March 25, 2001
JESUS - THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
It seems such a strange thing for someone to say, I am the light of the world. The man must be either a lunatic, of the sort who thinks he is Augustus Caesar or Napoleon; or, he must be completely misled, filled with bad information and with an exaggerated sense of his own importance; or, he must be speaking the truth.
In Jesus own day there were those who said He was mad, demon-possessed, they called Him in 7:20. Others, like the Pharisees in chapter 8, believed he was misled, verse 13, you are claiming too much. And others, like those people in 8:30 believed He told the truth. Today people see Jesus is in one of the same three ways.
Now how do you think Jesus would respond to critics? He aggressively confronted both the crowds and the Pharisees. Nothing meek and mild about Him here. It is always when He tries to define Himself that the criticisms start. Here is who I am, I am the light of the world, the only one who clearly reveals the Father. In America today there is a movement to tolerate every view. Jesus says there is a point beyond which you cannot go in tolerance because truth matters. Tolerance is based on the idea that no one can know the ultimate truth. Jesus is unique because He claims that in Himself God has come alongside humans. Jesus claimed He alone atones for human sin. Whatever insights other religions might have, Christians say they cannot bring us to God. That doesnt mean Christians are intolerant. In fact, we are called upon to love our enemies and to pray for those who spitefully use us. But what we learn from Jesus in this passage is He proclaimed a truth that He said was not accessible to others, and He doesnt back down from those who dont see it that way.
There is a condition, though, to what Jesus says. To come to Jesus the light, we must admit that we are in darkness, a thing that it is hard to do. Jesus is the Savior of those desperate enough to come out of their particular darkness to him. And in the conflict-laden discussion - and thats what it is - in John 8, he keeps returning to who He is and who His Father is, without getting sidetracked. That approach explains what seem like non-sequiturs in the debate of chapter 8.
There are seven times in Johns Gospel when Jesus defines who He is. Let me outline for you what the seven are. Jesus says,
I am the bread of life in 6:35
I am the light of the world in 8:12
I am the gate in 10:7,9
I am the good shepherd in 10:11 and 14
I am the resurrection and the life in 11:25
I am the way, the truth and the life in 14:6
and seventh, I am the true vine in 15:1,5
Now I have said before that one of the great proofs that Jesus is God is that what God did in the Old Testament, Jesus does in the New Testament. There is a parallel proof that Jesus is God, that what God is called in the Old Testament, Jesus calls himself in the New Testament. The Jews knew the line from Psalm 27:1, The Lord is my light (and my salvation). That is exactly what Jesus is calling himself here. There is a similar description of God in Isaiah 60, the Lord will be your everlasting light and your days of sorrow will end. The conflict comes here because light is in mortal combat with darkness, and because none of the Jewish religious leaders are willing to admit Jesus is God.
The Pharisees dont like one bit what Jesus says about being the light of the world. Their argument raises the question of what constitutes a valid testimony. The issue must be important since Jesus responds to it, - He didnt always respond to critics - but his defense seems strange at first, My witness is valid, He says because I know where I come from and where Im going to. Does self-awareness make a reliable witness?
The Pharisees may be remembering what Jesus himself said in 5:31 in another of his conflicts with them, If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. But what Jesus meant in chapter 5 was that if He spoke outside the framework of what the Father told Him, then His testimony would not be valid. Here in chapter 8 Jesus point is that the legal criteria of what makes an acceptable testimony is not the issue; rather, the issue is theological, what makes a thing true? If something comes from the Father, it is true. This is a lot like a young child arguing that the world is round. Oh, but cant you see, the world is flat, his friend says. No, the first child responds, my father told me that the world is round, so it must be round. Thats what Jesus is saying.
The Pharisees in verse 19 ask Jesus, where is your father? Well show him a thing or two. And again, Jesus reply seems puzzling: If you knew me, you would know my Father also. You can feel Jesus saying Father with a capital F and the Pharisees, with a small f. They dont see that Jesus is the Son of God so therefore they dont know God. Thats Jesus argument.
Well, if the first issue concerns what makes a valid testimony, the second involves the criteria by which it is possible to judge the reality of things. In verse 15 Jesus points out they are judging from a worldly point of view. When Jesus further says in verse 15 that He does not judge, He means He doesnt judge the way they do, that is from a merely worldly point of view. But Jesus does judge the reality of things. 5:27 God gives Jesus the ability to judge. He has the ability to judge because of who He is. And further, He does not judge alone, but He always judges in correspondence with the view of the Father who sent Him.
The third issue in the confrontation in chapter 8 is the limits of the law. Notice how in verse 17 Jesus calls the law, your law. Jesus supports the law in other places, Not one jot or tittle will be done away with until the entire law is fulfilled. What Jesus is criticizing in verses 17 and 18 is the Pharisees appeal to the law to criticize Jesus practice. Why is this important? Because of who Jesus is. He was an agent in creation, 1:3; he was pre-existent, 8:58; and he is the central figure in redemptive history. Jesus knew when the law was being honestly acted upon and when it was being legalistically interpreted. The intent of the law was for God to control sin, not for the Pharisees to control people by the way they interpreted the law.
At verse 25 another issue come in this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. Who is Jesus? By the Phariseess question in verse 19, Where is your father? they demonstrate that they really dont know who Jesus is. The general problem is that people couldnt fit together what they knew about Jesus. So at 7:27, some of the people in Jerusalem comment, we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from, will they? These people are raised in religious homes and they know about God, but they dont really know God. That was true with me before I came to believe in Jesus while I was in college. It may be true for some of you here this morning. You know about Jesus, but you dont know Him.
In the rest of chapter 8 four themes are intertwined, where Jesus comes from, where he is going, who the Father is and who Jesus is.
Jesus says in verse 21, you will look for me. What He means is, they will go on looking for the Messiah. Of course, they cant possibly find Him since they have already dismissed the only Messiah there is.
Again - lets look at how this discussion goes back and forth. In 7:34 and 35 Jesus says He is going away and that they wont be able to find Him. They concluded that He was going to travel into Gentile territory. Here in 8:22 they conclude that He is going to commit suicide. We know what Jesus meant was that He would voluntarily give Himself up to die. Why is it so hard to understand Jesus? It is because He is always speaking with another reality in view. The religious leaders seem unwilling to see it.
There is a key that will unlock the meaning of what Jesus is talking about. Their blindness will be removed only by one of three things. Jesus has at different times held out each of these three keys for people:
1) 6:45 when they are taught by God. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him responds this way - he comes to me.
2) 3:3 when they are born again. No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
3) 14:6 when they believe that Jesus is the way the truth and the life.
There are many earthly factors which keep someone from being taught by God, or from being born again, or from seeing that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. People want political power, they want to be rich, they are satisfied with the way things are so they dont see their need. The Pharisees and many people around Jesus, like people today, stand there.
In our world there are a lot of philosophical and historical problems that give people pause about committing themselves wholly to Jesus. The demands of being a Christian often mean that one cant be cool in the crowd. I read an article this week that claimed that the most common reason why teenage girls begin to drink is peer pressure. Peer pressure is a powerful motivating force, but it often leads people to do immoral things and it leads them away from God. When Jesus heals a blind man in chapter 9, the man is criticized by the Pharisees, and the mans parents dont want to be outcasts so they wont support their own son. Peer pressure!
So what does Jesus expect the Pharisees to believe? Well, He tells us in verse 24 in a sentence which the New International Version translates, believe that I am the one I claim to be. There are two ways to say what the original text says. The blunt words are, I am. But the meaning cant be that name of God like in Exodus 3 because of the form of the Greek words. So the New International Version translation captures the probable sense. Further, there is no outrage from the Pharisees or the crowd, like there is in verse 58, where Jesus says, before Abraham was born, I am! What Jesus says in verse 24 is ambiguous enough so that Jesus opponents in this long discussion ask, a bit sarcastically, Who are you? And Jesus answers something like, I havent changed my witness. At the beginning, in John 2, Jesus says He is the Son of His Father, whose temple He was in at the time. Thats who He was. The Pharisees have forgotten that discussion in the way we dont remember things we dont like to hear. Oh, did you tell me to take out the trash? I guess I forgot. Its not forgetting, you just didnt want to do it. Can people forget what Jesus is? They just dont want to hear it.
So, by the time the discussion comes to verse 27, heres what we read, They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. The point had seemed pretty clear in an earlier discussion in chapter 5, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. And the response by the Jewish religious leaders was to try to kill Him because He was making himself equal with God. Here in chapter 8, its as if they didnt remember from one discussion to the next what Jesus had talked about. This is a form of spiritual dementia, and it forces Jesus to say the same things over and over again.
Some people here this morning may be like these crowds in Jerusalem. You heard something about Jesus once and it was convincing to you. You said, Ill look into this later; and of course, you forgot all about it.
Weve just walked through what Jesus said in this ongoing conflict. Ive tried to make the issues as clear as I can. Complicated as this debate is, and hostile as some of the people are to Jesus, yet what Jesus says so compels some of them that they believe in Jesus, as verse 30 says, Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. Are you one of those? Or are you more like the Pharisees, or the crowd? The New Testament invites you to consider realities outside those you think you know about. The issues Jesus poses in this dialogue with His critics are crucially important. Thats why Jesus doesnt remain silent, why He tackles their criticisms. I invite you to consider who Jesus is.