a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 65
I stand staring into the night sky, the stars a speckled curtain against the blackness of space. The night is cold, and inside there is a fire on the hearth. But exotic expectations hold me outside, face uplifted to the firmament.
There, just below the collected pinpoints that we call the 'Big Dipper', is a tiny fuzzball of light, gently pulsing, seen best out of the corner of the eye. Through binoculars the apparition becomes more real, taking shape: a faint definition for the streaking iceberg, surrounded by its coma of steaming vapor and dust, followed closely by its million-mile train. Still the gentle pulse, only larger now, as if the hurtling ice held some intelligence communicating to me.
What would it say, if it could? Would it tell me of the generations who have seen it before, those who trembled at the sight of its visitation in the night sky? Of the ancients who assigned to it wondrous powers and portents, and who blamed it for every unexplained catastrophe? Would it describe to me the centuries and countless worlds it has flown past, the tragedies and triumphs of the galaxy's history?
Or would this catapulting snowball simply try to describe itself to me, and the wonders of its light?
I stare up into the sky and think about heaven and its bodies, and the profound communications of its lights. And I think about one heavenly light that descended long ago ...
There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. John 1:9 NASB.
There is a light in heaven that mortal man cannot bear to see. It is a light so radiant, so overwhelming, that it kills.
Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." Then the Lord said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." Exodus 33:18-23
1 Tim. 1:17
1 John 4:12
Moses was not permitted to see God's face, and although, in a vision the prophet Isaiah was given the privilege of seeing the throne room of God, he was not able to describe the appearance of God Himself--only the reverberating sound of His voice, and the glory and heavenly creatures surrounding Him.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6:1-4
The apostle John was given a slightly closer glimpse of absolute deity, but even he was unable to describe God the Father in terms descriptive for humans.
At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. Rev. 4:2-6a
The holy radiance of God was either invisible or lethal to mankind--until Christ. Finally we had a visible, touchable part of God--God without death.
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12
"'The pure in heart are blessed; for they shall see God,' Matt. 5:8. Their beatifical vision of God is in Christ, who is that brightness or effulgence of God's glory, by which his glory shines forth in heaven, to the view of saints and angels there, as well as here on earth. This is the Sun of righteousness, that is not only the light of this world, but is also the sun that enlightens the heavenly Jerusalem; by whose bright beams it is that the glory of God shines forth there, to the enlightening and making happy all the glorious inhabitants. 'The Lamb is the light thereof; and so the glory of God doth lighten it,' Rev. xxi. 23. None sees God the Father immediately, who is the King eternal, immortal, invisible; Christ is the image of that invisible God, by which he is seen by all elect creatures. The only begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him, and manifested him. None has ever immediately seen the Father, but the Son; and none else sees the Father any other way, than by the Son's revealing him."
The light of Jesus is not only a light that saves, it is a light that reveals. He reveals God to man through His personality and through his integrity. Jesus manifests the personality of God in flesh.
If darkness represents mystery, bleak foreboding, and evil, then the light of Christ represents revelation, hope, and righteousness. Jesus came into the world not to emphasize the mysteries of God, but to explain them. In Him we have the essential truth of God.
The light of Jesus reveals the truth of God to man, but it also reveals the purpose God intends for men and women who call upon His name.
The first night of this mysterious orb I face the eastern sky. The lights of the city lying just over the horizon compete with its distant brilliance. The comet is small; I strain to see it.
Though the heavenly body appears stationary, the next night it has moved to a neighborhood of different stars, and I look toward the northeast. On the third night I am facing north and the light is higher in the night sky.
And I think of a night long centuries ago, when a small company of stargazers journeyed to a distant land, following a mysterious, traveling star that steadily pulled them west toward a rude hovel, and a tiny light of salvation ...
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. Matthew 2:9-10 NKJV
"The great lesson which they teach remains the same, however subordinate questions about the nature of the star and the like may be settled. The sign in the heavens and its explanation were both of God, whether the one was a natural astronomical phenomenon or a supernatural light, and the other the conclusions of their science or the in-breathing of His wisdom. So they stand as representatives of the great truth, that, outside the limits of the people of revelation, God moved on hearts and led seeking souls to the light in diverse manners."
They were the first Gentiles to seek Him. They were the first from outside the Jewish faith--these oriental magi--to acknowledge that this child was God.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:11
No matter what darkness they had left behind, they were drawn to the light--the light of Christ. But what drove them to their knees? What made these strangers kneel before a brand new baby and call Him God?
What draws anyone? What is it about Christ, that we are drawn to Him, and call Him Lord? Why does it work?
Because He is light! The wise men traveled in ignorance, not knowing what they would find at the end of their journey. What if God's Son had been a revolting beast? What if God had sent a perfectly hideous thing to die on a cross for our sins? Would the magi have so readily knelt before Him in adoration?
Of course not. Why should they worship a God of darkness and evil? The wise men worshipped a gentle child who represented in flesh a God of love--a God of light. Because God is not a hideous beast, the Christ child could not be.
The heavenly star did more than just point the way; it helped describe the object of their search.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
2 Cor. 4:4
2 Cor. 4:6
The hope and salvation offered by Jesus are only part of the reason why we are drawn to Him. Like the wise men of old, we follow the star in ignorance. We may have heard that the object of our search will offer us good things, but we don't know for sure until we stoop down to enter the cave where He lies.
It is at that point--the point at which we like what we see--that our salvation is realized. We wouldn't want salvation from a monstrous God; we wouldn't trust His promise of hope. But because God is light, because He is truth, integrity, justice, righteousness--and because He has given us a Savior who is just like Him--then we believe, and are saved.
Of course there were others, around the same time and place, who experienced a light of a different sort.
[Our three shepherds enter furtively, glancing back over their shoulders nervously, as if trying to get away from someone or something that has frightened them. They are traveling huddled closely together for security--which causes them to keep tripping over each other's feet. Caleb, the eldest, is in the lead. He is our strong leader who thinks he has all the answers. Ephraim is the nervous one in our trio, always fussing and fretting, worrying about tomorrow. Jacob is the sober-headed diplomat of our group. Count on him to keep things straight.]
Now hold it! Just wait a minute. What's got into us here?
I agree with Ephraim.
We gotta slow down here.
Y--you heard what he said.
You heard what they all said.
We were dreaming.
All three of us?
I wasn't dreaming.
Caleb's right. That wolf from last night might come back.
But the angels said--
Now, how do you really know they were angels? I mean, maybe the sun was in our eyes.
All right then--the moon.
I've never seen an angel before, but I swear on my mother-in-law's life--those were angels.
I've met his mother-in-law. He's got nothing to lose.
Look, I think we can all agree we saw something extraordinary tonight. The only question is: What are we going to do about it?
Caleb says we dreamed up the whole thing. The only way to prove it really happened, is to go into Bethlehem and check it out for ourselves.
It wasn't just what we saw. Can you imagine! The angels said the Christ child has been born. All these centuries--and finally, He's here!
What did they say now ...
They said, (reciting--but not too smoothly) "The sign will be that you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger."
Well, how hard can that be. Just find the right cave ... and the right stall ... and the right cows ...
We'll ask directions.
What's so hard to believe is that we'd be chosen as the messengers in the first place.
Or the last place.
I was sure the Messiah would reveal Himself first in Jerusalem--on the temple mount!
But instead He comes to Bethlehem, of all places.
I don't know. I guess it doesn't really matter where the Savior shows up--as long as He does.
What do you think's going to happen?
What do you mean?
I mean for us. What's going to happen to us, now that Messiah is here?
I don't know.
Right away--maybe nothing. Maybe life will just keep moving along, changing a little at a time.
Yeah, or maybe the heavens will open up again.
We may never know. But at least we know one thing: This sorry world's never going be the same again.
And we were the first.
But we're going to be the last if we don't get on with it.
All right. Let's go.
Have you ever worshipped a baby before?
Boy I just hope they've cleaned out that stall.
To my untrained eye this hovering cloud of light seems a mystery. But to the astronomer there is no mystery at all. The scientist knows from whence it comes, he knows how long it will stay, and he knows where it will go when it leaves. What is to me a mystery, to the astronomer is predictable.
And I think about an old man lingering about the temple, day after day, year after year, knowing exactly what to look for, but never finding the object of his search.
Until one day ...
Unlike the magi from afar, who knew precisely where they were going but didn't know what to expect once they got there, Simeon knew precisely what to expect, but didn't know where to look or when it would happen.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Luke 2:25-26
Jesus being the first male born to Mary and Joseph, they were required--according to Jewish law--to present Him to God at the Jerusalem temple. They would purchase Him back from God, so to speak, with an offering--in their case (because they were poor) a pair of doves or pigeons.
Just as he was every day, Simeon was there, waiting expectantly, serving the Lord and all the while waiting for the promise from God to be fulfilled--that he would not see death before he saw the long-awaited Messiah.
What a beautiful touching scene this is between the new family and Simeon. Here was a man fairly drenched in the Holy Spirit:
... and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit ...
Moved by the Spirit ...
(from Luke 2:25-27)
The moment he laid eyes on Jesus he knew--he knew that this little one, just over a month old, was the long-expected Anointed One. Simeon took Jesus into his arms and sang a song of praise to his God:
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Luke 2:29-32
This man was one who helped transfer the heavenly light to all the people of the world. God rewarded Simeon's faithfulness and patience; He rewarded him not only with the revelation of the child, but the additional revelation that through Him the entire world--far beyond the citizenship of Israel--would now have access to God through Christ.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Rev. 21:1-2,23
"There was a cripple who spent his life in a room where he could not see the sun. He heard of its existence, he believed in it, and he had seen enough of its light to give him high ideas of its glory. Wishing to see the sun, he was taken out at night into the streets of an illuminated city. At first he was delighted with the bright lights, dazzled. But then he reflected on the sky, and realized there was darkness spread amid the lights. So he asked, 'Is this the sun?'
"Next he was taken out under a starry sky and was enraptured until, on reflection, he found that night covers the earth and was bewildered. Again he asked, 'Is this the sun?'
"Finally he was carried out on a bright day at noon, and no sooner did his eye open on the sky than all questions came to an end. There is only one sun! His eye was content; it had its highest object, and knew that there was nothing brighter.
"The same is true of the soul: it enjoys all lights, yet amid those of art and nature, the soul still inquires for something greater. But when the soul is led by the reconciling Christ into the presence of the Father, and he lifts upon it the light of His countenance, all thought of anything greater disappears. As there is only one sun, so there is only one Son. The soul which once discerns and knows Him, knows that there is non greater or brighter, and that the only possibility of ever beholding more glory is by drawing nearer."
Reverend W. Arthur
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Matthew 17:2
Each night the comet is larger, it glows more brightly, its coma more readily spied with the naked eye. Each night the streaming tail thickens and elongates, a reaching vapor-trail painted across the night sky.
Larger and brighter, could it descend? Could it plummet down, screaming its anger, to wreak havoc upon earth, changing with its collision the very course of humanity?
And I think about a man--a twisted, hate-filled man--traveling an ancient road on his way toward evil and evil deeds. A man who looked up and saw a light, an unexpected visitor from heaven ...
They had been on the road for more than six days. His companions had grown weary of the journey, but Saul was more exhilarated with every step that took him closer to the city of Damascus. Filled with the passions of the zealot, the Sanhedrinist kept his gaze steadily northward, kept his brilliant mind occupied with the arguments he would offer into evidence against those who were members of The Way.
It was for the purpose of finding and arresting such adherents to the teachings of the Nazarene that Saul was traveling to the crossroads called Damascus. In his bag he carried letters of introduction from the chief priests to the synagogues of that city. These letters gave him formal license to apprehend those who spoke in opposition to the Jewish Law.
From where this holy passion had come was as much a mystery to Saul as was the destiny to which it would eventually take him. He had always been ambitious, both for his God and for his religion, and seemed to be on a fast, direct path to prominence within the temple community-- possibly even the entirety of Israel.
Was he chasing these disciples of Jesus for personal gain--to enhance his own reputation at the temple? Probably. But he was also consumed by a very real and terrible loathing for them, and the many ways their new religion was disrupting his religion.
Saul could put forth any number of reasons for his present occupation, but, in the end, what they would all boil down to was that he earnestly believed he was serving God's will. His people were God's chosen people; anything that challenged their way of life had to be dealt with.
The sun was at its zenith, directly overhead, when it was suddenly replaced by a light painfully more enveloping and intense. The impact of this light and its unearthly presence drove Saul to his knees.
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" The voice boomed out of the encompassing light.
His mind struggling up through his pain and utter confusion, Saul realized that He was in the presence of God. There would be no other explanation for this articulate, blinding presence. If his sudden fright, and the brutal impact of the unearthly visitation, had not driven him into the dust of the road, he knew that he would now be just as prostrate of his own volition. He knew not why, but God had chosen to reveal himself to him in this way. He dare not even raise his head.
"W--who are You, Lord?" It was all he could find breath to say.
Out of the rumbling thunder that shook every bone in Saul's body came the reply: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting."
Saul's mind raced, his senses fairly roared back at him at this revelation. Jesus? Jesus, the Nazarene, the one whose followers he was on his way to destroy? How could this be?
Saul's life was committed to obliterating the memory of this supposed pretender. Once all of his followers were finally done away with, it would only be a matter of time before his teachings and the events of his life would be forever swallowed up in the vapors of history.
But now, what was this? To the very core of his being he knew this voice to belong to God. There was no other explanation. If that was so, then it meant that Jesus was God! And it meant that everything he had been living for--every murdered disciple, every eradicated church, every Jewish convert brought back into line--everything in his life up to this point had been a lie.
Saul felt beaten down, as if the dirt in which he now shook with fear was to be his new home.
"Only the conquered can know true blessedness. This is sound philosophy, based upon life, and necessary by the constitution of things. We need not accept this truth blindly; the reasons are discoverable, among them being these: We are created beings, and as such are derived, not self-existent. Not to us has it been given to have life in ourselves. For life we are wholly and continually dependent upon God, the Source and Fountain of life. Only by full dependence upon Him are the hidden potentialities of our natures realized. Apart from this we are but half-men, malformed and unbeautiful members of a noble race once made to wear the image of its Creator.
"We might well pray for God to invade and conquer us, for until He does, we remain in peril from a thousand foes. We bear within us the seeds of our own disintegration. Our moral imprudence puts us always in danger of accidental or reckless self-destruction. The strength of our flesh is an ever present danger to our souls. Deliverance can come to us only by the defeat of our old life. Safety and peace come only after we have been forced to our knees. God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance. Then He invades our natures with that ancient and eternal life which is from the beginning. So He conquers us and by that benign conquest saves us for Himself."
Saul's head felt as if it would explode from the pressure--the battle raging in his mind between his Jewish heritage and this heavenly confirmation of new truth. But he wasn't given the opportunity to wrestle it through--to use the reason for which he was becoming famous.
"Now get up and stand on your feet," Jesus commanded Saul. "I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
Forgiveness of sins? The Gentiles? Mechanically obeying the order to rise, Saul suddenly realized that the overpowering light, now gone, had left him blind. As he put his hands to his face, he discovered, though his eyelids were open, his vision was gone, and a crusty, scaly substance was already forming around his eyes
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Cor. 4:4-7
The story of God's light come down to man is, essentially, a story of transference and change. The eternal light of God has been delivered to the dark depravity of mankind through the person of Jesus Christ.
"I am the light of the world ...
While the physical light may have temporarily returned to the glory of heaven, the effect and power of that light remain behind. Because God was willing to share His light, humanity would have the opportunity to be bathed in its cleansing radiance forever.
... Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12
God through Christ transfers his light into the believer. The immediate and progressive effect of this light is internal change. Then, as a result of the internal change, external changes begin to take place as the believer moves about in the world.
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. Col. 1:13-14
Of course, there is very often a level of discomfort that tags along as a companion to change.
"When you have been sitting in a well-lighted room and are suddenly called into the outer darkness, how black it seems. And thus when a man has dwelt in communion with God, sin becomes exceedingly sinful, and the darkness in which the world lies appears like tenfold night."
I stand staring into the night sky, the stars a speckled curtain against the blackness of space. I strain to find the glowing, dusty orb, this mysterious night visitor that has entered my world.
But it's not to be found. It has passed off into other precincts of space, to be viewed no more by this generation, only to return later to pass by countless future generations in centuries hence.
They say it may return in another 10,000 years, and I wonder if anyone then will stand outside and peer up into the heavens and marvel at the mystery. I wonder if anyone then will watch it move across the night sky, grow larger and brighter; if anyone then will question its birthplace and the ultimate place of its death.
The heavenly visitor has passed away into a different place, but it has left behind its wonder, and the memory of its marvelous light.
The visitor has changed something inside me, somehow changed the way I see the stars and the heavens and the eternal blackness of space ...
Issue No. 65
[1.] Three Men and a Baby, by David S. Lampel, commissioned by First Baptist Church, Marshalltown, Iowa, December, 1995. Order #SK13 from the His Company Catalogue (return to footnote 1)
[2.] This quotation originally read: "... so there is only one God." For the purposes of this illustration, the word "God" was changed to "Son." While this slightly changes the meaning of the quotation, the theology is not harmed. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14. (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Acts 9:4 NASB. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] Acts 9:5 NASB. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] A.W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest (Christian Publications, 1978), p54f. (return to footnote 6)
[7.] Acts 26:16-18. (return to footnote 7)
[8.] lepis, lep-is', Greek Stg 3013; from lepo (to peel); a flake :- scale, scaly substance. See also: Tobit 3:17 - And Raphael was sent to heal them both, that is, to scale away the whiteness of Tobit's eyes, and to give Sara the daughter of Raguel for a wife to Tobias the son of Tobit; and to bind Asmodeus the evil spirit; because she belonged to Tobias by right of inheritance. The selfsame time came Tobit home, and entered into his house, and Sara the daughter of Raguel came down from her upper chamber. T it 11:12-13 - And when his eyes began to smart, he rubbed them; And the whiteness pulled away from the corners of his eyes: and when he saw his son, he fell upon his neck. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] Acts 1:9-11. (return to footnote 9)
[10.] The Light of a Million Mornings, from the musical Everlasting Light, by Claire Cloninger. (return to footnote 10)
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