“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12
(Note: This “I AM” statement of Jesus is the beginning of a longer section. We will use portions of that section in this study. I would encourage those of you with bibles at hand to take a moment and read 8:12-30.)
I recently hung a blanket over my bedroom window to block more of the morning light out. The blanket keeps the room nice and dark, making it easier to sleep until my alarm actually goes off. At night, though, when all the lights are finally off, this makes the room very dark. A couple nights ago I got up to use the bathroom in my dark room. I thought I could judge the proper angle and distance to the door without too much of a problem.
A sudden jolt and a sore forehead later, I realized that I was wrong and that next time I should probably just turn on the lamp by my bed.
If you’ve ever been in a cave with the lights all turned off, then you really know what absolute darkness is like. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face in that sort of darkness. Nor is there any way that somebody could escape without some sort of light to illumine the cave. You would grope around blindly until you died there.
Today, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Really he is again using that name for God—Yahweh—and thus claiming that he himself is True God also. When you hear the words that come next, put yourself in that dark cave with no light at all. Put yourself into that hopeless situation. That’s the sort of darkness that Jesus is talking about, though this isn’t physical darkness, but the spiritual darkness of the world because of sin. He says, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
When the Pharisees heard Jesus saying this, they knew full well that he was alluding to one of the Old Testament prophecies. A fellow named Isaiah had written this: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2). This chapter was one of the many in the Old Testament that predicted the coming of the Messiah, the Savior, who would deliver Israel.
Those Pharisees had no doubt about what Jesus was claiming. I’ve said this multiple times in this series so far, and I’ll say it again! Either Jesus is a liar, or he is God. It’s one or the other.
So these Pharisees, having heard Jesus’ claims, replied with this challenge: “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” These fellows certainly knew their Old Testament laws! In the book written by Moses that we call Deuteronomy, one of the laws requires that a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). They were really calling Jesus out just as any of us might upon hearing an extravagant claim. If one of my fishing buddies told me that he had caught a state-record bass, I would ask him for some sort of witness—perhaps a picture or another person who had been with him. That’s how the claim would be validated. The law makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Jesus counters their challenge with truth and wisdom. He says, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” Again, Jesus does not hide who he is. In saying this, Jesus is essentially saying, “That law about having two or three witnesses was made for sinful human beings who lie. But I am God, who does not lie. I know this, but you don’t!”
Even at this point, though, somebody could accuse Jesus of being a liar or of being crazy. Even I could speak the words and make the claim that Jesus does—it just wouldn’t be true.
Jesus decides to play ball, though. It’s a few verses later that he produces his second witness. “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father who sent me.”
As his second witness, Jesus calls in God the Father.
How do we know that Jesus is the light of the world? Because he says so, and because his Father says so. And Jesus wasn’t just calling his Father to be a witness as some sort of unspoken presence or force. When Jesus says that his other witness is the Father who sent him, Jesus is pointing back to a time when other witnesses actually heard the voice of the Father’s witness at the Jordan River. This was where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
At that river God the Father spoke from heaven in the presence of all those who had gathered. The Gospel writer Matthew records these words in 3:17, where the Father says, “This is my Son, who I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Jesus needs to do nothing to validate his claim to be the light of the world and the one who brings life for those in walking in the darkness and hopelessness of sin. He says so. The Father says so. What more validation does one need than that of God?
But Jesus, in his love for even his enemies, offers them one other proof. It is one which has not yet happened, but one which certainly will. In fact, those Pharisees themselves would be instrumental in causing this proof. It’s an odd proof that he gives, because it’s a proof that would look to so many like proof of the opposite of what he had claimed.
In verse 28, Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”
This is the proof that Jesus offers as the Light of the World to break through all the darkness of sin. Think on your lives. Look into the darkest corners of them. You know who you are just as I know who I am. We don’t have to read the news and mourn over the state of affairs in this world to find darkness—we find it just by looking within ourselves. With this darkness of sin the darkness of guilt lies hand-in-hand. Together they whisper in our ears that we don’t deserve to leave the darkness. They tell us that we are captive to the darkness. They tell us we will die in darkness.
But when Jesus is raised up onto his cross, he takes all of the darkness upon himself. When Jesus was crucified by the jealous, angry leaders of the Jews, the writers of the Bible record that darkness literally fell over the face of the earth for three hours. The darkness of sin and guilt assailed Jesus with its full force. He suffered the wrath of God the Father for it all, paying the awful price in our place.
Then, our completely selfless Savior replaces our darkness with light. Sin and guilt are no longer our present, but our past. We are no longer condemned, but are innocent. Our future is no longer hell, but heaven.
Jesus doesn’t end there, though. He who called himself the Light of the World does not keep that name only for himself! He gives his people, all believers, that name as well! In Matthew 5:14 Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.”
Because Jesus has given his light to me, I have a job to do. He wants me to bring all of that light and spread it to everybody else! Christians do this when they share the Jesus’ story with others. We tell how Jesus became the Light of the World for all people by dying on a cross to save them from the darkness of sin and guilt.
I have very simple homework for you this week: share that light with at least three people that you think do not know that light. Do this with both your actions and the direct words and messages that come out of your mouths.
The world is a cave. Jesus is the light. Share that light.
May the light of Christ Jesus illumine all of our hearts and minds this week.