Silent Night is probably the best known and most deeply loved of all the Christian carols. But the greatest of the carols at least from the point of view of its splendid theology is Charles Wesley’s Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Do you remember the words of the last verse? They say,
Hail, the Heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
The third line of that stanza, “Light and life to all he brings,” is drawn from the fourth verse of the prologue to John’s gospel, where John says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” That was an important thing for Wesley to draw out, for it is a statement that the things we most need as human beings are to be found in Jesus.
Physical and spiritual life. The first thing we find in Jesus is life. What kind of life is this? When we remember that John is making us think of the first chapter of Genesis by such phrases as “in the beginning,” “through him all things were made,” and “the light shines in the darkness,” we realize that whatever else he may also be suggesting, the evangelist is at least teaching that all physical life comes from Jesus Christ. John wants us to recall the Genesis account in which God formed man from the dust of the earth and then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” so that he “became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Dust is a lowly thing, but the divine breath that was breathed into it is as high as dust is low. And this divine breath, our life, comes from Jesus.
But it cannot only be physical life about which John is thinking in this prelude, because “life” is an important concept in the fourth gospel and later it always has to do with spiritual life or salvation. We find this idea just a few verses further on where John is explaining for the first time how one is spiritually born again: “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (vv. 12, 13). His point is that spiritual life comes from God and not from man. Later in an even better known passage, in John 3, Jesus explains the same truth to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). In that text the word “again” literally means “from above” and points back to the scene in Genesis in which God breathed his breath into the first man “from above” to cause him to become what human beings are—living souls designed for fellowship with their Creator. In the same way, Jesus has to breathe some of his divine life into us if we are to be brought out of spiritual death into true spiritual life, which alone makes that fellowship possible.
The light of revelation. The second word John uses to summarize what you and I need and what we find in Christ is light. This is John’s word for spiritual illumination or revelation, and he links it to life (“that life was the light of men”) because it is only when we are made spiritually alive that we are able to receive the revelation. Apart from life, God’s light is darkness to us, and the Word of God falls on deaf ears.
Do you remember the story of Jesus’ healing the blind man in John 9? Jesus gave the man physical sight. There was a physical healing. But the physical healing was meant to be an illustration of that far greater and more important spiritual healing that enabled the man to see Jesus for who he truly is and believe on him. At the beginning of the story the blind man did not understand very much about Jesus at all. The only way he can refer to him is by the words “the man they call Jesus” (v. 11). However, as the story progresses he grows in understanding, telling the Pharisees that he has come to regard Jesus as “a prophet” (v. 17). Still later he admits to having become his “disciple” (v. 27), and after that he affirms that Jesus is “from God” (v. 33). At the very end of the story we hear him professing, “Lord, I believe,” and we read that then “he worshiped [Jesus]” (v. 38).
Those two things are exactly what you and I need. We need spiritual life so we can live for God, and we need spiritual illumination to perceive who Jesus is so we might believe on him and worship him. These two necessary blessings come from Jesus Christ.
In fact, everything we need comes from Jesus. Do you remember the verses in Ephesians in which the Apostle Paul prays that the Christians to whom he is writing might be able to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18, 19)? Those verses speak of the extent of the love of God in Christ in four dimensions: breadth, length, depth, and height.
During the Napoleonic period in Europe some of the emperor’s soldiers opened a prison that had been used by the Inquisition, and in one of the dungeons they found the remains of a prisoner, the flesh and clothing long since gone and only an ankle bone in a chain left to tell his story. On the wall, carved into the stone with some sharp pieces of metal, was a crude cross, and around it at each of the points of the cross were the Spanish words for these four dimensions: length, depth, breadth, and height. Clearly, as this poor, deserted, persecuted soul was dying, he comforted himself with the thought of the infinite dimensions of the great love of God in Christ and with the fact that Jesus was able to satisfy him fully. Jesus is also able to satisfy you fully whatever your need or longing.