Hope had arrived, yet many details needed to be accomplished. And in the course of time, they were able to travel to Minnesota and take home a new little boy to begin their family.

Since Adam and Eve and the consequent fall of man into the death sentence of sin, the world languished in darkness. Prophets spoke of a messianic hope to come. But years turned into decades; and decades became centuries, even millennia … but nothing … just darkness.

Oh, to be sure, there were false messiahs who claimed to be something or somebody. Still nothing … until this eccentric fellow named John the Baptist showed up wearing animal skins and munching on locusts. He was not the light to penetrate the darkness, but he was the forerunner who told the world that the light of life was soon coming.

Our passage today is one that is so full of theological significance; it is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that volumes have been written on these verses. Let me just grab n’ go with a few big ideas, along with a single biggest idea in terms of our series of sermons / readings / devotionals.

Note that the opening paragraph identifies Christ as divine, as creator, as eternally existent with God. He is the embodiment of life and of the light that could penetrate and eradicate the darkness of sin.

One would think that the world of humanity who had been so long-enslaved by sin would welcome this light and life – especially the nation of whom God had chosen to be his own peculiar people. They had been the conduits of truth and the promises leading to an expectation of divine intervention. But, no, most of them did not receive Christ nor welcome him. Yet those who did – Jew and Gentile – found themselves to be born again … not because of race, nor even of human effort and desire, but because of God’s infusion of LIFE.

The eternal Word had become actual flesh, and the writer John and his other contemporaries were witnesses of this truth and of the glory of God that had been revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.

John says that it is true that no person has ever seen God the Father, but the Father God is revealed in Jesus Christ. Seeing Jesus was seeing the physical representation of God’s nature. The Greek word that is translated by the final four words of our reading today – has made him known – is the term from which we get “exegesis.”  This is the process we speak of when we say that a pastor/teacher is digging into the text to understand and then explain the full meaning of it. So … Jesus “explains” God and the details of his nature and character.

And it is this verse 18 that is the springboard for our series title “God Up Close.”  To see God in detail, one only needs to see Jesus in the same way … and that is what we desire to do through this series. We want to look at all the varied venues and vignettes in which John brings us an intimate view of our Savior. To know him is to know God. To know him and believe and trust in him is to have life. To follow his example is to walk in love and in the light. And that is what we all desire.

John 1:1-18    The Word became Flesh

1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.