All the dark won't stop the light from getting through
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1, ESV
Why is it that kids are afraid of the dark? In my great grandmother’s house, there was a room that really gave me the creeps. So, of course, I went in there whenever I could. We called it the “antique room.” The grown-ups did. It was very still and quiet and old in there. And you couldn’t touch anything. And if there was a ghost in that house, I was sure it would be in that room.
My sister and I would spend the night there from time to time. One night I was put in the adjoining bedroom. All alone. A pocket door that separated my room from the “antique room” and that pocket door didn’t quite close all the way. There was a little sliver of dark, darker than the dark of my room. And I stared at it, not able to go to sleep, for what felt like a long time. And then I got up and went to another room, where my sister was sleeping, and I fell asleep in there.
I was able to go into the “antique room” in the light. But not in the dark. No way in the dark. Light helps. Light saves.
The saving reality of God as light, a reality seen and experience by Israel as the illuminating pillar of fire during the Exodus (what a gracious manifestation of God’s merciful, protective presence for his people!) is echoed in Psalm 27:1 and in places like Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
This prophecy is fulfilled in the life of Jesus, quite literally so. “Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:28-31, ESV).
The word translated “departure” in that last sentence is literally “exodus” in the Greek text of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus, while emanating dazzling light, spoke with Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) about his exodus. How illuminating, especially for the three disciples who were with him: Peter, James, and John. Why just three? Why not all 12? The answer, I believe, may be found in what Lesslie Newbigin calls “The Logic of Election.”
In his book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Bishop Lesslie Newbign devotes a chapter to the logic of election. And it has been a great help to me as I have been reading through Romans 9–11. This morning, I saw the help more clearly when I read the collect (or prayer) for the Feast of the Transfiguration.
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter, James, and John were the three “chosen witnesses” of Jesus’ Transfiguration. And their ministry of witness to the other nine Apostles models the call and mission of the entire group of Apostles, a witness bearing, speaking mission to Israel and the nations. Jesus makes this mission clear in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Just as Moses and Elijah bear witness to Jesus and demonstrate that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to Jesus (Romans 3:21-22) so Peter, James, and John bear witness to the other Apostles who bear witness to the world about Jesus. Bishop Newbigin stresses the point that this is what God’s election of a particular people is for. I can’t write it nearly as well as Newbigin does, so I'll quote a few passages. In this first one, he writes with particular reference to Romans chapters 9–11:
“For Paul it is axiomatic that God has chosen Israel uniquely among all the nations. And yet Israel has, as a nation, rejected God’s chosen Messiah. How is this to be understood? Does it mean that God’s purpose has been defeated? No. Does it mean that God has cast off his chosen people? No. How then are we to understand it? First we must understand that God has retained his freedom. Election does not give us claims against God. This has always been clear, for not all the descendants of Abaham are chosen. No one can find fault with God for this. Like the potter working with his clay, God has the freedom to dispose of his creation as he will. He could make some vessels for honor and some for destruction. Paul does not say that he has done so, but only that, if he did, we would have no ground for complaint. This is where false conclusions have been drawn from Paul. The whole passage makes it clear that God has not done what he might have done. He has not made some for honor and some for destruction. What he has done is to consign all men to disobedience in or that he may have mercy on all (Romans 11:32)” (p. 83).
Our prayers on Ash Wednesday echo both Paul and Newbigin, clarifying the scope of God’s compassion and mercy. “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. . . .” This all is powerfully clarified by Bishop Newbigin.
“The cross of Jesus is the place where all human beings without exception are exposed as enemies of God, and the place where all human beings without exception are accepted as beloved of God, objects of his forgiving grace. No one is excluded from the scope of that prayer, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (p. 86).
Yet that forgiveness and acceptance must be received by personal trust in the Son who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. But how will we know about the Savior and his cross unless the message gets to us through witnesses, chosen and set apart to carry or to bear the message of our salvation? This is where election and mission come together in the work of evangelism. One last bit from Newbigin:
“To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are saved and the rest are the lost. To be elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into his mission to the world, to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for his whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the firstfruit of his blessed kingdom which is for all. It means therefore, as the New Testament makes abundantly clear, to take our share in his suffering, to bear the scars of the passion. It means, as Paul says elsewhere, to bear in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of the risen Jesus may be manifested and made available for others” (pp. 86-87).
In the discussion and debates about the doctrine of election, there is occasionally more heat than light. And for those of us in the darkness and disquietude of this world, light is the saving help we need. You don’t have to be a kid to be afraid of the dark. But in the frightening darkness a word comes to us from witnesses to the light. The witnesses have not only seen light. They are bright with it. These chosen witnesses to Jesus bring their own presence and mysteriously bear his presence and his light.
Through the message of his witnesses and by faith in the Word they proclaim, people everywhere of all ages and in all kinds of darkness come to know and trust “the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79, ESV).