My dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,
It might just be that you found yourself in the back blocks, out there in the never-never, beyond the Black Stump. The farms there, being anything between 30,000 and 100,000 acres can easily take in everything from here to Maryborough. It might just be that you camp on a dry creek bed on a dark moon night. Without some sort of light you can hardly see your hand before your eyes. But then, when you look up into the starry heavens, every little star seems so close it feels possible to pluck it.
Then, when the fire died, and you killed your gas lamp, and your eyes get used to the dark, you might even see the weak light shining from the window of a homestead some miles from you.
Darkness is frightening; it swallows up all vision and can leave you feel terribly lonely and exposed. But there is one thing darkness can’t do: it can’t shut out light.
A new Creation
Reading John chapter gives us something of what I just described. It talks about the swamping and frightening darkness of a world without God, but it has the birth light of the Gospel shining into it.
To understand something of the first few verses we need to go back to “the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2, NKJV)
From our human perspective everything is dark without God. Apart from the fact that the beginning describes emptiness, even if something did exist even that was formless and just drifting hopelessly and helplessly from nowhere into nowhere.
But God spoke everything seen and unseen into existence: “And God said …” What was spoken into this formless void of nothingness was light. God was light; the sun moon and stars were created later. But God broke through into this darkness and came into the darkness. One day after the other God spoke until at the end of the sixth day everything was created. And God rested.
How God created is revealed in the Bible. Our reading from John 1 tells us more:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:1–3, NKJV)
In another place we read:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1–3, NIV)
In yet another place the Holy Spirit testifies:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, NIV)
Not far into the Bible we come across the most terrible event of all history: Adam and Eve, our first parents, fell in sin. What was very good at the end of the sixth day now became infected with thorns and thistles, sickness, pestilence, hatred, animosity, war, envy, jealousy – and death. Adam and Eve were chased out of paradise, and the first murder took place not long after: their first child killed his younger brother.
This world became a dark place. But instead of the void and the quiet of that then became the earth, there is a noise of war, there are the shrill screams of pain every time death visits – there is darkness. Isaiah paints the picture:
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched… So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2-5, 9–10, NIV)
O, my dear friend, life without God is not life at all. Showing the fist to God in anger, blaming Him for the pain suffering we have to endure, brings us nowhere; on the contrary, our agitation just sucks us deeper into the quicksand of sin. We need to understand that this horrible place where people behead one another, where grown men jump on and crush the heads of babies, this place where the unborn are ripped out in pieces from the mothers womb, this place where cancer can chew you up bit by bit, this place where loved ones have lost the ability to talk to others whose memory was stolen from them through dementia – this place was not meant to be like this. God created it good, but we through our sin, made it a very dark place indeed.
A life without God is dangling over the cliff of a dark abyss. the worst part of our sinful state is that we can’t do anything about it.
But God did!
The very same Person who was there when all was created – God Himself – came like a light shining into the darkness. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
The darkness did not understand this light. But the word used for understood in Greek can also mean overcome. It’s like that little light shining in the dark night out of the window of the homestead: it’s always more than the darkness around it.
But of course the darkness of sin blinds our minds so that we might see the light, and yet not understand it. This blindness causes in us the inability to know, to grasp what salvation is about, to recognise the mercy of God in and through Jesus Christ; we hear the Gospel, but we remain spiritually stubborn because our minds are dull. We cannot receive the message and, if left to ourselves, we will do nothing with and about it but to reject it. That’s the effect of the darkness of sin.
But, and this is the good news of the Gospel of light: This Good News is preached to us and somehow some miracle happens. The light of Christ begins to shine on our minds, our ears are opened and we begin to understand our hopelessness without this light. On one hand I see the darkness of the pit below me, and I look up and I see Him, the Lord through all things were created, holding his hand, ready to pluck me from sure eternal destruction. From his face I see the radiance of life-giving light – all because He is light.
We don’t need to be good to be saved. We don’t need a wide Christian pedigree to the received as a child of God. Christ only save sinners. This is how it happens: God, by his Holy Spirit – all in the sight of Jesus Christ my Redeemer – by grace gives a new birth. This happens not because of something we decide, or our parents decide or will; it happens when the light of grace opens up my mind, my heart, my will, and lifts the darkness caused by sin: the result is faith and the ability to accept his grace. God then gives us a title, My child. To be called a child of God is a God-given right.
God in his tabernacle
Why all this grace? There is not a human being on this planet who can answer that question. But what the Bible tells us is that Christ, God from all eternity, sinless and holy in his being, chose to set up camp with sinners.
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. (John 1:14, NIV)
He came to make known his Father. He came to buy us back and take us home to the Father. His earthly ministry was one of obedience to the Father: He obeyed the law perfectly in and through everything He did or did not do; but more than that, He took our failures, our sins, our rebellion, and exchanged his glory for our trespasses. And when He died on the cross the reconcile us to God, darkness came upon the earth for some hours.
Three days later all brightness in full sun broke open as He overcame hell and sin and death and satan. He rose again and went back to his Father where He intercede for his own. When He comes back, He will exchange our tents for mansion.
My dear friend, do you know darkness? Yes, this world is a dark place, everything is not yet restored. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no sin – and we will be with God and his Son. In that place there is not sun or moon, but the light of God will be our light – and that for all eternity.
In the meantime the Good News of Christ is preached. the light of Christ is life from eternity and into eternity. Do you hear it and see it? Ask god to bring about the miracle of a new birth if you don’t see and believe in the Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 25 September 2016