3rd Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, to a smoker an ex-smoker is worse than a non-smoker. I personally am not as bothered by the smell of cigarette smoke as others, but I’ve never been a smoker and have no plans of becoming one. I’m not sure where I came across it but it was a statement that said nobody hates smoking more than those who used to smoke and have quit. Apparently, many people who were smokers and have quit become absolutely opposed to smoking- they can smell a cigarette 20 yards away, the smell makes them nauseous and sick, even upset. Often the loudest opponents against smoking are those who used to smoke. Why is that? And it’s not just smoking. There’s a talk radio show host in Milwaukee who grew up very politically liberal but now he’s one of the loudest politically conservative voices in Wisconsin. Why is that? There’s people who once were addicted to gambling that now absolutely hate gambling. I know someone who was once a homosexual but now has dedicated his life to helping free people from that sin. There’s someone who was high up in the Jehovah Witness cult who by God’s grace became a Christian and has subsequently wrote a book called, 30 Years a Watchtower Slave. There’s former atheists who wanted nothing to do with God who later become some of the most dedicated defenders of the Christian faith. Why is that? How is it that someone can be going in one direction and be totally and completely changed that they go in a totally opposite direction? Or, perhaps a better question is: Has it happened to you?
God says it has. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” God isn’t just talking to the Ephesian Christians here, He’s talking to each one of us. Darkness. That’s not just what were in or were controlled by or surrounded by, that’s what we WERE. We WERE darkness. What is darkness? In Ephesians darkness symbolizes ignorance, error, evil and especially the immoral life of those who are separated from God. It’s not just being surrounded by darkness, but darkness is the ruling power, the dominion, the kingdom inside of you. You were darkness. We all were. How so? Each of us was born into this world an unbeliever. We weren’t neutral, we weren’t partially dark and partially light, we were darkness. Some, maybe you, spent years as darkness. Some can remember a time when they were darkness, they were unbelievers. Conceived and born in sin means that each of us was darkness.
“But now you are light in the Lord.” When God the Holy Spirit through Water and the Word did His wonderful thing and worked the miracle of faith, when He created faith in your heart, bringing light out of darkness just like He did in Creation, He gave you a new identity. He transformed you from darkness into light. You ARE light in the Lord. The Lord Jesus has given you an entirely new identity: you’re a Christian, you’re a believer, you’re a child of God, you’re an heir of eternal life, you are light! You’re not an unbeliever, you’re no longer darkness! You ARE light!
So what does that mean for your life? It means “Live as children of the light.” In other words, be who you are. So I ask you, you are light, do you hate the darkness? If ex-smokers can’t stand cigarette smoke, then people of the light can’t stand the fruitless deeds of darkness. But do you? Notice what God says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” It is totally incongruous, incompatible, inconsistent for those who are light to adopt the lifestyle of those who are still in the darkness. But are you? Am I?
There’s the old and perhaps over used illustration of the frog. How do you boil a frog? What you don’t do is stick a frog in a pot of boiling water. Why not? Because it will immediately jump out. What you do is you put the frog in the water and slowly heat the water, the frog’s temperature adjusts with the water and it doesn’t sense that it’s getting hotter until it’s too late and it’s dead.
Notice what it says: You were darkness, now you are light. It doesn’t say, “you were IN darkness, now you are IN light.” You see, we’ve changed, but our surroundings haven’t changed, our environment hasn’t changed. We are light, but we’re living in a very dark world. We live in a world of darkness, of unbelief, of ignorance. Does your light, your faith, your Christian life bring light to the dark world you live in? Or, is the dark world you live in causing your light to shine less and less? Does the light of your faith shine on those you work with? Or are is their darkness, their sin and sinful lifestyle influencing your life, corrupting your language, your thoughts, your actions? What about in your family? Would your parents, your spouse, your children say, “He is light in the Lord! She is light in the Lord!” Is it clearly evident to those around you that you’re a Christian and you live like it?
You see, as Christians, we’re not just light, but our light exposes everything around us for what it is. Good light makes you see true colors. The other day I replaced some light bulbs in our bathroom- now there’s tons of light in there. I was then looking in the mirror and I almost did a double take as all of a sudden noticed all these gray hairs on my head! My wife noticed it too. I decided it must be the lighting. That’s what light does, right? Good light shows things for what they really are, whether we like it or not. Does your pure and decent life, the way you honor God’s design for marriage and sexuality, show up and reveal the shameful ways of those around you who live in darkness? Does your language glitter with grace and purity show up the filthy language, the gossip, negativity of those around you? That’s what light does- it exposes, it reveals something’s true colors. Is your life doing that?
Each of us needs to hear what God tells us: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Walk as a child of the light. And how do you do that? It’s not by trying harder and harder and harder to live like it. It’s not beating yourself over and over again saying, “I need to be a better child of the light!” That’s not going to get you anywhere- it will only drive you into despair or turn you into a self-righteous person. No, be a child of the light because that’s what you ARE!
You were darkness, now you are light in the Lord. That’s what you are! You have a new identity! You are no longer darkness, you are light. How so? Because you have a Savior who though He is the Light of the World, became darkness, faced absolute, total and utter darkness. When was that? We’re getting closer to the day when we remember it. On Good Friday the sky went dark. Why so? Because Jesus, the only perfect and holy one, assumed the your darkness, my darkness, the darkness of the entire accumulation of all the world’s sins and experienced total darkness, abandonment from God. And why so? To bring the light of God’s forgiveness into this dark world. And further God brought the light of His forgiveness into your heart when you were baptized, He continues to give it to you through the Word, and once again this morning he will fill and refresh you with His light through His own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. The reality is, you are light.
Not only are you light, but you also have the only light in this dark world. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word directs us how to navigate through this dark and sinful world. God’s Word is what tells us how to live to please our God and Savior. God’s Word is what over and over again reminds us of who we are.
And being children of the light also means we’re light bringers to the world. If you were in a strange, large, unfamiliar building with a hundred other people and the lights go out, no emergency light, nothing and you’re the only one with a flashlight. It wouldn’t just be wrong, but it’d be evil to keep it to yourself and hide it under your clothes. As believers in Jesus we have the flashlight. You know who you are- a child of God, you know where you’re going – heaven, and you know why – Jesus. You have every reason to be confident and to live confidently and to direct people to true light. Many people are in the dark, unsure about death, don’t know where they’re going, don’t know why they’re here, etc. But you do. By God’s grace you have the flashlight, the truth. Share it. Share it with your life, with your words, with your actions, in other words, you were darkness, now you are light, live as children of the light! Amen.