Perhaps the worst part of being lost is to not know you are lost. Maybe you are travelling along with someone who thinks they know where they are going. Maybe you are following someone else. Everything seems fine until you realize something is drastically wrong. By then, the question is, “Is it too late?”
A story which captures this idea is that of a frog in a pot. If a frog is put in a pot of water it will not jump out. The pot is then put on the stove and the temperature is turned up very gradually over time. Eventually the frog is boiling because it did not recognize the subtle change in temperature until it was too late.
Such is the case with being lost for some of us. More importantly, such was the case with the church over a period of nearly 1200 years from the fourth to sixteenth centuries. At the end of October, we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the official date where the church was challenged to find its way back from being lost. Reformation Day takes place on October 31st each year, but this year is particularly special because it is the 500th anniversary of the date that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (or challenges) against the Roman Catholic Church. His goal was not to change religious understanding, but to reshape the Church. But God had grander designs as we will see over these next several weeks.
As we begin to discuss the idea of The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. First, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.
Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
- RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again” or a backward motion (like retrace or revert, e.g. return)
- FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
- ATION – an act of process
Thus, the protestors want to initiate a process to construct, frame, or organize something as it had been in the past. What was that something? The Church. The Church as Jesus said He would build it – not what it had become over the centuries. We will get into more of the specifics of that next week. For this week, I want to focus on the overall idea of darkness and light.
The series title reflects this idea. Post tenebras lux is Latin for “After darkness, light.” The people of the 16th Century were looking for, and promoting an idea of, light in the midst of the perceived darkness around them. With the idea of light following darkness, I present the following reminders about the contrast of darkness and light in the Bible.
After Darkness, Jesus Created the Light
Genesis 1 begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. In verse 3, He commands light to come forth. And verse 4 say that God saw the light was good. Darkness was already present (see v.2), but once light was created the word “good” was used.
For untold centuries after that, darkness and light alternated each day. This is true in what God called Day and Night, but it came to be true of the state of the world too. Humans can do good, but the Bible says that we are not good – not one of us (Romans 3.10). Jesus makes the same claim in Mark 10.18 stating only God is good. Of course, Jesus is God, so He was good, but no other human can claim that on their own standing. Ultimately, our idea of good and bad are primarily based upon human emotions, human decisions, human actions, etc. God bases His on perfect righteousness.
Over the centuries leading up to Jesus, the idea of God’s goodness had been lost to most people. Not only that, but the understanding was that strict obedience to a set of rules is what would appease God and maybe, maybe put you in good standing with Him.
The truth is that we cannot truly appreciate light until we have an idea of what darkness is. But we cannot realize how dark our surroundings are until we see what the truth of the light is. The world’s system had been corrupt for a long time and thus it was time for Jesus to make His appearance.
After Darkness, Jesus Showed His Light
The theme of darkness and light is a large part of John’s account of the Gospel. The first instance of this theme is in John 1.4-5. He then uses the idea of light four more times in the next four verses as well. 1 John 1.5-9 have the same focus on light and darkness. But the idea of Jesus being the light was not just something John considered, it was an explicit statement of Jesus – as recorded by John.
In John 8, Jesus stated that He is the light of the world. He made this statement during the Feast of Tabernacles. The day prior, He had announced that He was the living water as the water was carried by the priests from outside Jerusalem up to the temple. Afterwards, luminaries would have been lit to keep the temple complex aglow all night. It was in this setting that Jesus announced that He is the true light.
Of course, the Pharisees challenged Jesus – and why not? They had just been humiliated by Jesus regarding the incident with the woman who was caught in adultery. They were ready to stone her for her sin, but Jesus said that only those who were without sin should cast stones (see John 8.1-11). During the ensuing dialogue, Jesus claimed to be the light, the Pharisees claim Jesus is a liar, and then the question about Jesus' Father arises. Frankly, it is not difficult to see why the Pharisees thought Jesus to be dangerous. God was certainly the Father of Israel, but to claim God as an individual Father was strong language. Frankly, how can it be proven?
Yet, looking back on the story, knowing what we know about Jesus now, the idea fits perfectly. Thus, Jesus was the light of the world. Furthermore, as His light was shone, the darkness abated. At least for a time.
After Jesus Left, Darkness Returned
Just as when God created the light and all was good, the early church flourished initially – despite intense persecution. However, just as darkness crept into mankind after Creation causing people to fall away from God for centuries, so too, the Church would fall away for centuries causing people to have a distorted view of God. Certainly, God still had a remnant, but overall darkness was so characteristic that we call the time period the Dark Ages (and not because they didn’t have electricity). By the fourth century, the persecution stopped as the government and church united in a sense. Over the next 1200 years, this led to many challenges. Next week, I will break down some of the challenges during this time-period which will help explain a) why the Reformation was so needed, and b) why it was so difficult for many to embrace.
The church abandoned certain principles and, worse, placed man-made traditions above biblical teachings. But the fact is that Jesus told His disciples that He would be with them to the end of the age, so although He left, the light still shone where He was allowed to shine. In many ways, however, the darkness returned because people did not know how to seek or where to find the light. And, thus, darkness persisted for a long time.
In the previous section, I mentioned Jesus statement in John 8.12 about being the light of the world. But notice the rest of that verse. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Again, the Church, for the most part, was not teaching people to find the light, but rather to fund the treasuries. Again, I will expand on this later in the series, but that issue was one of the biggest concerns of Luther and a definite mark of a need for reformation. We recently spent one full year looking at the life of Jesus and what it meant and means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus – that is to heed His call to “Follow Me.” For as He said, those who follow will not walk in darkness. And that leads us back to the title of today’s message – post tenebras lux (after darkness, light).
After Darkness, the Light Regained Focus
The Reformers realized that the people were in the dark spiritually. They realized that the teachings were not biblical. And the idea was to return the focus to the way the church had originally been formed – re-form-ation. As this happened, the darkness would be turned to light – so after darkness, light or post tenebras lux.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8.12). But He also said that we, His followers then, and you and I today, are the light of the world (Matthew 5.14), commanding us to shine forth. For 1200 years, humanity largely forgot how to shine our light for Jesus. Humanity forgot that we are a city on a hill and cannot be hidden – at least not when we are shining our lights. And as our light shines, Jesus says God is glorified by others (Matthew 5.16). The Reformers wanted God to be glorified. I want God to be glorified. I hope you want God to be glorified too!
The problem is not just that the early church failed in being the light, the problem was that the church forgot what being the light meant. In this series, I am likely to get in some trouble who may listen online or read the church blog, but many do not believe the Catholic Church did wrong. But yes, they did. And I intend to expose some of that wrongdoing over the next several weeks. BUT. And this is a huge but...what Catholics did then, many churches, of all denominations, do now.
If you recall when I first arrived in Fairfax, and even when I came in view of a call, I said, one question I would continually ask was, “Why?” We must all ask that question. Why do we do what we do? Do we labor for our glory or God’s? Do we do what we do because it feels good to us or because God’s Word says it is right to do? If we want God’s light to shine, then what we do must be done for God.
I began this message about drivers being lost. We might laugh about it because the reality is that the inconvenience is real, but it is only temporary. However, if the church gets lost, the consequences are horrible because people go to hell thinking they are right with God. As a church, we should certainly help people to know who they are, know what to do, and help others live better lives, but we must always maintain our focus on Christ. Jesus came that we might never again be lost. Jesus said, “I will build my Church.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And even when the world thought they had silenced Him – when for three days He was in the earth and all seemed dark – the world experienced post tenebras lux in a way that could never be duplicated when He rose from the dead. Truly it was for all who loved Jesus then, and who love Him now, the truest form of After Darkness, Light.
JOURNEY: R – Revere
Our life should always be about Jesus. When we fail (and we will), we must remember His light will always shine. The sun that gives light by day might set each evening, but Jesus light will never fade because He rose from the dead. So we must revere Him. We must put Him first. We must not allow ourselves to get off the path where it is dark. We must seek to follow Him and have the light of life He has promised.
NEXT STEP(S): Learn. Examine your heart. What do you want more than you want Jesus? If your answer is, “nothing,” then make sure with this question: what keeps you from spending the amount of time you wish to spend with Jesus? Examine your heart and make sure that you are truly walking in the light.