Jason Helopoulos / Jul 17, 2016 / John 8:12
DownloadMP3 Audio File
Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray before we read God’s word. Our Lord and God, we pray that you would open our ears and eyes, that we might hear and see the truth of your word. Oh Lord, reveal yourself to us by the power of your Spirit. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.
This is the holy and inerrant Word of God:
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.” John 8:12
Though the grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of God stands forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Jeremiah 9:1
That verse has been going through my mind in light of all the events in these past couple of weeks. For most of us, this has been a difficult time. Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled another pro-life law unconstitutional, causing the death of even more children in the womb. Then there were the shootings in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Nice, and Turkey. These are the kind of events that should stir emotion within us. They’re stories that leave us bewildered, confused, sad, disappointed, discouraged, and even angry.
Events like this elicit non-stop news coverage. Every news channel is running these stories, and every newspaper has this as their headline. They grip and move us in different ways. They shake us from our deadly routine of going about each day without contemplating or feeling too much. If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched the news, read these stories and all kinds of editorials, surfed the Internet, and picked up newspapers. You’ve probably had the overwhelming feeling of sadness that I’ve had—a sadness that’s quickly followed by discouragement.
Why do such stories affect us so? Maybe the chief reason is that they force us to recognize that we live in a fallen and dark world. If we’re ever to understand Jesus’ self disclosure in John 8:12, it is here that we must begin. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The implication is that we are all blind men, walking in a darkened world. We are in a world, and we are a people, that needs life. The events of a few weeks like this just scream it louder to us!
Most of the time, we like to think our day and age is enlightened. We look down our noses with a kind of chronological snobbery towards previous generations. We’re 21st century people. We’re enlightened. Even the word “enlightened” means that we have light and knowledge. We’re not like those in previous days with Jim Crow laws, the Holocaust, and slavery.
Then another young African-American man is killed. Police officers are shot down. A truck runs through a crowd of people at a celebration, killing 10 children and 80 others. And we realize that our world isn’t so different. We aren’t so enlightened. These things are happening in our backyard—in our society. Our generation isn’t so superior.
Maybe what hurts most in all of this is realizing that it isn’t just our world that is dark, but the people who live here who make so. It’s us! Me and you! We made our society what it is. What awful things you and I—fallen sinners—are capable of!
We’re often blind to it. We go about our lives thinking little about the blindness and darkness we dwell in. In fact, no person in this world is born with sight. We all have a dismally faulty view of the holiness of God, of righteousness, of the importance of our own soul, and of heaven. We live in a clouded reality, and we fail to recognize it as cloudy.
I love that URC is an international church. We have many international students and scholars that come here. There’s one question I like to ask them. I’ve asked it of multiple Chinese scholars that have been here over the past years, and around 10 of them have answered me in the same way, interestingly. I like to ask, “What is it that has most surprised you since you moved from your home to Lansing?” And 10 of them have told me, “The sky is so blue!”
When you live in a polluted city, where the skies are always grey, all you ever see is grey. Our world is shrouded in darkness, but we don’t see it because it’s all we know. But events like those of these past few weeks shake us because they bring the truth of the fallenness of mankind and of our world to our attention a little more.
In John 3, just a few chapters before this one, remember how Nicodemus, a learned man of Israel, came to Jesus. He was an enlightened Pharisee. He knew the law and statutes—yet he knew nothing. He was dumb, blind, ignorant, and dead. When John says that he came to Jesus at night, that’s not by accident. The Pharisees thought they knew so much and yet were blind to their own darkness.
They called God their Father, but Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan was their father. That’s a pretty big difference. How did they miss it? They were blind, living in darkness. As Jesus will say in Matthew 13:13, paraphrasing Isaiah, “[Though] seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
Jesus gives an example of this in John 9. He heals a man who is born into this world blind. It’s a kind of object lesson: all of us are born into this world naturally blind. We’re blind, dead men walking, people in need of having their eyes opened to spiritual truth. We’re men, women, and children who need to see. We need light in the midst of this darkness.
Jesus gives an awful assessment of us 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. John 3:19
Not only do we live in darkness, but we love the darkness. Why? Because we are wicked and evil! I am wicked and evil in my natural state. My friend, I hate to tell you this, but you are wicked and evil in your natural state. That is Christ’s assessment of us.
But in our verse today, he offers a glorious hope—one that you and I especially need after a few weeks like this: “I am the light of the world.” He is the hope for darkened people in a dark world.
The Light for a Darkened World
Jesus cannot be misunderstood here. The “I” is so emphasized that it receives all the force of the statement. Maybe (in English) it’s better to think of it as if he said, “The light of the world, I am.” That sounds a little too Yoda-ish, but it gives the statement its proper force. He is putting himself front and center. “In this dark world, you want to know where hope for fallen, darkened, blinded people is? It’s in me! I am the light.”
He doesn’t say that he has the light. That’s something that other people might have a little bit of too. No, he claims to be the light. It’s an exclusive claim. Outside of him, there is not even a glimmer of light. He alone possesses what this world cannot provide for itself—what you and I cannot do, and what nothing in this world can conjure up.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” Our darkened reality needs something from outside itself. It comes in the person of Jesus. “I am the light,” he says. As the sun is necessary to the solar system, so is Christ to this dark, sin-filled world.
In addressing the nation after the shooting of many police officers and two African-American men this past week, President Obama said, “We can do better.” Why don’t we all think that these past two weeks were good enough?Why do we think that we should or could do better? The answer is Christ. It’s the Christian worldview that says that man has inherent dignity and worth, that he’s meant for glory, and that this isn’t good enough. It’s the Christian worldview—Christ’s light shining—that says death is bad and murder is evil. It’s the Christian worldview that says that power doesn’t make right, that racism has no place, that color of skin should not lead to different treatment, and that injury is not a reason for violent revenge. It is the light of Christ that shines and says, “All men, women, and children are created in the image of God and have equal worth.”
Apart from Christ, we would be blind to these truths. Evolution is the belief that life began by chance, and that all life forms evolve from lesser life. If that’s the case, then we have no souls and no afterlife. We’re simply a unique arrangement of matter. There is no inherent dignity or worth in us, except that which those in power want to give. It’s survival of the fittest, and that doesn’t result in compassionate humanity.
Pragmatism is the idea that society won’t work if we don’t have one another. Look, that’s just not the case! I might need some of you, but I don’t need all of you. Some of you will live another 40 or 50 years, perhaps. I may live another 60 years. I can live without you. Just ask the more than 58 million children murdered in this country since 1973.
In socialism, and its friendly cousin Communism, everyone is treated as equals as long as the collective society benefits. People have worth as long as they serve the purposes of the state or of society, and so 48 million are killed by Joseph Stalin. There is nothing in that system that inherently gives value to every person.
Hinduism gives you only as much value as where you rank on the caste system. In Islam, infidels are to be destroyed! If you’re not a true believer, then you have no worth. Buddhism is self-seeking. It’s about me rising above my circumstances and reaching my own personal nirvana.
Christ alone shines in this darkness and says that all human life has inherent dignity and worth. We are all worth something, because we are created in the very image of God. Man, woman, and child; black, white, and yellow. It doesn’t matter! We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s Christ alone who gives any basis for there even being an understanding that there could be something better that we can do.
I hear your minds turning. I know. The Atlantic slave trade was done by nations that were populated with Christians. The American South, with its chattel slavery, was populated by Christians, with Christian churches in support. That’s because of the wickedness and the fall of man—because of a world trapped in darkness.
But here’s the question: why did those things end? Because of Christianity. What caused a revolt in the public sphere, politics, and society that said, “This is not okay. We can do better”? The Christian world-view, which said “These black men, women, and children are created in the image of God. This is not okay.” It is Christ whose light shines in the darkness and illuminates it for what it is. We are spiritually and morally blind apart from him. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 36: “…in your light do we see light.”
The Light that Reveals Our Hearts
Have you ever sat in your favorite chair at home, in the evening or late afternoon, reading a book? You’re not thinking about anything. You’re turning each page. It’s a wonderful book. If you’re not reading, read a book! Then, by instinct, you turn over and turn on the light that’s next to you. Suddenly, that light shines, and you realize that you’ve just been reading in darkness. You hadn’t realized how dark it had become.
When Christ’s light shines, he reveals how dark this world is. But even more than that, he reveals how dark our own hearts both are and have been. My friends, you and I have not truly seen until we’ve seen Christ. Once you see him, everything becomes clear.
I’ve often thought about the Christian life—living and walking in the light. It can be boiled down to two significant things. One is that we grow in our knowledge of God. We grow in knowledge of his beauty, love, holiness, and goodness. The second is that we learn and grow in knowledge of our own sinfulness. The more his light shines on our darkened hearts, the more we see.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:24
Anyone who has ever had the light of Christ shine upon them can scream that out with the Apostle Paul. It is an ugly picture that is revealed here—just as ugly, if not uglier, than the events of these past few weeks. All the roots of those sins and actions lie right here—in me, and in all those things that my wicked heart has chased after. I’ve had thoughts that you would never imagine that I could think. That’s sin and wickedness.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
The Light that Saves
Christ doesn’t just leave us with an illumined knowledge of how dark the world is and how dark we are. How awful would that be? No, he bids us to come to this light. It not only reveals, but saves. “I am the light of the world.” He immediately follows that statement with the implied exhortation, “Follow me.”
It’s helpful to understand the context of Jesus’ statement here. Most likely, he is making this declaration at the Feast of Booths. If you look at John 8:1 (or John 7:53), you’ll notice that there are parentheses that begin there. Then look at verse 11, and you see a closed parentheses. Between those two parentheses is that famous account of Jesus with the woman who is caught in adultery. He says those famous words to these crowded men as they are getting ready to stone her: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And they all put down their stones and walk away.
It’s a beautiful story, but those parentheses are there for a reason. Most likely, this was not part of John’s Gospel. This is not in the earliest manuscripts that we have of the Gospel of John. Whether it’s true or not we don’t know, but most likely it wasn’t part of his Gospel.
Why does this matter to us? It means that our passage today (John 8:12) immediately follows John 7. In John 7, Jesus is preaching and commenting at the Feast of Booths. This annual Jewish festival celebrated the harvest—and more importantly, celebrated God’s salvation of and provision for the people of Israel during their wilderness wanderings. It was eight days of party, food, feasting, laughing, and celebrating this God of provision and salvation together.
One of the most important moments of this celebration was when they took water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out. Jesus connects himself with this event in John 7:
“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.’” John 7:37b-38
Now, in our passage, Jesus says,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12b
The parallels are uncanny.
“If anyone thirsts…” “I am the light of the world.”
“…let him come to me and drink.” “Whoever follows me…”
“Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” “…will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Interestingly enough, one of the other main events at the Feast of Booths was the nightly lighting of these four huge lamps in the Court of the Women. When these lamps were lit, it was said that the glow from them would spread out over all of Jerusalem. Everyone could see them. That light was to remind the Jewish people that God led Israel through the wilderness by a cloud of glory by day and a pillar of fire by night. What was symbolized by the Pool of Siloam and by these lit lamps was God’s presence, provision, and salvation—what Jesus now declares that he himself is and that he gives. He is the living water. He is the life-giving light.
Some scholars believe that one lamp was always left unlit on the final night of the Feast of Booths. It was a way that the Jews reminded themselves that the Messiah—the light of the world; God’s salvation—had not yet come. Throughout the Old Testament, light is a metaphor that is often used of God and of the Messiah. Think back to when the glory of the Lord led his people through the wilderness in a cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Think about when the Lord was with his people at the tabernacle and the temple. This bright glory cloud would fill the temple, or hover above the tabernacle. Or think of when Moses went up Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments. When he came down, his face shone light, because he had been in the presence of God. Or I think of Psalm 27—a song that the Israelites would sing: “The LORD is my light and my salvation…”
Then there were the promises of the future Messiah that were consistently infused with this idea of light.
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6
It was prophesied that when this Messiah came, he would finally usher in the kingdom and reign over all the earth.
The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60:19
So it’s no surprise that the New Testament begins with this same imagery. When the baby Jesus is brought to Zechariah in the temple courts, he takes him in his arms and blesses him. In Luke 2, he calls him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Or if you go to the beginning of John, he says that the light has come into the world. It has shone in the darkness.
Knowing all the significance which is bound up in this simple idea of light—God’s very salvation and the Messiah to come—Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.” It’s a bold assertion, especially at the Feast of Booths. You can see how bold it is by the reaction of the Pharisees in verse 13. They don’t question him about light, but instead about his self-proclamation: “I am the light. Follow me.” We can understand this. It makes a lot of sense.
I’ve been meaning to tell all of you this. As I was walking around this week, I came to a realization, and I wanted you to recognize it as well: I know everything about being a husband. I don’t just want to shed some light on it for all of you husbands out there who are trapped in marital darkness. I want you to understand that I am the great husband. If I may, I am the light of husbandry. If you want to know anything about being a good husband, listen to me, look to me, and follow me.
You would say, “Jason, you are an idiot”—or at least my wife would. It’s offensive to us. We could say that about anything. I could say that about chemistry, child-rearing, or home repair. Actually, I would never say it about home repair. In fact, I wouldn’t say it about child-rearing, chemistry, or husbandry either, because it’s foolish. The subject doesn’t really matter, does it? If I claimed to be the great light on any subject, you’d think I was out of my mind. Here, Jesus doesn’t claim to be the light of some single, common subject. He says, in essence, “I am the source of all spiritual and moral truth. I enlighten the mind. I lift the darkness from your hearts. I open your eyes. What you need is me, so follow me!” Why? Because he is the light. He is the God-man. He is the light of very light, who came down from heaven into this darkness for you and me.
Events like we’ve seen in these past couple of weeks occur. People live in a darkened state with darkened hearts and minds. A question that often comes up is, “If there is a God, does he care?”
Interestingly, Elie Wiesel died two weeks ago in the midst of all this. I’ve just been reading his books. He was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who wrote a book called Night with his account of surviving in Auschwitz. He also wrote that play that was based on true events. It was a fictitious play that he called The Trial of God, because there in Auschwitz as a young boy, he witnessed the older Jewish men put God on trial for turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the Holocaust. In essence, they were asking, “Does he not care?”
Here is the gospel truth: God cares so much that John says, “He who is light itself—and in him is no darkness!—comes into this dark world that we might see and be saved from it.”
When I hear such questions, or when they go through my own mind, I think of Mark 4. Jesus is on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples, and he falls asleep on a cushion at the stern of the boat. Then the winds and waves begin, and it begins to pour rain. The waves are crashing into the boat, and the boat is filling with water and beginning to sink.
You have to remember that some of these disciples are trained fishermen. They’ve been on the Sea of Galilee all of their lives. So one of them comes over to Jesus, who is still asleep, and wakes him up and throws out an accusatory question: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” I imagine it was Peter shaking him. His mind was always behind his tongue. There was Jesus, asleep in his humanity on that boat, and he awakens to a disciple’s accusatory question: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” He stands up. In his deity—exercising his deity—he says three small words: “Peace! Be still!” The waves, wind, and sinking stop.
Here’s the God-man. He’s light of light, very God of very God. He comes into this dark, sin-stained world for us. He plunges himself into the darkness that we ushered in, and he conquers it by experiencing all the agonies and pains of this life—and even more so, the agonies and pain of the cross, which surpass anything that you and I will ever have to endure.
By his life and by his death, he swallows up darkness. It’s no accident that, the star shone in the night sky at Jesus’ birth, but the noonday sun was blacked out at his death on the cross. He’s the light of the world. Hear his provision: “Do you want to dwell in light? Follow me. Do you want to escape the darkness? Follow me. Do you detest what you see in this world and in your own heart? Follow me.” We are to believe in him, trust in him, and depend upon him. God, light of light, comes into this darkness for us.
He alone is the light of the world. Nothing else will do it or can do it—not education, hard work, worldly riches, reason, philosophy, government, or even the church. He is the only true light—unstained, unblemished, and on whom there is no darkness. He is whom we must follow, trust, and depend upon. You have no other option! He is the answer. He is the answer to all the social problems and inequalities; the dying, pain, and murder; and the sin and sinfulness.
Did you catch who he is the answer for? “Whoever follows me…” He is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, man or woman, 2 or 92, or black or white. The gospel is the great equalizer. It reaches out to everyone—to sinners. All are blind and dead in their sins. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but whoever follows me will have the light of life,” Jesus says. We must believe in him.
If a man is trapped in a cave for days, and all of a sudden he looks down that cave, and after days of being in that cold, dark, dank place, he sees light at the end of some cavern, it’s of no benefit to him unless he goes to that light. There is fresh oxygen, fresh air, warmth, and delight there. But it doesn’t benefit him unless he goes to it. There’s no benefit for him if he just admires it, appreciates it, honors it, or even points to it. He has to go to it. Maybe some of you are here this morning because you are looking for answers. A few weeks like this can send people looking for answers—looking for some light. Christ is the answer you are looking for. You’re not here by accident. He is not a Savior by accident. He is the answer. Trust in him. Lean upon him. Follow him. If you don’t know yourself to be in Christ, would you believe in him today?
For you Christians in this room who are grieved over these past few weeks of events and more, and aren’t quite sure what to do: do you want to see the world change? So do I. Let us follow him. Can we change the world so it is a little less dark? Yes and no. No, you and I can’t do it in and of ourselves; but yes, Christ can. He chooses to work in and through us in this world. He says to those who follow him that we will not walk in darkness, because it has no hold on us. We are now children of light, set free from darkness.
…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… Ephesians 5:8
As we do that, we change the world around us for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. Do you want to change this world? Do you want less racial tension, less murders, less senseless killing, and less abortion? Dialogues are good. Laws can be helpful. Organizing can accomplish things. But the ultimate and lasting answer is Christ shining in and through us. We share our faith. We point others to him. We labor for good. We put to death the deeds of darkness in our own flesh, mind, heart, and soul. And by one small degree after another, the world around and in us changes. That’s the answer.
Does that seem like pie in the sky to you? I’d say to you what Jesus said to those disciples on that boat: “O you of little faith”. You don’t know the power of our Lord. By the power and light of Christ, we can change this world. We said of the disciples in Acts 17 that they turned the world upside down. So can we, by the power of Christ. What the world thinks is being turned upside down is actually being turned right-side up.
One day, Christ will set all things right. His light will shine, and darkness will be banished forever. In Revelation, we are told that there shall be no light from the sun or moon in heaven, because Christ Jesus himself will alone be the light. There will be no darkness. It will be banished forever. There will be his magnificent, glorious light—the light of the world.
The more I am in this world, the more I battle with the sins of my own heart, and the more I am afflicted by the sins of those around me, the more I long for him to take me to glory where there is no darkness around me. Even better, there is no darkness in me. That’s the promise of the light to the world: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Let’s pray together. Our Lord and God, we exalt you this morning. We are thankful that you are light, and in you there is no darkness. How desperately we are in need of you. We follow you, Lord Jesus. We trust in you, lean upon you, and place our faith in you for our good and the good of those around us. In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription