John began his Gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5)
Light, in all the forms that we know it is amazing. Whether it is the bright glow of the sun or the precision cutting power of a laser, light, while we can describe it, is still beyond our understanding. Is it waves? Is it particles? Scientists are still discovering its properties and uncovering its hidden mysteries.
There are certain names that Jesus used to describe himself that are both obviously simple and at the same time infinitely beyond our understanding. They are simple in that he uses concepts that we easily identify with, and so we assume that because we grasp the surface meaning, we have plumbed the depths of it. But if we would step back from what seems obvious, it would become clear that we have only begun to dip our toes in the shallow end of the pool.
This morning’s sermon is like that. When I sat down to write a sermon on Jesus as the light of the world, I thought, “Ooh, this out to be easy – I know all about light.” There are a lot of passages of scripture that talk about “light” – it would take an hour just reading those passages to you (and that wouldn’t be a bad way to spend an hour.)
But when you sit and start thinking about the implications of those passages, and the powerful way the light impacts our lives, it is a very humbling and unsettling experience. Those physical manifestations of light are only images that point us toward spiritual implications of light.
So, let’s start with the obvious. I light a candle, and it gives illumination and dispels the darkness around it. If you have a large enough fire it gives warmth and comfort to those who are near it.
I remember camping with my family in the mountains when I was a little boy. And I was wandering around exploring in the woods after supper, and didn’t pay attention to the fact that the sun was going down and the light was fading. Then, almost as if someone had flipped the switch – you know how it is out in the mountain forests – the sun slipped behind the mountain and it was instantly dark. couldn’t see anything. I looked around and there were no lights, I had no bearings and no idea where our campsite was. I started to walk in the direction I thought I should go, and I was panicking, when suddenly, off through the trees I saw a little pinprick of light. I walked toward that light for what seemed like forever until I came on the campsite and the little campfire my parents had built. And all of my panic dissolved into relief. Light had brought me home to safety.
John said, In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
Why did Jesus come? To bring light into a world of darkness. But from the moment he arrived until the moment of his death, and really for centuries beyond, we see forces at work trying to extinguish that light. Why? Why wouldn’t they welcome the light and enjoy the illumination and warmth and comfort that light brings? Why weren’t they like a child lost in the darkness who runs to the light in relief and joy?
Because they didn’t know they were lost. Worse than that, they didn’t know they were blind. It is in John 8:12 that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It is immediately after that that Jesus healed a blind man and created a brouhaha with the Jewish leaders condemning him for healing on the Sabbath and calling himself God, and Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” And then the Pharisees said, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41)
The light that Jesus brings into this world can’t cure that kind of blindness. They arrogantly thought they possessed the light and were the sole dispensers of the light. They couldn’t see that they couldn’t see.
There is an old Persian proverb:
He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not is a fool; shun him.
He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child; teach him.
He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep; wake him.
He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise; follow him.
They were the worst kind of fools – the light came and they rejected him.
But Jesus himself said that would happen: In John 3, immediately after Jesus said that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, he said this: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
Light doesn’t affect everyone the same. To some it is the promise of hope and freedom. To others it is the threat of loss and humiliation.
Light exposes us for who we really are. The Hebrews writer put it this way: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)
Let’s be honest. None of us likes to have our sins and failures exposed. It’s always a sad day when some public figure is exposed for some sin, especially a religious figure. Names like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard have dotted the landscape like train wrecks, when they were found not to be the people they claimed to be. The white hot light of media attention dragged their private lives across our television screens and showed them, not just to be sinners, but hypocrites.
Far away from the bright lights of public scrutiny, we all struggle with the fact that we’re not everything we seem to be – we hide behind masks and reputations, and we don’t let too many people into our private lives, and even fewer in to see our real selves.
And it’s a shame. Because when we hide behind our masks – in the shadows – the light can’t really reach us. And if the light can’t reach us then we remain lost in our sin.
The Apostle John – this time in his first letter – wrote about how important it is that we walk in the light: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:6-10)
There are so many things at stake: If we remain in the shadows, avoiding the light, deceiving ourselves, we live our lives apart from God, isolated from his church – still in our sins. The very light that came to save us is unable to touch us with its cleansing, healing power.
Light can be frightening, intimidating – but it is also the only hope we have of a right relationship with God. Listen to verse 7 again: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
What does it mean to walk in the light? It certainly doesn’t mean sinlessness, because the very next thing he said was, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So, walking in the light is not living a perfect life.
Walking in the light means that, in spite of our sin and shortcomings and failures, we don’t hide in the shadows, we don’t try to avoid scrutiny – we live a transparent life before God. John says that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
The Hebrews writer encourages us: See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb. 3:12-13) And that can’t happen when we refuse to let people close enough to really know us. Walking in the light means that we not only live transparent lives before God but that we live transparent lives before each other.
James writes: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16) And that’s the scariest thing any of us can imagine because it opens us up to the potential for criticism and condemnation and betrayal. It is a risk to let people know your sins and weaknesses because not everybody will be faithful with your trust. But James says the risk is worth it.
Walking in the light, ultimately means walking in Jesus’ footsteps, trusting that as we follow him, putting our feet in the steps where he leads he will give us light to guide our way. John said, “walk in the light as he is in the light.” And as we walk in his footsteps, as we imitate him, we take on his nature and his qualities. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)
We take on the qualities of light – we become a beacon in the darkness of the world around us. Paul put it this way: For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Phil. 2:13-16)
Light brings life and healing and wholeness to a world that is lost and wandering godlessly toward hell. As we hold out the word of life we are bringing that light into people’s lives. We have the opportunity to touch lives and change hearts and bring people into contact with the one who is the Light of the world.
There will be those who flee from the light, those who oppose the light, who will try to cover the light and extinguish the light. But there will be those who long for the light, who are tired of walking in darkness, who desire the truth. And they are looking, like a lost boy in the woods for that glimmer from a campfire that promises the safety and warmth of home.
A grandfather asked his granddaughter what she would like for Christmas, and she replied, “I want a world!” He asked her what she meant and he learned she wanted a globe. So, he purchased a globe and wrapped it up for under the tree on Christmas morning. When she opened it, she was obviously disappointed, so he asked what was wrong. “I wanted a lighted world,” she said. So, being a grandpa, he went looking for a lighted globe. When he presented it to her, she was delighted. As he talked with his daughter later, he said, “I learned something in all this.” “What’s that?” she asked. “I learned that a lighted world costs a lot more.”
And it does. The light of the world, cost the Father everything to send his son to save us from our sins. And it costs us everything, if we are to be the light of the world to a people lost in darkness.