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When You Prefer Darkness over Light

When You Prefer Darkness over Light

Preferring Darkness

He was in the world,
and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him
John 1 v 10-11 

I once woke up in the middle of the night to find a strange figure at the foot of my bed. It was dark and I was half asleep, so I couldn’t work out who it was or what they were doing there. Gradually the light dawned. It was my wetsuit, which I’d hung up the night before.

In John 3 a man comes to Jesus at night and wonders why he can’t see! That man’s name is Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus because he is concerned with spiritual insight, rather than physical sight. But John plays on the fact that the meeting is taking place during the darkness of night to highlight Nicodemus’ real problem.

Nicodemus begins by suggesting Jesus must be from God (3 v 2). But behind this statement is a question: Is Jesus God’s promised King? Is he the Messiah?

If this were a world of light, it would be easy to see the truth about Jesus. But this is a world in darkness, into which Jesus steps as the true light (1 v 9). Verses 10-11 remind us of why we need light—because we live in darkness.

This means that to “see” God’s kingdom—to understand its nature and welcome its coming—you need to be able to see in the dark. For that, you need help—you need the Spirit of God to make you a new person with new insight. Jesus says you need to be born again (3 v 3-8). 

Then Jesus starts talking about snakes in the wilderness, which at first sight seems rather random (3 v 14)! He’s asking Nicodemus to think of the episode told in Numbers 20. The people of Israel, on their way to the promised land, had rebelled against God, and so God had sent a plague of poisonous snakes as an act of judgment. The people repented, so God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it high among the people. Anyone who looked to the serpent would be saved. Jesus says this was not only a means of rescue for those Israelites in that time—it was also a picture of what he would do at the cross: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3 v 14-15).

Nicodemus asks whether Jesus is God’s King. Jesus says you need God’s Spirit to see God’s King. Why? Because Jesus is not the King we expect. We expect a king to be high and mighty. Jesus would certainly be lifted up. But he would be lifted up on a cross.

And why is Jesus lifted up on a cross? Jesus continues, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3 v 16). God’s King would die in the place of his people. He had come not to defeat rebels, but to take their place—to be defeated by God so we can be forgiven. 

Finally, in his night-time conversation, Jesus comes back to the issue of darkness: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (3 v 19). People love darkness. They don’t want to let go of their sin—they don’t want to recognise the Word, and they don’t want to receive their King (1 v 10-11). Why? Because people fear exposure. They don’t want to admit their sin or give up their self-rule. Jesus is diagnosing what Nicodemus has done by coming furtively at night. Nicodemus is his own parable. He has come at night, asking, “Why can’t I see?” 

Jesus offers eternal life to rebellious subjects. But we prefer darkness and death to life in the light. We don’t want to admit we need the King on the cross, dying for our sins. As a result, the cross looks like the epitome of shame to us rather than the epitome of glory. We call darkness light, and light darkness. We don’t recognise the light that has come to us.

Only the Spirit of God can open our eyes to the true light. Only the Spirit of God can enable us to recognise and receive the truth of these words with joy: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world”. 


He was in the world,
and though the world was made through him, 
the world did not recognise him.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife 
The world has suffered long; 
Beneath the angel strain have rolled 
Two thousand years of wrong; 
And man, at war with man, hears not 
The love-song which they bring; 
O hush the noise, ye men of strife 
And hear the angels sing.

(It Came Upon the Midnight Clear) 


Eternal God,
the light of the minds that know you,
the joy of the hearts that love you,
and the strength of the wills that serve you: grant us so to know you that we may truly love you, so to love you that we may truly serve you, whose service is perfect freedom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Augustine of Hippo, 354-430) 

Content taken from The One Trust Light: Daily Readings for Advent from the Gospel of John by Tim Chester. ©2016 by Tim Chester. Used by permission of The Good Book Company,

Tim Chester is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, and a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. He is the author of over 30 books, including Exodus For You, You Can Change, and The One True Light.

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Publication date: December 1, 2016