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Friday, October 7, 2016

I AM the Light of the World


We continue our series on the I AM statements of Jesus. As we have seen, John’s Gospel cites the phrase “I am” together with different sets of names to record metaphors for Christ. We began with Jesus saying to the Samaritan women (John 4:26when she spoke of the Messiah, that “I am he.” Last time we saw Jesus saying “I am the bread of life” (6:35, 48) which led to many of His disciples deserting Him; other I AM statements include “the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5), “the gate” (10:7, 9), “the good shepherd” (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), “the way, and the truth and the life” (14:6), and “the vine” (15:1, 5).  As I said in my introduction to this series, Mohamed Ali, the boxer who died during the preparation of this series, was fond of saying, “I am the greatest”. For a very brief period of time, in the very limited context of professional boxing,
that may have been true. If he was claiming to be the greatest person who ever lived, in all contexts, we immediately recognize his delusion. As we work through the book of John, we encounter different conversations in which Jesus makes very specific, far reaching, outrageous statements about himself. Jesus does not just claim to know these things, or explain these things. He blatantly claims that He is these things. If true (and my position is unashamedly that each of these statements is true), the implications, and impact are tremendous. The implications reach deep into our real, daily lives. The impact involves life-changing transformation with everlasting consequence. This is the reason these statements caused so much trouble for Jesus when He made them.

So today we have Jesus saying:

To the folk who first heard this, this was outrageous ... but some context is necessary to understand why. This takes place (see John 7:37 and the notes in your Bible regarding John 7:53-8:11) on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the 3 main feasts in Judaism which required Jews to be in Jerusalem for its celebration. 

At the Temple there were four golden menorahs, 75 feet high, with four golden bowls at the top of each, and 4 ladders each leading to a bowl. On the evening of the last day of the feast, four strong young priests would climb up the ladders with 2 gallons of olive oil each and pour the oil into the golden bowls, place a wick in each bowl and light them. There was not a place in the whole of Jerusalem that was not lit up by the bright light radiating from the Temple. It brought to peoples' minds the first recorded words of God in the Bible, which are: "Let there be light"; it brought to peoples' minds the words of the prophet Isaiah: 
The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. Is 9:2

it brought to peoples' minds God's promise through the prophet Malachi that:
But upon you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. Mal 4:2

It would bring to their minds God's plan for Israel:
'I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’ Is 49:6

Jesus chooses this moment of the feast when it is accompanied by a blaze of light to announce:
Then, as always, there follows an argument with the Pharisees as they take issue with this outrageous claim, and as I say in my notes, in fairness to the Pharisees it must be admitted that it's not surprising that they were stumbled and incensed by Jesus. For so enormous and breathtaking are his claims that if they were not true, he would be an impossible person, crazy beyond words, or inordinately swollen-headed, without any parallel. Millions of people now know that they are true; have proved it and experienced it. But it's no real surprise that his original hearers, looking at a carpenter from Nazareth, that unimportant provincial town in a forgotten corner of the world; and listening to a man who spoke, it may be, with the broad slurred vowels of the rather uncouth Galilean accent, which always caused a measure of ridicule in polite and cultured circles; and this man of all people announces: I am the light of the world. How do you think you would have responded? More importantly ... how do you respond today?

What darkness hangs over you? There is absolutely no darkness in or over you that cannot be lit up by Jesus. Our closing hymn is Shine, Jesus, Shine ... and when we sing it I invite you to invite Jesus to shine into your darkness.
What darkness hangs over our nation? There is absolutely no darkness in or over our nation that cannot be lit up by Jesus. Our closing hymn is Shine, Jesus, Shine ... and when we sing it I invite you to invite Jesus to shine into the darknesses hanging over our nation.
What darkness hangs over the world? There is absolutely no darkness in or over our world that cannot be lit up by Jesus. Our closing hymn is Shine, Jesus, Shine ... and when we sing it I invite you to invite Jesus to shine into the world's darknesses.

But where does it all start? With you, of course, because you, yes you, are the light of the world. Those are the words of Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount immediately after He has set out the way of Christian kingdom living in the beatitudes. Poverty of spirit, mourning sin, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, etc ... live this way, says Jesus, and You are the light of the world (Mt 5:14) ... 
you become the radiating golden menorah in your home, workplace, village. You become says Jesus, a city on a hill, a light on a lampstand. And what makes us shine ... well, Jesus gives the answer to that in Mt 5 as well when He goes on to say: 
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
What makes us shine? ... our good deeds. Remember,
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –  not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

If there is darkness round about us, it is not because Jesus isn't shining, it is because we aren't shining. And there is only one reason we stop shining and that is disobedience to the teachings of Christ. This I AM statement of Jesus ends more encouragingly than the last one. Remember the last one ended with: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him, but this one ends with: Even as he spoke, many believed in him (Jn 8:30). And Jesus goes on immediately to those who believed him, and said, ‘If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:31-32). This often comes as a surprise to Christians, but it is only the obedient who know the truth and only the obedient who are set free by the truth. Therefore, any teaching on Jesus, the Light of the world, has to focus on the darkness of our own disobedience

And so I end with a call to obedience to Christ from our second reading, Eph 5:8-20, where Paul continues our theme of light:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
‘Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.’
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I repeat what I said earlier, the good news for today, the gospel for you to take to heart:
What darkness hangs over you? There is absolutely no darkness in or over you that cannot be lit up by Jesus. Our closing hymn is Shine, Jesus, Shine ... and when we sing it I invite you to invite Jesus to shine into your darkness.
What darkness hangs over our nation? There is absolutely no darkness in or over our nation that cannot be lit up by Jesus. Our closing hymn is Shine, Jesus, Shine ... and when we sing it I invite you to invite Jesus to shine into the darknesses hanging over our nation.

What darkness hangs over the world? There is absolutely no darkness in or over our world that cannot be lit up by Jesus. Our closing hymn is Shine, Jesus, Shine ... and when we sing it I invite you to invite Jesus to shine into the world's darknesses.

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