What would you do without light? Live in darkness, sure… but then, could you really live? What sort of life is that? Is it life at all? John writes in verse 5 of chapter 1:
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
As I was studying this verse I approached it in a little bit different way than I have heard before. In my studies I found that there were two ways of understanding a key word in the sentence. It can be translated as “understood” (as in the NIV84 version) or as “overcome” (as in the ESV and NIV11). I found pastors and scholars on both sides of the issue (with a leaning towards “overcome”), but each seemed to concede that John probably intended a little bit of both with his ambiguous word choice (John often has double meanings in some of his key phrases which he expands in other sections). Seeing as this was in the prologue I wanted to determine if there were further sections of John that helped reveal the answer to two questions: “Why hasn’t the darkness understood the light?” and “Why hasn’t the darkness overcome it?” I hope you benefit from the fruits of my labor.
Why John uses “light”:
Key aspect of light… it shines; darkness flees. There is no such thing as a room so incredibly dark that flipping on a light won’t work. “It is the function of light to shine precisely in the darkness, to oppose darkness, to dispel darkness (Leon Morris).”
The Light is continually in action:
But John, if only referring to creation, the coming of Christ or even the earthly ministry of Christ, then he would have said, “the light shined in the darkness,” but he says presently, actively, “the light shines.”
Those in darkness don’t understand it (because their deeds are evil and they love it):
“Immersed in wrongdoing they have no wish to be disturbed. They refuse to be shaken out of their comfortable sinfulness. So they set their love on darkness (Leon Morris).”
Those in darkness don’t understand it (because they’re afraid of being exposed):
People in sin, do the same thing, they reject the light of Jesus because they are not willing to confess first and foremost: “I am a sinner, separated from God, in need of a savior who will pay my penalty for me… I can’t do it alone.” The first step is to see your sin, see your wickedness and bring it into the light of Jesus Christ.
The darkness has not overcome it (in Jesus’ ministry):
Jesus has the power to bring sight to the blind. Not just the physical blindness (of course He does that), but also spiritual truth that overpowers the darkness that has kept this man and every human being enslaved… so they might see and believe in the One who gives life.
The darkness has not overcome it (through belief in Jesus):
Jesus has the power to take people out of the darkness. Because he is the light that shines. But you must believe. Jesus came to deliver us from darkness. He is able to overcome it. Will you believe?
The darkness has not overcome it (because of the resurrection of Jesus):
There doesn’t need to be fear of the darkness anymore. Though the cross seemed like the very moment when darkness might win, the exact opposite was true, for on the cross sin and death were vanquished, our penalty paid, our relationship to God restored.
We need to respond to the Light God sent down to this dark world by submitting to it (owning up to our sin and your need for Christ), trusting in it (confidently trusting that only Jesus took care of your sin at the cross and placing your hope in Him), living by it (1 John 1:5-7) and sharing it with all who will see it (Matt 5:14-16). This Light is Jesus Christ. This is why we celebrate Christmas.