LIGHT AND WORDS
Jim M Macfarlane
Acts 26: 12-14
Matthew 17: 1-5
1 John 1: 7
In Acts 26 and in Matthew 17, we read of two experiences, one by Paul and one by Peter; and both refer to light of an exceptional kind.
In the verses immediately prior to where we began to read, Paul gives an account of his activities against the saints, describing himself as “exceedingly furious”, and he follows this immediately by speaking about this encounter with the Lord Jesus in glory; it begins with an exceptional experience of light. It has been observed and often repeated that, in his three accounts of this experience, Paul’s description of the brightness of the light increases, until, in this passage, it becomes, “a light above the brightness of the sun, shining from heaven round about me”. Paul's experience was one of being completely enveloped in light. He probably thought that he had been walking in an enlightened fashion before this. He had all that came from God to Moses, and therefore he was enlightened in a way that others beyond Israel were not. He then has this transformative experience, where he is completely surrounded by light. It is almost an immediate announcement of the nature of his commission, by which there would be the enlightenment of men according to the way that God had made Himself known in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The light is followed immediately by a word. The substance of Christianity is conveyed in words and as soon as Paul and his companions “were all fallen to the ground”, he is addressed by a voice. This experience was to characterise his ministry, at the heart of which, of course, was the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who followed up this illumination of Paul with His word. So powerful was the word that he immediately addresses the One who spoke as “Lord”: “Who art thou, Lord?”. He did not need a formal introduction to Him. This experience that he had was sufficient to engage him in a way that put him immediately under the lordship of Jesus and made him ready for a commission. Note how it begins: “…. to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light …”.
In the passage in Matthew, Peter is on the mount of transfiguration, taken there with James and John by Jesus. Peter has something to say, but “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them”. Peter’s words were superseded by light, from which a voice spoke. The way in which the Lord Jesus appeared on the mountain was as One transfigured before them, “And his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as the light”. Then “a bright cloud overshadowed them”, and then, in a way similar to the experience of Paul, a word follows: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight: hear him”. This remained immensely significant for Peter. When he writes his epistle, this, as far as I recall, is the only incident recounted that relates to his time with Jesus. He does not refer in his epistle simply to light, but he writes about the way in which those who were with Him on the mountain were “eyewitnesses of his majesty”, 2 Pet 1: 16. This was not simply brightness. This was something which engaged Peter and remained with him: the magnificence of the Lord Jesus and His distinction on the mountain, as drawn attention to by the Father, surrounded in these circumstances of light, had the character of majesty. Peter refers to this experience, and in this particular way, in an epistle addressed to believers who were beset by those whose purpose was to cause them to stray from the Christian way. Before addressing the detail of these threats, he refers to this experience of light and the word which accompanied it.
We have read in John’s epistle because he had a significant part in the establishment of Christianity. Very early in his gospel he speaks of light in direct reference to the Person of Jesus, introduced as the Word: “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”, chap. 1: 4. On two further occasions he records Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world”, chap 8: 12; 9: 5. These two references may convey something of the extent to which he had been impressed by his experience with the One who was “the light of the world”. John was writing in a day in which heretical views were already abroad. He refers to “every spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh” (1 John 4: 3), for example, but, before he turns to difficulties of this kind, he speaks of how we may be kept and maintained. Very early in his first epistle, he speaks of the practical support we find in fellowship, and it is related to light, following the statement that “God is light’, in verse 5. “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”. This fellowship is not a membership system but a common lot in which we walk together, with spiritual and moral characteristics derived from walking in the light as He is in the light.
The Old Testament has a reference to Jehovah dwelling in “thick darkness” (1 Kings 8: 12), while the New Testament accounts of His dwelling as “unapproachable light”, 1 Tim. 6: 16. While recognition would have to be given to the different contexts, I think that the contrast in these two references emphasises the significance of light in Christianity. It has pleased the God who dwells in unapproachable light to make Himself accessible in the Person of Jesus Christ and to make us suitable to Him by Jesus’ work.
We have some awareness of the present distresses of our fellow men and their fears of what may follow. What blessing we have in this Christian pathway, to live in an ambience of light and to have the communications of the current mind of heaven for us by the Holy Spirit.
May we have some fresh sense of the blessing of this and may the Lord bless the word.
Word in meeting for ministry - Dundee
16th August 2016