The Light of the World
Malcolm Baker ponders the journey from darkness to light and reminds us that Light triumphs… “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:5
The Light that existed before light was created shines today. As nature grows and flourishes under natural sunlight, we see and experience beauty, even in the ugliness of this fallen world. The beautiful flowers and trees all around; and the fruit and vegetables that we feed on and are nourished by, cause our body cells to flourish and burst forth with life too.
Life, in a sense, is the response to the light and the warmth of the sun; which in turn is something of a reflection of the power, character, and nature of God.
But whereas the fallen world has darkness all around, God is Light and in Him is no darkness (1 John 1:5). “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”(v.4). The light that was the light of men shines in our hearts, because God the Creator of the physical world, speaks the new creation into being - “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 4:6). The born-again life requires light that emanates only from the Son. Man was created last in the book of Genesis, God having previously prepared a place, the Earth; then, creating man out of the dust of the Earth, the Lord planted him in a Garden called Eden (Genesis 2:15). But man, in the new creation is first by the new birth in Christ Jesus. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where He is, we will also be (John 14:3); and we have perhaps the principle in creation of, “So the last will be ﬁrst, and the ﬁrst will be last” (Matthew 20:16). “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) refers to the new Heavens and the new Earth to come.
A story of darkness and light
The story I am about to tell involves thirty-eight Jews. We are going to read about darkness and light, and that when darkness comes, no matter in what shape or form, physical or spiritual, God is there with us. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. I remember when my father died, and in the quietness and loneliness of the moment, my mother opened the Bible and read. During that deeply intimate embrace between spirit and Spirit, God spoke to her heart, that He would be a husband to her (Isaiah 54:5). It was a word in season, and treasured by my mother. His light shines in the darkness.
Tension in Ukraine reached new heights through Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the 50,000 Russian troops that were amassed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea last year. There was fear concerning Putin’s motives, and the uncertainty caused fear to spread out into the rest of Europe and the USA as they sought for solutions to this new danger. Since then Russia has become very active in the Middle East – Syria in particular; and in December 2015, Russia stepped up its military presence in the Arctic. The world creaks and groans under ISIS terrorism and Muslim migration, and is unstable in all its ways. National, cultural, and ethnic group relationships are strained, somewhat similar to the rumblings of a great earthquake straddling the world, waiting to happen. Persecution of Jews and Christians grows and intensifies daily. Darkness is all around.
Ukraine is the focus of our story, where there is an enormous gypsum cave system, seventy-seven miles long and known by the locals as the ‘Priest’s Grotto.
During the Nazi occupation in 1942– 1944, thirty-eight Jews took refuge in the Ukrainian hideout, where they managed to evade the Nazis. They lived in two separate caves for a total of nearly two years, including 344 straight days inside the massive underground sanctuary, the Priest’s Grotto. They survived, but ninety-five percent of the Jews in Ukraine were exterminated. Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”And, “You are my hiding place and my shield.” (Psalm 119:114)
Some of the local Ukrainians were moved to help the Jews by selling them food. Others however, came close to bringing down their destruction, at one point even attempting an armed assault against the Jewish men who were trying to haul sacks of grain into the entrance of the cave in the middle of the night. The fugitives endured several close calls. In July 1943, a group of villagers blocked the entrance to the cave in an effort to kill them. The Jews managed to find a narrow, rocky gap near the blocked entrance, and over three days and nights dug their way out. The act that was meant for evil worked for their good as the ordeal helped to fortify the cave’s entrance.
They survived their ordeal because the cave was sourced with clean water and had separate chambers for cooking and smoke ventilation. A survivor named Shulim Stermer recounted, “when we were inside we felt some security, because we knew it would be very hard for Germans or police to come down there, one at a time, feet first.”
During their year-long stay their health remained comparatively good with nobody becoming seriously ill. They slept within a closed gallery which helped them keep hypothermia at bay. They slept on elevated, blanket covered beds, sleeping from fifteen to twenty hours a day. Another member of the Stermer family, Schlomo, said, “we adjusted and we slept a lot. If you sleep you’re not hungry.”
The fugitives could not afford to illuminate the caves. It was necessary for them to conserve candles and as much fuel as possible. This meant that they only lit candles for a few minutes, several times a day in order to prepare meals. All other times were spent in complete and total darkness. The journey from the darkness above ground to the darkness below ground was not an easy one. “The darkness, you know, that first day I would say it was the lowest point of my life,” Shlomo, recalled. “There was no place else to go. That was our last stop and it was very depressing.”
Another fugitive-survivor was Pepkala Blitzer. Pepkala was a four-year-old girl when she and her family took shelter in the Priest’s Grotto. Years later she recalled how she had completely forgotten about the sun or daylight. It was in early April 1944, when one of the Jewish men found a bottle lying on the floor near the entrance to the cave. Inside the bottle was a message from a friendly Ukrainian farmer, which read, “the Germans have already gone.” A few days later, all thirty-eight Jews finally left their place of refuge as they were liberated by Soviet troops. Standing in the bright sunshine, little Pepkala asked her mother to put out the bright candle, because it hurt her eyes too much. She was referring to the sun, which she could not remember having seen.
Light in the Lord …
How important it is for us to know and remember God’s Word. “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). In Matthew 24:9, long before Jesus had disciples in all the nations, He predicted, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” “So”,He said, “make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. ‘But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death…”’ (Luke 21:14-16).
Jews were betrayed and handed over to the authorities with millions being exterminated in the Nazi death camps. Disciples of Yeshua will be betrayed, even by family members and friends, but He has warned us and reassured us that He will provide what we need. Wisdom declares, “but he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil” (Proverbs 1:33).
Many Jews died during those horrific years that we have been considering; yet God saved a remnant and to this day is returning His people the Jews back to the Land of Promise. Many are [re]turning to God with the same faith in which Abraham walked.
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8)
In 2017 we stand at the edge of great darkness; the darkness that marks the end of this age; but the darkness will flee away at His appearing. “For just as the lightning comes from the east and ﬂashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27). This is striking because every eye will see (Revelation 1:7). Even the blind will see His coming!