The Boston Globe is one of the oldest and most influential newspapers in the United States. Founded in 1872, it grew to nationwide prominence during the turbulent 1960s in large part due to its investigative reporting. Counting several Pulitzer Prizes to its credit, the Globe’s investigative journalists pride themselves on exposing crime, fraud, and abuse both in government and in the private sector. You may remember that in the early 2000s it was the Boston Globe that exposed the widespread priest abuse scandal and cover up that rocked (and continues to rock) the Catholic Church to this day. That investigation was also the basis for the movie that won last year’s Oscar for Best Picture – named after the investigative journalist unit, it was called Spotlight.  A fitting name, given that a spotlight reveals and exposes things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Yet, as fitting as that name is for a group of investigative journalists, it is an even more fitting description of our Savior, the Light of the world. (John 9:5) As God’s spotlight in this dark world, Jesus lights the way, he exposes the darkness, and he awakens the sleeper.
For you were once darkness. When Scripture refers to the darkness that covers this world and lives in human hearts, it is talking about something far worse than any kind of physical or mental darkness – with far worse consequences. Earlier in this letter, Paul defined the darkness into which all people, including us, were born into: as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3) We were born into this world spiritually dead and spiritually blind. Not only could we not see how to please God, we didn’t want to; we hated God. Worst of all, from our first breath, we stood condemned and guilty before God – worthy only of his wrath.
But now you are light in the Lord. What changed? When did this happen? It happened when we were baptized. By creating faith in our hearts, God taught us that if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die. (Romans 8:13) God shows us that disobeying his will – even if it feels good, even if it makes us happy, even if everyone in the world is doing it – is the surest and fastest way to eternal death in hell. He shows us that sin never satisfies – it only leads to broken hearts, broken dreams, and broken homes. The light of his Law shows us that we are utterly unable to save ourselves because even our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) At the same time, the Light of the Gospel illuminates the one and only way to heaven, through Jesus Christ – the way the truth and the life. (John 14:6) Not only did Jesus cure physical blindness when he was on this earth – he provided the cure to spiritual blindness by swallowing the darkness of sin, death, and the devil and crushing them by his death on the cross. The cross of Christ shines as the only path back to God – through faith in him our sins are forgiven, we are justified, the glory of heaven is ours. That’s justification. That’s 100% God’s work of saving us.
But Jesus does even more: he shows us how to live in this world. This is sanctification. This is how God keeps us separate from this world’s darkness. Once the Law has exposed sin and the Gospel has wiped it away – then God’s Word serves as a spotlight to guide us through this dark world. Paul encourages us to live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth). At first it might seem like Paul is mixing metaphors here, but what he says is scientifically accurate. Plants need three things to grow: water, CO2, and…light. Not only does Christ wipe out the darkness in our hearts, he enables us to produce the fruit of goodness, righteousness and truth. Goodness is genuine morality – morality that goes beyond good intentions to actually doing good things for others. Righteousness means doing what is right – not what the world says is right, but what God declares is right. Truth is God’s unchanging, authoritative, objective truth. In order to produce this fruit we must find out what pleases the Lord. This means that instead of simply going along with what is popular and acceptable to the world, we will test everything against God’s holy, unchanging, authoritative Word.
And just like a spotlight dispels darkness and reveals danger wherever it shines, so as children of light, we will expose the darkness in the world around us – in two ways. Paul writes: have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. Christians will first expose the deeds of darkness by not taking part in them. The contrast between our lives and the lives of unbelievers is to be as stark as the difference between darkness and light. Is that contrast clear in our lives? If the Globe’s Spotlight investigators followed us around, would they be compelled to report that we don’t live like those who live only to serve their own desires – or would they be left scratching their heads as to what, if anything, makes us different? If our TV viewing habits, our internet histories, the way we spend our time and money were to be made public – would they reveal the fruit of light or the deeds of darkness? You must answer those questions for yourself. And if you find that more often than not you are living in twilight rather than the brilliant light of Christ, repent. Repent, turn to Jesus, and find forgiveness in the blood he shed for you.
Secondly, Christ calls his people to not just avoid sin but to expose it in the lives of others. Can you think of anything less politically correct and more countercultural? Why should we take on such a thankless, difficult task? Think of it this way: would you rather go to a doctor who is willing to order the necessary, if painful, test to reveal the source of your illness or a doctor who tells you that you’re just fine – even when you know you’re not? That’s not much of a question, is it? We want doctors to expose the problem so that they can heal it. In the same way, just as God has brought us to the light of his truth – he wants us to expose the deeds of darkness in the lives of others, especially those we love and care about, so that they too can see the brilliant, saving, forgiving love of Christ.
Because we are children of light we will not sugarcoat sin, we won’t defend it, we won’t get angry when God’s Word or God’s servants expose it; we will call it what it is. This is what God’s spotlight does: it reveals hidden dangers and Satan’s traps – even when it hits close to home and even when it hurts – because it’s the only way to heal. Satan wants us to believe that having a busy schedule, children with too much homework or too many activities, or early bedtimes are airtight, God-pleasing reasons to ignore evening worship opportunities – God’s Word exposes the truth. Those “reasons” are weeds and distractions the devil plants in our lives in order to suffocate our faith. Whenever we think about worship, we should be thinking about it in terms of priorities – and the Apostle John warns about allowing worldly concerns to take priority over God and his Word: do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15) Satan wants us to think that cohabitating (living together outside of marriage) is the smart way to test-drive a relationship before making the life-long commitment. God’s Word exposes that lie as rebellion against his will. A person who intentionally, knowingly, and persistently lives in disobedience to God’s will for marriage will not go to heaven if he does not repent and change his sinful life. Paul warns: do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral…nor adulterers…will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Satan wants us to believe that allowing money to dominate our thinking, our behavior, and our decision making is the only practical, responsible way to live in this world. God’s Word exposes it as greed and idolatry and a lack of trust in God’s promises. Paul shines the spotlight of God’s truth on greed: for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10) Satan loves it when Christian congregations tolerate or simply refuse to discipline unrepentant sinners in the name of open-mindedness or a mistaken understanding of love. God’s Word exposes this as utterly loveless and dangerous behavior. Paul sheds light on what the church should do when one of its members has fallen into sin and will not repent: what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) We could go on, but you get the point. We are children of light – because that’s what God made us – so we will expose sin and rebuke it – and accept the consequences. Why? Why if it means losing a friend or starting an argument or hurting feelings? Because the light of Christ has exposed the true nature of sin to us. We can see that living in the darkness of sin only leads to broken hearts, broken homes, broken bodies, broken minds and a broken relationship with God forever. That is what Jesus came to save us from – not save us for.
And to inspire and give us courage as we seek to both live in Christ’s light and expose the darkness of sin, Paul quotes the words of an ancient Christian hymn: wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Here is where the spotlight of Christ is vastly different from the Boston Globe’s spotlight unit. Once the investigative journalists of the Boston Globe have brought a scandal or secret to light, their job is done. They do nothing to help the person or people they have exposed to shame and guilt and sometimes even criminal prosecution. But Jesus said that God did not send [him] into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17) Just like a good doctor will diagnose the real problem so that he can prescribe a healing treatment, so the purpose of exposing and rebuking sin (yes, even excommunication) is to bring sinners to repentance. It is to show them the true darkness of their sin so that they can see the true brilliance of God’s forgiveness in Christ. It is to wake them up from spiritual slumber, so that they are awake and alive with saving faith in Christ.
That’s the ultimate goal. That’s the reason Christ came and suffered and died and rose again, that’s the mission Christ gave to his church and the reason he sends her pastors and teachers, the reason we fearlessly expose sin with God’s Law and graciously extinguish it with the Gospel. We want to live as children of light and we want all – both those who are dead in unbelief and our friends and family who are sleepy with apathy or indifference – to come out of this world’s darkness into Christ’s wonderful light.
May God continue to shine the spotlight of his love on us to show the way to life, to expose the darkness of this world, and to awaken those who have fallen asleep. Amen.