We live in a dark world. We live in a world of sin and brokenness. We experience the darkness of suffering, evil, and death. In this last year and a half, that darkness has stood front and center, as we have witnessed the wasting power of disease, hate, political strife, and further cultural decadence. And yet, as Christians, the darkness, real as it is, does not define our reality.
Though darkness surrounds us, we have an undefeatable and sure hope. What is our hope? Paul tells us: “ [The Lord] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14). As disciples of Christ, we have moved out of the grasp and power of darkness and into the Kingdom of God where there is redemption and life eternal with Him. The darkness does not define us. We may live in a land of darkness, in a day of darkness, but the darkness is not our authority. It is not the last word. We are now citizens of God’s Kingdom. That is our hope.
And we must cling to this hope. Winston Churchill was once asked what England’s greatest weapon was in World War II. His answer without hesitation: Hope (Maxwell, 2005, p. 72). That was what got them through the war. It was that confident expectancy that drove them forward in the midst of trying circumstances. That hope made them more than their circumstances [like “singing in the rain”]. And friends, we have a far more sure hope than anything England had. Our lives are now hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3). Our redemption is near (Romans 13:11). We have already seen the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:20). And we live now as lights shining in the darkness. So, though the days may be dark, though they may grow darker, we have a hope that will not be snuffed out. And that hope makes us “very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12).
This hope is what we want to reclaim in this series. We’re coming out of the darkness. Coming out of a year of pandemic, coming out of a year of political division, coming out of a year of increasing cultural decay, coming out of a year of racial strife, coming out of a year of fear and uncertainty… We want to reclaim our birthright to hope. In Christ, we are born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). In Christ, we do not fear the darkness but are super conquerors (Romans 8:37). In Christ, we do not belong to the darkness. We belong to the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of light.
So, in this series, we will explore what defines this grand transfer from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of God and what is, therefore, to define our lives now. In this series, we will endeavor to take off our dark glasses, and reclaim our vision as hope-filled citizens of the Kingdom of Light. And today, we begin with one of the beautiful offers of this transfer into the Kingdom: Life. To be transferred out of the domain of darkness and into the Kingdom of God is to be transferred out of death and into life. This morning we are stepping out of darkness and into life!
The Tension: We associate religion with lifelessness.
The Kingdom of Jesus is a Kingdom of Life. Perhaps that is obvious, and yet, from my seat anyway, it seems so many people think just the opposite. They tend to associate faith with death and the world with life.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that my friends and I, as teenagers, had decided we wanted to sow some wild oats before we buckled down and got overly serious about following Jesus. We had heard other peoples’ exciting conversion stories, where they had done a bunch of crazy stuff and then got serious about Jesus, and we figured we would do the same. Why did we talk like that? Precisely because we believed that living, or living it up, lay outside of following Jesus, and that following Jesus was the no-fun, buckled down dying. So, if you wanted to do some living, you better do it before you follow Jesus. At least, that is how we reasoned. And I know some students here today likely feel that way. Church and Christianity seem like a dying. Following Jesus feels like a long list of “no’s” that kill your life and cramp your style.
This negative thinking does not only afflict the young. It still subtly seeps into all of our thinking. We often view discipleship like it’s a diet or exercise program. We say stuff like, “Yeah, I really should read my Bible more.” Or, “I really should pray more.” And it’s not that those statements aren’t true, but you can tell in our tone that we don’t think these things are necessarily life-giving joys but rather guilt-ridden responsibilities. “There’s a lot of fun stuff happening this weekend! [Hangs head.] But I really should cut back on my carbs…and read my Bible more.”
And the world shares this tendency to view Christianity as lifeless. Our nonChristian friends will view your Christianity as a kind of narrowing of life, a shrinking of life. Rather than being open minded, Christianity is viewed as being close minded. There is all that you might do and think and explore (expansive!), but then there is the dogma of Christianity, the old thinking, the old ways (narrowing!). Christianity is viewed as oppressive, intellectual suicide.
But, Jesus teaches just the opposite! If you view following him as a kind of lifeless narrowing, you’ve misunderstood his mission. Jesus says the invitation to the Kingdom is an invitation to Life.
Jesus came that we might have life.
This desire to give life comes out most clearly in the Gospel of John. In John 10:10b, Jesus declares plainly the end goal of his mission. He says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). He says other would-be leaders in the past had only come as robbers and thieves, and these kinds of thugs come only to steal, kill, and destroy. This was true of the time, and it is still true now. So many teachers and leaders and politicians and gurus have mixed motives. They feed on the sheep. But not Jesus. He says he came to give his followers life! His mission was life! His goal was life! He wants for you life! And he laid down his own blessed life for the very purpose that you might have true life. And the Gospel of John is shot through with this emphasis on life. We don’t have time to look at everything, but I do want to consider three images of life we see in the Gospel of John, beginning in John chapter three.
Three Images of Life
In John chapter three, we meet a Pharisee and leader named Nicodemus who comes to Jesus to investigate further his claims. Jesus immediately takes the conversation in a different direction than Nicodemus expected. Jesus launches in with a most remarkable statement. He says, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Jesus states that rebirth is a requirement of the kingdom, and it is. And we will talk in a moment of how that can be. But for now, I want us to just think about that imagery for a minute. We started by saying that as Christians we have been transferred out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus. Now we see that this transfer into his kingdom, before it is anything, is first a radical change in us, a radical change of us. It is so radical that it can only be described as a rebirthing of us. Or, to put it in video game language, we are respawned. Think about that! Entering the Kingdom begins with you receiving new life. And this new life is so new, so total that it can only be described as being born again. You may come in here this morning thinking, “I am what I am now. The damage has been done. I am my past. I am my sin and shame. I am scarred and marred. I am damaged goods. I am addicted, and I am stuck. I am defined. I am labeled. There’s no going back for me. The die has been cast.” But Jesus says to you FALSE! Jesus says he has come to give you a completely new life. He has come that you might start over. And this new life is so radically new that it can only be described as a rebirth. Picture the youthful perfection of a child. The giggles, the doughy skin, the sparkling eyes, the resilience, the vigor, the joy of discovery. Jesus can restart you to this point.
Now, back to the “how” of this. Nicodemus responds with what we’re all thinking: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). How can this be a requirement of the Kingdom? Because how is this even possible? I can’t pull off a second birth. Shoot, I can’t pull off self-help goals. If the requirements were simply reading books, diet and exercise, yoga and meditation, or discipline and grit, I couldn’t do it. How is this possible? But the good news is this new birth comes by the Spirit. It is a gift. Jesus says the Holy Spirit can remake you. The promise of new life is not another impossible, religious ideal; it is a reality gifted and wrought by the Spirit. You can enter the Kingdom with new life.
The second image to consider… the wellspring.
The second image I want us to consider is that of the wellspring or spring. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we have a section of woods that flanked the western side of the neighborhood. It had not been developed because it was a valley, and through the middle ran a little creek. We would often explore and play in that creek. And at one juncture in the creek there was a spring that emerged. It came out from a little shelf of rock and flowed into and fed the creek. If you’ve stood by a spring, you know there are two remarkable aspects. One aspect is the mystery. There is nothing visible indicating the origins of the water. It kind of seems miraculous. The other remarkable aspect is the abundance. Despite seeing no obvious source for this water, it flows…and flows and flows. Day and night, winter, spring, summer, and fall, it would flow. Always bubbling up. Always overflowing. It’s unseen sources were apparently extensive and vast, and it just was this unstoppable fountain head of water that fed the creek which teemed with life which spilled into bluegrass lake. Springs really are remarkable things, the convergence of mystery and abundance.
And Jesus uses this imagery to describe what he wants to do in you. In John four, the occasion for this analogy is the presence of a well. In John four, Jesus is resting at a well of water when he encounters a woman there. He asks her if she would be willing to draw some water for him. She is Samaritan, and at the time viewed as a kind of Jewish half-breed, and so she immediately wonders aloud that he should even be speaking with her. Jesus responds, “…If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Now, the conversation continues, but I want you to focus on what Jesus is offering. He is offering what he describes as “living water.” Like his conversation with Nicodemus, he is essentially talking about new life through him by the Holy Spirit. In John three, the Spirit’s work is likened to a fresh breeze, and here the imagery is that of living water. But here’s what is particularly interesting about the living water. Jesus goes on to add this important detail: “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14b). This living water does not simply rebirth you, amazing though that is. It also grows in you, right into eternal life.
So, the life God wants to give you is new and abundant and unstoppable. I want you to see that eternal life is something not just future, but something that is beginning in you now. And that it continues until and into eternity future means that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). The life God is giving you and working into you by his Holy Spirit is continually flowing and will never stop flowing. It is an endless spring.
The third image…
This is actually first an Old Testament image. David, in Psalm 16:11, says that the Lord makes known to him “the path of life.” David likely did not know to the full extent how true that was. For indeed, this Psalm, this very line, would be realized as applying to Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 2:28) and to our complete salvation. So, the path of life is a path that leads to resurrection, eternal life. And then, when Jesus arrives on the scene, he says he is from the Father and is doing God’s will, and he then applies that same language the path to following him. He himself is the path of life. In John 8:12, we read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We get this imagery of following him as walking but no longer in darkness but in the light of life. Those who follow Jesus are walking in the light of life. Those following Jesus are on the path of Life. Then we see the full flowering of this idea in John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And we see that he is both the pathway and the door to the Father. And we see it all beautifully spun together: he is the way, the truth, and the life. He is life. His life is the way. His way is life. His truth is the way; his way is the truth; his truth is life; his life is truth.
But again, I want to draw our attention to the fact that the path itself is called life. And this is repeated throughout the Old Testament. God’s ways are the ways of life (Proverbs 15:24). He leads us in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). His paths are steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 25:10). His paths are paths of peace (Luke 1:79). He makes straight paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). Do you see? God’s path is the path of life. Jesus’s path is the path of life.
And that means the Christian journey is a journey of life to life. Paul said that on the outside he was wasting away. Aging, disease, persecution… he was wasting away. But, he said on the inside, he was being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). Exactly! This is exactly what Jesus was offering: a path of life!
Are you getting the picture? Life! LIFE! Reborn life! Wellspring life! The path of life! Growing, abundant, unstoppable, eternal life!
And the best part is that in each image we’ve considered, it is clear that this life is being offered as a gift! You don’t earn it. You can’t earn it. You just ask. You don’t make it; you receive it. The Spirit will be given to rebirth you. “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “You would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Whoever follows me will find their path lit up. Whoever comes to Jesus may enter. Jesus offers life as a free gift. You just need ask him for it.
But am I forgetting something?
Now, what about cross-bearing and suffering and sacrifice? You might be thinking that I’m starting to sound like a health and wealth preacher. Well, let me be clear: The life Jesus offers does not mean you won’t suffer. In fact, he says just the opposite. He says in this life you will have troubles. Jesus also says things like this: “ You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18). So, this eternal life that begins now does not mean you will avoid suffering and even physical death.
And actually, I would tell you that you need to turn that death dial all the way up. You will die. Unless the Lord returns in your lifetime, you will die. You will suffer. Growing in Christ often feels like dying the same way getting in shape feels like dying sometimes.
But friends, turn up the life dial! You need to turn up your expectation of life! Jesus and the apostles are always portraying the suffering and dying to this world as one that leads to life, yes in the future, but also right now:
- John 4:36 – Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.
- Romans 6:4 – We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
- 1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
Jesus offers to you life, true life, unstoppable life. God wants for you life! And that is your hope in this world, and that hope makes you bold. That life is your birthright as a believer, and I want you to reclaim it.
Wherever you are…
Application: Step out of the darkness and into life.
Get hold of that hope today. Though the world is dim or covered in darkness, realize God has called you to walk in the light of life.
Folks and families going through trials. It can get so dark in times of trials. You can feel like you’re standing in the valley of the shadow of death. That darkness can make you feel alone and hopeless. But don’t you believe it! God wants life for you! God wants life for your family! God may be putting something to death in you, but it so that you might have life! I just heard recently a pastor share an update on a difficult year. For quite some time he labored in the question why, but as time passed, he began to see the green sprigs appear in his life. God was bringing life. A week or so ago we had a chance to visit Garland Oaks, the home for girls rescued that your generosity helped build. The name comes from Isaiah 61:1-3, which says that God will give to his people a garland of praise instead of the ashes of mourning and he will make them Oaks of righteousness: Garland Oaks. And the story of that home is that the story of these girls will not end in death and ashes, but in light and life! And what’s amazing is when Jesus began his ministry, he picked up that very passage, read it, and said it if fulfilled now in him (Luke 4:16-19). That’s what he has come to do: bring life!
To the students this morning who may view church in the negative, as a place of no fun, hear that what Jesus wants for you is life. Jesus only invites you to kill in your life what would kill you, but what he wants for you is life. Don’t believe that fun lies on the other side of the church. It doesn’t. It is a fool’s gold. True life, the path of life, is in Jesus and his ways and following him. [Compare: Grand Canyon and its paths of life.]
To the unbeliever, let us remember that we offer life. Kyle, one of our speakers at Missions Weeks 2021, said we need to do a better job of telling people what we’re about, not just what we’re against. Well, here ya go: we’re about life. Do our unbelieving neighbors know that? Do our attitudes and actions reflect that truth? We are about life! We preach life!
To those entering empty nest or retirement, God is inviting you to be evergreen, limber and lithe, always growing (Psalm 1:3). Don’t sit back. He has not called you to stagnate or take the bench. He has called you to life. So live, so grow, so make a difference even as your outer self may gradually wear away.
In a year of fear and retreat, in a time of darkness and death, God is not calling us to resign and wait it out in a cave. He is not calling us to cower. He is calling us to be agents of light and life (Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15)! He is calling us to live and hope and invest and grow. We have eternal life. We have unstoppable life. We have wellsprings of life. So we won’t be afraid. We will be very bold!
At the end of Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, the King of Rohan begins to despair and asks, listlessly, what can be done in the face of such evil and death. The messiah figure, Aragorn, replies: Ride out and meet it. That’s the picture of courage and undefeatable hope. We have that hope. May we ride out to meet the world.
Bonus Image: Bread of Life
 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (ESV)
 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (ESV)