Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Deep darkness. What is it? Why is it a problem? What is the remedy? The Prophet Isaiah says in chapter 9 that a Promised Messiah would come and when He did, He would bring great light. It isn’t coincidence that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by the sign of a great star in the sky, the Star of Bethlehem, the star that was so brilliant, it invited kings from a distant country to come and worship the infant King. So that there was no mistaking that Jesus was the One Isaiah prophesied about, Jesus, the Light of the World, appeared and His appearing was announced in part by a great light in the sky.
John says in his Gospel in John 1:4-5 4 In Jesus 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. (Meaning, the darkness couldn’t comprehend or understand it. Oh, not understanding or not comprehending Jesus has little to do with intellect. It has a lot more to do with an unwillingness to see Jesus and to be transformed by the light He brings. In that regard, Jesus’ light threatens the pride and control we often want to have over our lives.)
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
Deep darkness. Spiritual darkness. An unwillingness to embrace the light that Jesus brings. Do we see it our world today? If anything should have brought about an incredible harvest of souls by now, a hunger and thirst to connect with the Creator, a willingness to reach for something beyond self, you would think this Pandemic would have had that impact. You would think this would be the time people would have turned to Jesus in droves. But, sadly, I’m not seeing that kind of response. Sometimes I ask myself, “What is it going to take?” What will it take for revival to break out? What will it take for churches across our nation to be packed again? What will it take for altars to be filled with people who can’t help but fall on their knees and worship the One true King? I am afraid we are living in a time of deep darkness not unlike the time of Isaiah.
Why did SO many people miss Jesus when He came? Why did those who were far off, those who were outside of the Jewish community make the trip to acknowledge His entrance into the world, when so many who were right in the middle of the happenings, why did they reject Jesus? Why didn’t they reject the light? Theirs was a religious system enshrouded with burdens and rules and a spirit of religion, but it had no life. There was no joy in being a Jew. There was no excitement and passion about life with God. There was no fulfillment in keeping the law because it couldn’t be kept.
Those in charge of maintaining the religious status quo kept moving the goal post. Rules kept being added. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of rules that were keeping people bogged down and keeping them always living in a state of failure, one that heaped guilt upon them for not measuring up. It was a dark system, but it was what they knew. It was what they grew up with. It was what they were used to. The light of Jesus threatened the status quo. People had gotten comfortable in the dark.
Do you think that is the danger of the dark? Do we get used to it? Does the cover of darkness provide many with a false sense of security? As long as there is no light to challenge what you are doing, what you are experiencing, then, you think you can just persist in darkness. Do you come to believe that it doesn’t matter if you do?
Maybe those who were in spiritual darkness preferred an oppressive religious system to an actual relationship with God. Maybe they were satisfied with just checking off some boxes and jumping through some hoops. Maybe they were good with simply having an outward compliance to some manmade standard because to be in a right relationship with God would involve their heart, would involve their pride, would involve their attitudes needing to be adjusted, and well, they would rather that part of their life stay “in the dark” than be exposed to the convicting light that God would shed on the real situation. Listen, God wants more than religious participation from us. He wants the transformation of our hearts, our wills, our lives.
I fear that sometimes we could be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that if we show up for church, if we tithe, if we pay for the person’s coffee in the drive-thru behind us once in a while, if we listen to K-love, if we pray before we eat, if we wear Christian t-shirts, if we don’t swear or we don’t ingest harmful chemicals into our bodies we think that somehow we are living in compliance with the holiness of God. Don’t get me wrong, those things are good, but they aren’t the goal. The goal is to radically love our neighbors. The goal is to be in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit, so that we are willing to drop whatever, whenever, to go wherever God directs. The goal is to be willing to change whatever the light exposes, to let our idols, our vices, our unholy habits die. The goal is to live without malice in our hearts, so that we can truly pray for people’s lives to be blessed of God. The goal is to be witnesses for Christ as we offer grace and truth to the world and to help them become true disciples of Jesus. The goal is purity of heart, so much so that we regularly ask God to shine His light on anything in our attitudes or on any way we treat others if it needs to be corrected. The goal is generosity with people, even those we aren’t drawn to, even those who make life difficult for us. The goal is to put away sin, like to be done with it completely. The goal is to want to be like Jesus more than we want anything else.
But often, anything that threatens to expose that we have underlying issues like pride or a racist attitude or a heart of anger or a jealous or judgmental spirit, well, many would just as soon hang out under the canopy of darkness. Many would rather try to fly under the radar through church attendance and by tipping of God once in a while.
In addition to darkness just being what many have become used to, darkness is the goal of our enemy. Satan has been at work since before Jesus came into the world, to try to snuff out His light. No doubt he thought he succeeded with the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross, but the Resurrection is proof that the Light of God cannot and will never be extinguished.
Satan wants to veil or cover the workings of God in this world. He doesn’t want people to know and understand the love of God and the heart of God for each one of us. He wants God to seem harsh and controlling, demanding and difficult or far off and unattainable. Sometimes, he uses things that can even seem good, like religious exercises and rules, to weigh people down and to keep them from seeing the true light of God’s love.
Even though we see many walking and living in darkness, those who are faithfully pursuing Christ see Him and the light He brings. Satan wants to try to cover up the light by creating chaos and confusion. Do you know who his main targets are? Satan’s main targets aren’t people who are already walking in darkness. He already has them. His main targets are believers who are carriers of the light! He wants to harass and distract believers so that their lights don’t burn as brightly and point those in darkness to the true light.
I believe Satan’s biggest contemporary tool today to try to extinguish the light of God’s love and loving ways is through social media. The spiritual and emotional harm that is being done on social media, in my opinion, is adding to the darkness in a way that is choking out the spiritual potential and well-being of generations. I see people get on social media and bash their exes. I see folks bashing their bosses. I see people bashing their kids’ teachers. I read posts of people bashing their restaurant servers, their mechanics, their hairdressers, and their neighbors. I see people who have ONE encounter with someone and draw all kinds of conclusions about that person from one moment in time and bash them. And sometimes, I see those kinds of expressions from people who say they love Jesus.
Do you know how one hateful comment can ruin a business’s reputation? How one mean-spirited comment can impact children, making them casualties in some immature adult game? How one nasty critique can ruin a person’s witness for Christ? I know this is a bit heavy, but y’all didn’t come here today for a Hallmark Christmas special. Watch those this afternoon. Light brings correction. Light exposes what is wrong, what is attempting to hide. Here is the point of this section of the sermon: You can either add to the darkness or you can add to the light. If you are a Jesus-man or a Jesus-woman, you have got to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:11
Instead, flood social media with the light! Jesus has come. Light has come. Tell them that hope is here. Eternal salvation is possible. Sin can be forgiven. You can be healed from the pain of your past and from your emotional trauma. There is a Friend who will come to your rescue and walk you through every painful moment in life. There is peace that can hold you together in the midst of your crises. There is a refuge and hiding place when life’s pressures become too much. There is guidance and wisdom for life. There is supernatural power to access. Your life has meaning and purpose. You can live with confidence. You can overcome anything. You can love your enemies. You can live without fear. The bad things you have suffered can turn out to be a blessing. You can get out of debt with God’s help. All of this and more is content for those who want to contribute to the work of bringing Light in the darkness. Spread the light! Share the light! Be the light. Reflect the light!
Jesus called Himself the “Light of the World” in John 8:12. He said that those who follow Him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Can we not point people to Him? He not only called Himself the Light of the world, but guess what? He has called His followers the Light of the World. Matthew 5:14. You are the light of Christ in the world. I am Christ in the world. How brightly are we shining? Who knows Jesus today because of us? Who is less afraid because of us? Who has more peace because of us? Who knows their life has value and purpose because of us? Who is living more confidently because of us? Who knows how to pray because of us?
CRAIG, GET READY TO TURN ALL LIGHTS OFF AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. LIGHTS NEED TO GO OUT WHEN I SAY “HURRY.”
Who is convinced that God is for them because of us? Who believes the truth of the Word because of us? Who has had the power of God break strongholds off of their lives because of us? Who knows they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength because of us?
Darkness can happen in a hurry.
Many of you know what I am talking about. Sometimes, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. You find yourself in a situation that isn’t familiar, that you hadn’t planned for, that came without warning. That crushed you. (CRAIG, RESTORE THE LIGHT WE USUALLY MAINTAIN DURING THE SERMON.)
When darkness threatens you in an instant, you need to have Jesus, the Light of the World, to help you overcome it. In those moments you have to run to the light and all things Jesus for support. There was a Christmas 22 years ago that became a very dark time for our family. It happened wit
hout warning. It was the darkest moment I had ever faced at that time. I had been dealing with a high-risk pregnancy. Hannah was measuring large, very large, and I had a condition that left me with unusually high amounts of amniotic fluid. I didn’t walk; I waddled. Our church in Cincinnati was then in turmoil, having gone through a major split. The senior pastor had left. The administrative pastor had left. The children’s pastor had left. The youth pastor had left. I was there, feeling not only very alone, but was very pregnant and anxious about having our first baby. Still, we looked forward with joy to the birth of our daughter. I was going to be induced on Wednesday morning, two days before Christmas.
We were shocked to receive the call late on Tuesday night that Thom’s sister, Tracy, just 36, had a blood clot dislodge in her heart. She was on life support. We needed to get to the hospital. I stayed as long as I could, knowing I had to report the next morning to the hospital for the induction. Thom stayed with his mom and sister and became the one responsible for making the decision to remove Tracy from life support. She passed away in the middle of the night.
What a shock! What a gut-wrenching moment. What awful timing. What a dark night of the soul moment to walk through. I remember even wrestling with feelings of anger that our joy was being overshadowed by such a horrific and sudden loss. I’m just being honest. Thom had been up all night, and I had slept for a few hours. We reported to the hospital to have our baby. The doctor looked at me and told me I was crazy. He sent us back home to get rest. I rested, and Thom planned his sister’s funeral. It wouldn’t be until Christmas Eve Day that my induction began and our beautiful daughter would then come into the world on Christmas Day. Joy came on Christmas in the midst of a very dark time. I was still in the hospital for Tracy’s funeral. I couldn’t be there to say “goodbye.” I couldn’t be there to support my husband or his family. It was so difficult.
I remember being so grateful for Jesus and so grateful for a church family that rallied around us. I remember being so thankful that I knew how to pray and that I knew the presence of Jesus was with me. It was deeply profound. I don’t know of a time when a woman is more vulnerable emotionally than right after childbirth, and I know that it was having Jesus in my life that enabled me to process not only my anger, but in time, my grief, and it was Jesus that enabled me to feel joy, without guilt, over new life that had come to us even while life had been taken from us. Sometimes the darkness can overtake us in a hurry. We need the light of God on board in those moments.
Sometimes, the darkness creeps in over time. Little by little, over the course of weeks or months, a shroud, a cloud of darkness can settle in. As that is happening, we have to fight to stay connected to the light. We have to be diligent to stay focused on the light of Christ. We have to seek His presence. We have to reach for fellowship with His people. We have to work to stay in the light because the darkness is so pervasive and sometimes it is really subtle. God’s light is always available to us, but we sometimes, we have to be intentional to reach for it. Look at I John 5-7–God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.
Sometimes, over time, if we aren’t diligent to maintain our connection with the light, we can experience a dimming of our spiritual lives, a fading of our hope, a loss of faith and passion. We have at least 125 people who are missing from our church family since the beginning of the pandemic. These are people who were once a regular part of our fellowship who are simply not connected anymore. We probably have 50 who are still faithfully engaging in our online ministry, but there are at least 125 people who are just disconnected. These are people, who in less than two years, have simply stopped engaging.
It can happen easily, almost innocently, just slowing over time that the things of God that once were so prioritized and valued are replaced for the dark things of the world. And joy fades. And peace is gone. And your sense of purpose takes a back seat to just getting through the day.
What is your response to the light of Christ this morning? The way I see it you have four ways to respond to the Light, to Jesus, who has come into the world.
REJECT THE LIGHT-Many of the religious leaders of the day did. They refused to accept that Jesus was and is the Lord and that He alone is the Light and the way to God and the life that God wants to give us all. When they made that choice, they chose to remain subject to a broken and burdensome way of life, one without joy and peace and certainly a life with no hope of Heaven.
REFLECT THE LIGHT-Christ-followers have a tremendous responsibility to be the Light in this dark world. How else are people ever going to see Jesus if they don’t see Him in us? We are either contributing to the light or to the darkness in our culture. Which defines the way you live?
RUN TO THE LIGHT-If darkness has come on you suddenly, as it did on me 22 Christmases ago, do whatever it takes to stay focused on Jesus and to remain connected to God’s people. This is the formula for overcoming when a dark crisis has invaded your world. Retreating and isolating yourself from the Light will only make the darkness seem more pervasive.
RETURN TO THE LIGHT-If over time, your love and your light for God has faded, if you used to be that person who was serving the Lord with great fervor and faith and you now struggle to pray, to worship or to read the Word, or to serve Him in some way, you can return to that light today. If you have wandered away, if you have gotten mad at God or even mad at some of His children, if you have been burned and have put walls of protection around you that have taken you out of the light of God’s path for your life, you can return this morning.
Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. It wasn’t the seeing of the Light that was the problem for those living when Jesus came. It was the receiving of that Light. Deep darkness can and will be dispelled with the receiving of great Light. His name is Jesus. Would you respond to Him this morning?