Sermon: Coming Out Of The Dark
Scripture: John 7:37-41; 8:12
Date: October 4, 2015
I said last week that each of these I Am statements took place in the context of one of the great feasts of the Jewish faith. So last week we talked about Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the time when Jesus revealed that He was “the bread of life”, recalling God’s provision of the Manna, or bread from Heaven, that sustained the Hebrew people in the wilderness after the Exodus in Egypt.
And so this week in our study, we come to the second of the I Am statements of Jesus and the second of His Messianic claims, “I Am the light of the world.” Now John tells us that immediately after revealing that He is the Bread of Life, that the Disciples are so fired up that they urge Jesus to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles presumably to reveal His true identity. Now don’t get too fixated on John’s timeline here. In this case for example, we know that the statement “I Am the Bread of life” was made during the Passover festival which is a Spring festival. But the Feast of the Tabernacles is a Fall festival, September-October in our calendar. In fact, this year the Feast began last Sunday, with the full moon. By telling it this way,
John wants us to see the self -revelation of Jesus as the Messiah is a progression that really spanned the last year of His life.
Often times coming to understand who Christ is, is more of a gradual revelation for us as we understand more clearly how He works in our life. So that process of revelation begins with the Passover in Capernaum, dealing with the death of John the Baptist and spans one year to the next Passover , which was, of course, spent in Jerusalem, and culminated in His own death. So the Disciples urged Jesus to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles and reveal Himself once and for all as the Messiah in the Temple. Now we need to know that during these great festivals, pilgrims from all over the land make their way to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. The population of Jerusalem would double for the festivals and so Rabbis from all over the land would take the opportunity to teach in the Temple and Zealots and other revolutionary groups would try to recruit soldiers for their cause, and those who had Messianic aspirations would use the opportunity to try and convince the crowds that they were the long awaited Messiah. So these Festivals were a combination of religious and nationalistic fervor which made the Romans very nervous. They pressured Herod and the Priests to keep the crowds under control and made it clear that if they could not, the Roman army garrison would take charge. And Jesus knows that the Jewish Authorities are still looking for Him, and that if He walks into the Temple with great fanfare and proclaims His messianic identity as the Disciples want Him to, that he will be arrested and put to death as His cousin John had been. His time has not yet come, He says. And so He sends the Disciples on to the feast and remains behind, but as soon as they have left, He appears to change His mind and He sets out alone for Jerusalem. Aren’t there times when Jesus comes to us in the hidden, secret places of our soul, just when it seems that all the world has to offer is hatred and condemnation and death – darkness – Jesus comes and offers the illumination of God’s love and grace.
“I Am the light of the world.”
Now the Feast of Tabernacles is another one of the great celebrations that recalls the time that their Hebrew ancestors spent in the wilderness. For forty years, after fleeing from Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness, a nomadic people living in tents and other makeshift structures called tabernacles. And scripture tells us that God guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night because though they were destined to wander for a generation because of their disobedience, that did not mean that God had abandoned them. As long as they kept their eyes on that pillar of cloud and fire, God would lead them literally every step of the way. They only moved when the pillar of fire moved. And when they were hungry, he made the Manna fall from the sky like we talked about last week and when they were thirsty he made water flow from the rock. So with those things in mind, there are three major parts of the Festival. The first are the Tabernacles themselves. Religious Jews, even today, construct tent like structures, often on the balconies of their apartments and during the days of the festival their families will at the very least eat their meals in the Tabernacles. Often times the family, or at least the children, will sleep in the Tabernacles. These tabernacles are made from tent like material, or wood, or cardboard, or sheets – whatever they have on hand, and the only requirement is that the roofs must be made of branches (often palm branches) or sticks and constructed in a way so that at least three stars can be seen through the roofs at night to remind them that for forty years the Hebrew people had no home but slept out under the stars at night. And then the second part of the festival was that each day the priests would parade through the city bringing living water to the Temple that would then be poured on the altar. This, of course, was to remember the water that flowed from the rock. Living water then was water that flowed rather than was simply gathered in a cistern that collected the rain. In Jesus day, the only source of living water inside the gates of the city was the Pool of Siloam, which was fed by two springs. And so every day during the festival the priests would carry the living water from the Pool to the Temple, and as they did someone would read from the Torah the story of God making the water flow from the rock to sustain the Hebrews in the wilderness. And then the living water would be poured on the altar. It was a joyous occasion. John indicates that Jesus was teaching in the Treasury, or the Court of the Women. And so it is as He is watching the parade of Priests passing by with the living water that Jesus teaches, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me the rivers of living water will flow from within them. ”
And then the final part of the festival came on the last night when, in remembrance of the pillar of fire that led the Hebrews through the wilderness, four 75 foot lamp stands would be constructed in the Courtyard of the Women, which was also known as the treasury because that’s where the offering boxes were, and they would be lit at sundown on the last night of the festival, and the people would dance and celebrate all night under those giant lamp stands. The ancient historian known as Josephus, says that those candle stands were so large and the light so bright that they would not only light up the whole Temple platform but also would light the entire city of Jerusalem and for as far outside the walls as the people could see and that they could be seen throughout the land. They lit up the world. It was called the night of Grand Illumination. And so bathing in the light of those giant candle stands, on the last night of the festival, the night of Grand Illumination, when their otherwise darkened world was lit up for all to see, Jesus says: I am the light of the world.
So with that context in mind, let’s think about how His listeners that night would have understood this light that Jesus was offering.
First they would have understood the link between God and light. The Rabbis essentially taught that God is light. The writer of Genesis tells us that the first act of creation was the creation of light and from that point on God and light were seen as synonymous and inseparable. In fact, Scripture often describes God as a glorious countenance that shines forth. In keeping with the theme of the Festival of Tabernacles the Psalmist wrote: For by their own sword they did not possess the land, but Your right hand and the light of Your presence, For You favored them. And John himself wrote in his first letter to the churches:
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
So even the smallest source of light was the assurance of God’s presence. I said earlier that during the Festival of the Tabernacles, the Jews were to leave their roofs open so they could see at least three stars. The Stars were a reminder of the comfort and assurance that their ancestors found in God’s light penetrating the total darkness of the Wilderness. Stars were the presence of God. Remember the Star that settled over Jerusalem when Jesus was born. One writer says this about God as light.
I found out something else about light that lets me know why Jesus compared Himself to it and called Himself not just “a light” or “one light among many”, but “the light.” Light is absolutely INCORRUPTIBLE. Light cannot be defiled. No matter what light passes through it is always still pure light. It is not susceptible to contamination or infection. It doesn’t matter whether it is sunlight, moonlight, starlight, or lamplight. Whatever kind of light it is, light always remains pure, but in order for it to be effective, it must shine. We must shine the light of the world so others can see it.
When those giant lamp stands were lit on the last night of the festival the people would rejoice and dance and celebrate. It was a highly anticipated night. Just as in the wilderness the light indicated that God was present, those giant lights indicated the presence of God in the Temple. For that one night they were able to put aside the darkness of their lives and bathe in the light. But here’s the thing, those giant lamps burned all night, but by morning the oil had given out and the lights died out and their lives were dark again. “I Am the light of the world” proclaims a light that is all encompassing and eternal in nature. Always present if we want it to be.
And then “I Am the light of the world” speaks of the hope that comes in Christ’s presence. The
Rabbis taught that light is hope. Isaiah first spoke of the Messiah as light in a time of great darkness for the Hebrew people. Around the year 742 B.C. the army of the Assyrian Empire swept into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and began a systematic occupation. By that time David’s Kingdom had divided again into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Jerusalem was the Capitol of Judah and Isaiah lived in Jerusalem and prophesied during the period of Assyrian conquest. For twenty years the Assyrian army advanced through the Northern Kingdom and it was said that the people of Judah were able to chart the advance of the army towards Jerusalem by the lights. When the Assyrians captured a town they would destroy it completely. Nothing would be left standing. And so Isaiah could stand on the walls of Jerusalem and plot the location of the Assyrian army by the lights of the villages and towns that no longer would shine on the horizon. For twenty years he watched the darkness advance towards Jerusalem and knew that eventually all of Judah would fall to the same fate. And so in the midst of the advancing darkness and hopelessness Isaiah began to talk of a Messiah who would come and restore the light. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, the shadow of death, a light has dawned. And for six centuries they waited. First the Assyrians came and brought the darkness, then the Babylonians, then the Greeks under Alexander The Great and now the Romans. And every time the darkness threatened to overwhelm them, the promise of the Messiah, the light, would be spoken and the people would find hope. In recalling the pillar of fire that led their ancestors, they celebrated a God who had both led the way to the promised land, as well as protected them on the journey. Recall when they came to the banks of the Red Sea, with the Pharaohs army closing in fast, that the pillar of fire shifted from in front of them to in between themselves and Pharaoh and the light held back the army while the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea. When Jesus proclaims on the night of Grand Illumination that “He is the light of the world”, He is not simply repeating the well worn prophecies about the Messiah, He is claiming them as His own. He is the light, the Messiah. “I AM the light of the world.” To all of you walking in darkness, the light has come. But we can’t be satisfied to just bathe in the light. Jesus tells us that we should not be content with just the light – but rather we should follow Him into the light. Because for those who follow Him, there will be no more darkness. Elsewhere in scripture He is even more proactive when He says, “You are the light of the world.” You don’t need those giant candles to light the world because my light shines through you. You are the light of the world means that the light comes into the world through our relationship with Him. Rick Warren recently wrote this in a Daily Devotion.
You cannot make yourself the light of the world. Jesus says you are the light of the world because of your relationship with him. And the Apostle Paul writes “The God who said, ‘Out of darkness the light shall shine!’ is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ”
Sunday night we experienced a total lunar eclipse. For several minutes the light of the moon was completely extinguished as the earth passed between the sun and the moon. But we know that the moon’s light is not generated by the moon itself but rather it is a reflection of the light generated by the sun. Well, that is what Jesus has in mind when He says that we are the light of the world. He does not mean that we are God, but rather we are the reflection of God’s glory. One writer puts it this way:
The moon doesn’t generate any light. Apart from the sun, the moon is nothing more than a pitch black rock full of holes and craters, but let that moon get properly positioned to the sun and that moon will shine and glow all night long. That is all that God wants you to do – to simply let the light of His son shine through you and show it to a world living in darkness.
All God asks of you and me to do in a darkened world is just to show the light that is within us. You need to remember –
- –If you are in school and a Christ follower on an athletic team or in a marching band or some other organization that is filled with those who are not Christ followers, you are the light in their darkness.
- -If you are a family who follows Christ in a predominantly non-following Christ neighborhood, you are the light in that darkness.
- -If you are the Christ following professional in your office, in an office full of non-followers of Christ, you are to be the light in their darkness
At the beginning of his gospel, John describes Jesus as the true light that gives light to every man. Through Him all things were made and in Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
When the discussion took place in the aftermath of 9/11 concerning the kind of memorial that should be constructed at ground zero there was general agreement that as a part of the memorial they wanted some symbol of hope there. And finally they decided on light. So on the place where the World Trade Center Towers once stood they placed reflecting pools and at night, rising from those two pools are beams of light that extend into the night sky as a message of hope for the generations that follow. No words are spoken. No explanation given. Just two lights rising into the night sky.
He is the hope of the world because He is the Light of the world.
And then finally, I am the Light of the World calls us out of our own times of darkness. There are many things in this world which seek to darken our spirits. It is hard to imagine a people who lived more in darkness in this world than the Hebrew people. When Jesus was born, the Jews were in the midst of seven centuries of oppression, slavery and captivity. Most of the villages whose lights the Assyrians had extinguished in 700 B.C. had remained dark for more than 600 years. Nazareth, the home of Jesus, had been built on the ruins of one of those villages but not until after 100 B.C., 600 years after the original town had been destroyed. And the promise of Isaiah and the prophets that followed him, was that The Messiah would come to turn the lights back on. I am the light of the world proclaims that no matter what it is that tries to extinguish the light of our lives – be it illness, or heartbreak, or broken relationships, broken dreams, or sin, as John illustrates by inserting into the story the woman who has been caught in adultery that Jesus saves from being stoned to death – we no longer must dwell in the dark, because the great light has come to all of the darkened places of our soul. Just as the immense light of those giant candle sticks called people from all over the land to come to the Temple to worship and celebrate God’s faithfulness, Jesus, the light of the world, calls us to come out of the darkness of our world and our lives and behold the glory of the true light. And so He stands up in the light of those giant candles, on the one night at least that the Jews experienced some light in their lives, and proclaims,
“I am the light you have been waiting for. I am the light of the world.”
As I prepared for this message I was reminded of the story of Gloria Estefan. In the 1980’s Gloria Estefan was one of the most popular singers in the world. In the late 80’s she had 8 records that were number one hits internationally. She won seven grammy awards. Her concerts were sold out all over the world. She was truly a shining star. But in March of 1990, her world was plunged into deep darkness. Her tour bus was hit by a truck on an icy road in Pennsylvania and Estefan was critically injured. At first they weren’t sure that she would survive and then they said that she would never walk again. But Estefan did survive and after a year in which she struggled with both physical injuries and the accompanying depression, constant and painful rehabilitation, she was able to walk again and return to performing. She credits prayer, (she said she was overwhelmed with cards and letters saying people were praying for her) and God’s grace for her recovery and exactly one year later, in March of 1991 she returned to the stage for an appearance at the American Music Awards and she sang a song that she had written toward the end of that terrible year of darkness which told her story. She said she wrote it for herself but also to encourage others who were experiencing similar dark times in their life. And she shared these lyrics:
Why be afraid if I’m not alone
Though life is never easy the rest is unknown
Up to now for me it’s been hands pushing against stone
Spent each and every moment
Searching for what to believe
Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light now
It’s shining on me
Coming out of the dark I know the love that saved me
You’re sharing with me
Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light now
And it’s shining on me
Coming out of the dark
I see the light now
Yes I see the light
What about you? Do you see the light? Because the true light is the presence of Christ. And that’s why people all over the world are coming to the Lord’s table today. , To share in His presence. To experience His light, no matter how dark is the world that we come from. He calls us today to come out of the dark, and see His light. “I Am the light of the world.”