Jesus, the Light of the World: Why is there so much chaos and confusion in the world today? Because the world is a kingdom of darkness. At the heart of this darkness is confusion over who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing through Jesus — especially the atoning work of the cross. However, we do not have to be powerless in the face of this darkness. Why? Because Jesus is the light of the world. Recorded on Nov 12, 2023, on John 8:12-30 by Pastor David Parks.
Finding Life in Jesus’ Name is a sermon series on the gospel according to John in the Bible. Have you ever felt unsatisfied with your life? Or, even when things were going well, something was still missing? Many people sense there must be something more. But what?? John, one of the closest friends of Jesus, believed that Jesus came into the world so that we may have life and have it to the full. Jesus turned John’s life upside down, and John claims this new life — marked by God’s power, presence, and purpose — is available for all who believe.
All year, we’re working our way through the gospel according to John in a series called Finding Life in Jesus’ Name. And today, we’re in John chapter 8, considering the second “I AM” statement of Jesus and what it means for Jesus to say, “I am the light of the world.” And if this is true, that Jesus is the light of the world, how important is this teaching for us today? In a world largely defined by darkness, by chaos and confusion, by dishonor and disrespect, by hatred and violence and wars, how much do we need the light of the world? I know that some days and weeks, I feel the darkness of the world more than others. It can be so discouraging, so disturbing. As followers of Jesus, how should we think about the darkness of the world? And is there anything we can do about it? This is exactly what Jesus addresses in our passage for today. If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to John 8:12.
John 8:12 (NIV), “12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As I said, this is the second of the seven metaphorical “I AM” statements of Jesus in John’s gospel. We already saw the statement, “I am the bread of life.” Now, here we have “I am the light of the world.” Next week, we’ll get a little more clarity on why these “I AM” statements reveal the divinity of Jesus. But for today, simply notice the result of believing that Jesus is the light of the world. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” What does that mean? What darkness is Jesus talking about, and what is the light of life? Remember the context, last week, Justun did an excellent job preaching on the interaction between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. But he pointed out that that particular passage may not have been original to John’s gospel. So whether our current passage comes on the heels of that story or if it really was intended to follow Jesus’ teaching in the temple courts during the final day of the Festival of Tabernacles earlier in chapter 7, John says that when Jesus spoke again to the people, he made this claim. Ok! Let’s continue and see if we can learn more about what he means.
John 8:13-20 (NIV), “13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” 19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.” Let’s pause here. So, Jesus makes this claim to be the light of the world. And whoever follows him will never walk in darkness. In response, the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day challenged him, and specifically the validity or literally the truth of his testimony. This is a formal version of the schoolyard reply of “Yeah? Says who?” Well, they’re not totally out of bounds here. According to Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV), “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Jesus replies, “It isn’t just me; I’m not speaking on my own. I stand with the Father who sent me.” Jesus has already been talking about God the Father in heaven as his own Father. And people have already realized that this was a claim that would put Jesus as equal with the Father. I believe the Pharisees try to push Jesus to make a similar claim here, in the temple courts full of people for the Festival, by asking, “Where is your father?” And though Jesus did not come into the world this first time to condemn the world but to save the world (we saw this back in chapter 3), he replies with a terrible judgment for those who were religious leaders. “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” If the Pharisees understood Jesus to be referring to God as his father and not a human father, then if I was one of the Pharisees, I would’ve been furious. What do you mean I don’t know God? How dare you, Jesus? Did you study under a famous rabbi? Did you get your advanced theological degree? How long have you led the people of Israel in worship and in religious/moral instruction? Like for two years? And you think we know so little? No wonder John comments that no one seized him. I’m sure several authorities wanted to at this point. And yet, they didn’t seize him, John says, because his hour had not yet come. The hour is a theme that runs throughout John’s gospel and refers to the hour of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. But here, before that hour would come, the Pharisees do not seize him, so he continues to teach in v. 21. And you might think that Jesus would consider walking back or at least softening some of these inflammatory statements since people were about to try and seize him, but that’s not Jesus. He’s not afraid of anyone.
John 8:21-27 (NIV), “21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” 22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” 23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” 25 “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” 27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” Let’s pause once more. So, instead of softening anything he was saying, Jesus says, “…if you do not believe that I am [he], you will indeed die in your sins.” Believing in Jesus in this context is probably what Jesus meant by following him as the light of the world. And the forgiveness of sins is probably what he meant by not walking in darkness but having the light of life. This is the explanation of Jesus’ claim: “I am the light of the world.” But this is an incredibly powerful and subversive claim of Jesus because of when and where he makes this claim. So, where does this take place? Jesus says all this in the middle of the temple courts near, as John says, where the offerings were made. In other words, in the heart of the place where heaven and earth came together. And the place where the sins of the people were supposed to be dealt with. One aspect that points to this function of the temple is when Jesus says all this, which was during the Festival of Tabernacles. Now, this festival comes only five days after the most holy day for Israel, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). According to Lev 16, everything that happened on the Day of Atonement, including the ceremonial washing of the high priest, the various sacrifices, and the confession of the sins of the people on the head of the scapegoat, which was then released into the wilderness, all of this was about atoning or paying for the sins of the people. Or maybe, more accurately, of dealing with the problem of sin in Israel so that God’s holy presence could stay with his people and not destroy them. But here, Jesus says that unless people believe in him and they follow him as the light of the world, they will die in their sins. Now, the people who heard this radical claim that day in the temple really didn’t understand. When Jesus says you need to believe that I am he, they respond, “Who are you?” When he says he’s going away, they think he might kill himself. And when Jesus says he who sent me is trustworthy, John says, “They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” Now, later, there were many who would understand and believe in him. Later, the Christians realized that the Day of Atonement wasn’t enough to deal with the problems of sin and death. But instead, the Day of Atonement pointed forward to the person and work of Jesus, the Lamb of God who died on the cross, to finally and fully atone for the sins of the world. But before the hour, before the cross, people just didn’t fully understand who Jesus was or what he came to do. However, there was still hope.
John 8:28-30 (NIV), “28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.” This is God’s word. Ok! So Jesus has another wild day of his teaching ministry. At certain points, it looks like he’s going to be arrested. At other points, it looks like people are going to try and make him their king. But Jesus has this poise, this confidence, and John tells us why here at the end of this passage. “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” For Jesus, the fact that his Father in heaven was with him was all he needed. He didn’t need to be perfectly understood or liked by everyone. He was secure. And some of us need to learn this security. At any rate, this passage closes with another reference to the cross of Christ. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” In other words, when I have been lifted up on the cross, then you’ll understand who I am and what I’m doing. However, this phrase might point past the cross (or perhaps through the cross) to the resurrection because the word for lifted up can also mean exalted. When you have exalted the Son of Man, then you’ll know who I am and what my message is all about. Maybe John means for us to think of both the cross and the empty tomb. But in response, John says that as Jesus spoke these words, many believed in him. What a wild passage, right? Well, all the way back in the prologue, John set us up for this teaching by writing, “4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—“ (Jn 1:4-12). And we see all that in this passage, don’t we? We do, except for the part about becoming children of God, but we’ll get to that next week. But what does this passage mean for us? How do we apply this to our lives today?
Now, I could end with a meditation on the idea of Jesus being the light of the world. And the Bible is full of references to light: that God is light or that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, or God’s promise that when the Messiah would come, he would be a “light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” There’s a lot of light in the Scriptures. But in a few weeks, with the story of Jesus healing the blind man, we’ll come back to this theme of seeing with spiritual sight Jesus as the light of the world. John slowly developed this theme of Jesus being the light and what that means in this middle section of his gospel. So, instead, today, I’d like to focus more on the darkness than the light. And I’d like to point out the nature of the darkness that we see here in this passage. Because once we understand this properly, I think we’ll see that what John is describing and what Jesus was facing that day so many years ago is the exact same source of the darkness that pervades our world today. The biblical picture of our world is not just that we have a little problem of darkness here and there. In Col 1, the Apostle Paul refers to our world today as a whole dominion/kingdom of darkness as opposed to the kingdom of the beloved Son of God. This dominion of darkness is influenced by the lies of the devil and is marked by chaos and confusion and, ultimately, destruction and death. But confusion about what exactly? I don’t think it takes much introspection to see that people are confused about all manner of things in the world today. How are we supposed to live? How should we spend our money? How do we raise our kids? Who should be in authority, and how should they govern? And on and on. But at a deeper level, the foundation or the source of all this other confusion is the confusion that the people in the temple, including the religious leaders, display in this passage. They do not understand or believe in who Jesus is, who God the Father in heaven is, or what God is doing in the world. Look at the questions of the people in this passage: Why should we believe your testimony, Jesus? Where is your father? Are you going to kill yourself? Who are you? What John is arguing here is that the darkness of this world, and by extension, the source of all the darkness in the world, is failing to believe in Jesus, who fully reveals who God is, what he has done, and what he has promised to do — a work that culminates in his death and resurrection which has forever broken the power of sin and death. This darkness, of failing to know or accept the revelation of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ, this is the source of all the other chaos and confusion of this dark world. But praise God. Jesus has come! And he is the light of the world! So what do we, as followers of Jesus, do in response to the great darkness all around us? Consider the ministry of Jesus: He came not only to teach, but he came to feed the hungry and free those who were enslaved and heal those who were sick. But he didn’t come only to meet physical and emotional needs. He came also with a message. He came also to proclaim the good news that in him and through him, God the Father was accomplishing a rescue mission. And so it is by faith in Jesus that men and women are freed from the dominion of darkness and delivered into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of Jesus. But how? How did he accomplish this mission? It was on the cross, when darkness fell over the land, that Jesus bore our darkness. It was on that day that Jesus fulfilled everything that the Day of Atonement was pointing towards. And what was the result? That we might become children of the light. So may we be people who shine a light into the dark places of this city and this world, working to stop or reverse the effects of the darkness. And may we be people who never tire of telling people this good news of a king who is indeed the light of the world. Let us pray.