The Light of the World has Come

 

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When I think about Christmas, I realise that I came into the world having nothing to do with my birth. I showed up without planning it. When Jesus came into the world it was the most dangerous mission ever undertaken by a Baby. He came knowing the battles He would face and knowing the ultimate end of His life on earth would be a week like no other in human history. He came to live, die and be raised to life again in the greatest drama mankind has ever seen.

Rome was a corrupt government morally and spiritually; its sins were shamelessly committed for all to see. The death of innocents in the Coliseum was a major form of entertainment. Its emperors wanted to be worshipped and their gods were evil creations. Rome spread the darkness of paganism in every place that they had influence.

Herod, was an infamous madman and was made king by the Roman Senate, which proclaimed him “King of Judea.” Once in power, he immediately killed forty-five of the wealthiest citizens and confiscated their property for his own use. He was incurably ill, nearly 70-years-old, and insane in Matthew chapter 2 when the Magi came looking for Jesus. While the killing of all the male babies in Bethlehem under two years of age shocks us, it was typical of Herod. He had slaughtered his sons and executed his favourite wife, Mariamne. Even the good guys, the religious Pharisees, would be enemies of Jesus. His message would unsettle and irritate them until they would finally conspire and bring about His execution in the most agonising way possible – crucifixion.

The world was dark when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, amongst the immoral Romans, heinous Herod and self-important religious leaders, it wasn’t a place we would have chosen to enter. Yet, Jesus came into that world voluntarily.

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It was a wicked world that received the Baby in Bethlehem; but because of His willingness to enter our darkness, the angels were able to announce: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Christmas means that God was willing to come into a dark place and bring the light of salvation and because of Him, salvation is available to all of us.

            Robert Robinson was an English clergyman who lived in the 18th century. Not only was he a gifted pastor and preacher, he was also a highly gifted poet and hymn writer. However, after many years in the pastorate his faith began to diminish. He left the ministry and moved to Paris where he indulged in an ungodly lifestyle.

            One night he was riding in a carriage with a Parisian socialite who had recently been converted to Christ. She was interested in his opinion on some poetry she was reading:

“Come thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace,
Streams of mercy never failing,
Call for hymns of loudest praise.”

When she looked up from her reading, the socialite noticed Robinson was crying. “What do I think of it?” he asked in a broken voice. “I wrote it. But now I’ve drifted away from him and can’t find my way back.”

            “But don’t you see?” the woman said gently, “The way back is written right here in the third line of your poem: ‘Streams of mercy never failing.’ Those streams are flowing even here in Paris tonight.” That night Robinson recommitted his life to Christ.

            For the wanderers like Robinson, for the religious like Nicodemus the Pharisee, for the Roman collaborators like Matthew the tax collector, and for all of us, salvation has come. Jesus has entered our unlit world to bring the light of salvation to everyone who will believe. This can be the most wonderful Christmas ever for those who realise that “streams of mercy” are still flowing because of that first Christmas.

September 17th 2017: Alan Davison

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Time, as a concept, has always fascinated humanity. We want time, yet we rush around, which doesn’t help. Blaise Pascal, the French religious philosopher, mathematician and physicist, once wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” In the 1800’s the theory of evolution gained credence, claiming that anything was possible in millions and millions of years. Lord Tennyson, a Christian, wrote:

            Here about the beach I wandered,
Nourishing a youth sublime,
 With the fairy tales of science
                                                 And the long result of time.

Time is very important in the Bible. In today’s popular culture there is more of a focus on time. For example, there are many television programmes featuring time travel. We often think, ‘If only we had time again we could change things, fix things.’ What’s to say by changing a mistake we wouldn’t end up making a worse mistake?

Time is a succession of moments. Biblically, time is part of creation, a possession of God. ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ (Psalm 90:2). Here we have a mixture of tenses; time is past but God is present because God has always been. This psalm was written by Moses, who understood God made time.

‘Behold, God is great, and we know Him not; the number of His years is unsearchable.’ (Job 36:26). We cannot measure God’s existence because He exists outside of time.

‘”I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”’ (Revelation 1:8). Here we have God’s own words. God Himself declares He encompasses all of time. These are weighty concepts.

God acts in time. We see this most clearly in the Incarnation. Being God, Jesus knew the importance of time. Certain events had to happen at the ordained time of the Father. ‘Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.’ (John 7:6). Jesus speaks here of the contrast of man’s use of time and his perceived perception of time.

A time to shine. Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in Him, ‘For not even His brothers believed in Him.’ (John 7:5). The Feast of Tabernacles was so important it was mandated that the Jews attend. Jesus’ brothers may have wanted Jesus to attend out of concern that He had lost followers, ‘After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.’ (John 6:66). Perhaps they thought He could gain more followers, potential recruits, at the Feast. However, they may have had a more sinister motive; it was widely known that the Jews sought to kill Jesus. Perhaps His brothers were suggesting He should go, knowing that this would put Him in danger, even resulting in His death. Most Jews in Jesus’ time were looking for salvation from the Romans. Jesus turned down His brothers’ course of action. His time to shine had not yet come.

We see a contrast in Jesus’ brothers who had time to spare. They were not constrained by time. However, the way we experience time has been ordained by God. Jesus did not go to Jerusalem on a whim but when He was supposed to. He rejected his brothers’ advice. Jesus knew exactly what needed to be done, when it needed to be done and why. As others look at us, how do they see we are living our lives? it needed to be done. How do we value our time? The world says, ‘time is money.’ This is certainly true. We are paid for the time we work and pay others for their time. We talk of ‘spending time.’ This suggests we ourselves think of time as a resource to use as we see fit. ‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time. Because the days are evil.’ (Ephesians 5:15-16).

‘Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time’ (Colossians 4:5). To redeem something means to buy it back. The Bible tells us we should be buying time – it’s not our own personal property. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we read there is a time for everything. We need to ask God for wisdom when a period of rest drifts into wastefulness.

A time to stop. We need to wait on the Lord. ‘After this Jesus went about in Galilee.’ (John 7:1). What did Jesus do as He walked in Galilee? From the other gospels we know Jesus did much, such as feeding the 5000, healing a blind man, being transfigured. However, John speaks of Jesus’ brothers being mean to Him. The Feast of Tabernacles lasted 8 days. This incident takes place midway. For four days Jesus did nothing in Jerusalem. It shows us Jesus was waiting for the Father’s timing. He would have been praying, meditating on Scriptures. There was a growing level of opposition which would have been becoming more and more stressful. People sought to seize Jesus. The Pharisees would ultimately succeed in arresting Jesus – but in God’s time.

If Jesus stopped, we certainly need to stop and evaluate. Do we take time to pray, to read the Scriptures? Do we spend time in prayer, to seek His guidance for the week ahead? If we have time to spare we ought to be putting it to use in a way that is pleasing to our Father, helping others, praying. The activities we do require an act of will.

We too will have a time to shine. Jesus rejected His brothers urging to shine in a way they required. However, Jesus would shine, hanging on a cross, suffering, dying. But in Peter’s sermon we see the Father glorified the Son by raising Him from the dead, ‘The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when He had decided to release Him.’ (Acts 3:13).

Each moment we spend on this earth has been gifted from God. Pray to God He will show us the way to use our time. We live in a fast-paced culture, we need to be serious about shining for Jesus. ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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.’ (Matthew 5:14-16). We are the light of the world, His followers. Our light should shine before men, it’s reflecting from Jesus Himself, pointing to the ultimate light of the world.