February 9, 2014

Jesus, Light of the World

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 8:12–20

Sermon from John 8:12-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, February 9, 2014

Written that You Might Gain the Life-giving Light

The last claim Jesus made about himself at the Feast of Tabernacles, we find back in 7:37-38: “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.’” The reward for believing in Jesus is that he will satisfy your spiritual thirst with the eternal blessings of life in his kingdom. The living waters that will flow from the throne of God, giving life to the nations in the City of God, are abundantly available now through the Holy Spirit to all who come to Jesus and drink from his truth.

Today, we encounter another claim he makes about himself that is just as rewarding for the person who follows him. He says in 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So, to every person in this room, there is an assumption in Jesus’ words that you already walk in darkness without him, but if you follow him, then you will gain the light of life. And I want to spend our time explaining what Jesus means by his claim to be the light of the world and what it looks like to follow him that you might gain the light of life, but first I want you to see why you should listen to Jesus to begin with.

Why You Should Listen to Jesus

The religious leaders in Israel don’t listen to Jesus when he says, “I am the light of the world;” instead, they object to whether Jesus even has the authority to speak like this at all. They say, “You are bearing witness about yourself; [and conclude] your testimony is not true [Jesus].” And as I’ve been interacting with several unbelievers over the last two weeks, they’ve brought a similar objection to the table, namely, “That’s great if Jesus said these things, and some of them even sound really inspiring, but convince me why I should listen to Jesus to begin with. What kind of person is he really, that I should even listen to him or follow him?” The scene here actually provides a great opportunity to hear Jesus explain why we should listen to him and take his words seriously.

If Jesus’ testimony isn’t true—if he has no grounds to make this claim about himself—then he’s not truly the light of the world, and we shouldn’t follow him. But if his testimony is true, if there are really good reasons that he speaks the way he does, then we would be utter fools not to follow him. So, from the mouth of Jesus himself, here are three good reasons why you should listen to him and follow him as the light of the world.

1. Jesus' Mission Qualifies Him to Talk Like This

First of all, Jesus’ mission qualifies him to talk like this. The Pharisees have attempted to corner Jesus, using a principle from the Law of Moses, namely, that any testimony should carry the agreement of at least two witnesses (Deut 19:15). And this was a principle that even Jesus himself alluded to back in 5:31—“If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true.” Jesus will address this point directly in verse 17, but for the time being he points out that even without the second witness, his words would remain true to who he is. In other words, lacking a witness didn’t mean that he was automatically a liar. Something else about him carried sufficient weight to prove he was speaking the truth; and that was his mission, his coming from heaven to earth and his returning back to heaven from earth.

Read with me in verse 14: “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true [and here’s the reason why], for I know where I came from and where I’m going, but you do not know where I come from or where I’m going.” If we take the apostle John at his word, then we already know where Jesus came from. Chapter 1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh—became human—and dwelt among us” (1:1-2, 14). So for Jesus to know where he came from is for him to simply affirm his heavenly origin, namely, he came from his eternal fellowship with God the Father to earth. And the reverse is true as well, that he will again return to his Father in glory within a few months of speaking with these Pharisees.

But all of that descending from heaven and ascending to heaven served a unique mission the Father gave the Son, and we pick-up on it in verse 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.” When John says that Jesus’ “hour” had not yet come, he’s referring to the hour of Jesus’ death and resurrection that’s been ordained by his heavenly Father. This is the fifth or sixth time we’ve seen a statement like this, where the hostility against Jesus is rising and yet no one can lay a hand on him because his appointed hour to die has not arrived (2:4; 4:21; 6:71; 7:30, 44). And as this theme rolls out in John’s Gospel, we can’t help but see the much bigger picture of what makes Jesus so unique; namely, his mission to rescue guilty sinners.

The entire human race sits under the wrath of God (3:36)—God is rightly angry with the people on earth because they have ignored him and put him off and pursued the very things he either told us he hates or that we innately know that he hates. And yet God the Father chose to love us, to love the world (3:16). He loved us by sending his Son from heaven on a mission to rescue us (3:17); and that included coming from heaven to earth, taking on the human nature in which we committed our sins (1:14), living the perfect life we could not live (Phil 3:9), dying for the sins that earned us God’s judgment (1:29), rising from the dead victorious over its power (11:25), and then ascending into heaven to sit down at the Father’s side as an ongoing testimony for his people that God wins (Heb 1:2-4).

Nobody else shared infinite glory with the Father for all eternity. Nobody else possessed the heavenly worth that belonged alone to the Son of God. Nobody else has humbled themselves to such a degree that the Son did when he came down from heaven to become a servant unto death for his friends. Nobody else can die for the sins of the world like Jesus did. No other human being has risen victoriously over death and entered glory in a resurrected human body. These things belong uniquely to Jesus Christ and his mission; and thus he can speak about himself in ways that other people cannot speak. Now, the Pharisees cannot see all this about him, of course. But that’s because they judge him according to their fallen nature, their sinful flesh, which is blind to these things about Jesus. But that they can’t see them doesn’t make them not true. What makes these things true is that Jesus knows them about himself; in fact, he was in the midst of living them—of living out the mission entrusted to him by the Father. So, Jesus’ mission qualifies him to talk like this; nobody else can fill his shoes.

2. God the Father Approves of Jesus & His Testimony

Second, God the Father approves of Jesus and his testimony. Jesus just established that he was uniquely qualified to speak the way he does—his words are true even without another witness, because his own mission backs them up. Now he deals directly with the objection raised in verse 13. Read with me verse 16, “Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true [and here’s the second reason why], for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two men is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” So, if you want two witnesses as your Law so states, I am one of them and my Father who sent me here is the other—which as a side note, supports what the church has historically affirmed about the true God; namely, there are three persons in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Both Jesus and his Father are God and yet, here, we see their distinct persons evidenced by the individual testimonies they give to the truth. Both the Father and the Son distinctly testify that Jesus is telling the truth about himself.

In fact, Jesus will press the point even further next week to say, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (8:28). So, what we end up with is God—in the person of the Father—bearing witness to God—in the person of the Son—who bears witness only to what hears from the Father. In terms of the technical legalities that these Pharisees so wanted Jesus to live up to on earth, Jesus has just walked them into the courtroom of heaven and said, “Is this enough for you?” Who are you going to bring against the testimonies of the eternal Father and the eternal Son? What does a human witness amount to when God bears witness to God? That doesn’t mean the human witnesses are not important in Scripture; they are. Even Jesus brings up the testimony of John the Baptist in 5:33-34; and John the apostle himself is a witness later on at the foot of the cross (19:35). So the human witnesses are very important. But it does mean that God’s testimony about himself is not ultimately dependent on man. The Father approves of his Son and his Son’s words, and if human beings bear witness to the same, it’s because they received it from above. Chapter 3, verse 27 applies across the board: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” So, Jesus’ mission validates his claims, and his Father approves of his claims.

3. Jesus Is the Sole Point of Access to God

Third, Jesus is the sole point of access to God. The Pharisees, still judging everything Jesus says according to their flesh, give this objection in verse 19, “Where is your Father?” If Jesus is going to appeal to his Father, then they want to see him—“Bring him here!” So, Jesus answers, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” The Pharisees want legal evidence that they can weigh for themselves as they scrutinize Jesus; and Jesus cuts right to the heart of their skepticism and says they don’t even know the God who wrote the Law they quote. They don’t have any real relationship with God. These are men who have the Bible, God’s inspired word, people who’ve been entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom 3:2; cf. Rom 9:1-5). They just tried to use the Law of God against Jesus. They apparently know what God said through Moses. And yet Jesus tells them that the reason they’re so skeptical is that they don’t really know God at all.

If they truly knew Jesus’ heavenly Father—revealed on the pages of their Scriptures—then they would see him perfectly revealed in his Son. But since they don’t, they don’t know Jesus, and thus they don’t know God. What Jesus implies is what’s written all over the testimony of John’s Gospel: he is how we know God. He is how we access God. He is God’s supreme self-revelation, and there are none greater. What does John say in 1:18? “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side [who came from heaven], he [alone] has made him known.” You want someone who tells the whole story about God? You don’t look to Muhammad or Joseph Smith or your favorite preacher; you look to Jesus Christ. He reveals who God is fully; he tells the whole story of who God is and what he’s like. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (8:19).

So, this is why you should listen to Jesus among all the other voices in the world. The Pharisees don’t get it here, but John wrote these things so that you would get it: “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31). Jesus’ mission aligns with all the words he speaks; his Father stands behind everything he ever said and did; and he alone gives us access to the eternal God of the universe. No friends of yours, no company, no president, no other religious leader, no pastor, no self-acclaimed prophet, no priest, no angel from heaven shares the right to speak as Jesus speaks. God sent no one else from heaven to die for our sins; God approves of no one else's words unless they agree with the testimony he’s already given about the Son; and God has seen it fitting that we access him solely through Jesus Christ.

And if those things are true, then this is why you should listen to and follow Jesus when he claims to be the light of the world. So, now that we’ve observed the heavenly, authoritative, divine foundation on which Jesus speaks, let’s go back to the beginning of our passage and look at what verse 12 means—“I am the light of the world.”

The Dark World Needs Jesus, the Light of the World

We should remember when Jesus says “I am the light of the world,” is that “the world” refers to everybody born in Adam, the whole human race, and that world is characterized by darkness. Even the assumption behind the rest of Jesus’ words is that we all walk in darkness without him. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” That assumes the darkness is where we live our lives already—we walk in darkness. To walk in the darkness of this world includes the following.

A World that Practices Evil

It means we practice evil deeds and hate the light: John 3:19-20, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” The moral problem with the world is that it hates how God’s light shines in Christ and they prefer darkness.

A World Blind to Salvation

It means we remain blind to any light that offers us guidance to safety and salvation. In 1:5, John refers to the world figuratively as “darkness” in contrast to Jesus’ light. And then in 1:9-10, John says that “[Jesus as the light] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” The world is so bent on the darkness that the people didn’t even recognize the light of their Maker. Or John 12:35, “Walk while you have the light [i.e., Jesus], lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” Even worse, according to our passage, the blindness is so great, the world can’t even see the light when he’s shining in front of their faces. They can only judge according to the flesh.

A World Ruled by the Devil

Then in 12:31, we find out that the world is also the realm of people ruled by the devil himself. Jesus is about to enter his last days before the cross and says, “Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” The devil rules this world that Jesus speaks of; and it won’t be too much longer before he’s even telling his own Jewish kin, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” Jesus’ words agree with Paul’s in 2 Cor 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

A World Plagued by Death

And then lastly, another dark characteristic about the world is that it is plagued by death, and not simply physical death but also eternal death and separation from fellowship with God. This is basically the opposite of possessing “the light of life.” If you don’t have “the light of life,” then what is it you have? The darkness of death; and the rest of chapter 8 will spell out that that death is because of sin (8:21, 24). Sin leads to the death of eternal separation from God.

What, then, is the world? The world is darkness because it’s filled with a rebellious humanity, who—because of their bondage to sin—prefer wondering aimlessly with the devil to their destruction, all the while shaking their fist at God when he sends them light. So, when Jesus says he’s the light of the world, he’s not saying he’s a light in the world—just one light among many other lights. There are no other lights in the world according to Jesus. Everybody is darkness; everything is blackened by sin, death, and the devil. Jesus alone can be the light of the world, because he came into the world from outside the world. He’s not part of this darkness; it has no hold on him. He enters the darkness from above, from eternal glory with the Father. And what is it that he does? As the light, he rescues us and leads us out of the darkness.

The God of the Exodus Shines in Jesus for Our Deliverance

So the world is darkness, but Jesus comes to lead us out of the darkness. Think Old Testament with me for a minute, because this is where Jesus gets the light imagery. He’s not arbitrarily pulling word-pictures out of thin air; he’s grounding his claim in God’s self-revelation to Israel. There are several places in the Old Testament where God reveals himself as light, whether that’s a flaming torch that passed through carcasses for Abraham (Gen 15:17) or through a burning bush when he called Moses (Exod 3:2) or in the likeness of a man clothed with fire and brightness all around when God opens heaven to Ezekiel (Ezek 1:27). But the one that stands out most pointedly—and to which the Prophets and the Psalms continue to point God’s people—is the pillar of fire in the great exodus deliverance (Exod 13:21).

You remember the story: Israel sat in slavery under the oppression of Pharaoh’s whip. They themselves were helpless and could not deliver themselves from the darkness of his tyranny. Instead of trusting God’s promise to their fathers, the nation at large began trusting in the idols of Egypt. They were without God and without hope. And then God shows them mercy and comes to their rescue. After ten plagues, God frees Israel from their slavery, plunders the Egyptians, and the text says “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 may travel by day and by night” (13:21). And just a chapter later in Exod 14, God reveals himself again in the pillar of fire, as he stands between Israel and Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, protecting them, fighting for them, defeating their enemies, and ensuring they come away his redeemed people—walking with God in the light of his glorious presence. And this great exodus deliverance sets the course for numerous psalms and prophecies and promises that fixate God’s people on his light. To be in his light was to experience true freedom and peace and rest and deliverance. God’s light would even fill the entire earth and shine so brightly in the kingdom, that there would be no need for sun or moon or stars (Isa 60:1-3, 19-20).

I don’t think it’s an accident that John 1 reveals Jesus as the Passover Lamb, John 3 shows that Jesus surpasses the serpent in wilderness, John 6 identifies Jesus as the bread of life that comes down like the manna from heaven, John 7 says that Jesus gives living water, a kind of water that far surpasses what Israel drank from the rock in the wilderness, and now John 8 claims he’s the Light of the world. All of these accounts of Jesus keep driving us back to the way God revealed his saving power in the exodus, and tell us Jesus brings every one of them to their intended goal and fulfillment. The pillar of fire in the exodus foreshadowed the day when God’s own Son would enter our darkness and lead us out of slavery to sin, deliver us from the tyranny of Satan, and rescue us from the plague of death forever. For Jesus to claim that he’s the light of the world to these Pharisees was for him to say, “O Israel, behold your God! Your deliverer has come to free you—and the rest of the world—from wondering aimlessly in the darkness and to give you the light of life!”

And how does Jesus do this? Not through another pillar of fire, but through the sufferings of a cross and the victories of a resurrection life. Jesus rescues us by entering the world, overcoming all its darkest temptations (Matt 4:1-11), snapping the power of sin through the cross (John 8:21-24; Rom 6:1-14), defeating death once and for all through his resurrection (1 Cor 15), ascending to heaven over all his enemies (Eph 1:18-21), and sending the Holy Spirit to all who trust him (John 7:38-39), that God himself might be with them, leading them into life, and in them, filling them with life. God didn’t rescue Israel from Egypt just to leave them alone in the wilderness. His light from the pillar of fire signaled his presence with his people. He brought them out of slavery to bring them into a relationship with himself. The same is true in the work of Jesus, which the exodus foreshadowed. Jesus brings us out of darkness into fellowship with God; and where there’s fellowship with God, there is life. That makes him worth following! He brings me into the presence of God, who is himself the eternal life (17:3).

As Ps 36:9 puts it, “For with you [Lord] is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Or Ps 56:13, “For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, [so] that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Or Ps 89:15, “Blessed are the people who know the shout of joy [speaking of the joyful sounds associated with God leading his people in victorious procession over his enemies], who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face.” When you read these Psalms from the vantage point of John 8:12, the whole world should see the light of God’s presence manifesting itself in Jesus. Or let’s try Ps 43:3, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them [i.e., God’s light and truth] bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!” The whole point of God’s light bringing deliverance for his people is so that they could dwell peacefully with him. By coming as the light of the world, Jesus restores the relationship with God that we broke; he ushers us back into his presence forgiven. To follow Jesus is to have your soul filled and satisfied with the presence of God.

Are You Following the Light?

So if you find your soul dissatisfied with God this morning, frustrated by the circumstances he’s giving you, unhappy with your work environment, disgruntled that your plans aren’t panning out, joyless at the next morning God makes you wake up to, might a good question to ask yourself be, “Am I following Jesus?” He says that when I follow him that I will have the light of life. Regardless of how these difficulties present themselves and these circumstances play out, if I follow Jesus in them, he promises to fill me with the life of God. So, if I’m bitter at life, might it be that such bitterness rises from some refusal to follow Jesus? If I’m angry with my children, might it be that what’s really true of my heart is that it seeks life in obedient children when life can only be found in God. If I hate my job day-in and day-out, I rise in the morning grumbling about my boss, I come home complaining about my co-workers, might it be that I think life is found in a world where everybody serves me instead of a world where Jesus commands I serve those who hate me most? If I’m just bored with life and pass the time piddling around on the internet and amusing myself with video games, could it be that truly I have yet to take up my cross and die? If I’m just depressed that God hasn’t provided me a spouse, might your heart be searching for life in one man on earth when there’s another Man who already sits in heaven and offers it to you abundantly?

Each of you will be in a different place this morning, but regardless of where you’re at, Jesus offers you the light of life—of truly living—when you follow him. Life isn’t found within ourselves or within this world; life is found in Christ—the true light who entered our darkness to fill us with God’s life. That doesn’t mean you won’t cry or that you’ll walk around chipper all the time with a bounce in your step, but it will mean that the life you do have will meet your every need and fill your soul with contentment.

Sent into the World to Reflect the Light of Jesus

Indeed, he promises to so fill you with the life of God that he doesn’t shy away from calling you “the light of the world” in Matt 5:14. You, the ones who once sat in darkness, the ones who contributed to the darkness—he’s okay with calling you “the light of the world.” Jesus will go on to say in 12:36, “believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” Now, neither of those statements mean that we are the light of the world in the same sense that Jesus is the light of the world. No, our light will always be a derivative one. We are the light of the world insofar as we look like and follow Christ, the true light of the world. As long as we walk in the light of God’s presence, reflecting his glory, we will be a blessing to each other and to the nations. Jesus makes this possible by giving us his Holy Spirit.

And when the Spirit of God dwells in us, Jesus is not ashamed to send us as into the world as bearers of his light. Paul even characterizes the church’s mission to the nations as an extension of the light that shone so brightly in Jesus, also known as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. He says in Acts 13:46 that “the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isa 49:6). The prophecy that spoke beforehand of Jesus becoming a light to the nations was now, by extension, applied to all who follow him—that’s you and me if you’re a believer. Jesus will spell out more of what it means to follow him later in John’s Gospel, but I think this is a good place for us to begin—namely, seeing ourselves as burning lamps who carry the light of Jesus into the world.

He entered our darkness to bring us into the light—indeed to make us light—but now that we are light, let us be mindful that “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:15-17). This is how we follow the light of the world. This is the path that his word lights up. This is the way our Master’s life shone so brightly. And my prayer for all of us is that we would follow in his footsteps as light-bearers in the darkness. What darkness do all your neighbors sit in? Might they respond to Jesus in ways the Pharisees did? Their objections and hatred and hostility didn’t keep Jesus from shining then, and they still won’t keep him from shining now; only now he’s chosen to shine through you.

other sermons in this series