I WANT TO WALK AS A CHILD OF THE LIGHT
- You live in the light
- Help others to see the light
Based on 1 Peter 2:9-12
I want more sunlight! The last time I spent a full winter in Wisconsin was the winter of 2000-01 during my last year as a student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. I recall that we had a particularly snowy December that winter. I knew that returning to my state of origin meant that the last and first months of each year would be much colder, but I don’t think I considered much about the lack of sunlight during the winter months. But now that we’re here, I know I would appreciate some more light!
The lack of sunlight can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D, and that can lead to all sorts of other issues: psychological depression (especially in the form of “SAD”—Seasonal Affect Disorder), increased likelihood of catching the flu, even the lack of proper eye development in children. So if the weather is warm enough and the clouds are blocking the sunshine, a walk out in the sunlight even on a winter’s day can do quite a bit of good!
What is true for the body is also true for the soul. Two Sundays ago, our service’s Scripture selections and sermon helped us to think about the importance of receiving the proper “Light” for our souls. That light is the message of the gospel, how Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again to win our forgiveness and salvation from sin. Today we return to that “light” metaphor that we heard two Sundays ago, and we take that thought a step farther. Just as sunlight produces positive benefits for our bodies, so the message of Jesus, the Light of the world, produces positive benefits for our souls and in our lives. Peter teaches us that point in today’s Second Reading from his first letter. Peter encourages us to say (along with the writer of today’s opening hymn), “I want to walk as a child of the light!” God has made us to live in his light, and he now encourages us to live our lives in a way that helps others to see the light.
Peter wrote this letter to Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity who were scattered around ancient Asia Minor. Many of them were scattered because of persecution for their new-found faith. Scattered around as they were, they didn’t feel like a nation or a single group of people; they were, in many cases, exiles! Peter knew his audience well and addressed them with Old Testament terminology that helped them to see themselves in a different light.
Verse nine: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
- Peter calls his persecuted readers, “a chosen people,” taking his cue from Isaiah 43:20. They may have been singled out in a negative way, for persecution by their enemies, but God chosen them in a positive way, for inclusion among his hand-picked people called the “Holy Christian Church.”
- Peter adds three more terms, taken from Exodus 19:5-6. He calls them a “royal priesthood.” Old Testament priests were the mediators, the “go-between” people between God and mankind. But Jesus’ death on the cross and payment for mankind’s sin erased the barrier between God and mankind. No longer does someone need a mediator to access God, because in Jesus all believers can access God directly. To use Peter’s words, all believers are priests—royal priests, because they belong to the King and Creator of all things.
- Peter’s next term for his readers is a “holy nation.” We general think that “holy” means “without sin,” but at its core, the word “holy” really refers to something that is set apart for God’s purpose. Even though these persecuted readers were scattered around the world and in some cases fleeing for their safety, they were still set apart from the world in the eyes of God and defined as people in his spiritual kingdom.
- Finally Peter calls them “God’s special possession.” They didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere or to anyone under the circumstances they were living, but God assured them even through their trails that they were his own special possession that belonged to no one else.
Each of these phrases described God’s purpose for them, that they “may declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Even as they endured the persecution and problems of a sin-darkened world, they themselves lived in the light of the gospel, enlightened by the saving knowledge of Jesus’ redeeming work.
After his four descriptive terms for his readers, Peter goes on to add two two-part phrases that put their spiritual situation in perspective. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Once again, as a source of encouragement to his readers, he makes a reference to a section of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament book written by the prophet Hosea, God told Hosea to name his second son a word that meant “Not my people.” This was God’s object lesson to tell his wayward Old Testament people how much they had wandered from him in sin and unbelief. Since the people of Israel were sometimes called God’s children, God used the unusual name of Hosea’s son to teach his children that their sinful behavior meant that God should rightly call them, “Not my people.” In contrast, Peter tells his readers that God is calling them his people, because they remained faithful to him in spite of reasons that could have lured them away. Yes, the sinful condition all people are born with put them (and puts us) in a condition where we are spiritually blind and helpless on our own. They were once in that condition. But the redemption and forgiveness of Jesus had now come to them through the Holy Spirit’s work in their hearts. They were recipients of those great blessings which reversed their previous helpless condition and personally delivered the mercy and grace of God to them.
Read the newspaper or watch the evening news and you will see stories of Christians in other parts of the world who are fleeing persecution today. We might not find ourselves in that situation, but there are other crosses we must bear. You are accused of intolerance by someone who cannot tolerate your faith in Christ. You experience the challenge and sorrow of trying to raise a godly family in a sin-darkened world with its ungodly influences. But even within us, our sinful nature takes a “ho-hum” attitude toward the message of God’s mercy. It’s not just the world out there that lives in sin’s darkness. By our own sinful compromises with the world and apathy about our faith, we too belong in the dark prison cell of hell.
That is what makes Peter’s description of believers—of you and me—so amazing. To people who would naturally be lost in sin, Peter says we are in God’s light. Jesus Christ was engulfed in the darkness of our sin’s punishment on the cross, and by taking back his life at the dawn of Easter, he gives us spiritual light and life when the Spirit plants faith in our hearts. We now live in the light of God’s grace. We have received mercy and forgiveness that we desperately needed. We live in the grace of forgiveness that we cannot earn but have gratefully received. It is no small thing for us to be called God’s chosen ones, or his royal priests, or his holy people or his special possession! It is no small blessing for you and me to know and believe that we now live in the light of God’s kingdom of grace.
A mirror doesn’t only reflect your image back at you. It can also reflect light coming from one direction to shine in another direction. If the sunlight is shining through a window in your home directly on a mirror on the wall, the sunlight doesn’t stop when it hits that mirror. The mirror reflects the light to another spot in the room. That mirror is a good picture of what a Christian is. Not only does the light of Jesus’ grace shine into our hearts from the merciful heart of God, but Christians have the privilege to be mirrors that reflect God’s light and love to others.
Peter talks about this concept in the last two verses of our reading. He issues a warning, then an encouragement, both with the same goal in mind, of helping others see the light of the gospel by the way Christians reflect God’s love. Verse 11 says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” Peter describes his readers as strangers and refugees—and they were, both literally and spiritually. Many of them were literally away from their homes, and all of them were spiritually away from their future, eternal home in heaven.
In this situation, Peter tells his readers to abstain from sinful desires. Note that he doesn’t only say to avoid sinful actions, but even to avoid sinful thoughts. Peter brings to mind something Jesus spoke: using adultery as an example, Jesus pointed out that adultery is not just the physical act of unfaithfulness to one’s spouse, but it even occurs with a lustful thought in the mind—and of course, sinful thoughts often lead to sinful actions. Peter treats sin like it is—a deadly disease that will hospitalize and kill your soul, and not as a minor spiritual sniffle!
But Peter doesn’t tell his readers to avoid sin just because they are supposed to avoid sin. He also gives them a positive encouragement. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Peter urges them to live lives that not only avoided sin’s influence but that were also visible reflections—“mirrors” in a sense—of the light of Jesus shining in a sin-darkened world.
Christians in the first century were falsely accused of all sorts of things. Because they didn’t worship the emperor as God, they were accused of treason. Because persecution forced them to worship in secret, people who heard what Christians believed about the body and blood of Jesus received in the Lord’s Supper accused Christians of being cannibals.
But there would come a point when their critics would have to acknowledge the light of God’s love that Christians reflected by their lives of love. And that light, reflected to others, could influence those others. Peter said that though unbelievers “accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us”—or more literally, “the day of visitation.” Pagans who once dismissed or ridiculed Christians might eventually notice the light of Jesus’ love reflected by the people whose lives they were trying to make miserable. That bring ray of Christ-like sunshine has power even in a sin-darkened heart to reconsider their negative assumptions about the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit visited their hearts through the Christian witness of Peter’s readers, and in this way they changed from persecutors to people who “glorif[ied] God.” Peter reflects what Jesus taught in today’s Gospel reading: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Lee Strobel is the name of a former journalist and former unbeliever who has since become a devout defender of the Christian faith. While his journalistic training drove him to seriously investigate the case for Christianity (and eventually he concluded that the Christian faith had solid evidence for its claims), he also acknowledged that one major influence was his wife. She, too, had been an unbeliever, but then she became a Christian before he did. At first he wondered what got into her. But then he wondered what got into her in a positive way. The way her faith changed her actions and attitude even around her husband was one positive influence that led up to the conversion of a man who is now one of the best-known Christian apologists today.
We have the honor of performing a great service for our world when we mirror God’s light to others. Our actions do not preach the gospel, but they certain reflect the love Jesus shows us in the gospel. Why would a Christian tolerate ridicule instead of fighting back? Why would a Christian show random kindness to a stranger in need? Why would a Christian make major personal sacrifices to education their children and support the Christian education of others? At the end of the day, someone will want to know why you live and love as you do. And at that moment, God opens the door for you to help others see the light of his gospel and to know the mercy of God who wants them to be a part of his chosen people and holy nation.
Someone has said, “You may be the only Bible people ever read.” To be clear, your life does not teach the gospel to someone else. We must take the time to teach and preach and explain the good news of Jesus to others. But your life as a reflection of Christ’s love does open the door to share the gospel with many others who need the light of God’s love in their souls even more desperately than we need the light of the sun in the cold months of winter. That’s how you can walk as a child of the light. You already live in the light of Christ’s love. Now mirror and reflect that love each day. Amen.