Light of the World
Passage : John 8:12-30
The Bible repeatedly describes this world and its population as gripped by spiritual‘…darkness…’?
God uses this concept of ‘Darkness,’ which is the absence of light, to illustrate a range of spiritual afflictions resulting from the absence of God in human existence:
‘The way of the wicked is like deep darkness’ (Prov.4) or, ‘have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness’ (Eph.5) i.e. darkness is having a wicked lifestyle;
Unbelievers are, as we all once were, ‘darkened in their understanding’ (Eph.4) and so ‘whoever walks in the dark doesn’t know where they’re going’ (Jn.12) i.e. darkness is spiritual confusion;
Christians are rescued from ‘the dominion of darkness’ (Col.1) andour struggle is‘against the powers of this dark world…spiritual forces of evil’ (Eph.6) i.e. darkness is the realm of Satan & his demons;
‘The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins’ (Is.13:11) i.e. darkness is God’s judgement, and…
‘throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness‘ (Mat.25) and ‘blackest darkness is reserved for them’ (2 Peter.2) i.e. darkness is the awful eternal dwelling of unrepentant sinners;
But wonderfully, the Spirit of God enlightens our darkened hearts through the Word of God to recognise God in Jesus Christ: Paul explains we preach Christ because ‘God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor.4) and so he ‘has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’ (Col.1:13). In John’s opening chapter to this gospel, he has said of Christ, the divine and eternal Word, ‘In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ and ‘the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world’ (Jn.1). In Jn.8 we hear Jesus himself proclaiming he is God’s light for a world in spiritual darkness (which he will illustrate in the next chapter by healing a man born blind) and exposes the darkness in the hearts of many who are utterly blind to who he is;
Regulars know in Ch.8 we’re in the first half of John’s gospel describing the arrival of the Son to reveal his father before the second half describing his departure to glorify his father; so after ch.1 introducing Jesus, chs.2-4 show Jesus is the Messiah for all nations, and now chs.5-10 show Jesus is the Son who gives life (chs.5-10) which serves his ultimate aim in writing this gospel revealed in Jn.20:30: “…that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. This passage shows that the better life enjoyed through faith in Jesus is an enlightened life. He says, ‘I am the light of the world’.
This is the second of seven, ‘I am’ claims which remind us of the special O.T. name for God translated ‘LORD’: ‘I am the bread of life’ (6:35); ‘I am the light of the world’ (8:12); ‘I am the gate’ (10:7,9); ‘I am the good shepherd’ (Jn.10:11,14); ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (11:25); ‘I am the way, the truth and the life‘ (14:6) and ‘I am the true vine’ (15:1,5) – they’re simple domestic images with lots of O.T. background which all make the same point: God has sent Jesus to be the unique and essential source of spiritual and eternal life we all need – bread because we were spiritually starving, light because we were spiritually blind, gate because we were spiritual outcasts from heaven, shepherd because we were spiritually vulnerable, resurrection because we were spiritually dead, way, truth and life because we were spiritually lost and vine because we were spiritually isolated.
And so after 8:1-11, an account of Jesus healing a sinful woman which was never part of John’s original eye-witness record but wrongly introduced centuries later, let’s now rejoin the narrative…
I am the light of the world – you have no idea where I come from! (12-20)
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’. Most people think the world is like a lighting shop crammed with every variety of light: chandeliers, standard lamps, bedside lamps, study lamps, garden lights, table lights – and we simply choose which light suits our character or culture; but Jesus is saying he is God’s light for the whole world – whatever our culture of character – this means that whatever they claim, no one else other than Jesus can reveal the truth about God – and it also means Jesus can reveal God to anyone! Notice that to live in his light, being enlightened by God, requires us to follow him – so not just reading about him, and not just growing up hearing about him or coming to church, but to live as his follower – relationally dependent upon him and learning from him – because an enlightened life is not just an educated mind but a personal relationship; and following him means we will never walk in darkness again – so being a follower of Jesus is not like day and night, or walking in and out of shadows, but a decisively different life walking away from darkness – away from wickedness, confusion, evil, judgement and hell – there will sometimes be sin or confusion inflamed by Satan that tempts us to desire evil that deserves hell – but we don’t live in that darkness any more – it’s like walking in bright sunshine and remembering the darkness of the night – but Jesus promises that so long as we follow Jesus we will never be walking in darkness again. Above all else, Jesus was claiming to be God – for as everyone knew, the psalmist wrote, ‘The LORD is my light and my salvation’ (Psalm 27:1). So…
‘13 The Pharisees challenged him, ‘Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.’ The Jewish religious leaders once again challenge his authority to claim to be God.
‘14 Jesus answered, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.’ i.e. even if I am the only one saying this, it is still completely true – and I have the authority to say so because I’ve been sent by God the Father and I’m returning home to him soon; this reminds me of being with one of the police officers who attends our church who was in plain clothes when we approached the barrier at waterloo station and someone was arguing aggressively with the barrier attendant – and he walked straight up to the angry man and said, ‘look, I’m a police officer and I’m telling you that this attendant has been absolutely clear why you need to pay for your ticket – or I can arrest you and have you taken down to the police station and have you charged – it’s your choice’ – the guy believed my friend and paid for his ticket and we walked on with my friend chatting away as if nothing had happened – and I thought wow, I must try that one day! Jesus is simply saying, I am God the Son and so I am the light of the world – and I’m just telling you the truth! But he could hear their resentment of his authority over them, like so many today who refuse to follow Jesus, not for lack of convincing evidence, but because they don’t want to recognise his authority over our lives – so Jesus boldly declares…
’14 But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.’ Why can’t they recognise him? Because…
‘15 You judge by human standards;’ i.e. by earthly limitations – they assume he can’t be God because it’s never happened before – like saying a Platypus can’t be a mammal because we haven’t ever seen a mammal that lays eggs before! Welcome to reality – platypuses are mammals and Jesus is God!
’15 I pass judgement on no-one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.’ i.e. I haven’t come to judge people but to save them – but if it was now time for judgement I would be accurate and just because God the father and I make our judgements together! Jesus now appeals to a standard they do claim to recognise in the law of Moses…
‘17 In your own law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.’ If they can’t recognise the truth when it stares them in the face, then at least listen to the two witnesses required! But they still don’t know what he’s talking about:
‘19 Then they asked him, ‘Where is your father?’ – what are you talking about (Joseph is probably dead)?
‘You do not know me or my Father,’ Jesus replied. ‘If you knew me you would know my Father also.’ They claim to know God but if they can’t recognise the power and character of God in Jesus they clearly don’t know his Father at all – like claiming to know Prince Charles and then meeting Prince William and doubting he’s royalty, when it’s utterly obvious! John wants us to know this is an accurate report, so he records the exact location where this exchange took place, ‘20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put’ and ends this section explaining why Jesus wasn’t arrested
Yet no-one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.”
John now understands that the Father was directing everything and that although the Pharisees might have seized him, it was God’s sovereign plans that will decide when he must suffer – as is true for all his children.
The great truth here is not just that Jesus can enlighten us but that he can tell us the way to heaven…
e.g. ‘I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’ (Is.49:6)
and so, ‘The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end’ (Is.60:20) and we see his light in the Bible – beginning with the gospels like John – which is why Ps.119 declares, ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light to my path’ and the Apostle Peter urges us to read the Bible because, ‘You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’ i.e. without the Bible where we hear Jesus the light of the world speaking, we live in a dark place – there are not many lights revealing God to us but one light of the World revealed in one place – the Bible cf. some have suggested God’s guidance is available from the Bible, the godly advice of friends, the inner prompting of the holy Spirit and from sanctified common sense – and then announce that because they feel at peace about a decision they’ve made which is what they wanted to do it must be God’s will! But the Bible is our sufficient guide because it gives us the light of the World – and those other source of guidance are not different guides but different ways to see the same guiding light! Now the other section says…
I am going away – you will die in your sin! (21-30)
“21 Once more Jesus said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.’ What solemn words these are – Jesus is returning to heaven and can hear that tragically, these religious leaders will not be coming with him, for they will not face the truth about Jesus;
‘22 This made the Jews ask, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?’ Like so many today, they couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t be welcomed into heaven so they assume he must be considering suicide! So Jesus explains why they cannot come…
‘23 But he continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.’
If we will not welcome Jesus’ death for our sins, we will face the penalty for them ourselves…in hell.
‘25 ‘Who are you?’ they asked’ – there seems to be a brief moment of willingness to wonder; so Jesus replies
‘‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,’ Jesus replied. 26 ‘I have much to say in judgement of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world’’ i.e. I am telling the world what the Father has sent me to say and if you bothered to listen and learn you would know who I am;
‘27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, [on the cross when they execute him] then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me’ i.e. when you see me surrender myself to a slow and torturous death on a Roman cross, in the awful torment and appalling shame and horrors of hell for the sins of my people in obedience to my father you might finally realise how devoted I am to my father;
‘29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’
These are amazing statements about the unity in being and purpose of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – union without fusion and a distinction without separation – Jesus will never do or say anything at odds with his Father, so when we meet Jesus, we meet the father – and there is no God but the one we meet in Jesus – for God is not the product of our imagination – we are the product of his imagination – and he has come into the darkness of this world as a bright light to lead us to his father in heaven; the Father was always with him and he always pleased the father perfectly – so his life is the only life that can qualify us for heaven; the big point being made here is that the Son has come from the Father in heaven and not merely from among men – and this will become obvious in his death – for though he will appear to be lifted up in suffering in truth he will be lifted up in obviously divine glory – not just when he arrives in heaven but as he dies on the cross e.g. Ex. 12; Is 12; Amos 8;
Even as he spoke, many believed in him.”
This is what John wants us all to do – to believe and continue believing in Jesus the Son of God and light of the word – and to follow him and live in the light of his word – the Bible; Jesus made this possible by taking this darkness of wickedness, confusion, evil, judgement and hell on himself on the cross to give us light. Later Jesus says, ‘Put your trust in the light while you have it, that you may become children of light’ (12:36)!