In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.John 1:4-5, 12, 13
The Hurricane Lamp
Growing up in south Louisiana, the inevitable hurricane season brought with it the danger of losing electrical power. Often it would be days before the linemen would make it out to our secluded property to restore power. However, my father was always (and is still) a master of preparation. He always made sure we had batteries for the radios and flashlights and candles (with matches) tucked away in the utility drawer. My favorite was when he would break out the old hurricane oil lantern that we would generally keep on the dining room table. There was something about this old lantern and the green oil in the bottom reservoir with its cloth wick that always captured my imagination.
Even when we still had power or if the reservoir had no oil, I would fidget with the small wheel crank on the side that would lower and raise the wick. When lit, the more the wick was exposed to the air, the brighter the flame to enlighten the house. When the wick was lowered, the flame would reduce and inevitably extinguish. Sometimes I would fidget so much with the wick that it would completely retreat into the oil reservoir or completely out of the oil, rendering the lamp useless. Reflecting back on this childhood experience gave me a renewed understanding of Jesus’ words when He said “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
The Lamp in the House
There are some symbolic images in Jesus’ metaphor that often go missed when reviewing that passage. An oil lamp in Jesus’ time typically was composed of 4 elements. First, there was the lampstand. In a common peasant home of the day, a lamp was a simple piece of clay pottery with a pinched indention near the front, opposite the handle of the lamp. The lampstand was the most prominent visual feature of the lamp itself. Often, the lamp would also be placed on a clay dish in order to capture any potentially spilled oil in case the lamp was tipped over.
Secondly, there was the oil, which fuels and controls the flame. Typically the oil in question was olive oil or some other plant based oil. Olive oil, however, was not prohibitively expensive as it was quite common and easily accessible in the Mediterranean. While not expensive, it was a priceless commodity as its diversity of use extended beyond mere fuel, but also to cooking. In some places in the Roman empire, it was used as a form of soap and shampoo that would congeal and then be scraped off the body or rinsed out of the hair, carrying away the dirt and grime of the day.
Thirdly, there was the wick, which displays the flame for all to see. The wick would typically be a small piece of cloth or a piece of wood reed that would be soaked in the oil and then placed on the pinched indentation, with one end still in the oil to soak more as the fire would burn down the wick. The wick served to not only display the flame for the house to see, but also to demonstrate a control of the oil so that the oil didn’t burn through too quickly.
Finally, there was the only external element that was required for the lamp – air. This is perhaps the most important element necessary for the lamp to burn. While the oil acts as a fuel and catalyst for the lamp, without oxygen the lamp would not be able to be ignited or burn. The more air that is available to the wick and flame, the brighter the flame will glow. If the wick is not exposed to the air, eventually the wick would burn out, even with the oil available.
In the typical Jewish family home, it was the responsibility of the father or mother to light the lamp and place it in a place that would give light to as much of the home as possible. In rare cases, some families would have multiple lamps, but this was not the norm as most homes in first century Judea had only one or two rooms, or in rare cases of the more affluent, a third room. In a two room home, a lamp would typically be placed high in the doorway connecting the room so that both rooms would have access to the light.
The Lamp of the Christian Life
In the Christian life, the lamp represents the totality of your kingdom existence. The lampstand represents your God-assigned place of influence. This is wherever you are. The people with whom you associate. Your friends. Your family. Your professional colleagues. Wherever you go, you are displaying what light or darkness you have in your life. If your lamp is burning brightly, then all can see your place in the kingdom. But if you are a believer, yet you hide this fact from those around you, then eventually the flame will burn out from being snuffed under a the bushel of your pride.
The oil within the lamp represents the Word of God, that which is the catalyst for the flame to burn. It is what controls the flames and gives it substance. It fuels the flame and gives it warmth. Without the oil, the wick will burn brightly, but extinguish quickly as the wick is consumed. The oil is there to serve as a control for the wick, so that the fire burns brightly, but sustainably.
The wick itself is your behavior on display for all to see. This is where the flame is most evident. When our behavior is controlled by obedience to the Word of God, the flame glows steady and controlled. The flame burns longer and extends through the night providing light within the darkness.
The final element, the air, represents the most important factor in the work of the lamplight of the heart – the Holy Spirit of God. Without the air to give life to the flame, it will quickly extinguish, even with the presence of the oil. Instead, all you will see is choking smoke. The more air that is evident in the flame, the brighter it glows, but when the wick is lowered into the oil and incapable of consuming air, the flame will go out. In the same way, without the Holy Spirit giving life to the flame burning in your heart, that flame will quickly be extinguished even if fueled by the Word of the God. It is the Spirit of God that gives life to the Word of God. Otherwise, the Word becomes a dangerous weapon choking out the light and filling our heart and lungs with poison.
The Purpose of Light
Light, especially the light of the lamp, has several key purposes. First, it is to provide vision. In order for the eyes to see, there must be light present. Light helps us to not only see one another for who we really are, but it helps us to see ourselves for who we really are. Have you ever tried to look in a mirror while in a dark room? It’s impossible to even see yourself without turning on a light. If you’ve ever walked into a dark room, reflexively we all naturally begin reaching for and fumbling for a light switch. The Light of Christ in the life of the believer helps you to see and have a vision of life that is different from a life walking in the darkness without Him.
Secondly, light provides clarity. The more light that is available, the better you can see clearly what is around you. The brighter the light that shines, the less the shadows obscure what is tangible before you. In the same way, the light of God’s illumination in your heart gives clarity to the world around you. You can see more clearly the pathway ahead and avoid the pitfalls and potholes that you will inevitably encounter along the way.
Next, light provides color. Isaac Newton’s masterful work Opticks describes how light can be broken up into a spectrum of color and that all of the colors of the world we see are a reflection of that light. The sky itself is a prism diffusing and refracting light causing the horizon to change colors through various times of the day from yellow to orange to blue and back again. But when the clouds come in and obscure the sun, or the storms roll in and bring darkness and rain, it doesn’t mean that the sun has ceased to exist. Above the clouds, the sun is still shining. In the same way, above the storm clouds of life, the Son is always shining.
Finally, light provides glory. When we “shine a light on” someone, we are drawing attention to them or their accomplishments. Everything that was created was created to bring glory to the creator, as a painting brings glory and accolades to the painter. And God’s crowning achievement of creation was humanity itself, in which He bestowed His own image. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Let There Be Light
The first step that one must take to emerge from the darkness of a life of sin is to allow the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to enter your heart. The first thing God did in creation was to speak into the dark void of existence and bring light into the Creation. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:3, 4) In an instance, with a spoken word He illuminated the darkness exposing the emptiness and chaos, so that He might set to work bringing order to the chaos and filling the emptiness that only He could fill.
It is really very much like a light switch coming on in your heart and mind and with properly developed eyesight, you can begin to see life in a whole new array of colors. He is the Light of the world and it is truly His light that must burn in our hearts. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Darkness is blinding. It can be disorienting. It some cases, it can even be paralyzing. The most problematic thing about darkness is that it has no substance, yet it carries some devastating impacts upon the presence and activity of life. When ever the lights are extinguished in a room unexpectedly, the first response is typically an audible gasp of shock. But when the lights are turned back on, there is also the inevitable sigh of relief.
If you want to know more about this light and the life you can have where you can see the truth for what it really is, please reach out to a trusted Christian friend and ask questions. If you don’t know any Christians in your life, but still want to know more, please reach out to NeedHim.org and have a chat with someone who genuinely cares about you and introducing you to the Savior. Or you can reach out to me personally via social media.