I AM – Understanding Who Jesus Is #2: “I am the Light of the World” ~ Jesus is the illuminator of our heart” – John 8:12

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I AM, Part 2

The Light of the World

John 8:12

Bruce A. Hess


My name is Bruce Hess. I am the Teaching Pastor here at Wildwood. I invite you now to take out the word of God and turn in it, to the New Testament, to the gospel of John and chapter number 8. Some of you will have printed versions, some of you have electronic versions. Whatever it is, turn to John, chapter 8.

I think most of us would agree that one of the most riveting international stories we’ve seen for a long time is the story that has unfolded in the past few weeks about the twelve soccer players and their coach from Thailand who were trapped in a cave. Twelve children, aged eleven to sixteen. You might say, ‘Why did they ever go into the cave to begin with?’ Well, they went in as an initiation. The idea was they were going to go into the cave, go to the back of it, and write their names on the wall.

After their soccer practice that day, they took a 45-minute bike ride and on June 23 they went into the cave despite the sign that was there warning about entering the cave during the rainy season. Most of you know the story:  that a flash flood came and trapped them two and a half miles into the cave. You say, ‘How did they even find out they were there?’ Well, one member of the team was not able to go with them. He noticed that they had not returned, so he went to the entrance of the cave, saw all of their bikes parked there, and their soccer equipment piled up, and he notified the authorities.

They entered on June 23; it took them until July 2 to even locate them in the cave. In those nine days that they had been in the cave, before they were located, their flashlights had all died. They had no idea what day it was. They had spent several days in utter darkness. We know that the story ends well…that after eighteen days, on July 10, the last of them came out safely.

But you know utter darkness is intimidating. I don’t know if you remember this or not, but one of the ten plagues that God sent to Egypt—so that they might free the people of Israel—one of those ten plagues was a plague of darkness interestingly enough. You can read about it in Exodus, chapter 10. It is described there:  God brought this darkness, and it was a thick darkness…a very interesting descriptive, it was a darkness that could be felt. We learn there that for three days none of the Egyptians moved at all.  I mean, when you are in utter darkness you don’t know what you are going to bump into.

I think all of us, particularly in storm country USA, have had the experience maybe where our power went out and it goes out at night. It’s a cloudy night, or there’s no moon, and it is just that—utter darkness. What is your first response when that happens? We’ve got to get some light! By the way, that was the very first response of the boys in the cave when they are in that utter darkness…we need light. Why? Because light dispels darkness.

We are in a series of messages that we have entitled, “I AM,” unpacking who Jesus really is. What we are examining are what are called the ‘I AM’ statements of Jesus. Those first two terms are very important, ‘I AM.’ We learn from the book of Exodus that is the name of God. I AM, ego eimi, in the original language. What is the name we should say? You should say the name, I AM. I AM, the sovereign creator God. I AM, Yahweh. I AM, Jehovah, as it’s sometimes translated. That’s who Jesus claimed to be, but He goes beyond just the name, I AM. He explains further who He is as God.

Last week we looked at the statement, I AM the Bread of life, where He was communicating that He is the satisfier of human souls. Today we are going to look at the second statement that He makes and that is:  I AM the Light of the world. I AM the illuminator of hearts.

So, if you have your Bible located at John, chapter 8, I want to read a verse, which is verse 12, from that chapter. Then, I am going to read two verses out of chapter 12. In John, chapter 8, and verse 12, Jesus speaks, and He says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

Then, I am going to read verses 35 and 36 of John, chapter 12. Carrying along with His same theme in chapter 12, verse 35, Jesus says, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.”

Now, our plan for today involves four steps that we are going to take. First of all, we want to look at the prominence of light in Scripture. It is a very prominent theme. Then, we want to look at the historical backdrop to Jesus’ declaration that I AM the Light. We are going to see this makes His declaration all the more vivid when we understand the backdrop to it. Thirdly, we want to examine the significance of Christ’s declaration that I AM the Light of the world. Then, finally, we are going to end up with two key life responses that what we are examining today just demands from us. So, that is our plan.

We want to begin by looking at the prominence of light in Scripture. I think all of us are familiar with the contrast between the light and the dark. Maybe this is true in all cultures. We view the light as that which is good. We view the dark as that which is bad or evil. We would often say that if we have clarity or certainty about something that we are enlightened. Or, if we are confused or uncertain about something, we might say that we are in the dark.

The Bible has a lot to say about light, often in contrast to the darkness. It is a very prominent thing. I just want to look at a few illustrations of it. For example, light is prominent in the Bible at the beginning of creation. You might remember, if you go back to the very beginning, in the book of Genesis, there is darkness. Then, in Genesis, chapter 1, verses 3 and 4, God says, “Let there be light,” and the light dispels the darkness. It says that God saw that the light was good.

We see this prominence at the beginning of creation, we also see it at the birth of Jesus. You might remember that when He was born, He was born at night and there was darkness. In Luke, chapter 2, verse 9, when you have the shepherds gathered in the field, it says, “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” You had darkness, but you had this prominence of light.

We see it at the beginning of creation, at the birth of Jesus, we also see it at the resurrection of Jesus. You might remember that He was resurrected before dawn while it was still dark. In Matthew 28:3, what happens before the soldiers is the angel of the Lord appears and it says that, “His appearance was like lightening.” You know what it’s like when lightening goes off. It brings light into the darkness; it dispels the darkness.

We also see the prominence of light, even at the end of the Bible, at the end of the book of the Revelation, at the onset of the new heavens and the new earth and the New Jerusalem. After centuries and centuries of spiritual darkness, now God creates new heavens and a new earth and the new city of Jerusalem comes down out of heaven and it says in Revelation 21, verses 23-25, that there’ll be no sun or moon. Why? Because the glory of God will illuminate it. And, it says, literally, the Lamb (speaking of Jesus) is the lamp.

So, what we see is there is this prominence of light in the Bible, dispelling the darkness and Jesus is expanding on that. Which leads us to the second thing that we want to examine today and that is the historical backdrop of Jesus’ declaration when He says, “I AM the Light of the world.” Now, this backdrop is very helpful. It is fascinating. It adds spice to Jesus’ declaration.

Now, in order to understand the backdrop, turn maybe one page in your Bible, in John, chapter 7, to verse 2. This is what is happening in the backdrop to what He is going to say. We learn in chapter 7, verse 2, it was that time of the year when the Feast of the Jews, called the Feast of Booths, was near. In fact, it begins to unfold in John, chapter 7. This Feast of the Booths, or it was sometimes called the Feast of the Tabernacles, and even other times called the Feast of Lights. You will see why it was called that in a little while.

This was a feast that God had ordained for Israel that occurred around the first of October. It was a feast that was designed for the nation to celebrate the harvest. But it was also a feast that was designed to celebrate God’s provision in the past, when the nation had come out of Egypt and was in the wilderness. That is the reason why they would build these temporary booths, or temporary shelters, because they were remembering what it was like for the nation when they lived in the wilderness. They couldn’t build homes; they were always moving around. So, when the Feast of the Booths would happen annually, they would have families who would build a temporary booth, or temporary shelter, as a reminder of God’s provision for them in the wilderness.

Now, that is something that God had ordained, but over the years the Jews had added an additional human tradition to the Feast of the Booths. What they had done is they erected four large light poles in the courtyard of the temple. On the top of those tall light poles each of them had four pots. It took large ladders that would go up against those four poles and they would fill each of those four pots on each pole with oil.

Now, how did they light the oil? You are going to think that I am joshing [teasing or joking, in a good-natured way] you, or I am making this up, but I’m not. This actually comes from the Mishnah, the Old Testament commentary by the Jews. Here is what they would do. I mean, this is the truth. They would take the worn out linen undergarments of the priests and they would use them as wicks. We have a picture there [on the screen] of what this linen undergarment looked like. From their waist to their knees they would wear this under their priestly robes. I know this sounds kind of weird, but they would take the worn-out linen undergarments and they would roll them up—I hope they washed them before they did this—but they would actually put them into the oil and that became the wick to light the oil. As one person has suggested:  perhaps that is the origin of the phrase, ‘I would like to light a fire under that preacher.’ I don’t really know, but it certainly makes sense.

It is important to understand why all this was put together. It was to commemorate the pillar of fire that would appear in the darkness in the wilderness. Remember, the pillar of fire signified the presence of God in the darkness of the night. It is important to understand that in that day they lived in a different culture:  they didn’t have electricity; they didn’t have batteries; they didn’t have lighting on the temple mount.

So, when they put these poles up and they lit each of these four pots with those little special wicks, what it would do is it would illuminate the whole temple mount. Remember, the temple is built on a small mountain. So, when all of that was lit up during the Festival of the Booths or the Festival of the Lights, as it was sometimes called, it could be seen from miles away. In fact, if you were there you would feel like it was lighting up the world.

We learn from chapter 7 of the gospel of John, verse 14, that Jesus was teaching the people during this festival, in the temple courtyard. And, we learn from chapter 7, in verse 37, that it was basically nearing the end, the concluding time for the Feast of the Booths.

What they did is, they would turn those lights out and they wouldn’t come on again until the next year.  That is the historical backdrop to what Jesus is getting ready to say. Remember, these lamps would illumine the temple during the feast. Probably, the feast has just ended. Which leads us to the significance of Christ’s declaration where He says: “I AM the Light.”

Now, in part, when He said, “I AM the Light,” it was a declaration, again, as we have seen, of His deity. We know that from a passage like Psalm 27:1, where David says, “Yahweh is my light and my salvation.” Yahweh God, I AM God, is connected with being light and salvation.

In Isaiah, chapter 60, in verse 19, it says, “Yahweh will be your everlasting light.” So, when Jesus says, ‘I AM, ego eimi, I AM the Light,’ it was another indicator of His claim—a  very clear claim—to deity.

But He expands on it. He says, in chapter 8, verse 12, “I AM the Light of the world.” Not just the light of the temple mount in Jerusalem, not just the light of Israel, “I AM the Light of the world,” which is exactly what Messiah was to be.

Isaiah 49:6 says, “Messiah will be a light to the nations.” And, in Isaiah, chapter 9, another Messianic section, in verse 2 it says that, “The people, (speaking of the Messiah), who walk in darkness will see a great light.”

Look again at chapter 8 and verse 12, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world.” Notice He goes on to say, “He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Now when He’s talking about darkness here, He’s not talking about physical darkness. Obviously, He is talking about spiritual darkness.

I don’t know if you are picking up on it or not, but there is an awful lot of irony here. I mean, think about it, I want you to know, the Jewish leaders, they were so proud of these four light poles that they put up, with the four pots on each one. They were so proud of how they would light that up every year, remembering the pillar of fire that was a promise of the presence of God back in the time of the wilderness. They were just so proud of all this. They liked to boast about it. Everybody looked forward to this time of the year. They would talk about when it would happen again next year. Yet, ironically, the real Light of the world was standing right in front of them.  If you read through the rest of chapter 8, you will find that they are just outright rejecting Jesus. They are turning away from the real light. Do you see the irony in all of that? Oh, we are so proud of these light poles…but the real Light is right there!

Jesus goes on to say to the religious leaders, in chapter 8, in verse 24, that there are some consequences to turning from the Light. He says to them, “I say to you,” verse 24, “that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe,” ego eimi, the Old Testament name of God, “unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins.” Unless you embrace Me as the Light, you will pay consequences for your sin.

By the way, that same consequence has been in force for centuries and centuries since that. It is really true of every man, woman, and young person, that you will die in your sins, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

There is so much in the gospel of John about this whole theme of light. For example, in chapter 1, verses 4 and 5, it says, speaking of Jesus, who came, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” They missed it.

In verse 7, talking about John, the Baptizer, who would be the forerunner of Jesus, it says that John “came as a witness, to testify about the Light,” here we go, “so that,” why was He there, “all might believe through Him,” through Jesus. Think about it for a moment, Jesus claimed, “I AM the Light of the world.” It is either truly cosmic or comical for someone to say that.

In John, chapter 3, verse 19, it says, “The Light has come into the world.” Here we get some answers for why there is a turning away from the Light, “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Why did the Jewish leaders turn away from Christ as the Light? They preferred their sin and rebellion. They wanted to keep living their life their own way.

It has been interesting, over the decades the number of people I’ve heard say, in essence, the very same thing. You talk to them about the person of Christ…not interested; I like my life; I like the choices I’m making; I want to live my life my own way. Part of the problem that we have as human beings is this tendency to love the darkness rather than the Light, because we want to live our life just the way we want to live it. Men and women, this is important. I don’t know all of you personally. It is important for us to understand that His aim in your life is:  He wants to illuminate your life. Jesus Christ wants to show you what life is truly about. That is His aim.

That brings us to the fourth thing we want to look at this morning, which are two key life responses. As we look at what all this means, what does God want from us? Well, the first key life response is this: He wants all of us to turn to the Light. Again, I want everybody to understand:  before you were ever born, you were on the mind of Jesus Christ, before you were ever born. His plan for you was to deliver you from the darkness of death.

Some of us have recently come into contact with death, maybe in our family, maybe some friend. You know, when you touch it—it is such a dark thing. He wants to deliver you from the darkness of death. He wants to deliver you from the darkness of your own life. Some of you may be feeling that right now. What He sets before every man, woman and young person is this:  He says, ‘You must make a life decision.’ That life decision is to believe in, to trust in, to count on, what Jesus Christ came to this planet to accomplish on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead.

John 12:46, Jesus says, “I have come as Light into the world.” Why? “So that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” Will not experience eternally the darkness of death, and even the darkness of their own life. No one wants to remain in darkness. When you have darkness that is thick, darkness that can be felt, no one wants to stay there.

What He said to the Jewish officials, in John, chapter 8, verse 24, is what He says to you and to me, ‘You will die in your sins and pay the consequences of that, unless,’ key phrase, ‘unless you believe that I am He.’

I can still emotionally remember when I was wrestling with these light and darkness issues in my own life. I had gone to church. There was a traveling couple, child evangelists, who came to the church and they presented and laid out this message of Jesus really being the Light of the world. And how He came to die in my place, taking all of my responsibility on Himself and then He rose again triumphantly from the dead, and that we had an obligation to believe in and to trust in that. To turn to the Light, rather than remaining in the darkness.

 I heard all of that and I remember going home to my little bedroom, my little single bed, and laying there and wrestling with those issues in my personal life. While lying there on that bed, that’s when I made that life choice:  I don’t want to die in my sins, I don’t want to be responsible eternally for my rebellion against God. I want to count on what Christ did on the cross, I want to trust in Him. That choice is set before every single person, just as it was set before the Jewish leaders. Are we going to turn to the Light or turn away from the Light?…and there are eternal ramifications in either choice.

Again, not knowing everybody’s background and situation, the first life response this teaches us is we must turn to the Light. If you’ve never done that, do that! You won’t regret it.

The second key life response, not only to turn to the Light, but also, for those of us who have turned to the Light and trusted in Christ, light your world is the second response that we have.

You know what is interesting? Looking at these I AM statements, one of the things that we find out is that the I AM, the great I AM, ultimately changes who I am. That is exactly what happened to me. If we’ve turned to the Light and trusted in Christ, then He says to us:  light your world.

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul puts it this way, he says, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord.” What should we do then? “Walk as children of Light.” Or we could translate it, live as children of Light.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a very practical guy. Don’t just tell me what to do in general, but tell me how to do it. So, we want to talk about—if we are going to walk as children of Light as followers of Jesus, if we are going to live as children of Light—how do we do that?

Well, a number of years ago, we put together something we called the light acrostic, the L-I-G-H-T, the word for light in English, and we had a point for each letter of the word. I want to share them with you because it is a way to put a little clothing on what it means to walk as children of Light.

So, in the LIGHT acrostic, the letter ‘L’ stands for Living out God’s truth. It is just the way we walk and we live as children of Light. We live out God’s truth; we respond to His truth in our attitudes, in our actions. The aim of all of that is to develop Christ-like character in our life. If we are going to live out God’s truth, we must begin by studying God’s truth. As I said last week that is why, when you come to Wildwood, we open up the Bible and we explain what it means and we talk about how it applies in our life. Because we want to live out God’s truth we study it, but not just storing it up here [points to his head] , but then we must apply it, then we must appropriate it, then we must practice it in our life. We must be doers of the word, not hearers only. So, if we are going to walk as children of Light, the first thing we must be doing is Living out God’s truth.

The second letter in the LIGHT acrostic, is the ‘I,’ which stands for Investing and reaching others. This is the way we walk as children of Light, we live as children of Light. We utilize our time—the resources that God has given us—our time, our talent and our treasure. We invest those in drawing people to Jesus and pointing people to Jesus. The aim here is what we call outreach, right?

That is why, for example, just in recent days, we had a VBS [summer bible school for elementary children] where we had 610 kids here:  because we were investing in reaching others and pointing people to Jesus. It is why, as Pastor Mark shared, we have almost 300 kids who are going to be here for Pine Cove Camp in the City [summer Bible camp]:  because we are investing in reaching others. It is why, this summer, in our summer outreach, we’ve had 47 different people go to outreach trip: , because we are investing in reaching others and pointing people to Jesus. That is what it means to walk as children of Light. That should be our goal in our neighborhood, at our work, and at our school.

So, the first thing, if we are going to walk as children of Light, live as children of Light, we are Living out God’s truth.

Secondly, we are Investing in reaching others.

Thirdly, the ‘G,’ in Light, stands for Giving ourselves through serving. What did Jesus say? ‘I did not come to be served’, but what does it say next? To serve… right. He goes on to say later on, that we find our life by losing it for the sake of others. This is the aim of ministry. This is what it means to walk as children of Light. This is why we say everyone ought to be serving in some way, somewhere. Some of the serving happens here on this piece of property, but it happens other places. That is part of what it means to walk as children of Light, we are giving ourselves through serving.

The ‘H’ in Light, stands for Honoring God through worship. This is where we exalt Him for who He is and what He has done. The aim is celebration and reflection on the greatness of our God. That is why it is a priority to be gathering together in worship, because that is part what it means to walk and live as children of Light.

Lastly, in the LIGHT acrostic, the ‘T’ stands for Teaming together in relationships. This is where we relate to one other as a spiritual family, where the aim is fellowship. It is connection with one another. So, when He says that because we are of the Light now, that we are to walk and live as children of Light, this is what it means.

It means we are Living out God’s truth.

We are Investing in reaching others.

We are Giving ourselves through serving.

We are Honoring God through worship.

We are Teaming together in relationships. 

The great I AM changes who I am. Remember what Jesus says here in John 8:12? He says, “I AM the Light of the world.” In another instance, in Matthew, chapter 5, verses 14 and 16, He flips it around. Now, He says, “You are the light of the world.” You, plural, are the light of the world. Notice the wording here, He says, “Like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see.” See the allusion? “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see,” why?… “so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Ultimately, as the light of the world, we shine so that God gets honor and God gets glory.

You know, a great picture of what it means to shine as light in the world comes from a story that William Tanner tells of the China Inland Mission. What happened was an elderly blind man at the mission trusted in Jesus as the Light of the world. Later on, after this elderly man had trusted in Christ. He says,  “the mission doctors looked at his eyes and discovered that he had cataracts that could be removed by surgery. So, they operated on him and he regained almost all of his eyesight.

Now, as a new believer (pretty cool) he was able to see both physically and spiritually. There was no happier guy at the mission than the old man. But one day the old man was gone. The missionaries wondered what in the world happened, because he had never come to them and said, ‘I am going to be leaving.’ He had never told them goodbye. He had never given them a final expression of gratitude for what had happened, he just vanished. Months went by and they had almost forgotten about him, when suddenly he came back. This time he wasn’t alone. Over his shoulder was strung a rope that was almost 100 feet long. Behind him, hanging onto the rope were nearly 50 blind men. You see, he had gone back to his home village and then started back with this rope, picking up blind men all along the way. He had been their eyes and their guide and he had brought them back to the place where he had found sight. That is ultimately the way it is supposed to be.

Jesus said, “I AM the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You again of Your word, that’s alive, it’s powerful. We thank You for Jesus. We thank You that He is the Light of the world and that He has called us to walk and live as children of Light, that we are now the light of the world. We would pray as men and women that we would be faithful to live as light. For those who have never turned to the Light, we pray, Father, that not another moment would go by where they have not done that, to come to know He who truly is the Light of the world; to experience His marvelous Light. We pray that would happen for them. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

I AM The Light of the World

John 8:12

1. Has there ever been a time when you experienced intimidating darkness, the kind that was so thick you could “feel” it?  Elaborate.  What did it take for you to find light to dispel the darkness?

2. Imagine yourself in Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles, sometimes called the Feast of Lights.  Think about how impressive the bright lights were on the tall poles in the temple courtyard, visible for miles.  When Jesus made his declaration about being The Light of the World just after those lights had put out until next year, how/why did the Jewish authorities miss the obvious connection?  Do people today tend to do the same thing?  Explain.

3. As we reviewed our call as followers of Jesus (found in Ephesians 5:8) to walk (live) as children of light since we are now light in the Lord; did the Holy Spirit bring to mind any areas of your life where some darkness has infiltrated?  Elaborate some.

4. If you’ve never yet Turned to the Light and trusted in Jesus as your Rescuer from sin and judgment, why not?  What is holding you back?

5.  One way to do some spiritual self-evaluation is to utilize the L-I-G-H-T acrostic.

      L iving out God’s truth       How, where can you be a more effective doer of God’s Word?                                                         

      I investing in reaching others   How might you utilize your time, talent and treasure to bring someone one step closer to Christ?

      G iving ourselves thru serving      Are you actively serving others?  Where?

      H onoring God through worship   Do you regularly attend worship?  Is it a high priority to honor Him with your life?

      T eaming together in relationships   Are you part of a small group where folks know you and where you can practice the “one-anothers”?                                                                                                                   

6. What are some tangible ways you can “Light your world” in the next few weeks?

7. Praise Jesus for being Light in your life, not only now, but for eternity.

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