Lost and Found - Into the Heart of Darkness
Lost In The Dark
What does darkness look like? Have you ever asked yourself that question?
When I was a young man I went with some friends up to the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. Our destination was Laurel Caverns. There are two parts of the cave. The upper part called the Catacombs is a maze of beautiful caverns where you are given guided tours. The lower section is a place where you can explore the remaining caves essentially on your own. In total they are three miles long.
We went down through the Catacombs and at the back and bottom of the cavern there was a turnstile. Once through that there was a thick steel cable attached to the rock that descended into a crack on the floor of the cavern. The cable was there to help you find your way down into the lower cave.
The passage opened into an cavernous room where we gathered. The guide had us turn off our lights and there was darkness. It was a darkness like I had never experienced before. There was the complete absence of light. I held my hand in front of my eyes and it was impossible to see it. The darkness seemed to be a part of me. It seeped into every pore. It was inescapable. And there was no way of know which way to turn or who was where.
There was a point at which I could not overcome my fear of being trapped in the dark and I turned back to the surface to wait for my friends. They continued and at one point found themselves going through a tunnel about fifty or sixty yards long that was no wider than shoulder width and was the same height. I knew that I had made the right decision. I’m not terribly claustrophobic, but even now the thought of that brings a shudder to my mind.
That is darkness.
I’m told that if a person were to be left alone in that darkness for a month or two he or she would begin to hallucinate and eventually lose their mind. That’s darkness. But what does it look like? It looks like nothing. It is total blindness. A place of deep shadow.
So, imagine no light in a place like that, the tunnels extending off in many directions, and the guide is blind.
That’s what darkness looks like.
But darkness looks like something else too. It looks like the oppression of powerful and brutal men. Which of course has happened many times over the course of human history.
Recently there has been Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, Pol Pot in Cambodia. But there are others. Darkness looks like lust, greed, brutality, indifference. It looks like shunning, cheating, lying, murder. The list is endless. Look around. You will see a darkness on the land.
But also, look inside. Look in your heart. Do you find it there?
Imagine the darkness that must be in the heart of the oppressor to do the things he does to people. Think of the torturer, the drug dealer, the rapist, the greedy CEO, the hit-man. It just goes on and on. And it has for a long time.
Imagine being in that cave with no light, completely unable to see.
And someone on the surface realizes that you are late returning. They gather the guides who know the cave well and come in to find you. At first it seems to be another illusion, but there appears to be a dim glow in the distant tunnel.
Eventually it grow brighter and you realize that once again you have a sense of direction. Once more you feel not alone. You have the relief of knowing that not only did someone care enough to come, but they came in time.
You’re found. The rescuers have arrived. There are hugs all around. They bind up the wounds you have from stumbling in the dark.
And they give you a light to hold – with some extra bulbs and batteries.
Then with map in hand and rescuers all around you follow them to the world of light on the surface. The glorious sun is shining and you all rejoice in each other’s company with a dinner at a nice restaurant. The perfect end to a very trying day.
We are going to visit several passages in God’s word today starting with Isaiah 9:2-7.
Isaiah 9:2-7 (ESV)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The great prophet Isaiah’s ministry ranged from 740 to 680 B.C.
During his ministry the power of Assyria grew to be dominant in the region and acquired through force of arms many of the smaller nations in that area of the Mediterranean – including the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 through 721.
He prophesied during the last years of the Northern Kingdom but ministered to the Southern kingdom which was following the path of the North. After the fall of the North he warned the Southern kingdom of judgment not from Assyria who was the immediate threat but of Babylon.
Isaiah is speaking to people who are suffering the brutality of the oppressor. For them it is indeed a dark time. Their hearts heavy. Homes and families lost. Taken into captivity. Sold as slaves.
It’s All In A Name
But Isaiah has a message of hope.
Into that darkness he casts the vision of a rescuer seated once again on David’s throne. Force of arms is abandoned. Justice reigns. There is finally ... Peace.
To the suffering people he is called
Prince of Peace. Absence of strife.
The zeal of the Lord. Fulfillment as the result of God’s presence and His passion for His people.
It must have felt like cold water in a hot and dusty desert. It must have looked like a light deep within the earth where no light shines. Dim maybe at first but growing in intensity and reality as it approached.
Each name of the king projects a different aspect of his character. They are royal throne names of the eternal king and they proclaim a very high view of the Him. This is a king and kingdom with which God is somehow directly involved.
Can’t you just imagine it. You have been dispossessed of your home. Families have been torn asunder. You have been taken into exile.
There is disbelief at first, but intense relief as the reality set in.
They will have a new king who brings peace to the chaos of their desperate lives. He will sit on the throne of David. He will be a descendant of the royal line. He will give good counsel. He will be eternal. The people will be part of his family.
The strident drumbeat of war will finally end. Bloodshed will end. The implements of war will be destroyed. It sounded good.
The Prophetic Voice – A Bridge To The New Testament
So how does this relate at all to Jesus? How is it that we see Him in the Hebrew scriptures?
By way of explanation let’s briefly look at the prophet. Who is he? What is it he does exactly?
The role of prophet in Scripture is that of spokesman. He speaks for someone. Indeed the someone he speaks for is God. So, the prophet serves as intermediary between God and the human community. Specifically, the people of God. The Lord speaks to him, and he speaks to the people. The Lord has a message for His people and He picks a person to be His voice. This is what you called forth-telling.
But the prophet does something else. This is what we traditionally think of when we think prophet. He speaks for the Lord concerning something beforehand. In other words, the words given are predicting a future event.
Often, although not always, the prophet’s words spoken convey both meanings. That is the case here.
Isaiah speaks not only to the contemporary situation but also to a future event. And it is legitimate to see the Messiah in these passages.
They are a strong reminder that ancient Israel and early Judaism thought of the Davidic Kingdom as an earthly expression of the Kingdom of God.
The Heart of Darkness
But to be sure there is still darkness in the world today.
I found this story regarding Ernest Hemingway. It comes from an article in the Sunday Digest from a number of years ago.
Ernest Hemingway, the literary genius, said this about his life: “I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead, and there is no current to plug into.”
This is a startling statement, given the fact that Hemingway lived his life in a way that would be the envy of any person who had bought in to the values of our modern society. Hemingway was known for his tough-guy image and globe-rotting pilgrimages to exotic places. He was a big-game hunter, a bull-fighter, a man who could drink others under the table. He was married four times and lived his life seemingly without moral restraint or conscience. But on a sunny Sunday morning in Idaho, he pulverized his head with a shotgun blast.
There was another side to Hemingway’s life, one that few people knew about. He grew up in an evangelical Christian home in Oak Park, Illinois. His grandparents were missionaries, and his father was a devoted churchman and friend of evangelist D. L. Moody. As a boy and young man, he was active in his church.
Then came World War I. As a war correspondent, Hemingway saw death and despair all around him. His youthful enthusiasm for Christianity soured, and he eventually rejected the faith in Christ that he once had embraced.
The Light of God in the Land of Deep Darkness
Is there darkness today? Yes.
Is anyone immune? No.
But into that darkness, into the place of deep shadow, into the valley of death, there has come a light.
The message of redemption that Isaiah spoke to the tiny nation of Judah resonates through Jesus into all time and space.
Isaiah saw God’s greatness and the vastness of His plan of salvation as being for Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus, descendant of David, prophet, priest, and king spoke those same thoughts.
I told you all of that just to tell you this.
A child is born ... to Israel ... a child who will sit on the throne, not a throne of war, but one of peace.
The new day of hope arrived with the Messiah.
Some seven hundred years after Isaiah the light came into the world. Born in a very humble way this birth was an event easily overlooked by the great powers of the Roman world.
A baby, born in a manger. What could be less auspicious.
But this event, spoken of so long before by the prophets, would be like a great meteor falling from heaven onto the face of the ocean.
The rippling waves would reach across the globe to affect every corner of the planet. And ripple across 2,000 years to affect our lives today.
There was darkness in the ancient world where Jesus was born. The very region referred to in Isaiah 9:1 was the first to rejoice in the light brought by Jesus’ preaching.
But doom and gloom give way to hope. The miracle of the light restores joy. Anguish is not forever. God turns it around. The king is timeless ... the darkness passes.
Skepticism is replaced with belief.
Peter says this in 2 Peter 1:16-20
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
Morning star: accompanies the sun. Christ made manifest to the soul. Provides spiritual light and comfort. Changes our hearts from what they were to what they are becoming.
Christ promises to give the “morning star” to the faithful.
He is promising himself (Revelation 22:16). To them He imparts His own glory and a share in His royal dominion. It is an eternal symbol of royalty (Matthew 2:2).
Any true change will destroy the oppressors whether they are of the world, of the enemy, or in our hearts.
Ephesians 2:14 (ESV)
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
This passage says that He Himself is our peace.
That is Christ and no other has solved our problem.
What needs to be emphasized is the idea of reconciliation.
He Himself reconciles us with one another. He Himself reconciles us with God. He Himself draws people to God and to one another in Himself. While His message is important, and the proclamation of the message is important, it is He Himself who accomplishes this reconciliation.
In other words, it’s not Pastor Lou who saves. It’s not my wife. It’s not New Song Community Church. It isn’t any of the other churches in town.
It is only Jesus.
There is an echo here of Micah 5:5 which says, “And he shall be their peace when the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces...”
Peace is even recognized in the Jewish Talmud as a name for God.
In this passage Paul tells us that Jesus has made two into one: Jew and Gentile have been recreated as one. The two act as models that are inclusive of all humankind.
Jesus’ message is available to all mankind.
The proclamation of His message is available to all mankind. Jesus Himself unifies us into one body.
He removes the hostility that existed between the two very divided groups. It is as though Jesus melted down two statues in a furnace, one of silver and one of lead, and what came out of the furnace is gold. (Chrysostom).
What Paul describes as a dividing wall is also used to describe the wall in the Jerusalem temple separating the court of the Gentiles from the temple proper.
Inscribed on it were these words, “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”
Paul’s language here also reflective of the rabbinic idea of the Law being a fence dividing Jews from all other races.
Jesus guides us out of the dark heart and into the light by first entering into the darkness Himself. It is what we’re about to celebrate. He loved us enough to come here. He loved us enough to live as one of us. He loved us enough to teach us and guide us, to show us the heart of the Father. He loves us enough to have sent the Holy Spirit to continue guiding, teaching, changing us.
Jesus is the example.
Jesus sends the guide and comforter. Who holds us secure and leads us home to the Father.
Jesus is the light for the path. The morning star in our hearts.
Jesus heals our wounds. The blind, lepers, crippled physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Jesus holds our hands. Calming storms within our souls and in our lives.
Jesus teaches us the heart of God. He shows us God’s love in so many ways. As Wonderful Counselor He is the advisor to kings. Is He marriage counselor? Is He lawyer and advocate?
... is to reach into the darkness around us and grasp the hand of someone who is crying for help,
to hear the waling cry of abandoned children in the wounded voices of people around us.
Our part is to go to them, to seek them out in the far recesses of the shadowy dark.
Our part is to bring them God’s wondrous light
God’s word ... Jesus Himself is the map and light the rescuers give you.
Christ Has No Hands
Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.
We are the only Bible the careless world will read,
We are the sinner’s gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message, given in word and deed;
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?
What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongue is speaking of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him or welcome His return?
—Annie Johnston Flint
Wonderful, merciful Savior, precious Redeemer and Friend;
Who would have thought that a Lamb could rescue the souls of men?
Oh, You rescue the souls of men.
You are the One that we praise, Your are the One we adore.
You give the healing and grace our hearts always hunger for,
Oh, our hearts always hunger for.
Counselor, Comforter, Keeper, Spirit we long to embrace;
You offer hope when our hearts have hopelessly lost the way,
Oh, we hopelessly lost the way.
Almighty, infinite Father, faithfully loving Your own;
Here in our weakness You find us falling before Your throne,
Oh, we’re falling before Your throne.