Sermon February 2

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

February 2, 2014

“Walk in the Light”

I John 1:5-10

The disciple John, the last living member of Jesus’ original band of disciples, is the one writing this letter. He’s the author of the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, and the letters of I, II and III John. Our text is only the second paragraph of John’s letter, but he gets right to the point. John is concerned about the false teachings that are affecting the church. It was the kind of thing Paul had warned about in the book of Acts. To the church leaders of Ephesus, Paul said: “I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.”

In this letter, John has three themes that he comes back to over and over throughout the letter. John’s three great affirmations are: God is life; God is light; and God is love. In the first four verses of this letter John tells us that God is life. Jesus is referred to as the “word of life”. In verse 5 John declares that God is light. Then in verses 6-10, John addresses the implications of that pronouncement that God is light.

Verse 5 is a powerful statement: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” There are Old Testament parallels to this statement. In the Old Testament, light was associated in a special way with the presence of God. Psalm 27 says: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” In Isaiah 60 it says: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you … Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light.”

Also in Jewish thought, light had to do with finding the path. Isaiah 9:2 says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And the choir sang the words of Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

In the New Testament, Jesus elevates this understanding about light to a new level. Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

What does it mean to make this statement – that God is light? I think there are two implications we should consider. Light reveals something to us about God; and light reveals something to us about ourselves. Light has a penetrating, exposing quality. And the light that reveals what is in the darkness also comes as a judgment upon the darkness. Light exposes sin. Light penetrates and nothing can be hidden from it. And so it is with God’s light.
This statement tells us that God is self-revealing. More than anything else, light is seen; it illumines the darkness around it. To say that God is light is to say that there is nothing secretive or deceptive about God. God never distorts or misleads. God desires to be seen and known.

Saying God is light means that God is allied with the way of truth and opposed to the way of falsehood. In his gospel, John uses the words light and truth interchangeably. Over eighty times in the gospels, Jesus starts off a sentence by saying – “I tell you the truth.” In Jesus Christ the fullness of God is revealed to us. If you want to know what God is like, look at who Jesus is. In Jesus Christ we get a true understanding of God. And Jesus is true to us. He is faithful. He will not disappoint us. We can trust his promises.

Light also reveals something to us about ourselves. Jesus Christ not only shows us who the Father is, he also shows us who we are and where we are. Jesus is the light which makes the path on which we live come into focus. He enables us to understand our lives, to make sense of our lives. C.S. Lewis said: “We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact, we cannot) but because we can see everything else.”

In his gospel story, John wrote: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

When we understand that Jesus is the light of the world then we must make a choice. Either we come into the light with Jesus or we can choose to remain in the darkness. It can be a difficult choice. There is a pain that comes from being exposed, from knowing the truth. But it is a pain that heals us. It is like the surgeon’s knife that cuts, yet it brings health.

When we stand in the light of Jesus Christ our whole lives become transparent. There is nothing hidden from God. There are no secrets to be kept from God. To believe there are is only foolishness. To walk in the light is to surrender our deceptions.

John declares, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” Then in the next five verses, John addresses three false teachings that had cropped up in the Christian church. He begins each point with the phrase – “If we say …” John points out each deceptive teaching and then he points us to the truth.

John says: “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.” The first deception, the first falsehood, is the notion that sin is a matter of no consequence, that we can live our lives without regard to the will of God and yet still enjoy fellowship with God. This John declares is a lie. If we walk in the light that God has revealed, then we cannot fail to be aware of our sinfulness. It is true that those who are closest to God are those who are most aware of their need for God’s grace.

Next, John says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The second deception comes from those who claim no responsibility for sin. They must have provided some distorted argument to the effect that in the properly enlightened person the sinful nature was eliminated. It’s a deception that fits well in a time such as our own which is characterized by the avoidance of responsibility. People are prone to attribute their shortcomings to uncontrollable forces. Eugene Peterson points out that schools and hospitals have now replaced churches as the primary locations for taking care of what is wrong with us.

People think that what the Bible calls sin is surely not their fault. Mark Twain said: “Don’t expect too much of human beings. We were created at the end of the week when God was tired and looking forward to a day off.” We think people who do wrong are only misguided. But John says we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

When we come to Jesus Christ, when we walk in the light, we recognize the truth about ourselves. Speaking of his own encounter with Jesus Christ, C.S. Lewis wrote: “For the first time I examined myself … And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.”

When we come to God seeking the truth about ourselves, we can recognize that all of our words and actions, without exception, spring from mixed motives. When we are honest with ourselves we see that the contamination of sin influences everything we do. That’s why we offer a prayer of confession each Sunday in worship.

And thirdly, John says: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” This is the case of denying that we personally have committed sinful acts. This is the person who resents being referred to as a sinner. To him sin has only to do with the kind of scandals that hit the newspapers. However the Bible defines sin simply as falling short or missing the target. Sin is our universal human experience. It is inevitable and inescapable. However we define it, sin is everything that puts a barrier up between us and God and between us and our neighbor.

John’s aim was to root out a false teaching in the church – to put to rest the idea that sin doesn’t count for anything. But for all his talk about sin, John constantly reminds us of God’s grace. He says: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The good news is that God who brings light also brings salvation. In the light of Jesus Christ we are saved from the darkness of sin. And the way Jesus does that is by taking upon his own shoulders the whole weight of sin which enslaves you and me. In his death on the cross Jesus freed us from the condemnation of sin.

John invites us to walk in the light; to come into the light of God’s presence. In the light of God, fellowship is possible. In the light of God, forgiveness takes place. When we walk in the light, we discover the truth about God and about ourselves. When we walk in the light we are free to be ourselves and to be the person God created us to be.

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