When I was a boy, I didn’t like nighttime because it halted my play, signaled that my friends had to go home, and meant I must go to bed. However, my attitude has changed with age. Now I love the dark hours, when the roar of a busy world stills and the lesser lights God ordained to rule the night appear. The brightness of the starry sky causes me to look with awe and admiration at the handiwork of the Creator. I find a quiet solitude in the darkness that allows me to give the Lord my full attention.
God is the one who created the night for our sleep and restoration. But although we need sleep every night and have no control of what happens during those hours, the Lord who keeps us never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:3-4). His work doesn’t cease when we close our eyes and surrender to the night.
In fact, just as our physical eyes cannot perceive what’s happening in the dark, human limitations also prevent us from seeing what the Lord is doing in the spiritual realm. Our Father does, however, reveal what He wants us to know—the Bible uses the word mystery to describe something once hidden that is now brought to light. Consider the following scriptural accounts that show how much God accomplished while most people were asleep.
From Slavery to Freedom. The most famous night in Israel’s history is Passover, which is recorded in Exodus 12:1-36. While His people were enslaved in Egypt, God intervened in the darkness of night to bring deliverance. As the Egyptians slept, the Lord moved through the country, killing every firstborn human being and animal in the land. The only exceptions were the Israelites who’d obeyed God by marking their doorways with the blood of a spotless lamb. In one night, the Lord set the entire nation free and brought them out of Egypt to become a people for His own possession.
From Captivity to Restoration. In time the children of Israel entered the land God had promised them and became an independent nation. However, they continually strayed from the Lord until they eventually suffered the consequences for their idolatry and were taken into captivity in Babylon. But God hadn’t abandoned them.
One night as the Babylonian king reveled and mocked the Lord, a hand suddenly appeared and wrote a message on the wall (Dan. 5:1-31). Daniel interpreted the words, which said, “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it … You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient … Your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and the Persians” (vv. 26-28). That very night the Persian troops entered Babylon, killed the king, and took over the city. The Jewish captives didn’t realize that in one night, God had opened the door to restore them to their land. During the first year of his reign, the Persian king set the Jewish people free to return to their homeland once again.
From Waiting to Hope Fulfilled. Although the Israelites were now in their land, they were never totally free, because various Gentile empires continued to rule over them. Their great hope was that their Messiah would soon come to liberate them. Once again, while most of the people in Bethlehem were sound asleep, God intervened in the affairs of earth (Luke 2:1-20). In a dark stable, the Messiah entered the world as a tiny, helpless newborn. Of all the nights that have ever been, this one was the most profound. The infant Messiah was the Son of God, who left heaven and took on human flesh to dwell with mankind and become the Savior of the world.
Time passed, and as Jesus grew into manhood, He began teaching and performing miracles as proof that He was the Messiah. However, the Jewish leaders were reluctant to accept Him. One night Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and teacher, came to Jesus with his questions (John 3:1-21). There in the darkness, Jesus Christ explained that He’d been sent by His Father so the world could be saved through Him. One could never attain salvation by trying to be good enough, but only through faith in Jesus.
The Jewish leaders’ hostility toward Jesus continued to grow because He didn’t fit their expectations of the Messiah. And Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples, also became disillusioned and decided to betray Him to the religious leaders (John 13:21-30). During the Passover celebration with His disciples, Jesus told Judas, “What you do, do quickly,” and “he went out immediately; and it was night” (vv. 27, 30). Judas was unaware that God would use his betrayal to begin the process that would put Jesus on the cross and bring about the redemption of mankind.
After Judas left, Jesus and His other disciples walked to the Mount of Olives in the darkness (Matt. 26:36-46). In a garden there, He pleaded with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (v. 39). The one who had never known sin or been separated from the Father was soon to bear the sins of the world. And although Jesus dreaded the experience, He submitted to the Father because there was no other way to save sinful mankind.
Within a few hours, our Lord was hanging on a cross, suffering excruciating pain, humiliation, and ridicule (Matt. 27:33-51). For three daytime hours, darkness covered the land as Jesus bore the Father’s judgment for the sins of mankind. Then He cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The perfect Lamb of God had paid the penalty for sin so that all who believe in Him could be justified (declared not guilty) and receive eternal life. None of us can fathom what happened in the darkness that day or what Jesus suffered for us so we could be rescued from an eternity in hell, separated from God. All we can do is believe, surrender fully to Christ, and thank Him for our salvation.
The disciples were in despair after Jesus’ death. Why had God let the Messiah die? Now, it seemed, there would be no kingdom and no glory. Jesus had been buried, and all hope was lost. Yet in the darkness of early Sunday morning, a miracle happened (Matt. 28:1-2). As some women came to the tomb, they discovered that it was empty. While the world slept, God had raised His Son to life.
From the Kingdom of This World to the Kingdom of God. The glorious kingdom the disciples longed to see will one day come, after the darkest period of tribulation in world history. At that time, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and … [then everyone] will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).
Throughout human history, the Lord has accomplished the miraculous under the cover of night. There are bound to be times when we can’t understand what God is doing or feel our lives are engulfed in the darkness of despair, difficulty, or suffering. Yet even then, we have the assurance that just as He has worked to achieve His perfect will throughout history, He’s also working in our darkness to accomplish His good purpose in our lives. When life seems mysterious, all we have to do is remember that to God, “the night is as bright as the day” (Psalm 139:12). He sees, and nothing is beyond His control.