Light & Dark

(Luke 11.33-36)

Welcome to Eglise Connexion. Today we are celebrating our fourth birthday as a church! God has been very good to us, and we’re so thrilled to be beginning our fifth year of ministry here in Châtelet-Les Halles. 

If you’re here for the first time I’d like to welcome you and explain to you how we do things here. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to church before or what you’re used to, but every service we spend a good chunk of our time in the sermon, in the preaching of the Bible. Ever since the beginning of the church, we simply go through books of the Bible. We start at chapter 1, verse 1, of a given book, and just preach it right through, week after week, until the end of the book.

Last year, we started preaching through the gospel of Luke. Luke’s gospel is by far the longest of the four gospels, and we knew it would take a long time to finish. We preached through this gospel almost exclusively last year, and we’ve made it about halfway through chapter 11 (out of 24). So we’re not quite halfway there.

We took a break in June to preach on what the Bible says about sex (it has a lot to say), and we were in the Psalms over the summer (as we always do); it’s been a couple months. So before we jump back into Luke today, we need to do a quick review of where we’ve been so far.

Review: 1.1-11.32

In case you’re not aware of it, the gospel of Luke (like the other gospels) is the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. Every gospel tells the same story, but from a different angle; each one completes the other, and they often quote one another directly; but each gospel has its own goals, its own emphases. The story takes place in those parts of ancient Palestine which were under occupation by the Roman Empire at the time of Christ.

Luke begins his gospel with a personal introduction to a man named Theophilus—more than likely a man of wealth or social influence, possibly even a Roman official. We don’t know a lot about Theophilus, but Luke tells us clearly that he’s writing his gospel to this man, so that (1.4),

 you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

So that’s his goal, and he states it clearly right from the outset: he wants to convince Theophilus that Jesus is real, and that everything Luke’s about to tell him about Jesus, everything he’s heard about Jesus, is true. 

Luke was an educated man, a doctor; so he goes about writing his gospel very methodically. Like a good journalist he goes around and speaks with anyone and everyone who was with Jesus during his life or ministry, and compiles their testimonies to make one, uniform narrative. 

And he starts his story before Jesus is ever born. An angel comes to a young virgin named Mary and tells her that the Messiah is coming, and that she, despite being a virgin, is the one who will give birth to this Savior. (The Messiah—the Savior, “the Christ”—was the rescuer God had promised Israel through the prophets, the one who would set them free from their sins.) She is instructed to name her child Jesus.

Jesus is born in a rather miraculous fashion, his birth announced to a group of shepherds by a legion of angels celebrating his coming, and he grows up full of wisdom. His cousin, John the Baptist (whose birth was also announced by an angel), prepares people for his coming by teaching them to repent of their sins—their rebellion against God. 

Finally, when Jesus is about thirty years old, he begins his ministry. He is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, and goes on healing people of their diseases and teaching the good news of the kingdom of God in synagogues all over the region.

He calls twelve disciples to follow him, and he begins to affirm his identity as the Messiah. Eventually he sends these disciples out to do the same things he is doing: to heal diseases, to cast out demons, and to teach the good news of the kingdom of God; then after a while, they regroup and assess, and then he sends them back out again. 

And this continues for a while—Jesus heals people, resurrects people from the dead, casts out demons, teaches the good news of the kingdom of God, and teaches his disciples to minister on his behalf. And his disciples slowly begin to recognize that this Jesus actually is the Messiah that God had promised through the prophets so long ago—that he actually is the Son of God.

And then, toward the end of chapter 9, we see a decisive turn. Jesus takes three of his closest disciples up to a mountain, where he is transfigured before them—the veil of his humanity is pulled back for a moment, and they see that although this man Jesus is fully human, he is not merely human: he is also fully God. 

And when they come down off the mountain, Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem” (9.53). 

Jerusalem was where Jesus would soon be arrested, and beaten, and mocked, and crucified for what he was saying and doing.

And Jesus knew it. But he makes his way towards the city anyway.

He’s going to take a while to get there: after starting his journey toward Jerusalem we see him sending out 72 of his followers to minister; then these 72 return and tell him about all that had happened. He rejoices in his Father’s good will, and continues to teach his followers about who he is. 

And in chapter 11 verses 29 to 32 (the last passage we saw before the summer break), Jesus remarks that many people following him are only following him because they want to see him do something impressive: they are seeking “a sign.” 

“But,” he says in v. 29, “no sign will be given to [this generation] except the sign of Jonah.” He reminds them of the story of the prophet Jonah, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a big fish, and says that he will do something similar—he will die, he will be buried, and three days later he will be raised from the dead. And he says, basically, that that’s the best sign you could ever ask for. V. 32:  

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 

That’s where we left off back in June, and that context will be important to remember going forward, because really, what he’s going to say in our text today takes place in the exact same conversation. We basically put Jesus on pause, in mid-sentence, in June, and now we’re hitting “Play” again.

So let’s continue, v. 33.

A Healthy Eye (v. 33-34) 

33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 

I read this passage to my six-year-old son Jack a couple weeks ago, and after I read verse 33, the image struck him as hilarious. Why would anyone turn on a light and then put it in the cellar? So that the tools Dad keeps in the toolbox can see where they’re going?

Jack’s laughing at that image is right: Jesus is intentionally giving a ridiculous illustration. It’s obvious that no one lights a lamp and then intentionally hides it where no one can see it. 

And that humor is an ironic introduction—no one does this with a real lamp in a real house, of course; but spiritually speaking, we all do this, all the time. (We’ll come back to this in a few minutes.)

V. 34:

34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.

If the first image was easy to grasp, this one’s more difficult—how is our eye the lamp of our body? What does that mean?

J.C. Ryle was right in pointing out that this image would have been clearer to Jesus’s listeners than it is to us today. We have eyeglasses. We have contact lenses. We have laser surgeries that can actually remove cataracts from our eyes. Loss of sight isn’t as common today as it once was. 

But at the time, this wasn’t the case. Several times in the gospels, Jesus heals blind men, and each time there is a heavy poignancy to it, because blind people in that society were totally without resources. Blind people—or even people whose eyesight was deteriorated—in ancient near-Eastern cultures could not go on to have healthy and happy lives. Theirs was a manual society; people were carpenters or farmers or ironworkers. And the only jobs that weren’t manual required education; they required reading, and the continued use of the eyes. Or, like the priesthood, they were only accessible to a small number of people.

For the people Jesus is speaking to here, when they hear him say that “the eye is the lamp of the body,” they would see the link between the two—all the body’s activity is influenced by the eyes. Our eyes make it so the body can navigate its surroundings; they “give light” to the body.

But for our eyes to do us any good, they must be healthy. Healthy eyes can see obstacles in our path, and move away from them. They see things at the proper distance, and can grasp hold of things which we need. 

To put it another way: healthy eyes can see things as they are.

And that’s what Jesus is getting at. When he says “Your eye is the lamp of your body,” he’s giving us a picture: a picture of spiritual sight, and spiritual blindness, which functions in much the same way as our physical eyes.

So the implicit question he’s asking is, Can you see spiritual things for what they are? Or are you spiritually myopic?

The thing is, it’s impossible to answer that question on our own—that’s why the image he’s giving us here is hard for us to grasp. 

How would we know we were spiritually blind unless we could see, even if only for a moment, something more? We can’t know we’re spiritually myopic unless our eyes are finally opened. 

We go about our lives, not believing in Jesus, and then someone at some point tells us what Jesus did. They tell us that he came and lived a perfect life in our place—the life we should have lived—and that he took our sins on himself, and was punished for those sins—the punishment we all deserved; and that thanks to this exchange (our sin for his perfect life), God declares us perfectly righteous and reconciles us to himself.

And at some point, either during that conversation, or some time after, it’s like a light gets switched on in our minds. Our eyes are opened. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes, opens our hearts, to see the gospel not as a story, or a philosophy, but as the truth

And we can’t unsee it once he’s done that in us. Just like a person with cataracts who has an operation to see well again will now instinctively walk where his eyes show him a path, once the Holy Spirit does this eye-opening, heart-opening work in us, we can’t help but walk according to what our new eyes can see. We find delight in truths that used to seem like crazy speculation to us; we recognize the Creator at work in our lives, whereas before we saw mere coincidence; we are filled with joy at his grace, whereas before we didn’t know such grace even existed. 

In other words, our new eyes let light in: because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are finally able to see things as they are. 

That’s what Jesus is getting at here—if we see God as he is, the light we see when we look at him infiltrates us. His light becomes our light; his life becomes our life.

But we can only see God as he is by looking at Jesus, because Jesus is the one who shows us God as he is. Every other object of our sight is a tiny plastic flashlight; God is the sun, and Jesus is the one who lets us be changed by his light.

Light and Darkness (v. 35) 

So we have two different types of spiritual “eyes”—eyes that are healthy, which the Spirit has opened to the truth of the gospel, and eyes that are “unhealthy.” It would be easy to imagine that if we have faith in Christ, if our eyes have been opened, then we’re good: we can see now.

But Jesus warns that it is possible for our spiritual eyes to grow unhealthy, v. 35:

35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.

This sentence will twist your brains if you give it the chance; but what he’s getting at is actually simple enough.

When does light become darkness? When it is snuffed out or obscured.

We’re in Paris. You’ve all seen buildings here with scaffolding all along the outside, so that cleaning crews can clean them off and make them nice and white again. Why is that necessary? Because the pollution in the city comes in and cakes itself onto the sides of buildings.

This happens to windows too. If you let them go long enough without cleaning them off, that muck will accumulate on the window, and whatever light used to come in will be clouded and murky, until eventually (if it goes far enough) no light can get through at all.

In the Christian life, it’s the same thing. We begin our walk with Christ bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, happy about everything we see around us, because God is sovereign over it all, and he is good. But over time, life in this fallen world can begin to take its toll, and we start to not see things so brightly.

There are multiple ways this can happen.

The quickest way is sin. 

God created us, and he created us to operate in a certain way as human beings, so he knows best how to be healthy and how to live the way he created us to live. So he gives us commandments to show us how to do that. But often these commandments get in the way of what we want, so we disobey the commandments and do what we want anyway.

And wouldn’t you know it? After a while we find it harder to be happy in God; we find it harder to pray; we find it harder to read our Bibles; we find it harder to love our neighbor; we find it harder to love our wives and our kids; we find it harder to serve others.

Why is this? Because we’ve let the light in us become darkness. You know what happens when you spend a very long time in a dark room, and you go back out into bright daylight, how badly it hurts? All you want to do is shut your eyes. We have allowed sin to come in and put a (metaphorical) film over our eyes, so we can’t see the light of God’s presence quite so clearly…and we find ourselves not even wanting to.

Or often we don’t take the time we need to look at the light. R. Kent Hughes tells a story he heard from someone else, that during the French Revolution, Christians were locked away in a dungeon, and once a day, the sun hit the building at a particular angle, letting a crack of sunlight in. One of the prisoners who had a Bible would be hoisted up onto the other prisoners’ shoulders to get access to that little bit of sunlight, and when the light went away, they would lower him down and say, “Now tell us what you read while you were in the light.”

I don’t know if that story’s true, but it’s a great picture of our situation. We don’t realize how blessed we are to live when and where we do—we have access to unparallelled translations of the Bible, in our homes, in our bags, on our phones… And we don’t read them! We don’t memorize them. We don’t treasure the Word of God that has been given to us… 

So when we open our eyes to the world around us, it’s unclear to us what God has to say about our situation, or how he could be at work in this fallen world. Our light becomes darkness.

Or maybe we let ourselves be influenced by other competing beliefs or desires that aren’t remotely compatible with the gospel. We want God to be all about us, so we end up believing that God is all about us. We don’t want to deal with our sin, so we say, “It’s okay if I do this, because God will forgive me.” We twist the light we have been given to fill our own felt needs, to fit better with the relativistic culture around us, until in the end the light we have isn’t light at all.

Or perhaps it’s as simple as letting the pressures of life weigh on us, forgetting that God is sovereign over it all and works all things out for the good of his children. We no longer think to look for God’s hand at work, because life is just so hard, and our situation is just so painful, and forcing ourselves to look for God is hard work, and it actually feels pretty good to just wallow in our misery.

The saddest thing about all of this is that what I said before—that once we see the light of God’s truth, we can’t unsee it—is true. We can’t go back to our blissful ignorance. So we can see enough to know that things aren’t quite right…but we let a million different things in which cloud our sight, so that even if we know it shouldn’t be this way, we can’t see how to fix it, how to live happy for Jesus in this fallen world. As my father used to say, we have just enough of Jesus to make us miserable.

Whatever the reason, Jesus tells us to be careful. Jesus’s contemporaries were ignoring what was right in front of them, and refused to accept even the “sign of Jonah” he had told them about, this man who lived and died and who was raised three days later. For all their religious grandstanding, they were unable to see things as they actually were.

Be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 

Obey what you see God telling you to do in his Word. Believe what he says about himself, and not what you want him to say about himself. Read your Bibles, know your Bibles, love your Bibles. Listen to God’s voice speak to you through them. See his hand at work even in your pain, and rejoice that these present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to the glory that’s waiting for us.

Full Light, No Dark (v. 36) 

36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

This is the goal, brothers and sisters—this is the tantalizing possibility Jesus holds out to us. It’s not living with a tinted window. It’s not part light, part dark. It’s full light, no dark.

And it is possible. 

It doesn’t seem like it’s possible to live like this—full light, no dark—because we are still imperfect, we live in a fallen world, and we still suffer, and we still sin.

But even our suffering can’t chase away the light, if we respond to it the way the Bible tells us to. James tells us in James 1.2-4:  

2 Count it all JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

When we see spiritual growth and maturity as a higher good than our own present comfort, then even our suffering is a reason for joy, because it serves this greater good: to make us steadfast and complete in Christ, lacking nothing.

Even our sin can’t chase away the light, if we respond to it the way the Bible tells us to. John tells us in 1 John 1.9:  

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 cleanses us from all sin. 

And after he tells us what it means to walk in the light, v. 8:

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In God’s hands, even our sin becomes an opportunity to shine the light of the good news of the gospel all the more brightly on our hearts: we admit that we need a Savior, we confess our sins to God, and we rest in the work of our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ (as John will say just after in chapter 2). 

To say it more clearly, life in full light, with no part dark, is not a perfect life; it is a life in which we rest in the Savior who was perfect for us.

And as we grow in our understanding of who Christ is and what he has done for us, we find ourselves loving what he loves, and hating what he hates; as we grow in him, continually repenting and turning away from our sin, we find ourselves wanting to sin less and less.

The end result of all this is that we might be, Jesus says, wholly bright. We are filled with this light, through eyes which see God’s world for what it is, which see things as they truly are, which are able to see God’s gracious hand at work all around us.

And even more, we’re not only filled with light for ourselves; we give off light for others. Remember where we started? V. 33:  

No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.

If we live like this, we will be beacons—great big million-watt LEDs in a foggy world for other people to see by. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing someone who, just by hanging around them, made you love Jesus more? Holiness and joy in God are infectious; when someone sees God’s hand at work everywhere (because it is), they are changed by it, and they give those around them the desire to see the world as they do.

My prayer for this church is that each and every member might be that kind of Christian. That we might be joyful in our faith—and not in some superficially emotional idea of who God is, but joyful in a robust and truthful understanding of what God has revealed about himself in Scripture—and that our joy might make those around us so envious that they want to know more. That we might be able to provide them with reasons for the hope that we have. 

As we begin this new year as a church, my prayer is that this might be our marching orders: Let our bodies be full of the light of the knowledge of the gospel, having no part dark, so that those who come near us may see the light, and come to know, love and obey Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know Jesus today, this is the kind of life we’re trying to live, with God’s help. And he invites anyone who will to come to him and live the same life along with us, and with him, for the rest of eternity. You don’t need to understand a certain amount of doctrine to come; you don’t need to have met a certain quota of biblical knowledge to come. All you need is to trust that Jesus is who he says he is; that he did indeed live your life and die your death, so that you might be saved; and that if you come to him in faith, he will reconcile you with the Father and give you new eyes to see the world he created.

That’s all any of us have; and it’s freely given to anyone who will come.