Light must fight the darkness

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re studying through the book of John, and we only have a couple of verses. When the bible scholars look at these small passages, a lot of them feel like this story really isn’t that important.

 

But these verses captured my heart decades ago and I have reflected repeatedly about these couple of verses from the gospel of John. So, what I’ve done is put myself in the shoes of the guy that we’re going to hear about today and thought, what would this be like to be him at this moment in scripture. We are going to talk about spiritual warfare and about the name of this church.

 

When we say Cities, I want you to understand that it is not Phenix city, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia. Those are not the two cities that we’re referring to. I’m going to describe the two cities that we are referring to, and these two cities are, by default, two cities that demonstrate that you are part of a spiritual battle, whether you want to be or not.

 

And I’m just going, to be honest, some of you who will hear this today will be a little bit challenged by this because maybe you’re that person who has this innate desire to run from conflict. Like you don’t like conflict. Conflict makes you very uncomfortable. And so, every time there starts to be controversy or conflict; it shuts you down.

  

There’s an example in scripture of a guy who becomes a lightning rod for controversy just by living and breathing. And I think what you’re going to see from Lazarus today from John chapter 12 is how because we were dead in our sins, called out of the grave and made alive by Jesus Christ. We found ourselves exactly where Lazarus found himself, and I’m also going to challenge you about pushing back the darkness, and here’s what I want you to understand from the bible today.

 

Just look at science, look at every example, anywhere in the universe. The light must fight the darkness. There is no example anywhere in the universe. You cannot give me one example from science where light and darkness can exist in the same space at the same time. Every time light enters darkness must be pushed back. And when we talk about pushing back darkness as a church, we are describing this spiritual fight that happens all around us physically, when you flip on the light in a dark room at night, but we’re not talking about physical. We are talking about spiritual light.

 

We’re using wartime language because Jesus said, you, Christian are the light of the world, and a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. It would be inappropriate for that city to hide its light, which means you Christians must fight darkness whether you want to or not, whether you enjoy it or not. You and I, by our very default, when Jesus made us the light of the world, he put us in a battle and made it inevitable that we’re going to have to fight the darkness.

 

And maybe one of the graphic examples of this in very few words, but in very bold description, is Lazarus, after Jesus did a miracle in his life. In John chapter 11, Jesus has some very good friends. They live in a city called Bethany. They’re very dear to him. Two sisters named Mary and Martha and a brother named Lazarus. Lazarus gets sick, and Jesus is away. The sisters reach out to Jesus and beg him to stop what they’re doing. Come quickly because my brother is almost on his deathbed, Jesus drags his feet, and Lazarus dies. And Jesus did this on purpose, Jesus showed up four days later, and the sisters fell down on his feet and said, Jesus, if only you were here. But now it’s too late, and I’ll see him again in heaven one day. And Jesus said you don’t realize who’s standing before you. And he told him to roll away the stone. And then he called that man who was dead out of the grave. And when Jesus called that dead man by name, he walked out of the grave, and he did the same thing to me when I was a 13-year-old boy dead and my sins. And he did it for you. He called you out of the grave of sin, out of your sin, and into a new life with him.

 

Lazarus becomes public number two; Jesus is public enemy number one. Lazarus did not do anything wrong to deserve what we’re going to read in the bible; he just came out of the grave as Jesus called him, and now he is hated, and actually, there’s a contract out on Lazarus’ head because he dared to listen to Jesus and come.

 

This is Passover, which means there are huge crowds when Jesus and Lazarus are hanging out among those crowds, and Lazarus’ very existence is a lightning rod for controversy. Look at what the Bible says, John 12: 9-11, “Then a large crowd of the Jews learned that he was there…” Remember, the Jewish leaders said if Jesus shows his face up, you let us know because we’re going to kill that man. A large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus showed his face in public, and they came not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, the one he had raised from the dead.

 

This was a problem for the Jewish leaders, and the chief priest had decided to kill Lazarus also. It says “also” because they have already put a contract out on Jesus’ head.

 

Lazarus did nothing wrong, but his very presence makes him a lightning rod for controversy because, when they see a man that has been changed that much, it’s impossible to deny who Jesus is and what Jesus can do.

John 12: 9-11

Then a large crowd of the Jews learned he was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

I want you to learn a lesson from Lazarus, and I’m going to put a challenge in front of you and ask you to do one thing as a result of this lesson that we’re learning from Lazarus today. We’re going to learn only one lesson, but we’re going to look at it from two sides of one coin, and it’s the lesson of controversy.

 

I want to bring a couple of other scriptures to bear on this question for us of how a Christian should approach controversy. Still, I want you to know that 2 Cities church’s very existence is not just to sit on our hands and wait idly by until Jesus comes back and calls us to heaven.

Light must fight the darkness

The reason why Jesus left his church on planet Earth is why this church exists; it is to push back the darkness and make much of our glorious God. In fact, the goal of every Christian is that people would see your good deeds, and they would give glory to your Father in heaven because of the way that you and I lived. And when you do that, it’s going to cause controversy. Here are the two ways that Christians typically deal with controversy.

Don’t look for controversy

The first way is there are some people out there; let’s be honest; they’re very controversial and very judgmental. They look for controversy and are always in a theological argument with somebody else because no matter who it is, they want to argue their beliefs versus somebody else’s beliefs. This is the kind of person who wants to criticize, no matter what’s going on.

 

There’s this large crowd in Jerusalem, and Passover is a feast of obligation. All Jewish men were supposed to go to Jerusalem during this festival. Many people from other countries and cultures speak different languages when this happens. They all share this “Judaist” faith, but they are not from Jerusalem.

 

And I need to remind you that when you get people in the room with that many differences, you will have sparks fly. So, of course, there will be some differences of opinions, cultures, languages, and probably different skin colors during this moment in Israel, and there will be controversy. You don’t have to be the kind of guy or gal that looks for controversy.

 

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Gospel itself provides controversy, and if you don’t understand the word Gospel, that is simply the good news that Jesus saves sinners.

 

The Bible challenges us not to be the kind of guy or gal looking for a theological argument with other people. There are people out there, I know them personally, but it seems like they’re only looking for a fight.

 

That is one of the reasons we know from the Bible that we’re not supposed to be that kind of people is because we’re supposed to be gracious, and we’re supposed to be patient, but we’re also supposed to be firm at the same time. And the way that we act and the words we use reflect our Father, which means as sons and daughters of light, you don’t have to go looking for controversy.

 

I want to remind us what Romans 12:18 says to that controversial guy or gal. Romans 12:18 says, “if possible, as far as it depends on you….” We’re not talking about the controversial guy or gal; we’re only talking about you.  “Live at peace with everyone.”

 

Now the Gospel itself is going to be offensive. You don’t have to try to rub them the wrong way. I’m telling you this because I believe you and I should spend five times as much language telling what we love, what we stand for, who Jesus is and how much of a difference he can make in somebody’s life. Saying the good things about the faith every time we tell people what we’re against or what the Bible criticizes. Don’t get me wrong, we need to save them both. But it feels like some Christians only talk about what they’re against, and the people outside the faith have no idea what you and I stand for.

Romans 12:8

If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

 

I’m telling you this from a personal example. I was doing a speaking event in Wichita, Kansas, years ago. The couple of pastors who were bringing their churches together to do a citywide crusade asked me if I would come, and one of those pastors was a lightning rod of controversy the moment he walked into the room. The other pastors were at the table when I sat down before this community event. They all started talking to him about the controversy that was going on around him in the news, and they all started saying, did you say what we saw in the news about you? And he was almost proud and arrogant about “Yeah, I really made that statement.” I just sat at the table listening in awe at this conversation between this pastor and the other guys in his city, and then he made a statement that shocked me. I probably visibly reacted to what he said. He said, “I made controversial statements like that all the time on purpose.” And it shocked me for a second until he explained it to his other pastor friends. “You see, the more the news talks about me, the more people show up to my church to hear this guy. People will keep showing up to my church to hear if this guy really is saying the kind of things that the news is reporting about him.” And when that dinner meal was over, something about that attitude struck me as grossly wrong.

 

Like you don’t have to work to offend people because when they hear what Jesus says about sin and the only way to heaven, it will offend them plenty. So I don’t have to put extra effort into offending them, and when we tell you that you belong to 2 Cities church, we’re talking about two sides of the same coin to different cities. The one city that we refer to is this city on Earth, this city right here, and you and I are supposed to be good citizens of that city.

 

That’s why we went out as a church yesterday and engaged our community. We wanted to serve people. We wanted to meet people right where they were. We wanted to make a difference in their lives and just show up. That’s what light does, right. It shows up in the darkness, and it starts to push the darkness back by just showing up in dark places. But we also went to serve yesterday, hoping that we would earn the right to share with them about the king of kings who has radically changed our lives and can radically change their life too.

 

We don’t have to go to those neighborhoods looking for trouble because it’s already there, and we’re the light that shows up and tries to make a difference. That’s the same one of the two cities from 2 Cities church.

 

So I’m just going to challenge you if you’re that guy or gal like that arrogant offensive pastor I sat next to. You don’t have to go looking for controversy. Just be gracious, and as much as possible with you, dwell in peace with everyone.

Don’t run from controversy

But I need to give you the other half of the coin because controversy will find you. And when controversy finds you, I need you to make a commitment right now that you won’t run from it.

 

You see, the Gospel itself will offend people when they understand what it means that you cannot be good enough; you can’t work hard enough. Listen to this: You can’t pray enough or give enough of your money, do enough good deeds, or go on enough mission trips to earn your way into heaven.

 

When you start to use that kind of language, it will rub people the wrong way. Because it says my sin is so terrible that the only way that sin can be cleaned up is that a perfect, sinless son of God would come and become a human sacrifice on my behalf.

 

What you see in Lazarus is a lightning rod of controversy because when people see Lazarus, they have no choice but to admit that Jesus has the power over life and death. And if he can do that for Lazarus, then maybe he can do that for me.

 

One of the most brilliant theological minds of the new testament is the great apostle Paul, who was once a pharisee and a student of the law for most of his lifetime until Jesus radically changed him and he became a missionary to the gentiles. And Paul describes how offensive the Gospel itself is.

1 Corinthians 1: 22-23

For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

In one of his letters to the Gentile Greeks, in a town called Corinth. 1 Corinthians 1, Paul describes how you and I should hold our ground and not run away from controversy. Corinthians 1:22-23 says that the Jews asked for a sign, and the Greeks sought wisdom. Paul is a guy who came from a Jewish background and understands Judaism and all of its theological implications, perhaps better than anybody. And he’s now writing a letter to a Greek church and he’s going to tell them about the Gospel, “For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. ”

 

In this Greek city of Corinth, you see, you had some of the most brilliant philosophers. And when Paul went to them and tried to explain life, death, and eternity to them. It seemed like foolishness to those gentiles, those Greek gentiles. But Paul says when I preached to the Jews the same message. That message was a stumbling block for them.

 

A stumbling block is that stone in the road that you can’t keep going down this path anymore because you’re going to crash your car, and there’s no way to get around it, get over it, move beyond it. It is going to upset your plans seriously.

 

So Paul is saying, the cross of Jesus Christ is offensive. It’s controversial to the Jews. It will be the controversy of a stumbling block to the Greeks, philosophers, and people trying to figure their way into heaven by their intellect. It’s going to feel like the controversy of foolishness to them.

 

What he’s saying is, when you and I look a man or a woman in the eyes and say, do you understand that your sins are so terrible? It doesn’t matter if we’re only talking about one sin, one time; maybe you just pluck the grape from the product out of the grocery store without paying for that. Sin deserves death, and it is so offensive to a Holy God that you can undo it.

 

You can help little old ladies across the street, but that will not get you into heaven. That one sin one time now deserves death, and people hear that, and they’re going to be offended by that statement.

 

I don’t have to be controversial because the Gospel itself is controversial. The Gospel says if you could be good enough to get to heaven, there was no reason for Jesus to leave heaven and come to Earth and die in their place.

 

Now let’s go to my favorite part of this story, the part that I have reflected on for decades. Imagine you’re in a restaurant, and Lazarus is eating at the table across the room. Imagine that you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, and Lazarus is in the line in front of you. Imagine that you’re at the gas station, and Lazarus is fueling up his F150 pickup truck in front of you, and every time you see Lazarus, it is a vivid reminder of who Jesus is and what he can do. And word is spreading around town that the religious leaders want that man dead.

 

You’ve heard about it, and you’re not sure that Lazarus has heard about it. So you decided you owe it to this guy to at least let him know, hey Lazarus, there’s a fatwa, there is a religious death warrant on your head, you should probably leave the restaurant, man, and you should run out the back door. You should go home down dark alleyways so that nobody knows that you’re here. I wish the Bible gave us this information because I would love to know Lazarus’ response to you. I do believe that when Lazarus hears this message, Lazarus doesn’t care. 

Lazarus knows he’s a lightning rod for controversy because God has changed that man that he doesn’t fear anymore. And I really believe that this is how you and I are supposed to live.

 

I want to ask you, are you such a good citizen of the heavenly city? Have you had such a glimpse of God and the beauty of his Gospel and the king of Kings that what happens to you here on Earth doesn’t matter in city number two?

 

These are the two cities that the 2 Cities church represents. Are you living like Lazarus? Because if you’re living like Lazarus, people will persecute you.

 

Jesus said they persecuted me, criticized me, and definitely going to do it to my followers. He even said in the sermon on the mountain, blessed are you when they persecute you because it demonstrates that you really are my daughter, that you really are my son.

 

It will be controversial just by living your faith out in front of unbelievers, and that’s why light has no choice. There is nowhere anywhere in the universe where light and darkness can dwell peacefully in the same place at the same time.

 

It’s also true of you Christian when you are the light of the world, and you go into a dark workplace. By being in the United States Army in one of those really dark workplaces for a long time, I know that when you go into a dark neighborhood with spiritual oppression all around you, and there are a lot of people that don’t share your beliefs, it’s going to cause controversy. Please don’t go looking for it, be gracious, be patient, represent your Father well, but don’t run from it when it happens, stand your ground because you are building your life on a firm foundation when the winds blow and the rains come and the winds will blow and the rains will come. You’ve got nothing to worry about.