“Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.
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Let Your Light Shine
“The fisherman’s story
A Norwegian fisherman and his two sons were out on their daily fishing run. By mid-afternoon, a sharp, brisk wind was whipping salty spray into the faces of the rugged man and his teenage sons. As the wind increased, the waves grew into grey-blue giants and the little boat pitched back and forth as the three rowed desperately to get back to shore. The storm was so fierce that it washed out the light in the lighthouse on the shore, leaving the fishermen dependent upon the dark, groping guesswork. Meanwhile onshore, in their rustic cottage where their wife and mother waited for them, a fire broke out. Unable to put it out, the woman watched as the flames destroyed their home and all their earthly possessions. When the father and sons finally made it safely to shore, she was waiting for them with the tragic news. Yet even as she told her husband of the terrible fire that destroyed their home and all their possessions, he seemed strangely unmoved by the loss. It was as though he never heard the news. “Didn’t you hear me Karl?” she asked, “Our house is gone.” “Yes, I heard you,” he said, “But a few hours ago we were lost at sea, fighting fierce winds and high waves. Our only guide to the shoreline was the lighthouse on the cliff and then it went out. I was certain we would die. Then I noticed a dim, yellow glow in the distance. We turned our boat and rowed toward that light. It grew brighter and brighter, and we followed it safely to shore.” “You see, Ingrid,” he said, “that little yellow glow was the first sight of our house on fire. At the peak of the blaze, we could see the shoreline bright as day. The same fire that destroyed our house created a light that saved our lives.”
2 Cor. 4:1-9: Judges 7:15-22
In like manner, the cross that took the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, created a light that saved lives then and continues to save lives today.
Saul, the devout Pharisee was on his way to Damascus when he was struck down by a bright light and he heard Jesus talking to him. Jesus said ‘why are you persecuting me?’ And it’s then that the lights went on and he realised that it was Jesus, the man who Stephen had talked to, who was now talking to him and his only reply to Jesus was to say, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ What followed was three days of blindness followed by a conversion so radical that he immediately began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. This was a complete turn-around from his former way of life and his life changed and people saw that God lived in him and that God’s light shone out of him. This man became Paul who was commissioned by Jesus to be an apostle to the Gentiles and years later, after suffering many trials and tribulations he wrote a letter to the little church in the city of Corinth and in it he said, ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Cor. 4:7)
As I look at this verse I have to ask three questions. First, what is the treasure that Paul said that we have? Second, what did Paul mean by the expression ‘jars of clay?’ And third, what is the ‘all-surpassing power’ that Paul wrote about?
When talking with his disciples Jesus said ‘Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt.6:19-21) So in the mind of our Saviour, the treasure is something that is stored up in heaven. The apostle Paul echoes Jesus words in our reading for today where he writes in V6 ‘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 the glory of God in the face of Jesus.’ This gives us the clue to what the treasure is. The treasure is something that the unbeliever doesn’t have ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ or the knowledge of the glory of God.’ The unbeliever may have huge treasure; they may have houses and land and money galore but if they don’t have treasure in heaven then it is all worthless. Take a moment to reflect on Paul’s statement. He says that God’s light had shone into him and he now had the knowledge of the glory of God and the place he saw it was in Christ Jesus, his Lord. Have you ever noticed how a smile lights up the face of a person and as we look at their face we see something different? It is as though the light of that person’s being shines through that smile. The Bible says that when we look at Jesus we see God’s smile, we see God’s being. Jesus once told he disciples that because they had seen him they had seen the Father. And once having seen the Father in the face of Jesus it becomes a treasure that is forever. Nothing can take that treasure away from us.
In life, we come across things that on the surface appear to be treasures but in the end turn out to have no value at all. I was cleaning out my office one day and discovered some old papers that I had mislaid years ago. I remember thinking that at the time I mislaid them they were very valuable and I searched for them with great gusto. But, guess what? Over the intervening years, they have lost that status – they were no longer valuable and it was not hard to throw them out. They certainly were not treasures. But this treasure that God gives us, the knowledge of God found in Christ Jesus is unique and is only given to the person who is a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus. So, the apostle Paul, steeped in the knowledge of the Mosaic Law; steeped in the knowledge of being a Pharisee; steeped in the knowledge of being a Hebrew of Hebrews was willing to give it all away in exchange for the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. That to him was the greatest treasure anybody could have. If that is the treasure then what is the importance of the ‘jars of clay?’
The ‘Jars of Clay.’
When we go to a market or some kind of fair or festival and want to get a cup of tea or coffee we will inevitably end up with a dreaded polystyrene mug. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with a polystyrene mug but it does nothing for the tea or coffee. It doesn’t change the taste of the drink; it’s usually hard to hold, and it ends up creating rubbish. So we can be thankful that God doesn’t give us his glory in a polystyrene mug. But he does give it to us in something that is far from divine – a jar of clay. Remember when Gideon was serving God as one of the judges of the Israelite people and the land had been attacked by the Midianites. God had a plan for sending the Midianites running for their lives and it was so simple. Gideon had to reduce his army to just three hundred men and then God told him to give each man a trumpet and an empty jar with a lighted torch inside it. When they got to the Midianite camp the men, on Gideon’s command were to blow their trumpets and break their jars and the sudden sound and light threw the enemy into confusion and they fought against each other and fled and the Israelites were able to defeat them. See what it was that covered up the light of the torches? It was a ‘jar of clay.’ For Gideon’s men, the jar of clay contained the glory of God for it was ultimately God who routed the enemy.
And so Paul, drawing on Gideon is able to say that the treasure, the knowledge of the glory of God, is contained in something frail like jars of clay, our human bodies. And there is no doubt that our bodies although fearfully and wonderfully made are fragile. We are all just one breath away from death and yet God has chosen to use these frail bodies to be the dwelling place for His glory, for His Holy Spirit. When we look at this verse in this way we begin to see what the apostle had seen. He had seen that the almighty God had placed his glory into him through the action of the Holy Spirit and although he was weak in himself he was a tower of strength because of that.
The ‘All surpassing power that is from God.’
This leads us to the third question: What is the ‘all-surpassing power that is from God?’ See what Paul wrote: ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ Obviously ‘this all-surpassing power that is from God’ is something that was displayed in Paul’s life; it is something that people who looked at Paul saw. It was not just some inner feeling – it was a tangible thing. When he and Silas were stripped and beaten in Philippi and were thrown into prison and had their feet fastened in stocks the ‘all-surpassing power that is from God’ shone through them and they praised God and prayed and sang hymns. And the other prisoners were listening to them. Then God’s power caused an earthquake and they were set free. The jailer pleaded with them to tell him what he needed to do to be saved and here’s what they told him, ‘believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.’ This was the result of the ‘all-surpassing power that is from God’ working in and through them for His glory.
And so Paul is able to say to the church in Corinth that because of this all-surpassing power that is from God then even though we ‘are hard-pressed we are not crushed.’ What he means is that even though they were troubled on every side, even though they were afflicted in many ways and even though they met with all sorts of troubles they didn’t feel distressed because they could see help in God, and help from God, and had access to God. Then he says that though we ‘are perplexed we are not in despair.’ Let me put that another way. Paul was saying that even though they often felt uncertain and were in doubt as to what would become of them they did not despair because they knew that God was able to support them and deliver them and they could have complete trust in God and in the hope that he had given to them. But wait, there’s more that they could cling to because of the all-surpassing power which is from God. So, even though we ‘are persecuted we do not feel abandoned.’ Paul and his friends were pursued with both hatred and violence and were looked on as men not worthy to live but they knew that God would never leave or forsake them. Finally in V9 Paul writes Even though we ‘are struck down we are not destroyed.’ To be struck down or as the original language says to be cast down – to be downtrodden means to be thought of and treated as rubbish. That’s what it means to be struck down. But Paul says that because of the ‘all-surpassing power which is from God,’ they are not destroyed. In another place Paul had written, ‘For I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’
So, let’s put the three things together. A) God tells us through the words of Paul that when we believed in Jesus for salvation He gave us a treasure – the gift of eternal life made certain by the Holy Spirit who resides in us. B) God tells us that even though we are fragile like jars of clay he allows that treasure to abide in us. And C) he tells us that when the treasure abides in us then the all-surpassing power of God works in us and through us.
And something amazing happens to us – we begin to reflect his glory and begin to be transformed into the likeness of his Son, Jesus our Lord.
Jesus once said ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’ (Matt.5:14-16) Notice what Jesus said?
He said ‘you are the light of the world.’ Not, you could be; or maybe you are; or perhaps you might become; no he said ‘you are the light of the world.’ And he also said ‘let your light shine before men.’ Don’t hide your light or as Jesus said ‘don’t put it under a bowl.’ But to keep our light shining we need to be plugged into the power source.
What is the power source? In one of Paul’s other letters, he gives us God’s answer to that question. He says this. ‘Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.’ (Eph. 5:15-18) That’s the way to keep the light of Christ alive and shining in us. Be filled with God’s Holy Spirit or as the original language says – keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. To keep a fire burning we have to keep putting more wood on it – to keep our Christ light burning we need to be daily filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s because ‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’
I want to encourage you today to believe that with your whole being and daily allow God to fill you with His Spirit so that together we will let the light of Christ shine in the dark places and allow him to use us conduits of his blessing. And doesn’t our world need the light of Christ because at present the world is gripped by fear, and it’s fear of an invisible thing named the coronavirus? How can we be light in the darkness? First, we stay calm and avoid joining in the panic. And we can do that because of the promises of God. Did you know that there are over 300 times in the Bible where we are exhorted to ‘fear not.’ Here are some examples. God spoke to Abraham and said ‘Do not be afraid (or fear not), Abram for I am your shield your very great reward.’ (Gen.15:1) God said to Isaac ‘Fear not, for I am with you. (Gen.26:24) And God said the same thing to Moses when the people of Israel were scared because the Egyptians had them pinned down by the Red Sea. He told Moses to say ‘Fear not. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring today.’ (Ex. 14:13) When Jesus was sending out the disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God he gave them some instructions and finished by saying ‘So, don’t be afraid – fear not; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ (Matt. 10:31) Finally, Jesus said to his disciples ‘Do not be afraid (fear not) little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.’ (Luke 12:32). So, fear not, don’t be afraid, and let those in your sphere of influence see that as you let Christ’s light shine out.
Secondly, be part of the solution ourselves. Do the reasonable things like practising good hygiene and staying alert as we do with the seasonal flu or any other illness. Obey the directions given by those who know what they are talking about. So take care and let those in your sphere of influence see that as you let Christ’s light shine out. And third and most important pray – pray that God will preserve our faith in Christ come what may. And pray that our actions will match what we say we believe. Continue to read the Bible and trust in the promises of God. The Bible says that ‘perfect love drives out fear’ which is God’s way of saying that if you are abiding in his love then his light will shine in you and out of you and he will dispel the fear of the unknown. And pray that God will show mercy and do what only he can do.
As the old song says: ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.’ Stay plugged into God’s Holy Spirit and be a channel of blessing. Remember, ‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’
Grahame Daniel March