"I am the Light of the World"
Mar.8, 2009 Jn.8:12-18, 9:1-7
REMEDY FOR STUMBLING
Wrapped around the feet on the legs of our bed you will find old socks. Why do we put socks around the feet of our bed? It can't be for the sake of fashion, because they don't match! In the daytime it's not readily apparent why there are socks there. The convenient casters with their handy locks to keep the bed from rolling around surely don't feel the cold. But those same helpful casters and locks can be deadly in the middle of the night as you stumble and grope your way around on the way back from the bathroom. Stub your toe and you're suddenly painfully wide-awake!
For the same reason, we bought a small triple-LED nightlight with a sensor for the adjoining bathroom. In the daytime, you'd hardly notice it's there. But when all else is dark, it brightens the bathroom so much I've put layers of coloured tape over top of it, and close the bathroom door 'to' so it's not too bright for sleeping. A little illumination makes a big difference when all else is dark.
In the rest of our lives, God doesn't want us to be stumbling in the dark as it were, bringing pain to ourselves or others by groping blindly in our waking life. Much of the pain and suffering in the world can be traced back to darkness - selfish, ungodly, or ignorant choices people make. There are spiritual factors in play that can prompt us to be prejudiced, speak unkindly, become jealous or threatened by others, with very negative results in our human relationships. Afterwards we may shake our heads and wonder, "Where did THAT come from?"
In Jesus our heavenly Father offers illumination and life-giving truth that can spare us much grief. Today in our ongoing look at Jesus' 7 "I AM" statements, we're invited to discover the positive difference His light can make in our Allegiance, our Attitude, and our Actions.
ALLEGIANCE: WHO'S YOUR SPIRITUAL SOURCE?
The 'one-world' movement may be gaining popularity, but it can gloss over important differences. Ravi Zacharias speculates that media moguls such as Ted Turner are on the way to re-building the tower of Babel having found a common language for all nations, namely, the language of imagery. But if someone starts tossing around phrases such as "We're all God's children" or "Everyone has the divine light", be careful! While harmony among nations is certainly something to strive for, in the New Testament worldview there are basically two types of people in the world: children of the light and children of darkness.
That shouldn't surprise us. The depravity of mankind is one of the few theological doctrines that is empirically verifiable: read any newspaper. There is a war on 'out there' and in our hearts that demands, sooner or later, we take sides: we must declare our allegiance either to good or evil.
Here in Canada, the war may be somewhat subtle, but it's happening nonetheless. Secularists are advocating changing the line in our national anthem, "God keep our land glorious and free," to remove what they see as offensive wording. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled in a case involving Christian Horizons that Christian organizations that serve the public, whether by caring for the developmentally disabled or feeding the homeless, will no longer be able to restrict employment or volunteers to only Christians who follow a biblical lifestyle. A church hiring a youth pastor to serve children of churchgoers and the non-churched in the surrounding community would be required to open the employment opportunity to all people of all religious backgrounds (including agnostics and atheists), and regardless of personal lifestyle (common-law, homosexual, etc.). In fact the Tribunal commented that a 'poisoned work environment' will likely exist in any organization that has a core belief that men and women are created in God's image, that God established sexuality in a way that is to be in the male/female relationship, and expressed only in marriage between one man and one woman.
In other countries, the conflict between good and evil is not so subtle. This week's World Partners prayer bulletin contains these entries concerning Keith and Ruth Ann Elliott in their work with Mexican churches: "Pray for the churches in Mexico who are experiencing opposition and persecution by the Zetas, a group of ex-soldiers who have formed an outlaw group and make their money by contract killing and extortion. Pray for the church in El Millon where the Zetas demanded two million pesos from the church or they would start killing church members - the church is temporarily closed. Pray for the church in Valle Nacional, Veracruz where the pastor was threatened with death or kidnapping of his family if he would not pay off the Zetas. Pray for the church in Uriangato, where church members were threatened and the pastor needs wisdom in who to trust." That's deadly darkness!
In Jesus' teaching as relayed through the apostles, 'light' and 'darkness' are used to describe this conflict between good and evil. The New Testament does not try to pretend the human race is all just one big happy family. Some choose darkness. John 3:19, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." So the fundamental question in life is, who are we going to line up with? What's our spiritual allegiance - to God or the Devil?
The reference point is Jesus. Without His light, His perfection, there wouldn't be a completely holy person to compare to. He declares in 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." When He said this, Jesus was standing in the place people put their offerings in the Court of the Women, where 4 large candelabras lit especially for the Feast of Tabernacles recalled the pillar of fire which accompanied the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (Jn 8:20; Ex 13:21f). The pillar of fire symbolized God's presence and guidance, providing light for them to travel even at night. So Jesus is implying He's a new 'pillar of fire' that will guide people and save them from stumbling in life. Later in John 12(35f) He said, "The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."
Our Lord draws several contrasts between those of the light and those of the darkness. Those who have God as their spiritual Father hear what He says, they 'listen gladly to the words of God' (9:47 NLT). They honour God, and love Jesus because He came from God (8:49,42). Those who obey Jesus' teaching will know the truth, "and the truth will set you free." (8:31)
On the other hand, Jesus asserts some of his listeners - especially those who are plotting to kill Him - are children of the Evil One. 8:44, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." They side with a different source; they're determined to kill Jesus, not because they can prove Him guilty of anything - He challenges them to come up with any 'dirt' on Him in v46 - but because they're out to get Him because they're jealous of His popularity.
Murderous - hating the truth - lying - symptoms of the darkness. Jesus observes in 8:34 that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. There's a spiritual bondage, it tugs on you, evil has you in its grip - felt through the power of temptation. Quite unlike the freedom that Jesus' disciples experience by heeding His teaching.
Other parts of the New Testament underline this fundamental difference in source or allegiance. Paul in Acts 26(18) says He heard Jesus call him to be an apostle "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." In Colossians 1(13) he writes, "For he [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves..." The word translated 'dominion' is literally power/authority: believers have been rescued from the power of darkness (like a SWAT team rescuing hostages).
Paul himself uses the language of light, darkness, and sight to describe the change that happens when someone comes to trust in Jesus. Before: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2Co 4:4) But God brings real enlightenment: 2Cor 4:6, "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Our allegiance changes when God reveals Himself to us through Jesus, His true representation.
ATTITUDE DIFFERENT AS NIGHT AND DAY
Our allegiance - this 'begetting' by God or evil - affects our attitude. Jesus described one effect as having eyes that are either 'good' or 'bad'. "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness." (Lu 11:34) How do we use our eyes - do we just see with them, or 'through' them? Is our conscience supervising our gaze?
A dark attitude may be cynical or presumptuous, jumping to conclusions. In chapter 9 Jesus and His disciples come upon a beggar who's been blind from birth. The disciples ask (9:2), "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Whoa, whoa - back up the bus! What a lot of baggage that question presumes! The NIV Study Bible notes, "The rabbis had developed the principle that 'There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity." Kind of like the eastern notion of karma, you pay in this life for your actions in previous existences - not at all Biblical!
By contrast, Jesus displays the attitude of a child of light. He's optimistic, open to what God may be about to do in a positive way; suffering presents an opportunity to help. 9:3, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned...but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Displaying God's work, letting it be seen openly - that's what we're to be about. Those around the sufferer are to do God's work whenever we can. Light's job is to illuminate. Vv4,5: "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." That last phrase can be more literally translated, "Whenever I am in the world, I am light to the world." (Perhaps referring to incidents before the Incarnation, affecting the patriarchs, prophets, etc.)
Have you had an attitude check lately? One way you know it's getting time to change the oil in your car is when you pull out the dipstick and the oil is black instead of golden. A long winter is no excuse for a rotten attitude; God's mercies are 'new every morning', His faithfulness never comes to an end, rain or shine. If we're truly children of light, we won't jump to conclusions about people or think the worst of them without knowing the full story. Rather than distancing ourselves from someone by saying 'you made your bed - you lie in it,' what as vessels of God's light do we bring ot the situation that may help them over a hump?
Christianity is a religion of light. John described our Heavenly Father in these words, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (1Jn 1:5) James wrote something similar, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (Jas 1:17) And Jesus declared taht those who seek to do God's will are "sons of light" / daughters of light (Jn 12:36). When people have to deal with us, what do they notice about our attitude? Do they sense negaitvity and pessimism, or is there a glint of God's goodness and love filtering through our humanness?
ACTIONS THAT SHINE
Allegiance; Attitude; finally, our Actions reflect this light God has set shining in our hearts, knowing His glory in the face of Christ. Children of darkness show their prejudice: Jn 8:15, "You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one." Jesus' detractors are quick to put down Nicodemus' reminder not to condemn someone without a hearing (Jn7:51) by saying no prophet comes from Galilee - ignorant as they were of Jesus' real birthplace, Bethlehem. When they protest in 8:41 "We are not illegitimate children," there may be a sarcastic slam at Jesus' conception during Joseph and Mary's betrothal period.
Offsetting their prejeudice, their judging according to the flesh (appearance), Jesus does not condemn anyone. The story immediately preceding highlights that He did not condemn even the woman caught in adultery - just told her to go and not sin again from now on (8:11).
Throughout chapters 8 and 9, Jesus' opponents blaspheme, bluster, belittle, and bully. They blaspheme - calling Him a Samaritan or demon-possessed in 8:48, trying to stone the Son of God in 8:59. They bluster when they can't answer the logical arguments of Jesus or the healed beggar - pulling rank in 8:39, claiming to have Abraham as their father, or in 9:28 calling themselves 'disciples of Moses'. They belittle and curse: slandering Jesus, hurling insults at the beggar in 9:28,34 - "you were steeped in sin at birth!" And they bully, threatening to kill Jesus by picking up stones, threatening to put out of the synagogue anyone acknowledging Jesus as Messiah in 9:22, throwing the beggar out for refusing to say Jesus was a sinner (9:34). Tactics of mobsters not responsible religious leaders.
By contrast, Jesus and the healed man do not retaliate, but simply bear witness to the truth about who they are and what they've experienced. It is important to Jesus that He 'testify' and present a valid 'testimony' (8:14,17). Similarly the man born blind doesn't react in kind to the officials' caustic comments, but simply bears witness: 9:25, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" How do you counter that?! (see also 9:9,17) And in 9:31-33 this man who's been blind and begged all his life presents a beautifully logical A-B-C sort of reasoning that should make any professor of philosophy proud. (A) "We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. (B) Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind [yet Jesus has done it, v30]. (C) If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.[ergo, He must be from God, because He did it!]" (Joh 9:31-33) The officials recognize this as a knock-out punch they can't answer, so they resort to sheer politics, chucking him out instead. But not before he succeeded in faithful witness.
Other passages in the New Testament describe further what our actions can be as children of light. Jesus said in Matthew 5(14ff), "You are the light of the world...people [don't] 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. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Light shines through good deeds that prompt others to praise God.
Paul urges the Philippian church to shine like stars in the universe - blameless, pure, without fault; in contrast to the dark background of a 'crooked and depraved generation', complaining and arguing (Php 2:14f). He tells the believers at Rome, "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." (Ro 13:12f) Light then seems to affect our appetites (what we consume), our desires (our moral behaviour), and our speech (arguing, dissension).
In John's first letter, light issues in love toward others. "Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him." (1Jo 2:9ff) If we really are sons and daughters of light, there's no place for hate in our hearts - whether towards other church members or family members. Let Jesus shine on that old gripe or misunderstanding and heal it before it causes damage to you or your kin.
OUT OF THE STORM, SPREADING SUNSHINE
Sometimes those who have been through the darkest circumstances seem to understand best the importance of spreading the light. Bianca Rothschild is known in her 182-family condominium community as "The Sunshine Lady." Bianca is in her seventies; her childhood was spent in Poland. Days before her sixteenth birthday the Germans stormed her town, and her family - totaling forty-three people - was imprisoned. Bianca watched her father and an uncle die. She saw her mother and other members of her family taken away to war camps. Bianca was moved from one concentration camp to the next. By 1945, all the other forty-two people in her family had been murdered.
One night, during an air raid, Bianca begged to die. The fact that she didn't die told her that God had a special plan for her. That evening, during her prayers, she read in her tiny prayer book this passage: "We have a right to the joy of giving so others may receive. We can give material things, we can give moral support, we can give a friendly ear, and best of all, we can give love." At that moment, Bianca Rothschild vowed to give of herself in any way she could.
She remembered the disappointment she felt at her sixteenth birthday, when there were no cards, no gifts, no cake, no party. So, when she settled down in the condominium complex, she began sending get-well cards to anyone who was laid up. She doesn't sign her name; she signs the cards simply "The Sunshine Lady," but everyone in the community knows who she is. She's the one who sends a ray of sunshine to people who need it most.
Sending a card - not too complicated, but what a ministry this lady has! How God has shone in her life, helping her determine to bless others rather than become resentful on account of her struggles! What small thing can you begin to share God's love with others, thereby displaying God's work and glory in life? Jesus is looking for other 'children of light' - 'sunshine ladies' (and gents!). Let's pray.