R.T. Kendall: The Surprise of Christmas

A bright Light for our dark world

R.T. Kendall: The Surprise of Christmas

A bright Light for our dark world

John Wesley, having arrived in Newcastle, England, wrote in his journal in 1742: “I walked into the town. I was surprised: So much drunkenness, cursing and swearing. … Surely this place is ripe for Him who ‘came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’” (See Luke 5:32).

Ripe for revival? Yes. That was Wesley’s way of viewing Newcastle. Some may suppose that the worst possible condition means that revival is more remote than ever. But no. It is the other way around! Historic revival soon followed Wesley’s visit to Newcastle.

It was also the pattern in the early church, and it holds bright promise for our dark world today.

In Our Darkest Hour 

“The fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4)—when “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14)—happened when conditions were the darkest. It was as if God waited until all seemed beyond hope. God is like that. It is His style. Not only choosing the time but also the most unlikely place—Galilee. 

Isaiah was the first to see it coming: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).

That is why Matthew quoted Isaiah as he did: “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). It was the common perception in Israel that no one expected anything good to come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). And since a man from Galilee was preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and was “healing every disease and every affliction” in Capernaum (Matthew 4:17, 23), a prophetic explanation was appropriate.

This was God’s plan all along. He picks the time, the place and the people He chooses to put on the map. Yes, a new pecking order was on the horizon. It was assumed that Jerusalem was God’s most cherished focus, that whatever hope there was it would be centered in Jerusalem. It was assumed that Galilee was dark, that Jerusalem was light.

The Pharisees and Sadducees had a lot to learn, namely, that their hearts were as dark as the hearts of people living in Galilee. Indeed, Jesus said that all people love darkness rather than light because their works were evil (John 3:19). We all were born dead and in sin (Ephesians 2:1).

There are two ways to grasp the word darkness: outwardly and inwardly. The land of “deep darkness”—outwardly—was the way the Jews generally regarded the north part of Israel. The closer people lived to the border of the Gentiles in the north—thus the farther from Jerusalem—the more ignorant and unqualified they were (many assumed). Jesus, however, showed that sin is internal. It is what comes out of a man’s heart: evil thoughts, murder, adultery and sexual immorality (Matthew 15:19). Therefore, true righteousness is also inward, as in loving your enemy and dealing with sexual lust in the heart (Matthew 5:44, 29-30). 

The Light of the World Has Come 

Isaiah prophesied that out of dark Galilee would come a great Light. How dark? Very dark. But how bright a light? Very bright, such being the Light that lights everyone (John 1:9), the “light of the world” (John 8:12), the One in whom there is “no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5); the Light that dazzled Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-5).

This Light would also enable one to see that sin is inward, that righteousness is inward and comes from Him and by Him who was actually brought up in Nazareth and made His home in Galilee.

The new pecking order had arrived. The Jews who were self-righteous not only hated Jesus for what He said (His view of sin and righteousness), and what He did (choosing fishermen, tax collectors and sinners); they were prejudiced also because of where He was from. Two Galileans, Peter and John (fishermen), became the chief spokesmen for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Saul of Tarsus became the chief theologian. A new pecking order indeed. The Pharisees and Sadducees who had rejected the Cornerstone would be put out of the picture (Acts 4:11).

A Light in Our Darkness

The situation today is like that of ancient Israel 2,000 years ago. The setting is dark. How dark? Very dark. Not very long ago, half of America believed that Jesus was the only way to God. Today 52% believe that Jesus was a great teacher—and nothing more. How dark? Very dark. Since COVID, 30% of those who attended church are gone, 40% uncommitted. Since 1973, an estimated 62 million abortions have taken place in the U.S. In the past decade, same-sex marriage has become largely accepted; any sense of outrage has evaporated. Prejudice regarding the color of one’s skin still prevails almost everywhere. Unprecedented violence in our cities no longer surprises anyone. Theological liberalism in pulpits has become normal. How dark? Very dark.

But there is hope. That was the surprise of the first Christmas. God bypassed King Herod and revealed His glory to shepherds. A new pecking order indeed. So, too, the people dwelling in dark America must be reminded of a great Light. How bright? It is the glory of the eternal Gospel. We were born “dead” and in sin. Yes. “But God” (Ephesians 2:4), rich in mercy, saved us. 

The Light that caused Saul of Tarsus to fall to the ground is the same yesterday and today and forever. How bright? Very bright. The same God who sent Jesus in the fullness of time is still in control. Never have conditions been worse. Ripe for revival. ©2021 R.T. Kendall

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

R.T. Kendall served as minister of Westminster Chapel in London from 1977 to 2002. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Louise. 

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