Darkness – the Fifth Plague

“Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. His subjects ground their teeth in anguish, and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God.”

Revelation‬ ‭16:10-11‬ ‭NLT

With the fifth plague, the contents of the bowl in John’s vision are poured out on the beast. The emphasis shifts away from earth’s inhabitants to the source of their misery, the beast himself. Impacting his very throne. With this plague of darkness, the people on earth get a glimpse of what life might be like in hell. A total blackout. No light at all, either physically or spiritually. We read in our verses today that the beast’s “subjects ground their teeth in anguish”. The King James version is even more graphic – it says “…. and they gnawed their tongues for pain”. This is surely what will happen with people in hell. Jesus said in Matthew 25:30, describing what will happen there, “Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth“. Perhaps God, even while dispensing judgement on the wickedness prevailing on earth, was still giving every opportunity for people to repent. Dangling them over hell itself must surely bring about a change of hearts and minds.

But, sadly, it was not to be. We read in today’s verses, ” … they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God”. Anger, defiance and curses are the dominant emotions, not a grateful acceptance of God’s patience and mercy. Why? Well, we read in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God“.

We pilgrims can only be eternally grateful, that in our lives a glimmer of God’s light penetrated our blinded minds. And who knows? Through our willingness to share the Gospel with those around us – our families, friends, communities – they too might just come to see the light of God. Through our faithful and persistent prayers, God will push back the darkness and expose those we pray for with His wonderful light. Perhaps the faithful prayers of someone we know, or knew, were instrumental in bringing us out of the devil’s darkness. I can remember some faithful men and women who ran a Mission Sunday School, which I attended in my primary years. Their faithfulness in prayer, for all I know, enabled the light of the Gospel to penetrate my life of darkness. 

So we share the Gospel and pray. Share the Gospel and pray. Never giving up. Always looking out for an opportunity to illuminate a dark and troubled soul as we trudge our ways through this life, heading towards our ultimate home with God Himself.

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your persistent grace, mercy and loving kindness. Without You where would we be, but in a dark and hopeless place. We are so grateful. Amen.

Worthless Deeds

“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible…”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:11-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In the work place I made no secret of my faith. There was a cost involved of course – I was no longer included in the social set, you know, the “cool” group, that got involved in chats around the coffee machine or the photocopier, chewing over “the worthless deeds of evil and darkness”. Sometimes there was an awkward silence in a meeting room when I arrived. The occasional apology when an expletive was inadvertently uttered. I often wondered that my work colleagues somehow felt that their behaviour was incompatible with my faith in Jesus. It was of course – they obviously knew what the “light” was. And that they behaved in a way that was different. But I sometimes had an opportunity to include myself in the office chatter – I can remember a discussion on life insurance where costs and benefits were being discussed. My contribution was to remind them that worldly life insurance, was costly, and only paid out in death, but eternal life insurance was far more important, it was free, and paid out with life. There were a few embarrassed coughs followed by a change of subject. Light exposing “worthless deeds” perhaps? I suppose I was grateful to be excluded from the sordid discussions about things of a dark world that I once knew, but had been redeemed from, by the blood of Jesus.

But how should a 21st Century pilgrim allow God’s light to shine out into the dark and evil world around us? Over the past centuries, there have always been a small number of men and women who have cut themselves off from society, to avoid contaminating themselves by contact with the darkness. They live in monasteries and nunneries, spending their time in prayer and working in their gardens, in a life devoted to God. But is that the answer to God’s call to holiness? In 1 Peter 1:15-16, we read, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”“. A monasterial lifestyle may be the way for some, but for me there is that difficult balancing act between being in the world but not of the world. In Jesus’s amazing prayer to His Father in Heaven, in John 17, He said, “I have given them Your Word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.” We pilgrims have a mission in life, folks. In this dark world, not apart from it. Our service to God includes telling those who live on the dark side about the hope we have for a future with God in Heaven. It includes being a light shining in the darkness around us (Matthew 5). We are salt savouring a tasteless society. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy these wicked towns if any righteous people lived there, is perhaps a warning that God’s patience with a dark society will one day expire. Perhaps our presence in the darkness of our age is turning way His wrath.

But on a more positive note, we know the love of God. We know what He has done for us. We know that one day we will be in His presence. And as we trudge through life we share our messages of hope, our testimonies of what God has done for us, with those around us. Sharing in the dark places where we find ourselves, our schools, workplaces, communities and families. But all the time being conscious of our call to holiness and the love of our wonderful God.

Light

“Your Word is a lamp to guide my feet 
and a light for my path.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭119:105‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a verse often quoted because it clearly states how important the Scriptures are in the life of our Christian pilgrim. The picture rises before us, of a person making their way along a dark path as it twists and turns through a forest or valley. A dangerous place where a light is essential. There are all sorts of boulders and other hazards in the way, but the pilgrim holds a lantern, perhaps on the end of a pole, which dimly lights  a small area of the path in front.

In our Western societies, total blackness, a total absence of a light source, is unusual. There are street lights, or glowing windows, or passing vehicles, or there is enough heavenly illumination to provide some light for a walk outside. But on several occasions I have experienced total blackness where there has been no ambient light at all. Typically this can happen in geographically remote places and under skies darkly obscured by a heavy cloud layer. It is a strange feeling. 

As we take this analogy into our spiritual lives, we too can visualise a place of total darkness, where God’s light is absent. Some people think a total absence of the light of God is a description of hell. But God’s light is all around us. We probably have no idea how well illuminated our lives are. His light holds back the dark forces of evil that are so prevalent, that are waiting in the wings, so to speak, to wreak their nefarious ways on unsuspecting people. 

From that perspective, we need access to some form of ambient light, and the Bible, God’s Word, is just that. Furthermore, in the Gospel of John, we read that the Word was Jesus. John 1:4-5, “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” So when we couple together our verse today from Psalm 119 with John 1, we immediately see that the Christian pilgrim has to be a Jesus-follower. Jesus is our Light. He is the One who illuminates our path through life. And it is only by following Him that we can avoid the problems and hazards in the darkness that surrounds us. At Christmas time we celebrate the coming of Jesus into this world; another verse from John 1, “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, [is] coming into the world.”

There’s not much more to say about our verse from Psalm 119 today, except that we have a choice – we follow Jesus and His teachings, His ways, or we stumble around in the darkness, succumbing to all sorts of hazards. Surely a place without Jesus is a scary place to be.