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Gospel: John 9:1-7,13-17,34-39 (NIV)
- Gathering Rite “Remember Your Love”
- Hymn CW 515 “Christ Is the World’s Light”
- Hymn CW 517 “Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness”
Our text today is not a difficult one. The description of believers as people of light rather than people of darkness is maybe the most common in all of Scripture. We who were born in darkness are given the light of faith. Simple. But learning to live in that light – now that’s not so simple. Our former darkness pulls at us and calls to us. The world of darkness tempts and tests us. Our enemy the devil hunts us back into it. As we look at this part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians though, the inspired author gives us some direction for how to live in the light of faith. It starts by remembering how we came to light in the first place. Christ brings light to our darkness. But that light isn’t then hidden in us. Christians bring that light to life. We who received the light of Christ bring light to others as well.
Of all his stops on his missionary journeys, Paul spent the most time in the city of Ephesus. Paul reminds them how well he knows them as he begins this text. “For you were once darkness.” Ephesus was a major metropolitan area and trade center. It was also a center of sin’s darkness. The people of Ephesus were known to indulge themselves in every kind of sin imaginable. On a hill outside the city was a giant temple dedicated to the fertility goddess Artemis, or Diana. It was so grand that it was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It dominated the city in view and in thought. Ephesus led the people of the region into the worst kinds of idolatry. They gave themselves over to sexual immorality and tolerated every kind of sin. It was a culture…actually just like ours. The highest pursuit for the individual was finding out how to find one’s own greatest pleasure.
But the Ephesians that Paul was writing to had separated themselves from that. Now because the light of God had come to them, their lives were changed. Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” In other words, they had seen the light. They knew the difference between what was wrong and right. What was darkness and what was light.
Paul continues, “Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord.” Do you see the difference between people of darkness and Christians of light? Rather than finding out what pleased them, the Ephesians were going to find out what pleased the Lord. It would be a challenge because these new believers, like everyone around them, had grown up pleasing themselves. Using their time and effort and money for their own benefit. Now they were looking to please the Lord instead.
Paul tells them how. The part of v. 9 I left out a moment ago describes living in light. “(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.)” Those are the things that please the Lord. Now that they were children of light they would pursue moral goodness, godly righteousness, and divine truth. Where do we find those things first? Not in ourselves, but in Christ. That’s the meaning of the bit of poetry quoted from Isaiah at the end of our text. “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
During Lent we see just how much darkness Jesus endured so that we are could live in his divine light of forgiveness. I don’t know if we value enough the benefit of the special midweek services in Lent. For generations Christians have taken these forty days and special services to hear and study Jesus’ suffering and death. It’s a clear window into the darkness of the world that Christ brought us out of. Every betrayal, every lash of the whip. The nails. The thorns. The death and burial. Jesus did the darkness to give us the light. When Paul wrote to the Colossians he opens the letter talking about Christ that way, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Again, I don’t know that we value Christ’s work enough. We were by nature lost in darkness. A darkness of sin so thick and oppressive we could never have found our way out. But he brought us into his light, snatching us from the grip of Satan. Destroying the power of death and the future of hell. The better we realize the darkness, the more we appreciate the light.
And today Paul reminds us to remain in that light. In a sense, coming into the light is easy – God calls us by his Word. He creates faith in our hearts. We don’t do anything for it. But living in light – now that’s the hard part for us. You see, there we get to make choices. To choose whether we will please ourselves or please God. You know the obstacles the world puts in our way. The selfishness of our hearts. The challenges we face. Living in light isn’t easy.
It certainly wasn’t easy for the Ephesians. As many believers as there might have been in Ephesus they were still decidedly in the minority. Even while Paul was there the Christians had gotten into trouble when Paul exposed the Ephesian idolatry. Paul pointed out the truth – their false gods were dark and useless but the true God, Jehovah, Jesus, was light. And when Paul and the Christians said that the silversmiths who profited off the idolatry industry started a riot because they were going to lose so much business. No, living in light wasn’t easy with so much darkness all around.
So Paul has to remind these believers to continue to cast off darkness and remain in light. He writes, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible…”
Paul shined the light of truth on the darkness of idolatry in Ephesus, knowing people wouldn’t be happy with him. But he did it anyway. That was the example for these believers, not to fall back into their old sinful ways, not to give in to their fleshly desires, and not to worship false gods. They were to put behind them the deeds of darkness and walk down the path of light and righteousness. They were to have nothing to do with the old sins and instead shine the light of truth on them to others.
Seems like 21st century America and 1st century Ephesus had something in common. People are proud of their sins today. Some sins at one time in our country were done in secret and too shameful to even speak about. These days, it seems as if there is no sin too shameful to speak about. Instead, those dark and shameful sins are brought out into the open. Those things that should be their shame are held up to their glory. And if we don’t tolerate or approve of it, we are the ones accused of being “in the dark.” I hope you recognize the choice that God lays bare before you today. Christians living in light will stand out more and more in a culture that falls further into sin and darkness. And the bolder those in darkness grow, the bolder we must be to live in the light.
How will we endure against so much and so many, you might ask? How do we overcome the darkness that sweeps across our nation? How can we raise our children to love the light when they are surrounded by so much that is dark? It begins by keeping the light of Christ close to us. And that means keeping close to him in his Word. Psalm 119 talks about the power of God’s Word and the blessings of his law: “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word shows us what is dark. God’s Word reveals to us those things that ought to be done in the light.
How will we overcome? How can we keep the light of faith burning in a culture of darkness? We don’t. God will. Today we’re reminded that, yes, there is going to be darkness in the world, especially as the day of judgment approaches. In Romans 13 Paul made a similar encouragement to the believers of that city. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” That armor of light is the Word of God. The world around us can’t stand against our Savior any more than death and Satan could at the cross and tomb. The darkness pushes, but falls away as soon as God pushes back. When the world around us tries to take away the light, even if it seems darkness is winning, the Lord is still on our side.
And that means the children of God living in light will never fail. We have God’s Word, the “power of God for the salvation of those who believe,” Paul calls it. Will there be a great awakening in our nation? A “revival” as our Pentecostal friends are so eager to call it? Will the “good old days” of a more Christian society return? Will our neighbors and friends suddenly “see the light” and recognize the truth? I don’t know. But it starts with one. We are the ones who bring God’s light to life. In the way we spend our time and our efforts. In how we make our choices and speak. In how seriously we take our faith, and the chances God gives us to live in it. Brothers and sisters of Christian light, let your light shine. Because God has given us the victory in faith. And we who once were dark ourselves are now filled with the light of Christ. Rejoice in that light. Choose to live in it, often and obviously. And trust that the Savior who opens eyes both physical and spiritual will keep ours open into eternity. Amen.