Sermon Series: Jesus the Light of the World
A young minister from England named George Whitefield traveled throughout the American colonies during the Colonial Era of American history and championed the renewal of Christianity now know as the “Great Awakening.” Reverend Whitefield did so with such power, enthusiasm, and persuasiveness that he became famous to his own and later generations.
The Great Awakening was a period of spiritual enlightenment. It emphasized that Jesus was the Light of the world and that His followers were lights in the world, also, living to explain and demonstrate the reality of God’s truth. The goal of the Great Awakening was the goal shared by all of Christendom throughout time, to go back to the future. That is, to go back to the principles and values of Christ.
The Great Awakening movement sought to model its present and future lifestyle based on a model found in the past. The Great Awakeners were motivated by the desire to restore faithfulness to Christ and the Word of God. They saw themselves as the proverbial “city on a hill.” As they lived out their calling to be “a city on a hill” they attempted to serve as a Christian light to a corrupt European world they had left behind. In order to accomplish this, the light of truth, Christ needed to be revealed as The Model, the Original Pattern for living yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
George Whitefield once wrote in The Duty of Searching the Scriptures, “And if we would know whence all the errors that have overspread the Church of Christ (the worldwide union of Christians) first arose, we should find they in a great measure flowed from the same fountain, an ignorance of the Word of God.”
These words uttered by Reverend Whitefield highlight the need for revelation. They hammer home the reality that a part from living in the light of truth, God’s revealing, God making His truths known to us, we are condemned to live in total darkness. As we consider those led to stoke the flames that ignited the era known as the Great Awakening, we are reminded that in order for us to get the most out of our living in the present and the future, we must sometimes look back. We must revisit earlier times when the model for living was simple and followed a blueprint that had already been drawn up and handed down from generation to generation. A template that is still being used today and those who are employing it admittedly are experiencing greater levels of peace, joy, fulfillment, and blessings then those who try to forge their own mold.
Advent is a time for looking ahead. It is a time when we look toward the future with watchful eyes that are waiting to behold what God is preparing to do in our midst. Advent is a time for Great Awakenings.
The prophet Isaiah in the second chapter of the book that bears his name also spoke of a future time. He speaks of a time when the kingdom of God will be established. One of the questions that must be asked is how does the knowledge of the establishment of God’s future kingdom help us now? Good question. The answer is, before we can be the kingdom of God or be a part of the kingdom of God, we must first see the kingdom of God. Before Judah and Jerusalem could become a part of God’s Kingdom it had to be revealed to them. Like the Great Awakeners, before they could attempt to be “a city on a hill,” they had to first see themselves as “a city on a hill.” In other words, at some point it was revealed to them that this is what you can be and/or become. By seeing what they could be and become, and then following the steps or process to achieve that they could channel and focus their energy in a specific direction. One of the benefits of revelation is that we can see things we had not previously seen before.
Isaiah likens the kingdom of God to a mountain. He says, “The mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” It is interesting that Isaiah describes the kingdom as “the highest of the mountains,” and the Great Awakeners saw themselves as “a city on a hill.” Isaiah’s description points to geographic locale. The Great Awakeners depiction of themselves refers to lifestyle. Both point to position. Geographically, the kingdom will be elevated so that everyone who sees it will be able to distinguish it from all other pseudo-kingdoms and also rans. Personally, those who make up the kingdom will live their lives in such a way that there will not be any confusing them with others who are not part of God’s kingdom. The elevated position of the kingdom allows it to be seen and helps it to standout. It is difficult to move toward something you cannot see. As people see it, Isaiah tells us that people from every walk of life will make their way to it.
This raises a very interesting question, if the kingdom of God can be so easily identified then why are not more people moving towards it? Perhaps, it has changed its geographical location. Instead of being the highest of the mountains it has become one of the mountains. Instead of being at its apex it has begun to slide down slippery slope of moral decline. Honestly, what separates Christendom today from any other religion? May be that is the problem, instead of being a movement like the Great Awakening we have settled for being a religion like all of the other mountains.
The same question can be posed to the Body of Christ, if we can be so easily identified by our lifestyle why does society have such a difficult time identifying us? If our lifestyle is our identity marker then people should be able to spot us by the way we live. I wonder if the confusion that exists has anything to do with a watering down of the standard for Christian living. I mean, we do not want to be considered ultra conservative or super religious and so, we relax the standards making the unacceptable acceptable. Eventually, the “city on a hill” becomes just another city in the valley. Another benefit of revelation is that it helps us to see distinctions and differences.
One of the modern concepts that grew out of and originated from the Great Awakening era was that of revival. Revival services were services where people would come from all over in pursuit of spiritual renewal. Isaiah points out that when the Kingdom of God is established as the highest of the mountains, people will encourage each other to go to it. One of the reasons for this attraction is that God will reveal answers to familiar problems.
“He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.” Here we have the answer to the question of how do we be and become the Kingdom of God. We come to the place where God lives and dwells and it there that God reveals to us how we are to live.
One of the nagging issues that has plagued humanity from the beginning of time is learning how to get along and co-exist with each other and all of God’s creation. This is a familiar problem whose answer has managed to elude us even up to today. However, according to Isaiah the answer is not found within us, but within the Word of God. It is amazing that with all of the collective intelligence of mankind that we can put a man on the moon, we can find cures and treatments to various illnesses and diseases, we can even figure out how to multiply investments, but we have not been able to figure out how to live, work, and play together.
In verse 4 we read of a righteous judge who will settle disputes. One of the realities of life is that God created people using the same process, but God made us all different. Different people will have differences. Differences have the dual effect of either bringing people together or creating a chasm that separates and divides us. When a chasm exists between individuals and groups, only humility can close the gap. Here is the rub, when someone offends us our immediate reaction is a call for justice. The problem with calling for justice is that justice is not always fair. A second problem with justice is that inevitably no one wins. Mahatma Ghandi noted that, if everyone lived by the credo of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the whole world would eventually become blind and toothless. There was a woman whose son had been imprisoned for crimes he committed. She decided to go the emperor and plead for her son’s life. After the woman made her case the emperor stated that justice needed to be served and her son needed to pay for his crimes. The woman responded that she was not asking for justice, but rather she was asking for mercy. Justice is getting what you and I deserve. God is not in the business of doling out justice, but rather God offers mercy. However, for mercy to be effectual it must be received with humility. Imagine if we extended mercy to every person that ever offended us, hurt us, or harmed us in any way based on the realization that we are simply extending to others what God has shown us. How do we resolve our differences? We resolve them with humility. We apply to others the same treatment that God has applied to us.
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” It takes initiative to make the first move. I can remember my father saying to me in the midst of a heated argument with my younger sister, “someone has to be the adult.” While disagreements will no doubt persist between us, it takes initiative to extinguish and quell them. God took the first step in repairing His relationship with us. As our template, we are encouraged to follow His lead and take the initiative in repairing our relationship with others and the rest of God’s creation. There was a point during America’s history when the dream of a world without arms was something that both people and politicians championed. However, due to mistrust and distrust that dream has now faded and evaporated into a mere puff of smoke dissipating into the air. Imagine if you and I actually laid down our grudges, resentments, and hard feelings and instead reached out and started cultivating friendships and partnerships with these same people. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus demonstrated that it takes an adult to say, you know what, instead of me trying to hurt you, how about I help you. Instead of allowing negative emotions to fuel hatred and hard feelings how about turning those negative emotions into energy and using that energy to plant the love of Christ, cultivate that love and foster its growth. Initiative is the willingness to take a step even when you really do not want to. If we truly desire things to be better and to get better, then why wait? You and I need to take the first step. Change begins with me.
“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Taking the initiative to live humbly will produce peace. How can we co-exist? Choose peace. Peace is a choice. Someone once told me that it takes one person to start an argument, but it takes at least two people to keep an argument going. When it comes to matters on which we disagree, can we agree to disagree without being disagreeable? If being right is all that matters we will continue to argue our point. If peace is all that matters we will forego our desire to be and embrace the reality that everyone is entitled to their opinion and I do not have to share their opinion nor do they have to share my opinion. We simply accept the fact that on a particular matter we differ.
Isaiah concludes in verse 5 by stating, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” Humility, initiative, and peace are by-products of walking in the light of the LORD. It is in the light of Christ’s teachings that these qualities are revealed and offered to help us elevate our quality of life. These three are like rungs on a ladder positioned to help us lift ourselves up the mountain so that we can move closer to becoming “a city on a hill.”
The Great Awakeners discovered something that the early church found out, the light of Christ is a light of revelation. It awakens the souls of men, women, and children. Through the power of Christ’s revelatory light all people touched by its light gain the ability to become a part of the Kingdom of God. The revelatory power of Christ’s light opens our understanding of God’s divine plan for us through Christ Jesus. As we see and understand God’s plan we are better able to accept it, and through our acceptance we are reborn. Our rebirth produces a change in us and we become partners with God in carrying out God’s will by working with God to further expand God’s kingdom on earth.
Have you seen the kingdom? If not, come to Christ, the light of revelation and let Him reveal God’s Kingdom to you and help you become a part of the kingdom.