Welcome the Light

I suspect most of you have had the painful experience of getting up in the night and banging your shin against something. It is a painful experience. In addition to the pain of the bump there is also the pain of knowing it didn’t have to happen. You could have avoided the problem if you had just turned on a light.

Light opens a window for us to help us see beauty. Light exposes dangers so we can protect ourselves.  The light is our friend. Perhaps this is why Jesus is called the Light of the World or why we are told that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

In this morning’s text Jesus continues to respond to His critics. Some of His critics were asking for a sign from Heaven. Jesus answers this group in our text in Luke 11:27-38. As He does so He encourages us to live in the light rather than the darkness.

A Day of Judgment is Coming

Luke tells us that the crowds were increasing. In other words, Jesus was becoming more and more popular . . . but it wasn’t going to last. Jesus looked at his crowd (especially those who were clamoring for some great “sign” from Jesus) and said,

“This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. [Luke 11:29-32]

We have to know a little Biblical history to understand what Jesus says here. Jesus said the only sign He would give would be the sign of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet of God and he was sent by God to the city of Nineveh which was known for its brutal treatment of people. He was to announce God’s judgment against them.

Jonah was “less than enthusiastic” about the assignment. Instead of heading to Nineveh He booked passage on a ship heading in the opposite direction. God decided to persuade Jonah to obey Him by sending a storm that threatened to kill everyone on ship. Jonah saw that the storm was because of him and he didn’t want to endanger the lives of the others on the ship. Instead of repenting and heading back in the right direction Jonah told the men to throw him overboard (he would rather die in the water than repent! He really didn’t want to go to Nineveh!) Jonah was swallowed alive by a big fish, and somehow remained alive in the fish for three days and then he was regurgitated back up onto the shore. During the three days in the fish Jonah had warmed up to the idea of obedience. He went into Nineveh and half-heartedly told the people that God was going to wipe them out (at least he enjoyed delivering the message). However, the people of Nineveh humbled themselves and asked God to forgive them. And God, who delights to show mercy, extended forgiveness.

Perhaps Jesus saw his role as being in some ways similar to Jonah . . . to present the unvarnished truth to the people in hope that they will repent. In Matthew 12 the same Jesus explains his words saying, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [Matthew 12:40] So, Jesus told the people that the only sign they were going to see was His Resurrection! It was the most compelling sign ever.

Jesus didn’t stop here he mentioned the Queen of the South (or the Queen of Sheba) who may have been the Queen of Yemen at the extreme southern tip of Saudi Arabia. In 1 Kings 10 we are told that she had heard of the fame of Solomon and traveled (perhaps months) to visit Solomon and gain from his wisdom.

Jesus’ point is that this woman came all that way to learn of God from Solomon and yet the people who stood right before Jesus resisted Him even though he was far superior to Solomon. Jesus said this pagan Queen and those who lived in Ninevah at the time of Jonah would be there to condemn those who asked Jesus for a sign; those who refused to believe. The Queen knew she should seek the truth; the people of Ninevah knew enough to repent before a Holy and Powerful God.  The people of Jesus time had more opportunity; they had more information; and they had the Son of God teaching and doing great things before their eyes.  Yet . . . they refused to be moved.

There are a couple of things for us to learn from these words:

  1. Sin and unbelief in our day should not surprise us or discourage us. There were some who didn’t embrace Christ even though He was right in front of them – we should not be surprised that some will still resist Him today. Our job is to present and live by the truth and ask the Holy Spirit to bring real change in the lives around us. We must not get discouraged.
  2. Jesus talked about Judgment in a future day. This means two things. First, this life is not all there is. Second, we will be held accountable for what we do in this life. The first question in judgment will be: “How did you respond to God’s offer of forgiveness and new life?” Those who “didn’t have time” or “thought it was more important to fit in” or who “just wish they had more evidence” will be judged as severely as these who resisted the work of Christ.
  3. Those with greater opportunity will be judged most strictly. We have enjoyed benefits the Queen of the South would have given great riches to attain. The Queen would have loved the opportunity to study the Scriptures. The people of Nineveh would have paid close attention to the words of Jesus. The point is clear: If we do not take advantage of what we have been given, our judgment will be greater than that of those who perished in the Old Testament.

Jesus means for these things to get our attention. He wants us to think about the consequences of the choices of our life. He wants us to avoid this fierce judgment coming on those who spurn God’s mercy, grace, and love.

The Way to Escape Judgment is Clear

Jesus may seem to shift gears as He moves to talking about light but the topic hasn’t changed at all . . . Jesus is still talking to us about responding to the message of the gospel

33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

Jesus makes a simple observation that everyone would understand: you don’t light a light and then cover it up so it doesn’t shine! The whole purpose of lighting a lamp is to bring light to the biggest area possible. If you want to avoid the darkness, live in the light! Jesus did not come into the world to hide the light of God’s truth. Instead He came to reveal that truth. The truth of God is not something hidden that you have to go look for . . . it is there in the open so that anyone who wants to see, can see. We can live in the light and subsequently escape the judgment to come.

So what is the problem? Jesus says our eye is what lets light into our body. Consequently, when your eyes are bad life becomes darker and darker. Think about a person who is getting cataracts. That person finds it harder and harder to see clearly because of the cataract on their eye. If untreated they will not be able to see at all.

What causes such “blindness” or cataracts in our soul? The first problem is hardness. Think about a person who works with their hands. When they start their hands become sore from the stress and pressure. However as they continue to do this job over and over their hands become calloused. They develop a hardness so they no longer feel the pain.

What is good for the body is deadly for the soul. God has created us with consciences that are designed to alert us to spiritual danger. The more we ignore the voice of conscience, the less sensitive we become to it. If you keep doing something wrong and ignore all the internal “stop” signs; if you continue to move forward even when the Bible tells you to stop and go a different direction; you create a callous on your soul. Before long you can justify all kinds of behavior and say things like, “I have no problem with this”. It is a sign that your soul has become calloused.

How could anyone work at a concentration camp during World War II?  I suspect that when they first started putting people to death they were haunted by the screams and the faces. However when they continued to ignore the spirit or conscience within them (by justifying their actions) they were troubled less and less by their actions (as impossible as that sounds.

When we ignore the voice of conscience as it reflects the Word of God we lose our sensitivity. The fact that we are not troubled by something does not make it OK . . . it just means that the “light within us has become darkness”.

The second thing that hinders the light is overexposure. In the old days of working with film you had to develop the film in a “darkroom”.  This was because exposing the negative to light would ruin the picture. Too much light washes away the distinct images captured on the film.

One of the tactics of Satan is to so overexpose us to sin that we can no longer distinguish between good and evil, holy and profane. He knows that if he exposes us to perversion long enough we will become so used to it that we won’t think anything of it. Television bombards us with immoral behavior, homosexuality (every program seems to have someone who is a homosexual), profane language, and callous disregard for human life. We are so bombarded with the “importance of the material” or stuff that we actually think we can’t be whole without this “stuff”; we have lost the sense of contentment. Even professing Christians reach a point where they see no “disconnect” between living for Christ and embracing the perversity of the world.

Third, are those promoting darkness. There are people actively working to extinguish the light. Anything that has to do with God is scorned. Some want “in God we trust” taken off of our money; they want “in the year of our Lord” taken off of diplomas, they want the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms, they want “under God” taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Anything that hints at a divine moral standard is aggressively attacked as hate-mongering.  What these people fail to understand is that even if these people successfully eliminated every reference to God in our society . . . His standard would still be the standard by which we are measured in the Day of Judgment.

What We Must Do

The warning from Jesus is this: “See to it that the light within you is not darkness”. That is good advice but what does it mean practically?  How do we keep our own eyes clear?

First, we need to deal with problems and barriers quickly by confessing our sin. Confession is like cataract surgery. It removes that which is hindering the light from getting through.

We would be wise to address sinful thoughts and deeds as soon we recognize them. For example, let’s say that you just passed on a bit of gossip and you know you sholdn’t have done this.  You might say, “Lord, I know what I just said was wrong. I slandered someone’s character. I acted in an unloving way and ignored your counsel. Please forgive me. Help me to do what I can to right this wrong and make progress in treating other people the way I would want to be treated.”

Suppose you look at someone and that look turns into a lustful thought. Instead of shrugging this off as something that happens to everyone, confess the fact that you were guilty of viewing this person as an object rather than as a person of worth and created and loved by God.

Make it a habit to deliberately look at your relationship with God (the first four commandments) and confess these often overlooked sins.

  • The times we treated God with a lack of respect
  • Times we have used His name in a callous or profane way
  • When we see other things controlling our lives (idolatry)
  • When we have absented ourselves from worship
  • When we know we are resisting His will
  • When we find ourselves filled with worry (we don’t trust Him)

All of these things are sin and will cloud or narrow our ability to see and be led by the light of God’s truth. Taking a regular and honest inventory of our life is a good step toward spiritual health. No one suddenly falls into sin. There is a series of compromises and an inattention to problems well before we fall gravely.

Second, we need to make time for God’s Word. As a cook is careful to follow a recipe; as an organization licensed by the government pours over government regulations; as a football player studies the playbook; so we should give attention to the Bible.

We should read the Bible expectantly because we know it is the light. We should read the Bible meditatively because these are deep truths that need time to soak it in.  Like reading a love letter, we need to read the Bible reflecting on every word and considering the implications of every statement.

Establish a time and place every day when you will read and reflect on the Bible. Use devotional aids but only as long as the aid does not become a substitute for your own careful reflection on the Scriptures.

We make time for God’s Word by being a part of the corporate study of God’s Word as we gather on Sunday mornings. During our time together there is the reading of Scripture, the exposition and application of Scripture, there are allusions to Scripture in the songs we sing, and there are Sunday School classes where we try to dig deeper into the Word of God. Charles Simeon wrote, [1]

What makes you think that you will be blessed in your life if you prefer your ease, your business, your pleasure to the consistent attendance in worship and the sacraments of God? Do you really think that God is unconcerned about the honor given to His Word and that He will not notice the contempt you show by your indifference? Has He not repeatedly said the opposite? Whatever excuses you are making, remember that you don’t have even a semblance of Christianity as long as you remain indifferent to the public teaching of the Word and neglect private study.

Powerful and direct words but I believe Pastor Simeon speaks the truth.

During the French Revolution some Christians were crammed into a dungeon where once a day for a few moments, as the sun stood at a particular angle, one of the prisoners who had a Bible would be hoisted on others’ shoulders to a sunlit crack, where he would study the Scriptures. When the light dimmed, he would be lowered down, and his friends would say, “Now tell us what you read while you were in the light.” [2]

This leads to the third suggestion: Take deliberate steps to do what God calls you to do. In the book of James the author writes, “be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving only yourself.” It would be foolish to walk into a dark room, turn on a light so that you can see the obstacles and walk into the obstacles! The whole point of turning on the light is to enable you to alter your steps in a way that is best and least dangerous. The same is true for the Word of God. To take in the light of Scripture and then ignore its wisdom as we live our lives is just as foolish.

Don’t you wonder why we have so much trouble obeying?

  • Is it because we don’t think God knows what He is talking about?
  • Is it because we really believe our situation is unique?
  • Do we just not “get it”?
  • Or are we simply rebellious children?

May I make a suggestion? Start moving in God’s direction. You may not be able to stop yourself from ever gossiping but start making some progress toward that goal.  Think of God’s standard as a 10 on the holiness scale. You may be at a 1 or even a minus 5 on the continuum. Instead of getting discouraged and giving up because you can’t get to 10 . . . set a goal of making progress. If you are at 1 try to move to 2. If you are at -5 try to get to -4. The goal is to make progress. God will help you if you sincerely want to follow Him. It will take time to change your focus and your behavior. I’m not suggesting that you lower God’s standards . . . I’m suggesting that you develop a reasonable plan of change.

The light is available. God wants you to see clearly. A Day of Judgment is coming. On that day no one will be able to use the excuse that they didn’t understand what God desired because it was dark. Those who end up in Hell will not be there because they did not understand. They will be there because they refused to understand. They will be there because they refused to turn on the light! In other words, where you spend eternity is directly connected to how you respond to Christ and His Word right now.

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