Summary: Since Jesus is the light of the world, we need to allow the light of Jesus into every area of our life (belief) and continue to walk in the light (discipleship).
During Lent I have been addressing Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in the gospel of John, through each statement Jesus revealed a little more about who he really was, what his purpose was in coming , and how we are supposed to respond to him. In our memory verse this morning Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.”
As I was reflecting this week about light, I was thinking about our need for light, particularly light from the sun. Our very life, our very existence depends upon light from the sun. If it wasn’t for sunlight our planet wouldn’t be warm enough to sustain life, without light crops would not be able to grow, without light plants couldn’t complete the process of photosynthesis which takes the carbon dioxide we exhale and creates oxygen for us to breathe. Sunlight also directly affects us. I recently read an article on nutrition that we need exposure to UV light to somehow help our bodies produce vitamin D. Scientists have determined that a form of depression occurs when people don’t get enough sunlight, like in the middle of the winter (the official cause of the winter blahs). We need sunlight to survive. What an appropriate way for Jesus to describe himself to others.
1. Jesus is the Light
When Jesus spoke these words, “I am the light of the world,” John’s gospel tells us he was speaking at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles/Shelters/Ingathering (7:2). This feast was a week long harvest celebration commanded by God during Moses’ time to occur in October after all the crops had all been gathered in (Lev. 23:33-43). This feast was to remind the Israelites people how God had delivered them from slavery and provided for them during their 40 years in the desert. During the Feast the Jews built shelters made of branches to live in, therefore its name, Feast of Shelters. By living in these shelters for a week they remembered how God had brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them for 40 years as they wandered the wilderness living in these primitive shelters. Every year they gave thanks and remembered in a tangible way what God had done in their life. You can imagine, after living in a shelter made of branches for a week, you would probably have a greater appreciation for what you have, and how God has blessed you and your family.
As Jesus spoke these words he was in Jerusalem at the Temple treasury. The treasury was not a building but a place to collect offerings located in the Court of Women just to the east of the Temple [picture]. They would set up thirteen horns which people could place their offering on the way in or out of the Temple. Jewish tradition tells us that during this festival they would light many torches in the Court of Women and these lights could be seen around Jerusalem, lighting up the dark night as it were. These torches served as a symbol of God’s presence (just as we light candles today as a reminder), reminding them how God was present with Moses and their ancestors as a pillar of fire by night as they wandered 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land God, which we think of as Israel.
Here was Jesus the day after the Feast had concluded. The sacrifices had been offered during the week, the shelters were being taken apart, the torches representing God’s presence had just been extinguished. And Jesus declared to those around him, “NRS 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."
I believe Jesus was making a point. Just as the light of the torches represented God’s presence, who was present with them as a pillar of fire in the darkness of night and also guided and protected the people of Israel, Jesus was saying I am that light. I am God’s very presence in the darkness of this world. Occasionally the pillar of fire would move, and it was the signal for the Israelite people to pack up their camp and follow the light. As the Israelites followed the pillar of fire in the darkness of night, we must follow Jesus the light in the darkness of our world, otherwise we will keep stumbling through darkness.
2. Stumbling through the Darkness
The truth is we live in darkness, not literally of course (unless you live on the North Pole during the winter). Darkness in the Bible is an analogy for evil, sin. It is not a coincidence that most crimes are done under the cover of darkness. In the darkness people can go unseen, their acts are hidden, secret. Our world is shrouded in spiritual darkness, and where there is spiritual darkness, evil and sin flourish. People do not obey God’s commands, they act selfishly, they harm others, either physically with their actions, or verbally with their words. Darkness exists in our country, it exists in our community, it exists in our schools, and the Bible say it even exists in us.