May 17, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #383: Light of Hope
In church today, a good friend of mine, Jacob, shared a message from Scripture that blessed and motivated me. Jacob and I became friends when he and I lived in the same 120-man pod for a couple of years. Since his family lives near mine, our families often carpool when making the long drive to Arizona for visits. I have seen Jacob mature these past four years from an insecure young man adrift in the midst of a crazy sentence to a confident man of faith willing to be used by God right where he happens to be.
Jacob started by taking us to familiar verses in John’s gospel, where Jesus is addressing a crowd, explaining who He is. In John 8:12, Jesus tells them “ … 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.”
Growing up in a Christian household as I did, Jacob shared about the many times that he heard preachers and evangelists use that verse to describe God’s ability to see into our lives, past our facades of goodness, strong character, high morals, and best intentions and into the inward man who is sinful. With verses that speak of our sinful nature and others that speak of God’s ability to find out, many well-intentioned teachers make the case for a God that ought to be feared by those less perfect than He is.
This fear of God comes naturally, of course. We all instinctively know that we don’t meet the holy standards He gives in Scripture; we don’t measure up to what God expects of us. With increased awareness of who God is, we become certain that God is probably out to get us. Jacob said he can remember hearing guest speakers say that God’s light will search through the darkness of your life and expose your sin. This sin-seeking God was obviously to be feared, the speakers implied.
I can remember constantly getting in trouble as a teenager; it seemed that every week for an entire summer brought new revelations about what I thought were secret sins. But at our house, it wasn’t God who kept shedding light on the dark areas of my life; it was my mom. At our house, the verse in Numbers chapter 32 doesn’t read, “Be sure your SIN will find you out,” but rather, “Be sure your MOM will find you out.” And though some may love to remind us of God’s mercy, that strategy never worked with my mom. Justice was served, swift and equitable. Yet these troublesome times never diminished my mother’s love for me, and I certainly never feared my mom. Why is it so easy to fear God?
Maybe it is because of whom we have made God to be, a being consumed with stamping out sin and stomping out sinners. Is this truly who God is?
Jacob invited us to take in the context of Jesus’ words to the crowd that day. Sure, He clearly stated that He was the Light of the World, but He made these statements just after dealing with a group of religious leaders who had caught a woman in the act of adultery. Jesus agreed with their verdict of stoning for the woman, but He said that those who were sinless should mete out the punishment. When none of her accusers stayed around to participate in the execution, Jesus addressed the woman directly, telling her that He did not condemn her and that she should, “go and sin no more.”
It is immediately after this that Jesus makes His claim to be the Light of the World. Obviously, His role as Light is not to seek out sin nor to ferret out sinners. If it were, He would have asked the religious leaders where the man was who participated in sin with the adulteress. If His light is primarily to expose sin, Jesus would have pressed the religious leaders about why they were not free from sin and able to cast a stone.
No, as Light of the World, Jesus brings the warm glow of God’s unmerited favor into our dark world. In this instance, Jesus extends God’s merciful forgiveness to the woman rather than condemnation. He brings hope for a new life, free from sin, rather than a life stuck in the past, bound to sin.
When we sin, we violate our God-given conscience and grieve the Holy Spirit. We instantly know we’ve done wrong, and we are faced with the choice of continuing in sin or repentance. God’s Spirit enables us to do the right thing, and His forgiveness re-establishes our fellowship with God.
It is easy, however, to listen to the voice of our enemy who earns his title of “Accuser of the Brethren” by shaming, condemning, belittling, and blaming us. He makes it his goal to get us to believe that God would never accept such a worthless person, when the truth is, God sent Jesus to die for each one of us! It is this, this fact about what God thinks of you and what Jesus did for you that disproves the notion that the Light of the World is a device to expose your sin. No, it is far better than that! The Light of the World is God’s hope in a dark world for a life that is greater, purer, brighter … a life lived free from the burden, oppression, and entrapments of sin, and a life eternal one day with our Creator.
When I choose to see the Light of the World as my Savior rather than my chief prosecutor or judge, I can rejoice in the truth of Scripture that says, “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Sometimes, even the most basic concepts of our faith need to be retold, so we remember the truth of who God is. And maybe someday Jacob will get to preach a similar message behind his dad’s pulpit, since he’s a preacher’s kid. But for now, his Heavenly Father has some needy pulpits he can fill behind bars, and I’m glad for that.