In Him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:4,5).
What is light?
Your answer to that question may depend on your perspective.
To the physicist, light is electromagnetic radiation.
To the miner, light is the needed energy to pierce the inky darkness of an underground cavern.
To the cataract patient, light is intensely focussed amplified radiation needed for laser surgery which reduces the trauma and recovery time of surgery.
To Albert Einstein, light was a unique factor of precise constancy. He argued that everything in the universe is in motion, and all knowledge is a matter of perspective; that the speed of light (at 186,000 miles per second) is the only physical constant by which we can measure space, time, physical mass.
And as every parent (or grandparent!) knows, light is that which gives comfort and security to a child at bedtime.
Again, depending on one’s perspective, light can be the source of energy, it can create art, and it can contribute to that which is unwanted in the form of “light pollution”.
But to John the Apostle, light was a perfect metaphor for Jesus, the Living Word (logos) of God. And it epitomised Jesus as the personification of goodness, beauty – and truth.
One can’t help but notice the parallel to the first words of Genesis(In the beginning, God created…) that the Apostle provides in John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word…
It appears that John was prompting his reader to understand more than just an echo of Genesis. Think of the first recorded words of God: Let there be light and there was light.
And the first value judgement of God in the Genesis narrative: God saw that the light was good. Interestingly, God created light on day 1 of creation, and the sun, moon and stars not until Day 4.
In the teaching of Jesus, light symbolized truth. (But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light – John 3:21).
Darkness, the direct opposite: spiritual confusion, distortion, ignorance.
The contrast was vividly captured in Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, an elite, respected spiritual teacher in a highly religious culture:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed (John 3:19,20). [I’m reminded of the words of Plato: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”]
Jesus continued: But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (John 3:21).
Rembrandt created “The Nativity” during the mid-1600s – it’s the painting above. The intriguing feature is that while several figures huddle around the manger, the Christ-child alone is bathed in soft light. But careful observation reveals that the light does not emanate from an external source – the light radiates from within the small form, clad in white and laying in the hay, and reflects in the down-turned faces of His worshipers.
But the imagery of light – and its connection to goodness, truth and beauty –may be most compelling in its absence at the Cross.
In many ways the Cross was a perversion of justice and truth. The essential horror of crucifixion and all that preceded it often caused observers to vomit in anguish; it was the antithesis of beauty.
The horror of that day, caused the sky to go dark from noon to 3 in the afternoon. And not in the Holy City only, but throughout the whole land, “for the sun stopped shining” (Luke 23:45). Somewhat ironically, John was the only gospel writer not to record the darkness of the crucifixion event.
As the wrath of God was poured out on God the Son hanging on the cross in the Person of Jesus, the One who incarnated light became the personification of darkness.
The lights went out.
He became sin for us.
Christ in my place.
Takeaway: notice the vivid contrast in Paul’s words: giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:12-14).
That’s the gospel: the proclamation of the Good News of the Person and Work of Christ, and the eternal benefit of Light to me through faith!