Summary: Jesus brings light to the world by revealing the truth about God because he is the Truth of God.
I guess you could say that there have been 2 great quests of the 20th century. Those are the quest for truth and the quest for freedom. The quest for truth in fact goes back to the last century or beyond, to a search for truth through scientific discovery. There was a belief then that we could discover scientific principles behind the universe that would explain our everyday experience of the world. Well, that’s been a failure hasn’t it? So as the century has worn on, we in the west have tended to look to the east, to Eastern mysticism, for truth, in the hope that the religious insights of Buddhism and Hinduism and their various offshoots might help us. So people have sought for truth through meditation, seeking for the God who’s within, at the centre of our being. And of course where it’s suited us we’ve combined the two. A classic example is the movie Star Wars where Luke Starwalker is helped by what’s really a form of Buddhist enlightenment as he pilots his hi-tech spaceship. That’s the irony of new-age thinking. The truth is out there and within you at the same time.
Similarly freedom has been a focus throughout the ages, but, it would seem, particularly this century, as the forces of international politics and diplomacy have been focussed on achieving peace and freedom for all the peoples of the world. Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed this well, in his famous 4-fold definition in a speech to congress in 1941: Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Of course for those of us who lived through the sixties, freedom then became the catch cry for every group that had experienced oppression or injustice.
So truth and freedom are two concepts that are close to our hearts as 20th century people, which means that what we read here in John 8, should be of particular relevance to us.
The scene is the same as it was in the previous chapter that we looked at 2 weeks ago. Jesus is at the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths when the people looked back to the escape from slavery in Egypt. One of the features of that feast was that the Temple courts were lit with bright flares and lamps as a reminder of the pillar of fire that went before the people in the exodus. You can imagine as travellers approached Jerusalem in the twilight or early evening, they’d look up and see the Temple shining out of the darkness like a beacon showing them the way.
So it’s in that setting that Jesus stands up and says "I am the light of the world." Now if you understand the old Testament context, the way the Old Testament uses the notion of light, this is an amazing claim. Let me give you some examples. There’s the Pillar of fire (Ex 13:21) that I just mentioned that symbolised God’s presence with them, leading them on the way they should go to reach the promised land. Then there’s the great psalm of David, Psalm 27, which begins, "The Lord is my light and my salvation." There’s Psalm 199:105 "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Then there’s the Servant Song in Isaiah 49 where the servant is told "I will make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Is 49:6) Or Is 60:19 where the people of Israel are told that when the Lord comes to them they’ll no longer need the Sun or moon, because the Lord will be their light, an idea that’s echoed in Rev 21. Finally in Zech 14:5-7 the great day of the Lord is described, when the sun and moon will be banished, but when evening comes it will be light, and on the same day living water will flow out of Jerusalem to water the whole earth. That’s fascinating isn’t it, when you think about Jesus claiming in the last chapter to provide streams of living water flowing from the hearts of believers.
So, this opening statement of Jesus is a bold one, isn’t it, and a provocative one. In fact it’s so provocative that it initiates a series of discussions about authority and truth and freedom. The result is similar to what we saw in the previous chapter: a series of contrasts between those who believe in Jesus and those who reject him. Let’s look at them.
The first contrast we find is between Jesus’ claim to authority and the Pharisees’ rejection of that authority. The Pharisees recognise Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world as a claim to be the Messiah, but they object that he’s acting as his own witness. When the Messiah comes he’ll be preceded by a new Elijah who’ll witness to who he is. Well, they’ve missed that, haven’t they, but in any case, Jesus replies that his testimony is valid on 4 grounds.