FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT
One of the most pressing problems in our society is depression. Millions are affected by it; perhaps some in the congregation struggle with depression. The prophet Isaiah ministered to a nation gripped by depression because of their circumstances. Although to many it seemed there was no hope, Isaiah proclaimed that even in the midst of despair, God is able to bring life and light.
I. The Darkness of Despair Feels Overwhelming
The reading of verse 1 is obscure but clear enough: gloom, anguish, and contempt are the daily bread of the people of Israel, who have borne the brunt of an Assyrian invasion of 733 B.C. Verse 2 fills out the image: "The people who walked in darkness...." It is not that darkness has come at nighttime, or that it has been created or arranged for some purpose in a closed-in room; darkness is what the people have lived with, day and night, week in and week out. To walk in darkness, to live "in a land of deep darkness," is to lose one's sense of reality, of bearings, of memory or hope.
What Isaiah describes is a kind of communal defeat and despair, an experience most of us have never known. We have all, however, witnessed such events, such tragedies, or read of their occurrence in history. Famine, genocide, plague, civil war, holocaust—all of these are instances where a crisis is so great it leaves the entire community or country in a chronic state of shock. We have to imagine such was the existence of these oppressed people during this time. They walked, but to where? They lived, but for what purpose? Any who have experienced acute depression know the weight of such darkness.
II. God Brings Hope in the Midst of Despair
Into the deep darkness comes a bold announcement: the coming of "a great light" (v. 2). A metaphor for God's saving acts toward the community of Israel, light can be imagined here as near to blinding as possible without actually being so. Weeks and months and years in complete darkness, all at once dissipated by great light, shining light, leave the eyes squinting, the hand shielding, the body crouching. But not for long. Soon eyes adjust, and from what we see and the way we savor what we see, it is as though we were given our sight for the very first time.
The result of such an experience of coming into light is expressed in verse 3 with one predominant word: joy. That word recurs in this one follow-up verse almost with a flutter: "You have increased its joy;/they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest." The image now is no longer of heaviness but its very opposite—lightness, levity, mirth. The promise of Yahweh through the prophet Isaiah is that however heavy the darkness of national defeat, humiliation, and exile may be, the darkness is not the end. With the psalms, the prophet reminds his hearers that "weeping may tarry for the night,/but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5) . So it is with your life. Whatever the cause of your despair, God can bring new light and new joy to you if you will open your heart to God's love. (Paul R. Escamilla)
HOW TO MAINTAIN CHRISTIAN UNITY
1 CORINTHIANS 1:10-18
Louie Newton, a denominational leader among Baptists in a former generation, used to answer all his correspondence by handwritten letter. One night before retiring he wrote two letters. One was to a quarreling church in danger of splitting, and it contained extensive and specific instructions as to what to do about the division. The other letter was to the man who worked on his land and dealt with how to control an uncooperative bull; the message was simply, "Close the gate and keep the bull out of the pasture."
Unfortunately, Dr. Newton placed the letters in the wrong envelopes. When his worker received the letter to the church, he was confused, and when Dr. Newton's letter was opened and read in a tense church meeting, the people were infuriated that the simple statement was all the help they received. Then someone in the crowd stood up and tried to interpret the letter in a positive light: "Maybe he's saying that the bull is the devil, and we have been letting him into our fellowship. Now it's high time we kept him out of this pasture so that this flock can be one in Christ again." It worked; the process of reconciliation began as they decided that Christ would rule their pasture and the devil would be kept out.
Paul also wrote a letter to a factious church, but the group received the right one. He supplied some clear principles as to how unity could be reestablished.
I. Unity Is Maintained When the Church Decides to Work for It
Apparently, unity was not a priority among the believers in Corinth. The result was that Murphy's Law went into effect and unity began to unravel. One of Paul's evident intents in writing this letter was to motivate the Christians to make "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3) a priority. So he wrote, "I appeal to you...that all of you be in agreement" (v. 10). In other words, "Decide to work for unity!"
II. Unity Is Maintained When Christ Is Exalted
Paul appealed to them "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 10). Unity that is not by him, in him (Phil. 4:2) , and for him is not worthy of the modifier "Christian."
Sometimes churches are unified merely because the people worked together on a building project. Sometimes the warm feelings generated by sharing potluck dinners are enough to hold churches together. Other Christian groups are bound together because they have a common foe. Not one of these, however, is the distinctive unity of a New Testament church. Nor is it adequate to be bound together because of the influence of a charismatic leader. That was precisely the problem of the Corinthians. Different groups within the church claimed different "patron saints" (vv. 12-15). But Paul downplayed the significance of human instrumentality and called the people to affirm the only true source of their unity—Christ.
III. Unity Is Maintained When Christians Have the Same Mind
Having the "same mind" (v. 10), of course, does not mean that churches have a cookie cutter mentality, expecting everyone to look, act, and be the same. In this same letter, Paul accentuated the different gifts of the different members in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:1-25). However, Christians are to agree on their purpose—to exalt Christ, not self, in their lives and in their church. The "mind" that they are to have is none other than "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) .
Is it possible for Christians to have the same mind? Paul apparently believed that it is possible; he referred to it several times in his Epistles ( Rom. 12:16 ; Phil. 1:27 ; 2:2). May it be so in our churches. (N. Allen Moseley)
IT'S ABOUT TIME
A professor quoted a newspaper ad that read, "For Sale: Hot tub, plumbing included. Will trade for pickup truck. Call, etc." It doesn't take a Ph.D. to determine that here is a life in major transition! Often these major transitions of life are caused by crises. The disciples, in our text, are in the midst of major transition. Perhaps this transition is caused by the crisis of their decision to repent and follow Jesus (v. 17). Perhaps this transition is caused by the fact that John the Baptist has been put in prison (v. 12). Many of Jesus' disciples had followed John. It would have been easy for these disciples of John to succumb to disillusionment, retreat into fear, or just quit because they were tired. But in Jesus' voice, they heard a new call. It was the time to respond.
I. Jesus Calls Us to a Place
Why did they respond? Perhaps something was lacking in their lives. Sensing in John a glimmer of hope, they realized a new opportunity in the dynamic preacher from Nazareth. In Jesus, they found a place. We all know that the church is people. The Greek word we translate as "church" means "called-out ones." But the church also is a place. Having a place is important. When they sinned, Adam and Eve were tossed out of their place. Cain was doomed to wander without a place. Abraham and Sarah were called to journey looking for a place. The children of Israel were delivered from Egypt upon the promise of a place flowing with milk and honey. Having a place is important. "Is this really ours, Mama?" the girl asks, eyes gleaming. "Yes, it really is," her mother says as she takes the keys from the Habitat for Humanity representative.
"Here it is, honey," he says. "Your very own first kitchen." With a tear in her eye and the arm of the man around her, the retiring pastor's wife walks into her very first and last home. A place. We all need a place. In Jesus, the disciples found a place where they could find mercy, purpose, stability, forgiveness, security, and a sameness that gave unity to their lives.
II. Jesus Calls Us to a Time
The Scriptures also report that they responded immediately, almost as if they left their father in the boat (v. 22)! "It is now time," Jesus says. "The kingdom is near" (v. 17). Have you heard about the Procrastinators' Club? They boast five hundred thousand members. Actually, only thirty-five thousand members have joined. The others intend to but just keep putting it off! Jesus is saying, "Don't put it off."
The Bible uses at least two Greek words we translate as "time." One word is chronos, from which we get our word chronology. This is the linear, day-to-day living of our lives. Another word is kairos. This is crisis time. The moment is here. Opportunity awaits. Seize it. "The kingdom is near," Jesus said. Without delay, they followed him. In the play Becket, the king selected his old hunting buddy and fellow carouser to be the archbishop, expecting to control his pal and the church. But in the role of archbishop, Becket changed. "Something happened to me," he told the angry king. "When you put this burden upon me in the empty cathedral, it was the first time in my life that I had ever been entrusted with anything. I was literally a man without honor. Now, I am a man with honor, the honor of God." He had found his place because he recognized the time. It's about time to respond to Jesus' call to live a life that honors God. (Gary L. Carver)