From our perspective, it is spiritually dark in our day. However, the truth of God in Christ has already so illuminated the world it is beyond our ability to comprehend just how dark it was on the day Jesus was born.
It was, as we say, pitch black. Except for one small, inconsequential nation in a strip of land in the cradle of civilization, the entire world lay in utter, hopeless, obsidian darkness from one end of the earth to the other.
Think about that. Outside of Israel, there was not one flicker of true light anywhere in the world. Nothing. The only religions that existed were false. The only houses of worship that had been built were dedicated to demons. The only priests and priestesses were enslaved by unclean spirits, exhorting others to be enslaved as well.
More than two millennia later, we have come to a place where Christian ideas have filled the West, even if the majority of its inhabitants have no idea where these ideas originated. That’s the dramatic claim of historian Tom Holland, author of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.
Holland is a secularist who sees the values of the West as being Christian while personally not even professing a belief in the existence of God.
“How was it that a cult inspired by the execution of an obscure criminal in a long-vanished empire came to exercise such a transformative and enduring influence on the world?” Holland asks in Dominion.
How indeed? Christians should know the answer. Matthew’s gospel cites the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Son of God to earth. Matthew said that those who dwelled in darkness and “the shadow of death” saw a “great Light” (Matthew 4:12-17).
John’s gospel opens with a similarly powerful testimony to the One who came with eternal life:
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world (John 1:4-9).
Too often we underestimate the power of God to rescue lost souls and transform their lives and everything that comes with them –– marriages, families, churches, communities, and even nations.
In Colossians 1:13-14, Paul’s statement is stunning in its expression of the triumphant demonstration of God’s delivering power:
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Yes, darkness has power. Sin has disheartening power and authority over the lives of men and women. Yes, it can crush all hope of escape.
But Paul expresses confidence in an even greater power that obliterates the authority of darkness so that the Christian is joyously freed from sin’s grip. Our path, says Solomon, “is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).
The missionary and martyr Jim Elliot rebuked complacent Christians of his day, complaining that they comprehended neither the glorious power of God nor their own part to play in the declaration of its coming to rescue lost souls.
“We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace,” he said, “while we profess to know a Power the 20th century does not reckon with. But we are harmless and therefore unharmed.”
Jesus warned His followers of such complacency while urging them to action:
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).
Elliot saw failure in the church to heed Christ’s call to battle. “We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle to the death with principalities and powers in high places,” he said. Too many Christians, he added, are “content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged.”
The Christian life is, in many ways, a call to battle. We can be confident that the One who has called us has filled our lives with unimaginable power and a gospel that is itself “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
We can also rejoice that such power has already changed the world from one in which darkness reigned in every place to one in which darkness merely reigns in some places. Will we heed the call to rescue still more souls, as they stagger toward hell, the ultimate darkness?