In John 1:5, the apostle writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has comprehend it not.” That is from the King James Version.
In John 1:5, the apostle writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That is from the Revised Standard Version.
In John 1:5, the apostle writes, “The light shines in the dark, and the dark has never extinguished it.” That is from the God’s Word Version.
Now, I have just told you that the apostle wrote three different things, and each might be said to contradict the other two. Therefore, you might legitimately ask, “Worth, what did the apostle write?” Well, the truth is that the apostle wrote none of these three things, and the apostle wrote all of these three things. The apostle wrote none of these three things, because the apostle did not write in English. And the apostle wrote all three things, because the apostle did write in Greek. The three translations are different, because the Greek word “katalambanein,” may be correctly translated with any of three different words.
First, the word “katalambanein” may be translated by our English word, “comprehend,” meaning to comprehend something with the mind.
Therefore, St. John tells us that those who belong to the darkness will never be able to “comprehend with the mind,” what God has done in Jesus Christ. This is a recurring theme in the Bible. It reaches its apex in 1st Corinthians 1:21-25, when he says:
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The Jews stumble at the idea of the messiah on the cross, for they thought a man who was hanged on a tree to be cursed.
Some of us stumble at the idea that God can be as good as God has been to us in Jesus Christ. If one of us were God, and there were two farmers living on either side of a fence, and the farmer over here, believed in me, and served me, and my people, and the farmer living over there did not believe in me, and serve me and my people, when I made it rain, I would let it rain right up to the fence. God is not like that, for he makes the rain of his blessing fall on both sides of the fence, on the good and the bad, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the person of Jesus Christ. He died for the sins of the people on both sides of the fence, and rose again to give people on both sides of the fence a future and a hope, if only we will claim it.
Some of us stumble over the idea of our own goodness. While serving as a chaplain at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, I visited a number of times with a patient who had been a prominent politician in the state of Kentucky. He was old, and sick, and nearing death. One day he said to me, “I know I do not have long, but I have lived a good life, and I have helped a lot of people. If there is a God, and if there is a heaven, then God will let me in.” I said, “I hope you get in, too, for heaven would be a poorer place without you; but why take a chance on judgement? God offers us the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ.” I then shared with him a verse that most of us learned in Sunday school, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
And some of us stumble over the idea that God can changes us from children of darkness to children of light, but God does exactly that. I don’t know if you have noticed, but television has been taken over by shows like “Fixer Upper,” “the Property Brothers,” and “First Time Flippers.” The stars of the show buy up old houses that need work, and do the work, and then sell them on for a profit. Well God does the same thing with people. He looks at us and sees we need work. God buys us with a price, which is more precious than silver or gold. Then God fixes us up. He knocks down all the old walls that support our wrong attitudes and actions, and creates new open spaces for living, so that we can entertain the idea that the needs of others are just as important as our own. God does not sell us on, he keeps us as his property, but he does set us on a hill, or on a pedestal, so that others can see the great work that God does. As my old daddy used to say, “If God loves a rascal like me, God can certain love you.” And the God who loves us, will fix us up.
Finally, some of us stumble over the idea that the foolishness of God truly is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength, but it is all true. In the cross of Jesus Christ God demonstrates the wisdom of sacrifice, and shows us once for all that power is an expansive force: The more we give away, the more we have. Consider the life of the man Jesus, forgetting for a minute or two, though just for a minute or two, that Jesus was also the son of God.
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a poor peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village where where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty . Then for three years, he was an itinerate preacher. He never wrote a book; He never held an office; He never went to college; He never visited a big city; He never travelled more than two hundred miles from home. He did none of the things usually associated with greatness; He had no credentials but himself. When he was just thirty-three years old, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away; and He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was condemned to death, and crucified between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave. Now, almost twenty long centuries have come and gone, and today Jesus is the central figure of the human race, and the leader of humankind’s column of progress. And all the armies that have ever marched, and all the navies that have ever sailed, and all the parliaments that have ever sat; and all the kings and queens that ever reigned, put together, have not affected our life upon the earth as powerfully as this One Solitary Life.
We human beings just don’t get it, and we may never get it. The way to succeed is to find a need and fill it. The way to lead is by example. The way to lift people up, is get down to their level and serve them. In God’s economy, the way up is down, and the way down is up, because God humbles those who would exalt themselves, and exalts those who humble themselves. Of course, this is God’s way, not the way of the world, and the world has not and cannot comprehend it with the mind.
Some people are worried about the election, and beyond, primarily because both candidates have more than the normal share of hubris. Like you, I believe that one is better than the other, yet I am afraid of neither, because by faith I believe that God still reigns over the affairs of our world. According to the book of Daniel, Nebuchadrezzar once looked out over the city of Babylon saying, “Is this not mighty Babylon which I have built for the glory of my majesty.” And God struck him dumb that he ate grass like an ox. Don’t believe that? Then consider the nations. In the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, when one the of the nations of the world showed its hubris, God punished it by the other nations, and the nation God loved best, Israel, he punished worst.
2. There is a second way to translate the word, “katalambanein.” We can translate, “to comprehend with the hand, so as to overcome someone or something.”
This is power as the world knows it. In Matthew 26 the apostle writes that, when the temple soldiers came out by night to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where he had gone to pray with his friends, “they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.” After laying hands of Jesus they turned him over to the authorities. The authorities put him on trial, and condemned him to death. The authorities hoped that the death of Jesus was the end of his influence, but they were wrong. In lifting Jesus up upon the cross they played into his hands. As Jesus himself said, “I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.”
The disciples of Jesus took his body from the cross and laid it in a borrowed tomb. Matthew tells us that the authorities set a guard on the tomb, to make it as secure as they possibly could; but, on the third day, God raised him from death and gave him a name that is above every name.”
I am told that the Japanese art of Jujitsu uses the aggressive power of an opponent to defeat the opponent. Well God is a master of Jujitsu. God uses the aggressive power of the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus, and the aggressive power of the Romans who crucified Jesus, to lift up the name of Jesus around the world, and through the centuries. Of course, God did more than just lift up the name of Jesus. God lifted Jesus from death to life. Jesus defeated the last enemy, and turned a light on the darkness of the tomb. Jesus is the light of life, and no one has been able to overcome that light.
3. And that leads us to a final possibility for translating the word, “katalambanein.” It may be translated “to extinguish,” as when a man extinguishes a candle.
Every Christmas Eve for 28 years I have stood up here, in this pulpit, and repeated two things that Jesus said. First, I tell people how Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, and those who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Then I tell people how Jesus also said:
And you are the light of the world…Let your light show shine before the people of this world that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.”
Then I invite people who wish to let their light shine in the year ahead, to lift their candles high, as we sing the final verse of the final hymn, “Christ the Lord, the Lord Most glorious.” At the close of the hymn, I always look over the congregation. I am enjoying the scene, but I am also looking for those who are reluctant to lift their candle. I have seen very few. Thus I am happy to say that, thus far, the darkness has not been able to overcome or extinguish the light. Of course, I am sad to say, that it is equal true that the darkness has not been able to comprehend it, either. There will always be some in the world who will laugh at the time, and treasure, and talent that we continue to lavish on service Jesus Christ. They simply do not understand that when we give anything to Jesus Christ, even a pinch, God gives it back to us, pressed down, shaken together, running over, double hands full.
The world is a dark place; some say that the world is darker now than ever before. If that is so, then let us remember that the stars only come out at night, and that it is always darkest just before the dawn. Our bright and morning star has already risen to show us the way back to the Father’s house. So, let us not waste the opportunity that has been set before us. Let us be the city on a hill that provides the world with both a navigational aid, and a destination. And let us be the light in the room, that cast its light and warmth to all who enter the house.
Let me close this series with the challenge that you continue to be the light. No matter how you shine, you shine, and the fact that you do is important. For the you are the light of the world, and the only Christ the world will see, is the Christ it sees in you and me. Let us endeavor to be “lights reflecting him our sun.”