How would you respond to this question, ‘Is the world a dark place?’ Or if I state that as a fact, ‘The world is a dark place.’- what is your sense on that? Or how many of you feel I am setting up?
It is no set-up; the jury is in, and the finding is that the world is a very dark place. Listen to the evening news and there will be validation enough.
The next issue then is to ask the question, ‘What is darkness?’ Is darkness a substance? Is it energy? Is it dynamic? We know that it is none of the above- not substance, not energy, not dynamic. Then what is it?- or perhaps the more telling question- ‘Why is it?’
What is light? We tend to say that light is the opposite of darkness. But if darkness is neither substance nor energy then how can it have an opposite? Light is not the opposite of darkness; light is energy- light is dynamic.
Where light is there can be no darkness. Where darkness is there is no light. So what is darkness? It is not the presence of something- it is the absence of something- the absence of light.
To conclude that the world is a dark place is to equally conclude the absence of light in that world.
Now we are getting somewhere- because now we know two things: we know that the problem in the world is darkness; and secondly, we know the answer to that problem- light.
And that brings us to the third issue: Where is that light? And that brings me face to face with something I am really reluctant to accept- and yet I have no option but to accept it because the Lord Jesus spoke it.
MT 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
With these words right at the beginning of His public ministry, Christ once and for all time defined the true and only relationship between the believer and the world in which that believer lives. Here it is: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. We are not the salt of heaven- nor the light of heaven- but of the earth and the world.
I am going to ask you to participate in this confession with me; join me is declaring the words of Christ in a very personalized manner: I am the salt of the earth. I am the light of the world.
Now having made such confession let me return to the original question, and ask that we follow the ‘proverbial bouncing ball’: ‘Is the world a dark place?’ Follow that with the second question, ‘What is darkness?’ I know it’s hard to choke it out, isn’t it. But come on and state it with me, ‘Darkness is the absence of light.’ And don’t stop there; come on to the next part- ‘I am the light of the world.’ And now the final hurt, the final pain in this confession- ‘I am not nearly as present in that world as I need to be.’
This same Christ who defined our relationship with the world was wonderfully gracious to pray for us before He left the world. Here in part is what He prayed- and this is a series of verses from the seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel.
“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world. “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. “ They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
We are not saved to get out of the world; we are saved from it- but from does not mean out of. The purpose of this so great salvation is not to take me out of this darkness but to so sanctify me through the Word and the Spirit that in this present darkness I become the present light- with the consequence that wherever I am in this present world there can no longer be an absence of light.
We have built a whole Christian culture that seems to be about one thing- escape from the world. The whole idea is that we wrap ourselves so tightly in this Christian cultural cocoon that we never come out into the world except to meet the very basic needs of what relates to the body- the physical man.
Most of this is fear based- and I can tell you right now this is going to sound mean-spirited and plainly nasty- but there are always those who know how capitalise upon those fears and tell us what we desperately want to hear while they build great “ministries” and accumulate materialism. And nowhere is this presently more apparent than around the issue of the second advent and the end of the world. Those words- end of the world- define a kind of desperate hope for so many paranoid believer.
Is there an end to the world? I suspect there is but that’s not my business- it’s God’s. My business is to know that as long as I am in the world I am its light at that precise point where I intersect with it.
Let me close this out by returning to the two words I just dropped into this mix of words- ‘paranoid believer.’ My reluctance to touch the world- to isolate from it is fear based- and as with most fear it is based in my ignorance.
The truth I am most ignorant of is the very thing Christ spoke two or three times in that high priestly prayer. “ They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
When the Lord Jesus walked this earth in the days of His flesh He did not tiptoe through it full of anxiety and paranoia that the world He walked through was going to corrupt Him, stain Him, compromise Him, and jerk Him right out of the Father’s purpose for His life. Wherever He walked Light burned a hole in the darkness. And so John, at about the tender age of ninety, would reflect and write- ‘The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (and the marginal note has it- did not overpower it.).
Christ could not be compromised by the world through which He walked because of a single issue- that issue was identity. But the issue at the heart of identity is origin. We don’t know who we are because we don’t know where we are from. And if I don’t know where I am from and don’t know my true identity then the influences around me can seduce me and compromise me.
That, then, is the essential truth of His incredible revelation concerning us- “ They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
If I am not of the world then my true identity is not derived from that world- and therefore that world has no appeal to me and no power to seduce me because there is nothing in me to which it can finally tie its lie.
As Christ said of Himself: “The evil one cometh, but findeth nothing in Me.”
The final word in this great revelation, also found in that profound prayer is this: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. The key word is sent; and the whole point is you can no more be sent into the place you already are- than you can come back from where you have never been. To be sent into you must first be outside of.
We have no struggle at all with the fact that Christ was sent into the world from outside of that world. Our struggle is that just as certainly as this was true of Christ it is presently true of us. We have been sent into something- a realm- that never was our origin.
They are not of the world- can only mean we are of another world. And we had better know that we did not begin here and enter that other world at new birth- not at all. From that other world I was sent into this world- and via new birth and regeneration I am reunited with my true origin- and have discovered my true self, my true identity.
In and out of that true identity I live here in this very dark world- and the growing experiential realization is that the darkness has no power over that true identity; so much so in fact, that quite the opposite is true- I dispel the darkness because I am light in Christ- and Christ in me.
Please understand that I totally believe in- Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together- but let us also understand that that gathering together is for us and does not lessen the darkness of the world unless we go from here to there. Corporate gathering is not about protection, isolation, nor escape; it is not a holy huddle designed to keep us out of the game while making us feel we are winning the game.