Jesus, Light of the World
We’ve all experienced that feeling of relief that comes at the first light of dawn after a seemingly endless night. Whether it be due to keeping watch over a sick child, insomnia, or an anxious wait for news, fears magnified in the deep of night somehow give way to the hope that often accompanies early morning light. God is the author of light, and the very beginning of Hebrew Scripture is suffused with references to it. At the dawn of creation, from the deep darkness and as the “Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”, light explodes into the world evoking divine delight - “God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:4a), separating night from day.
Intriguingly, we see in these early verses of Genesis that evening is not deemed as the close of day, but is instead the beginning of it: “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5). Theologian Kathryn Greene-McCreight sees this verse as central to our understanding of God’s presence throughout Scripture, “especially when we find that all is dark” in our lives, carrying the hope that “darkness is not the final word. Darkness is enclosed by light, not the other way around.” And it is in the morning that the female disciples first encounter the risen Christ, “the light of the world” (John 8:12) at the dawn of the new creation; Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’
From before creation and towards eternity, Christ illuminates the cosmos, and it is only the light of his being and presence that gives true meaning. Paul sought to steer the fledgling church at Colossae away from a toxic mix of false teaching, swivelling their focus around by shining a spotlight on the centrality and supremacy of Christ. Paul and Timothy passionately prayed for the young Colossian church, praising God “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12). Colossians 1:15-23 is thought to be a very early Christian poem, which firmly and beautifully highlights Jesus as the lynchpin of all creation – “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16b-17)
How can we learn from the way Jesus interacted with those he met along the way, so that we as 21st century believers rescued into this ‘kingdom of light’ can serve as Christ-lights, spreading his fragrance and grace throughout our broken world?
We begin through honesty and humility. We learn from Psalm 90:8 that nothing is hidden from God’s sight – “you have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” We are to continually offer ourselves before him, confessing all and experiencing (both consciously and unconsciously) the Holy Spirit’s cleansing and equipping work in our redeemed lives, as he roots out our weeds and idols, truly freeing us to breathe and grow under his transforming light.
We live in community, and whatever we do - or fail to do - ripples out and impacts those around us. As we trace the encounters and conversations Jesus had throughout the gospel accounts, we see that he had a profound impact on others, irrespective of whether they accepted him as the Messiah. He saturated situations with the light of his presence, with his truth-telling, righteousness and clarity of purpose.
I’ve always been deeply impacted by Jesus’ noonday conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4, as she came to draw from the well but was instead transformed by the ‘living water’ himself. In this deep and unhurried conversation, countercultural on many levels, Jesus listened deeply to this woman as well as discussing theology and stating the facts about the way she is living. Rather than resisting the searchlight Jesus shines onto her life, the woman decisively seizes his gift of grace and races to share the good news, leading to fruit and growth in her town (John 4:39-42). This woman found it illuminating and transformative to be truly seen by Jesus, redeemed from darkness to light. Not so for others, who choose to resist and resent Christ, wishing to be unseen – “light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
In Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop (Matthew 17:1-9) it is breathtaking to glimpse the glory of God through the eyes of the disciples – eyewitnesses to this dazzling transformed figure who was their Lord, and who is ours. Take time to absorb the details of this extraordinary scene, a breathtaking moment described so well by poet Malcolm Guite as being ‘in and out of time’ as heaven and earth intersect! Be impacted by the sheer physicality of the transfigured Jesus whose “face shone like the sun” (v 2b) as he spoke with Moses and Elijah; note the very human reaction of Peter, James and John; and see Jesus revealed in his divine glory then stooping to intimately tend to his frightened disciples.
As believers, we live in Christ, sharing in both his glory and his suffering. We press on, spurred on by the “cloud of witnesses” in the grandstands, emboldened to tell others of Christ as eagerly as the Samaritan woman; “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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
We live by the truth that in Jesus Christ there is no darkness at all, and by the hope that from before creation to the end of the age and beyond, he shines as the “bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16b).