I Am the Light of the World : John 8:12-30
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2). That pretty much sums up the news this week doesn’t it? Formless, empty and with lots of darkness. Although we are two weeks away from the end of European Summer Time, it seems the sun went away a long time ago. The nights are drawing in and the days shorter. But its not shorter days that has made this week seem particularly dark. Robert Peston, the BBC’s business analyst summed up the decision of the government on Wednesday to invest a cool £500 billion in the UK banking sector, with the understated heading, “Armageddon Avoided”.
In his words, “there's been a co-ordinated global attempt to prop up the financial system and save individual economies from a deep dark recession.” It will take a while before we know whether we have avoided a ‘deep dark recession’ or just a short grey one. £500 billion is a lot of money. Considerably more than even the US government has provided for its own banking sector. On Wednesday, the US treasury secretary Henry Paulson warned that some US banks will still fail despite the $700bn government rescue package to shore up the financial system. Talking to some of you who work in the City, it seems there will be a few more sleepless nights ahead.
What I find surprising is how few analysts predicted the global impact of the failure of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. One might say, in the words of Genesis 1:2, “darkness was over the surface of the…” city. But the verse goes on to say, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3). It was on a similarly dark day that Jesus stood up in the Temple in Jerusalem and cried out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
This was the second time Jesus invoked the sacred name of God and applied it to himself. The second of the seven great “I am” statements of Jesus. Last week we examined Jesus claim “I am the bread of life”. Today, Jesus claim “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). In one sentence, Jesus answers the 3 most important questions in life:
1. Who is Jesus? “The light of the world”
2. Why did Jesus come? that we “never walk in darkness”
3. How can we know God? Jesus answered “whoever follows me”
Lets think about these three questions in more detail.
1. Who is Jesus?
To set the scene lets note the immediate context.
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)
1.1 The Setting of Jesus Claim: The Feast of Tabernacles
It was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish Year. The Feast lasted seven days, from the 15th to the 22nd of the seventh month. It was a time of great rejoicing.
Every Jewish male was required to attend. Jerusalem was packed. But there was plenty of room at the hotels. That’s because everybody went camping, living out of doors in home made tents, put together from the branches of palm trees. This was to remind everyone of the Exodus and the way their forefathers had wandered through the desert for forty years. In the Temple special sacrifices were offered on each of the seven days, reaching a climax on the last day, the great day of the feast, when the people could leave their booths for the final celebrations. During the feast there were two very important events. The first was a great procession led by the priests to the Pool of Siloam to collect water which was ceremonially carried back to the Temple through the Water Gate, and poured out. It was a vivid reminder of the Lord's provision of water during the Exodus. It was at this point that Jesus cried out,
"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37-38)
Jesus could not have picked a more controversial moment to make this great promise and claim about himself. He was claiming to be no less than the very One they were commemorating for giving them the water in the first place. This was the first important ceremony in the Feast of Tabernacles which Jesus applied to Himself. The second was even more dramatic. The Feast went on for seven days and seven nights.
To make this possible, each night four huge candelabra were erected in the Court of the Women to provide illumination for the whole Temple area, and the surrounding galleries packed with pilgrims. They were very large, the height of the Temple walls. The Temple itself was built on the highest point in the city of Jerusalem, so these huge flaming torches could be seen right across the city giving light to its squares, courts and lanes.
All night long until the cock crowed the next morning, the greatest, wisest and holiest men in Israel danced before the Lord singing psalms of joy and praise while the Levites played harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, and other instruments of music. It was some party.... Imagine the scene, the night sky dark, the Temple brightly light by the flames, the Court area packed with pilgrims, and priests. it was then that Jesus stood up and said,
"I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness" (John 8:12). The Setting of Jesus Claim.
1.2 The Source of Jesus Claim: A Shekinah Glory
The flaming candelabra were not simply lit so that the party could go on all night. The light was a powerful symbol.
A symbol of the Shekinah, the glory of God, seen as a "pillar of fire at night" which had led Israel on the journey through the wilderness to the promised land. That is what made Jesus declaration so controversial. The lights were also associated with the great expectation of the coming Messiah, and of the harvest of peoples turning to the Lord. (Isaiah 62:1-3) The Jewish teachers taught that the name of Messiah was "Light".
David uses the phrase to describe the Lord in Psalm 27 and 118.
In the very last chapter of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, the Messianic hope burns brightly, "For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness, or the dawn from on high will rise with healing in its wings..." (Malachi 4:2)
When Mary and Joseph met wise old Simeon in the Temple, he knew he had been allowed to live to see the Messiah. On taking the baby Jesus in his arms he cried out in praise to God....
"My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel." (Luke 2:30-32)
This is the Setting and the Source of Jesus Claim.
1.3 The Significance of Jesus Claim: The Nature of God
Jesus was making the audacious claim to be nothing less than God. The one who had led His people through the desert, the one they had longed for had now arrived. Jesus was claiming to be greater than all other religious leaders. He was not simply a prophet to the Jews. In reply to the Pharisees skepticism, Jesus says at least six things about Himself.
a. He is the Son of God
"You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." (John 8:19). He claimed a special relationship with God the Father.
b. He is the Eternal One
"You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23). He claimed to be from heaven.
c. He is Sinless
“The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." (John 8:29). Jesus claimed he always pleased God. This is who Jesus is claiming to be.
The eternal, sinless, Son of God. That is why, without a hint of pride, or arrogance, Jesus could make the audacious claim “I am the light of the world” We have answered the first question - Who is Jesus? “The light of the world”. The second question follows.
2. Why did Jesus come?
3.1 Jesus came to deliver us from evil
"I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness" (John 8:12). Jesus came to deliver us from evil – the darkness of a world alienated from God – and the darkness of the evil one. The darkness here is not merely ignorance, it is culpable. We are just two weeks away from Halloween. A pagan festival foolishly contrived to frighten away evil spirits. Only Jesus can deliver us from evil. Without Jesus we are in spiritual darkness.
Without Jesus we cannot know God. Notice how Jesus describes our condition. “But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards…. You do not know me or my father” (John 8:15-16, 19)
Without the light of God’s word, all we can do is judge by human standards, our values determined by consensus. It is the great weakness of democracy. Majorities are not always right.
The collective wisdom of the G7 leaders meeting on Friday is a good example of the limits of human wisdom. Despite their combined experience as politicians, bankers and economists they are unable to predict the outcome of the banking crisis, they are unable to halt the loss of confidence in the stock markets. Apparently £100 billion was wiped off the value of UK companies on Friday alone. I’m not an economist but our global credit crisis seems to look a lot like one giant example of pyramid selling.
At its core our Western economy is built on the mistaken belief that the highest end in life is the accumulation of wealth. We have placed our security in wealth, and we have turned it into an idol and now it has bitten us. Jesus said, “you cannot serve both God and money”. We are fooling ourselves if we try and live as if we can. Jesus came to deliver us from evil. How?
3.2 Jesus came to rescue us from death
“I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins. (John 8:24). The wages of sin is death. We will all one day die. In fact we deserve to die because of our sin, and we will, if we do not believe and trust in Jesus. A Christ-less eternity, devoid of his light will lead to endless remorse. Jesus came to deliver us from this darkness, to rescue us from sin and death.
2.3 Jesus came to die in our place
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be.” (John 8: 28). This is how he would rescue us. As Moses lifted up the serpent on a rod in the desert to save the people, (Numbers 21:8-9) so Jesus as the representative Son of Man, would be lifted up and die as our substitute (John 3:14). Jesus came to deliver us from evil, rescue us from death, to die in our place. We have answered two questions - Who is Jesus? “The light of the world”. Why did Jesus come? So that we would not walk in darkness. Finally, we come to the third.
4. How can we know God?
"I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness" (John 8:12). Whoever. “Whoever follows me” said Jesus. Notice Jesus is not talking about an intellectual decision but a pattern of behavior. “Follows me”. How do we follow Jesus?
By obeying his word. By walking in his footsteps. If someone says to me “I don’t read the Bible… I don’t need to” they are walking in darkness. The Bible shows us how to follow Jesus. If someone says to me “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” they are walking in darkness. We meet together to help each other follow Jesus. If someone says to me “I’s d love to but I don’t have time to get involved in a home group or serve in some way on Sundays” they need to come and hear my sermon tonight…
The simplicity of Jesus is refreshing. No qualification, no fudging. His promise is crystal clear. And the choice is infuriatingly either/or. There's no in between, no neutrality. We either walk in the light with Christ or we walk in the darkness without him. We are all walking in one of two directions – life or death - leading to one of two destinies - heaven or hell. Let the enormity of this promise sink in, "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) It is not God’s intention to expose our darkness to everyone around us and thus force us to hide from his presence in our shame and disgrace. It is his intention to convince us that darkness isn’t the best place to live. As we turn away from our darkness and into His light, the shadows of the past fall behind us. “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” (John 8:30). Even as these words of Jesus are spoken, we pray that many will put their faith in him, put their weight on him.
If that is true for you then pray this prayer silently with me, and then tell someone afterwards. Lets pray.
“Heavenly Father, I have rebelled against you. I have sinned in my thoughts, my words and my actions – sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately. I am sorry for the way I have lived and ask you to forgive me. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross so that could be forgiven. Thank you that I can now see clearly who Jesus is and why he came. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me follow him whatever the cost. Amen.”
And if you want to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus, the light of the world, join our Christianity Explored Course beginning Thursday 30th October.