Follow the Light of the World
Series: The Gospel of John
This week we continue our Gospel of John series by looking at John 8:12-30 and diving into the big idea that we are to Follow the Light of the World.
Citylight Manayunk March 27 2022 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.
The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary Series) by D.A. Carson
The Gospel According to John (Baker Exegetical Commentary Series) by Andreas Kostenburger
Expository Thoughts on John by J.C. Ryle
Africa Study Bible, notes on the Gospel of John by Samuel Ngewa
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Have you ever experienced the all-consuming reality of real darkness? I can still remember hiking years ago on the Appalachian Trail in the middle of the night with some men from Citylight. That far from civilization, the darkness is overwhelming. It’s terrifying to not even be able to see the ground where you’re about to place your foot or make out the outline of your hand stretched out in front of you. If memory serves me right, Pastor Gordon nearly walked off the side of a ridge. But that overwhelming darkness also highlights the power of just the slightest light. We were able to find our way with little headlamps and weak phone lights. Darkness is overwhelming, but even the faintest light cuts through it. And in the ancient world, before the advent of artificial light, darkness dominated life. When the sun went down, the world became pitch black, and most people simply went to sleep because walking in that kind of pitch black can be deadly. And in the midst of that world dominated by the perpetual cycle of darkness, the Lord Jesus Christ speaks these unforgettable words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In this one verse we have both a revolutionary statement and a gracious invitation: “I am the light of the world.” “Follow me.” Put together the statement and the invitation and you have the big idea of our passage: Follow the light of the world.
This morning we’re going to do something a little different. Since every word in John 8:12 matters and is packed with meaning, we are going to walk our way through just this one verse slowly, exploring the background, context, and meaning before we get into our points and consider what it is that we should do in light of what Jesus says in John 8:12. Are you guys reading for some serious and encouraging theology? John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Are you guys ready for some serious, encouraging theology?
Let’s begin with the first two words: “I am.” This is the second of seven “I am” statements that Jesus made in the Gospel of John. Though it’s easy to breeze past the words “I am,” by uttering them the Lord Jesus is doing nothing less than claiming to be the great I am, Yahweh, the Creator God who has come in the flesh. We know that Jesus is communicating all that because in our passage next week, when Jesus says, “before Abraham was, ‘I am,’” the Jewish leader picked up stones to execute Jesus for the blasphemy of claiming to be God. But since Pastor Mark is going to provide a deep dive on all that next week, let’s move to the next phrase with the knowledge that Jesus is truly human and also truly God. More to come next week!
I am the light of the world. What in the world does that mean? Let’s begin with the context of the passage right in front of us. You may remember from two weeks ago that the setting for our passage is the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus Christ is in Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the feast of booths, when God’s people would come to Jerusalem and live in temporary shelters, or booths, for one week to remember how God provided for their ancestors, who had to dwell in temporary shelters for 40 years as they traveled from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. The feast of booths was all about remembering how the Lord guided, protected, and preserved his people during their wilderness journey. And one of the greatest dangers that Israel faced while traveling at night, which they did, was darkness. That’s probably why a central feature of the feast of booths in Jesus’ day was the illumination of the temple. Fred Klett writing for Jews for Jesus describes the scene (display pic below):
Four huge menorahs were set up to illuminate the entire Temple area. In actuality they were so large that each of the stems formed a torch. The wicks were made from the worn out linen garments of the priests. As smaller torches were carried to light the procession, the people danced and played harps, lyres, cymbals and lutes. The Levites chanted the Psalms of Ascent (120-134); one psalm on each of the fifteen steps leading from the court of the Israelites to the court of the women. Imagine what a glorious scene it must have been, with the majesty of the procession and the golden stone walls of the Temple bathed in the glow of the torch-lit night!
The illumination of the temple reminded Israel that God led his people through the wilderness away from Egypt by his illuminating presence as a pillar of fire. Exodus 13:21 – And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. And it’s with the temple gloriously lit up by fire, with God’s people remembering that the Lord led his people through the dark wilderness as a pillar of fire, and with the entire congregation singing something like Psalm 27:1 – the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear – that the Lord Jesus Christ stands up and cries out, “I am the light of the world.” Wow! The Lord Jesus Christ is the great I am, Yahweh, come in the flesh and he is the very presence of God among us as the true and greater light in our dark world. It’s with all this behind him that the Lord Jesus Christ says, “I am the light of the world.” Now comes the wonderful invitation.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Now that is a gracious invitation from the light of the world. Don’t skip straight to “follows me.” Look at the word right before it: whoever. I love the word “whoever.” No one, not even me, is excluded. You can rest your life on the “whoever” promises of Christ. There is not a person on this planet or in this room who Jesus will reject if we come to him with the empty hands of faith, nothing to offer, and simply follow him like Israel followed the pillar of fire at night. The Lord Jesus Christ invites everyone to follow Him by faith, just like Israel looked to the pillar of fire as their only hope for survival. And the Lord Jesus’ invitation includes a marvelous promise: whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Now, darkness is a significant theme in the Gospel of John. In John 1, the whole world is said to be in the darkness of rebellion against and estrangement from God. In John 3, darkness is associated with unbelief and evil deeds. In John 9, darkness is a metaphor for spiritual blindness. In John 12 we learn that those who are overtaken by darkness do not know where they are going. And when the Lord Jesus invites us to follow Him he invites us out of all that hopeless rebellion, all that fearful unbelief, all that spiritual blindness, all that coming judgment, and all that wandering purposelessness that is characterized by darkness. And he invites us into the light of life, or the light that produces real, joyful, purposeful, eternal life.
Ok – the invitation is before us. None other than the great “I am” come in the flesh, the Savior-Servant-Son, the true pillar of fire that shines as light into our dark world and our dark hearts is holding out an invitation to each of us. Big idea: Follow the light of the world. It’s an invitation that we receive to begin the Christian life and it’s the invitation that we accept by faith everyday of the Christian life. And if you accept this invitation you will not walk in the darkness of life without God now and forever, but you will have the light that produces life. Whatever your next step toward Jesus or with Jesus, will you follow him? Whatever step of faith, step of obedience, step of repentance, or big decision lies in front of you, will you follow Jesus the light of the world? Will you fix your eyes on him as your only hope in life and in death and the only light for your path ahead, and follow Him? Follow the light of the world!
Now, the Lord Jesus Christ did not speak these words in a quiet vacuum. There were crowds of Jews and Pharisees before him when he made his revolutionary statement and offered his almost too good to be true invitation. How did they respond? John 8:13 – So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony isn’t true.” Translation: “Follow you? Why in the world would we want to do that? In response to the antagonism, the Lord Jesus provides the crowd in his day and each of us with three unique reasons why we should follow the light of the world.
The Father sent Him
The Pharisees will not follow Jesus because Jesus isn’t following their rules. Their rules say that no one can establish their identity and credentials by their own word. They need someone else to bear witness to them, to establish their legitimacy. Have you ever wondered if Jesus was telling the truth when he said, “I am the light of the world?” That’s what the Jewish leaders are wondering. And Jesus’ answer appeals to the highest and most certain intellectual authority. We follow the light of the world because the Father sent Him. John 8:14, 17-18 – Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true…In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”
The reason why we should follow the light of the world is because the Father promised throughout the Old Testament that when He sent His one of a kind Son, the Christ, the Savior into the world, he would shine like light in darkness. Looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah writes, “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). And again in Isaiah 49:6 – “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” We follow the light of the world because the Father promised Him and sent Him and there is no higher authority to rest in than the Father.
Time is short to believe in Him
John 8:21, 24 – So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come…I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” The second reason to follow the light of the world is an urgent one: time is short. The Lord Jesus Christ, the kindest person who ever lived, the One who says that his heart is gentle and lowly, beckons us to follow him because if we do not we will die in the darkness of our sins and experience eternal judgment. And Jesus is the light of the world, which means he is the only light for the world, there is no other. And without the light that produces eternal life, you will die in your sins and experience eternal darkness. Time is short. Don’t waste another day. Believe in Jesus, come to the Light of the Word, and experience the overwhelming joy and peace of eternal life. You don’t know when your time is up, but I’m old enough to know that life is shorter than you think. Don’t delay. Believe in Him and experience the light that brings eternal life.
And if you’re already a follower of Jesus, embrace the joy of walking in the light today. This paragraph could be expanded to more benefits of walking in the light (eternal perspective, freedom from fear, clear direction and purpose, relief from secret sin, no fear of appearances).
He has been lifted up
John 8:28-29 – So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” The ultimate reason why we follow Jesus the light of the world is because now that he’s been lifted up. In the greatest of all ironies, it was by lifting up Jesus on a cross that the Jewish and Roman leaders proved once and for all who Jesus really is. Though they snuffed out the light of the world, three days later he rose to glorious life and that life is the light of the world. The Lord Jesus Christ experienced the full weight and horror of eternal darkness when he was lifted up to die for the darkness of all our sins. And three days later he was lifted up in victorious resurrection so that whoever follows him will not walk in darkness by have the light of life. He is the light of the world. So, whatever your next step is with Jesus or toward Jesus, let’s follow Him.