Close Encounters with Jesus – John 8 – 10.28.18
First of all-a huge thanks to Peter for preaching last week! I watched it online and was very encouraged by it. So many great things Peter said-but I really resonated with his 3rd point-that the Fruit of the Spirit isn’t a list of things to do, but commands to be and experience. What a great way to understand that! How often do I try hard to show patience, when I really just need to be patient and let my heart rest in Christ? Or Peter talked about joy-and it’s not about acting joyful, but simply being joyful as we allow ourselves to be filled with Jesus’ joy-as He says in John 15-that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Excellent message!
Secondly, Monica and I and our kids had a great weekend back in IA. Unfortunately I couldn’t join our men on the retreat-but this was our first time seeing our families since moving here. And we went for Monica’s niece who was getting married. I got to do the wedding which was a great privilege and we had a blast catching up and spending time with our families. Probably the strangest experience was when Monica and I went to a grocery store in Des Moines and the cashier at the register started putting our items in a bag and I exclaimed to Monica-this bag is free-we don’t have to pay 5 cents! I think the cashier thought I was crazy for being so excited about a free bag. I couldn’t get over it-the land of free bags! Fill us up-give us more bags! That was the most startling cultural difference-but it was a beautiful fall weekend-perfect temperatures, leaves on trees changing color, it was a refreshing time.
But I mentioned it a few weeks ago, that Fall tends to be one of our favorite seasons. It’s hard not to be enthralled with this time of year enjoying those crisp temperatures and beautiful trees-however, it does mean the days are growing shorter. That’s the one thing I don’t like-how early it gets dark. I wish we could have Fall and Winter where it still stays light until 8pm. But unfortunately darkness is what characterizes this time of year. So let me ask the question-what’s the darkest place you’ve ever been before where it was totally pitch black? Maybe it was outside camping, and you were far away from the city lights. Maybe it was a stormy night when the power went out and your house got dark as you stumbled around for some candles. I still remember the darkest place I’ve ever been was on a caving trip in college-spelunking as it’s called. And once we were a long ways into the cave-about 40 minutes in-our guide told us to shut off the lights on our helmets. We did and instantly found ourselves flooded in darkness-talk about pitch black. We couldn’t see each other, we couldn’t see the outline of the cave walls, we couldn’t even see our own hands in front of our faces. This was darkness like none of had ever experienced before. And the longer we left our lights off-the more unsettling it was, the more smothering the darkness became. Almost as if it wrapped us up and tried to suffocate us. Now eventually we did turn our lights back on and it was a huge relief. I no longer took the light for granted, but had a whole new appreciation for the light and how much I needed it!
And that’s the goal of this morning’s message-to gain a new appreciation for the light. Because that’s where our next Close Encounter with Jesus takes us as He describes Himself being the light that we need. But in order to understand what He’s saying we’ve got to begin wrapping our minds around darkness. And it was at that moment in the cave when myself and everyone down there realized how dependent we were upon the light. If the batteries in our helmets died out and the lights didn’t come back on we would have been in serious trouble! There would not have been any possible way to to get through that cave and navigate our way out. Helplessly, we would have stumbled around like blind men trying to find the tunnels that led to the exit. We would have tripped and fallen or hit our heads on low hanging stalactites or walked into each other. We would have been truly stuck until someone turned the lights on. You see-in the midst of absolute darkness, light is absolutely essential. Do you remember the ten plagues of Egypt? The second to last plague, number 9, was darkness-Ex 10:21-23. But try to imagine that-a darkness to be felt! These people couldn’t do a thing but basically stay inside and stay in bed all day. Darkness brings isolation futility. But light is life. Light allows us to do things-to live and move and have our being. Light allows us the ability to see and interact because without it we’re stuck. So this is one of the major statements the Bible is proclaiming-our darkness must have light. Look at how this image continues in Isa 9:2. This is our preview of the light-and the prophet Isaac is saying that we’re rescued, our world of darkness is gone. Or look at Isa 60:1-3. This passage presupposes or assumes that we need the light because we were in darkness. And as Isaiah is making this prophecy of a coming light so it wouldn’t be until 700 years later when that light would come.
Before you turn to John’s gospel, I want you to first open your Bibles to Luke 2. Now this chapter contains the traditional Christmas story that we’ll be reading in a few months-but you’ve got to see what happens just after Jesus is born. On the 8th day of His life, Jesus is circumcised according to the Law and brought into the temple for dedication to the Lord-Luke 2:22-32. This man Simeon is saying-I’m holding the light. This little baby is the one who dispenses all the darkness. He’s here, He’s arrived-so now I can depart from this world because I’ve seen Him-the light! And if you and I were to imagine this great light that was coming into the world for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, we would have imagined exactly that-a great, big light; a brilliant glow or shining beam from heaven. And some sort of booming voice would have accompanied it-Step into the light! We would have imagined a blinding glory that made the sun seem dull by comparison! But would we have ever pictured two simple, peasants coming into the temple with their firstborn son? Would anyone be expecting this-and yet with God the light was a person, His very own Son. It wasn’t just visible rays on the light spectrum, it was a person, an 8 day old baby-but this is so important because what we needed was a person.
Think about it-the darkness we face is not the darkness of a pitch black cave, it’s not a plague of darkness where the sun doesn’t shine-but it’s the reality that we’re stuck in a very dark world. And by that we don’t mean a world where it’s always cloudy and gloomy and hard to see. God’s Word isn’t speaking about what our eyes can visible see, it’s talking about spiritual darkness where our hearts are unable to see. Look at what it says in Rom 1:21. Because of sin, we’ve rejected God, we haven’t honored Him or followed Him, instead our hearts have become darkened. Or look at Eph 4:17-18. Our lives are filled with futility as we try to live our own way apart from God. Again-did you notice here-just like in Exodus how darkness brings futility, while it’s only the light that brings life. But that’s what needs to happen to our hearts-and that’s exactly why Jesus has come.
Turn now to John 8 because Jesus will now say these things about Himself. He’s no longer 8 days old, but a grown man-v. 12. There’s that incredible connection-light brings life. Jesus is saying-You don’t need to step into the light or look for the best well-it path, you simply need to know Me, to trust Me, to follow Me. And that’s Pt1:What did Jesus say? The Light is a person-and it’s Him. This is such a simple, but profound truth. How often have you heard nice statements in speeches or songs or movies that say give us the light, show us the light, carry the light, blinded by the light, let the light guide our path, I saw the light. It all sounds good but it’s always a very nebulous concept-what light? Or soon people will speak of having the light of Christmas warming their hearts-share the light with others-but what does that mean? Unless you connect it to Jesus! When He says I am the light of the world it’s not a nebulous concept at all. Jesus isn’t speaking of a bright glow somewhere, He’s being very specific and He’s saying-I am the One who saves you from the darkness of your sins. Trust Me and your darkened heart will be regenerated, it will be born again so that you’ll receive eternal life through Me. Calvin quote.
But that’s our natural state-we’re blind to the truth because of our sin. The eyes of our hearts are darkened because we’ve rejected God and gone our own way-so Jesus needs to open our eyes to take in the light. Who hasn’t shut off the lights at night plunging the house in darkness and then stumbled up the stairs or down the hall to bed? You generally know your own house so it helps-but when it’s an unfamiliar place it’s really difficult. Who hasn’t experienced hotel rooms with those blackout blinds that can be so dark-a person could hibernate for hours or days in one of those rooms-until you open the blinds and realize it’s a completely sunny day. But you never would have known that in the darkness. But when the lights are turned on or the sun comes out, we don’t have to guess What’s over there?-but we can clearly see where everything is. No one stumbles in the daylight-unless you’re clumsy-because the light clearly shows us where to go. It opens up our world and gives us life and freedom. And that’s Jesus. He illuminates your heart so you can clearly see the road to life. No longer is it a guessing game as if you’re stumbling through the darkness-should I believe that idea over here or what that person says over there? Instead it’s crystal clear that Jesus alone is your salvation and source of life-v. 12. He is all the light we need. Don’t forget that. There’s not further light or great illumination somewhere else-as if Jesus is some of the light of the world. No He is the light!
And what is so important to understand is that Jesus made this statement during the week-long Jewish festival of Booths-or Tabernacles as it was called. Flip back a page to chapter 7 because this is what sets the context of this-7:1-14. So there’s all these divided opinions about who Jesus is-but it’s here in this festival that He says He’s the light of the world. Now this was a festival that celebrated the ingathering of the harvest-much like Thanksgiving. But most importantly at this feast was the lamp-lighting that took place. Large candelabras were lit at night in the courtyard of the temple near the treasury so that all could see the reflection of the lit candles. The purpose of this was to remind the people of the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites in their journey in the wilderness 1500 years before. If you remember-when the pillar of fire moved, they followed, and if it stopped, they stopped. Look at Ex 13:21. And when the pillar of fire stopped it would rest on the tabernacle. So here are these candelabras lit in the temple reminding the people of the pillar of fire their ancestors followed and now Jesus is saying I am the light of the world. That light that you celebrate as the pillar of fire-God’s light-that’s me! I am that light. So if you go back to chapter 8-v. 20-that’s the courtyard. Jesus was declaring that He’s the light of the world right in the very place where the light was lit. Now none of the Jews would have doubted following the pillar of fire-that’s what their ancestors did-it was a no-brainer-but to follow this man? That’s an entirely different question. Is He really who He says He is? And this is where they argue with Him-v. 12-13. Despite the obvious imagery of the candles lit up in the courtyard, they didn’t believe Jesus. But I love His confident response-v. 14 then v. 17-18. So when it comes to Jesus being the light-despite their unbelief-He says He is-and 3 issues prove it.
So Pt2:What did the crowds hear? Jesus’ testimony, origin and destiny prove He’s the light. Right away He’s saying that both He Himself and God the Father-2 witnesses-are testifying that He’s the light. If you remember from Jesus’ baptism, God the Father spoke from heaven and said-This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. So that testimony was given. Secondly Jesus’ origin proves it. He just said-I know where I came from-meaning heaven. But they respond-v. 19-22. They can’t possibly imagine that Jesus speaks of God as His Father. They know that He’s from Galilee and feel He should acknowledge that origin. They thought Jesus was speaking about death-but of course that’s not what Jesus is talking about-v. 23. Jesus is saying His origin is from heaven and that means He has a heavenly perspective-I know what I’m talking about-you’re from below, I’m from up here in heaven and have a much better view and understanding. Trust Me on this one. But they don’t-and way back at the beginning John said the Jews would get this wrong-John 1:9-12. So by believing in Jesus, the light of the world, we’re saved and become children of God. But what’s the alternative-v. 24. Jesus has made it so clear-you’ve got to believe in Me there’s no other option. But the Jews ask again-v. 25. All that I’ve been saying to you-I’m the bread of life, I’m the light of the world, I’m the Messiah, your Savior. And yet they still don’t understand. Back to Pt2. So look at v. 28. And that’s His destiny. When Jesus speaks about being lifted up He doesn’t mean getting carried on people’s shoulders in a parade; He’s referring to the cross. His destiny is to be lifted up and nailed to those wooden beams where He’s crucified and put to death. And once Jesus has accomplished that it will be proved beyond all shadow of doubt that He truly is who He claims to be-the light of the world. Do you remember the Roman centurion who stood before the cross-Mark 15:37, 39. When he saw Jesus lifted up, he knew exactly who He was-Yes, Jesus, you are who you claim to be!
And the big question is what about you? When you behold the cross, when you see Jesus lifted up, and giving up His life, who do you see? Do recognize that yes, He is the One-the Light of the World, the only One to illuminate the darkness of your heart and show you the way? That as it says in Pt2. Look at how this ends in John 8-v. 30. And that’s where it funnels down to you and me. Do we believe in Him? Do we believe that Jesus is who He says He is in v. 12? I want you to notice the structure of this passage. Jesus makes an incredible statement about Himself being the light of the world in v. 12 and then verses 13-30 deal with the Jews discussing and arguing it with Him because they have a hard time believing it. But once some of them do believe-as v. 30 says-once you and I believe-what are we to do? Go right back to v. 12 and do exactly what He says-v. 12. So Pt3:What do we learn? To follow the Light-everyday. That’s our purpose.
We don’t have a pillar of fire to lead us around everyday as we walk and go places. That would be great if we did so that our eyes could actually see where to go. You want me to go this way Lord, no this way. When you trust in Jesus you’re not given some sort of Christian flashlight or heavenly GPS app to physically show you the way. I often think we can get jealous of the Israelites who had an actual pillar of fire to follow. But here’s the truth-you have Jesus Himself as your light. His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, dwells right inside you, right within your heart telling you where to go and how to live. He hasn’t left you to wonder or guess or stumble around confused, but instead as you trust in Him and pray to Him, He’ll light up the way and make it totally clear to you. And often it’s in that still, small voice when our hearts are in tunes with His that He shows us the way. I can’t tell you how many times the Lord reminds me of a verse or something I read in my devotional. The question is whether I’ll follow where He’s leading me-because what’s the way? Back to v. 12. Jesus is is talking about walking in His spiritual light and forsaking the darkness of our former ways and habits. And isn’t darkness such a vivid description-because what do we try to do with a lot of our former ways and habits? Hide them, cover them up, keep people from seeing who we really are. We want a part of our lives kept in darkness so that nobody can see what we’re doing, so that no one’s aware or any the wiser-but that’s not Jesus’ way. He says follow Me and leave behind the darkness; leave behind the hiding and the cover-ups and step into the light where life is found.
Paul picks up on this in Eph 5:8. This is the perfect follow-up to what Jesus is saying. That if you believe in Him, then your life has changed-and it’s a radical change-a stark difference-because you’ve gone from darkness to light! And what is more opposite than light and darkness? It’s as opposite as oil and water or peanut butter and jelly. They’re completely different-and yet that’s what your new identity in Christ is all about. As an unbeliever darkness used to describe you-but now if you’ve trusted in Jesus you have become a child of the light. No longer are you that kid hanging out in the dark corner, trying not to be seen; instead you’re standing outside in the glorious light of the noonday sun. So this passage is saying you’ve got to live that way-and it goes on to describe it-Eph 5:9-11. What if you did that as a follower of Jesus? What if you focused on all that is good and right and true-and left all the other junk behind? Wouldn’t life be radically different at work or at home if that’s what you focused on, instead of all the negativity that constantly surrounds us? How would your co-workers or your family respond if you left the frustration and complaining and gossiping behind and zeroed in on what is good and right and true? They’d probably wonder who you are-what’s the change? But that’s what it means to live in the light. Notice how darkness is described-unfruitful. You can’t miss this-it challenges me every time I read this verse-because what are the two things darkness brings-isolation and futility. When it’s so dark that you can’t see anything, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t go anywhere, do any work, accomplish anything or hardly interact with someone. A conversation in the darkness is weird-that’s why we still like having some sort of flashlight or nightlight or candle just to see the other person’s face. In the darkness, you’re stuck and everything’s on hold until there’s light. Darkness is completely unfruitful.
And that’s exactly how it is with spiritual darkness. Sin is futile because it doesn’t accomplish the purposes of God, instead it distracts you from them. It pulls you in the opposite direction of where God wants you to go. Your waste your energy, time and efforts when you walk the pathway of sin. Let’s be honest, sin is all about selfishness, about bitterness, about demanding your rights, taking what is yours, obtaining what you want, exalting yourself above others. Sin backs you into a corner all by yourself-making you think you’re the king. But what is the light-it’s all about community and relationships. It’s about loving others and serving others, it’s about kindness and compassion, about putting other’s needs above your own. Why do you think heaven is described as the place of light. Look at this amazing description-Rev 21:23-25. Eternity with God is dwelling in the glory of His light forever. And what is hell? Look at Jesus’ description-Matt 25:30. It’s such a stark difference. But eternity is one or the other-and so you have to ask yourself-what pathway am I on today? Am I trusting in Jesus and thereby walking in the light? Or am I still stumbling around in the darkness, holding up my hand to Jesus and keeping my distance from Him? Search your heart and ask yourself. It’s never to late to surrender to Him and have Him open your eyes; to trust in Jesus and be saved. And maybe you have trusted in Jesus-maybe it was a long time ago-but you’re still dabbling in the darkness, still trying to find your joy or purpose in the darkness. Leave it behind and turn back to Jesus. Darkness will always be unfruitful, unprofitable, unfulfilling. We weren’t made for the darkness. God didn’t design us to live underground in caves, we were made for the light-and there’s only one who brings us the light and it’s Jesus. I close our time this morning with an AP news article from a few years back speaking about a small village in Austria called Rattenberg:
The little village of Rattenberg is getting smaller each year. The town has lost 20 percent of its population is the past two decades, and currently has only 440 residents. The reason? Darkness. Rattenberg is nestled in the Alps behind Rat Mountain-at 3,000 ft obstruction that blocks out the sun from Nov to Feb. The people are dwelling in darkness-as the local florist commented-“It’s unpleasant to come here for me-it’s dark and cold.” But thanks to some clever new technology, the town’s situation is about to get a little brighter.
An Austrian company called Bartenback Lichtlabor has come up with a plan to bring sunshine into the darkness by installing 30 heliostat mirrors on the mountainside. The mirrors will grab light from reflectors on the sunny side of the mountain and shine it back into town. The project will not be cheap-the EU will cover half of the 2.4 million bill-but if successful, will bring hope to the 60 other communities scattered across the Alps that endure the winter darkness each year. The company’s director is excited about the potential that exists-“I am sure we will soon help other mountain villages live in the light of the son” he said.
And I can’t say it any better than that! This is exactly what John’s gospel is saying. You and I have formerly lived in a dark village but the light of the Son, the Son of God, has flooded our lives. Let us truly live in that glorious light and not shrink back into the dark corners from which we’ve been rescued!