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
“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.’”
In the Israel of Jesus’ day, the Feast of Tabernacles was the crowning celebration of the year. It came at the close of the farming season, when all the fruits of the field had been gathered in. This was harvest home, a time for joy and thanksgiving.
During the evenings of the feast, it was the custom to illuminate the temple area with a brightness seen at no other time of the year. In the Court of the Women stood four towering candelabra. They were regularly filled with oil by young men who to accomplish their task had to climb ladders 75 feet high. The light from these lamps was so brilliant that every courtyard in Jerusalem was said to reflect the glow. The Feast of Tabernacles was also the Festival of Lights.
When Jesus spoke these words, the celebration had ended. The candelabra no longer shed their radiance over the city. Jerusalem seemed now by comparison somber and dark. It was then that Jesus, perhaps standing in those very temple courts, lifted up His voice and said, “I am the light of the world.”
I want to think with you for a little while today about that amazing claim. If I were reading it aloud, I would emphasize the first word, “I.” That would convey the significance of the way this passage is recorded in the Greek New Testament. The verb “I am,” eimi in Greek, includes the subject. Eimi means “I am.” Jesus’ claim, though, is ego eimi, “I, I am.” In other words, an additional pronoun is inserted for emphasis. It was the strongest possible way in which the person making the claim could be brought to the forefront. It was not “I am” or “I am,” but “I am.”
For any Israelite, the overtones of that were unmistakable. They would have thought instantly of Moses at the burning bush. The living God had appeared there to the patriarch and commissioned him to go back to Egypt, to confront Pharaoh, and to lead the people out of bondage. But Moses was reluctant, apprehensive. He said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God had answered Moses, “I am who I am.”
For Jesus then to use this language meant making the highest claim imaginable – the claim to godness, to deity. It was to say in another way, “I and my Father are one.” The “I am” sayings of Jesus (you remember the others: I am the bread of life . . . I am the door . . . I am the good Shepherd . . . I am the way . . . I am the resurrection and the life) all expressed an awareness in Jesus that He was speaking as the Lord of the universe.
The temple authorities had arranged for illumination on a few evenings during the festival. They provided light, at considerable effort and cost. Jesus, on the other hand, was the light. Again, there were echoes here from Israel’s past. What was the light for the people of God in the wilderness? It was the pillar of cloud and fire that appeared over the tabernacle, by day a bright cloud, by night a tower of flame. There was always light over the place of God’s dwelling, always illumination for the people of God. And that light was the token of God’s presence and the sign by which He led them. When the pillar of cloud and fire remained stationary, the people encamped and settled down. But when the light was raised and began to move onward, they gathered their belongings, folded their tents and set out to follow wherever the light would lead them. It might be in the morning or at midnight, in the midst of a celebration or at a time of danger, but when the fiery pillar moved, Israel stopped everything else and rose up to march.
Jesus is saying now to the descendants of those people, “I am that light. I am the presence of God with you. I am the glory in your midst. I am the author of your destiny and the Guide of your way. I am Israel’s true light.”
But that’s not all. He doesn’t stop there. His majestic claim is, “I am the light of the world.” He speaks not only of the covenant community but of the Gentile nations beyond. Jesus does away with all the distinctions, Jews and Gentiles, Pharisees and people of the land, learned and ignorant, executives and laborers, nobles and commoners. He means those of every tribe and tongue, every people and nation. He presents Himself as light for them all. For a world in darkness, He is the light. For a mankind groping in ignorance and error, He shines forth as the truth. He is the revealer who shows to all the earth the way things are, who makes God known and discloses His gracious will.
Think of what light means in our everyday lives. To begin with, the rays of the sun make possible all life on this planet. The sun’s light is the energy that produces growth in plants. By the mysterious process called photosynthesis, life-giving substances are formed in the plants on which the entire food chain depends. The need is absolute. No sunlight, no life.
Sunlight provides in other ways what our bodies need. When I visited Russia not long ago, I heard of school children in some of the remote reaches of that vast country who are regularly exposed in the wintertime to artificial forms of light because they don’t get enough sunlight to keep them healthy.
And think of what light does for the human psyche. I live in western Michigan. During the wintertime we don’t get very much sunlight. Sometimes we’ll go through a period of a week or even two weeks shrouded by heavy cloud cover. Day after day after day, we never see the sun. Many of us find that it’s difficult to keep our spirits up then. The light of the sun does something for our joy and when it isn’t there, we feel its absence keenly. What gladness breaks over us then when the clouds part and the blue sky appears and the bright beams of sunshine break through again!
Do you sense, friends, something of what it means when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world”? All that the sun is to the earth, Jesus is to the hearts and lives of people. And He is much more. The sun is only one among the billions and billions of stars He has called into being. Its radiance is only a sign of His uncreated light.
Now how is that for an audacious claim? What other 30-year-old in the history of the world could say something like that and not be laughed at or looked on with condescending pity? Who must this man be who can say, “I am the light of the world” and be taken seriously? Some people were furious with Him, plotted how they could destroy Him when He said that. Others trusted and loved Him. But nobody snickered. There was something about this man that demanded a hearing, even when He made an affirmation like this, “I am the light of the world.”
But the Lord didn’t say it to impress people or to leave them with mouths agape. He wanted from them a very different kind of response.
Listen to what He said next, “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He presented Himself as the light not simply for people to admire or be dazzled by, but that He might do them good. He wanted to show them the truth. He wanted to lead them in God’s way. He wanted to give them the life that is life indeed. He wanted to be for them their great joy. But for that to happen, they needed to follow Him.
In first-century Palestine, a teacher like Jesus went about from place to place accompanied by His disciples. To follow Jesus, for people like the twelve, and for a wider circle as well, meant literally to go along with Him wherever He went. But the word, of course, could also be used in the sense “to follow as a disciple.” Though it was often used during the Lord’s lifetime for this literal physical following, the term was used from the very first in the sense also of becoming an adherent of Jesus, a friend and student of His and one who seeks to live according to His teaching. In both ways of looking at it, the element of personal fellowship with Jesus was inescapably present.
What did it mean when Jesus said to the men in their fishing boats or at the tax collector’s booth, “Follow me”? It meant surely to accompany Him on the way. It meant to be a learner in His school, but it meant more than that. Jesus talked about a man or a woman denying self and taking up a cross to follow Him. This was a profound, far-reaching life-commitment. Remember how Elijah challenged the people of Israel on Mt. Carmel? “How long,” he asked, “will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” There was something about the authority of Jesus that gave that kind of atmosphere to His call. It was with Him an all-out religious loyalty to which people were summoned. From that point on, they were going to be Jesus’ persons. They would remain close to Him. They would be molded by Him. They would devote themselves entirely to Him and His cause.
Now it’s striking to me that Jesus says, “He who follows me will not walk in darkness.” In other words, to enjoy the benefit of the light He brings, people need to make a commitment. They need to listen to what He says, believe His claim, and then rise up to follow.
Remember again those Israelites in the wilderness. If they were to know God’s direction, they needed to act when the pillar of cloud and fire rose from the tabernacle and began to move ahead. If they had stayed in the encampment, they would have lost touch with the great Jehovah who was guiding them. They would have been lost in the wilderness. If they were ever to reach the Promised Land, they needed to march when He said “March!” and halt when He said “Halt!”
There is a sense in which the light of Christ shines over the whole world. Simply because He came and lived here, because He loved and served, suffered and died, and rose again, the world has been blessed. Because He sent His Spirit to the hearts of His disciples and commissioned them to take the gospel to all lands, the nations of mankind have been immeasurably enriched. But the light that guides people to their Maker and brings to them salvation and joy is apprehended only along the road of discipleship.
Those first disciples didn’t know everything about Jesus when He first called them. They didn’t realize that He was the Son of God, the revelation of the Father’s glory. They didn’t know that His death would atone for the sins of the whole world and that He would rise from the dead to give them life. All of that became clear to them as they stayed in His company, as they walked along beside Him, as they hearkened to His word. So it is with us. You’re hearing Jesus’ claim today to be the light of the world. You say, “What proof do you have that this claim is true?” I don’t have any proof. I’m simply passing along to you what He said. And if you’re looking for conclusive proof of His claim before you will follow Him, you’ll never do it. The deep assurance you’re looking for is found along the way, as you throw in your lot with Him.
It’s a venture to follow Jesus. It’s a risk. What if He isn’t really what He claims to be? What then? He says to you, “Come along for a while. Taste and see.” So I say: try following Jesus Christ. That’s my challenge to you today. Try acting as though He were the Lord of everything. Try looking to Him for the marching orders in your life, listening to His Word and following His lead. Here’s what will happen – you have the word of Jesus for this – you won’t grope and stumble in the darkness. You’ll have the light of life. He will be your life. He will give you light. You’ll have illumination inside you as well as around you.
Will you this day trust in Him as One who comes from the glory, who died for you and rose again, who offers Himself as the light of the world? Will you say to Him, “Oh, yes, Lord, I do trust in You. I will follow You”? May it be so. And may your pathway be always bright!
PRAYER: Father, may every person sharing this program so trust in Christ and follow Him that they may always walk in the sunshine. In Jesus’ name. Amen.