Jesus often spoke in parables. Our Lord uses everyday illustrations such as sheep (Luke 15:1–7), sons (Luke 15:11–32), and coins (Luke 15:8–10) to paint pictures of God’s kingdom. Through these parables, Jesus proclaimed the good news that God goes to great lengths to seek after the lost, forgotten, poor, and dead to resurrect them.
This Gospel “good news” however, the proclamation of Christ crucified for us, did not originate in the New Testament gospels. In Genesis 3:15 the first Gospel promise was spoken and has been proclaimed since. Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise. He is the center of the parables, the One who goes to great lengths, even going into death, to seek after the lost.
In Leviticus, in the tabernacle, we see another parabolic illustration of the lengths Jesus goes to to seek after the lost.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning continually. Outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, Aaron is to tend the lamps before the Lord from evening till morning, continually. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. The lamps on the pure gold lamp stand before the Lord must be tended continually” (Leviticus 24:1–4).
Housed in the tabernacle was a lamp which never ceased burning. Even in the evening, when the black veil of darkness covered the earth, a light proceeded to pierce the darkness shining in the Lord’s dwelling place.
In his commentary on the book of Leviticus, John Kleinig writes of this light, “It was the light that came from God’s presence and proclaimed that presence with his people in the menacing darkness of the night. More precisely, it was the light of his presence that shone on his people with his grace and blessing… Like the whole outer tent and its rituals, they were parabolic for the present age and lasted until the coming of the Messiah. They prefigured the work of Jesus with his establishment of the new way into the heavenly sanctuary by means of the holy things.”
The lamp served more than just a practical purpose, illuminating the surrounding space in the tabernacle. This lamp prophesied of the One who would come into our darkness. The One who would go to such great lengths to rescue us that He, Himself would enlighten our darkness.
This means too, then, that when we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things we leave our Light, the only light who is Jesus. But, on the cross, Jesus was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus even went into the darkness of death to seek and save us.
This ever-burning lamp reveals Jesus, the Light of the world (John 1:5), whose saving light has burst into our sin-eclipsed souls to bring us out of the darkness and into His Light (Colossians 1:13), the Light no darkness can overcome.
All this is given to us in baptism, where the Trinity bespeaks us righteous. Therefore, as the hymnist Martin Franzmann writes, “Thy Strong Word bespeaks us righteous; bright with Thine own holiness” (LSB 578). We are made righteous through water and the Word. Through baptism we are connected to Christ, and filled with His light. The liturgy of our baptism even points to this reality, “Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the Light of the world” (LSB 271).
Thus, in the Divine Service, the Lord dwells with us in Word and Sacrament. Like the candle which never ceased providing light, so our God never ceases from His work for us. Likewise, in the Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes,”The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith.” As the priests continually tended to the lamps, so our Lord continually tends to us in the Divine Service to dispel the shadows of doubt and unbelief, and to extinguish our sin with the light of His absolution.