Go back to the earlier parts of John’s Gospel. The light has come into the world, John says, and His life is the lightof all people; Christ is the true light that gives light to every man, every woman, every everyone. That’s chapter 1. Chapter 3 picks up the theme: light has come into the world, but many people do not come into the light. John says that’s because their deeds are evil. They fear exposure.
But John also equates light with three other things: truth, grace, and the Holy Spirit. And in other places, John further explains those terms: the truth is discovered by obedience (John 8:31-32). Grace is an uncommon word in John’s writing (Actually, the word grace is rare in all the Gospels: neither Matthew or Mark use it at all, Luke only once, and John uses it six times, three in the span of four verses in chapter 1 of his Gospel [14, 16, 17], one in his second letter, and twice in Revelation. The latter uses mostly in salutations. It’s Paul who uses the term on every page, with an obsessive force, through both the letter to the Hebrews and the letters of Peter, especially his first, make heavy use of it.), but there is no reason to think he didn’t use it in a way similar to Paul: divine power that liberates us to live in and for God, no longer defeated or enslaved by sin. The Spirit is at work in the world to bring conviction concerning sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11).
When I put it all together, I arrive here: that every gesture toward truth, every twinge of genuine conviction, every flicker of grace is a turn toward light. Likewise, every distortion or suppression of truth, every act of hardening one’s heart against conviction, every act of yeilding to sin is a turn toward darkness. “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you,” John says, “that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). John’s first letter is complicated. To oversimplify it for clarity’s sake, the principal sin he speaks of is a denial of Christ’s incarnation — that Jesus has come in the flesh — and the chief symptom of that denial is a failure to love the person right in front of us. That’s why when we walk in light, we have fellowship with God and, in turn, “fellowship with one another.”
I know the imperative of love. I know its specific weight, its texture in my hand, its tug on my shirtsleeve. I know that my chronic impatience is defiance of that imperative. I know that the times I’m prideful, lustful, envious, hoarding, and all the other many ways I enjoy being miserable, I’m refusing the way of love.
And in each case, I’m choosing darkness over light.
We’re most light starved, and so most hungry for the light, in winter, or in any grey and difficult season. It’s why Jesus said some of the most sinful people are closer to the kingdom of God than some of the most righteous: the adversity of their lives, the damage they’ve done to self and others, the clear evidence that their lives aren’t working on their own terms make them (at least some of them) desperate for a way out. Their deeds are evil, but it makes them long for daylight.
Zacchaeus, that wee little man, is a perfect example. His story is only told by Luke, lover of the misfit. Zacchaeus has lived, we gather, most of his life in the dark. He was a tax collector, which in the eyes of the community made him a collaborator with evil, a thief and predator, and traitor. But when Jesus, the light that had come into the world, came to his town of Jericho, Zacchaeus couldn’t come into the light faster. He wanted to stare straight at the sun. He climbed a sycamore tree to compensate for his runty stature so that nothing, no head, no horse, no waving palm branch, could obscure his full exposure to the light. And it worked. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
I wonder how Jesus said that. I picture Him laughing, with pure mirth, His whole body animated with it; otherwise, why was Zacchaeus so thrilled, the townsfolk so perturbed? If there was even a hint of reprimand in Christ’s voice, both the tax collector and his aggrieved townsmen would have heard it as a judgment about to fall, the squint little tax man about to get what was coming to him. Zacchaeus would have failed, the townsfolk gloated. But instead, this: “ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a “sinner.” ’ “
And then, next thing, this: “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’”
And then Jesus’ verdict on the whole matter: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:1-10)
That’s one hard turn toward the light. The Spirit’s conviction in this man, his sudden passion to tell the truth and live it, the sheer grace he’s tasted in Christ’s seeking him and the pure grace he reciprocates in his gesture of radical generosity and restitution — all this converge in a bold act of stepping fully into the light. One sure sign of that, that light has come into the world, that salvation has come into his house, that he indeed is a child of Abraham, that this lost man has been found, is this: Zacchaeus is transformed in exactly that place where his character and conduct have caused great harm. He is loathed for his greed, his thievery and hoarding. The minute he comes into the light, he’s Mother Theresa. His clawing clutching hands open wide. He becomes the opposite of what he was. His conversion from scoundrel to saint, at least in the matter of money, is total and instantaneous.
His night becomes day.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
How many of you, your job is to cheat, lie, and steal under the guise of whatever it is that the company, corporation, or agency that you work for? You may not see it, or sometimes you do. But you make excuses trying to reason it all away: “I am really respected where I am in my career, so if the bosses tell me lie just a little bit or write something down that I didn’t receive, I am ok with that because not only will it say that I would do just about anything for the company but in the shorthand, it may give me a raise in which I can tithe that to church.” God doesn’t need your money. In fact, God owns everything, including you (Psalm 50:7-10).
In fact, the verses preceding Psalm 50:7-10 are Psalm 50:1-6 :
“From the rising of the sun to where it sets, God, the LORD God, speaks, calling out to the earth. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines brightly. Our God is coming; he won’t keep quiet. A devouring fire is before him; a storm rages all around him. God calls out to the skies above and to the earth in order to judge his people: “Bring my faithful to me, those who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” The skies proclaim his righteousness because God himself is the judge. Selah”
God is not pleased with sacrifice but in the woefulness that leads to change of the heart (Psalm 51:16-17). Remember, He is the judge over the living and the dead; that means He would have to see everything including your heart when you decided to follow Christ.
My pastor and I went to see the “Ends of the Earth” movie this past October 18th. It was about the M.A.F. (Mission Aviation Fellowship). In that true story, it told a story of pilots and one pilot trainee that is heading over to Indonesia. After some time there, flying from their home base in Indonesia to the beautiful mountains that surround Indonesia, there were several tribes that made runways for Cessna-like planes to bring in supplies that they need and to spread the Word of the Lord to those tribes. Now, each of the tribes speak a different language, so you need translators to accurately spread the Word of God to the tribes.
In the course of the movie, the pilot trainee actually became a pilot for MAF; she was named Joyce. She graduated from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), had her divinity degree from Moody Bible Institute where she learned how to fly a small Cessna-like plane after flying much bigger planes in a career that was short-lived due to the calling of God upon her life.
The movie focussed in on the great and beautiful mountainous tribes of Indonesia where they speak different languages in each tribe where, even though you could take about 10 minutes by plane, it would take 3 days by hiking. MAF’s mission is to get the Word of the Lord into remote areas where the presence of the Gospel is lacking, and the remote mountainous tribes of Indonesia qualify. The whole movie focussed in on that where they did do other things i.e. carry medical supplies to the tribes. And Joyce finally received her permission to fly without the help of another MAF pilot during the middle of the movie.
It was this year that they lost Joyce due to her plane crashing as she was returning from one mountainous tribe to the home base. MAF searched frantically for Joyce when they finally they found her broken-up plane in a lake. MAF are investigating but no conclusive findings have been found yet. Meanwhile, Joyce had a funeral at the home base where it seemed like hundreds were in attendance as MAF accepted her death as it was God’s timing to bring her to the eternal home with God.
You may be wondering how the story of Joyce ties in with the message of Zacchaeus. Once salvation of God gets a hold of you, you are willing to live until your physical death to spread the message of salvation, proclaiming the change that has been made. Zacchaeus was instantaneously changed for the good. He gave to the poor half of his possessions and if he cheated any person by the taxes collected, he would pay them back four times as much. But salvation follows you wherever (or more precisely whenever) you go as Joyce gave her physical life spreading the Gospel to remote mountainous areas of Indonesia. She had a holy burden on her soul to spread the Word of God wherever she went. She lost her physical life to gain a glorious one in heaven where Jesus is. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 (KJV).
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger of TrueLifeChristianity.com ~