Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), the author of classic books like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, spent his childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland. Apparently, one evening, when he was a young child, as dusk was turning to darkness, Robert had his face pinned to the window at the front of his house fascinated by the lamplighter coming down the street, with his ladder and burning wick, lighting the old-fashioned gas street lamps and setting them ablaze for the night. Seeing their son glued to the window, his parents asked him, ‘Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?’ With great excitement he exclaimed, ‘Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!’
Punching holes in the darkness! That is what it must have seemed like to an impressionable young child watching the descending darkness being driven away, bit by bit, by the lamplighter as he lit the various lamps along the street. And this, of course, is what Jesus Christ came into our world to also do – not by lighting old-fashioned gas street lamps – but simply by his Presence and his Passion! The Apostle John tells us, in the Prologue to the Gospel that bears his name, that with his Incarnation Jesus ‘brought light to everyone … a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it … the One who is, in and of himself, the true light who gives light to everyone’ (John 1:4-9). In reality it is impossible to separate the Incarnation and the Cross – they are, in effect, the ‘head and tail’ of the same coin. Without Christ’s Passion – the events surrounding his death and resurrection – his Incarnation would have been pointless! But, equally, without his Incarnation, the Passion simply would not have taken place!?
But what does John mean by Jesus Christ being ‘light’ for everyone here in this section of the Prologue to his Gospel? Clearly ‘light’ here is not simply indicative of ‘light as natural phenomena’ or even metaphorically of ‘light as a natural understanding of things – the natural gaining of knowledge and wisdom’ and so on. The ‘light’ that John refers to here is ‘spiritual revelation’, the ‘understanding of spiritual things’. It is, as the Apostle Paul tells us elsewhere, particularly ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). In reality it is the key to all true understanding. It takes us well on the way to finding answers for all the key questions of life – Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Accessing this light is essential. As someone once wisely said, ‘We need an understanding of spiritual things, and a spiritual understanding of other things!’
Later on in John’s Gospel, John records that Jesus re-enforced this great truth when he bluntly spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life!’ (John 8:12). Fascinatingly however, Matthew tells us that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also told those who would follow him, ‘You are the light of the world!’ (Matthew 5:14). So how can Jesus be ‘the light of the world’ and we – all those who choose to ‘name the Name of Christ’ – both be ‘the light of the world’ at one and the same time? Well, simply by allowing Jesus to live in and through us! In and of ourselves, we cannot bring spiritual light to anyone!? But if we allow the light of Christ to shine through us to others, then we too can be the vehicles, the channels, the instruments through whom God can work in the lives of others! God’s purpose, in coming into this world in the Person of Jesus Christ, was to ‘punch holes in the darkness’ for us! And his on-going purpose for his Church – all those who truly ‘name the Name of Christ’ themselves – is that we too should ‘punch holes in the darkness’ for others! As Jesus himself also taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘In the same way, let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16)! So, wherever we are – and wherever we go – let us endeavour to let God’s love shine through us so that, by our manner of conversation and life, we too will ‘punch holes in the darkness’ – the spiritual darkness that surrounds us!
It is vital that the Church – particularly ‘local churches’ – grasp the importance of this principle! It is all too easy for us to become very ‘inward looking’, a ‘holy huddle’ obsessed with ourselves, our problems, the way ‘we’ do things, the way ‘we’ worship, etc. rather than seeking to genuinely be ‘a caring Christian church at the heart of the community’. Having ‘retired’ from the Baptist Ministry some four years ago now, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of local churches, during that period, simply as a member of the congregation. One of the things that has struck me in that time has been the absence of Intercessory Prayer in many churches during the main Sunday Services. I have often come away wondering ‘If we aren’t praying for the Church and the World – particularly for our local town or community – in our Services, who is?’ For me – whatever else we may seek to do in our local community – intercessory prayer is vital if we are truly to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ and ‘leaven’!
The Grace Outpouring (first published in 2008) is the remarkable story of how a small Community of Christians in rural West Wales brought significant blessing to their local community simply by regularly and consistently praying God’s blessing on that community. I would encourage you to read the book for yourself – a new, more up-to-date edition is about to be published – and be both challenged and inspired as a result. The book encourages us to ‘imagine a House of Prayer in every town. Imagine churches filled with Christians who want to bless others; who want to pray and then stand back and watch God at work, changing lives before their very eyes!’ In other words Christians, and local churches, prayerfully ‘punching holes in the darkness’!
O Jesus son of God, so full of grace and truth,
The Father’s saving Word, so wonderful are you.
The Angels longed to see, and prophets searched to find,
The glory we have seen revealed.
You shone upon the earth, but who will understand?
You came unto Your own, but who will recognise?
Your birth was prophesied, for You were the Messiah,
Who came and walked upon the Earth.
Your glory we have seen, the one and only King,
And now You’re living in our hearts!
Light of the world, light of the world,
Light of the world, You shine upon us!
~ Matt Redman (1974- )