IntroductionI’m part of a group that organises weekly testimonies in Perth and we had a very unusual one the other week. A mature aged woman shared all about the downs and ups of her life, how she met Jesus and what difference this had made. What was extraordinary about this sharing was that it was a real case of “What you see is what you get”. It was as if you could see straight through this person without distortion, denial or exaggeration.
In an age of spin doctors, fake news and a Royal Commission into Child Abuse every institution seems blemished with dishonesty. Christians however are exhorted to “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).
This is a wonderful image desperately needed today, but I find believers are rarely truly honest with each other. Time after time I hear from a husband/wife about their spouse, “X did this without telling me.” The hearts of such couples are not transparent to one another. It’s hard to find a congregation free from gossip and gossip is a “work of darkness” that destroys trust (Rom 13:12; Eph 5:11). Every major move of God begins with a release of transparency in the Church.
Here’s a quote from someone involved in the East African revival that majored on Christians being open to one another about their sins, what they called “walking in the light”. “For members of the revival this was the solution for exposing the deceitfulness and subtle attacks of the devil. Transparency, is a process of constant cleansing in the precious blood of the lamb of God.” (Ndyabahika).
When the Holy Spirit deals with the double standards in the Church through mutual confession the light of Christ can shine through us to heal the deep inner darkness which is causing so many to suffer so much today. Youth suicide and chronic depression readily come to mind; but in the wake of ANZAC Day let me focus on the burden of trauma.
The impact of war passes down the generations; the simple fact that multitudes of men who returned from overseas (JY father WW II) didn’t share with their families their pains but kept them hidden has cast a dark spiritual curtain over our country. I was with some people on Wednesday morning when one of them mentioned a note had been left in their church by an “Andrew”. “Andrew” had been a member of the SAS in Afghanistan and said in his note he felt he had lost his soul so could the church please pray for him.
Or take the fact that according to the last census figures (2011) Sudanese-born youths made up 0.1% of the population of Victoria but were responsible for 13.9 per cent of robberies with a deadly weapon etc. These are young people who have been chronically traumatised from childhood and they are carrying a weight of darkness only Christ can heal. Perhaps we should also mention the traumatised victims of domestic violence at this point e.g. Jamie, stabbed by his partner.
Through Jesus the dawning of a brighter future is promised for traumatised Australians for the scripture prophesies, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Mal 4:2). But what must happen in the churches so that those dwelling in darkness might “see a great light” (Matt 4:16)?
But this isn’t always easy to believe (1 John 1:5). I was talking this week to a member of our Church who’s a refugee from the Congo. Every time he goes home he comes back re-traumatised. This trip he had been into one of the camps for displaced people, where the conditions are dreadful.
Not surprisingly he was questioning why God doesn’t do more to deal with the evil in the world. If we are truthful we must admit that somewhere deep down most people have a feeling that either evil is more powerful than God or that there is some shadow of darkness in the Creator himself. If you feel this it’s impossible to trust God with all your heart.
When the Bible begins with, vs.1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. vs.2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. vs.3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” it’s teaching that darkness the absence of light and God’s presence drives out the darkness (Gen 1:1-3).
God’s great plan for creation was that everything in it would reflect and radiate the marvellous light of his glorious presence. When we get to the end of the Bible the universe is so filled with light that there will never be any night or any evil (Rev 21:25, 22:3, 5). A light filled evil free world was how God started things (Gen 1:3) and how he will end them, but we have a problem with darkness in between.
Lots of people avoid reading the Old Testament because they feel it describes too many heavy judgements of God. There’s an element of truth in this. When the Lord was sending plagues on the Egyptians he told Moses vs.21 ““Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” vs.22 So…there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.” (Ex 10:21-22). Fair enough you might say, the blackness was a sign of God’s displeasure against those who were enslaving his people. But when Israel herself was delivered from bondage in Egypt and brought to Mt Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, “The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Ex 20:21 cf. 1 Ki 8:12; Pss 18:11; 97:2).
This gloomy scene of foreboding darkness was unavoidable because the Law of God highlights our sin and shows us that we deserve the punishment of death (Rom 3:20; 6:23; Heb 12:18). Because they were a rebellious people Israel never escaped the shadow of judgement. God warned them by the prophets that if they didn’t change he would do something contrary to his own nature, “Give glory to the Lord your God before it is too late. Acknowledge him before he brings darkness upon you, causing you to stumble and fall on the darkening mountains. For then, when you look for light, you will find only terrible darkness and gloom.” (Jer 13:16 cf. Ezek 32:8; Amos 5:20)
It is a terrible thing to contemplate but when men and women despise God’s presence he goes missing, he “hides himself” he closes off heaven and delivers people up to a spiritual blindness where they suffer without hope (Isa 45:15). The presence of God is becoming dimmer and dimmer in our own society. E.g. a Christian friend was talking the other day about when he grew up in the Northern Territory the family drove out of town to witness the glory of God as Halley’s Comet passed overhead (cf. Ps 19).
Today Territorians marvel at human ingenuity when the International Space Station whizzes by. Without a renewed vision of Jesus the curtain of darkness over our land can only get heavier.
The Transparency of the Son of God
At Christmas time churches rejoice in reading about God’s promised fulfilled in Christ, “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Isa 42:7; Matt 4:16).
With a conscience undimmed by guilt and shame Jesus was totally aware of the light of God burning brightly within him, ““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12 cf. 1:9).
Fully conscious of his transparency to the Father Jesus proclaimed, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me….Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:6, 9). Free from all moral and spiritual darkness Jesus boldly challenged his enemies, “Which one of you can truthfully accuse me of sin.” (John 8:46). Some people loved the light of Christ and came to him for healing, others hated his light.
vs.19 “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. vs.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20). The crucifixion was evil’s attempt to extinguish the light of Christ and annihilate his revelation of the love of the Father.
None of this was hidden from Jesus. After the dark power of Satan entered into Judas Iscariot Christ testified to the armed crowd who came out to arrest him, “this is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:3, 53). The Lord knew that if we were to be delivered from the traumas brought about by evil he would have to bear the crushing weight of the darkness of sin.
In Gethsemane he didn’t hide his agony but “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” (Heb 5:7). He was not ashamed to say to his fearful disciples (mates), ““My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”” (Mark 14:34). He knowingly accepting the plan God destined for him centuries before to become “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3).
The power of darkness assailing the Son of God came to its climax as he suffered abandonment on the cross, vs.33 “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. vs.34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice …“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:33-34).
Did Christ’s suffering for us have to be so shocking? Yes, and here’s why.
The dereliction of Jesus is the point where he is totally transparent to the Father about the trauma and wounding of his soul under the weight of sin. This radically honest confession of by the innocent Christ exposes the true nature of darkness and evil, it exposes the tragic truth that most of the time most people are in deep denial and pretence hiding from the real measure of the horrors of this world.
But evil won no victory at the cross.
The light of the love of God was not dimmed but intensified in the death of Jesus; “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. vs.5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). Raised from the dead Jesus is shining with “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3). The gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus shows us exactly what God is like for it is the transparency of the love of God. “Jesus…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1 Tim 1:10).
I need to explain this a little further because enlightenment through suffering goes against our normal way thinking. When the apostle John had a vision of Jesus in the book of Revelation he was told, vs.5 ““Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered… vs.6 And …I saw a Lamb standing, as slain…”.
The Lion has conquered by becoming a Lamb whose blood was shed to take away the sin of the world and to be raised from the dead (John 1:29; Rev 5:5-6). As we see the light of God shining intensely through Christ beyond the traumatic weight of darkness he carried on the cross we know that nothing is beyond the healing power of God.
To put it bluntly, if the Father healed Jesus of all his traumas by raising him from the dead he can heal our traumas too. The light of God that passes through the blood of the cross testifies that any impact of sin, no matter how much it penetrates our lives can be been cleansed (Heb 12:1). This can have a tremendous impact on us individually and as a community (Rom 5:9; Eph 1:7; Col 1:20); Heb 9:14; 10:22).
1 John 1:7-9 is particularly important, vs.7 “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. vs.8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. vs.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. James 5:15-16). The word translated “confess” here is often used of open witness in the New Testament (1 John 2:23; John 1:20; Rev 3:5 cf. Matt 10:32; Rom 10:9).
Christians confessing sin to one another is an open testimony to all evil spiritual forces of darkness that the blood of Jesus has the power to keep on cleansing away the trauma of sin (Eph 1:7; 6:12). Mutual confession is a sure sign of Christ’s complete victory over guilt and shame.
Experiencing the radiance of Christ liberating us from the darkness of sin, Satan and death transforms us into light bearers. Paul could testify of himself, “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”” (Acts 13:47).
This light bearing is not reserved for apostles, Jesus said of all who would follow him; vs.14 “You are the light of the world…. vs.16 let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14, 16). The key to burning brightly for Jesus is not found in more religious effort, more Bible reading, more praying, more coming to church or anything like that, but leading an ordinary life offered up to God in an extraordinary way.
Paul testifies transparently to the Corinthians, vs.8 “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. vs.9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”” (2 Cor 1:8-9; cf. 7:4-5; 11:16-12:10 etc.).
As Jesus was crushed through the weight of darkness he carried for others this was Paul’s experience too, but like Jesus he offered up his pain to God and relied on God’s saving power. By faith he didn’t allow the trauma of evil to conquer his spirit but shared in the intensity of the light of Christ so that its resurrection power might shine through him to others. Such a transparency about the struggles of life can allow the unextinguished Lamp of the Lamb of God to shine through all of us.
Somewhere deep in our hearts, perhaps when the darkness of this world seems overwhelming, we have all asked a very important question.
The answer to which is illustrated in this story.
A famous theologian (Thomas Torrance) served as a stretcher bearer during World War II and loved ministering and sharing the gospel to soldiers on the front line where he himself had several miraculous escapes from death.
He was profoundly and lastingly impacted by a question asked by a young soldier, scarcely twenty years old, who was mortally wounded. “Padre,” he asked, “Is God really like Jesus?”
Torrance assured him, “He is the only God that there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Saviour.”
As he prayed and commended him to the Lord, the young man passed away. As the transparency of his Father we really see God just as he is in the compassion mercy and sacrificial love of the Son of God dying for sinners on the cross.
There is no darkness in God, he is perfectly revealed in Christ and through his blood we can be forgiven of all sin and can offer up to him all the traumas of our broken lives.
The revelation of God in Jesus is the one thing that has the power to abolish the weight of darkness that lies across our land. Let me start to close with a personal testimony.
Small as they may be compared to others’ afflictions I have had some traumas in my life. As a result I cannot remember when I last had a solid night’s rest and so have some level of appreciation that sleep deprivation is a form of mental torture.
God’s call on my life however is the same as on yours, as Jesus offered his sufferings to the Father so that the light of the indestructible love of God might stream into the world this is what we all must do.
Why do we struggle so much to do this?
Is it fear, pride, unbelief, confusion, perhaps?
But let me turn to something I alluded to before – veterans of the wars rarely share their stories with their families but always shared them with who?….Their mates, because they knew their mates understood what they were going through.
Think this through, pray this through; if God really became a human being in Jesus who was persecuted rejected and crucified for you, he is the very best MATE and you can share with him every one of your traumas and griefs, he fully understands your sufferings and he can heal you with the power of the light of the love of the Father which raised him from the death.
Let us pray.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 30th April, 2017 | Yarloop Christian Fellowship
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE PODCAST: 30th April. 2017 |