Wait, so what's this for?
'Light' envelopes the narrative of the Scriptures. First, light springs forth as the first created thing in Genesis 1:3 and then, like a flashing beacon helping us keep our bearings, it flashes some two hundred more times, before the final beacon flashes in Revelation 22 where God himself is now the light and He has obliterated all darkness.
This narrative of the theme of 'light' forms a grounding theology for how we are to understand what it is to be a missional person; what it is to be a person who lives outward.
Let's start at the very beginning, shall we?
The creation story that opens up the Bible is a story of God bringing order and purpose to what was previously just black chaos. He takes darkness, and creates it's antitheses: light. God goes on to create a perfect creation, a creation that is found perfect not because of an absence of darkness, but because of the complete presence of God's shalom. In this creation He places a tree called the "The tree of life", but we'll come back to that in a little while...
Now, read just a little further and we see it doesn't stay this way. Mankind disobeys God and brings upon itself the result of the disruption of God's shalom, the chaos and curse of death and darkness again making itself felt. But immediately God sets about making it right again.
Let's fast forward a little bit, to where God has chosen a group of people to be His "light" to the world, a motley-bunch called the Israelites who are stumbling and grumbling their way through the desert at the time. God speaks to them one day and tells them He is no longer going to just be leading them from infront, but now dwelling with them, and so they are to build him a house called The Tabernacle. This God-house is to have some furniture in it and like a lot of things we encounter in the Bible, these things have more than one function. A lot of these pieces of furniture are to not just do what they do, but to also be symbols of things that are important.
So, in Exodus 25:31-40, God tells the Israelites the kind of lampstand that is to be in this God-house; and it's very detailed. To help you out, here is what it looked like:
This lampstand tells three key stories to the people of God, reminding them of three important truths:
- A lampstand holds light: God is the original source of light and it is what defeats darkness
- It's shaped the way it is to represent the 'Tree of Life' that was placed in the Garden of Eden: life in it's fullest comes from God
- The light was to reflect out: this presence and life was to shine, not just stay here and be contained
And so off it all went. The Tabernacle was built and found in amongst the various activity of the God-house was this lampstand – the symbol of God's presence, life and mission – for many years until an interesting thing happens in the book of Psalms.
In Psalm 132:17 it says that "my annointed one will be a light for my people." Interesting. Now it's not about a piece of furniture being the place of light, but a shift is taking place to a person. But it doesn't stop there...
In Isaiah 60 we find another bright flash of the light imagery being used:
Something big is coming. It involves an anointed one like David was, and it will change everything. We fast forward a little further and we discover the culmination of all of these things. It happens in the form of Jesus, the One who comes as the new temple, the new God-house, the new lampstand, the new tree of life and then some. In John 8, Jesus declares one of His seven "I am..." statements about himself. The one He uses here?
With these seven words, Jesus declares that He is the embodiment of all that the weirdly-over-detailed-lampstand from earlier was representing: He is now the place of God's presence, God's life and God's mission. Job done, the end.
Oh wait, no it isn't.
Jesus turns to His followers and He tells them that they too are the light of the world. Now, I don't know about you, but suddenly that one is a biggie. We like Jesus being the light of the world – the place of God's presence, life and mission – but us? Really?
It goes on a little further.
In the last book of the Bible, John is seeing a wild vision of what is going on in God's future-age, and for the first three chapters Jesus sends seven letters to seven churches. Before He starts writing them in chapters 2 and 3, in Revelation 1:20, He refers to them as something:
Lampstands. Jesus calls these new communities in these cities lampstands; Churches are the place of God's presence, the place of God's life and the place of God's mission.
And this is where we sit today.
We have a world that is full of thousands of communities that are doing these three things, churches that are lampstands in their cities, towns and villages. Light, which is the antithesis of darkness, shines from the faithful people of these communities, until the day when Jesus completes His work of making all things new – so new that there is no need for even the sun.
We are the lampstands in our time and place of history – the people of God's presence, the people of His life and the people of His mission – and you're invited to play your part.