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“I AM the Light of the World”

 

Isaiah 9:1-7; John 1:1-9; 8:12 (text)

December 6, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Congregation of Christ: Why is Christmas traditionally a season of lights? Many want to outdo one another in lighting up their homes, malls and other buildings with multi-colored lights and decorations. We’re all amazed at the creativity of those who surround their homes with all kinds of lighted decorations. Most people in the northern hemisphere say that it’s because they want to brighten long, dark winter nights. But even in tropical countries where it is not so dark in winter, the beauty of Christmas is that it’s a season of lights.

Bethlehem_Christmas_Star_Right_LandscapeWhat about us Christians? Surely, the universal answer is that it symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the World. Right at the beginning of the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

Today, our theme is: “I AM the Light of the World” under three headings: (1) The World Walking in Darkness; (2) The Light of the World; and (3) Those Who Have the Light of Life.

The World Walking in Darkness

The setting of John Chapter 8 goes back to Chapter 7, where Jesus goes back to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Booths, also called the Feast of Tabernacles. In Leviticus 23, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate this annual feast so the Israelites would remember God’s merciful care for them during their wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan when they lived in booths or tents. During the time of the feast, each Israelite family were commanded to construct a tent and live in it for a week (Lev 23:42–43). These booths were small and simple tents made of palm and other branches decorated with different kinds of fruits that were found in desert oases and in the land of Canaan (Lev 23:40).

Like the other six Feasts of Israel, by the time of Christ, the Feast of Booths had already taken on additional rituals. The first addition is the “Drawing of Water,” in which the Jews remembered God who provided water in the desert when they were thirsty. The priest, garbed in a beautiful robe and carrying a golden pitcher, would lead a joyful procession from the Temple to the pool of Siloam from where he drew water. The priest would then lead this great procession back to the Temple, where he would pour the water into the basin near the altar.

A second addition that was not in Leviticus 23 was the temple-lighting ceremony, in which four giant golden candlesticks, 75 feet high, were lighted in the temple courtyard by the priests. The lights were so great that the whole city was lighted. Again, Jesus took this occasion to teach the people, “I AM the light of the world,” not just the light for the city. Why did he come to be the light of the world? Because the world was in deep darkness.

The apostle John declares that Jesus is “the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9). The Old Testament prophets referred to him also as the One who will give light to a dark world: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa 9:2); and, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples” (Isa 60:1-3).

Darkness and Light: these are also the same metaphors that Paul uses to describe the state of believers before and after salvation. He describes unbelievers as those who “are darkened in their understanding” of God (Eph 4:18; 5:8), and their deeds as “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph 5:11). This world since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden till today is under the evil, demonic powers which rule over “this present darkness” (Eph 6:12).

Psalm 107:10-14 illustrate the plight of unrepentant sinners. Like those in death row today, they are in chains in dark, empty dungeons, in the shadow of death, “sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons.” Why? Because “they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High” (verses 10-11). In their imprisonment with hard labor, they found themselves helpless in their bondage and sufferings. Those of us who lived ungodly and wayward lives of rebellion in the past know this condition too well.

But there is always hope. The Holy Spirit can renew even the most hardened hearts of sinners. No heart is hard enough to resist the work of the Spirit of God in softening it and giving it new life. Then the psalmist says these sinners “cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart” (verses 13-14).

Are you this sinner in bondage to sin and rebellion against God, suffering in your sin, bowed down, helpless, and in the dark shadow of death? Know that Christ, the Sunrise who came into the world, will deliver you from your dark life of sin and distress. Paul encourages us to leave the dark, godless world of sin around us, saying, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” (Rom 13:12-14). These are the works of people in darkness, not those who are in the light. If you desire to be delivered from these works of darkness, come to Christ in repentance of your sins and faith along in him. He is the only One who is able to help you in your time of distress. He will take you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

This is why Jesus warns that on the last day, all who reject him as Savior and Lord will be cast into “outer darkness,” a picture of hell, where the light of God and Christ will not shine. After they had lived their life in darkness, they will live for eternity in darkness. The darkness in the land for three hours as Jesus was dying on the cross was symbolic of God’s wrath being poured out on the sin of his people. But on resurrection morning, light once again dawned on his people, God assuring them that Christ has also given them the light of life.

The Light of the World

But Luke tells us that the Messiah who is the Light of the World did already come when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, when Simeon the priest and Zechariah, John the Baptizer’s father, prophesied about the infant Son of God (Lk 1:79; 2:32).

So when Jesus again cried out a little later during the Feast, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12),” he was proclaiming that he was the fulfillment of this lighting ceremony.1When Jesus declared, “I AM the light of the world,” it was not during Hanukkah (Festival of Lights), but during the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). Still, Jesus used this occasion to teach that he is the Living Water (John 7:37) and the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Dedication to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C. after Judas Maccabeus successfully expelled the Seleucids from Jerusalem. The Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple by slaughtering a pig and erecting a statue of Zeus in the Temple.

Although Jesus knew that the Feast of Dedication was not God-appointed, he attended the ceremony to teach the Jews about himself. He is the One Whom the Father in heaven “dedicated” (hegiadzen “consecrated” or made holy in John 10:36) to be sent into the world. And he is the Good Shepherd (John 10:26-28), not the Maccabean leaders of the Jews. Because of these teachings, the Jews likened him to Antiochus who blasphemed the Temple (John 10:33). He was the true light-bearing Messiah who would bring to the people the light of life. Paul confirms this, “For God, who said, ’Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

Two texts from Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah must have been the bases of this festival of lights, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (Is 42:6); “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is 9:2).

The Feast of Tabernacles foreshadowed the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. When he came, he was fulfilling God’s covenant promise to dwell or “tent” with his people. Then he offered himself as God’s atoning sacrifice for his people, and then began gathering God’s great harvest of souls from all the nations. All those who would drink of him as the Living Water will never thirst again. And as the Light of the World, he illumines the hearts of all his people so they too would be as a light to all who walk in darkness. All of these things that Christ accomplished would be occasion for rejoicing and feasting before God.

After John the Baptizer was born, his father Zechariah prophesied that John will be a forerunner of the coming Messiah, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). Here, Zechariah uses several metaphors which refer to the Messiah as the Light. The word “sunrise” is also translated sometimes as “rising sun,” “dayspring” or “dawn.” Jesus is this Sun, Dayspring, or Light.

Even the false prophet Balaam in the Book of Numbers saw from afar this Light whom the prophets of old spoke about, “a star shall come out of Jacob” (Num 24:17). Malachi prophesied, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2). All the way to the last chapter of Scripture, Christ is called “the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16). The words of the great Christmas hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” are based on the Scripture texts above: Jesus is the “Son of Righteousness” who brings “Light and life to all.”

Those Who Have the Light of Life

As a result of our salvation, Christ will guide our feet (Isa 42:6-7) through his holy Word, “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119:105). What is our guide in our life? Is it the wisdom of the world or the wisdom of God’s Word? When his Word is our guide, Christ will lead us into the way of peace, because he is the Prince of Peace, and he governs his kingdom, the church, in peace, justice and righteousness (Isa 9:7). And it is those who preach the Word of God who “brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation” (Isa 52:7). We are to preach Christ as the Light of the world who brings the good news of salvation and peace.

The New Testament writers also exhort us to live as children of light, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5). How do we walk as children of light? Paul tells us two ways in Romans 13:12, The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” First, we are to “cast off the works of darkness,” the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph 5:11). These are what Paul calls the “fruits of the flesh” in Ephesians 5:19-21, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

Paul exhorts believers not to participate in these unfruitful works of the world, “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14) We are in the world, but this does not mean that we are of the world. John also exhorts you to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. This is evidence of your faithfulness, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” ( 1 John 2:9).

Second, we are to “put on the armor of light.” In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul says that we are to put on “the whole armor of God,” so we may “be strong in the Lord and in “the strength of his might… that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” What consists of this armor of God? The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. These are the resources given to us by Christ as children of light to fight our battles against the spiritual forces of evil and this present darkness.

Many people, including those who call themselves Christians, do their evil things in secret. They think that others will not find out. But God sees all, because he knows all things in the hearts of men. Nothing is secret and hidden from him. All things we have done in this world will be exposed on Judgment Day. Because all have sinned, everyone will be judged based on works. All those who have rejected Christ and his atoning work for sin on the cross will be sent into the “outer darkness,” in spite of all the works they have done that they think are “good.” But all true believers like you will be found righteous before God because they have trusted – not in their own good works – but in the perfect work of Christ for them. God will welcome you to the eternal light of the kingdom of heaven.

Beloved people of God, after Adam sinned, the world started spiraling down into the darkness of sin. During the time of Noah, God saw that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5). When Jesus was born, the world was still in this darkness. And today, the world is as dark, if not darker, than 2,000 years ago. People still choose to live in darkness, doing the unfruitful, evil works of darkness.

We are troubled by this darkness. There are wicked terrorists all over the world, wanting to kill all Christians. We have government leaders who are anti-Christian. We have friends who are anti-Christian. We have so much sexual immorality in the movies, TV and news media. Celebrities and politicians flaunt their immorality and corruption, being proud of it. Millions of unborn babies are being murdered. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant. How can we raise our children and grandchildren in God’s light in the midst of this dark, ungodly world?

But our Lord Jesus Christ assures us that his Light will never be extinguished. No matter how low that flickering light seem to be in our eyes, he remains the Light of the World. This is why John says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), “and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In the end, all the darkness of the wicked world will be cast into the “outer darkness” of eternal hell. But our heavenly dwelling-place will be have everlasting light – not from the sun, moon and stars – but from the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, the Lamb and the Lion of Judah, Son of God (Rev 21:25).

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. When Jesus declared, “I AM the light of the world,” it was not during Hanukkah (Festival of Lights), but during the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). Still, Jesus used this occasion to teach that he is the Living Water (John 7:37) and the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Dedication to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C. after Judas Maccabeus successfully expelled the Seleucids from Jerusalem. The Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple by slaughtering a pig and erecting a statue of Zeus in the Temple.

Although Jesus knew that the Feast of Dedication was not God-appointed, he attended the ceremony to teach the Jews about himself. He is the One Whom the Father in heaven “dedicated” (hegiadzen “consecrated” or made holy in John 10:36) to be sent into the world. And he is the Good Shepherd (John 10:26-28), not the Maccabean leaders of the Jews. Because of these teachings, the Jews likened him to Antiochus who blasphemed the Temple (John 10:33).

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