1 Samuel 16:1-13 Ephesians 5:8-14 John 9
One of the most famous books ever written was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It is said that there was a time when ever y home had a copy of the Bible and a copy of this work of literature.
The image of the pilgrim with his staff making his way through the different landscapes of life is an evocative one. But the idea of progress evokes movement from A to B, the pursuit of a goal and maybe even an upward climb towards something better. The Christian life doesn’t always feel like that for many of us struggling with the same old weaknesses and sins. It can be ver y depressing discovering that the things we are wrestling with this Lent are the same ones we confronted last time round and we seem to have made little or no progress at all. A spiritual check-up is all ver y well, but how do we find encouragement?
It’s not about grades or measuring progress against a legalistic yardstick. Nothing we can do will impress God or secure our salvation any more than the cross achieved once and for all. We can never progress beyond justification by faith, but we can allow justification and faith to progress in us.
The relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and our efforts to grow in grace is one that Christians continue to argue about and often get out of balance. The debate goes back to the beginnings of the early Church and it lay at the heart of the controversies of the Reformation of the Church in the 16th centur y. It rose to the surface with the charismatic movement in the 1970s onwards as some Christians advocated letting go and letting God, while others saw all the warning signs of letting go and inviting chaos. So how do we allow justification and faith to progress in us?
It’s all about where we focus our gaze. Pilgrim had his eyes on the goal ahead of him. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ drew him on. If we look at our feet as we walk we will miss the view and eventually adopt a posture that is hunched and unhealthy. Walking won’t bring the benefits it is meant to any longer.
If we lift our gaze, not only will we enjoy the view and see where we are going, we will enjoy the health benefits of movement suited to our bodies and cultivate good posture. The Bible tells us to walk in the Spirit and to fix our eyes on Jesus, two commands that will help us adopt and maintain a healthy spiritual posture (Gal 5:16; Heb 12:2). The path may get rough and the way ahead be obscured from view from time to time. It is important to pause and check we are on the correct route at various points, but focusing our main attention on the Lord rather than ourselves is the way to keep going and allow grace to do its work in us. This week it is Mothering Sunday (with Exodus 2:1-10, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, and Luke 2:33-35 as one set of possible readings). But we will stick here with the standard provision for the fourth Sunday of Lent. And those readings focus on light and sight, day and night, and the discriminating distinctions that God makes.
The key to 1 Samuel 16 is of course the crucial word from God to Samuel concerning his choice of the new king of Israel: “The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” The LORD has rejected Saul as king, and now looks for a man after his own heart, but Samuel has not quite understood the proper criteria for a king.
He sees the tall handsome Eliab and immediately thinks that he must be “the one.” Each of Jesse’s sons parades before the prophet, yet the LORD has not chosen but rejected them. Only one is left, the youngest, but thrones do not usually pass to youngest sons. David just so happens to be handsome (unlike his glorious descendent of whom it is said “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him”, Isaiah 53:2). But the vital thing is that the LORD has chosen him, and the Spirit comes upon him to empower and enlighten.
John chapter 9 is a crucial passage in the Gospel, a key moment that John will allude to again (see John 10:21, 11:37). This clearly made an impact on people at the time. Jesus says that the man was born blind for a reason; he has been chosen so that God’s works might be revealed in him. “While it is day”, says Jesus, we must do God’s works, because “night is coming when no one can work.” The difference between the night and the day is Jesus himself, “the light of the world.”
As if to illustrate what this means, he immediately goes on to heal the blind man, who sees for the very first time. We then see, as clear as day, what it means that God has blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of many (John 12:40), as the Pharisees and others dispute what has happened and doubt Jesus’ power and calling. Jesus makes a teaching point of this, and clarifies why he has come: “I came into this world for judgment,” he says, “so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” He has come to reverse the judgment of the world.
Paul takes up the theme of darkness and light in the application section of his letter to the Ephesians. From Ephesians 4 onwards he urges them to live a life worthy of their calling, as those who are now one in Christ. In the Lord they have changed from darkness to light, and so they must live differently to those around them. As “people of distinction”, their overarching aim must be to find out what is pleasing to God, rather than pursuing the ageold chimera of their own personal happiness. To pursue “all that is good and right and true” means distancing themselves from “the unfruitful works of darkness”, the secret, shameful self-absorption of their past, and the surrounding culture.
As they are brought into the light of Christ, his searching gaze exposes the true nature of such things. As they see them for what they are, their repentance and faith bring them back from the sleepy death of sin, as Christ shines his glorious light into their darkened hearts. Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and editor of the NIV Proclamation Bible Lord, the light of your love is shining
And can it be? Light of the world Open the eyes of my heart, Lord Come, Lord, to our souls come down