"Light of the World"
June 5, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: John 8:12-20, Job 33:14-28
Link to June 5, 2022 worship Service:
“Light of the World”
June 5, 2022
Read John 8:12-20
This is the Word of the LORD.
Today’s text is a continuation of our series in the gospel of John; it is not a Pentecost specific text. Even so, it does follow the theme: just as Pentecost was marked by the Holy Spirit moving in the disciples to declare the mighty acts of God, so here Jesus was declaring who he was and how powerful he really is. Granted, our text does not have the flash of “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” or multi-thousand converts, but what Jesus was saying was as remarkable.
In our text today, we continue with Jesus in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths. As you may recall several weeks ago, in Chapter 7, Jesus had refused to go to this Festival because it was known that there was a plot to kill him. Then, he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem about three or four days later. He turned up – not on the outskirts of town like someone who was afraid – in the temple. He was confronting his opposition face-to-face.
John wrote that some in the crowd were asking, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?” and “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?” You and I know the answer, but they did not. Some believed, many did not.
Then, the confrontation with the Jewish leaders continued with the challenge of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus’ response convicted the crowd and showed us the heart of God. We saw that judgment is an expression of God’s love – God does not simply let us go to self-destruction, he acts to purify us. We saw that grace is an expression of God’s holiness – Jesus’ blood shed on the cross and his death fully paid for my sins, your sins – even the sins of the crowd and the woman caught in adultery. By challenging “the one without sin to throw the first stone,” he affirmed both the holiness and grace of God.
We pick up the story this morning as the crowd returned. This may have been a different day or later in the same day, we do not know. The point is that Jesus did not back away or back down from confrontation. It was just the opposite: Jesus was pressing the confrontation so that the people would have to make a decision about who he was. He was not looking to make things nice. He spoke as if he were wielding a razor.
As we look at this passage, we need to see it in two sections. They are related and they tie together, but there are two separate pieces. The first involves the “I am” statement in verse 12. The second involves a debate over the validity of Jesus’ “I am” testimony.
I want to take them in reverse order.
The debate over the validity of Jesus’ testimony is somewhat lost on us today. It centered on the Jewish understanding that two or three witnesses were required in a court of law. Jesus told them that they were judging by human standards – standards that did not apply to his testimony. Though it was not formally stated, Jesus was not on trial in a court of law at that point. Yes, he was being investigated and evaluated; but there were no formal charges pending at this point. They were trying to make Jesus play by rules that did not apply.
Note what was happening because this is a mindset we continue to see today. The Jews were looking for reasons to not believe. They had already decided who Jesus not, so everything else was a strategy to end him. Because they already did not believe, they were looking for reasons to convince others to not believe. As a result, they showed that they were not interested in knowing who Jesus was or – perhaps more self-condemning – knowing the Father who sent him. The Jewish leaders tried to discount Jesus’ teaching by demanding that someone else testify on his behalf. Yet, you and I both know that their hearts were hardened so that they would not have believed the other witnesses, either. Had Jesus presented other witnesses – like the man he had healed on the Sabbath that they had seen themselves or John the Baptist – the response would have been, “no, we meant ‘more credible or credentialed witnesses.’” There would always be “one more thing” that needed to be satisfied.Have you ever been in a meeting where something controversial is going to be handled? One of the most common things to happen is that someone suddenly becomes an expert of Robert’s Rules of Order and the discussion turns from the substance of what is being decided to the topic of what are the rules for discussing a substantive topic. Is that an amendment? Is it a point of order or a question? That’s essentially what was happening with the Jews in this section – they were arguing with Jesus about whether proper protocol had been established for this kind of messianic statement, avoiding the truth of what Jesus was saying.
On the other side of things, Jesus continued to press his own agenda. He was teaching in the treasury of the temple. He was revealing who he was and calling the people to account before God. The temple leaders were complaining because the meeting had not properly been called to order.
Here was the difference in a nutshell: Jesus called the people to faith, he did not waste time trying to convince his opponents to give up dis-belief. Faith is an affirmative step. Faith is a step we can take only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same is true as we seek to bear witness: you need not talk people out of dis-belief, you only invite those willing to believe. Faith is a step they can take only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Anselm famously said, “we do not know in order to believe; we believe in order that we might know.” The gospel of John was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Why is this so difficult? Why do we need to go back and repeat it so often?
When I was growing up, I had the sense that Jesus was somewhat coy about his identity. Whether it was the teaching or my own perception of the teaching, I somehow got the idea that Jesus was reactive and constantly responding or adapting to what others were doing. In fact, there are a lot of scholars who still hold that view – either Jesus was not sure or that he was playing games.
Just the opposite is true. As you read the gospel accounts and realize what Jesus was doing – going directly into the places where he would need to go, stating the things that he would need to state, doing the things he would need to do – Jesus was remarkably clear in revealing who he was for those who had eyes to see, for those who had ears to hear. Jesus was not passively waiting for people to reflect to conclude if they wanted him to be the Messiah. He confronted and demanded they decide, “Who do you say I am?”
And, as if there were any further confirmation needed, John pointed out that Jesus taught all this in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. God’s plan prevails, God is sovereign, and God’s protection of Jesus at this hour bears testimony that Jesus was exactly who he said he was.
All of which leads us back to what Jesus was telling them…
“Whoever follows me …”
So, there he was teaching in the treasury area of the temple during the Festival of Booths. That Festival, you remember, was a time when the people celebrated the harvest as well as remembering their ancestors’ lives wandering in the desert.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Given the time, the place, and the context, it was a remarkable thing that Jesus was claiming. The key to understanding what he was saying is found in the phrase, “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”
The mind of the people was already on the life of the wandering in the desert. At the end of the book of Exodus, after the giving of the Ten Commandments, the renewal of the covenant after the Golden Calf incident, and after the construction of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant, there was this explanation of the experience of the Jews,
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.” (Exodus 40:34-38)
Jesus was telling the people in the temple he was this same light. He was saying that he was the presence of God in their midst. He was claiming to be the glory of the LORD. He was saying that those who follow him will be led to the promised land.
Who are you following?
That sounds like a strange question. If someone asked me that in normal conversation, I would likely ask, “Who said I am going anywhere?” But as you look at your life – where you have been, where you currently are, and where you are headed – it is an important question to ask. How do you prioritize your days? When you make choices, what are the considerations you make? Who are the people you admire, emulate, copy, or follow? Are you loyal to a politician, a pundit, or party? What is “before your eyes at each stage of the journey?” What dominates your time and energy?
When I was first practicing law, I had to keep time sheets for billable hours. It was important for the financial viability of the small firm that had employed me, but it also was used to evaluate how well I was prioritizing the time I was giving to the firm. Was I spending time on the right things? I hated keeping track of every minute. But there was an accountability that went with that record-keeping. If you were to keep track of the time in your daily life, what would show up as the priorities?
Friends, we are not so different from those wanderers in the desert. We have been in bondage – ours has been slavery to sin. We have been redeemed, brought up out of bondage to worship God in his sanctuary. We are called to follow where the glory of the LORD leads. Jesus called his disciples by saying, “Come, follow me.”
Jesus is the Light of the world. He is the leader; we are to keep our eyes on him and follow him. It is a both/and situation. Keep our eyes on him and follow him. We cannot see without light. We are lost, lonely, and hurting without light.
I think we know that – certainly as we are together in worship we know that. Do we also know that when Monday morning rolls around and we are overwhelmed with the work of the week? Do we know that Wednesday afternoon when we are exhausted from all the interruptions, curve balls, and distractions that have hit us from all sides? How quickly can God recede into the background of our awareness when our attention is pulled in so many directions.
How quickly the people in the desert forgot. How quickly they got to muttering and murmuring about how good things used to be. How quickly they started resenting their difficulties, forgetting how God had been faithful to his promises. They wanted to go back, not forward.
The same thing happens to us when we take Jesus for granted. When we take our eyes off the light and when we get distracted by all the things that are illuminated, we find ourselves wandering off. We want to go back to a time when we felt safe and comfortable and secure.
We get lost in our own little worlds, our own concerns grow bigger in the shadows, and then we get scared and try harder to see. We pride ourselves in knowing where things are and try to get along on our own. We cannot – and we make things worse the more we try. This is a lesson I have to learn over and over.
I am generally the first one awake in our house. I also am a creature of habit . Daylight savings time is a curse for me. When the hour changes and I am getting up in the darkness again, I think I am doing everyone a favor by trying to get around without turning on any lights. The problem is that I am not as adept getting around in the dark as I think I am – inevitably, I will walk into a door, stub my toe on a piece of furniture or, worse, I will step on a dog toy that I did not see. It will squeak and I will jump, or it will be like stepping barefoot on a Lego. Whether it is my imagination or not, I think I hear the sleepy, exasperated sigh of, “Oh, yes, this is the man I love,” coming from Jen.
When we find ourselves in darkness, we grasp onto things that we can hold because it is tangible and it feels safe – only to find that the longer and the more aggressively we hold on, the darker and colder things become. Following the light means following – we cannot follow if we are standing still. Jesus calls us to let go of false securities and follow him, follow the Light of the World.
Ego ami statements in John.
Jesus’ statement that “I am the Light of the world,” is one of a number of “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. There are a number of places where it seems that the phrasing Jesus used was simply to say, “It is me.” However, this is one of seven places where the meaning seems to be much more sacred, much more tied to the living God who identified himself as the “I am” of the burning bush Moses encountered.
In chapter 6, we saw this with Jesus saying and confirming “I am the bread of life.”
The second occurrence is in our passage.
The third occurrence is in chapter 10, “I am the Gate.” Later in chapter 10 is the fourth, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Fifth is in chapter 11, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Sixth is the one we know best in chapter 14, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Last, is from chapter 15, “I am the True Vine.”
These statements are dramatic self-revelations. Jesus wanted people to know who he was; John was writing these things so that we would know who Jesus is.
Think about it: when we introduce ourselves, we normally say, “My name is ; I am from such and such a place; and I do something.” What we say reveals something about us. We try to give reference points to help the other person gain a better, more complete picture of who we are.
So it was with Jesus. The revelations he made happened all throughout the time of his ministry. He was intentional and uncompromising about revealing who He was. There was no “I was just kidding.” There was no, “I’m speaking metaphorically here.” There was no “this is hyperbole to make the point.” No, Jesus was making declarative, indicative, factual statements. And he was doing more than trying to give a more complete picture, he was revealing God’s purpose for our redemption and salvation.
Look again at these self-identification statements: He is the bread who sustains us. He is the Light who leads us. He is the Gate through whom we must go in order to have life. He is the Shepherd who leads his flock to safety. He is the Resurrection – the redemption from unrighteousness; he is the Life – the redemption from death. He is the Vine—the ongoing giver and sustainer of that eternal life.
The real question this morning is how you respond to Jesus’ revelation of who he is. He is making a claim on your life. He is calling you to follow him. He is letting you know that in him is life; outside of him is darkness and death. He was sent by the Father as an act of love for me, he was sent by the Father as an act of love for you. He was sent by the Father as an act of love for us – the church, the ecclesia, those who are called together in his name.
He is the Light. He is the Glory of the LORD. He invites us to follow him. We follow him to the table he prepared. We follow him to this – the ultimate revelation of God’s love; Christ’s body broken for us, Christ’s blood shed for us. This table is life, it is hope, it is eternal. “Whoever follows me,” Jesus said, “will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
- Why does Jesus’ affirmative control of his actions matter? Does it surprise you to think about how direct and confrontational was Jesus?
- Whom are you following? How do you prioritize your days? When you make choices, what are the considerations you make? Who are the people you admire, emulate, copy, or follow? Are you loyal to a politician, a pundit, or party? What is “before your eyes at each stage of the journey?” What dominates your time and energy?
- How are you responding to Jesus’ claim on your life? How are you following?