Never in theDark

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 rsv

Have you ever tried to walk in the darkness? I’m not talking about half-light now, about a situation where you can dimly see the things around you. I’m talking about total pitch-black, inky darkness.

I had an experience of that not long ago. There had been a storm during the night that knocked out the power in our whole area. There wasn’t a light on for miles around us. It was heavily overcast and raining. When I woke up, I couldn’t see anything. I wanted to get through the doorway from our bedroom out into the hall, so I started walking. I say walking – it was more like a slow shuffle. With one hand, I was touching the bed as I moved around it. With the other, I was reaching out ahead of me. After a few steps, I encountered some kind of wall I didn’t even know was there. I stumbled over a doorstop that wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near me. I ended up walking into a closet. That’s how disoriented I got when I tried to walk in the darkness.

That kind of experience helps us to appreciate afresh the priceless gift of sight, the blessing denied to those who are blind. Remember how John Milton mused about his loss of sight? “When I consider how my light is spent, ere half my days in this dark world and wide and that one talent which is death to hide, lodged with me useless.”

THE BLESSING OF LIGHT

It made me appreciate also the blessing without which even seeing eyes are useless: light. All of us know what sunrise does for the psyche after a dark night, how it cheers our hearts, renews our zest for living. But what an experience of almost total darkness does is make us realize that without light (either for our eyes or for someone to guide us), we could never find our way.

I think about that when I read this word of Jesus Christ in the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, verse 12, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” It’s hard to exaggerate the stupendous character of a claim like that. The way Jesus said it gave great emphasis to the personal pronoun I. It was as though He said, “I, I am the light of the world.” It’s not simply that He provides light, that He helps people find the way. “I, I am the light.” The emphasis is on His person, the light that He is.

And He’s not like a bulb shining in an isolated place. He claims to be the light of the whole world. He’s the light for those in every land, every culture, every hidden people. For everyone on earth, He is the One who makes sight possible. Because of Him, we can know the way things really are. Because of Him, we can find our way in life. He is for every human being who ever lived what the sun is to the earth – with the moon and the stars thrown in. From Him comes all the brightness, all the radiance that ever reaches and touches us.

Jesus said this, apparently, at a high moment in Israel’s life. It was at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles. During the night-time celebrations, two huge golden lamps were lit, just as night was falling. They cast their brilliance down the slopes of the city while groups of worshipers clustered around them, dancing and singing. These lamps were meant to be a glowing memorial of Israel’s past. They called to mind her long years of wilderness wandering and how God had led them by His light.

Maybe you remember that Old Testament account, “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; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exod. 13:21-22). The cloud and the fire were striking symbols of God’s presence. Again and again, we read statements like these: “the Lord came down in the cloud . . . The Lord went before them in the pillar of cloud.” Here was a visible sign that God was with the ragged multitude He had rescued from bondage in Egypt. They could look on that awesome sight, they could see that fire, and be sure that they were not alone.

It was in that setting, in the cluster of those memories, that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” He had been Israel’s guiding light. The God who had inhabited the cloud and the fire was present now in Jesus. We call Him Immanuel, don’t we, “God with us”? And like that towering beacon in the wilderness, He never leaves His people. “Lo,” He says, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

GOD’S GUIDANCE

But the light in the wilderness was not only a reassuring sign that God was near. It also gave the people constant, practical guidance. Listen: “Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up” (Exod. 40:36-37). For those wanderers, the pillar of fire and cloud controlled completely all marches and halts. It determined when the people started, where they headed and when they stopped. The place in which they found themselves might be desolate and forbidding, but no one in the camp could stir while that pillar remained stationary. And when they reached some lovely, pleasant oasis, footsore and weary, longing for days of rest, they couldn’t tarry if the pillar of cloud and fire said “Move on.” That kind of guide, through all of life, Jesus Christ is claiming and offering to be.

When He, the crucified and risen Lord, comes into our lives, we no longer stumble aimlessly along and wander into closets, as I did. We have in Him a living light, the light of life. But it’s never a beam of our own, our personal flashlight, independent of Him. Light shines upon our way, says Jesus, as we walk along behind Him. “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have [in His companionship, that is] the light of life.” The psalmist had said it about the Scriptures: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). Jesus the living Word says it about Himself, “I am the light of the world.” If you follow Me, that is, you won’t be alone and you won’t be in the dark.

FOLLOWING JESUS

What does it mean to follow Jesus? That seemed easier to understand when Jesus was walking about in Galilee. For disciples then and there, the issue was clear. They had to leave their familiar surroundings, their ordinary means of livelihood. They had to throw in their lot with Him and travel about in His company. They literally followed where He led. But what can it mean for us today when the Lord is in heaven and we are here on earth?

Following had a cluster of other meanings, even then. To follow a rabbi sometimes meant to commit his teachings to memory, to be like a sealed cistern that wouldn’t leak a single drop of instruction. You followed a rabbi in this way until you had learned all that he had to teach and then you went out to become a better teacher. There was none of that with the early disciples of Jesus.

Sometimes following meant imitating, doing what the teacher did, even with regard to personal mannerisms. But the disciples of Jesus didn’t see it that way, either.

In Israel’s history, following had come to mean also a profound religious commitment. Remember how the prophet Elijah challenged his countrymen in that dramatic scene on top of Mt. Carmel? “If Baal is God, follow him, but if the Lord is God, follow him”? (see 1 Kings 18:21). Here it’s obvious that the deepest kind of life-allegiance is in view. Following means taking on the yoke of another’s authority. It is submitting to serve. It’s acknowledging that we are not our own but we belong to the One we choose to follow.

It’s that kind of commitment that Jesus is speaking of. So much depends on the purpose, the choice to obey. We sometimes act as though discovering God’s will for our lives were a mysterious, complex process. We can give the impression that though we want very much to do God’s will, He has somehow made it obscure and hard to find. According to the Scriptures, it’s quite the other way around. God is far more willing to lead us than we are to be led. The reluctance is not on His part. How many difficulties and perplexities disappear like mist before the morning sun when once we set our hearts to obey Jesus Christ?

We who are ministers know the experience of receiving a call from a congregation. When that happens we begin a process of information- gathering, reflection, and finally – decision. If other pastors are like I am, that process involves for us sifting through our own personal, sometimes selfish motives. We think about the size and prestige of the congregation to which we’re called. We think about the parsonage that’s provided and its location and, of course, the salary. We look at that in the light of our present situation and make the inevitable comparisons. But all the while we’re doing that, there’s a deeper awareness that these aren’t finally the things that matter. They tend to cloud the issue in our seeking to discern the will of God. Finally, by His grace, we come to the point where we say, “Lord, You know I feel these pressures, You know the struggle I have with my own ambitions and motivations. But what I really want is Your will and I commit myself to You no matter what that is.” When that sort of heart attitude begins to prevail in us, decisions like this have a way of becoming quite simple. As we choose to do His will, we know. As we set ourselves to follow, the light shines.

Following also includes trust, doesn’t it? In fact, it begins there. Jesus says in another passage, “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). Suppose you’re a soldier in the midst of a battle and you’ve become separated from your company. You’re in a no-man’s land between your own troops and the enemy. All around you there may be land mines, booby traps. You’re in danger of being fired at from both sides. Suddenly a stranger appears beside you. He doesn’t wear the uniform of either army, but he seems sure that he can lead you to safety if you will stay right with him and follow his steps.

Everything depends now on whether you believe in this man’s truthfulness and good will. In a real sense, you’re putting your safety, your life, in his hands. If he’s a spy or a traitor, he could be leading you straight into danger and death. So you have to decide. Will I trust him? Will I follow him?

Friends, let me assure you that this Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the light of the world,” and who invites you to follow, is not a stranger, and not a deceiver. He has given the most powerful proof of His kindly concern for you. He loved you and gave Himself up for you, dying the terrible death of the cross for your sins and mine, that we might be forgiven and find a new life. He is a safe guide. You can confidently entrust your life to His care and direction.

He doesn’t promise that you’ll never be confused or perplexed again. You may have to wander in the wilderness at times. But if you’re willing to trust Him and commit yourself to Him, if you make it the top priority of your life to follow the cloud and fire, to stay near to Christ, you won’t walk in the darkness. You’ll never really lose your way again because you will have in Jesus Christ the light of life.

Make this your prayer, the grandest hymn John Henry Newman ever wrote, Lead, Kindly Light. Say it with millions of others who trust in Jesus Christ.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see . . . The distant scene; One step enough for me.

Prayer: Father, may every person sharing this program find light and life in following Christ. In His name. Amen.