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Dec 07, 2014

Afraid of the Dark?

Afraid of the Dark?

Passage: Isaiah 9:2

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Light In The Darkness

Keywords: darkness, light, advent


This message begins our Advent series "Light out of Darkness". It examines what God has to say about darkness, different kinds of darkness, and what God may want to do with us in the midst of the dark periods of life.


Afraid of the Dark?

Message #1 of Advent 2014--Light Out of Darkness

December 7, 2014

Darkness…it comes in many different forms, right? Anyone here who wasn’t at least a little afraid of the dark as a child? Wow. I’ll bet you were a real disappointment to BOO!

[Get-acquainted groups?]

  • How many types of “darkness” can you think of…and define?

o   Physical darkness: absence of photons, presence of invisible “matter”

o   Spiritual darkness: absence of God; presence of evil

o   Emotional darkness: absence of hope, presence of negative emotions

o   Mental darkness: absence of truthful thoughts and thinking patterns

o   Relational darkness: absence of healthy relationships; presence of loneliness, of destructive relationships

o   Financial darkness: presence of debt or absence of resources.

o   Marital darkness

o   Career: absence of employment, meaning, sense of fulfillment; presence of unemployment, despair, boredom, meaninglessness.

o   Moral darkness: absence of righteousness; presence of evil

o   ???

  • Which one is most unsettling or frightening to you personally and why?

Welcome to Advent! Actually, Advent started last Sunday and will continue until December 24th…unless you are from the Eastern Orthodox tradition (like my niece and family are), in which case you would have already begun Advent on November 15th!

            Advent celebrates, of course, the most amazing event in human history—the slipping of God the Son into humanity and the changing of human history through that miracle.

            Here at Mosaic, we’re launching into our Advent series called “Light” taken from Isaiah’s prophecy of chapter 9, vs. 2—The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;

This is a prophetic statement about the coming of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John picks that theme of light up in the words of Jesus in John 8:12-- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

But back to Isaiah 9.   Just 4 verses later (9:6), Isaiah tells us who that “great light” will be.

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”

What does all this have to do with darkness which we started our morning discussing? Part of celebrating the light of God through the coming of Jesus into our dark world must involve experiences of darkness. And not all darkness is evil, just as not all light is holy.

            So this morning I would like us to do a bit of biblical thinking and meditating upon the role of darkness in our lives and particularly our spiritual journeys.

But before we launch into that, could I make a recommendation for some daily devotional reading during Advent? John Piper, one of my favorite contemporary authors, has just come out with a new Advent devotional called The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. You can buy the book…or you can download it for free. We’ll make a link for it on the MosaicSpokane.com web site. Or you can go directly to DesiringGod.org and get the download.

Let me read you part of the very first day’s devotional that has everything to do with what Mosaic is all about.

“The word advent means “coming.” In this season of the year, we focus on the meaning of the coming of the Son of God into the world. And the spirit of our celebration should be the spirit in which he came. And the spirit of that coming is summed up in Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The coming of Jesus was a search-and-save mission. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God—that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive. He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting. He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent.”

[John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, pp. 15-16.]

Wow! Does that sound appropriate for where we are as a church? “God on a mission…never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting…[but]sending, pursuing, searching, saving.” Thank God for Advent and His heart behind it!


When it comes to darkness, we have this sort of love-hate affair in life:

  • There are some aspects of physical darkness we almost universally dislike—the sense of vulnerability, of inability to protect ourselves from what we normally see in the light whether it’s a branch hanging across the sidewalk that you’ll walk into or a group of hoodlums hanging out in the alley. We dislike the loss of control darkness brings—and inability to manage our environment. Darkness brings an increase in crime and violence.
  • But some aspects we all seem to appreciate—the ability to sleep, nighttime phenomena (star-gazing, northern lights, romantic moon). The world often gets quieter at night. Activity in general slows down. There’s not so much street noise (though the crickets and frogs may make up for it.) Other positive aspects of darkness we may not be so aware of.   But some benefits of darkness, like the production of melatonin, are absolutely critical to our survival. Melatonin is a vital hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland that controls our sleep and wake cycles. Light (particularly short-wave length blue light) suppresses melatonin. So if you have the lights on all night, chances are you won’t be able to just sleep through that. The light itself will lower the production of this sleep-inducing hormone. Worse yet, low melatonin levels have been shown to increase the risk of cancer, impair our immune system function, and possibly lead to cardiometabolic consequences such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease. Fact is, we really need physical darkness to stay healthy.

Before we sort out whether darkness is good, bad or indifferent when it comes to our experiences with God and life, let me remind you that the interplay between darkness and light is something that runs the length of Scripture and may not be as “black and white” as you think.

            When we dive into the Bible in the first book, Genesis, it takes God a whole two sentences in to talk about darkness when he says, The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” (Gen. 1:2).

            But wait a minute. How can God be present, “hovering over the face of the waters” while the earth is “without form and void,” with darkness over the face of the deep? I thought God is light (I Jn. 1:5) and that therefore wherever God is, light must be? Hold that question.

So God starts earth’s history with a discussion of darkness. Then, throughout the Bible, there is a continual reference to darkness and light, some physical, some other kinds.

(The word “darkness” alone appears over 150 times. The Hebrew word can refer to 6 different kinds of darkness:

1. cosmic darkness - Gen. 1:2

2. physical darkness but of a kind that is deeper than night; one of the plagues of the Exodus - Exod. 10:21

3. death/underworld - Ps. 139:7-12

4. disaster - Job 15:22-30; 20:26; Isa. 8:22; 50:10

5. God's hiddenness - Ps. 18:11

6. lack of revelation - Micah 3:6)

When we come to the close of earth’s history in Revelation 21 and the creation of the new heaven and earth, we find that the New Jerusalem where God’s glory will reside has “no night” (20:26). The reason given for that is in 21:23—And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” The last chapter of Revelation (22), vs. 5 tells us that in this city of God, “… night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

            That’s the New City of God, not, possibly, the whole new earth. For if there are new heavens too (which there will be), then it stands to reason that there will be new suns and stars too. There may be night on the earth but no lack of light ever in the New Jerusalem because of the unfiltered, un-obscured presence of God there.

But back to Genesis 1. The next verse after the first mention of darkness (physical) says this:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.

Already by the end of day 1 we have God separating the light and darkness into Day and Night. And He called both “good.” But I digress. J

We don’t have anywhere near time to look at the 110 different references to “darkness” in the Old Testament. But neither can we afford to ignore some pretty important references to darkness and how our God is connected to it or uses it.

            Let’s go to Exodus 10:21-23. There we have the 9th plague upon Egypt. God is attacking the Egyptian’s trust in their sun god, Ra. Here’s what happened.

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.”

ILL: How many of you were in Spokane when Mount St. Helens blew in 1980? That was a darkness you could “feel”, but still different from this plague. This plague was more like a combination between some national blindness (like blindness of everyone from some chemical attack) and a black hole in space that traps even the light. It wasn’t something that could be taken care of simply by lighting a lamp or people would have done that. This was a darkness that sucked any light you attempted to have out of the very room.

And it was very specific to location—only where the Egyptians lived; not where the Israelites lived (Goshen)…in the same nation.

So here are a few really important biblical realities about darkness:

1.)    Our God creates both darkness and light. That is not the same as saying God creates both good and evil. Darkness is not, apparently, inherently evil. Sin is. But not darkness. In fact, in the creation narrative, God proclaimed that darkness was “good”. Hopefully our brief discussion of physical darkness earlier also convinced you of that.

2.)    Our God uses both darkness and light to demonstrate his supreme power in this world. This episode in Egypt was definitely a physical experience, a miracle. I’ve not heard of God reproducing this miracle in the church age where pagan people are somehow walking around in a sort of “cone of physical darkness” during the day while God’s people blithely go about their business enjoying the sunshine.

BUT I do think Scripture says that is precisely what is to be happening on the moral and spiritual level. We are “children of light” (Eph. 5:8; I Thess. 5:5) while those without Christ are still “in darkness.” In fact, Eph. 5:8 says they actually are darkness in some way. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”So God is still displaying His power in our world through spiritual darkness as well as spiritual light.

3.)    God sometimes uses darkness as judgment on rebellious people. Perhaps we should not be too quick to try and rescue people rebelling against God from actually feeling the darkness they have chosen. Spiritual rebels sometimes need to spend a bit of troubling time in darkness, recognizing how deadening and debilitating it can be. Sure, we are to “let our light shine” before people in such a way that they see our good works and glorify God (Mt. 5:16). But sometimes people in rebellion against God need to actually feel the darkness they are claiming to love. And maybe we need to let God do that and not be so quick to jump in with our little “candle” of light to try and make them feel better right away. It can be a tough balance but one I am sure the Holy Spirit can help us navigate.

4.)    God sometimes shields his children from the darkness in the midst of judgment. At times I think we as God’s kids allow ourselves to be dragged into the darkness of despair or discouragement or declining moral standards that is happening around us in our culture rather than taking our stand in the light that God wants to bless us with. Just because the culture is stumbling around in the dark, stubbing their proverbial toes and running into walls that God wants to protect them from doesn’t mean we need to join them in the darkness. While our hearts should always be compassionate towards those lost in and damaged by the darkness, that doesn’t mean their darkness should steal our joy of living in the light. Darkness and light live side-by-side, just as judgment and blessing can live side-by-side in the same world, nation, city or household.

Proverbs 4:18-19 sums it up pretty well:

18 …the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
    which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 [But] the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know over what they stumble.

Just a little bit farther on in Exodus 14 where Pharaoh’s army is pursuing the Israelites to destroy them at the Red Sea, “the angel of the Lord” (who we surmise was a visible manifestation of God the Son before the incarnation) moved from in front of the Israelites leading them to behind them, between them and the Egyptians army, protecting them.

19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

So apparently what provided light on one side for the Israelites to walk through the seabed that He dried up that night, gave darkness to the Egyptians on the other side of the same curtain of His presence that stood between the two nations.

But the Israelites experienced the darkness of God themselves, too. In Exodus 20. This is the chapter where God gives the 10 Commandments. But listen to the difference in experiences between Moses experienced and what the rest of the Israelites experienced.

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Notice in verse 20 that this rather awesome manifestation of the presence of God produced two different responses in God’s people. For the bulk of the people, they just got afraid of the presence of God and wanted to avoid it altogether. But Moses instructed them that while “the fear of Him [should] be before” them, it was not to drive them away from Him. And then Moses modeled it by stepping right into the “thick darkness where God was.”

For the Israelites God’s presence produced fear and chosen distance from God which ultimately led them into sin, not away from it (i.e. the Golden Calf debacle). For Moses it produced faith and led to one of his most powerful and transformational encounters with God of his entire life. He understood that darkness, thick darkness, is sometimes where the presence of God is most powerful and transforming.

This is a 5th critical truth from the Bible about darkness: Darkness is sometimes where the presence of God is most powerful and transforming.

That has been true in the physical sense for centuries. Some of the most important dreams and visions that came to the people of God in the past happened in the dark of night. Some of the saints’ most important wrestling with God has been in the middle of the night.

            But the same can be true in the other types of darkness we experience in life. In the darkness of loss, of death, of suffering, of loneliness, of crisis…God seems to specialize in coming to us in the midst of the things we most fear that actually happen to us. More practical holiness and righteousness gets forged in the furnace of the dark nights of our souls than ever seems to get poured in the normal light of comfortable daytime life.

            For Moses and the Israelites there was a huge difference between “the fear of God” that kept Moses from sin and “fearing” the presence of God which led them into sin. The same can be true of us. Too often we fear the experiences that are dark and troubling in our lives when actually that is where God wants to encounter us more deeply. So we run from those experiences as fast and hard as we possibly can. But in doing so, we are actually running away from God himself.

  • We do that when we run from a marriage that is tough as nails.
  • We do that when we run from God when suffering hits us or a loved one.
  • We may do that when we try to escape financial difficulties through “the easy out” of bankruptcy or taking Christian or government welfare when God may want to meet us in the dark crucible of hard work or a difficult place of employment or boss.
  • We run from the dark presence of God when we make excuses for our ungodly behaviors, addictions and patterns rather than diving into the darkness and hard work of recovery and reconstruction by the Holy Spirit.

APP: I don’t know what “darkness” God wants to meet you in today that you would rather run from. But we ALL have them. So let’s take a moment, bow our heads and close our eyes, and ask God to speak to us about some darkness we may have been running from that He wants to use to help us encounter Him more and help us stay away from sin more. [Silent 30 seconds.]

Darkness can be frightful. It can be thick. It can be almost overpowering. But it can also be right where God wants to meet us. Just because life has grown dark doesn’t mean God has grown distant.

            When Solomon was dedicating the first Temple in Jerusalem, that massive, gold-inlayed and over laid bright hewn stone structure, he began his prayer by acknowledging “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness,” (I Kings 8:12).

            So as much as most of us won’t go looking for the dark times in life, when they come in the providence and wisdom of God, we do NOT need to fear them. We do NOT need to run from them. In fact, we probably, like Moses, need to walk towards them and into them

ILL: Story of Pastor Paul Y. Cho and the building project they entered into as a church in Seoul, S. Korea in the early days (1970s) of that amazing ministry. Even Pastor Cho has stumbled in recent years but that does not negate the great and godly work that went on and still goes on that has touched the world through their “Prayer Mountain.”  

            As Dr. Cho says in his 1984 book Prayer: Key to Revival, Prayer Mountain is much more than a retreat area dedicated to prayer. Originally the land was purchased for a church cemetery. Since Korea had been a traditionally Buddhist country, having a church burial place was very important to them. (Korean Buddhists usually burn the body in a funeral pyre, crush the bones to dust and scatter them around the Buddhist temple area believing in reincarnation of the soul.)

            Pastor Cho talked about the dark time he and his congregation went through in building their then-new building. The Korean won, which was tied to the American dollar, suffered a huge devaluation. Then the oil crisis of the 70’s hit, worsening an already fragile economy. Lots of his people lost their jobs and incomes. The church faced possible financial collapse since they were well into construction contracts. He said, “I sat in my unfinished church building, wishing the still bare rafters would just fall on me.”

            Then some of his people started doing something wonderful. “During this crucial time…, a group from our church went to the property and started building a place to pray, mainly for their suffering pastor. Although I saw the need for this in our church, my concern was the added expenses that kept piling up on my desk.

            “Seeing that only a miraculous intervention of God would deliver us from a catastrophe, I joined the intercessors at Prayer Mountain. One evening while we were meeting to pray on the ground floor of our unfinished church, several hundred joined me in prayer. An old woman walked slowly in my direction. As she approached the platform, I noticed that tears were filling her eyes. She bowed and said, “Pastor, I want to give these items to you so that you may sell them for a few pennies to help with our building fund.”

            I looked down, and in her hands were an old rice bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Then I said to her, “Sister, I can’t take these necessities from you!”

            “But Pastor, I am an old woman. I have nothing of value to give to my Lord; yet, Jesus has graciously saved me. These items are the only things in the world I possess!” she exclaimed, tears now flowing freely down her wrinkled cheeks. “You must let me give these to Jesus. I can place my rice on old newspapers and I can use my hands to feed myself. I know that I will die soon, so I don’t want to meet Jesus without giving Him something on this earth.”

            Pastor Cho said, “As she finished speaking, everyone there began to weep openly. The Holy Spirit’s presence filled the place and we all began to pray in the Spirit.”

            He concludes the story with these words, “A businessman in the back of the group was deeply moved and said, “Pastor Cho, I want to buy that rice bowl and chopsticks for one thousand dollars!” With that, everyone started to pledge their possessions. My wife and I sold our small home and gave the money to the church. This spirit of giving saved us from financial ruin.” [Paul Y. Cho, Prayer: Key to Revival, pp. 107-8, 1984.]

You know what I think? I think the darkness of financial trials saved them from a lot more! I think the presence of God in the midst of that darkness of that crisis saved them from apathy, from indifference, from possessiveness, from minimalistic stewardship and from a host of other things most of us are in danger of every day. Rather than run from God in the darkness, they pressed into God. The result was nothing short of miraculous.

When Pastor Cho wrote this book in 1984, the year before, over 300,000 people had registered at Prayer Mountain and spent time praying, often fasting and skipping sleep in order to pray through the night. Would they ever have changed the world if they had NOT gone into the financial darkness of 1973? I wonder.

Are you afraid of the dark? Don’t be. Use those dark rooms and nights and chapters of life to encounter God. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 139:11-12,

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

And as long as we are “with” Christ in the darkness, we will never walk alone. Don’t be afraid of life’s dark places. That’s where we may encounter God as never before.

ILL: At the end of his Christmas Day broadcast, on the eve of World War II in 1939 as Britain was again facing another world war in less just over a decade, Britain’s King George VI quoted part of the poem “God Knows” by Minnie Haskins. It reads,

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

Marching into the darkness, hand in hand with God, is far preferable to strolling around in the light, independent of God and distant from him.

Don’t be afraid of the dark!