Light in the Darkness
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Light in the Darkness

Isaiah 9:2–5  (ID: 2915)

When we face spiritual darkness both in the world around us and within our own hearts, where can we turn for relief? Alistair Begg reminds us that only the light of redemption revealed in Christ Jesus can overcome our darkness and deal with our alienation from God. Our celebration of Advent should anticipate the great celebration that will take place when Jesus returns in glory.

Series Containing This Sermon

It is HIStory!

A Journey to the Heart of Christmas Isaiah 9:1–7 Series ID: 27101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Isaiah 9:1:

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

“The people who walked in darkness
 have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
 on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
 you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
 as with joy at the harvest,
 as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
 and the staff for his shoulder,
 the rod of his oppressor,
 you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
 and every garment rolled in blood
 will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
 to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
 and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
 Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
 there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
 to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
 from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

We pray together. I invite you to join with me as we bow in prayer:

Our gracious God, we pray that you will conduct that divine dialogue whereby the Spirit of God is at work in the hearts and minds of each one of us, so that beyond the voice of a mere man we might hear from you, that we might pay attention to what your Word says, and that by your grace we might believe it and live in the light of it. And this is our humble prayer. In Christ’s name. Amen.

There are a number of psalms in the Bible which are clearly laments, and probably Psalm 88 is the saddest of them all, inasmuch as, unlike many of the Psalms, it does not end in an upswing. In the course of the psalm, the psalmist asks the question, “Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your [righteous deeds] in the land of forgetfulness?”[1] or “in the land of oblivion.”[2] And that lament reaches its conclusion when he declares, “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me. The darkness is my closest friend.”[3] “The darkness is my closest friend.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t read that without it brings to mind the opening line of a song that in 1968 immediately took over the airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, it was as long ago as 1968 when you woke up in the morning and heard the opening line, “Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.”[4] I don’t know whether Paul Simon had been reading Psalm 88 before he wrote “The Sounds of Silence.” I think there’s a fair chance that he would be familiar with it, given his Jewish background. But I do know that that lament from Psalm 88 would be capable, I think we can safely say, of expressing the mood of many who are described for us here at the end of Isaiah chapter 8.

Isaiah is providing for us the record of what has happened to the people of God as a result of them being unprepared to listen to the Word of God and instead chasing after all kinds of other ideas. And if your Bible is open, you will see that he describes them in verse 21, at the end of chapter 8, as sojourners passing through the land, “greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, … enraged” and contemptuous in their response. In verse 19, they are looking for answers in all of the wrong places. They ought not to be paying attention to these “mediums and the necromancers.” Instead, surely, they should be inquiring of the testimony of God. And so they find themselves confronted by distress, confronted by darkness, and living in the gloom of anguish, as he puts it there in the final verse of Isaiah chapter 8: “And they will look to the earth, but behold, [darkness] and [distress], [and] the gloom of anguish”[5] is all they discover.

Has a very contemporary ring to it, doesn’t it? I wonder: Are you as struck by that as I am? Just that phrase: “And they will look to the earth.” I wonder: Has there ever been a time in Western culture when that has been such an apt description of what men and women do? We didn’t all grow up with Earth Day, did we? There was no such thing when I was a boy. This has all come about in the last while as pantheism has taken hold—the idea that the Creator is part of his creation, that we’re all wrapped up in it somehow together. And as a result of these things, our focus has become almost entirely horizontal. And if anyone is crazy enough to suggest that the answer to the problems on the horizontal plane have to do with the vertical axis, then they’ll probably be shouted down.

But it is a sad and pathetic picture, isn’t it? It’s a picture, I suggest to you; there they are with their faces turned upwards in contempt against authority, in contempt against God, looking to the earth and yet only discovering distress and darkness, inquiring of the mediums and the necromancers, those who are described as chirping and muttering—verse 19. Actually, the word there might equally be translated “chirping and twittering.” And there we have it. Let’s just look to these places.

It’s in the high streets of our nation. Don’t let’s kid ourselves. Chagrin Falls is a relatively respectable little spot, isn’t it? And yet on the high street, you don’t have to look very, very hard to be invited to come up the stairs into the realm of deep darkness to inquire about your life by looking to those who only deal in deadness. And you can go around the corner and find another place; if you don’t find the answer that you’ve desired there, then you can go into another spot and see if you can’t find, in consulting the mediums and the necromancers, in looking to the earth, the answers to the questions that fill your heart.

The Bible has a wonderfully contemporary ring to it, doesn’t it? These are the people who should be inquiring of God, and yet they find themselves inquiring of the dead on behalf of the living. And as a result, they find themselves in deep misery—a misery which does not drive them to repentance but instead drives them to blasphemy. And people say, “Well, why would it be that people confronted by these things, why don’t they just immediately turn and look to him who is the life and the light?” It’s interesting, isn’t it? They’re not turning to God as a result of their ministry, except to turn and curse him: “Curse the king, and curse our circumstances, and curse everything about this miserable life.” That’s the picture.


It’s a picture, in one word, of oppression. Of oppression. I have four words, and the first word is oppression. The people we find not bowing and praying to the neon god they’ve made[6] but bowing and praying, essentially, to the lifeless gods they’ve made. Instead of paying attention to the testimony of God via the prophet of God—words that are marked by clarity and by authority—they’ve decided that they’ll listen to the gibberish of the sorcerers.

Those are the circumstances described by Isaiah, and yet it is in that circumstance of oppression that he is going to declare hope for the people. And the hope, we are not surprised, is bound up in the testimony and in the teaching to which he refers in verse 16 and to which he returns again in verse 19. We should be inquiring of the testimony of God, the teaching and the testimony of God. It’s actually in verse 20, isn’t it? “To the teaching and to the testimony!”[7]

What Isaiah’s envisaging is a dawn of redemption. A dawn of redemption—as he comes to [9]:1—redemption and dawn in the place where darkness had been its thickest. And where had darkness been its thickest? Well, in “the land of Zebulun” and in “the land of Naphtali”—this very place of deep darkness, where there had been disruption and destruction, where the people of God had been taken away and moved into resettlement camps. If we had gone back in time, we would have seen circumstances that have been played out again and again in history as oppressive forces, foreign powers have come in and dealt a deep blow to men and women—destroyed their structures of society and life and faith and carried them away. And it was there, in the gloom of anguish, where they were thrust into deep darkness, that the light was going to shine.

The inbreaking of light in the darkness reaches its fulfillment in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

Now, I say to you again and again that the way to read your Bible is to read it backwards, so that you will be able to understand what is going on in the Old Testament in light of all that is unfolded in the New. And when you look at this opening verse of Isaiah chapter 9, it ought to send you forward to Matthew chapter 4. And when you get to Matthew chapter 4, you discover that Jesus has heard that John the Baptist has been arrested, and as a result of that, we’re told that Jesus returned to Nazareth in Galilee. Very quickly after that, he went to Capernaum, to “Capernaum by the sea” of Galilee, close to—and you won’t be surprised—close to Zebulun and to Naphtali.[8] And Matthew tells us exactly why it is that Jesus has gone there. Why has he gone into this region of Naphtali and Zebulun? Answer: “so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”[9] What was spoken? That “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light. They that sat in the land of death, upon them the light has broken through.” And then, we’re told by Matthew, Jesus from that point began to preach, “Turn from sin and turn to God, for the kingdom is near.”[10]

Now, when you think about this, you realize what Isaiah is doing: Isaiah is describing as a present reality something that yet awaits them in the future. And that which is described as the inbreaking of light in the darkness reaches its fulfillment in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. That’s why we always say to one another that the Bible is a book about Jesus. In the Old Testament, he is predicted; in the Gospels, he’s revealed; in the Acts, he is preached; in the Epistles, he’s explained; and in the book of Revelation, he is expected. So we come here to Matthew, and we discover, “Oh! That’s what Isaiah chapter 9 was saying: that into the darkness and gloom and anguish of people who were looking in all the wrong places, light has come.”


Well, that’s our second word. It’s the word illumination. Into the oppression of that which is before the people, light comes. And what Isaiah is doing is describing the future as something that has already happened, isn’t he? These are prophetic perfects—for those of you who like the English language. And what is happening here, what was happening in the experience of the prophets, was that they had, if you like, a kind of prophetic consciousness, whereby they were cast forward in time and then able, as it were, to look back on the mighty acts of God and to describe what was yet to take place with the certainty as if it had already happened—so that the prophet is saying, “Look forward to it. It is certain. He has already done it.”

That’s the whole point of the vision: that in his eye, he saw, in the same way as John on the Island of Patmos looks forward, and he sees this picture of all of the fulfillment of the plans and purposes of God. And he is projected, if you like, into that prophetic consciousness which allows him, then, in the moment of time to say, “This is an absolute certainty. God has shown this to me, and you may take his word for it”—a word which he, the prophet, speaks. And that’s why he places the illumination in direct proximity to the oppression: not because it is about immediately to happen but because it is immediately evident to the eye of faith.

Now, I must leave you to think that out for yourselves. But the fact is that only God can bring about this transformation. And that’s why at the end of verse 7, he answers the obvious question “How is this all going to happen?” by one sentence: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” How is the gloom and anguish of life to be penetrated by light? The answer is: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” God will do this.

Now, this motif runs through the entire Bible, doesn’t it? There are many motifs that run through the Bible. And one of them is this that we consider now: that of light in darkness. The Bible opens with the thought, doesn’t it? The triumph of light over darkness: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”[11] And it triumphed over the darkness. The psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”[12] We’ve already, in our prayer, quoted from the prologue of John’s Gospel: “In [Jesus] was [the] life, and [that] life was the light of men.”[13] Jesus enters the temple precincts, and he declares himself to be “the light of the world”—“the light of the world”—and “whoever follows” him, he says, “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[14]

Paul uses the very same picture when he describes what has happened to the Corinthians, moving from creation to the new creation. He says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’”—in the Genesis record—“‘for [the] God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus”[15]—that he is describing here what happens when light breaks into the darkness.

By nature, we live on the dark side. We are not in a neutral zone outside of Christ. We live on the dark side. And John actually says that people who live on the dark side do not come to the light, because they like the dark side, because their deeds are evil. I’m quoting John 3:20: “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” And that’s why Paul’s assignment was to preach so that men might be turned from darkness into light[16]—turned from darkness into light.

Now, we don’t need to be geniuses to work this out, do we? A friend took me to a restaurant in Chicago a few weeks ago now. It was very, very late at night. I don’t know. I’ve never gone to dinner, I don’t think, at quarter past ten at night. It seemed a crazy idea to me, but anyway, I went along with it. He was a younger fellow, and I’m getting old and have to go to my bed, but I said I would go along. And I can’t go into details. It wasn’t a bad place. It wasn’t an immoral place. It was just a horribly dark place. It was so dark that when I went to the men’s restroom, I was actually frightened on the stairs. I said, “Dear me, I’m getting very old.” But I thought to myself as I looked around at the people, I said, “Why is it so dark in here? Why can’t we turn the light on in this place, for goodness’ sake?” Well, I suspect it had something to do with the kind of liaisons that were there. In fact, we even felt strange, the two of us, sitting in there in the darkness.



Thirdly, celebration.

The people who walked in darkness
 have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in [the] land of deep darkness,
 on them [a] light [has] shone.
[And] you have multiplied the nation;
 you have increased its joy;
they rejoice.

That’s celebration, isn’t it?

What is he saying here? Well, he’s saying that the tiny remnant of believing folks would scarcely imagine the way in which God was going to fulfill his promises. Here they are as a little remnant of folks, in the midst of all of this darkness, paying attention to the testimony that God has given through the prophet—not going away and inquiring of all these dark and silly ideas. And yet they feel themselves to be so beleaguered, so impoverished, such a minority in the midst of it all, and Isaiah says, “Listen, you need to know this: that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and God has multiplied the joy of the nation.”

Now, the way in which we must surely understand this—again, in light of reading the Bible backwards—is in light of Revelation 7: that the promise of God to Abraham was going to be fulfilled insofar as through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed;[17] that there would be a company, in Revelation 7, of people from every tribe and people and language and tongue that would be gathered and would celebrate God.[18] And so, when you read your Bible, you must read it in light of that. You’ve got to read the territorial and national pictures that are here in the Old Testament in light of the fact that God has put together a people that have already come to Mount Zion, that God has put together a people that are already brought to his holy hill, and that that will eventually be fulfilled in those who are the people of God looking forward to the promises of God in the company here and gentile believers who are added into that company, and then the interweaving of this great mass of humanity as nations are added and people from all over the world are finally gathered in this great assembly.

Now, you get inklings of it all the way through. For example, the wise men. What is happening in the wise men? Who are these wise men? How did they just show up in the story? What’s happening? Did they come from China? Where did they come from? They came from the east: “We’ve seen his star in the sky, and we came looking for him.”[19] What’s happening there? Well, the exact same thing is happening there as was happening in the census that was being taken: “In those days, a census was ordered for all the people, and they had to go up to the place of their birth, and Mary and Joseph went up to the town and city of David,”[20] so that at the right moment in time, the virgin would bring forth her Son. And cosmically, if you like, God is now moving the nations in the direction of his Son, who is the Light of the World. And the wise men are at least a picture of this: that God is at work in bringing the nations to his Son.

“Now, where did you come from?”

“Well, we came from the east.”

“What are you doing here?”

“We’ve seen the light. We’ve been following the light. It’s brought us right over the strangest little place. I can’t believe it. If we’d felt when we set out that we were going to end up in a dump like this, I’m not sure that any one of us would have chosen to come. How bizarre!”

You see, the joy that will then be experienced is the joy of those who rejoice in the harvest—verse 3. What did you do to bring about the harvest, Mr. Farmer? Well, you planted, but you couldn’t make it grow. And it will be the joy of those who celebrate and divide the spoil or the plunder as a result of victory in battle—the picture of a joy in harvest and a joy in plunder that is so clearly a joy that is brought about as a result of the intervention of God. Victory in battle belonged to the Lord, and a harvest was as a result of his goodness.

In the gloom, the light shines. In the face of insurmountable odds, the people of God will discover victory. That’s the significance of verse 4:

For the yoke of his burden,
 and the staff for his shoulder,
 [and] the rod of his oppressor,
 you have broken as on the day of Midian.

What does that mean, “as on the day of Midian”? Well, all you need’s a concordance. You can go to Midian, look up Midian. It’ll take you back into Judges 6. When you get to Judges 6, you will be there in the story of Gideon. If you never read the story of Gideon before, enjoy it this afternoon. It’s a fantastic story of how God comes and speaks into the life of this fellow and calls him a “mighty warrior.”[21] And Gideon is completely bemused by this, because he says, “I’m not a mighty warrior. I come from a very small family, and I’m the least in my family.”[22] No, but he was going to be a mighty warrior. He was going to see a mighty battle, and he was going to see it in victory.

And it’s the story of how God takes the number of 32,000 and reduces it by 22,000. So, with 10,000 left, the odds are now apparently insurmountable to go against the vast hosts that are coming against them. And then God does something even more dramatic, and he says, “You’ve still got too many. I want you to reduce it significantly from here.” And another 9,700 are taken out until there’s only 300 people left.[23] In the day of Midian, there were only 300 people left to go against an insurmountable foe. And on that day, the people were unmistakably clear: the battle belongs to the Lord; victory belongs to the Lord. And that’s what the prophet is saying here: “Here is the joy in harvest. Here is the joy in plunder. It is a joy that is found in the intervention of God.”


That brings us to our fourth and to our final word, and it is the word liberation. Liberation. “For the yoke of his burden”—verse 4—“the staff [of] his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken,” and the tramping boots of the warriors and the garments that have been stained with blood are going to be “burned as fuel for the fire.” What is he saying? He’s saying that in the Lord Jesus Christ, God sets people free.

Now, this would have resonated with these folks. They knew about burdens—at least their forefathers did. Their forefathers had toiled in Egypt. They had lived, their forefathers had lived, with tyrants, with beatings, and with burdens. That’s what he’s referencing here. God had raised up his servant Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go,” so that they might be relieved of their burden; so that they may no longer be under the stick and the rod of those who beat their miserable backs, bringing the worst and the best out of them as they saw fit; so that they would no longer be under the oppressive influence of the tyrant.

Well, it’s hard not to preach this, isn’t it? That God is the God who relieves our burdens, who takes our beatings and vanquishes our tyrants—a God who, in Jesus, deals with our burdens by making them his own; a God who, in Jesus, deals with our beatings by being beaten himself and nailed to a cross; and a God who, in Jesus, sets us free from our tyrants by putting his neck to the tyranny of all hell let loose against him.

Some of you are here this morning, and burdens weigh you down, and you are oppressed by things. You’re tempted to look to the earth for your solutions. You perhaps have gone to inquire among the dead for the answers to your life, and you haven’t found them. You have been told that it is just a condition, and frankly, you’re stuck. You have been told it’s just the way you were wired, and there’s no way out. And the prophecy of Isaiah rings down through all these years, saying, “Listen! Listen! There is liberation in the Lord Jesus Christ. He frees us from our burdens, relieves us of our beatings, and vanquishes our tyrants.”

God is the God who relieves our burdens, who takes our beatings and vanquishes our tyrants—a God who, in Jesus, deals with our burdens by making them his own.

That’s why when Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth where he was brought up, you will remember… Brought up. And in the synagogue that was his routine place of worship, he finds the place in the scroll where it is written—he finds the place in the scroll where it is written—“He sent me.”

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
 and recovering of sight to the blind,
 to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
[and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[24]

And when he had finished reading, he sat down, and Luke says, “And all the eyes of the people of the synagogue were fastened on him,”[25] wondering what he will say by way of the explanation for the reading from the Bible for that day. And what does he say? Can they believe it? Is there a person in the room that doesn’t just grab themselves and hold on for dear life? “Today this Scripture [is] fulfilled in your hearing.”[26] In other words, “I am the one who sets you free from oppression. I am the one who sets the captives free. I liberate. I bring illumination into your oppression, into your darkness.”

And that’s why all of our longings for peace and unity among the nations will finally be met. Don’t let’s forget the fact, irrespective of where you were in the Vietnam era, that the longings for peace are understandable longings. They are longings, if you like, that are placed in the heart of a man or a woman as a man or a woman—that the peace songs had more than a smattering of the Bible in them.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
 to the house of … God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
 and that we may walk in his paths.”

He’ll deal with the disputes of the peoples. They’ll “beat their swords into plowshares, … their spears into pruning hooks,” and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”[27] That’s Isaiah chapter 2.

“We ain’t gonna study war no more. We ain’t gonna study war no more. We ain’t gonna study war no more.” No, we’re not. We’re not! The war in your heart is because you’re a sinner—the same reason there’s a war in my heart. The war between a father and his son, between a husband and his wife, between a family and their neighbors, between a nation and a nation is on account of the great war that exists at the very heart of the alienation of man—alienated from God on account of our rebellion and alienated from God on account of his wrath. And every alienation is founded in the reality of that alienation. And it is only when that is dealt with, in Christ, that all the others may then be settled. And every attempt to go at it the other way around will eventually end in failure.

No, this is a wonderful promise!

Every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
 and every garment rolled in blood
 will be burned as fuel for the fire.

Said a commentator that I found, from Indonesia: “We shall see not just the destruction of [the] weapons of war, but of our human desire to use them.”[28] It’s not that we’re just going to put all those guns away; it is that we will never have any desire to use them, even if we had them. ’Cause we ain’t gonna fight.

I started with Paul Simon; I might as well get towards the finish with Paul Simon. But in The Paul Simon Songbook, he has that song that was written by another fellow who only had a few good songs, I think. His name might have been, like, McCurdy or something like that; it doesn’t matter. But he wrote the song that Simon then sang:

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before:
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

I dreamed I saw a mighty room,
And the room was filled with men,
And the people there were singing
That they’d never fight again.

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made,
They all joined hands and bowed their heads,
And grateful prayers were prayed.

And the people in the street below
Were dancing round and round,
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.[29]

Loved ones, do you understand that the only way that that honest longing is found is when “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” accomplishes it? And when you go down verse 5, if you didn’t know verse 6, wouldn’t you regard it almost as an anticlimax? You’ve got oppression and darkness and gloom and illumination and celebration and liberation and the tramping warriors’ boots and the blood and the thing. And then, “For unto us a child is born.”[30]


So you have oppression, illumination, celebration, liberation, incarnation. Incarnation. You see, it’s only in Jesus that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met,”[31] because we were made for God. As Augustine says, we were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.[32] How do I find rest in God? How do I find freedom from oppression? How do I find illumination? How can I enter into this kind of celebration and joy? The answer is in the Lord Jesus. The whole Bible points to him. The whole message brings us to him.

How do I find rest in God? How do I find freedom from oppression? How do I find illumination? How can I enter into this kind of celebration and joy? The answer is in the Lord Jesus.

I think I do have time to read this letter to you. Sit back; you’ll enjoy this letter, and we’re finished now. We’ll have a song. We’ll do “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” But I want so desperately to read this letter to you, because of the way in which it expresses in a nutshell, from a testimony of a listener, exactly what is being described here on a personal front. Some of it you’ll just to swallow over, but listen carefully.

Dear Pastor Begg and Truth For Life staff,

I’m writing this letter to you as a way to thank you for your impact on my life. It’s nearly fourteen years ago now that God involved you in his story for my salvation.

In the summer of 1998, I was living with my grandparents in northern Wisconsin. I had just graduated from college and was preparing to move to New Hampshire. I had plans to live with a friend from high school and go to culinary school. In the weeks leading up to my departure, my friend Jody was unreachable. She’d become homeless after a series of bad choices and a dark, sinful life. But the Lord was getting ahold of her. She’d been raised in the faith, had walked away from God. He was in the process of wooing her back to him through his loving Spirit.

I knew none of this at the time, nor was I a believer in Christ; in fact, I was the exact opposite. By virtually every count, I was a depraved humanist. I lived a godless existence, doubting—no, disbelieving—his existence. And in actuality, it was not a godless life that I lived. I was a slave to many things. I lived a very hedonistic lifestyle, full of drugs and sexual sin. I lacked any sort of solid morals or values. I lived for my own pleasure. I attended a liberal arts college. I was a true disciple of evolutionary thought and socialist ideals. This lifestyle was easy to come to, since I had no moorings in the faith. My childhood was marred with separation and divorce, foster care, transience, and abuse. There was only empty religion.

I had no relationship with my father, felt a great deal of anger towards him for the ways he’d been absent in my life. In the seventh grade, he gave my brother and me the choice to stop attending Lutheran church on Sunday mornings. Looking back, it was at that time that Satan took on greater influence in my life. Years later, when I got saved after stepping back into a church, I understood how I’d walked out from the protective covering of his wing at that young age. Of course, what else would a thirteen-year-old boy with no faith and no example do?

The beauty of what God has done is that he has used my father as an integral part of my redemption. You see, beginning at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I left church, I became more consciously aware of my same-sex attraction. I struggled with all this through high school and left for college determined to live in the freedom of how I was born. The years from eighteen to twenty-four are of a darkness that is indescribable.

“A darkness that is indescribable.”

I immediately descended into daily drug use, rampant sexual promiscuity, and a totally self-centered life. The idolatry and vanity and narcissism in the gay community is both intoxicating and suffocating. During this time, God’s grace was abundant. His Word says that where sin increases, grace abounds. I should be dead today, but I’m not. I don’t deserve this life. I should have a host of sexually transmitted diseases because of the level of indiscriminate sexual behavior. The extent of my drug use should have had a more profound effect on my health and my mind. The circumstances I put myself in could have threatened my well-being. But his grace was sufficient, and his grace continues to be sufficient. God met me exactly how I needed, every step of the way.

At the end of the summer of 1998, as I was preparing to move to New Hampshire, I spent two days with my father. He was by now a born-again Christian who knew of my decision to live as a homosexual. He was also well aware of my drug use. On the day I left his home, he gave two audio tapes. One contained his testimony; the other was a sermon by Pastor Alistair Begg on how the church should properly respond to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. By God’s providence, I listened to my father’s testimony first. I wept as I heard for the first time him speak with a broken and contrite heart about all his failings and his need for a Savior. This was perfect, because God was softening my heart, preparing me to hear his loving truth in Pastor Begg’s sermon.

While these truths didn’t immediately feel good to me, the truth of God’s Word spoken in love stirred up my longing for fullness in Christ. What I heard in that sermon was that God’s love was also for me. I had not heard that from many Christians. What I had overwhelmingly heard was that God hates homosexuals, that AIDS kills them. Now hearing God’s words of love, mercy, and grace was a very stark contrast. Bless you for reflecting God’s love.

On the following months, I began wrestling with my fleshly desires and the growing awareness of God’s reality and his pull on my heart. My friend Jody, who was coming back to the Lord, witnessed God’s love to me in a gentle way. Her Christian friends prayed for me and demonstrated Christ’s love in real, tangible ways. My father and stepmother later reported that they became prayer warriors for me on the day I had left their home. I found myself praying on my way home, during my forty-five-minute commute late at night. I journaled one day, asking God to show himself to me and saying that I loved him.

One night, as I was listening to a Christian radio broadcast of J. Vernon McGee, an invitation was given, and I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I remember going to church just before that time, having not made a decision for Christ, and coming face-to-face with the living God. It was a time of worship, and I simultaneously felt completely known and loved. I knew I was a sinner but that I was loved by God and could be forgiven because of Christ. What a joy!

That was an amazing spring for me. I remember having a new understanding of being alive, remade in Christ. That was the most beautiful spring I had ever seen. I was baptized that June and have since become married to that friend Jody from high school, who showed me his love. We have been married for eleven years and now have two beautiful children. There are still struggles in my mind, but I continue to fight and press on to the goal, empowered by his Holy Spirit. Thank you for your role in my story. Thank you for having courage to stand for and speak God’s truth in love.

And then here’s the paragraph:

I’m sure that the days now seem darker than even thirteen years ago. I know that if his light could penetrate my darkness, your work can continue to shine ever brighter in the growing darkness of these times. Know that your work goes on. Seeds have been planted beyond myself, in and for others who struggle in similar ways. I wish I had written sooner to express my gratitude, but God’s timing is perfect. Be encouraged in your efforts. God will bless the work of our hands.

A very grateful brother in Christ

You see, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met” in Jesus. In this dark world, he still shines—shines through the gospel, shines through the testimony of your children, your grandchildren, through the love of your spouse, through the book that you’re reading by C.S.Lewis or somebody else, and shining and seeking and pursuing you and saying, “Come on, now. You don’t want to live in the darkness, do you? You don’t want to go and inquire among the dead for matters of life. Turn to me. ‘Turn to me and be saved, all [ye] ends of the earth!’”[33]

Well, let us pray together, and then we’ll stand and sing.

There may be somebody today for whom this study is actually the final link in a chain—the chain that leads you to say from your heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I could ever believe but that in you, I am more loved than I ever could dare to hope.[34] I thank you for paying my debt, for bearing my punishment, for offering me forgiveness, and I turn now from my sin to receive you as my Savior.”

Lord, look upon us in your mercy, we pray. Accomplish your purposes by the Holy Spirit, through your Word, so that we might be as lights in a dark place. For we humbly pray in Christ’s name. Amen.


[1] Psalm 88:12 (ESV).

[2] Psalm 88:12 (NIV).

[3] Psalm 88:18 (paraphrased).

[4] Paul Simon, “The Sounds of Silence” (1964).

[5] Isaiah 8:22 (ESV).

[6] Simon, “Sounds.”

[7] Isaiah 8:20 (ESV).

[8] Matthew 4:13 (ESV).

[9] Matthew 4:14 (ESV).

[10] Matthew 4:16–17 (paraphrased).

[11] Genesis 1:3 (ESV).

[12] Psalm 27:1 (ESV).

[13] John 1:4 (ESV).

[14] John 8:12 (ESV).

[15] 2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV).

[16] See Acts 26:18.

[17] See Genesis 22:18.

[18] See Revelation 7:9.

[19] Matthew 2:2 (paraphrased).

[20] Luke 2:1–5 (paraphrased).

[21] Judges 6:12 (NIV).

[22] Judges 6:15 (paraphrased).

[23] See Judges 7:2–8.

[24] Luke 4:18–19 (ESV).

[25] Luke 4:20 (paraphrased).

[26] Luke 4:21 (ESV).

[27] Isaiah 2:3–4 (ESV).

[28] S. H. Widyapranawa, The Lord Is Savior: Faith in National Crisis; A Commentary on the Book of Isaiah 1–39 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 53.

[29] Ed McCurdy, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” (1950). Lyrics lightly altered.

[30] Isaiah 9:6 (KJV).

[31] Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (1867).

[32] Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1.

[33] Isaiah 45:22 (ESV).

[34] Attributed to Jack Miller. See, for example, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, foreword to Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf (New York: Penguin, 2012), xix. Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.