BY Pastor Glenn Pease
The Emperor Trajan said to Rabbi Joshua, "You teach that your God is everywhere. I should like to see Him." The Rabbi replied, "God's presence is everywhere, but He cannot be seen. No mortal eye can behold His glory." The Emperor insisted, however, and so the Rabbi said, "Let us begin then by first looking at one of his servants. The Emperor consented to this, and so followed the Rabbi out into the open. "Now," said the Rabbi, "Gaze into the splendor of the sun." "I cannot," said the Emperor, "The light dazzles me." The Rabbi responded, "Thou art unable to endure the light of one of his servants, and canst thou expect to behold the resplendent glory of the Creator. Would not such a light annihilate thee?"
The Jews had a higher concept of God than all ancient peoples, because God revealed Himself to them as a God of glory, light, and splendor. The Old Testament has many descriptions of God like that given in Hab. 3:3-4. "His glory covered the heavens, and His praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sun rise; rays flashed from His hand, where His power was hidden." It was because of this knowledge of the glory of God that the Jews were an optimistic people. A man's character is determined largely by the character of the God he worships. If one worships a god who is a tyrant, and unpredictable, and without mercy, but cruel, it is not likely he will be a man of flaming joy. Luther lived for years with a false concept of God, and as a result, lived in fear and dread. Most religions have had such a dark concept of God that the followers of these religions seldom knew what it was to be truly joyful and at peace.
Many ancient peoples, and peoples yet today, whose god's are made in the image of man, and are only depraved supermen, cruel and immoral, are no more optimistic than the materialist who says, "I feel the universe is one huge, dead, immeasurable steam engine, rolling on in its dead indifference to grind us limb from limb." You can't expect persons like that to be bursting with optimism, and bubbling with joy. On the other hand, when people have the concept of God as He is revealed in Scripture, it leads to optimism and joy. This was true in the Old Testament, even before God fully revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
The Jews began their day at sundown, rather than at sunup. All their festivals and holidays begin at night, and their Sabbath also begins at night. All of this was to symbolize their optimism and confidence in the God of light. Anyone can have confidence in the day, and look forward to a bright day when the sun rises, but the Jews began their rejoicing as the sun sank to symbolize their confidence that even in the darkness light will prevail, and a new day will dawn. Tomorrow always comes for the believer. Even death cannot change that. Such was the attitude of the Jews who had only a shadow of the full revelation yet to come. How much greater ought our joy and optimism to be who stand in the full light? Paul in II Cor. 4:6 writes, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
We have a message as superior to the Old Testament, as it was to the pagan darkness surrounding it. That is why John, after stating that his purpose for writing this book was that the joy of believers might be full, immediately announces the truth on which all Christian joy is based, which is the truth that God is light. This morning we want to examine this primary message and its meaning. First let's look at the message itself.
I. THE MESSAGE. John has built us up to a point of expectation. He has made great statements of his aim to share with us truths that will lead to fullness of fellowship, and fullness of joy. We ought to be standing on our tiptoes breathlessly longing to see what it is he is going to declare. In verse 5, after this stimulating introduction, John says, this is it! Here it is! This is the message that we have received, and now pass it on to you. This is no matter of speculation and theory, this is the message we have heard from Christ Himself, and now declare to you, and that message is, God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. We see a positive and negative side to this message.
A. Positive-God is light. This is the strongest statement in the whole Bible about Gods nature as light. Many text describe the splendor of God, and the light of His presence, and that He dwells in light unapproachable, and that He is the author of all light, but here alone do we find the statement that God is light. Nothing stronger can be said. This is as far as human language can go in relating God and light. God is light. Light is of the very essence of God's nature.
It is important, however, that we recognize that this is not the whole truth about God's nature. It is but one aspect of what He is. John will tell us He is also Law, Life, and Love, and underneath all of these is the foundational fact that He is personal. Light is impersonal, and if this was our main concept of God, we would have only a God who was a great impersonal source of all energy-a Divine Dynamo. We must ever keep in mind that light and love, and all other attributes of God are attributes of a Person. This means, it is God who is light, and not light that is God. This was the mistake of many people who began to worship the creation rather than the Creator. They worshiped the sun, moon, and stars, for they reversed the truth and said, light is God. This is false. The light of the sun is not God, and the light of all other bodies is not God. God as light is the ultimate source of all light, but He is not that light. All physical light is from God, and is a symbol of what He is in Himself.
All physical reality is what it is because God is what He is. Science can tell us what the sun does, and how it is the source of all life on earth, but it is the Bible that tells us why this is so. It is so because God is light. His creation resembles His nature. The universe is a symbol of what God is. It is not God, but is made by God, and is separate from Him, but it is an expression of what He is. This is why all life depends on light, for all life depends on God, and God is light. This is why the earth revolves around the sun which is the source of all life, because only as men put God into the center of their lives, and revolve around Him, will they have light and life. All of this is simply saying God has made the universe, and physical light, as a pattern of what is true in the spiritual realm. God is in the spiritual realm what the sun is in the physical realm. He is the source of all light and life. As light is the absolute in science, so God is the absolute in the spiritual realm.
Thou art, O God, the life and light
Of all this wondrous world we see;
Its glow by day, its smile by night,
Are but reflections caught from Thee;
Where'er we turn, Thy glories shine,
And all things fair and bright are Thine.
The very first thing that God called good was light. In Gen. 1:4 God saw that the light was good. It was His first stroke of the brush on the canvas of reality, and it was a masterpiece already. God did not make anything in the dark. He began His project of creation just as we usually begin ours, by turning on the light. Light is the link between the Creator and creation. Light is part of the nature of God, and it is the foundation of all that God has made. When you study light, you are into both science and theology. Many of the great scientists have known this. They have seen that life is dependent on light, and that the Creator of life had to be a God of light.
Dr. Michael Pupin, the great inventor, philosopher, and teacher, got his start in scientific research by watching the stars as a shepherd boy in the Hungarian hills. All his life, as he studied light, he was devoted to the God of light. He wrote, "I found in the light of stars a heavenly language which proclaims the glory of God. Each burning star is a focus of energy, of life-giving activity which it pours out lavishly into every direction; it pours out the life of its own heart, in order to beget new life. What a vista that opens to our imagination! What new beauties are disclosed in the words of Genesis: 'God...breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.' The light of the stars is a part of the life-giving breath of God. I never look now upon the starlit vault of heaven without feeling this divine breath and its quickening action upon my soul.
Kepler, after discovering the laws that govern the speeds of the planets, prayed, "Dear Lord, who hast guided us to the light of Thy glory by the light of nature, thanks be Thee. Behold, I have completed the work to which Thou hast called me, and I rejoice in the creation whose wonder thou hast given me to reveal unto men. Amen."
The power of life is in light, and without light life cannot continue. We could get into biology here, but man's new discovery of the power of light is more fascinating. Albert Einstein back in 1905 wrote a paper on light that won him the Nobel Prize. In it he proved that light is both a wave and a particle, and so light is a paradox, and has the freedom to be different things in different experiments. He predicted then that man would be able to some day use light in a very intense and focused ray. In 1960 Dr. Theodore Maiman made and used the first laser, and since this, many new lasers have been developed for doing what man could never do before. Now, by the power of light, the life of man is being radically changed. In our life-time light has changed almost every facet of our lives.
The books I checked out to study light were checked out by means of a laser light. The groceries we purchase are read by a laser light. Laser light can cut steel and even diamonds. Lasers are used for eye surgery, so that those who once would be blind are now made to see. Miracles that Jesus did as the light of the world are now being done by light, which also has Him as its author and creator. The military uses lasers in missals and other weapons. The whole security systems of the world depend on lasers. Laser optical discs can hold the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on one side. There seems to be no end to the power and blessings that man is finding in the power of light. If God lets history go on, man will create a whole new world by the power of light. And if God ends history soon, the result will be the same, for in eternity we will dwell with God in that city filled with the light of His presence. However the story of history goes, we can be optimists as Christians, for we are heading for the light. Georgia Harkness wrote,
Our light grows dim, the air is thick with gloom,
And everywhere men's souls are crushed with fears.
Yet high above the carnage and the gloom
The call resounds across the teeming years,
Lift high Christ's cross! Serve God and trust His might!
I do believe the world is swinging toward the light.
Light is not only the coming thing, because Jesus, the light, is coming, but He is already here, and says in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world: He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Gilchrist Lawson wrote,
The one who made the earthly sun
So full of power of warmth and might,
Can cause the Sun of Righteousness
To bathe the soul in floods of light.
The greatest changes in life are always based on what man does with his physical or spiritual light. Jesus was the light that lightens every man said John. He was and is the light of the world. He was and is the source of life that is eternal, for all life needs light, and He is the only light that can never be put out, and so He is the only source of eternal life.
Light that we see is self revealing. One does not need to light a match to see if his flashlight is on. But all men are blind to most of the light God has made a part of reality. We see only the six colors of the rainbow which is white light divided up into its six different wave lengths. But this is a mere fraction of light. There are cosmic rays, gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet rays, infrared rays, television, radar, short wave, standard and long radio waves, and long electric waves. These ten different categories of light we cannot see. But man has learned how to use these invisible sources of light to do wonders in life. So the challenge of the Christian life is to recognize there is great power available in the realm of the invisible. Paul says in II Cor. 4:18, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." There is power for life abundant in the light of Christ's unseen presence, and in the light of the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray,
Light of the world, illumine this darkened earth of Thine,
Till everything that's human be filled with the Divine.
There is no physical factor in all reality that can better be used as a symbol of the nature of God, than light, for as Alford, the Greek scholar said, "It unites in itself purity, and cleanness, and beauty, and glory, as no other material object does." Light is the most spiritual of all the things we know in the realm of the physical. The more we know about light and its blessings, the more we will understand the glory and splendor of God, who is light, and the source of all lights.
Then John adds to his positive message a statement which is-
B. Negative-in Him is no darkness at all. The Greek here is very emphatic. There is a double negative here, which is permitted in Greek, and would sound like this in English, "There is not none at all." This is the concept that is the basis for a common bond among believers, and is the basis for much joy. The positive without his strong negative would not distinguish Christianity from the Gnostics and many other false religions. The Gnostics, like the ancient Persians, had a dualism in their concept of deity, in which, there was both light and darkness in God. Many others have also had concepts of God which while recognizing Him to be glorious, also attributed to Him much evil. The Christian revelation rises to the heights of a God who is absolutely pure, and is not the origin of any evil.
This becomes the basis for our fullness of joy, for the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is light without darkness. Even the sun has spots, but not our God, for He is perfect light, and the source of all good, but no evil. Any idea of God that implies He is the source of evil is inconsistent with the New Testament revelation. E. S. Jones tells the story of the little girl who was playing with a friend when a cloud came up and covered the Sun. She looked up and said, "That mean old God again, always spoiling our fun." The mother heard it and that night she told the father. He was shocked and did not understand where in the world she would get such a concept of God. They punished her by making her say her prayers ten times. Imagine, prayers being made as a punishment, and yet they wondered where she got her concept of a cruel God. Parents may in many ways convey to their children concepts of God that include spots and shadows of darkness. This message of John must be our guide. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
We need the light of God to guide us so that we do not blot His image with the darkness of our own ignorance and faulty faith. Let our prayer be that of Constance Milman.
Lord send thy light,
Not only in the darkest night,
But in the shadows, dim twilight,
Wherein my strained and aching sight
Can scarce distinguish wrong from right,
Then send thy light.
The light of God is known by the fact that in it is no darkness at all. Satan himself can appear as an angel of light, and the world uses light to glorify all its evil, but we need not be seduced by these false lights if we keep this absolute negative in mind-no darkness at all. Wordsworth put it, "But ne'er to a seductive lay, let faith be given. Nor deem that light which leads astray, is light from heaven." This then, is the message that is essential to making our fellowship unique and joy complete. Now, let us consider some further meanings contained in this message.
II. THE MEANINGS. A message like this is filled with more meaning than we can begin to comprehend. To say that God is light sheds more light on His nature than we have eyes to see, but what we can see is important to look at. The first thing we want to look at is-
A. The Ethical Meaning.
This is really the primary meaning that John is conveying in this context. God is absolutely pure. God is righteousness, and in Him is no sin at all. That is why John goes on to say, "If we say we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness we are liars," for God cannot fellowship with men who walk in darkness. He is light, and light has nothing in common with darkness, and, therefore, fellowship is impossible. A man living in sin can no more walk with God than fire and gasoline can have fellowship together. God is absolutely ethically pure, and that is why Christians must constantly confess their sins and be cleansed by the blood of Christ, for it is the only way we can truly have fellowship with God.
In this context John makes clear there are two ways of thinking that are false, and lead to false living. One is to imply that there is any sin in God, and two is to deny that there is sin in man. The Christian must be clear on both points. God is light, and is pure, with no darkness at all, but no man, except he who was God incarnate, and the light of the world, is totally pure, and without some degree of darkness due to sin. Christian ethical thinking must be based on these two truths.
The Gnostics denied them, and the result was all kinds of unethical and immoral conduct.
Let this principle be a guide. God is far more than we can think, but He is never less than what we can think. This means, if you can think of a higher concept of God than the one you now have, the one you now have is a false concept. God can never be less than the highest you can conceive. Whenever men talk about God, you can know if they speak of the true God, or one of their own making, by simply asking, is the God they speak of the highest and purest that man can conceive. If the God they speak of cannot measure up to this standard, he is not the God who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all.
B. The Intellectual Meaning.
When we say a person has seen the light, we mean the truth has been grasped by the mind. Light and truth are often synonymous. This could be paraphrased, God is truth and in Him is no error at all. It means, not only that God is absolutely pure, but He is also absolutely wise. This is again a basis for great joy, for the believer. He has a resource like no other. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would lead His disciples into all truth. He can do this, for as light, He knows all truth.
All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded.
Til Thy Spirit brakes our night,
With the beams of truth unclouded.
There is much more meaning in this message-the theological, biological, emotional, but we can't cover them all. What we have looked at, however, ought to make it clear how great a message this is, and how a deeper understanding of it will lead to a greater fellowship and joy in the believers life. Praise God for who He is, for God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.