This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, February 22, 2009, on Transfiguration Sunday.
Let Light Shine Out of Darkness
2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (NIV)
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 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. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 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.
What’s the weather?
Although our text actually began with verse 3 today, I thought we might want to read verses 1 and 2, to get into what Paul was saying because it’s very important for us to hear in this time in which we live.
I met two of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen this week — Jack and Maddie. Maddie is 2 and has curly blond hair all over her head. She is a little shy, and ducked her head into her father’s arm when we met, but later she was running about their house like any 2 year old.
Jack is 5, and smart. Really smart. Jack can name all of the presidents of the United States and tell you where each of them was from. I can’t do that, but Jack can, and I saw him do it when Robert Parham put him through the paces. Jack got them all and got them all right, although there was some confusion over exactly where Dwight D. Eisenhower was from. Jack said New York, Robert thought Kansas. Like Bill Clinton’s famous “it depends upon what is is,” we needed to know what “from” meant. But, still a pretty impressive display of knowledge from a 5 year old.
Jack and Maddie are the children of Cliff Vaughn and his wife, Mary. I met Jack and Maddie while meeting with the dad, Cliff, and Robert Parham of The Baptist Center for Ethics last week.
We were at Cliff’s house when Jack and Maddie were getting ready to go to the park for the afternoon with their babysitter. Jack and Maddie both gave their dad a hug, then Jack said, “Let me check the weather first.” With that, he hopped up in front of the computer, logged into weather.com, and said, “It’s 37 degrees and windy.” And it was. Then, they were both off to the park to play.
I’m telling that story to make this point — if someone asked you, “What’s the weather?” what would you say?
Probably most adults would say something like — “According to the TV last night, it’s going to be cold today.” Or, “I heard on the radio this morning that it would be in the 40s.” Or, we’d look out the window and say, “It’s sunny.”
But, a 5-year-old jumps up to the computer. He doesn’t turn on the TV, or look out the window, he looks at the computer. It’s the natural thing for him to do. Oh, Jack loves basketball, so he does watch TV. Just not for the weather.
And my point is this — Jack sees the world through computer screens naturally. Those of us who are adults see the world through TV, or the newspaper, or from the radio.
The god of this age
Paul said, “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.”
Just like Jack thinks nothing of looking at the computer for the weather instead of the sky, there are ways we have to looking at the world, too.
Paul said that he presented the gospel without using distortion or deception. Now that might seem obvious, but sadly there are preachers and evangelists and lay people who think they have to change the good news. So they distort the message or deceive people.
They distort and deceive by either making God out to be the big investment banker in the sky, or by making God worse than the Lord High Executioner of the king’s court.
Either way, the picture is distorted. Either way, people are deceived. Either way, the good news of God becomes the not-so-good news of those who feel they have to reinvent it.
So, we can be blinded to God by those who mean well, but who are deceptive or who distort.
We can also be blinded to God by “the god of this world.” Now, normally we might think that would be the devil. And that possibly is what Paul means. But the idea is that the unbelievers are blinded, they can’t “see the light of the gospel of the glory of God.”
“The god of this age” — who is that? Or what is that? Paul’s phrase is interesting. It could mean “the god of who exists in this age.” This god versus the God age to come when all things will be made new. And that’s a pretty good definition of the difference in viewpoints — now and then.
But Paul’s phrase, “the god of this age” could mean the “god that is this time in which we live.” In other words, we worship the Now, this World, our Way of Life, our LIfestyle. Whatever you want to say to describe the status quo — things as they are, our comfort zone.
The “god of this age” just might be the way things are now.
Imagine the people of Corinth, not the Christian believers, but everybody else. They go about their normal routine everyday. They have families, children, spouses. They operate businesses, see their friends on the streets of Corinth or at the campus where the men play sports. In other words, they’re living their lives.
The economy is good, Rome is the only super-power in the world, so they are at peace. They have plenty to eat, entertainment in their leisure hours, the protection of their government — they have the good life.
And because things are so good, they can’t see their need. They can’t see what could possibly be wrong, or missing, or lacking in their lives.
All this talk that Paul does about the “one true God” — the God who has revealed himself in a man named Jesus — all this talk is just one more thing to have to think about, and don’t we already have enough to think about.
“Things are good,” Corinthian citizens might think. “Why do we need to bother with anything else?”
And that is “the god of this age.”
What blinds you to God?
Paul is using an image here of blindness, not being able to see the light. Eyes blinded by the distractions of this age.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is on this Sunday that we remember the experience of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
You remember that story. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up the mountain. While there, Jesus shines like the sun, his clothes become radiant, his glory is unveiled for the three disciples to see.
While there in the light of his glory, Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus about his impending death. Moses who was buried by God in a place that no one knows, and Elijah who was taken up to heaven by God in a chariot of fire. Two men who were themselves transformed by God discuss with Jesus what he will experience in the future.
If you had been there, what would your reaction have been? Fall down on your face in awe? Be dumbstruck by the presence of Moses and Elijah? Be afraid, so afraid that you were speechless?
Well, you might think one or all of those things, but Peter blurts out, “Lord, this is great! Since nobody knows where Moses is buried, and Elijah never died or was buried, let’s build three tabernacles here — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Peter is thinking fame and fortune. A top tourist attraction. A shrine that will draw thousands. Maybe he thinks he can sell box lunches — fish sandwiches — to those who will come. Who knows what he’s thinking.
But whatever Peter is thinking, he is thinking the thoughts of this age, he is worshipping the god of this age. Not the transfigured Christ, or the glowing Moses, or the effervescent Elijah. Nope, Peter is fully worshipping the god of this age, and right in front of Jesus, too.
Matthew records that before Peter can finish speaking, something amazing happens —
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
The disciples then fall down in fear, but Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” And they head back down the mountain.
We’re blind to the light if our eyes are on this world
And, there we are, too. Figuring out how we can live. How we can go about our lives. Of course, we want God in our lives. But we’re so busy. Too much to do. Especially now with this economy.
And so rather than open our eyes to the light, we think we can figure out how to see better in the dark. We buy night-vision goggles, take courses in seeing in the dark, develop products to help us cope with darkness, pills to make us less anxious about it, and still we’re in the dark. We think that is our permanent condition, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Paul says our eyes are blinded by the god of this age.
Have you ever seen little children put their hands over their eyes when their mother wanted them to look at her. Or put their hands over their ears when their mother was telling them something. Or do the “I can’t here you” routine so they wouldn’t hear.
Why do you think Jesus said over and over, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” Modern translation: “For those who will really listen, you’ll hear me.”
But we often had rather be blind and deaf, than have our routine changed, our beliefs called into question, our spiritual comfort zone challenged.
Charalampus shone light into darkness
You’ve probably never heard of Charalampus. He was born about 50 years after Christ, but did not die until over 100 years later. Charalampus became a Christian, and began preaching the gospel, continuing until he was at a very advanced age.
He was arrested for preaching and warned that “if he knew what was good for him” he would stop preaching. Apparently the emperor was reluctant to put a beloved centenarian to death just for being a Christian.
Charalampus replied to the emperor’s henchmen —
“You don’t know what’s good for me. You don’t know what makes me well. Nothing is more pleasing to me than to suffer for my Lord. So, don’t hesitate to put my old body to whatever tortures you want and you will learn that the power of my Lord cannot be overcome.”
And so they began to torture Charalampus. Roman soldiers began by dragging hot iron combs across his flesh. His wrinkled skin and flesh pulled away and came off in strips.
But Charalampus patted the hand of the Roman soldier torturing him and said,
“Thank you, brothers, for scraping off my old body and further preparing my soul for new and eternal life.”
So moved were the soldiers by Charalampus courage and sincerity that they converted to Christianity on the spot, and were arrested and executed themselves.
The emperor demanded Charalampus be brought to him, and so he was. Soldiers literally dragged him through the streets by his beard. Charalampus was tortured further, and I will spare you the gory details, but his treatment was inhumane in the extreme.
But Charalampus still did not die. The emperor called for a man who was demon-possessed to be brought before Charalampus. With a prayer and one word, Charalampus cast out the demon and the man was healed.
Certain that he was a sorcerer, Septimus Severus ordered Charalampus executed. As the executioner approached, Charalampus cried out,
Lord, you know all people are flesh and blood, please forgive these and bless them.” With that he died before the executioner’s sword could strike.
His death was so glorious that Septimus Severus’ daughter became a Christian convert on the spot, and served Christ for the rest of her life.
Charalampus saw the light, not the darkness. He lived in the light, he died in the light, and by so doing, brought that light to others.
“Let light shine in the darkness,” Paul said.
The amazing thing about light is that darkness cannot extinguish it. Light can vanquish darkness, but darkness can never overcome the light. If we’re not blinded by the god of this age, then our lives can illuminate the darkness. God’s light can shine through us, giving others the ability to see.
Children sing, “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” and that is the heart of what Paul is saying. Let your light shine in the darkness.