When you are sworn in as a witness to give some kind of testimony it is familiar to be asked, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” The truth is essential to any system of justice. I believe truth is also the foundation to any viable faith. Contrary to what some people think, faith is not wishful thinking, it is a settled conviction based on solid truth that becomes the driving force of our lives.
During this Christmas season it is our goal to find the truth about Jesus. We want to answer a specific question: “Who is this Jesus we celebrate?” To answer this question we are turning to the testimony of Jesus Himself. Our hope is not only enrich our Christmas celebration, but that it will also radically change our lives.
Our text this morning is one verse: John 8:12,
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
In verse 20 we are told that Jesus was speaking in the temple near the place where the offerings were placed. This was a heavily trafficked area as people sought to pay their tithes and offerings to the Lord. From chapter 7 we learn that it might have been the time of the Feast of Tabernacles which was a yearly celebration at the end of harvest to remind the people of God’s provision for them in the time of the wilderness. During that feast in Jesus’ day there were two grand ceremonies. One involved water. The other was called the illumination of the temple. Four giant torches would be set up that contained huge bowls of oil. The light from the torches would illumine the whole temple and much of Jerusalem. During this time the people celebrated.
It may very well have another of those “teachable moments” as Jesus took this celebration of the Lights and used it to help the people understand who He was. As a lawyer might carefully examine the sworn testimony of a witness, we likewise want to examine this testimony of Jesus.
THE CLAIM OF JESUS
You may not readily see the theological significance of what Jesus was saying. Throughout the Bible “light” is used to symbolize God
The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1)
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)
When Paul met Christ he encountered a Great Light (Acts 9:3)
1 John 1:5 says, “God is Light in Him there’s no darkness at all.”
In the context of the feast of Tabernacles this was even more evident. The huge torches represented what’s called the “Shekinah” glory of God. That phrase: “Shekinah Glory” was a term used to describe a physical manifestation of the presence of God. For example, the pillar of fire in the time of the Exodus was the Shekinah Glory of God. The Cloud on top of Mount Sinai was the Shekinah Glory. When Jesus identified himself as the Light of the World he was identifying Himself with this Shekinah Glory of God. Jesus was claiming deity (or god-ness) for Himself.
In addition to this profound theological claim, the metaphor of Light helps us see some of the practical greatness of Christ. Think about how aptly light describes Christ.
Light alerts us to dangers. When a child is afraid at night because of sounds or perceived movement in their bedroom, what do you do? You turn on the light! The light enables us to see what the darkness keeps hidden. The same thing happens when you get up at night in a place that is dark and unfamiliar. Your shins sometimes take a beating until you turn on the light. Jesus is light in the sense that He helps us to see the truth about ourselves. He reveals the need we have for a Redeemer.
Light enables us to see beauty. I vividly remember when our college choir was on tour in Colorado. We sang at a church and when we left the church with our host, it was dark. We slept well and when we woke early in the more we were stunned by the scenery around us. The mountains surrounded us in the valley and we were stunned that we did not realize what surrounded us while we were in the dark. Jesus helps us to see, understand, and appreciate God. He reveals to us the beauty of God’s love.
Light denotes understanding. In a similar vein, when someone comes to understand a truth we say “a light went on” or we might say they have been enlightened. Jesus helps us to understand the things of God and the way to eternal life.
Light is necessary for Life and Growth You might remember back in the days when you were in biology class when you learned that light is essential to the process of photosynthesis. The sun gives plants energy so they can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. As a result, you and I can breathe.
At this time of the year we often dear about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a condition that leads to symptoms of depression because of diminished daylight due to gloomy conditions and shorter days. These people are given a form of light therapy.
In the same way, the Light, who is Jesus Christ, is required for us to live the abundant and eternal life. He is the key to our emotional, spiritual and even our physical health. Apart from Christ, we are incomplete; we’re missing something vital.
THE PROMISE TO THOSE WHO FOLLOW
Jesus calls us to follow His Light. To those who do so, He gives us some great promises.
The Condition: We must follow
Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.“ The word “follow” in the Greek is a word rich in meaning. It is used in at least five different but connected ways.
- It is used of a soldier who follows his commanding officer. The soldier follows commander into battle and follows his orders.
- It is used of a slave accompanying his master. The slave goes where the Master goes and is ever ready to do what his Master commands him to do.
- It is used in the sense of accepting (or applying) the wisdom of a wise counselor.
- It is used of giving obedience to the laws of a city or state.
- And it is used of one who understands a teacher’s line of argument. We might say, “I follow what you are saying.”
From this we learn that following Christ is not about Church attendance, having a particular experience or learning certain facts. Following Jesus involves a commitment to trust and follow Christ. It is personal, deep, and continual. In the Book of Ezekiel it is described as having an “undivided heart with a new Spirit in us” [Ezekiel 11:19] It is a passion for God and an orientation of life.
Jesus says the person who dares to follow Him will experience two benefits.
They will Escape from the Darkness
Throughout the Bible darkness represents evil. The people who are “walking in darkness” are those who are spiritually dead. People who have always walked in darkness don’t have any idea about the wonders of light. This is why people feel so self-righteous in their dismissal of the truth . . . they have never known anything different than darkness. They are like a blind person trying to describe the color blue. They have no point of reference.
When Jesus says true followers will never walk in darkness He is not saying that we will never sin or that we will never have difficulty. It means we will no longer walk in the way of the world. Instead of wandering aimlessly, we will now have direction. When we follow Christ we are given God’s Spirit. The Light of God’s Spirit will be with us no matter how dark the circumstances of life.
So why doesn’t everyone run to the Light? Jesus said,
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” [John 3:19-20]
Will have the Light
Jesus also promises that when we turn to Him we will HAVE the light of life. We will see our own sin and we will embrace God’s willingness to forgive. We will see the true nature of Christ and we will follow Him. We will come to understand God’s Word and it will become our guidebook for life.
Think about the contrast this way: If you know anything about a computer you know that the computer requires an “operating system” to run all our programs. The most popular operating system is Microsoft Windows. If your operating system is infected by a virus (a malicious program that attacks the operating system) everything goes haywire. Programs don’t function, files are lost, and life becomes very frustrating. For your computer to work correctly again, the virus has to be removed.
Before we came to Jesus we were functioning with a faulty operating system. Our lives were infected by a virus called sin. When we put our trust in Christ and became one of His followers, the virus was removed from our system. The person walking in the Light is the one who is virus free and is able to operate the way God designed us to live.
Become a Light
There is one more effect that comes from following the Light, in Matthew 5, Jesus said,
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
The transformation from darkness to light is so complete that we not only experience and benefit from the Light, we actually become light in a dark and dreary world. If you will, the Shekinah Glory of God shines in us and through us.
Believers become lights that help to banish the darkness from the world. I love the story about the boy in the old days who watched as a lamplighter came down the street and lit the street lamps. The boy said to his parents, “Look there is someone poking holes in the darkness”. This is a grand description of the one who walks in the light.
We are not light in the same way that Jesus is. We don’t actually become God anymore than the moon actually turns into a star at night. However, like the moon, we do reflect the light of Christ that shines in us so that others see it as well.
We have hospitals, charities and orphan homes because the light of Jesus shines through us. The wonderful movie, “Amazing Grace” tells the story of William Wilberforce who, as a result of His relationship with Christ, fought to end the brutality of slavery in England. Countless organizations that exist to minister to others have come as a result of a life-changing encounter with Christ. They function as light in the darkness.
We are left with two questions: First, since the light has come into the world, how have you responded to it? Do you resist the light because you prefer the darkness? Are you afraid of the light because you don’t want your sin to be exposed? Or, will you embrace the Light and follow Him?
Jesus invites you to experience the warmth, comfort and direction of His love. It starts by seeing the truth of your own rebellion and sin. Most of us have spent our lives trying to keep hidden what we do in the darkness. However, when we truly come to Christ, that darkness is exposed.
However, if you are willing to repent and turn from your sin; if you are willing to turn to Jesus for forgiveness and new life; the darkness can be transformed. Are you willing to fully follow the One who is the Light? If so, I invite you to begin that journey today. In the quiet of this place I encourage you to open your heart and life to the One who is God and became man. Confess your sin honestly, seek His forgiveness, and allow His Spirit to take up residence in your life. Ask God to “turn on the light” of your soul.
Second, for those who have done this, the question is: are you letting the light of Christ shine through you? Please understand that many (most?) of the people you encounter every day are walking in darkness. They are lost and headed for trouble. Some of them are so deep in the blackness that they have given up.
In a pitch dark room one candle (though not having much light in and of itself) can lead many in the right direction. One flashlight on a camping trip is still enough to guide a group through a dangerous path. You may not feel like you are a very bright light but in a dark world people need you to shine.
I encourage you to let your light shine this Christmas,
- Take every opportunity to wish people a “Merry Christmas” and if possible, share parts of the Christmas story with them.
- Give gifts that point people to the Light: a Christian CD, a great Christian book, a new Bible, a game that points to Christ.
- Look for ways to express love in tangible ways: let someone go before you in line, help someone with their packages, give a simple gift to someone who is often overlooked, bake cookies for someone in the Nursing home (make sure they can eat them), invite someone to share in your family celebration,
- Continue to pray for family and friends who do not know Christ. Be ready when an opportunity comes to share the truth of the Gospel.
- Passionately pursue consistency in your life so that your light shines brightly and consistently.
- Write a note of encouragement to someone who struggles.
Jesus makes a bold statement: he is THE light. If you want to see the best Christmas Lights this Christmas season you don’t have to drive anywhere . . . you simply need to open your Bible and read about Jesus, the Light of the World.