We’ve all anxiously stood outside around dusk on the 4th of July, looking upward, eagerly waiting for the firework show to begin. Sure, we’re all waiting for a spectacular display of pyrotechnics, but to appreciate that, we first need darkness. If our goal is to enjoy colorful fireworks which illuminate the sky, darkness is essential. What if all beautiful things need a backdrop of darkness to be seen? Could this be a fresh way to view the suffering we experience in life?
The book of John contains profound statements about who Jesus is, including the fact that he is light itself. No, he’s not a giver of light, but as Jesus himself declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12) As we just realized, bright things need a setting of darkness to be fully visible, and from the beginning, Jesus’ life happened in the midst of great darkness. Can you get a darker birth than being born in a manger, a feeding trough for animals? What about the rest of his ministry? Did he bask in the glory of being the Son of God? No, he was constantly persecuted, called a blasphemer, and plotted against until the day of his crucifixion.
Jesus’ light shone bright and victorious in the darkness, but does this mean anything for us? Do our lives need to contain darkness as well? In Colossians 1:24, Paul makes an interesting comment: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” We know from the rest of Paul’s writings that Jesus’ work was complete, but the only thing lacking is that Paul step into Christ’s afflictions, personally, for the sake of blessing God’s people. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul says he wants to know Jesus to the fullest extent – suffering and death – all to achieve resurrection, to shine as Christ shines.
There’s a popular song that talks about being a firework, letting our colors burst, and showing our worth to everyone – and we should strive for that – but what about the darkness needed for a good firework display? There are no songs about desiring a dark life so the light in us can shine, but Jesus reminds us,“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) The Bible, in multiple books and chapters clearly outlines that we must suffer like Christ, at least to some degree, to shine like Christ.
We must note that Christian suffering is not meaningless, but it’s purpose is to project the light of Christ to the world, just as he requested of us in Matthew 5:16 – and the effect of his light on the world is life-changing. Since the light of Jesus is light itself, incredible things happen when people look at our darkness and don’t see explosions of bitterness, hate, and self-defeat, but instead see the stunning pyrotechnical show of Jesus’ peace, hope, and steadfast love. When Christ’s light and darkness meet, the Scriptures say, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) Regarding God’s people, Isaiah 60:3 announces, “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” People in all places will see our faithfulness during tough times and be drawn-in to begin their own Jesus-inspired firework show.
In all honesty, despite our best efforts, our world may remain dark until Jesus returns, but imagine if our dark skies were better lit with the spectacular, life-altering light of Christ.