Almost everyone—even those who don’t claim to believe in God—will agree that, from the standpoint of human history, Jesus Christ is the most significant person Who has ever lived.
In his book, Jesus Through the Centuries Yale historian, Jaraslav Pelikan puts it like this: “Jesus of Nazareth has been the most dominant figure in the history of western culture for almost 20 centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of His name, how much would be left?”
To answer his question, “Not much!” Without the impact of Jesus’ life human culture would collapse like a house of cards. Consider the following facts that show His amazing influence.
- Other than the writing on the ground that we talked about last week, Jesus never wrote anything, yet, some of the greatest works of literature were inspired by His life.
- Jesus never painted a picture, yet some of the finest paintings from Michelangelo and de Vinci were inspired by Him.
- He composed no music, yet Handel, Beethoven, and Bach reached their highest perfection in songs they wrote in praise of Him.
- Although Jesus taught for only three years, His influence looms larger than the combined influence of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who taught for a combined 140 years!
- But perhaps the greatest indication of the significance of Jesus’ life is see in the fact that we divide history according to His time on this earth. We mark time by “B.C.” or “before Christ” and “A.D.” or “Anno Domini…the year of our Lord.”
With this in mind, Oxford theologian Alister McGrath points out that one of the ironies of history is that even the lives of those who were utterly opposed to Jesus and all He stood for are dated with reference to Him. For example, the Roman Emperor Nero, the ruler who burned Rome and blamed Jesus’ followers, died in the year of our Lord 68 or 68AD and the atheist dictator Joseph Stalin died in the year of our Lord 1953 or 1953AD. So you easily can see that it is impossible to overstate the impact Jesus Christ has had on this earth.
Tim Peck mentions something else that is ironic about Jesus—every world religion makes a special place for Him—something you don’t see in any other context.
- For example: even though they reject the idea that Jesus is God’s Son, the Muslim religion views Him as the greatest prophet before the coming of Mohammed.
- Hinduism reveres Jesus as one of their thousands of different gods and goddesses.
- The Mormon religion claims that Jesus is the spirit-brother of the devil.
So you can see—no matter how you approach His life—no matter where you look—no one has had more impact on human history than Jesus.
Well, why is that so? Why would an itinerant preacher from a back water country who lived in the first century be more significant than any other individual? The reason is this: Jesus was and is the Christ—the one and only SON of God.
For several months now we’ve been studying John’s account of Jesus’ life—and you should know by now that the reason John wrote His gospel was to convince his readers of this fact. As he put it in his 20th chapter,“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” You should also remember that for the past few chapters of John’s account he’s been telling us about a running verbal battle that Jesus has been fighting with the Scribes and the Pharisees a battle in which He has repeatedly claimed to be the Messiah—God become flesh….a claim which the vast majority of them disputed. In our text for today Jesus makes this claim in the boldest way yet.
Let me give you the SETTING—and this is one of those times when understanding the setting is absolutely essential to a complete understanding the text. So here goes. The feast of the tabernacles is still going on. Remember, the purpose of this feast was to celebrate the exodus—those 40 years when God guided the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. The events in our text took place in the court of the women—that place in the temple beyond which a woman could not go. Specifically it took place in the portion of this courtyard set aside for the temple treasury. Let me describe it to you. As you can see, all around the Court of the Women there was a colonnade…or porch and in that porch, set against the wall, there were 13 treasure chests into which people dropped their offerings. These treasure chests were called “THE TRUMPETS” because they were shaped like trumpets: narrow at the top and swelling out towards the bottom. Each chest was for a specific offering. The first two trumpet-shaped chests were there for every Jew to pay their half shekels that went towards the upkeep of the temple. Into the third and fourth were placed the offerings used to purchase the two pigeons which a woman had to offer for her purification after the birth of a child. Into the fifth trumpet chest were put contributions towards the cost of the wood which was needed to keep the altar fire burning. Into the sixth were dropped moneys used to defray the cost of incense used in temple services. The seventh was for upkeep of the golden vessels which were used in Temple services. Into the remaining six trumpets people dropped any surplus money which remained after they had paid all the prior required offerings. These six trumpets were for any thing extra they wanted to give. I can’t help but wonder who would HAVE any extra money to give after all that! With all these required offerings, the Temple treasury area was a busy place—perhaps the busiest place in the entire temple. It was constantly flowing with worshipers. I mean, this is where the devout Jews went so it was the PERFECT PLACE to collect an audience of devout people to teach!
Now—you may remember my telling you that on the opening night of this feast four large candelabras were lit in the Temple and some say they were so bright that they lit the entire city. Each candelabra was said to be 75 feet tall with huge bowls at the top. Each bowl held 10 gallons of oil. The wicks were made from the old, no longer useable garments of the priests. These huge lights were meant to symbolize the pillar of fire by which God led the people through the wilderness….the Shekinah glory of God. Throughout the week these lights burned brightly as the wisest and holiest of Israel’s men danced before the Lord and sang songs of joy while the people watched and waited. The celebrations surrounding these candelabras both reminded the Israelites of the glory of God dwelling among them during the exodus….and the promise of God to send a future LIGHT, the anointed One—the Messiah—Who would release them from bondage. This all continued until it’s culmination on the final day…when the lights would be extinguished as a reminder that God had not yet sent the Messiah.
Well, at this point, right after the candelabras were extinguished—in the PERFECT PLACE…at the PERFECT TIME, right after the candelabras were put out and darkness filled the courtyard…Jesus stood up and said to that huge crowd of pious Jews,“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” There couldn’t be a more spectacular way to say this—a more powerful time and place to declare exactly Who He was—not “a” light but “THE” light—the long-awaited Messiah of God. The Pharisees knew what Jesus was saying so they immediately challenged Him on this. In fact, over the next 47 verses they interrupted Jesus TEN times in a very heated debate.
We don’t have time to read all 47 verses so take your Bibles and turn to John 8 and follow along as I give you a quick summary of the blow by blow….beginning with verse 13. First they say that Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah is not valid because there are no WITNESSES to back Him up. Jesus responds by saying they are mistaken because He in fact has two witnesses: Himself, and His Father. They ask where His Father is and Jesus told these religious leaders that they didn’t know His Father…because He is from above and they are from below. Then—ignoring what Jesus just said they ask Him to identify Himself and Jesus reminds them that He’s been telling them all along Who He is and why He has come. They continue to feign ignorance, asking Him once again Who He thinks He is, so Jesus prophesied His own death and said they would understand Who He is after He is lifted up. He tells them that if they hold to His teaching, they would know the truth and the truth would set them free. But they get defensive and say that as Abraham’s children they don’t need to be freed because they have never been enslaved. Jesus warns them that sin enslaves everybody—even the descendants of Abraham. Then He chastises them for their pride and says they are acting like satan is their father…not Abraham. They piously respond by telling Jesus that God is their father—and that, by the way, He shouldn’t bring up the subject of parentage because as everyone knows He was illegitimate. And—if that jab weren’t bad enough, they follow up this verbal blow by calling Jesus the worse name they can think of: a Samaritan and a demon-possessed one as well. Jesus counters by telling them He knew Abraham. That get’s their attention so they say, “How could you know Abraham? You’re not even 50.” And Jesus says, “Before Abraham was I AM”…and with those last two words—that phrase God used to identify Himself to Moses Jesus was once again claiming to be God become flesh. They understand this claim so they begin to throw more than WORDS. They bend down and look for STONES to throw at Him—but Jesus slips away.
Now—before we go any further I want to make an important point. In the last few sermons as I’ve described this ongoing battle between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, I may have painted the Scribes and the Pharisees as the enemy—and they were opposed to Jesus—but I want to make sure you know that Jesus loved these men. Our Lord’s love is not selective. He loves ALL people—even His enemies. Remember, as He hung on the cross He prayed for the men who had put Him there. I’m sure His heart broke for these religious leaders who rejected His love. I imagine He spent many hours praying for them before the cross…and if you have an enemy—someone who treats you as hatefully as these guys treated Jesus…you need to follow our Lord’s example and love them and pray for them!
But let’s get back to the statement Jesus made that ignited this lengthy 47 verse debate. Do you remember how it all started? Jesus stood up as these huge candelabras were extinguished as the traditional symbol of the hope for the coming Messiah and said, “Hey—it’s ME. I am here! I am the Messiah, the LIGHT OF THE WORLD.” In that statement He claimed to be GOD become flesh—and it’s no wonder the Pharisees and Scribes understood His claim because so much of the Bible uses this metaphor. I mean, light is used throughout the Scriptures in connection with the Christ of God. Isaiah 9:2 says,“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great LIGHT; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a LIGHT has shined.” This is continued in the New Testament. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist prophesied the coming Christ when he said: “The Dayspring from on high has visited us. To give LIGHT to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”(Luke 1:78-79) When the aged Simeon took baby Jesus into his arms as He was dedicated at the temple he spoke of Him as,“A LIGHT to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32) John began his gospel by saying,“In Him was life and the life was the LIGHT of men. And the LIGHT shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5)
The question I want us to consider this morning is what does this metaphor tell us about our Lord? What does LIGHT do—that only GOD does? I want to suggest four things.
(1) First, light gives LIFE.
Think about it. Light sets our biological clocks. It triggers in our brains the sensations of color. It even supplies the energy for things to grow. Without the light of the sun, plants die—and so would we if we didn’t get vitamin D in some other way. Light is literally a life-giving thing.
We have a trampoline in our back yard. It was something all three of our children wanted when they were little. They saw one at Galyans Sporting goods and they made a pact to save their money from chores and babysitting and that’s what they did. I still remember the day we took their funds—a combination of bills and rolled coinage—and bought it. Well, over the years we’ve had to keep moving the trampoline because if we leave it in the same place too long, the grass underneath dies because that huge dark circle blocks out the sun. This is because without LIGHT plants die. Light gives life….and so does God—abundant, meaningful LIFE! As we know Him and join Him in His purposes—we begin to realize that life without Him…is more like death than life!
F.T.T. is an acronym to describe an ailment where—for unknown reasons—a newborn infant, is unable to gain weight or to grow. F.T.T. stands for “Failure to Thrive.” Sometimes it happens when a parent or care-giver is depressed, and the depression seems to get passed down. Sometimes something seems to be off in an infant’s metabolism for reasons no one can understand. I mean, FTT is one of those mysterious phrases that sounds like an explanation but explains nothing. It’s simply a failure to thrive. Well, I agree with John Ortberg—who says that this is a good illustration of the human condition—without Christ. Without Jesus—people fail to thrive. I mean, without God people wander through meaningless lives. Without God people search in vain for joy. I think this is probably why 4000 books were published in 2008 on the subject of how to be happy. People yearn for purpose and hope and joy—but look it in all the wrong places. The fact is without God, our lives are lifeless. We fail to thrive.
In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes that although we have tended to think of the word “salvation” as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment, it actually has a much more robust meaning for the writers of Scripture. Willard says, “the simple and wholly adequate word for salvation in the New Testament is ‘life.’ Jesus said, ‘I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’ and ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ Paul said, ‘Even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ.’” So, this is the fallen human condition. FTT—failure to thrive. Without God that’s what our life is like—but when He comes in, He brings us life—meaningful life…joyful life. As John says in the beginning of His gospel, “In Him—in Jesus—was LIFE—and that life was the LIGHT of men!”
(2) A second thing that light does that God also does is this. Light REVEALS.
It enables us to see things that were there all along — things that were hidden by the darkness. Let me put it this way. Darkness CONCEALS and light REVEALS. In a similar way Jesus—God in the flesh shines the light of Truth on our lives—and when He does we see things we wouldn’t see otherwise. I like how C. S. Lewis puts it. He said,“I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun. Not only because I see it, but because by it all things are seen.”
We see this principle here in John 8 because in His “discussion” with these men our Lord shined the light of truth on things they were blind to.
For example, Jesus illuminated the fact that the Jews’ HERITAGE would not save them. They needed a RELATIONSHIP with God. The problem was these Jews had gone too far in their admiration of their father Abraham. They thought that Abraham was so good that he had earned favor with God not only for himself but also for his descendants. Jesus was trying to open their lives so they could see the flaws in that line of reasoning. And, unfortunately we find people who are blinded by that same faulty reasoning today. People say, “Of course I am a Christian. I was born a Christian!” or “I’m from a Christian family.” But, being a Christian has nothing to do with birth. I mean Hugh Hefner was raised in a minister’s home. Joseph Stalin studied for the priesthood. Mao Tse-tung was raised under missionary teaching. Birth—heritage—doesn’t get us into Heaven. REBIRTH is required—the rebirth that results when as individuals we make the personal decision to confess our faith in Jesus as the Christ of God—the Savior of the world.
Another bit of truth Jesus highlighted that day was when He told those men they were ENSLAVED and that He had come to free them. These religious leaders were incensed by this comment—because they placed a very high view on freedom. Even to suggest to a Jew that he was a slave was an insult. You may remember that when the Romans cornered the Jewish zealots on Masada, they committed suicide rather than be taken into slavery. Well, Jesus was saying, “You are living in denial! OPEN YOUR EYES—you are enslaved. Sin enslaves you. Everyone who sins is a slave.” I’m reminded of something Socrates said, “How can you call a man free when his pleasures rule over him?” As we said last week, without Jesus living in us—we are all slaves to our desires. Without the freedom that He makes possible, we are all enslaved by sin. What’s worse is the fact that without Him we don’t see this. Before long we don’t even see sin as sin. We rationalize and justify our sinful actions. We value tolerance above truth.
This week I read about a construction worker named Patrick Lawler who thought he had a toothache. For almost a week, he tried painkillers and ice packs to reduce the swelling. When nothing he did brought relief, he finally went to the dental office where his wife works. Only after the dentist took THIS X-RAY did Patrick learn the true source of the toothache. He had a four-inch nail in his head. When the dentists reported their discovery to Patrick’s wife, she thought they were joking. But the x-ray revealed the truth. The nail had entered through his mouth, just missing Patrick’s right eye. The incident occurred six days earlier. Patrick was working with a nail gun that backfired. One of the nails shot into his mouth and embedded itself, but Patrick didn’t realize it. He merely complained of a toothache and blurry vision, and even tried ice cream to soothe the pain. After the nail was discovered, surgeons at a Denver hospital successfully removed it through four hours of surgery. Although it is a rare injury one neurosurgeon admitted, “…this is the second one we’ve seen in this hospital where the person was injured by the nail gun and didn’t actually realize the nail had been embedded in their skull.”
I share this to illustrate the fact that like the powerful light of an x-ray, Jesus shines the light of truth on our lives so that we can see our sins—and the damage they cause our lives and then decide to turn from them. Confession is really an invitation for God to do some “surgery” on our soul—to wash our sins away and help heal the damage they have caused. Light—and God—REVEALS.
(3) Here’s a third thing that Light does that God does. Light GUIDES.
As Jesus said in verse 12 “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”
Years ago, we took Redland’s teens on a self-guided tour of a cave up in Pennsylvania. We were given a rough map and three hours to explore to our heart’s content—but all on our own. We told the teens to bring two flashlights—just in case one failed—and extra batteries to boot. We reminded them that this was an unguided tour—which meant no lights. And there were none—it was absolutely dark. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I remember some of the teens decided to use that darkness to test a theory. They each had a wintergreen life saver and at the same time they crunched it with their teeth while their mouths were open to see if it did indeed make a spark—and it did! Well, it goes without saying that it was important to have a reliable light in this cave to find your way and to keep from falling down a hole or something. One youth brought a friend…and apparently she didn’t get the memo because she only brought a little cheap dollar store flashlight…and no extra batteries. She got separated from the others and her light failed. Some of our youth found her deep in the cave sitting on a rock…in the darkness…sobbing in fear. Well, in this dark world we need the guidance of our all-knowing God—and He promises to do that…to guide us through life. The Psalmist expresses our desire when he prays, “Send forth Your LIGHT, and Your truth, let them guide me.” (Psalm 43:3)
And then in Isaiah 30:21, God answers that kind of prayer saying, “Whether you turn to the right of the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.”
David, the Shepherd King, knew this about God.. His Psalm 139 is full of the realization of God’s willingness to guide us. Do you remember David’s words? “Oh Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand…when I am far away you know my every thought. You know what I am going to say before I say it. You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am.” The Bible is full of situations where God has proved David’s statements to be true as He willingly, specifically guided someone.
- Noah was told to build a boat, and he was told exactly how to do it.
- Abram was instructed to leave his country and go to a land that God would show him.
- God guided Abraham’s servant so that he could locate a wife for Isaac.
- This feast was a celebration of how God guided the people of Israel on their journey out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
While on that 40-year journey, God guided them in great detail in the smallest of decisions. He said if you get sick, this is how you get well and protect others from becoming infected. If you get hungry, this is what you can eat and this is what you should avoid.
- When it came time to build the Temple, God gave Solomon very specific instructions, down to the measurements of the temple utensils.
- The shepherds were given specific instructions that guided them to the Christ child.
- The wise men were given a star to light their way.
- After Jesus’ birth, Joseph was instructed in a dream to flee to Egypt with his family so as to avoid Herod’s wrath.
- The book of Acts could just as well be entitled “The Book of Guidance.” First the apostles are guided to wait until they are empowered with the Holy Spirit. Next after two apostles are imprisoned, God sends an angel to guide them out of jail.
- Before appointing deacons, the apostles sought and received God’s guidance.
- Philip was instructed by God to go to a place where he could minister to an Ethiopian Official and then instantly transported to another place of ministry in Azotus.
- Ananias was guided by God to go and pray for the persecutor Saul.
- Peter was guided to enter the house of Cornelius.
On and on we could go demonstrating the dynamic aspect of God’s guidance. All these examples should remind us that as Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you continually.” Do you grasp this awesome truth? God is willing and able to guide every moment of your life and my life. The same God who guided the men and women whose stories are recorded in this book wants to guide your life and mine! He invites us into a relationship with Him through which He promises to point which way to go at each intersection on the road of life. We don’t have to wander in darkness!
So LIGHT—and God—gives life. It REVEALS. It guides…and then here’s one final thing I’ll mention.
(4) Light—and God—banishes FEAR.
This is good news because life on this fallen world of ours is full of things that cause us to fear: health problems, financial woes, family issues—to name a few. Here’s a quote from Lucado’s book, Fearlesss:
“Each sunrise brings new reasons to fear. Layoffs at work, slowdowns in the economy, flare-up in the Middle east, downturns in the housing market, breakouts of al Qaeda cells. Some demented dictator is collecting nuclear warheads the way others collect fine wines. A new strain of flu is crossing the border. The plague of our day, terrorism, begins with the word TERROR. We are peppered with bad news: global warming, asteroid attack, genocide, wars, earthquakes, AIDS. News programs disgorge enough hand-wringing information to warrant an advisory: ‘Caution: this news report is best viewed in the confines of an underground fault in Iceland.’ We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We create elaborate security systems and legislate stronger military, yet we depend on mood altering drugs more than any other generation in history. Fear, it seems has taken a hundred year lease on the building next door and set up shop.”
Frank Furedi documented an increasing use of fear in the media by counting the appearances of the term “AT RISK” in British newspapers. In 1994 the term appears 2,037 times. During the year 2000 it appeared more than 18,000 times. Well, all this bad news is taking its toll. We are the most worried culture that has ever lived. For the first time since the end of WW2 parents expect that life for their next generation will be worse than it was for them.
This prevalence of fear is a sad thing because fear feels dreadful. There’s no button you can push to make it go away. And while you’re trying to find a way to deal with it—fear sucks the life out of your soul. It drains you of contentment. It can make grown men curl into an embryonic pose.
It is no wonder that Jesus wages such a war against fear! Like an encouraging light dispelling the fear-inducing darkness, Jesus comes and tells us we need no longer be afraid. In fact, His most common command is some form of these two words: “Fear not!” In the Gospels Jesus sais this 125 times. He made this one statement more than any other. The second most common command, to love God and neighbor, appears only 8 times. So, if quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. Here’s some examples:
- Matthew 10:31 – “Do not be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows.”
- Matthew 9:2 – “Take courage son; your sins are forgiven.”
- Matthew 6:25 – “I tell you not to worry about every day life—whether you have enough.”
- Matthew 14:27 and 28:20 – “Take courage! I am here! I will be with you always—even to the end of the world!”
- Luke 12:32 – “Don’t fear, little flock. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”
- John 14:1,3 – “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me.”
- Matthew 24:6 – “When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic.”
The comforting, encouraging fact is that, as Psalm 27:1says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid.”
LET US PRAY