Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on June 12, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 8:12-20. Today we are examining the famous words of Jesus, “I am the Light of the world.” In doing so, I am approaching this text as if it flows directly out of John 7:52, as if John 7:53-John 8:11 are not part of the original Gospel of John. For those who are wondering why and who missed last week, I would invite you to go to our website at www.cornerstonecascade.com and either watch or, better yet, read last week’s sermon entitled, “Pericope De Adultera.” That will hopefully explain my approach to today’s text. So with that said, let us read our text, pray, and then examine it.
John 8:12-20 – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father[a] who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. 21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30As he was saying these things, many believed in him. ”
One of the biggest issues we are facing today is the demon of meaninglessness. Culture has systematically removed from the public square any teaching regarding the meaning and purpose of life. In place of meaning, the “enlightened ones” of this age have literally left a giant black hole. Our children in secular schools are taught the lie of evolution and that they are no different than a dog or even the fleas upon a dog. And the fate of the flea is no different than the fate of humanity; hence why abortion is categorized as a choice and not as the murder of your own child. Society teaches that we evolved from nothing and we will be absorbed into nothing. A belief in the afterlife is seen as childish and is mocked as stupid.
And what is the result of this teaching? The result is an increased amount of darkness: things such as suicide, illegal drugs, alcohol, abuse of anti-depressants, materialism, selfishness. As meaninglessness increases so does darkness. The proof is in the pudding. And to be honest, it is a logical conclusion. If life has no ultimate purpose than it only makes sense to pursue instant gratification in every moment of your existence because this is all you have. And if you can’t find happiness in the moment, then death is the only logical solution; if that is, there is no meaning.
The text we are covering today addresses the issue of meaningless head on. And it does so with the Words of Christ who proclaims, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Pillar of Fire
The key to understanding the full weight and meaning of Biblical text is understanding the context of this story. These words of Jesus that we are examining today were spoken during the Feast of the Booths. John 7:2 tells us that, “The Feasts of the Both was at hand.” 7:10, “his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up.” 7:14, “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple and began teaching.” In 7:37 we are told that on the last day of the feast Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
We then move forward to our text for today, skipping over verses 7:53-8:12 due to the problems we spoke about last week, and we see verse 8:12 say, “Again Jesus spoke to them.” These words of Jesus were spoken during the Feast of the Booths. And this is extremely important.
If you recall the Feast of the Booths was a festival whereby the Israelites remembered and celebrated God's provisions during their 40 years in the dessert. This was when God had delivered the Jews out of the slavery in Egypt and lead them to the Promised land. Several weeks ago we discussed how God, during those 40 years in the wilderness, provided water to them from a rock. And as we stated, to commemorate this event, during the Feast of the Booths, they had a water pouring ceremony. This would have most likely been when Jesus invited the people to come and drink from him. Symbolizing that he is the Rock that living water flows.
During the 40 years of wandering, it was not just water that God provided. He also provided his presence and his guidance. He did this through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. We see this in Exodus 13:21-22, “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”
For a people who were in the Wilderness, this pillar provided great comfort. For it was a sign of God's covenant commitment to his people. Moses speaks of this reality in Numbers 14:14 when he says, “They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.”
The pillar of cloud and the pillar of light is what is called a Theophany. A theophany is the display of the presence of God to humanity. The display can take on different forms, but two common forms is a fire and a cloud. Regarding clouds we see it in Exodus 24:16, “The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.” At the dedication of the Tabernacle and the Temple, a cloud filled the sanctuary and no one could enter. Why a cloud? Because God's ways are above our ways. God is unsearchable and is mysterious. This is a reality of his holiness.
Regarding the theophany of fire, we see it in Exodus 3 with Moses and the burning bush. Again at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:18, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.” Fire was not only a Theophany of God, it was also a common way to describe God. Daniel 7:9-10, “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him.” Psalm 97:3- “Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. 4His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.”
In regards to the pillar of fire during the wanderings in the wilderness, it served a very specific purpose. To lead God's chosen people, Israel, along the way. The presence of God in their midst led them out of the slavery of the Egyptians, through the wilderness of Sinai and into the promised land that was flowing with Milk and Honey. Without the presence of God an the leading of God, the Israelites would have died in the wilderness or returned to the slavery of Egypt and died in their chains.
To commemorate the theophony of the pillar of fire, the Isrealites, during the Feast of the Booths, would light giant torches in the center of the treasury of the Temple. Now, if you look at verse 20 of our text, you can see that this is exactly where Jesus was located, the treasury of the Temple.
In my study, one resource indicated that these torches that were set up during the feast were 75 feet tall. Monstrous lanterns, casting light on all the temple and a great deal of Jerusalem. They called this event the Illumination of the Temple. And it is highly likely, that Jesus, while standing in the midst of these giant torches, perhaps when they were being lit, or when they were being extinguished, cried out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Christ, the Full Theophany
So what is Jesus saying when he says he is the light of the World. First, is that he is claiming that he is the Theophany of God. Just as the pillar of fire manifested the presence of God, Jesus in the flesh manifested the presence of God. However, unlike the fire, the Theophany of Christ is not lacking, it is perfect in every way. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” Just as the beams of light are the radiance of the Son. So is Jesus the radiance of this father. Jesus is the display of God in the flesh of man. To see Jesus is to see God. To see God is to see Jesus. Just as to see the sun is to see the beams of light an to see the beams of light is to see the sun. This is why Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” To know one is to know the other. So if someone claims to know God, but does not believe in Jesus , then they do not know God. They God they think they know is a false God manufacture by their own sinful heart.
The second thing that Jesus is saying is that this radiance of light that originates in the Father and flows perfectly through the Son is not just for the Temple, it is not just for Jerusalem, it is not just for Israel, this light is available to everyone. Jesus says, “He is the light of the World.” He does not say he is the light of the Jews. The world includes the gentiles. He reiterates this by saying in the next sentence “whoever.” This is an astounding statement for Jesus to make to a crowd of Jews. The Jews believe that they had a monopoly on the presence of God. They would reject wholesale that God is a God of the world. They believed that God is a God of the Israelites only. And their belief is understandable because of what God told them in Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” But in steps Jesus, who expands the illumination of the light, and the torch of Christ stretches across the entire earth, and whoever is drawn to the light will be led to the promised land of Heaven.
The Light of Life
The third, and the most substantial claim that Jesus is making is that he, and only He, has the power to illumine, and his illumination is the essence of life. “I AM, the light of the World. Whoever follows ME will not walk in darkness.” This is a massive claim being made by this carpenter's Son. This is not the claim of some teacher or prophet expounding Scripture and pointing to God, this claim, once again is Christcentric. This claim is made by someone who believes he is God in the flesh, and he is drawing a line in the sand and saying that everything rests on Him alone.
This week God was kind enough to give me an opportunity to share the Gospel with a Muslim. It was fascinating. He told me that he believes in Jesus, he even believes in the virgin birth, but that he does not believe that Jesus is God. In light of the eye witness testimonies of what Jesus said, which is what the Gospels are, this position makes absolutely no sense. These testimonies leave no space for the Muslim position. When Jesus declares himself to be the light of the World, he is saying that everything in your life revolves around Him, and Him alone. Existence hangs in the balance of this Jesus of Nazareth.
And there are only two sides to this balance, light and darkness. This is how God sees the world. There is no in-between. Every person who has ever existed is in one of those two camps. So let us take a moment and think about what Jesus is saying.
What is darkness? Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is not a thing in an of itself, it is the absence of something, and that something is light. Therefore if Jesus is the light of the world, the absence of Jesus is the darkness of the World. So if someone does not have Jesus, then they do not have light, which means they live in darkness. Jesus says this very clearly in verse 12, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Therefore, for every person who has ever existed, if they did not, or do not, follow Jesus then they live in darkness. Religion is not the light, Mary or Muhammed is not the light, being a good person is not the light, success is not the light, your health is not the light; the only light in the World is Jesus. If you don't have him you are aimlessly walking around tripping through life in the dark.
Do You Love the Darkness
Some people, however, may then say, “So what. Maybe I like the darkness.” Jesus has already spoke of this reality in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” This may describe many of you. You love this world more than you love Jesus.
But let me tell you, being in the darkness does not end well, verse 24, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” To live in the darkness is to live in the valley of the Shadow of death. To not follow Jesus is to seal your fate to die, and by die Jesus is not talking about physical death, for all men die. What Jesus is talking about is the second death. The death that is mentioned in Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” This is the end of those who walk in the darkness.
Now think about this through the lens of the Feast of the Booths. If the nation of Israel would have chosen to not follow the pillar of fire, the presence of God would not have been with them, and they would have all been left behind and would have died in the dessert. Following the pillar of fire by night was crucial in making it to their final destination.
Why did God ordain that the Jews would be led by fire for 40 years? Because He was casting a shadow that points forward to Jesus Christ. The story of Israel in the wilderness is the story of you and I. God has given to us the Light of the World to lead us into His Holy presence. And for us to be lead, we must follow. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. Decade after decade. This is the purpose of all humanity, to follow Jesus.
Many people, even some in this Church, have not embraced this reality. And some day, you will seek Christ and you will not find him. After the moment of your last breath, you will step into an eternity that will be full of the knowledge of Christ, but will lack his presence. Hell will be a place that man will recognize his need for Christ, but will never be offered even a sip of living water to ease his suffering.
There are also some of you in this Church, who are following Christ, but barely. The light of Christ is merely a dim flicker in your life. You try to follow Christ AND follow your job, or follow your money, or follow your children, or follow your American dream. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters, nor can we follow light and those things that masquerade as lights. Time will tell if you make it to the promised land or die in the wilderness of your sin.
My hope is that for many of you today, you would reassess your life, and ask yourself if you are fully following Jesus, or if you are just fooling yourself. Today, pick up your cross and confirm your election, for in Him is the light of life.