Our journey starts at the beginning of the day. Perhaps you imagine that moment first thing in the morning when you sleepily hit snooze on your alarm clock, or are woken by the beams of sunlight peeping through the gap in the curtains. But of course that's not the beginning of the day at all. Because if we're serious about getting a biblical outlook on our lives, then even the way we think about the day will be changed. While it seems like the most normal thing to us imagine the day beginning in the morning, it's good to let the Bible assault even our most basic ideas about how reality is. For the biblical day begins at sunset on what we tend to think of as the night before.
Jewish people have preserved this structure and celebrate the arrival of the Sabbath (Saturday) on Friday night as the sun goes down, welcoming the day of rest in such a way that the weekend is longer (which seems a wonderful idea!). This kind of tradition grasps the truth that the beginning of the day is really sundown, not 12am or even 6am while the Church has, for the most part, accepted a pagan conception of 'day' which moves from midnight to midnight. Genesis 1 shows us, though, that the day begins at evening time and moves to morning and onward through the light hours. While this might sound like a picky detail, or an inconsequential cultural variation, the meaning we attach to the day actually gets us to the heart of the gospel! Our pagan day moves from midnight to midnight– framing the world and our whole lives in a cycle moving from darkness to darkness. Yet the biblical day begins with darkness, but moves to light– framing us and all creation in the victory of light over darkness. This way, as each day passes, the sky and the heavenly bodies play-out the story of the gospel over us. It's a subtle but significant reflection of the way we interpret reality, and it speaks of what we believe to be the ultimate truth about us and the world. Do we live in a world of dark meaninglessness and chaos, or a world promised hope and life in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world? We would do very well indeed to rescue the 'day', and begin to think about it as the Bible does.
With that in mind, we should begin our thinking about day with the darkness of night. This isn't morbid: it's simply looking at reality in the way the Bible teaches us. The world begins in darkness in Genesis 1:2 and moves to light; the history of redemption is one of rescue from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. At the outset it is good to be clear that this is what night has to teach us. The shape of history is a journey from the darkness of sin and evil to the light of the eternal rest of the Living God.
Night, then, serves to teach us about all that is dark. There is a reason why horror films are set on stormy nights in darkened old houses, why children are afraid of the dark, and why it seems as if our senses are sharpened as soon as the lights go out. There is something about the night time that conjures up for us a sense of all that we fear. The Psalms associate night with sadness and crying (Psalm 30:5) and with terror (Psalm 91:5), even expressing fear at the influence of the moon (Psalm 121:6). The 16th century poet John of the Cross famously wrote about 'the dark night of the soul', describing a time of intense spiritual struggle and loneliness, capturing well the isolation such experiences can bring. The darkness of night is also a cover for sin and evil (Job 24:14), the time when people may sneak around out of sight, doing what they wish to hide from others; even when the animals may 'creep about' in the forest (Psalm 104:20). Peter comments with some surprise that some false teachers are bold enough to sin openly in the daylight (2 Peter 2:13), when they might normally be expected to take advantage of the night. The night time makes it easy for us to keep our secrets. It stands for sin, evil, fear, and chaos.
In the midst of all the gloom and darkness, however, the Lord has not left us alone. Even here, there are signs of the light of Jesus. The night isn't controlled by darkness, for darkness is not even a thing in itself; it is simply a lack of light. Darkness isn't an opposite 'force' to light, or another 'power' at work so that night and day are a constantly battling duo. Instead, night is always chased away by day, just as darkness is chased away by light when you turn on a bulb in a dark room. Darkness and light are not equally-matched partners, and the same goes for night and day. Genesis 1 tells us that even the night is ruled by a light– the moon– and is pricked with stars, tiny specks of light that shine brightly even in the darkest hours of the deepest night. Built into the terror of night is the fact that it is temporary: the darkness will not rule forever, for even at its strongest, it is already being pierced by light. As John says of Jesus Christ, with Genesis 1 on his mind, 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5).
Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.
It is the rising of the sun that changes everything. The sun breaks the horizon and, slowly, all is light, life, warmth, and colour. The darkness of night is expelled without even a protest, and day finally begins; the long hours of the night are over. Was the night ever more than just a passing shadow?
What could be more familiar and yet more extraordinary than the sun? Scientifically speaking the sun sustains and nurtures all life– it causes plants to grow on which we and the animals live. By the sun's light, we live and move around. Sunlight helps the human body produce vitamin D which keeps the composition of our blood balanced, and it also releases endorphins or 'happy hormones' into our bodies– these produce bursts of energy, may relieve pain, and give us that summer feeling of carefree pleasure. The sun and the effects of the sun cannot be a coincidence in the Lord's world, and indeed, few parts of the creation receive such thorough and fascinating treatment from the Bible as it teaches how to think and speak about all that God has made. Far beyond the imaginations of astronomers and physicists, the sun is a sign, a teacher, and a friend to those who will wear the spectacles of scripture.
Genesis 1:2 begins in darkness as the world is born out of the waters. The creation is still 'formless and empty', and the Holy Spirit hovers above the face of the abyss. He is waiting for the Father to call out, 'Let there be light!', and when he does, the chaotic nothingness is dispelled with glorious light in the first ever morning of creation. This light is not the sun which is not created until verse 16, but a more important and significant light. What light lived before the sun? Christians are divided on how best to interpret the 'days' of Genesis 1, and how literally we ought to understand these early chapters of the Bible, but we can be certain that it is no accident that the sun is not the first light. The sun, the brightest light we have, is a sign and symbol of the great Light of the world, Jesus Christ, who John calls 'the light of men' in John 1, carefully drawing out the identity of Genesis' 'primeval light'. Someone has even suggested that Genesis 1:3 could be better translated, 'God said, 'Let him be light,' and he really did shine!'. The light that shines in the darkness from the very beginning is none other than the eternal Son of God, and the sun serves as a daily reminder of his light, life, warmth, and glory.
Each day as we go about our business, the sun makes his journey across the heavens– setting in the evening, rising in the morning, and coming to full brightness in the middle of the day. These movements have so much to teach us about Jesus and his work on earth as our Saviour. The biblical idea of 'day' means that the sun begins the day as it sets in the evening. From its position in the middle of the sky, it descends to the horizon, and its light seams to weaken. The world is bathed in red, and darkness seems gradually to overpower the light until it is night. Just so, Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus, the King of heaven, descended to earth: he made himself nothing, becoming a servant, humbling himself to death on a cross, there bathing the world in his blood to cleanse us from sin. The one who could count himself equal with God emptied himself; the Light of the world was extinguished, and so as he hung on the cross and died, darkness fell over the whole earth (Mark 15:33).
The glittering sun begins to rise
On yonder hill and paints the skies.
So runs a beautiful aria from 'The Morning' by Thomas Arne, the 18th century composer best known for 'Rule Brittania!'. There is nothing quite like seeing the sun rise, for it speaks of the resurrection of Jesus, and of all things. It is the restoration of all that is good and light and wholesome. Malachi 4:2 promises that for all who fear the Name of the Lord, He, the 'Sun of Righteousness', will rise with healing in his wings. It is a startlingly direct reference to Jesus as a 'sun', and one that's repeated in Psalm 84:11, calling him 'a sun and shield', bestowing favour and honour, just as the rays, or wings, of the sun shower down its goodness and warmth. The risen Jesus paints the skies, transforms the world, and sheds his light on us.
The unavoidable and most exiting sun Psalm, though, must be Psalm 19 which famously begins by telling us,
The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
All of these words ought to have real significance for us, having thought about the meaning of day and night, darkness and light, and it should certainly be familiar ground now to think of the creation speaking of the Lord. But the next verses are electrifying as David begins to tell us just what the heavens are saying to the rest of creation, and the exact details they are proclaiming.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom
leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs it course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The centrepiece of the heavens' sermon is the journey of the sun through the sky, as he makes his way from his tent, east to west, shedding his light on all life below. And he is called a 'bridegroom', and a 'strong man', who runs his course with joy. How does this proclaim the glory of God, spoken of in verse 1? You will no doubt have spotted that it proclaims the very Glory of God, Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus is the great bridegroom (Psalm 45, Ephesians 5:22–33), who has risen to the heavens and now rules over everything.
Why does the sun have a tent? It is because Jesus entered into the heavenly tabernacle (or tent) to offer his blood in the throne room of God for the cleansing of our sin. This is the great truth that the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Testament were set-up to illustrate; alongside the sun, they showed by the work of the priests and sacrifices that the blood of a perfect sacrifice was needed to wash away the sins of God's people. This little earthly Tabernacle was a copy of the true heavenly one (Hebrews 8:5–6), and so it was the real thing which Jesus entered once and for all on our behalf (Hebrews 12:11–12) to offer his blood for the sins of the world. Jesus ran his course looking forward to the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2), and as he is now risen, he victoriously reigns from on high; nothing is hidden from his power and love. We are waiting for the moment that the true Bridegoom leaves his tent to claim his Bride, finally receiving the joy of the full union he set out to find. What joy there is to come, both for us and for our Lord Jesus!
Paul boldly picks-up this passage from Psalm 19 in Romans 10 as he argues that everyone should know about the Lord simply by the fact that he is proclaimed in creation. Throughout the chapter, he mourns for his brothers the Jewish people who have rejected Jesus the Messiah. He says that they desperately must hear the 'word of Christ' and put their faith in him, and stops to ask in verse 18, 'Have they not heard?'. Is it that Paul's people have never heard of Jesus, and need to find about him for the first time? No. That is not the case, for verse 18 quotes our Psalm: the voice of the heavens has gone out to all the world. The word of Christ, the gospel of his death and resurrection mentioned in verse 17, has been proclaimed to everyone who has ever seen the sun set at night and rise again in the morning. The universe in which we live does far more than suggest to us that there may just possibly be an intelligent creator behind it if we were to search for him. No, it preaches 'the word of Christ' with blazing clarity and beauty. In Colossians 1:23, Paul makes his point just as simply: the gospel has been proclaimed to 'every creature under heaven'. In Paul's mind, nobody has any excuse: to watch this magnificent display in the heavens and still to reject Jesus is to be a 'disobedient and contrary people' (Romans 10:21), far from the Lord and in desperate need of his salvation. For those of us who live in the light of Jesus' saving grace, we know and enjoy the midday brightness of his goodness and love as he sits on heaven's throne, filling us with his Spirit, and speaking on our behalf to his Father.
With all that we have seen about Christ, the great Sun, we are able to face the night with a new confidence and unshakeable joy. The darkness that comes to us in suffering, pain, death, and sin is no match for our Saviour who has already broken through the power of sin, death, and hell. The darkness holds no true threat to a Christian married to the glorious Bridegroom who reigns over all things! For the believer, resurrection morning will always follow the deathly dread of night. Even our own deaths can be faced with the hope of the gospel as we see Jesus who has gone before us to make our way safe. This should speak great comfort to us in whatever struggles we may be going through, that as surely as the sun rises, so the Lord will comfort, heal, save, and restore.
While we live as believers in a world that is Christless, dark, and cold, Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century theologian, said that the Church is like the moon. The moon reflects the light of the sun, and is even given authority to rule over the night (Genesis 1:16), along with the stars giving light in the darkness. Jesus said that we, like him, are 'lights of the world' who are to shine out for the glory of God (Matthew 5:14). It is amazing that, as the moon reflects the sun, we are given the privilege of shining the light of Christ: a light that is not our own, but one we are entrusted with for the sake of a world that needs to see his beauty. As we make our way through life's difficulties and struggles, and as we seek to make Jesus known, all encouragement is ours as the Sun of Righteousness shines, lending us his everlasting light.
The English reformer John Bradford wrote a series of prayers and meditations to be used throughout the day, based on the events of daily life, and using them to direct our hearts and minds towards the Lord. His prayer for bed time is a wonderful one to begin with. He encourages us to meditate on the setting sun: we do not fear it going down over the horizon since we know it will soon rise again, and this act of faith ought to equip us to face the sleep of death with the hope of the resurrection. As we undress for bed, Bradford says we ought to be thinking of putting-off the old man of sin; while we’re pulling our bedclothes on, we should meditate on the way sleep points us to death,
As you are not afraid to enter into your bed, and to dispose yourself to sleep; so be not afraid to die, but rather prepare yourself for it; think that now you are nearer your end by one day's journey, than you were in the morning.
Finally, as our eyelids are heavy and sleep is beginning to take over, he gives us a final prayer for sweet, happy dreams of the new creation:
O Lord Jesus Christ, my Watchman and Keeper, take me to thy care; grant that while my body is sleeping my mind may watch in thee, and be made joyful by some sight of that celestial and heavenly life wherein thou art the King and Prince, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost.
What better way to face the dark night of death than with the prospect of being with Jesus forever! The great hope we have is spelled-out beautifully by Jonathan Edwards as he thinks about the word of Christ as proclaimed by the sun.
As the sun, by rising out of darkness and from under the earth raises the whole world with him, raises mankind out of their beds, and by his light as it were renews all things and fetches 'em up out of darkness, so Christ, rising from the grave and from a state of death, he as the first begotten from the dead, raises all his church with him; Christ the first fruits, and afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming. And as all the world is enlightened and brought out of darkness by the rising of the sun, so by Christ's rising we are begotten again to a living hope; and all our happiness and life and light and glory and the restitution of all things is from Christ rising from the dead, and is by his resurrection.
Evening and morning, night and day, and the continuing cycle of darkness to light preach to us in the loudest and clearest tones about Jesus the Light of the world. Living in the world he has made, and recognising the significance in the way he has ordered it, can teach us about him in ways that we can feel and experience every day. As we sense the warmth of the sunshine, or as we sit and look at the stars at night, we may begin to worship and praise him for his goodness to us. While we were in the darkness of sin, he entered it with and for us; dying our death, and raising us with him to new life, in order that we could live in the light of his grace and love. Use the sun, moon, and stars to 'always be under the sunshine of the gospel' as Richard Sibbes had it. The heavens declare the gospel to us, and they do so for our joy, so that we are able to see Jesus at all times.
 The moon has always been associated with insanity and depression. Sleepless nights, and experience of 'night terrors' are common complaints– so much so that our word 'lunatic' derives from the moon's medieval Latin name, Luna.
 From the hymn, 'Praise to the Lord the Almighty', written in 1680 by Joachim Neander.
 If you like this sort of thing, you have to hear Emma Kirkby sing, accompanied by striding harpsichord and rising strings to feel the force of these simple lyrics as they're exquisitely set to music. The sense of elation and expectation this little recording evokes is fantastic and will make you love the morning, even if you're not a 'morning person'.
 4, 53, 76 in 'Images of Divine Things', works vol. 11.
 All taken from 'Daily Meditations and Prayers'.
 54 in 'Images of Divine Things', works vol. 11.
 From his sermon, 'The Tender Heart'.
Daniel Hames is Associate Director at Union and lectures in theology and preaching. He is a minister at St Aldates, Oxford, and is completing a PhD in theology at the VU Amsterdam.