INTRODUCTIONThe New Testament presents becoming a Christian as an incredibly radical transition. In commissioning Paul to preach to the Gentiles Jesus said, “I am sending you…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…’” (Acts 26:18). Converts became lighthouses; so the Philippian Christians are exhorted, “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Phil 2:15-16).
This was nothing less than what Jesus expected of all his disciples, “vs.14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. vs.15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. vs.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mat 5:14-16).
The New Testament knows no shadow land between the world and the Church. Yet in the light of the scandals to so with child abuse many Australians would see the Church as a habitation of darkness.
I am often worn down by painful stories of conspiracies, adulteries, false gospels, prayerlessness, selfish ambition and a seemingly endless list of sins amongst the people of God. If sin is not being seen as sin amongst the people of God what hope is there for the world (1 Pet 4:18)?
There are many signs of our spiritual nearsightedness (2 Pet 1:9; Rev 3:17).
Many congregations are comfortable with the first part of James’ instruction in praying for the sick, but few follow the rest of his counsel. vs.14 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. vs.15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. vs.16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” (James 5:14-16). 1 John 1:9 is a much loved verse; “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
But I’ve never met a congregation that has embraced the implications of the fact that the word translated “confess” here is never used of a private act in the New Testament (1 John 2:23; 4:2, 3, 15 cf. Matt 3:6; John 1:20; 9:22; 12:42; Rom 10:9; Rev 3:5 etc.).
The spiritual power of corporate personal confession has disappeared from our churches because we have lost confidence in the power of the gospel (Mark 1:14-15).
To illustrate this I want to use an example Fred and I were talking about recently. In 1979 American singer-evangelist Keith Green preached at Oral Roberts University on holiness and the Spirit of God moved powerfully; “kids came up to the microphone to confess their sins”. The confession became more intense until one young man came to the front and confessed his homosexuality. Straight after this one of the university faculty took the microphone and said personal sins should not be shared in the open. Immediately the whole atmosphere of the meeting changed and the move of God abruptly ended.
How different it was in the days of the early church.
When Paul lists, “the sexually immoral … idolaters … adulterers … homosexuality … thieves … greedy … drunkards … slanderers … swindlers … And such were some of you. But you were washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11), the members of the little house church in Corinth knew exactly which of their brothers and sisters he was talking about.
The paralysing shame of sin had been washed away so the fellowship of love and acceptance was amazing. Few today believe the gospel is that powerful.
Given deviant sexual practices were common across the Roman Empire there must have been many converts from paganism with a history of perversion in local congregations. I believe the church needs to repent of past wrongdoers in covering up abuse, and the law exists to punish wrongdoers (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:14); but if the gospel is powerful to forgive and transform the worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), there should surely be across our churches men and women who can stand up and give confident testimony, “I was a child abuser but Jesus has healed me.” Why are we not experiencing the true measure of power of the gospel?
Dealing recently with a professing believer deeply enmeshed in a history of sexual sin gave me fresh insight into 1 John 1:5-7; vs.5 “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. vs.6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. vs.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.” Sin can only be seen to be sin in the light of God and no one can face the light shining on their sin without a revelation of the all forgiving blood of the cross. Sin’s power of guilt and shame has been totally defeated in the cross, but no one ever comes to the cross without first being convinced that without Jesus they are totally blinded to spiritual truths.
Jesus never held back in describing the blackened inner state of lost people; vs.22 “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. vs.23 But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep is that darkness! (Matt 6:22-24). He openly declared that those who thought they could see would be blinded by his teaching (John 9:39, 41; Matt 13:14). Even more tragically Christ talks about the aggressive response to his coming; “vs.19 “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. vs.20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-21). The light which sinners hated in Jesus was a hatred directed at the light of his Father shining through all he said and did (John 15:23-25).
Humans hate the exposing of their dark works because it brings a judgement on their guilt. The fallen religious conscience might believe that some imagined idea of God can overlook fault, but it is humanly impossible to believe that the real God can forgive sin apart from a revelation of the gospel (cf. Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14). In Paul’s language about the dreadful state of lost humanity, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…” (Rom 1:21; Eph 4:17-18). No ordinary religious sacrifice, even those given under of the old covenant, can cover the depth of human shame (Gen 3:21; Lev 1 etc.), but function as a reminder of lost glory (Heb 10:1-3). The cleansing away of the darkness over the spiritual eyes of lost people can only come when God sheds his own blood (Acts 20:28). The whole life of Jesus moved towards his sacrifice (Luke 2:34-35).
As, “The true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) Jesus unashamedly declared, ““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). Christ alone could destroy our darkness because only his own life was without the darkness of guilt, shame, deceit or insincerity. The Bible describes Christ’s coming like this, “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). Our nation desperately needs to see the great light of Christ.
The world’s most common cause of disability is a darkness which will strike about 45% of the Australian population some time in their lives…. depression.
Depression is a key factor in suicide and surely such sadness explains the 400% increase in the last 5 years of self harm in children under 17, and it’s happening in children as young as 6 (The West Australian 13/3/18 p.12.These are only hospital figures!)
A great darkness has descended upon our land and as our culture moves further away from Jesus and grows in its hatred of his light e.g. reading yesterday how an inner city council advertising a Christmas event made sure to mention there’d be no Christian carols, this darkness will intensify in the souls of old and young.
We will have more little children cutting themselves and more older people wanting to be euthanised. Only Christ’s life can dispel the thick darkness that is blanketing our land; “our Saviour Christ Jesus… abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10).
Conscious of what lay ahead of him Jesus testified at the moment of his arrest, “this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”” (Luke 22:53). The cross is the place where the dominion of darkness meets the full Light of God (Col 1:12-13). 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).
The cloud of darkness over the land and the terrible cry of abandonment means Christ takes every element of evil, depravity, despair and depression into his own soul (2 Cor 5:21). He pleads so desperately with the Lord because for the first time he cannot see God as he is (Isa 42:19).
What do you see when you see Jesus pleading to know the presence of God as his Father; is the Father absent, distant, neglectful, wrathful? Or is it that even on the cross the Son is absolutely transparent with the Light of God so “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” remains true (John 1:4; 14:9).
The blood of the cross bears witness against our unbelief and confusion about God’s fathering that he is merciful beyond measure and totally committed to cleanse away guilt and sin (2 Cor 1:3).
Salvation and not condemnation is in his heart (John 3:16-17).
As soon as we see the crucified Christ once again saying, ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”” (Luke 23:46) we know the triumph of the blood sacrifice of the cross is complete.
We know Jesus is once again he is seeing heavenly things (John 3:12). Yet the full light of the saving power of the death of Christ could only be manifested for us in resurrection.
Hebrews 13:20 states this clearly “God has raised from death our Lord Jesus… as the result of his blood” (GNB).
The power of the resurrection of Jesus is unique because his death is in it.
The worthiness of his obedient sacrifice gave infinite value to his blood (cf. Lev 17:11) and bestowed on him immortality.
The blood of Christ opened his grave and “by means of his own blood” Jesus gained entry into the holy places in heaven to cleanse away all impurity (Heb 9:12, 23-26).
Andrew Murray pictures the cleansing of the heavenly world by the blood of Christ in a way which well fits the theme of this sermon, Blood and Light; “As the blood was brought in, every vestige of a thought of sin was removed out of God’s presence; the heavens are now clear and bright, and the love of God can shine out in noonday glory.”
The Light of a God revealed in the risen Christ who shed his blood to forgive us is what the Jewish terrorist Saul saw on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:6; 26:13). This was the moment God “shone in his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
Instantly he knew that all the darkness of our sins had been taken away. He was liberated from all need to practice religious works in an effort to scrub away his guilt and uncleanness (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4ff.). In the light of Christ everything was transparent and enlightened (cf. Ps 36:9).
The power of the blood in the resurrection to undo unbelief about God’s character is at the pinnacle of the New Testament. After being taken to heaven and shown the glories of the throne room of God (Rev 5) John must see something far grander. Made to wait and wail in desperation to behold the identity of the one worthy to enact God’s eternal plan of salvation he sees “a Lamb standing (raised) as slaughtered (killed)” (5:4, 6). The bloody sacrifice of the cross and the glory of the resurrection are indissolubly one. This is the Light of God revealed in Christ. If this is how the New Testament writers and the early Church saw Jesus, what are we seeing, and not seeing?
If you broods over your past failures a darkness will come over your soul, but darkness isn’t part of your new identity in Christ. It’s time to stop thinking of yourself from “a worldly point of view” and to believe you are a new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:16-17; Gal 6:15).
The biblical testimony is unanimous; “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8). “For you are all sons of light, sons of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” (1 Thess 5:5 cf. John 12:36). The root sin of the Church underlying all its contemporary works of darkness is unbelief over the power of the blood of Christ released through his resurrection from the dead (Eph 5:11).
In a day of “easy-believism” when we have forgotten we are not saved in our sins but from our sins it’s time to reckon again with the great reality that the indwelling power of sin has been broken by Christ’s obedience (Rom 7:21-25).
This outworks itself in ways that may surprise us.
A Church which knows the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin and is walking in the light of the Lord (Eph 5:8; 1 John 1:7; Rev 21:24; cf. Isa 60:3; Zech 14:16) is a Church of the most intense worship. The New Testament consistently expresses this by describing believers as priests and kings.
John says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father…” (Rev 1:5-6).
Peter agrees, “you were ransomed from… futile ways… with the precious blood of Christ…. a royal priesthood that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet 1:18-19; 2:9).
The heart worship of the Church flows from its inner experience of cleansing from the darkness of sin (Heb 10:22). But heart worship doesn’t correspond to everything that claims to be worship.
Jesus said of the devout but hypocritical temple worshippers of his day, ““This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me..”” (Matt 15:7-8).
Since no one really believes that the congregations of the famous “worship churches” of our country are living holier lives than other Christians we should simply confess that a great deception, a great darkness, has overcome the life of the Australian Church.
True spiritual worship proceeds from a blood cleansed heart that sees God in the light of his all forgiving love and so is not afraid to confess sin.
Let me illustrate.
Revivalist Geoffrey Bingham recounts what happened after the close of a Sunday night meeting in Pakistan.
“Suddenly…the whole congregation broke out in spontaneous singing…beauty and sweetness beyond description…Joy was flooding the whole congregation…” Then he explains why. “Because the pockets of darkness were cleansed from our hearts only pure light shone – Christ himself.”
This story resonates with me because I once had an experience of the most intense WHITE light, a sense of the pure light of God’s holy being (1 Tim 6:16; Rev 22:5) which overwhelmingly moved me to praise and worship the Lord.
This was a very small insight into the “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) which will move us to worship forever. When the blood of the cross cleanses out the darkness of the human heart allowing the light of God to shine in there are always great outpourings in song and service.
Let’s sum up.
Christ’s Church is called to enlighten those who are in darkness, and the apostolic Church did this brilliantly.
When Peter preached on Day of Pentecost the hearers, “were cut to the heart, and said…, “Brothers, what shall we do?”” (Acts 2:37).
The people saw their sin in the light of the full forgiveness made available through the shed blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
Seeing that God’s judgement had been taken away and eternal life was freely offered (John 5:24) they were quick to confess and repent (Acts 2:28ff.). The tremendous unity and sacrifice that flowed into the life of the first Church was the fruit of a community filled with spiritual confidence (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-34 etc.). The confidence of hearts having been cleansed from guilt approached the throne of God free from a fear of impending judgement.
In contrast to the radiating light of the earliest church our Church of Perth is a lampstand (Rev 1:20) which, as Jesus puts it, hidden “under a basket” failing to “give light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).
Many have wanted “the power of the resurrection” as if it could be separated from “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil 3:10).
In our ignorance we have dismembered Jesus.
This is a very serious sin, but our all compassionate Lord will quickly forgive us (Ex 34:6; James 5:11). He understands we are living in a time when “lawlessness is increasing and the love of many is growing cold” (Matt 24:12). In the language of Revelation we are in the midst of “great tribulation” (Acts 14:22; Rev 1:9; 7:14).
The one way out of this time of severe trial is to “wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14).
The blood of Christ alone gives us access to the courts of God in heaven and to the power of the glorified life of Christ to live as lights in this dark world.
Where the all cleansing power of the blood of the cross is not proclaimed of course the people of God will hide from his light because it speaks to them of a terrifying judgement.
But the light which shines through the blood of the cross is immensely appealing, desirable and beautiful to every cleansed conscience (Heb 9:14).
Whoever sees these things will be grasped by the desirability of divine illumination and will pray for more light, then seeing he things of God more clearly will seek for more light and so on… forever.
In Christ through the gospel there is no longer any reason to live with the darkness of shame guilt fear deception condemnation…
We are light in the Lord (Eph 5:8), let’s believe this and start to live it to the full. Hallelujah,
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 18th March, 2018 |
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: n/a | | |
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