Journey From Darkness Into Light: We Shall Overcome!
Superstorm Sandy hit the Eastern U.S. on October 29, 2012. New York City took a massive hit from the storm. So did New Jersey, and other coastal areas to the north and south—and even cities far west, such as Cleveland, Ohio.
The storm plunged huge parts of major American cities into darkness…darkness that lasted, in some cases, for weeks…darkness that claimed lives…darkness that may well scar some individuals, families, and communities for many years to come.
Some of us know what that’s like. We may have escaped Sandy. Our electricity may be reliably constant. But we have all experienced darkness nonetheless – deep, crippling, lasting darkness.
But that can all change today, if it hasn’t already.
In celebration of Easter, this week we conclude our series based on the mini-series The Bible. It is through our faith in our Lord Jesus that we journey from Darkness into Light. And, it is by embarking on this wonderful journey, and by His Name, we boldly proclaim – We Shall Overcome!
Helen Keller, herself no stranger to obstacles, put it this way:
Although the world is full of suffering,
it is also full of overcoming it.
~Criminal Minds Episode
In our worship experiences these past four weeks, we have seen how the redemption God offers to all of us can lead us from death to life, from slavery to freedom, from victim-hood to victory, and from religion to relationship.
And today, we conclude this memorable journey with the peak, the summit, the climax, toward which all those stories ultimately point.
It begins with Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion; a series of incidents that took his friends and followers by surprise. They had seen Him perform miracles and cross all the barriers and boundaries imposed by the existing culture. Yet, just days after He had entered the holy city, and cleansed the temple as a prophet, He was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed as a criminal.
When that happened, in Matthew’s words, “darkness came over all the land.” (Matthew 27:45b, NIV) And it came over them – a thick, dark cloud of loss, confusion, and despair – over their hearts, minds, and spirits.
Many, if not all of us, know what that feels like. We’ve experienced that level of deep, dark, seemingly never-ending grief and despair. Maybe some of us are even feeling that way today. Or, we might know someone who is.
But…there is hope – as the clip we’re going to watch depicts. Remember, each of the Gospels tells the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection in a slightly different way. The clip is based on the story as it is told in the Gospel of John.
[View Clip – Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene]
Our Great Salvation
Let’s explore that scene, and two other scenes that follow, to see three aspects of the “great salvation” we’ve been exploring throughout this series, in the light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The first aspect, or facet, of the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus is:
1. We are saved from the darkness of confusion, and enter into the light of a new commission.
According to the Gospel of John, Chapter 20 verse 1:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (NIV)
Now, close your eyes for a moment and think about Mary’s probable state of mind that Sunday morning. She had to have been grief-stricken. The man in whom she had placed so much hope, and for whom she had developed a deep love and respect, had been tortured and crucified. He had suffered unspeakable acts of violence; the images of which she probably couldn’t get out of her mind, and would probably never forget. Can you imagine what feelings and emotions she was experiencing?
We’ve all experienced the loss of someone close to us, someone important to us. We know all too well that grief doesn’t go away overnight. It lingers. Sometimes, it even festers. Mary had to be in deep, dark grief and despair.
Maybe some of us can identify with her right now. Maybe not to the level of Mary – but in a deep, dark place just the same.
But look what happens next. Verses 14-18 go on to say:
She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her. (NIV)
She sees Jesus, but at first doesn’t recognize him! In fact, she thinks he’s the gardener!
Now, maybe, as the video clip portrayed, the morning light, and maybe even the radiance of his appearance played tricks with her eyes. Maybe her vision was clouded by tears. Maybe she didn’t look directly at him, but just noticed someone there. Maybe she just felt His presence so strongly that she ‘knew’ He was there with her. We don’t really know; it could have been any combination of things.
But in any case, her initial confusion disappeared when she heard Jesus call her by name. Her grief evaporated like the morning fog. Her darkness lifted, and in its place…excitement and joy.
And then, notice what happened next: She was given a commission. Jesus told her to take the news of his resurrection to others. In that moment, according to the writer of the Gospel of John, Mary became the first evangelist of the resurrection in Christian history. Imagine, given the culture and status of women at that time in history, the experience of Jesus was so profound that this Gospel writer boldly proclaims Mary to be the very first Christian evangelist! And her grief was abated.
And so it is with you and me. We may be downhearted, confused, even depressed about many things. But, if we have invited the risen Christ into your heart and life, many things become clear. His resurrection tells us, among other things, that THIS life is not all there is. It tells us that death is not the end. It tells us that if we hope in Christ, all our hopes can be revived. It tells us that our Savior has triumphed over the worst this world can throw at us.
And, like Mary, the soul that has trusted Christ is given the same commission: to spread that news. Jesus’ word to Mary is the same as His word to us – Go!
I would submit the darkness of confusion actually lifts, not in the hearing, but in the going. Like the ten lepers Jesus healed, who were healed as they went, as they obeyed his words, so I think our confusion lifts as we go. The darkness is dispelled in the light of a new commission, a new purpose.
But that’s not all. Another facet of the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ is:
2. We are saved from the darkness of fear, and enter into the light of a new presence and peace.
Turning to verses 19–23:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV)
Those verses say the disciples were gathered behind locked doors. Why? “For fear.” Think about that for just a minute. Peter, James, John, and the other disciples were cowering together in a locked, dark room – out of fear.
I’m sure most of us know what that’s like. Some of us here today are, at least mentally and emotionally, behind locked doors. We are cowering in fear…
- Fear of losing our job.
- Fear of losing someone’s love.
- Fear of being hurt again.
- Fear of messing up again.
- Fear of any number of things.
But notice what happened next in those verses we just read: Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
He banished their fears with his presence…and His peace. According to this Gospel, that was when they received the Holy Spirit – by whom His presence would continue with them – even after His ascension into Heaven.
Their story can be our story, too.
Salvation in Jesus Christ saves us from the darkness of fear; and brings us into the light of His presence and peace. His word to His first followers is his word to is, too: PEACE.
Finally, there’s one more facet of the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ I invite you to consider:
3. We are saved from the darkness of doubt, and enter into the light of a new beginning.
One more part of the resurrection story, is found in verses 24-29:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the same house again; and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV)
According to this Gospel, Thomas hadn’t been in the room when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. When they told him the news of the resurrection, he wanted more than words. He wanted stronger evidence than that. So the risen Christ appeared, and removed all doubt.
Let’s take a closer look at the story of Thomas.
Notice that Thomas had vowed not to believe until he touched Jesus’ hands and side. Where in those verses does it say that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds?
The text says that Jesus appeared to them. It says he spoke “peace” to them. And then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” But it does NOT say that Thomas actually touch His wounds! The very next thing it says is, “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
In that moment, Thomas realized he didn’t need to touch the wounds. He only needed to see Jesus, in his heart of hearts, for himself. The same is true for all of us. We may think we need proof before we can believe – something tangible, something irrefutable. But we really don’t. All we really need is to see Jesus with the eyes of our heart.
A fresh vision of Jesus will dispel the darkness of doubt, and give all of us a new beginning. It was true for those first followers of Jesus. After first gathering behind locked doors, they soon took to the streets of Jerusalem, where Peter preached perhaps the most successful sermon in history, where he and John healed a blind beggar outside the Jerusalem Temple, and where, despite the threats of the chief priests, they refused to be silent.
When we read the book of Acts, we might find it hard to believe that these are the same people who ran away when Jesus was arrested, and who cowered behind locked the doors “for fear” of the Jewish leaders. And, in a big way, they weren’t the same people. Their experience with the life, the resurrection, and the spirit of Christ lifted the darkness of doubt and replaced it with the light of a new beginning. They were – born again.
It can be the same for us today. We can be saved from the darkness of confusion, and enter into the light of a new commission. We can be saved from the darkness of fear, and enter into the light of a new presence and peace. We can be saved from the darkness of doubt, and enter into the light of a new beginning. We can be born again.
It all happens when the scales over our eyes are lifted and we are open to the power and the mystery and the experience of the risen Christ; when our hearts open to Him; when we do as Jesus urged Thomas: “Stop doubting and believe.”
Jesus’ word to Thomas is his word to us, too: Believe!
I hope that is where we all are today. I hope we will all open our hearts and lives to the risen Christ. I hope we all let him guide us from darkness to light; from confusion, fear, and doubt to a new commission; and to a presence and peace in our lives; and a to a new beginning.
When we do, the Bible says this about us, and about our journey with Him:
1 Peter 2:9, NLT – You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
John 8:12, NIV – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV) – For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
John 16:33, NIV – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Do we all have dark times? Yes. But in and by and through Jesus, we have a light. His light is our light. His strength is our strength. His peace is our peace. His love is our love. On this Easter day – as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, remember…No matter what comes our way – in our Journey from Darkness into Light – with Jesus at our side, we can say with confidence…We Shall Overcome!
- Matthew 27:45b, NIV
- John 20:1, NIV
- John 20:14-29, NIV
- 1 Peter 2:9, NLT
- John 8:12, NIV
- Hebrews 13:5-6, NKJV
- John 16:33, NIV
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