Darkness and light, or night and day, are themes that accompany us throughout our earthly existence. Every day, we experience the contrast between a dark night and a hopefully sunny day.
During the day, we might voluntarily enter a dark place. The caver enjoys the challenges of exploring underground, but he is always glad to emerge into daylight once again.
The walker may sometimes have to pass through a muddy tunnel, where it is difficult to see where one is putting one’s feet, and sharp rocks above threaten to bruise one’s head. Two such tunnels occur on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, near Saundersfoot. They once were used to bring coal from coal mines several miles away, along a railway to the harbour for export. One of the tunnels has some dim lights, but these are inadequate to prevent one from falling foul of the hazards underfoot and overhead. Nothing can beat the light of day at the end of the tunnel.
In the Bible, darkness and light can have both physical and spiritual significance. These themes occur from Genesis to Revelation.
The world is first presented as a shapeless lump of matter covered in water and in darkness (Genesis 1:2). But the Spirit of God was hovering over it, ready to act; and the first command God gave was, ‘Let there be light’.
The darkness was not called ‘good’, but the light was. It was called ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’ — and that was the first day on planet earth, even before the creation of the sky on day 2, and the sun and the moon on day 4. There would have been a pervasive glow of light radiation, before the light became localised in the light sources of the sun and stars.
When Christ ushers in the new heavens and the new earth, we are repeatedly reminded that there will be ‘no more night’ (Revelation 21:25; 22:5). We will also no longer need the sun, because there will be the divine glow of the glory of God and of the Lamb providing all the illumination we need for life in heaven.
I have in front of me one volume of the magnificent series on Ephesians by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (published by Banner of Truth). It is entitled Darkness and light, and covers chapters 4:17 to 5:17. The core of this section is found in sermons on 5:8: ‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord’.
Lloyd-Jones notes that ‘sin is always associated in the Bible with darkness’ (p.43). It is the way of the world and of the kingdom of Satan, who is called the ‘prince of this world’ and the ‘prince of the power of the air’ (John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2).
When I once commented to the late Rev. Graham Harrison following his sermon one Christmas that the world was indeed in darkness, he said it was not just darkness, but gross darkness. This echoes the verse from Isaiah he quoted: ‘For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee’.
But Isaiah was also given a great vision of hope for a benighted people: ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Isaiah 9:2).
Christ the light
God prophesied through Balaam that, ‘A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel’ (Numbers 24:17). This was to be the Lord Jesus Christ. His coming was announced to the shepherds, accompanied by the dazzling light of ‘the glory of the Lord’ which ‘shone round about them’ (Luke 2:9).
The wise men were also given the light of a star to guide them to the infant Jesus. When they saw it again as they neared Bethlehem, they were overjoyed (Matthew 2:10).
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, after John has announced Christ to be the Word and the Creator God, he immediately proceeds to describe Jesus as the source of that life, which was the light of men. Jesus was that light which ‘shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’ (John 1:4-5). He later recalls how Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).
Light for believers
Many years later, John remembers the light of Christ, and in his first letter wrote to believers about its meaning for them: ‘This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
‘If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin’ (1 John 1:5-7).
Here is the challenge for believers. We must be careful how we walk or behave. We must watch our steps. Are we going in the right direction, obediently following our Lord’s example and the teaching of the Scriptures? We are sure to sin and stumble from time to time, but the apostle allows for that in the following chapter: ‘If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ (1 John 2:1b). He will lift us up again and wash our cuts and bruises with his blood from ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (v.2).
Few would deny that this world can be a fearfully dark place. Every day the media carries news of horrific murders and beheadings, of sexual slavery and child abuse, and of frightening epidemics like AIDS and Ebola. Even if these seem remote from us, everyone must face the prospect of death and live in its shadow.
A retired pastor in our church will smile as he addresses the men’s breakfast meeting, saying, ‘As I have told you before, I have no mortal fear of death’. How has he arrived at this state of inner peace? It is by completely trusting his life into the safe keeping of his Saviour, Jesus Christ. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’ (Psalm 23:4).
The apostle Paul affirmed that not even death could separate him from the love of God (Romans 8:38). So to be safe in Christ is the means to be freed from the many fears which confront us.
Day of salvation
The darkness of death should rather act as an incentive for us to labour for the Lord. Jesus said, ‘As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (John 9:4).
When Henry F. Lyte (1793–1847) was dying of tuberculosis, he penned the well-known hymn ‘Abide with me’, including these verses:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Three weeks later, the minister of All Saints in Lower Brixham departed this life to join his Saviour in the skies. Will you be joining him in the light of heaven’s morning or entering that fearful outer darkness, where there is no light at the end of the tunnel? Don’t leave matters until it is too late. Paul reminds us that ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The author is a retired analytical chemist and member of St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff. In 2012, he published Thoughts fixed and affections flaming (Day One) concerning Matthew Henry.