December 24, 2020
While festive holiday displays illuminate the bleak, winter nights, they’re dim in comparison to Christ, the Light of the World whom darkness cannot overcome. In this special Christmas Eve message, Alistair Begg introduces us to five witnesses from biblical to contemporary times who were completely transformed after encountering Jesus. Men and women, young and old from all walks of life can discover everlasting light and life by turning from the world’s dark temptations to follow Christ.
Our God and Father, we thank you that we can join our voices with angels and archangels and give to your dearly beloved Son the praise that he alone deserves. And thank you that you have given us the Bible, that we’ve been able to read it now. And we pray that as we ponder it for a moment, that beyond the voice of a mere man we may hear your voice, for we understand that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It is our deep-seated conviction that when we hear your Word, we hear your voice. Grant that in hearing we might trust and obey. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, there’s a reason for all the lights that begin to shine out into the darkness as soon as Christmastime comes around. Children enjoy it, and if you have done as I have done, you’ve taken your children or your grandchildren around just so that they might enjoy the lights. And we’ve gone to see some of the houses that are somewhat extravagant in their displays, giving marks out of ten for whichever one we thought was best. The house that won on the trip that I took with my grandchildren was the one that had a box where you could take lollipops for yourself. There was a box next to it, actually, that asked for donations, and I put some money in there—which pained me, as a Scot, but I put it in anyway. And we went off and went to about four more houses, which took us quite a distance away. And then somebody said, “But there were lollipops at that house!” And I said, “Yes, there were.” They said, “Yeah, well, we want the lollipop house.” So we had to go back a second time, and I was able to—I took a large chunk of lollipops, I must say, to justify the expense that had been involved, both in the donation that I made, which, as I say, was an act of uncharacteristic generosity on my part, and also all of the gas that I used up driving around and so on.
But anyway, the reason that these lights are here, this darkness, and light and darkness—and we’ve sung about it already, and we’ve read about it too. John is very, very clear. In our opening reading he makes this perfectly plain: “The light shines in the darkness,” he says, “and the darkness has not overcome it.” Here we are, all these years after the birth of Jesus, and still the light of Jesus shines out around the world. In the NIV translation it says, “[And] the darkness has not understood it.” And both those words, I think, fit. It is not snuffed out by the overwhelming disinterest on the part of so many, and the reason that so many are able to look at it and yet not comprehend it is because it is the grace of God which opens our eyes to the truth.
When you read through the Gospel of John, you realize that the focus, if you like, is increasingly intense in relationship to these things. So, by the time you get to the eighth chapter of John, he’s recording the words of Jesus. He says, “I am the light of the world,” and “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And by the time John is wrapping up his letter, he makes the point very, very clearly. He says, “I could have included many, many more things. If I were to do so, the gospel would have been much longer than it is. But these things are written,” he says, “in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name.” So, the express purpose of God in creating us is in order that in Jesus we might be recreated.
And John again is very, very clear about the nature of believing. He’s not there referencing just some kind of mental awareness, a mental agreement about certain facts concerning Jesus, but when he uses those verbs like believing and receiving, he’s talking about the individual who welcomes Christ, who submits to Christ, and who enters into a relationship with him.
Now, some of you will identify with that immediately. Others of you may find that strange language. Rather than roam around on it, I’ve decided this evening just to invite five witnesses to speak to the life-changing impact of Jesus. Obviously, I was unable to bring them here personally, and so I have decided that I will speak on their behalf. I will not put words into their mouths, at least not purposefully, but I will speak of their circumstances personally and briefly. All right?
So, I call my first witness. I call my first witness a messed-up lady. A messed-up lady.
“I think it was when he said to me, ‘Go call your husband, and then come back,’ that it suddenly dawned on me that this was no ordinary conversation with any ordinary person. The way it had begun had overwhelmed me, actually, because I go to that well routinely on my own. My circumstances in life are such that I don’t have many companions—at least female companions. And I was struck by the fact that he, a man, would speak to me, a woman; that he, a Jew, would speak to me, a Samaritan. But as I say, it was in that moment when he said, ‘Go and call your husband’… Because, you see, I’ve had five husbands, and I’m living with a fellow now.
“And it wasn’t that when he said that to me, I felt overwhelmed or I even felt condemned. No, I would say that I felt compassion, I felt stirred, I was amazed. I asked him questions about ‘Where are you supposed to go if you want to worship?’ What I was really thinking was ‘Where do you find forgiveness?’ And he said, ‘It’s not in a place, it’s in a person.’ And suddenly, in the course of the conversation, it dawned on me: he was that person. ‘I can see,’ I’d said at one point, ‘that you’re a prophet from God.’ But now I realized it is in him that forgiveness is to be found.
“Well, I went back into the town. And when I got back into the town, I began to say to people, ‘Come and see a man! Come and see a man!’ And some of the cynics in the place thought I was saying, you know, ‘I’ve got another one. I’m on to number seven now.’ But then the penny dropped, and they did come. And they listened. And like me, there was light and life and change—for me, a messed-up lady.”
Let me call my second witness. I’m going to refer to her as a dressed-up lady.
“I don’t recall whose idea it was to have the prayer time down at the riverside. It was a good idea, and we’d been doing it quite regularly. Personally, I was aware of God. I’ve often thought of him. I wanted to know what it really means to worship him. And when we would have these prayer times, our conversations would run along those lines. For myself, my life is pretty good. I’m a businesswoman. My clothing company in Thyatira, particularly in the purple stuff, has done really, really well.
“And what was so striking was that we had visitors to the time—three of them, and one the spokesman, a fellow called Paul. And when Paul spoke, something happened to me. Something happened to me that I can only describe as if somehow or another my eyes had been opened or my heart had been opened, and I realized that he was telling me about how God had made himself known in the person of Jesus. And I believed. Actually, I believed and I was baptized. I’ve never been the same since. Light and life for me, the dressed-up lady.”
Witness number three, we move to a man—a religious man.
“If you ask me when my strong, self-righteous, vehement opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ began to unravel, I can tell you. It was on the occasion when I said to the people who were throwing stones at an individual, I said, ‘I’m not going to throw stones, but I will look after your coats.’ And as I looked after their coats, I watched as Stephen was stoned to death. And I remember looking at him and saying to myself, ‘What possesses a man to be able to do such a thing, and how could he look as he looked, and how could he speak as he spoke?’
“Well, it did unravel me, but I decided I would banish it from my thinking: ‘I’ll continue with my pattern. I will go and I will get these followers of Jesus, and I will try and get them to blaspheme, and I will put them in jail, and I will persecute them in every way that I can.’ And it was on one of those journeys—actually, to Damascus—that there was a light that shone, brighter than the noonday sun. How could have you have a light brighter than the noonday sun? But it was. If we were to spend a long time this evening, I could tell you all about it: how I cried out, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And I realized that I was being encountered by the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the one that I had opposed. And I was blind, and then I could see. And when people ask me now, ‘What’s your credo?’ this is what I tell them: ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Me, a religious man, who knew all sorts of things about God but didn’t know God.”
Witness number four, a rebellious man. Actually, a young man.
“When I was sixteen and living at home, my mind was filled with all kinds of unclean desires. I wasn’t worried about it. I kinda liked it. I knew my parents didn’t, and my mother in particular. I decided to do things that were bad. I decided to steal, not because I needed anything but just because I liked the feeling of stealing. I would actually have to say that I didn’t love the things for which I committed wrong; I just loved the wrong itself.
“Again, if we had time, I could take you all the way down the road of my Confessions. It’s a long road. The bottom line is that I lived and I loved darkness rather than light. And I don’t know where I would be this evening were it not for my mom, that she prayed—were it not for that little child that was singing in the garden as I was sitting, ‘Take up and read.’ ‘Take up and read.’ And I took up, and I read, and I discovered in Jesus light and life.”
My final witness… We’ve had, what, a messed-up lady, a dressed-up lady, a religious man, a rebellious man? My last witness, I can think we could call him safely a ruthless man.
“I came from New England. I wasn’t born in the Bible Belt. I didn’t really have much religious jargon in my mindset, and certainly not in my everyday conversation. I was rather uncomfortable when people began to talk about Jesus in personal terms, especially if they began to say things like ‘I have committed my life to Jesus Christ.’ It annoyed me. And yet at the same time, it intrigued me. On one particular occasion, when a man that I admired made that statement, I followed up with him, and I went to his house on an evening, and we sat on his front porch, and we talked. And as we talked, he introduced me to C. S. Lewis and introduced me to Mere Christianity. And as he talked with me, he made much of the fact of pride being a stumbling block to ever coming to know and love Jesus. And frankly, as he talked in that way, it described me to a T.
“Well, I got into my car, but I didn’t go anywhere. Because something happened to me that doesn’t happen to me: I put my keys in the ignition, and I burst into tears. Now, you should know that I was a Marine captain, that I was known as the White House tough guy, that I was the hatchet man, that my office was next door to Nixon’s when he won the election in ’72. And the conversation that took place on the porch was in ’73.
“Why was it that I sat in my car, then, at the curbside for up to an hour? I can tell you: because when I sat there, I realized, ‘I am totally lost. I am lonely. I am helpless. I have a significant position in the world, and yet at the same time, I’m convicted of my sin, I’m conflicted about it, my sinful behavior is such that my attitude is reprehensible, and my self-absorption is beyond my ability to really understand.’ And I sat there, and I said, ‘So much of my life I’m not proud of at all.’ And I realized for the first time in my life that I had made a mess of things, that I was a sinner, and that I needed Jesus.”
Well, five very different people. It’d be surprising if you didn’t find yourself identifying with at least one of them.
Let me give the final word to number four. That was Augustine. Augustine in his writings at one point says, “Cicero and Plato said many wise things, but I never heard them say, ‘Come unto me.’” Of course, who was it that said, “Come unto me”? Jesus. “Come to me. And those who come to me I will never turn away.”
Well, just a moment of silence.
Perhaps these words from Psalm 25 we can make our own. As they appear on the screen, we read them: “Make us to know your ways, O Lord; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all day long.”
 See Matthew 4:4.
 John 1:5 (ESV).
 John 1:5 (NIV 1984).
 John 8:12 (ESV).
 John 20:30–31 (paraphrased).
 See John 4:1–42.
 See Acts 16:11–15.
 See Acts 7:57–58, 9:1–19.
 Philippians 1:21 (ESV).
 See Augustine, Confessions.
 The testimony described here is that of Chuck Colson.
 Matthew 11:28 (KJV).
 John 6:37 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 25:4–5 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.