“Five Lights for Dark Days”
February 21, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-21 Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 Luke 13:31-35
Have you ever gone outside at night and just looked up at the stars?
It is nothing short of amazing,
But as amazing as that sight can be, it is magnified tenfold when you can do the same thing in a place that is far from the city where you can find real darkness. When I have been places out in the country, even in places where you could see the city far in the distance because of the halo of light that it emitted, the stars in the heavens are a wondrous sight.
But that magnificent view can rapidly become disorienting and a little frightening when you begin to lose what little light that you have. In the fall of 1981, my Kenmore High School graduating class was among the first to use the brand new high school building that we had watched them build all during the previous school year. But we had moved into the new building before the contractors were completely finished with it and some of the remaining “bugs” in the system had to do with the fire alarms and the electrical system. Of course the school administrators had reassured us that our new school was a state-of-the-art building and even included a back-up generator on the top floor that would allow the school to operate normally in the event of a power failure. But almost every day the fire alarm would go off at least once, and sometimes several times, each day. And on one of those days, just as we were all filing out of the building during yet another fire alarm, all of the lights went out.
And it was dark.
But then, the back-up generator started and the lights came back on… for a few seconds… until the generator died. And then it was really, really, dark.
You should also understand that our new, state-of-the-art building didn’t have any windows. It was more energy efficient they said. Also, for some reason, possibly because of overconfidence in the backup generator, neither was new building equipped with batter powered emergency lights. And so, when the lights went out you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. And so, while the fire alarm was still going off, and a thousand students were stuck in the pitch black classrooms, hallways and stairwells.
Those of us who were there swear to this day that it was the smokers that saved us all. In an era long before everyone carried a lighted smartphone, all of the students and teachers who frequented the smoking area outside, pulled out their lighters and stood on the doorways and landings of the stairwells and guided us all out of the building.
When it’s really dark, just a few lights can make a big difference.
And the same is true in our emotional and spiritual lives. There are days that seem to be filled with joy and light but we also experience seasons of darkness and despair. And in those seasons of darkness, every little bit of light can make a difference.
And so this morning we will read three scriptures from different times and from different authors and from them we will discover five basic truths that can be points of light in our seasons of darkness.
We begin in Genesis 15:1-12, 17-21 where we find God making the first covenant with Abraham and his descendants long before Abram and Sarai had even had their first child.
15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
In this passage we see two things and both point to a single guiding principle that all of us should remember. First, we see the beginning of God’s covenant, contract, and promise with the people of Israel and second, a more personal promise specifically made to Abram and Sarai. God promises Abram that even though Abram has already given up on having children of his own with Sarai, that family will one day be as uncountable as the stars in the sky.
For those of us who know the stories, we know that God’s covenant with Abram and his descendants lasted for more than two thousand years before the birth of the Messiah and the beginning of the new covenant. And we also know that while Abram and Sarai were given a son, that son did not arrive until they were both nearly a hundred years old. And so, from these two promises we learn one guiding principle: God is faithful. We know that God always keeps his promises even when it sometimes seems that he is taking far too long or has forgotten. But God does not forget. God always keeps his promises.
We find our second light in Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 where Paul says this:
3:17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Here, Paul reminds the people of the church that we must be careful on whom we choose to model our lives. We must be careful because… how we live matters. There will always be people who claim to be good but who live as if they are not. There will always be people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ but live as if they are not. And even though we might be ridiculed and despised because we choose to live as if our heavenly citizenship matters, we should be encouraged because how we live matters to God.
And then in Luke 13:31-35, we discover three more lights in the darkness.
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
In the very first verse we discover a huge source of encouragement that we often miss. Luke says that several Pharisees came to Jesus to warn him that Herod wanted him dead. But it is the Pharisees that we often believe were Jesus’ enemies and it is the Pharisees who we accuse, as a group, of being the men who accuse Jesus and who themselves want Jesus dead. So how is this possible that Pharisees come to Jesus in an attempt to save his life? Some commentators say that these Pharisees just wanted Jesus to go away and go somewhere else. But another compellingly simple answer is that all of the Pharisees weren’t bad. Just as you can never say that all of Congress is corrupt, or that all of our enemies are evil, or that all Christians are good, it is unfair, and wrong, to say that all of the Pharisees were of one mind and that all of them believed the same things. Some of the Pharisees were good, some of them were not out to get Jesus, and in fact there were some of them who were supportive of what Jesus was doing. And so we find encouragement in understanding that even when you seem to be completely alone, not everyone is against you, and you may even find allies in unexpected places.
The next encouragement immediately follows the last and is similar. When Jesus is told that Herod, the most powerful man in that part of the world, wants Jesus dead, what does he do? Does Jesus go into hiding? Does he do as the Pharisees suggest and go to a different place, perhaps a place where Herod’s power is not so strong? Clearly, the answer is no. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are free to tell Herod to his face that Jesus intends to continue to do what he has already done and not only today, but also tomorrow, and the next day. And so our fourth point of light comes from Jesus’ example. When we are doing what is right, and what God has called us to do, we should continue to do it regardless of our opposition and regardless of the threats that might come against us.
Finally, we read the last part of the passage where we hear Jesus weeping over the future of Jerusalem. Jesus speaks about the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem that will not happen for another forty years. Jesus sees the future. And yet, he says “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus sees the future and knows that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left desolate, but he also knows that destruction is not the end of the story. Jesus knows the future and so he must also know that will soon die. But even so, he presses on because he knows that the destruction of Israel and even his own death is not the end.
Jesus is not discouraged because he knows that in the end, God wins.
While this is clearly not a complete list of all of the good news, we remember that when it’s really dark, just a few lights can make a big difference. And so, here are the five encouragements we heard today that can bring a little light into our times of discouragement and darkness:
- Even when it seems as if he has forgotten, God always keeps his promises.
- Even when everyone around us seems to only care about themselves, how we live matters to God.
- Even when you feel alone, not everyone is against you.
- Even when we face opposition, when we are doing what God called us to do, just keep doing it.
And finally 5) Even when all seems lost, remember that this is not the end…
…because in the end, God wins.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.