The Light of the World
So as we get started this morning, think for minute about what it means to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” We typically use that phrase to refer to something bad happening, but think about it means literally. What does it mean to literally be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
So my kids love to go to the pool in the summer. We’ve already been a few times this year; we were there yesterday, and every time we go, I can’t help but be reminded about this canon ball I did at the pool a couple years ago. It has become family folklore for us.
It started as a normal day. The pool was not very crowded. The kids and I had just been hanging out in the kiddie area, until I noticed that there was no line to get on the diving board.
And so as a dad who wants to impress his kids, I decided to show them how to do a canon ball — and they were excited to see this. They’re new to these things. So they sat up out of the pool to watch me, and I walked over to the deep end, nodded to the life guard. There were a few elderly ladies doggy paddling in the deep end, but other than that, nobody was there. It was amazing. I had the pool almost all to myself. So I stepped up on the diving board, took a couple skips, got a good spring, went way up, good tuck of the knees in my arms, and boom! — I crashed into the water.
Now before I even came up out of the water, I could hear the lifeguard’s whistle. And then when I came up out of the water, I could still hear the whistle, and the whistle just kept going until I made it to the ladder and got out. It was the whistle of shame. Because apparently, the deep end of the pool was closed that afternoon because there was a class going on — a senior aquatics class. Oops! My canon ball had crashed into the middle of a senior aquatics class. I’d never before had so many old ladies mad at me.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And look, we’ve all been there before, in some way. [Right? Or we know what it means to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.] But what about this? Turn it around: what does it mean to be in the right place at the right time? Think about that.
Now go a little deeper. What does it mean to be in the best of all possible places at the best of all possible times?
For example: imagine you are stuck in darkness — you are dying in darkness — but then Jesus comes to you in that darkness and says to you, “I am the light of the world.” Imagine that.
Because that’s what is happening in our passage today, in John Chapter 8.
Jesus is saying two basic things to us here in John 8, verse 12. Jesus is saying THIS is who I am, and THIS is what it means to follow me — and it’s great that Jesus is saying this because we need to know those two things. And so for the sermon today, we’re just going to look closer here at John 8, verse 12, but to really understand this verse we’re going to have to turn to a few more places in the Gospel of John [the verses will be up here to try to help with that]. Here are two points of the sermon, really like two movements.
1) Who Jesus is
2) What it means to follow him
#1. Who Jesus Is (verse 12a)
Right away in verse 12 we know that the Gospel writer John is starting a new part of the story because he begins by saying, “Again Jesus spoke to them” — which means that Jesus is still speaking to the people like he was in Chapter 7, but this is a new conversation.
We also know from the context that Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths (also called the Feast of Tabernacles) and Jesus has been teaching around the temple. In fact, verse 20 actually tells us his exact location.
Jesus was teaching in “the treasury” of the temple. That’s where this new conversation in verses 12–19 takes place, and the whole thing was set off because of what Jesus says in verse 12. That’s the main verse in this passage. Jesus says there, very plainly, verse 12:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
This is the second time in John’s Gospel that Jesus has made this kind of “I am” statement. Last week Pastor Joe showed us John 6 when Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” and here in John 8, verse 12 Jesus says: “I am the light of the world.”
How Is Jesus Light?
And in both of these statements Jesus is using a metaphor, like Joe talked about last week, but the thing with light is that it’s a very broad metaphor. And so what exactly does Jesus mean by it? In what way is Jesus light?
Now, we should ask this question first because the theme of light is all over the place in the Bible (especially in the Old Testament) — but also because, already here in the Gospel of John, by the time we get to Chapter 8, Jesus has been called the “light” two different times — first in Chapter 1 at the very beginning of the Gospel, and then again in Chapter 3. And then later again Jesus refers to himself as the light in Chapter 9 and in Chapter 12 (and there’s a little allusion in Chapter 11).
And so when we look at John 8, verse 12, we can’t help but think about and consider those other times in this Gospel when Jesus is called the light — because they’re all connected.
And when we bring them all together I think we learn that Jesus is the light in at least two different ways. First, Jesus is the light that gives physical life; and second, Jesus is the light that gives spiritual life. And I’m going to show you where we see this.
[So we’re still here in the first movement: Who Jesus Is = he is “the light of the world” — now what does that mean? It means first, Jesus is the light that gives physical life.]
First, Jesus is the light that gives physical life.
And for this we need to turn back to the start of Chapter 1, because this is the first thing that John tells us about Jesus. This is how he starts the Gospel. He tells us that Jesus is the Word who “was with God” and “who was God” and “who was in the beginning with God.” Look at John 1, verse 3. In verse 3, John is speaking of Jesus, and he writes:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Now a lot of you have probably heard this passage before. But what’s interesting, especially if we’ve been around church for a while, is that we can jump right away into thinking that John is talking about spiritual things here. When he says in verse 4: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” we can assume that he is talking about spiritual life, and spiritual light, and that when that spiritual light shines in the spiritual darkness, the darkness can’t overcome it. We might think that.
But actually, if we are reading carefully, and we’re coming to this Gospel without importing the things we already know, John is talking about physical creation. He just said in verse 3 that all things were made through the Word, through Jesus. All things in creation were created through Jesus. Then in verse 4 he says: “And in him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Which means, John is saying that in the Word, Jesus, was and is divine life, true life, the source of all life, and it’s from that source that all human beings exist. That’s what John is saying here.
If you think back to Genesis 1, in the beginning of creation, remember there was darkness everywhere. Genesis 1:2, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” That’s what it was like until God said “Let there be light” and then, for the first time ever, the darkness was overcome; creation was underway. And what John tells us here is that Jesus was the life that gave that light. The light of creation came through the life of the Word.
We Exist Because of Jesus
Now one thing that means for us at the practical level is that everything in this universe is connected to Jesus, because it all came through him — John 1:3,“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” So no wonder why, then, we have all these metaphors about who Jesus is embedded into the created world. The created world came through Jesus, and ultimately it’s all pointing back to Jesus.
And that especially goes for you. And for me. For humans. There’s something even more significant going on when it comes to humankind. And John gets there in Chapter 1. It’s not just that all things in creation came through Jesus, and now we’re done. But John goes another step to mention humans explicitly when he says that Jesus is “the light of men” (“men” is the Greek word for humans). So he says Jesus is “the light of humans.” Which means we’re talking about everyone here. Every person. This is all of us. Our light; our existence. It comes from Jesus.
And maybe you didn’t know that or you’ve not thought much about that, but it’s true.
I was thinking about this yesterday at the pool [I stayed away from the diving board]. But the pool was so crowded. There were people everywhere, and I thought: “All these people. All these lives. All these stories. All these beating hearts. And it’s all because of Jesus. How many know that? How many out there know that right now they are breathing borrowed air? And that the world right now is staying in orbit for them because Jesus is telling it to?” That’s what it means that Jesus is the light.
It means that it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, or what you’re background is, or it doesn’t even matter what religion you claim, if you exist, you exist because of Jesus. It’s all because of him. That’s what John wants us to know right from the start.
The Tragic Irony of Unbelief
And John is doing something really important by telling us this right away, because he’s setting up for us the tragic irony of unbelief that we’re going to see all throughout this Gospel. He shows us this irony first in Chapter 1, verse 9. See if you can hear it. Verse 9 says,
The true light [Jesus], which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
Did you hear it? John says that we humans — whose very existence is because of Jesus the Light — when that light came into this world, we rejected him.
Humans have rejected the light that created them.
But how did we do that? Well, when Jesus came into this world (what’s called the Incarnation) — when the Son of God put on human flesh and came to us humans, when the true light came into the world— we did not believe him. That’s the rejection John is talking about — people did not believe in Jesus. People have not believed in the One who made them. Do you see the tragic irony in that?
And on a more personal level, this means that when we, or when you, don’t believe in Jesus, you are rejecting the very person who made you exist. That’s a tragic irony, and it’s played out over and over again in John’s Gospel.
And John has done something pretty nifty here in Chapter 1. He started Chapter 1 by talking about Jesus’s connection to physical life, and then just like that, we find ourselves talking about spiritual life. John has made a little jump from the physical to the spiritual because both are connected (and John plays with those connections all throughout the Gospel). He will often use physical reality as a way for us to understand spiritual reality (that’s why there’s a lot of metaphors), but the emphasis going forward is always spiritual reality. That’s always his point. Which is good, because that’s the second way Jesus is the light.
Second, Jesus is the light that gives spiritual life.
Now, we’re about to leave Chapter 1, but notice that the rejection of Jesus that John mentions is not a physical issue; it’s a spiritual issue. And that is crystal clear in Chapter 3. Turn over to John 3. Let me read to you in Chapter 3, starting in verse 16. This is Jesus speaking. He says:
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 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.
Now this passage is loaded, but notice right away that Jesus gives spiritual life. That is verse 16, one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life. Eternal life is spiritual life that starts now and never ends, and one day will be united with a new, resurrected, physical body. Believing in Jesus means Jesus gives you that. And Jesus even says that’s why he came into the world. He says that God sent his Son into the world to save the world, and everyone who believes in him is saved. Those who believe have eternal life. But whoever does not believe is condemned.
And here’s why. Verse 19 spells it out. “[T]his is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
So people are condemned because they don’t believe in Jesus, and Jesus tells us here that their unbelief has to do with darkness.
So “darkness” is mentioned again, like it was in Chapter 1, verse 5, but this time John is talking about spiritual darkness. People not believing in Jesus is explained as people being stuck in spiritual darkness, but here’s the thing: this darkness they’re stuck in — this spiritual darkness people are dying in — is a darkness that they love. And they love the darkness because their works are evil. That’s what Jesus says.
Which means for us, we need to figure out what we’re supposed to do about this darkness issue. And I think Jesus tells us in the second point. It’s the second half of verse 12 back over in Chapter 8. Not only does Jesus tell us who he is, but he — [now this is the second movement] — Jesus tell us . . .
#2. What It Means to Follow Him (verse 12b)
Jesus says in Chapter 8, verse 12, “I am the light of the world. [he’s the giver of all physical life and all spiritual life in the world. Now the second part…] Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
So let’s track with what is going on here: In Chapter 3 people don’t believe in Jesus because of spiritual darkness, and here in Chapter 8, to follow Jesus means that you don’t walk in spiritual darkness.
What Is Spiritual Darkness?
So what’s clear in both places is that spiritual darkness is incompatible with faith in Jesus. Spiritual darkness is what keeps people from believing in Jesus, and once you believe in Jesus then you’re not walking in spiritual darkness.
And I think that explains what this spiritual darkness actually is. The spiritual darkness that Jesus is talking about is unbelief itself. Spiritual darkness is spiritual blindness. It’s a blindness, an unbelief, that keeps people from seeing Jesus for who he is. They don’t recognize him. They don’t see his glory. They don’t understand his worth.
And if that’s where you are, then you can’t help but walk in that unbelief. If you don’t believe in Jesus then you live in that unbelief and that darkness. You will think in ways and do things that correspond to your not believing in Jesus.
“Will Have the Light of Life”
But to follow Jesus means the opposite of all of that. To follow Jesus means you do believe in him, you do see his glory, and you do understand his worth. And you live like it.
To follow Jesus, according to verse 12, is to have “the light of life.” Which means you have the light that is life. You have spiritual life. You have eternal life.
That, in short, is what it means to follow Jesus. That’s what Jesus says: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And it’s interesting here that when Jesus tells us what it means to follow him, he doesn’t tell us what we must do, but he tells us what we have. That’s where Jesus’s statement lands here in verse 12. And that’s where Christianity lands overall.
Which is one of the ways Christianity is different from every other religion in the world. Every other religion in the world, one way or another, ends up being about what you must do in this life in order to make it to heaven. Whether it’s getting to Paradise in Islam, or Nirvana in Buddhism, or Moksha in Hinduism, the emphasis is always what you must do now in order to make it there then. But Christianity, the gospel, is different.
Where every other religion tells you what you must do now in order to make it to heaven, Christianity tells you what you have now, because of Jesus, and that you will have it forever.
You can have the light of life. You can have the eternal life that Jesus came to give you. And you can have it by believing. That is what it means to not walk in darkness. To turn from the darkness that is unbelief, you just believe. You believe in Jesus. You see him for who he is. And that is how he is light. He makes you see. He gives you spiritual life.
That the Blind May See
John shows us that in Chapter 9. The story we see in Chapter 9 is the story that explains what’s going on here in Chapter 8. It’s a story about a blind man.
Jesus and his disciples pass by him one day, and Jesus says something to his disciples we’ve heard before. Jesus says in John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” [And then do you know what he does?]
Well, he spits on the ground, and he mixes his spit with the dirt to make mud, and he takes the mud and anoints the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go to the pool [avoid the diving board] and wash it off. [pool of Silo-am]
Then verse 7 says, “So he went and washed and came back seeing.” Jesus made him see. Jesus, the light of the world, made this physically blind man physically see.
And again, John is playing with the connections between the physical and the spiritual, because after Jesus heals this man, there is a huge dispute over it. The Pharisees were angry that Jesus did this on the Sabbath, and they kept trying to verify whether it really happened. They didn’t believe the man was really blind. They didn’t believe Jesus really made him see. And there is just a ruckus! And what John is showing us is how spiritually blind the Pharisees were. They were in spiritual darkness.
And a little later in Chapter 9 the story ends when Jesus goes and find this made who used to be blind, and Jesus says to him, verse 35: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 [Then] Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
Believe in Jesus
Jesus is the light of the world because he came to open our blind eyes and make us see. The one who gave us physical life came to give us spiritual life.
Which means, in this moment, you could be in the best of possible places at the best of possible times.
Because if you’re in spiritual darkness, the words of Jesus are spoken for you right now. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” And he calls us to believe in him. If you’re in darkness, Jesus is calling you to believe in him. He will be your light. Jesus will give you life. You can have the light of life by believing in him.
That is actually what this Table is about.
Those who eat this bread and drink this cup are those who have the light of life. It’s for those who believe in Jesus. So much of the Christian life for now is spiritual and unseen, but this Table is one place where the physical and spiritual come together. When take this physical bread and cup, we are communicating a spiritual reality. We are saying that Jesus has given us eternal life, even as we symbolize that in this physical sustenance.
So if you have that life, we welcome you to eat and drink with us.