RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
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TEXT: John 8:12; 1:4-12
A. Last year I preached on the scripture passage that includes these words, "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." (Psalm 74:20)
And you realized the Psalmist was saying that "the dark places of the earth," the places where people live in superstition & fear, where God is not known, those places are filled with cruelty, violence, & despair.
But in contrast to that, Jesus said 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."
B. Bible scholars believe that Jesus spoke these words at a very special moment - during the 7-day Feast of Tabernacles.
God had inaugurated this feast to remind them that He had led their ancestors during their 40 years in the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day, & a pillar of fire by night.
So on the opening night of this celebration a giant Menorah with large bowls of oil was set up on the temple grounds. Then with great pomp & ceremony, the bowls of oil were set afire. And ancient accounts say that the light from this giant Menorah on the temple mount lit up the streets of Jerusalem below.
C. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was speaking to the people on the Temple mount - probably near the giant Menorah. Bible scholars suggest that Jesus may have timed the saying of these words with the lighting of the Menorah.
So that when suddenly the darkness of the evening was dispelled by the towering flames, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
PROP. Well, whether or not Jesus chose that moment, what He said is very important, so important that we need to understand what He meant by it.
I. "I WILL GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU"
A. First of all, I think that when Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life," He was saying that "I will be with you, & guide & protect you."
Even as God had led their ancestors through the wilderness into the promised land, so Jesus will also be with us.
In fact, He made that promise again in His last words before He ascended to heaven. He told us to go into all the world, & then said, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20 KJV).
APPL. To our missionaries this is a very precious promise. When you're half?way around the world, separated from family & friends, living in a different culture, surrounded by people who know & care nothing about God, you can feel so alone & so dependent upon God's presence & protection in your life.
ILL. I like the story of the grandfather who took his little grandson for a walk in the woods. As they were walking along they stopped for a moment & the grandfather asked, "Do you know where we are?" The little boy said, "No."
The grandfather asked, "Do you know where we're going?" The little boy again said, "No." The grandfather chuckled, "Well, I guess you're lost then." The boy looked up at his grandfather & said, "No, I'm not lost. I'm with you."
SUM. And when Jesus is with us we are never lost. He is our light & our salvation. Of whom should we be afraid?
II. "I AM THE TRUE LIGHT"
A. In John 1:4-5, writing about Jesus, the apostle John says, "In Him was life, & that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
Then in vs’s 9-12 John says, "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, & though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God."
B. Now folks, you know that I grew up in a missionary family, & spent the first few years of my life on the China?Tibetan border. But this morning I want to look through the eyes of someone visiting that part of the world for the very first time.
You see, a few years ago, Dennis Slaughter, then minister of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, along with the chairman of their mission committee, visited the missionaries their congregation supports in Thailand.
Dennis came back from that trip almost shell?shocked by what they had seen & experienced. Let me tell you just a little bit of his story.
ILL. He told about coming to a village nestled in the mountains of Thailand & seeing string everywhere - stretched from all the poles & trees & around all the houses & buildings in the village. In fact, the whole village was wrapped in string.
When he asked "Why?" they learned that it was because the week before a girl had committed suicide there. The people, who are Buddhist & fear evil spirits, believed that because of her suicide evil spirits would soon be coming to their village.
So they hired Buddhist monks to help them, & these monks had wound string around their houses, & their yards, & all around their community, telling them that the string would keep out the evil spirits.
I wonder how strong those evil spirits are if pieces of string could keep them out? But that was what the people believed. Oh, how much the world needs to know Jesus, the true light of the world!
ILL. Dennis said, "I don't think I've ever experienced greater culture shock than what I experienced at the first Thai village we visited. This was a village which missionaries had not yet reached with the good news of Jesus. The people were still living with all their superstitions & fears.
"The missionaries tried to prepare us. They told us, 'You need to understand, these people are very poor & very frightened of the evil powers they believe are all around them.' But there were no words to prepare us for what we saw. We expected to see poverty, but nothing like the deprivation & filth that we did see.
"We saw the most humble of dwellings made of bamboo & thatch. We saw people wearing filthy, tattered clothing, listlessly going about their tasks, with faces that were usually dirty because they had no reason to clean themselves.
"We looked into the faces of children with beautiful eyes & dark hair. And yet the children just stared vacantly. Already their lives had become a drudgery of work, with no hope of ever getting out of their present existence because, you see, the only chance they have to get out of their poverty is through education.
"But the government only provides education through the 4th grade. After that they have to pay, & the people have no money. So after the 4th grade they work in the fields or do whatever they can, just to exist."
Dennis said, "I think that's what hit me more than anything else. I kept wondering, What if I were to wake up & find myself a member of this village? What if I should see those children, & they're my children, & then I realize that we will always live here, & my children will live all their lives here, too. How would that make me feel?'
Dennis said, "After we came back to the missionary's house I felt so depressed & began to pour out my feelings. In despair I said, ‘There is no hope for these children. They can't receive an education. There is no way they can get out of this awful life that they're in. There is just no hope for them.’
"And then I heard a two?sentence sermon from the missionary. ‘There is hope,' he said. ‘Their hope is Jesus.'"
SUM. Our problem here is that we have so many things that interfere. But those people have no hope except through Jesus. He is the light. And the only hope for them is to hear the message of Jesus, & to know Him as their Savior & Lord.
APPL. I'm convinced that every dollar we spend to prepare & send missionaries to these darkened lands is probably the best money we will ever spend.
III. BUT HIS OWN DID NOT RECEIVE HIM
A. The third thing we are told is that "Jesus, the true light, came into this world, the world that He had made, & even though He had made it, this world didn't recognize Him." Then it goes on, "He came unto...His own, but His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11)
Who are "His own"? Of course, in the Bible it was the Jews. But I wonder, today, if we were to pick out a people who have been especially blessed by God, who would they be?
We look at the poverty in Africa & India & Southeast Asia, & realize that much of the world lives just like that. The United States is an exception. We are a blessed country where most people live in comfortable houses & drive air?conditioned cars.
Yes, we're an exception. The rest of the world is the rule. But why? Why are we so highly favored? Why are we the people with hot & cold running water, & air conditioners, & beautiful church buildings, & padded pews?
ILL. Dennis said, "As I worshiped with those people & looked into their faces, & tried to communicate with them through an interpreter, I couldn't help but think how very different our circumstances are, about their culture & the way they worship & the way they live. It's so very different.
“I kept wondering what would happen if our people could be in their worship services, seeing what I was seeing & hearing.
"Theirs was a simple service in a bamboo building with the missionary using a flannelgraph to tell a story from the Bible. Then pictures were handed out to the people & boxes of crayons. The people colored the pictures ? no, not just the children, but adults & children alike.
"They marveled that crayons actually made colored marks on the paper, & they took great pride in what they had done. They held up their pictures & smiled as they showed them to one another. That was part of their worship."
APPL. I've tried to picture us in that environment ? those of us who are so accustomed to Sunday bulletins & worship services with beautiful music & everything proceeding in an orderly way. I wonder how we would react to a service where people color pictures of Jesus & listen to a flannelgraph lesson?
ILL. Well, Dennis also mentioned that on the last Sunday they spent in Thailand that it rained, & it rained hard all day long. The monsoon season had begun with a vengeance. But the people came to church, some of them walking & others riding bicycles. Those who were wealthy came on motorbikes.
Dennis said, "I don't know if you have ridden a bicycle in the rain or not, but you don't keep looking your Sunday best riding a bicycle in the rain to church. Yet that's the way they came to the house of God to worship."
APPL. Once again it causes me to wonder, "Would we go to church on a Sunday like that? Those of us who have nice cars that shelter us from the wind & the rain, would we come to church on a bicycle when it's raining like that?"
B. It's easy for us to be Christians. We have so few crosses to bear. We can meet in comfort, & worship without fear.
Yet, people who become Christians in Thailand are often driven out of their villages. The Buddhists will not accept them anymore. They are considered disloyal to their country if they choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Savior & Lord.
"He came unto...His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Then the Bible says, "Yet to all who received Him...He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
ILL. Before leaving Thailand, they sat together in the empty store which had served as a church meeting place only a few hours before – Dennis, the mission chairman, & the missionary, along with an elder of that church, whose name was Daniel Lee.
Daniel Lee had come from Burma several years before when the government opposition to Christians had become so fierce. He had fled with his family to Thailand in search of freedom. His sons were merchants who traveled back & forth selling jade.
Dennis said, "We sat there after the services & festivities of the day. Then the missionary asked us, ‘Do you have anything you want to say to Elder Lee before you leave?' & offered to interpret for us.
Well, we thanked Elder Lee for his hospitality & for the time of worship & fellowship that we had enjoyed with them.
"Then the missionary asked Elder Lee, ‘Do you have anything you would like to say to these men before they leave?'
"And in Chinese he spoke through the missionary & said, ‘Please tell them never to forget us. We can't go back to our homes in Burma because of what the government would do to us. But Thailand will not permit us citizenship, so we're just here. Very poor people, & nobody wants us. Nobody wants us, except God.'
Dennis said, "I don't think I ever felt a closer kinship to another human being than what I felt with him that day because, you see, we are brothers even though his culture is very different from mine; even though his life is very different from mine. We are children born of God because all who receive Him are His children."
CONCL. I don't know how you react to these experiences I have mentioned this morning. But do you realize how comfortable our life is, how easy it is for us to worship & praise & celebrate our faith in Jesus?
Yet it is sad to realize that so many people have all this & are still turning their backs on Jesus. I wonder how long God will wait? I wonder how long He will let his light shine & see people close their eyes, or turn away from it?
I wonder how many more invitations will be offered? I wonder how many more opportunities we will have? I know we have this one, & I pray that you won't ignore it, but that you'll respond to it. Will you come as we stand & as we sing together?