The Light of the World
(We apologize for how dark the video is. Kind of ironic when Phil is preaching on the light of the world.)
Last Sunday we began a series of sermons on the “I Am” statements of Jesus. Jesus made at least seven such statements and John is the one gospel writer who recorded these for us. Last Sunday we heard Jesus say at the tomb of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In our reading from John 8 this morning we hear Jesus say, “I am the light of the world.”
Over the next several Sundays we will hear Jesus say, “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the vine,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Each of these statements says something about who Jesus is. As we sang in the song this morning, he is the great I am.
Those two small words “I am” were more than just two small words. When God called from the burning to bush to Moses to deliver his people from slavery from Pharoah and Egypt, Moses asked God what he should tell the people of Israel when he says God has sent him to do this. It says, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” “Say this to the people of Israel “I AM has sent me to you.”
I AM is the name of the Lord God. What did God mean? He meant that God is. God is obvious. God is self-existent and dependent on nothing else. He is eternal. Always was, always will be. I AM.
When Jesus would say “I am,” and he did this several times in different ways, he was making claims to be divine.
In John 8, Jesus is standing in the temple and makes the audacious claim, “I am the light of the world.”
He doesn’t say that he knows where we can find light, and then points over there. He points to himself. “I am.”
He doesn’t say he is a light. He is not one among many. He is the light. He is not just the light of Christians, or the religious world, or certain parts of existence. He is the light of the world.
Light is the first thing God creates in Genesis when he says, “Let there be light.”
Light was associated with the coming Messiah of God. Isaiah preached, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
Also, in Isaiah God says of his Messiah, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” “I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Psalm 27:1 says “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
So, when Jesus cried out, “I am the light of the world,” ears go up.
John begins his Gospel by writing about Jesus, “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
Before the raising of Lazarus Jesus said, “Those who walk during the day do not stumble because they see the light of this world.” John also tells us that Jesus said, “While you have the light believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (12:36)
When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” it was during the Feast of Tabernacles. This was one of the major feasts of the Jewish people. Thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem.
The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated God’s care and provision for the children of Israel during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. During that time they lived in tents or temporary tabernacles. One of the things Israel remembered was how God led them by the light from a pillar of cloud that was a pillar of fire by night. We heard from the reading in Exodus how the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of fire by night to give them light. The light from this pillar of fire was the glory and presence of the Lord. It was also the way God led and guided his people.
This light anticipated how God’s presence later would dwell in the portable tent, the tabernacle, that served as the place of worship for the Hebrews during their wanderings in the wilderness.
The Feast of Tabernacles would begin with the pilgrims of Jerusalem gathering and watching the priests light four enormous oil candelabras. It was said that these lights were so bright that they illuminated all the other courtyards of the temple. Then people would sing, play instruments and dance in praise of God around these huge candelabras, with torches and lights in their hands. They would do this all night until the dawn.
These four lights symbolized the glory of God that filled the Temple. They reminded people of the guiding light of the Lord in the wilderness. It also spoke of the light to come, the light of the Messiah.
It was here and then that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” and how those who follow him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
Jesus uses light as a symbol of who he is. Light is one of the most basic, fundamental qualities of life. This planet wouldn’t exist without light. Maybe that is why it is first in God’s order of creation.
Light allows us see. We see what is real and what is true. Light shows me the dirt in our house, the blemishes on my face, where things are in the closet.
Jesus – the light of the world – reveals my blemishes and what’s in those dark places of my life. But he also sheds light on my value to God, and how much I am loved by him. He helps me understand things in life.
Jesus – the light of the world – allows me to see God’s heart, what God is like and what he has done for me. He shows me how God has pursued me and wants me to know him. I would never figure this out on my own.
Light guides. We follow Jesus as the Israelites followed that pillar of fire. God led them through a desert when they had no idea where to go. Everyday of our lives can be a life of following Jesus.
When we are faced with a dilemma, we can ask ourselves, “Is this Jesus? Does this sound like him? Is this consistent with who he is and who I know him to be?” We allow his light to shine on the circumstance.
When we are conflicted, we can ask, “How would Jesus respond? How would Jesus speak? How would Jesus act or not act?” When we look to Jesus in our confusion we allow his gracious, wise, God-honoring life to illumine our way.
Light illumines the darkness. Jesus says those who follow him will never walk in darkness.
Never walk in darkness? I have my dark days. I have my dark moods. I wonder how much of my darkness is because I tend to follow a different way than the way Jesus wants for me?
For example, harboring anger or resentment tends to put me in dark places. Choosing to make myself the center, taking myself too seriously, following my own appetites can often bring darkness.
I think Jesus means that we won’t keep walking in darkness if we follow him. Eventually we will be led out because if I take Christ’s hand I cannot remain in darkness for very long. Eventually I will be walking in light. It is not that I won’t have darkness, but when it comes it will not swallow me or keep me in its hold.
Sometimes darkness just comes because we live in a dark world. Jesus never denies the darkness but recognizes it. But the darkness cannot totally destroy us. Whether we face despair or the darkness of death or we can’t find our way we remember that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Why? Well, all the powers of hell put the light of the world on a cross and buried him dead in a tomb. There is no deeper darkness than the darkness of death. But he could not be kept there. The light shined even through death. That is why Jesus can say we will not walk in the darkness of death if we follow him.
Think about it: you light any light in the darkness room and the darkness will be pierced.
Sometimes our view of Christ is like seeing a small light way in the distance. It seems so far. But if we can see even just part of Christ’s glow, we know there is hope, and know that darkness cannot totally overtake us.
Light brings life. Photosynthesis is the process of converting carbon dioxide into the oxygen we need to live and breathe. It is vital for all life on earth. It is the source of energy for nearly all life on earth. Photosynthesis relies on light.
You know what happens when you put a plant or any living thing in darkness and never give it light. It dies.
The light of the world, who is Jesus, brings growth and health. He helps us breathe. His words, his life, his activity in our lives nourishes us. If I never hear his words, if I never reflect on his life and put it before my eyes, if I do not make room for him to work in my life, I will wither and spiritually die.
I think of something else light does. Ever see a rainbow? Light will bring out tremendous colors and beauty from a storm. Dark clouds and rain and maybe even thunder and lightning closed in. But when the storm begins to break, the sun will bring out colors and beauty.
How many times do we go through a dark time, a valley, a trial, and once it begins to break, we begin to see Jesus’ light? We begin to see the beauty that actually came out of something very hard.
Light is also a symbol in the Bible for what is good and right. Impurity, greed, and dishonesty are of the darkness. Whatever is true, giving, and honorable is of the light.
In fact, generally speaking, in all religions, philosophies and spiritualities, light is used as a metaphor for knowledge, truth, and the difference between good and evil.
Jesus – the light of the world - allows me to see myself as I truly am, and to see God.
Jesus guides me.
Jesus brings light to my darkness.
Jesus brings health into my life. I grow in my faith and in my soul.
Jesus gives me the grace to live in a way that honors God, doing what is true and right and good.
Light shines through the Bible from beginning to end. It comes into being in Genesis 1. And at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21-22 there is a vision of what it will be like when all evil and darkness are eventually conquered and God’s kingdom will arrive in its fullness. The vision is of the city of God, the new Jerusalem.
In the new Jerusalem we read there will be “no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
There is an invitation in Jesus’ words. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Do you follow him?
If so, keep on. Maybe you have been following more loosely than you would, and it is time to recommit to your Lord and that walk. You always can. I do it all the time.
Maybe you would like to follow Christ but have never taken that step? Maybe you have heard a lot about him, been in church, but you have never handed over your life over to him. Maybe your heart longs to have peace with God. Believe in Jesus, the light of the world, and begin to follow him. Worship him. Listen to him. Spend time with him. Allow him to be the center of your life.
Jesus says that the light he gives is “the light of life”. Every person longs to have a life that is significant and full. We want how we live to matter.
Our world often advertises life in terms of glamour, wealth or comfort. Glamour must not be real life. (It obviously hasn’t worked for me.) Just look at all the celebrities who have severe problems and breakdowns.
Money apparently is not all there is to life. Look at the number of people with great wealth whose lives are falling apart or feel a deep emptiness though they can have just about anything they want. We live in the wealthiest place on earth and consider the level of discontent and unhappiness.
Comfort apparently isn’t life. A person can have all the latest amenities but it never seems to satisfy. As soon as we get 4G we want a 5G.
Jesus says, “I will illumine what real life is for you.”
The writer Wendell Berry said it would be a good idea to live life in a straight line, but that is never the case. We wander and sometimes circle or double back. But he said he has been unable to shake off the feeling that he has been led.
Follow Jesus the light of the world. Whatever comes, he will lead us.
Prayer: Jesus, you shine brighter, you shine purer than all the angels heaven can boast. Lead us, Lord, through our days of this life showing us our way in this dark world. And when our days are over, let us live in the light of your presence forever. Amen.