Archive: 2019 | 2018
One Lamp Shining Till the Day Breaks
February 17th, 2019
II Peter 1:19
On the whole, would you say that times are not all that good? Just suppose for
the moment that materialism has won the day, and that reputedly good people decline
to take the field against the forces of secularism. Suppose that the things in which you
believe ... the goodness of God, the validity of moral standards, the power of
forgiveness and goodwill, the possibility of ultimate peace among nations ... suppose
that these things seem to be in eclipse, and that God’s program is hidden beneath
weapons and hatred and selfish clamor of people, what shall we do? What can we do?
Shall we ask God to accept our resignation from the Christian way? Shall we surrender
all the things that make us significantly different from those who never take the name of
Jesus upon their lips except in profanity, or who care not whether the church bells
continue to ring? If there is no spiritual awakening in our time, shall we just give in and
give up? Now that is a question, is it not? Whether someone asks it or not, it sometimes
visits the minds of most of us, does it not? Who hasn’t in a fleeting moment said to
himself or herself, Everyone seems to be forsaking God, and I’m not sure how much
longer I can hold out.
To people like us who face this problem, this second epistle of Peter has
something important to say to us. You have a sure word of prophecy, this writer insists.
Through long centuries it appeared that true religion was going into serious decline, but
it was the prophets who kept the light shining. They said that it might be dark now, but
this feeble light will become dawn. God’s messiah is coming, so spoke the prophets.
Now the messiah has come, says the author of the letter. Moreover, there will be other
dark periods of history. He says it appears to you that the darkness is prevailing, so
soon after the coming of Jesus. Now, look to this prophecy, a prophecy uttered in the
dark days before the messiah came at Bethlehem, as to a light that shines in a dark
place, until that day breaks and the day-star arises in your hearts. Not only must you
look to this light, but you must keep to keep it aglow, for the darker the night, the more
important the light. It is of such people he was thinking when he wrote the following:
You who keep while the world is asleep one light burning till the break of day.
That’s our job ... to keep one light shining till the break of day. And, this is not an easy
assignment, especially when the light is feeble, and, to all appearances, solitary. There
are, in fact, two serious temptations to which the light-keepers are subjected, so let’s
examine them for a moment.
The first is the temptation to feel that you are utterly, bleakly alone. For example,
look at Elijah. Poor, poor Elijah! So victorious only a few weeks ago against the
prophets of Baal, and now so frightened. Elijah fell into a mood of exaggerated
loneliness. He thought that the cause of God was being defended by a minority
composed of one man, and he believed that he was that one man. He fled to the mouth
of a cave in the wilderness. What are you doing here, Elijah? came the voice. And Elijah
answered, I have been very jealous for the Lord of hosts, for the children of Israel have
forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the
sword. And, I, even I alone, am left, and they seek to kill me also. Then came the strong
wind, the earthquake, the fire, and finally the still, small voice. Again the voice said,
What are you doing here, Elijah? And Elijah said, I am very jealous for the Lord God of
hosts ... you see, he had memorized his speech and was feeling genuinely sorry for
himself, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek to kill me also. So the voice replied, I
have two things to say to you Elijah. The first is, I want you to anoint Jehu, son of
Minshi, king over Israel. The second is, you are mistaken about your loneliness, and
you are a sorry victim of self-pity. I have seven thousand in Israel, all knees have not
bowed to Baal, and each mouth has not kissed him. So, the next thing that happened
was that Elijah’s mantle went to Elisha, a young man who hadn’t learned to be
As you came to worship this morning, perhaps you thought about all those
people whom you know are forgetful of God, I know that I do. Maybe they were too
sleepy, or were already having that first cup of coffee. Perhaps, you felt a bit lonely as
you made your way here this morning, but ... are you lonely now? When you said to
yourself as you left your house, Just look at all the people who have forgotten God and
the place of his worship. I, too, think about them who are my neighbors. But, I say to
you, just look at all the people around you who have not forgotten whose day this is.
Yes, there are thousands who have bowed their knees to Baal, but there are other
thousands who have not! Elijah, what are you doing here? You are not the one man
victim that you think you are.
And the second temptation is to feel that in all this darkness the light does not
amount to very much. Amid all the wickedness, the ignorance, the superstition, the
hatred, the greed, what chance does my little candle have in such an environment?
Really, though, the influence of light can never be determined in measures of
quantity. When Jesus said that light is not to be hidden under a bushel, he did not
simply mean that light is not to be concealed, but rather that you can’t measure light by
bushel baskets. The light from a person’s life just cannot be measured by baskets or by
any other measure for quantity.
Therefore, we can be helped, then, by this double realization ... first, that we are
not as lonely as we think are if we are loyal to Christ; and second, that the influence of
light can never be stated in terms of quantity, because the light of one man’s faith can,
and may, give a million people a reason for living.
So, this is what I am proposing. Suppose that a great spiritual awakening does
not break forth in our lifetimes, what can we do? Well, we can keep alive a flame of faith
which, though very tiny, may ultimately mean the break of day everywhere.
Rummaging around in an old history book I discovered that in the early history of
William and Mary College (where my mother was once a student) there was a period of
seven years when that institution was closed during the American Revolution. But,
every morning even though the college doors were closed, the president climbed up into
the tower and rang the bell. Every morning across the countryside the tones of this bell
would be heard by farmers and villagers. This college president kept alive a hope, a
promise, that sometime again the doors of the school would be opened. Did anyone say
in the interim that the school would never open again? Of course, some did, but
nevertheless, the bell was rung every morning.
Well, faith is like that, you see. When you belong to Christ, that faint light of faith
is what you do believe in. And, you do believe in the goodness of others whether it be a
friend, a teacher, or even a great person who you have not even met. You believed in
your mother’s prayers. You do believe that goodwill is better than hatred, even if the
fruits of goodwill are agonizingly slow in coming. You do believe that God is like Jesus,
and that Jesus is the best we know. While doubtful of many things, you do believe one
thing. And that one thing is like a smouldering fire, it can, and will, become a light in the
darkness and you can help it grow. Whatever the measure of your light, keep it shining
till the break of day, because the darker the night the greater need for your light.
In the chapel at Stanton Harold, near the heart of England, there is in inscription
which tells of a man who, through the last day of turmoil under Cromwell, endeavored to
do something lasting. This is what the inscription says:
In the year 1653
When all things sacred were
throughout the nation
either demolished or defamed
Sir Robert Shirley Baronet
founded this church:
whose singular praise it is
to have done the best things
in the worst times and
hoped them in the most calamitous.
Blessed are those who do the best things in the worst times,
and hope them in the most calamitous, for these are the folk who keep one light shining
till the break of day.
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