Last week I touched on Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount as part of the Christian response to William Barr’s statement that secular society is ‘forcing their values on people of faith’. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).
The second part of my response is found in 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 where we read: For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul identifies two essentials in outreach – our ministry of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work.
The Focus of God’s Gospel: Paul tells us that he is committed to introducing people to Jesus Christ as Lord (v.5). ‘I tell people who he is, what he has done and why he has done it. I explain the negative news that we men and women are fatally flawed, but that through Jesus’ death and resurrection God has offered us an amnesty – an act of grace far greater than we ever dreamed. And so,’ he continues, ‘I explain that Jesus is not just a great teacher, miracle worker, or a prophet. Rather he is God in the flesh whose death perfectly satisfied God’s righteous requirements once and for all. Anyone who turns to him in heartfelt repentance and faith will be forgiven and restored to life with God forever.’
‘And as I do this,’ says Paul, ‘again and again God chooses to accompany this ministry with something that we can’t provide – his miracle of illumination. God makes his light shine in the hearts of men and women’.
Necessary Light: Paul’s imagery here applies God’s work in creation when he said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), to the new creation. For in 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul tells us that turning from unbelief to belief involves an act of divine initiative as powerful as the act of creation. ‘God says to our hearts, “Let there be light” and there is light, and from that moment a new life begins.
In other words, God by his Spirit takes the veil from our stubborn hearts and enables us to see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.
God’s involvement in rescuing us not only involved the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, but also the divine illumination of the Holy Spirit. Significantly in crafting the Prayer Book, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer introduces the Communion Service with a prayer that includes these words: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name…
The keys to changing hearts are the ministry of God’s Word (his gospel) and the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit.
Gospels – to hand on: It’s worth having a slim readable copy of one of the Gospels in a pocket or a bag to hand on to others to read – perhaps as a gift at Christmas. How many of your friends or family have actually read one of these ‘primary sources’ from cover to cover? As Paul asks in Romans 10:14: But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in the one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
Prayer: Perhaps most of all we are to have a ministry of prayer. We pray for our own walk with the Lord, our preparation for talking to others about the God of good news. And so, if our desire and delight is to see the God who says, “Let light shine out of darkness…” at work, surely part of our joy is to pray with confidence that in his mercy, the Lord will open the eyes of the blind, drawing their hearts to their true home in Christ.
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher observed: God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.
Significantly, we have this unexpected but profound assurance from Jesus when he spoke on the subject of prayer (Luke 11:1-13), where he concluded: “If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
How much more boldly can we pray: ‘Lord, in your mercy let your light shine … give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’.