Please turn with me in your Bible to John chapter 8. John chapter 8; the passage is on page 894 in the church Bible in front of you.
Before we read, something to consider. Many of you know this; I talk about this a lot. My dad is a football coach. And my favorite team, my all-time favorite team that he coached was the 1995 Arkansas Razorbacks. You remember this team? I’m just joking; nobody remembers this team! But my dad, he was the Offensive Coordinator, and the quarterback was Barry Lunney Jr. The running back was Madre Hill. The star receiver was J. J. Meadors. And they were the stuff. I mean, they were so good. They were so much fun to watch. But from the time that Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991 – so you’re getting a little history lesson today – from the time that Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991, they really had no success. And there was one team that really dominated the division and that, of course, was Alabama, coached by Gene Stallings, just a few years removed from the National Championship. And so Arkansas had this huge game in 1995 at Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, really to win the SEC West. What a great start to the sermon, you’re thinking!
In 1995, I was twelve years old, I was home watching the game; I was so into it. I was so into it. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. I was so into it that I had to remove myself. I could not watch! And so as the game got close in the second half, I was outside. I don’t remember if I was riding my bike or playing basketball, but we ended up winning. We won the game in the last minute. And I still remember my mom and my brother running outside so excited saying, “We won! We did it! We beat Bama!” And it was such good news. But I remember having – it was such good news – but I remember having this defensive posture of, “No, we didn’t. You’re messing with me. No, we didn’t!” And it was this impulse of, “If I even start going down that road of feeling that that could be true and that gets taken away from me, then I’m never going to recover as a fan, and so I’m just going to feel that it’s not true. But it was true and we did win and we won the SEC West and we went to the SEC Championship where we got smoked by Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators, but that’s another sermon. Right? That was my favorite year of watching my dad coach.
We are entering into what is for many people the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But that’s not true for everyone. Please hear me, that is not true for everyone. And even if you don’t know that deeply and personally, you can look around and you can see a lot of darkness. You can be overwhelmed by the darkness. Maybe this morning you’re overwhelmed by the darkness. There’s darkness in nearly every category of God’s good world outside of you. Maybe the friend that’s walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Or the family member who’s sick and you can’t take it away; there’s nothing to do. Maybe the loved one that stumbles through an addiction and there's no flow chart. You don't know what to do. There is darkness all around us and you can't keep out all the darkness. And even as we get together with family and friends in the coming days, there's loss and there's loneliness. There are longings for more. There's sickness and sadness and sorrow. There are hurts and hospital visits and treatments and tears. And all of that, all of that is at the Thanksgiving table. We live in a world that's dark and we long for light to break through. We long for light to pierce our darkness. There is darkness all around us.
But if we see ourselves clearly, if we see ourselves clearly, we know that there is also darkness deep down inside of us. I am fractured. I am lost. I am limping. I am ruined by the darkness of this world, yes, but the darkness within my own soul. And so when you start bumping into this language, the language of the Bible, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,” when you hear, “Christ is the light that pierces our darkness,” there can be a real defensive posture – at least there is for me – there’s a defensive posture of, “No way! There is no way. There is too much darkness.” And it’s that same self-protective impulse. And what God promises is not just a naïve optimism. It’s an acknowledgment that the darkness is there and the darkness can be deep, but that the light shines in the darkness. And so let’s pray before we read and consider God’s Word. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Spirit of Christ, You are the true Teacher, and so prevent this from merely being words from one person to another. Would You make these living words? I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable to You, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
John chapter 8, verse 12. This is God’s Word:
“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.’”
We’re going to see, as we unpack this together, the light of Christ coming into our darkness and we’re going to consider three things this morning – the context. So first, the context, second, the claim, and then third, the call of Jesus’ statement here, “I am the light of the world.” So the context and the claim and the call of Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world.”
And so first, the context. We’re looking at the book of the Bible where Jesus makes the most claims about who He is and we’re looking at one of the seven, “I Am,” statements in the gospel of John. And these are all couched in a context, they all happen at an event, and the event is necessary to unpack to understand what Jesus is talking about. And so big context question – "Where is Jesus?" If you look back at chapter 7 verse 2, Jesus, we read, is at the Feast of Booths, or sometimes it's called the Feast of Tabernacles. If that doesn't register on your radar, that's not surprising. There were three feasts, there were three obligatory feasts that you've got to go to if you're a Jewish male who is going to be observant. There was the Feast of Passover, which celebrates the exodus when God delivers His people out of Egypt. There was the Feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments. And there was the Feast of Booths, which celebrates God's provision for Israel in the wilderness.
The Feast of Booths
And so this is one of the three great feasts. Many say this was the most popular one. In fact, one commentator said, “Jerusalem would often quadruple in size during the Feast of Booths.” And so if you were a Jew, this was your favorite feast. I mean maybe it's not everybody's favorite like we have people today who say, "Thanksgiving's the best holiday! And we all love Thanksgiving! You can't talk bad about Thanksgiving this week!" "But no it’s not, everyone knows Christmas is the best holiday!” Right? There are maybe people here who are the same way. “The Feast of Pentecost is great!” “Well, yes, but the Feast of Booths is the best festival, and here’s why.” This was a beloved celebration. The ancient Jewish records say – I love this – “If you have not seen Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths, you’ve not seen joy. If you’ve not seen Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths, you’ve not seen joy.” And it’s this massive celebration of remembering. It’s this packed house for a week. Jerusalem would quadruple in size. So it’s the largest of the three festivals and it’s this family time. It’s at the end of the harvest and so the work is done. And the children, I’m sure, would love it, because you stay in booths, or tents, forts, for a week! And you’re remembering what it was like in the wilderness when they didn’t have a home and they were following God. And God led them by this cloud by day and this fire, this light by night. And so they’re remembering how God shined light into their darkness and what God did for their forefathers. It was a hugely joyous occasion.
And there was a tradition that grew up in the Jewish culture that during the Feast of Booths there were four candles that were set up in the temple of Jerusalem. And it was said, these candles were seventy-five feet high, and it was said that the city got so bright because the temple was built on the highest point in the city and so from the highest point in the city you have these four, seventy-five feet high candles that the priests would light. And so it became so bright that it lit up the entire city. And there would be thousands and thousands of people rejoicing and remembering what God had done.
You might remember in the movie, Sandlot, as these boys are playing baseball at the time on the sandlot field, there's only one night a year that they can play at night, and it's the Fourth of July because the fireworks would light up the sky. And so the boys are overwhelmed with joy because they get to play baseball under the stars. And maybe there’s something like that happening here. One historian said, “There wasn’t a courtyard in Jerusalem that wasn’t lit by the light of one of these torches.” So this is the context – the memory of how God led them; of how He brought light into their darkness. That memory, it was very vivid for them. That’s the context.
Second, the claim of Christ. For John, light, this word “light” is a buzzword. If you read the gospel of John, you’re going to bump into words like “fullness” and “life” and “light” over and over and over again. John loved those words. But you find this imagery of light not just in John’s gospel; you find this all over the Bible. And so in the Psalms, God’s Word is frequently said to “give light,” to give illumination, to give wisdom, to help us when we don’t know where to go in our darkness. And so Psalm 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and” – what? “A light unto my path.” Psalm 36:9, “In your light, we see light.” Furthermore, when we get to Christmas and we sing that part from Handel’s, Messiah, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder.” It’s a direct quote from Isaiah chapter 9. Right before that, in Isaiah 9, God says this. “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined.” And then, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder.”
God is Light
Light is associated with God so much, it’s associated with His very being. We’re told in Scripture a few different things. “God is love” – 1 John 4:8. “God is a Spirit” – John 4:24. “God is a consuming fire” – Hebrews 12:29. But John tells us in 1 John 1:5 that God is light. “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” In His very nature, He is light. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6, “God dwells in unapproachable light.” James 1:17 gives Him the title that He is the “Father of lights.” And I think because you bump into this light imagery all over the place, I think it’s important, I think we’ve got to figure out what exactly is Jesus claiming here. What’s He claiming here? When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” He is saying, “I am God.” He says it again – verse 24, 28, and 58. He says, “I am,” He’s saying, “I am what God revealed Himself to be to Moses at the burning bush. I am God.”
The Light Has Come into the Darkness
And so I think there are at least two things going on here for us. And the first is this. Christ, the light, has come to be with us in the darkness. Christ, the light, has come to be with us in the darkness. I want you to think about what the Feast of Booths would mean to a Jewish heart. The crops are in, you’re done with work, you’re with your family, people you love, you’re resting together, and there is this light, this huge light in the darkness. You’re singing into the night and your heart is celebrating that God is once again meeting us in our darkness and taking care of us. That’s what you’re celebrating. And then Jesus says these words in verse 12, “I am the light of the world.” And so Jesus, here, is claiming that He has come into the darkness to be with us. Immanuel – God with us. There’s a beautiful with-ness to Christ’s claim here.
And that is important for our hearts to hear, isn’t it, because here’s the picture that a lot of us live with. World War II historians tell us that at the very height of WWII, when the German air force, the Luftwaffe, was bombing European allied cities, that in these cities after sundown, every light in every home was ordered to be extinguished. Every light in every home. You couldn’t turn on a lightbulb; you couldn’t lite a candle. You couldn’t strike a match. Every light in every home. Because the darkness was so profound over the countryside, that even the slightest flicker from miles away could give away your city’s position to a bomber overhead. That’s how dark it was.
And that’s the picture that some of us live with. Isn’t it? The world is a dark place. The darkness around us can be deep. We long for light to break through the darkness. We long for light to pierce our darkness. We can’t keep all the darkness out. We dream of a day when the darkness is gone. And so maybe this is just for one or two of you this morning, but I want to say this. No matter how deep the darkness, no matter how deep the darkness, the light shines in the darkness. No matter how deep the darkness gets, the light shines in the darkness. And for some of you, the light might just barely be on the horizon. You can barely see it. But it’s there. And that means that you’re not alone. I want you to think about the Israelites in the wilderness all those years ago. The light means you’re not abandoned to the darkness. You’re not alone.
Which means that you’re not alone to struggle with a disease that’s sucking the life out of you and out of the people that we love. Which means that you’re not alone if your family is hanging together by a thread this Thanksgiving. You’re not abandoned to the darkness. This means that infertility, it means that another failed addiction recovery plan, it means that another scary doctor’s visit, you may feel and you probably will feel alone at times, you will feel abandoned to the darkness, but you’re not alone.
Some of you may remember a few years ago when the family of Steven Curtis Chapman experienced a nightmare and there was the tragic death of one of the Christian musician's children, when Steven Curtis Chapman's teenage son, Will Franklin, accidentally ran over his sister and killed her in their driveway. And months later, as Steven Curtis Chapman was recounting the events in an interview, he said that as they were quickly pulling out to take their daughter to the hospital, that he remembers seeing his son in the front yard and he was all alone. And he said that he remembered that he said something to him but he couldn't remember what. But one of the other children remembered. And they said, as they were pulling out, Steven Curtis Chapman rolled down his window and he yelled at his son, "Will Franklin, your father loves you! Will Franklin, your father loves you!" That provides for us a picture, doesn't it, that in your darkest and deepest and most desperate moment you're not alone. You're not abandoned to the darkness; the light shines in the darkness. Christ has come to be with us in the darkness. That's the first thing.
The Light Delivers Us From Darkness
The second thing that Jesus is claiming is this. That He has come not only to be with us in the darkness – that’s good news! It’s good news that Christ meets us in the darkness, but it wouldn’t be good news if Christ only meets us in the darkness. The second thing is that Christ pierces through our darkness, our natural darkness, the deep darkness in our hearts, to deliver us out of the darkness. Are you aware, this morning, are you aware of the darkness in your soul? I mean there’s evidence of darkness all around us; we’ve unpacked that. But are you aware of the darkness in your own soul? Our natural condition is to walk in darkness and we cannot self-discipline our way out. We cannot Sunday School attendance our way out. We cannot volunteer our way out. Our natural condition is to walk in the darkness. We love the darkness. But John chapter 1, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” We love to spend money on that which isn’t bread, but John chapter 6, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” We love going astray, but Jesus says in John chapter 10, “I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep.” Our natural condition is to walk in darkness, but Jesus is the one who delivers people from the darkness. 2 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 6, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We see this in the life of Saul on the Damascus Road. He was in darkness. But what happens when he meets Jesus? He saw a light so unbearable that it blinded him because Christ, the light, delivered him from darkness. He is the one who has called you out of your darkness and into His marvelous light.
But there remains a kind of contradiction. There remains a kind of contradiction in what I am. I can see in the past the darkness that I was enslaved to, but I still see the remnant of that darkness in the sinful nature that’s still there. There are dark corners and dark recesses and dark places in my heart. I still love the darkness. I struggle with the light because I love the darkness. What do you do with that? I want you to look at the promise in the second part of verse 12, this beautiful promise that Jesus provides. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In other words, the kind of change, the kind of transformation, the kind of newness that Jesus is promising, that Jesus as the light of the world will bring to you, Christian, is the kind that says, “You are not destined to walk in darkness.” And I want that to come, as it should, as good news to you. You are not destined to walk in darkness.
I don’t know where you are this morning. I don’t know what you’re struggling with. I don’t know what darkness you find yourself in. It may be this morning that the darkness is heavy and there are addictions and affections that are dark and there are patterns and priorities that are dark and there are longings and there are behaviors that are dark. And maybe this morning you feel like they will never, they’ll never go away. “They will be with me always and forever.” That you cannot get away from the darkness. Here’s the promise. If you belong to Jesus, if He has called you out of your darkness and into His marvelous light, that the darkness will not win. You’re not destined to walk in darkness. If you belong to Jesus, nothing can take away the light of Christ. Nothing can take it away. If you have Christ, you have the light of Christ, and it cannot be taken away from you. The evil one cannot take it away. He cannot take you from Christ and he cannot take Christ from you. And no matter how much he rages against you in the temptations that he brings, in the trials that he brings, in the darkness that he brings into your life, no matter how much he rages against you, he cannot take away the light of Christ. Nothing can. Not tribulation, not distress, not persecution; nothing. “For I am sure that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You are not destined to walk in darkness. The darkness will not win. That’s the claim of Jesus. Christ, the light, meets us in the darkness, but He also delivers us out of the darkness.
And third, and last, and very briefly is this – the call of Jesus. This is your high calling, believer in Jesus. You are to bear witness about the light. Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5 – He’s talking to His followers – He says, “You are the light of the world.” He says in John chapter 12, “You are sons and daughters of light.” Paul says, Ephesians 5:8, “You are light in the Lord.” The apostle John says in John 1, “You are not the light, you are not the light, but you bear witness about the light.” And so there’s darkness around us, there’s darkness within us, the darkness can be very deep, but we reflect, we reflect His light as children of light. And so may this season, may this holiday season be a season where the light of Christ – not your light – where the light of Christ shines forth through you. Where you can say, “I’m not the light.” Where you can show people in an appropriate way the darkness. Where you can show people in an appropriate way the cracks and the places where you have been cut open. That you can say, “I am not the light, but I bear witness about the light. I am broken, but here is how God is bringing light into my life. And if He can do that in the mess that is me, the darkness that is me and my life, then He can do that for you and into whatever deep darkness is in your life.”
Let me close with this. George Bernanos wrote a novel about a young minister and the young minister goes to care for a woman who has been a difficult parishioner. But this woman is dying and this young minister is going to visit her and he’s filled with coldness about this pastoral call. And he’s going through the motions. He’s trying to give her peace and he’s going through the motions. But to his surprise, the woman receives that peace and immediately her countenance changes. And before his eyes, the young minister is overwhelmed as he watches this woman receive more peace than he himself has. And these are the words on his lips. He says, “Oh miracle, oh miracle! Thus to be able to give what we ourselves do not possess – the sweet miracle of empty hands.”
You see, there’s not a thing that we possess that God needs, but He uses our empty hands, He uses our empty hands to bring His light. This is a calling that you can fulfill, not just in spite of your failures, not just in spite of your darkness and the places where you have been cut open and the cracks, not just in spite of those things. This is a calling that you can fulfill, perhaps, precisely because of those things. And that is the best place to be. “Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” Amen. Let’s pray together.
Father in heaven, we pray that You would take these words and make them a balm to those who are hurting and use them to bring healing and change. Father, in and of ourselves, we hide from Your light and we love darkness. But the darkness is not dark to You, and so shine Your light into this room, into our hearts, by Your Word. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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