Posts tagged ‘Light’

Sunshine & Branches

Tree, Aesthetic, Log, Branch, Winter Sun, Winter, Kahl

When an elderly priest named Zechariah is chosen by lot to burn incense at the temple in Jerusalem, it marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, there were around 20,000 priests serving at the temple in the first century. Many of them never got to bring such an offering before God. So, Zechariah, when his lot is drawn, is obviously overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. But an already overwhelming moment becomes even more potent when, in the middle of Zechariah’s liturgical service, an angel appears to him, telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom could have easily qualified to be members-in-good-standing of the AARP by this point in their lives, will have a child who will, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, “prepare the way for the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). At first, Zechariah is skeptical of this angelic announcement, but his suspicion quickly melts into praise and hope, both at the promise that he and his wife will have a child and that his child will prepare the way for the arrival of God’s salvation. At the end of a song of celebration, he muses:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heavento shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

In his song, Zechariah celebrates both his child and God’s Messiah. He describes the Messiah as “the rising sun” who will come “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

This picture of light was a common metaphor for the Messiah among the prophets:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)


For you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)

In a world full of the darkness of sin, the Messiah would bring the light of righteousness.

When Zechariah speaks of the coming Messiah as “the rising sun,” the Greek word Luke employs is anatole, a word which refers to the east, the place from which the sun rises. What is fascinating about this word is that it can also be translated as “branch,” as it is when God speaks through the prophet Zechariah, who lived over 500 years before the priest Zechariah did:

I am going to bring My servant, the Branch. (Zechariah 3:8)

God calls the Messiah “the Branch,” the Greek word for which is anatole. In a world full of death, the Messiah would be like a tree that sprouts and brings life.

This one little word speaks to who the Messiah is in multiple ways. He sheds light in the darkness of sin and he branches out from death with life. Though Zechariah, more than likely, did not understand the fullness of who the Messiah would be and what He would accomplish when he sang his song, we live in what the apostle Paul once called “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In other words, we have the benefit of historical retrospection to understand more fully how Jesus changed the world – and how Jesus still changes lives. And because of this, we, like Zechariah, can have praise to offer and hope to hold this Christmas.

December 21, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

ABC Extra – Darkness to Light – John 3:1-16

Fitness.  According to the Bible, it’s not just a diet program or an exercise regimen, it involves everything we are.  For God desires us to be fit in every aspect of our lives, be that physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, or otherwise.  Indeed, Jesus describes his mission thusly:  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Jesus desires not only that we have life, but that we have it to the full.  And a full life can be found only in him.

Ultimately, a perfectly full life can never be had in this life, for this life will end.  Thus, a full life, given by Jesus, involves a promise of a new life beyond this one – a new, eternal life beyond this one.  This new, eternal life is the topic of conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus in John 3.  The chapter opens:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2)

Especially notable in these verses is the timing of this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.  It is “at night” (John 3:2).  On the one hand, as I mentioned in Adult Bible Class, John’s gospel regularly uses the image of darkness to express not only physical darkness, but spiritual darkness.  As Jesus later says in this same chapter: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Thus, Nicodemus’ timing in his visit to Jesus seems to express something concerning his spiritual state:  he is in darkness.

But at the same time the setting of this encounter alludes to Nicodemus’ spiritual darkness, it alludes to something else:  his faithfulness.  According to ancient traditions, religious communities, such as the community of the Pharisees, were to study Scripture late into the night.  We read in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “The general membership [of a religious community] will be diligent together for the first third of every night of the year, reading aloud from the Book, interpreting Scripture, and praying together” (1QS 6:7-8).  Thus, at night, as during the day, Nicodemus was to study Scripture with his fellow Pharisees.  So when Nicodemus comes to Jesus, he probably does so right after he has studied the Scriptures.

Eventually, Nicodemus comes to faith in Jesus.  We read near the end of John’s gospel:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)

Interestingly, by this time, Nicodemus does not seem to be nearly so shy concerning his commitment to Jesus as he was in John 3.  He accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to Pontius Pilate, the very prefect of Judah.  Mark records that such an act “took courage” (Mark 15:43), for Pilate could have easily condemned the two men.

Not only does Nicodemus boldly approach Pilate with Joseph, he also embalms Jesus’ body on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42), that is, the day before the Sabbath.  Jewish days were reckoned from sundown to sundown.  This means that Nicodemus would have to tend to the details of Jesus’ burial before sundown – while it was still daylight.

Nicodemus’ first encounter with Jesus was under the cover of night.  Nicodemus’ final encounter with Jesus was in broad daylight.  Perhaps all those late night study sessions of the Scriptures helped Nicodemus after all.  For hours upon hours of studying the light of God’s Word eventually led him to faith in God’s Light of the world.

Before you go to bed tonight, after it becomes dark, take a cue from Nicodemus:  take a few brief moments to read and ponder the light of God’s Word, thanking God for his Light of the world.

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February 15, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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