Luke 11:33-36 “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. 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. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 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.”
These words are so deep and mysterious when we first read them, but they contain notes of sober warning – imagine an entire lifetime “full of darkness” – what a fearful wasted life, never having discovered the light. But here we also learn from Jesus Christ of the possibility of a life “full of light” – what glory.
1. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
Many amongst the crowds who followed the Lord Jesus Christ, heard his preaching and saw his miracles but refused to put their trust in him. Before they’d dream of doing such a radical act they demanded more; more signs, and more wonders. This whole attitude was another evidence that wickedness reigned in the hearts of these people (v.29). We know that if they’d had another stilling of the storm or another raising of the dead then it would have made no difference to them. More miracles wouldn’t have satisfied them; they refused to ponder on what they had already seen and heard. They still would have wanted more, and more. They were crying constantly for more wonders.
You have to bear in mind that they were not watching a series of extraordinary acts performed by some anonymous person. They knew so much about Jesus; he was Mary’s son, the girl who lived in Nazareth with her carpenter husband. They knew his biography and his character. He was not like the typical stage or TV performer of whose private life and behaviour little is known but who is always thinking with his team of the next stunt he can pull off. Jesus was not like that. There were no elements of a stunt, no planning of his signs beforehand. They were all responses to uninvited circumstances – people appearing out of the blue, opening a roof, shouting out for deliverance, a storm on a lake, a funeral procession of a little boy moving towards him, coming across a barren fig tree, a wedding that ran out of provisions, and so on – all unforeseen events until that very moment and then the Lord had to act.
Jesus lived day by day with twelve men in the most intimate of circumstances; traveling with them, eating and sleeping with them, answering their questions. They scrutinized him secretly and searchingly. Our Lord was an observable and accessible man, known to his audience and to the people of Galilee, most of whom had heard him in one place or another. Many had seen him feed 5,000 Galileans with five loaves and two fishes, even remembering still the taste of the bread and fish, and then they’d heard him proclaim that he was the bread of life. He had given sight to a beggar man whom they knew well, a man born blind, and then Jesus claimed that he was the light of the world. He had raised Lazarus from his grave and then declared that Jesus was the resurrection and the life. All his miracles were signs pointing to his divine nature.
Again, his whole life also proclaimed his sin-free nature. Here was a real flesh and blood man who never did or said anything mean, or cheap, or deceptive, or unkind. What an extraordinary attractive life, warm, generous-hearted, cheerful, manly – twenty years of sawing and hammering and screwing and planing had toned his body. Here was the proper man, what a real man is, and yet he was as omnipotent as God; there was nothing he could not do. The only limitation on his actions was his own will. Of course he was no monster; he was as holy as God is holy, and yet as meek and unintimidating as a baby deer. He is the heart of Christianity. He is the theme of the Christian message. He is the centre of our worship. We gather together in his name. We preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ the Lord. We are always saying, “Let’s tell you about the Lord Jesus . . .” Why am I emphasizing all this? I am claiming that it was not because of anything deficient in the things Jesus did or said or was that gave people cause to reject him. Then why did they refuse to trust him? They had no excuse.
You know what sceptics say . . . about taking a leap into the dark. I have often told you about Lord Neil Kinnock being in school with me and when a number of us in the mid-1950s were saved and we started a Christian Union he came along to some of those meetings – he is three or so years younger than me. Then Lord Kinnock had that extraordinary rise to become leader of the Labour party – our Neil! And when he was fighting one political campaign against Mrs. Thatcher he was asked by a journalist what were his religious views and I was interested in reading how he’d reply. He admired Christianity, he said, but could not personally take a ‘leap into the dark.’ So I wrote to him and told him that becoming a Christian was anything but a leap in the dark. C.S.Lewis taks about his becoming a Christian and that one incident that shook him out of his indifference was to sit with the greatest cynic and critic of the gospel he had ever met, and one day as they sat and talked at the fireside this man . . . this man said “It is amazing how reliable the New Testament documents are.” He hadn’t read Josh McDowell’s More than a Carpenter. He hadn’t read F.F.Bruce’s The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable? He had simply read the New Testament and felt the weight of its arguments.
Becoming a Christian is not a leap into the dark; it is coming to the one who claimed to be the light of the world. It means thinking as you look at Jesus’ teaching, for example, reading the Sermon on the Mount and his great discourses in John, considering his mighty works and his character. What would you expect from one who claimed that he and his Father were one, that he was the incarnation of the good and powerful God who made the world? Coming to Jesus Christ means considering the effect of his teaching on the lives of those who trusted in him. What did it mean for them? Did they become hard-lined obscurantists and ‘raving fundamentalists’ who just argued about religion? Judge Jesus, I say, by the lives of those who claim that he lives in them.
There was an oft repeated incident that occurred during the life of Harry Ironside, a well known American pastor at the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. Many of us know this story, but it is worth hearing again. I remember the first time I heard it many years ago and I found it convicting. Harry happened to be visiting San Francisco. It was a Sunday and as he passed down Market Street there was a Salvation Army open-air meeting going on. Though Dr. Ironside had belonged to the Brethren, he had started his life in the Salvation Army, and he ended up as a Baptist pastor. In Market Street that Sabbath afternoon some of the men in the open air meeting recognized him, and the Salvation Army Captain asked him if he would join them and give a word. So Harry went into the open-air meeting and preached to the crowd. There was a man who stood and listened, and when Harry had finished he approached him and handed him his card. Harry read it and saw the name, “Arthur Morrow Lewis.” He knew immediately the name.
Arthur M. Lewis was the Richard Dawkins of his day (which was during the First World War and the early 1920s). He wrote, amongst other things, an introduction to Sociology and a book called The Art of Lecturing. Lewis then said to him, “Dr. Ironside, I’d like to challenge you to a debate. Next Sunday afternoon; not in the open-air – I am not an open air preacher – but in the San Francisco Academy of Sciences. I’ll pay all the expenses, and we’ll debate Agnosticism versus Christianity.”
Harry Ironside replied, “Dr. Lewis, I’ve got an engagement next Sunday, however I’d put it off if such a debate were worth while, but it could only be worth while on certain conditions. One requirement would be that you would bring with you to the platform a man who had fallen deeply in this life, sank into a terrible state, despairing, giving in to all sorts of evil behaviour and crime. Then he attended one of your lectures on why you opposed any faith in God and believed in evolution, and so through hearing you and your promotion of atheism, he had been changed. He had given up his crime. He overcame his addictions. He was reconciled to his family. He was delivered from despair and ever since he has been an upright, happy man, a pillar of society.”
Then Harry added, “Dr. Lewis, I also want you to bring a woman, a woman that had started taking drugs, and had gone on the streets of San Francisco to pay for her habit, but through hearing your message that there is no God a hatred of all her past ways grew in her life. She turned away from her evil living and now she is choosing modesty, choosing purity, choosing faithfulness, and choosing truth.” That is what Harry asked of Dr. Lewis.
Then Ironside added, “I for my part, sir, I will bring a hundred men whom the Gospel that we believe has changed completely. They used to frequent the bars and the clubs and street corners where they bought drugs. I will let ten of them speak and tell of how they lived when they were atheists living for the Devil. Then they’ll tell of the change since the Lord Jesus Christ encountered them.
“I will also bring a hundred women who on the streets of this city were lost and hopeless women, but now they’ve been cleansed in the Saviour’s blood. They are now women of integrity, virtue, purity and righteousness.” Then Harry Ironside said, “Now, Dr. Lewis, those would be the terms on which I would take part in a public debate with you.” Arthur Morrow Lewis smiled and bowed his head and went on his way. This was a challenge he could not accept. He could not fulfil those terms. We speak to you of Jesus Christ, and the reliability of the documents about him, and the power he has to change men and women. He has an impact for lasting good in those he comes to indwell. Please, examine their lives! Talk to them. Judge Jesus Christ by the lives of those in whom he lives, over whom he has the influence of the mighty God himself. He is the light of the world. Consider his life; his teaching; his mighty works. Come to the light! Come! He says, “I am the light of the world.” Come, then, to him.
Jesus of Nazareth was shining in Galilee but the people weren’t satisfied with two years of his life and mighty works and words in their midst. They wanted more. They were asking for yet another miraculous sign (v.29). They were justifying their unbelief by his not having done enough stunts, and said enough words, and performed enough miracles to allow them to believe on him. They wanted more before they would trust him. It was his fault, not theirs that they didn’t become his disciples. They had every reason, they said, for remaining in unbelief.
The words of our text are his answer. He is the light of the world. Dark Galilee had been lit up by him in the past years. Dark hovels of poverty and abuse had been transformed. Lives dominated by the lusts of the flesh and the mind had been enobled and elevated. Galilee was a happier and ethically better place. You could trust workmen and tax collectors; husbands kept their marriage vows. Services in numbers of synagogues were full of Scripture and not intolerable debates about this rabbi and that rabbi’s opinions. There was less drunkenness and immorality. The land was safer. Teenagers were better behaved. Magistrates had less to do in the city gates. The prophet has spoken of these very days in this area. He had promised that such a remarkable time would come to Galilee of the Gentiles; “The people that dwell in darkness have seen a great light.” The Lord Jesus was that light. He was baptized by John, and the Spirit of God had filled him and off Christ had gone from place to place preaching and gathering around him a group of men whom he taught and empowered to serve him and serve the people. A great light began to spread throughout Galilee.
When Christ came into the world he wasn’t bashful. He wasn’t withdrawn. There was no false modesty about him. The God who made the world and had spoken through Moses and the prophets was now speaking through his Son. He had told Christ to tell the world everything that God had given him. He spoke often; he spoke everywhere; he spoke clearly; he spoke simply; he spoke with remarkable relevance to every single person who heard him, young and old, fit and healthy, rich and poor. Through his words they understood who they were, and what had been wrong with their lives. They understood who Jesus was – the Son of God who had come into the world. They heard that he had come not to be served by hundreds of servants but to serve them, the Servant King, and to give his life a ransom for many. He made their peril spectacularly clear; they were heading for outer darkness; they needed a new birth, and a new heart. He told them this again and again and by the end of his life 500 people had committed themselves to trusting and following him and he made himself known to them after he rose from the dead.
We are just as earnest in telling you about Jesus Christ. The bandstand of the promenade 200 yards away from where I stand has been characterized by a week of Christian outreach. The team responsible for that has been eating and praying and fellowshipping and preparing themselves for going out to reach the people (on the promenade and by the sea) from the room downstairs, the room below us. They have been sharing their light – the light of Jesus Christ – with you. Who dares to claim that they are not Christians because there was no Christian witness at the university . . . there was no Book Shop where they could buy simple books about who Jesus Christ is . . . there was no preaching . . . there were no Bibles about? The problem is not that we failed to tell you. The problem was that you didn’t want to hear.
Imagine a group of us stuck on the edge of a high mountain and lost in a sudden storm. Darkness had grown deeper into pitch darkness. No stars or moon shone. You could not see your hand before your face. We knew there were treacherous precipices not far away. We were scared stiff; it grew colder and colder and we feared we would die of hypothermia. There is no light! We had to get down from the mountain, but we could not see where to put our feet, and so we shivered and shook and were filled with despair. Then suddenly someone piped up. “Oh, I’ve got a light in my haversack.” He had a light all the time! He did not tell anyone! Couldn’t he see how essential for our life and survival a light was. “Take the light out of your bag and switch it on and we might see the path down from the mountain top, passing from death to life!”
We too as Christians have the light. We do not keep it to ourselves. We have welcomed you to our meetings. We have spoken to you about our Saviour. We have offered to you simple books. We have invited you to study with us. We have preached in your streets. We have put our messages on the world wide web. When we lit the gospel lamp we did not put it down in the coal cellar with the spiders and quickly slammed the door shut. We didn’t switch a torch on and drop it in a pot and put the lid on the pot. No! We put the light on a stand. We held it high like the torch carried by the Statue of Liberty. The Lord Jesus went to people who had not invited him and did not always welcome him but he went there with his gospel and his signs confirming that the gospel was true, and one day the risen Christ sent his church into all the world and told his disciples to teach the world everything that Christ had said, to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation. We were not to be ashamed of the gospel because it was the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believed. So Jesus in our text tells us, “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” (v.33). We have been following our Master and done things just as he did them, and we will continue to do them for the rest of our lives, hold the light of Christ high, so that those who come in may see the light.
2. WHEN YOUR VISION IS CLEAR YOUR WHOLE LIFE WITH BE ILLUMINATED.
If you are not going to look at Jesus Christ, if you will not consider him and his claims then who or what are you going to be looking at? In other words if you’ve set up a No Entry To Religion sign in front of your life and are prohibiting the light that is Jesus Christ from ever entering your thinking, your affections, your conscience, your soul, then what stuff are you letting in? “Your eye is the lamp of your body” (v. 34). What is going to fill your life? What knowledge?
Many of you have heard of the Muller’s homes in Bristol which were established by a Christian man named George Muller. For the first twenty years of his life he had no time for God, but plenty of time for drinking and gambling and women. He was a swindler and at 16 he was tried for fraud, found guilty and sent to prison. He came out and his health was suffering from his debauchery. He was unhappy but he still kept God out of his life. He had a personal library of 300 books, largely of Moliere, Voltaire and the writers who gave birth to the Enlightenment, but there was no Bible on his shelves. Muller’s life was full of darkness and despair. The great change took place in 1825 when a friend called Beta told him of a meeting in a house and Muller felt he wanted to go there. It began with a man praying for God’s blessing on them, and then the Bible was read and expounded and as that word entered his mind Muller’s whole life changed. We could say that then his eyes became good, and his whole life was full of the light of Jesus Christ. Muller lived until he was 93 years of age and one of his abiding legacies was his cluster of large homes in Bristol where hundreds of orphans were taken in and provided for as Muller day by day spread out their needs before God.
What happened? George Muller went to a house meeting and he heard a man standing about three metres from him praying, warmly, simply, intelligibly and he who had lived a life without real prayer was convicted. Then what happened? Someone read from the Bible, steadily and clearly, and then explained its message. That is how light from heaven came into Muller’s life. It was very gentle and unintimidating. You know how a person who has been blind for some years and has a successful operation to recover his sight has to be very careful for the next months. His eyes are not used to light. His brain cannot handle it for a while and so he wears special glasses that filter the more damaging rays of light away and gently he gets used to coming out of darkness into light. It was like that with Muller. He came gently via meetings in a house and then meetings in a church to understand the message of the Bible. It is just so with you. You mustn’t expect total enlightenment immediately. That is as unnatural in the spiritual world as it is in the natural world. Jesus spoke of life coming gradually, first the seed, and then the leaves and then the buds appear and finally the full fruit. You grow spiritually as you do physically by inches. Light comes into you life by degrees, but if fill every part of the place where it is shines. Muller didn’t just become religious and life went on the same as ever. Muller’s whole life changed. His whole body was filled with light.
Let me take some help from Ralph Dale Davies. I have been listening to him at the annual conference this week with 1200 other people and found him to be so helpful. He has a booklet that he gives to new attenders of his church and he speaks to them about the light of the Bible entering their lives. This is what he says, that to begin with, he wouldn’t encourage them to spend more than ten to fifteen minutes in reading and thinking over a portion of Scripture. That may disappoint you. You may have expected him to say that you ‘really need to get into the word’ and to suggest some astronomical time frame so that you could feel appropriately guilty and think it utterly impossible. No, he says, “I don’t think that is the way. I’m more satisfied to see Christians with consistent hunger than periodic gluttony.”
“When should this time be?” you ask. Whenever it’s best for you. Some people are more alert in the mornings, some in the evenings. Some may find time and solitude over lunch hour. Just one thing: more often than not you’ll have to make time. If it’s breakfast or Bible, you skip breakfast. If it’s lunch or the Lord, too bad for lunch. You must make time. Get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning (which may mean you must go to bed earlier at night). Or whatever. But you must plot and conspire and sabotage to have this time. It seldom comes naturally. But you must have it in order to gradually let the light in.
“Where should I begin?” you ask. Ralph says, that when first starting out he would not suggest reading straight through the Bible. He advises you to starting with the Gospel of Mark. After that you could try Philippians, then Genesis, Luke, and then go back to Exodus 1-20. That will give you a start.
“What do I do when I read?” you ask. “What should I look for?” Look for some light in the Bible passage which you can use for that day. Maybe it shows you something about God or Christ that leads you to worship or praise. Maybe it provides correction you need for an attitude or habit. Maybe it brings assurance to you in some anxiety or fear.
Let’s look at the first chapter of Mark 1:1-13. The light shines as brightly there as any chapter of Scripture. We come to verse 11 and we read that when Jesus was baptized the voice from heaven said: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Then what? Then the Spirit sends Jesus out into the desert “and he was in the desert forty days being tempted by Satan” (v. 13). Now maybe you notice that. Jesus receives this wonderful assurance in verse 11, but then he is plunged into temptation in verse 13. The two are side-by-side. As you ponder that, doesn’t a point hit you? The fact that you are being sorely tempted (or tried) doesn’t mean that God is displeased with you. That may sound like little. But it’s worth meditating on, for when you are in the throes of temptation it is almost automatic to think that God is surely displeased with you. Here, if you will think about it, is wonderful light for dark times.
Go on in Mark 1 to verses14-28. And you happen on those words that the unclean spirit shrieked at Jesus in verse 24: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Think about that. A demon has correct knowledge about Jesus. “You are the Holy One of God.” Since it is a demon that speaks, we know that the light it has is not a saving knowledge or a loving knowledge. But it knows truth about Jesus. Should this not bring us up short and make us examine ourselves? It should make me say, “Why, even demons have a certain kind of light or ‘faith,’ Is that all my faith is – knowing or confessing certain facts about Jesus? Does my faith go beyond a demonic ‘faith’? Do I trust God? Do I put my trust for forgiveness of my sins and heaven in Jesus Christ?” And so you turn this Scripture on your own insides, and scrutinize yourself; you examine yourself. You don’t want the light that is in you to turn out to be darkness.
Now go on to Mark 1:29-39 (sure, it takes a while to go through a chapter this way, but what’s the hurry?). And you read about Jesus and company going to Simon and Andrew’s home after synagogue service. Now Simon’s (that is, Peter’s) mother-in-law “lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her” (v. 30). That is very simple. I know – it’s elementary school level, but so what? Doesn’t that provide you with some light? What can you do better in the face of trouble or sickness or distress, whenever it comes, than to tell Jesus about it? What is your first resort in trouble? Do you tell him? Do you have that light? Where have you been taking your troubles recently? Do you see how simply turning the Bible in on yourself can lead you to see your own failures and your true comfort?
Let’s finish Mark 1 by reading verses 40-5. Here is this man with leprosy standing in front of Jesus, and Jesus shocks you, for “he stretched out his hand and touched him” (v. 41). Now lepers were ‘unclean’ and therefore cut off from normal society. That man had probably not felt a human touch in years. A leper. Jesus touched him. Does the light of that truth tell you anything about the kind of Saviour you have? I won’t draw out the implications any more here. But can you see how – if you continued to ponder those words and that scene, how you would be forced to fall at Jesus’ feet in wonder, love, and praise, and worship such a Lord who doesn’t flinch from touching filthy people like us? Well, there are fifteen more chapters in Mark for you to study and you will gain more and more light steadily and easily.
You have to do it like that. You see the command of Jesus in our text? “See to it!” (v.35). Be serious! Make sure you do this! The Authorized Version says, “Take heed!” See to what? That the light you have is actually gloomy darkness. I was reading the conversion of Helen Roseveare, the missionary doctor who went to the Congo and was captured and raped during the civil war and Simba uprising. A Christian nurse who tried to protect her was beaten to death. What horrors but through it all she kept her trust in God. How did she come to that faith? She had been a student in Cambridge longing for more light on her life. She was an Anglo Catholic, regular at the confessional and the mass, she described that time like this, “every part of me stretching out after the Unseen Power who could meet all needs.” But she could never find it; no light, feeling increasingly hopeless. She said, “Whilst in church, I could lose myself to all the problems, bathed in strange mysticism and pious ritualism, but on leaving the service I had nothing, no light, no power, no compassion, no help to answer the daily needs and meet the daily problems.” The light that was in Helen Roseveare was itself darkness. Then some Christian students invited her to a week-end conference. They studied the Bible together, the book of Genesis and the letter to the Romans, and as she studied Paul’s epistle to the Romans the light began to shine in her soul. She said, “The truth began to penetrate my thick skull – it was true! It was no myth. It was no outdated fairy-tale. This God was real, and true, and vital. He cared . . . he loved me enough to send his Son to die for me.” The light was dawning in her life and finally she could say, “I knew with an unshakable assurance that God was real, that his salvation was true, that I was accepted by him into his family and his service.” So she came to this stage that Jesus speaks of at the end of our text, “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” (v.36). She actually returned to the Congo after being attacked there and served God for twenty years there. That was the fruit of the light she’d gained.
Do you understand what your particular problem might be? Your eyes are bad; that’s it, and because of that your whole life is full of darkness. I see a blind man walking around Aberystwyth with his guide dog. It’s the end of the day and twilight is falling and soon it will be dark. Do I think, “Tomorrow the sun will rise and Aberystwyth will be full of light, and it will be OK for that blind man?” No, of course I don’t think like that, because his problem is not light, it is sight. Your problem is not the light of the Bible that you can’t see. It is not that you don’t understand my preaching – though I could preach far more sweetly and clearly. Your problem is your eyes, your lack of spiritual sight. You must pray what the author of the magisterial Psalm 119 prayed in verse 18, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” You must keep praying that prayer until you know that God has heard and answered you. You must pray, “Show me Jesus, the light of the world.” And you must cry to God earnestly that he will hear and answer that prayer until the light of Jesus Christ floods you heart and soul and mind. In his light you will see the light of God on the greatest questions that leave you now in darkness. Who are you? Why are you here? What must you do to be saved? He will help you see the light.
15th August 2010 GEOFF THOMAS