Today is the second instalment of our Series in the book of John, titled “Je ne suis pas Charlie” (I am not Charlie) and then each week has a different “Je suis…” (I am).
The title as you can guess is based on the response to the bombing of the news outlet Charlie Hebdo’s Headquarters in Paris, which triggered a global response from political leaders, celebrities and regular people under the hashtag #jesuischarlie. Meanwhile, in the very same week that 17 people lost their lives across France, 2000 individuals were butchered in a separate extremist attack in Nigeria. The difference; no hashtag, no solidarity march. Only a counter solidarity hashtag of #jenesuispasCharlie. (I am not Charlie)
In a world of hashtag revolutions, extremism, and selective empathy, Jesus introduces himself to us, not as Charlie, but as one who comes from above, bringing about a different kind of revolution. In the book of John, Jesus says “Je suis…” (I am) several times, and in this series we’re going to investigate these “I am” sayings as well as their implications.
Last week Bat got the ball rolling in John 6 where Jesus says of himself, “I am the bread of life.” Today we’re in John 8:12 which reads:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’
There is a branch of Systematic Theology known as Apologetics, which studies the methods for defending the Christian faith. One of the fundamentals of apologetics is that every question or statement is underpinned by basic presuppositions – or things that one presumes to be true. Here are a few examples:
Q: Why do you believe in God?
Before I answer that question, I may want to question the question i.e. to explore some of the presuppositions/assumptions underpinning the question, which in this case might be:
1. I believe in God in the first place
2. Belief or faith is based on reason – so you’re basically asking for that reason.
And just to show that this is not limited to theological discussions let’s look at a more day to day example. In describing a friend you might say:
Q: She’s such a happy person
1. You’re presuming to know what it means to be happy.
2. You’re presuming that your interpretation of her attitude and actions is first of all accurate and secondly that it can only mean that she’s happy?
I think you can see from these examples why it’s important in apologetics is to first of all identify the basic presuppositions and then test their validity before attempting to respond to the original question. So in the first example, before I respond the question as to why I believe in God, I might ask the enquirer two questions:
1. What makes you think I believe in God?
2. If we listed everything that you believe to be true, do you think we’d find concrete reasons or scientific evidence to back it all up? i.e is reason alone a valid basis for faith?
And in the second example, I might ask
1. What is your understanding of what it means to be happy?
2. Is it possible that firstly she might have a different definition of happiness? Or that you’re not correctly interpreting her attitude and actions, and that maybe they’re actually pointing not to happiness but to something else – like insecurity for example?
OK, so why the lesson in apologetics? Well, because learning to think in that way helps us to not just hear what someone is saying on the surface, but to appreciate the fact that even seemingly simple statements or questions are loaded with implications – and nowhere is this more important than when we read the words of Jesus. Many times in the New Testament, even his own disciples ‘heard’ what he was saying but failed to understand the implications of what he was saying – The Jewish religious leaders of his day, even less so.
And so with that we come back to Jesus’ words in John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’
Now hopefully as you hear this scripture for the second time you’ll be thinking to yourself, “what a loaded statement!”
So all we’re going to do this morning is to ask the questions behind Christ’s claim with the hope of not just hearing what Jesus is saying, but getting to grips with its implications for humanity and indeed the entire cosmos.
Let’s start then by analysing the first part of the statement, from which I identified two basic presuppositions.
S1: I am the light of the world
P1: The world is in darkness
P2: There’s only one answer to that darkness
1. THE WORLD IS IN DARKNESS
This presupposition is central to Christ’s claim of being the light of the world because if the presupposition is not true, then Christ’s claim is at best irrelevant. In other words if this world is not in darkness, then who really cares about someone claiming to bring light?
And this brings us to another very interesting discussion on what we call worldviews. A world view is basically how you view the world. How do you answer questions like, “from where did life originate? What is wrong with the world we live in? Why is there so much suffering? Why are some people filthy rich while others are dying of starvation? Is there any justice to be found?
Where is this all going? Is there life after death? Does my life have a meaning and purpose? If so how will I know what it is? If not, why do I exist? If your life is as meaningless as mine, what’s wrong with stealing from you or even killing you if I want what you have?
The way you answer these and other ‘questions of life’ reveals your view of the world – which of course, is changing all the time as your ideas are shaped by new ideas, and if you’re a Christian – hopefully far more by the Bible than by anything else.
Craig Rusbult in an online article on worldviews gives us this definition:
A worldview is a theory of the world, used for living in the world. A world view is a mental model of reality – a framework of ideas & attitudes about the world, ourselves, and life; a comprehensive system of beliefs – with answers for a wide range of questions
Now, why is all this important? Well, it’s important because what we need to understand about the Christian faith is that it’s not just a message of salvation – a set of instructions on how to get to heaven one day; it’s actually an entirely new way of understanding the world – a new mental model of reality, a new framework of ideas about the world, and one of the most fundamental ones is this idea that despite all the nice things we see around us – this world is actually in darkness.
We can’t unpack this all now, but the headline version is that when God created the heavens and the earth, his creation was unblemished – it was perfect. However when Adam rebelled against God by listening to the lies of Satan and disobeying God’s command, sin entered into the world and corrupted not only humanity but the entire created order. And so darkness in this context refers to sin and its corrupting effects.
That’s why Paul says in Romans 8:20, 21
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
So although we find great beauty in nature, we see but a shadow of what the earth once was and indeed of what it shall be again when Christ returns. But perhaps the greatest effects of this ‘bondage to decay’ can be seen not so much in nature, but in humanity – hatred, jealousy, lust, greed which together lead to wars, genocide, terror attacks, divorce, violence against women and children and so on. Paul is emphatic in his description of the human condition in the first chapter of Romans:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…(21) For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their foolish hearts were darkened.
Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Exposition Commentary helpfully points out that this section does not teach EVOLUTION (that man started low and climbed high), but DEVOLUTION: he started high and, because of sin, sank lower than the beasts. He comments:
Human history is not the story of a beast that worshiped idols, and then evolved into a man worshiping one God. Human history is just the opposite: man began knowing God, but turned from the truth and rejected God.
And it is into this context of the darkness of ignorance, sin and separation from God that Christ steps in and announces: “Je suis le ligt du monde” – I am the light of the world.
2. THERE’S ONLY ONE ANSWER TO THE DARKNESS
Sometimes the best way to understand what someone is saying is to ask what they are not saying. Jesus is not saying, “I am A light” he is saying “I am THE light.”
It is this and other exclusive claims that Jesus Christ makes, that make him very unpopular in today’s world of “tolerance and political correctness,” where one view is as valid as the next, as long as it feels right to you and you don’t try to impose it on anyone else. But it is this same exclusivity of his claims that demands a verdict on his identity, as C.S Lewis masterfully points out in his book, Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
So Christ is either The Light of the world or he’s a complete lunatic; and like it or not that’s a decision we all have to make – and remember that not making a decision is a decision in itself, and like any decisions it does have its consequences.
Now we move on to the second statement and its presuppositions
S2: Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness
P3: It is possible to follow Jesus
P4: We can escape the darkness
3. IT IS POSSIBLE TO FOLLOW JESUS
If Jesus says “whoever follows me,” that means that it must be possible to do so. The obvious question then is “how? How do I follow Jesus?” And this is where many get disillusioned – and perhaps it’s partly because of the word “follow.”
I remember the first time I drove through Johannesburg on the N1. We were in a two car convoy on our way to a Newfrontiers conference in Bloemfontein and my friend Alan Norton was in the lead car. Before we entered the ‘Highway from Hell’ (as it seemed to me), he gave me this simple instruction, “just follow me.” Well, easier said than done! For about 40 min we weaved this way and that through traffic, and it was all I could do just to keep him in my sights and not cause a multi-vehicle pile-up!
So when you say to me, “follow Jesus,” I may be left thinking, “boy I could hardly keep up with Alan and he’s just a man, how on earth will I be able to follow Jesus who is God? – will I be able to live a morally astute life? Will I be able to break all my bad habits, will I be able to read the Bible and pray every day?” We could have a whole discussion on this, but I just want to say one thing on this subject of following or pursuing Jesus, and it’s embedded in Bat’s text from last week, where Jesus says in John 6:44
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up on the last day
What does Jesus mean? He means just what he says – no one purely of their own accord, decides to get up and pursue God; it’s just not possible. Our hearts are dead to God, the will or desire to seek him is not of ourselves – it is God himself drawing us to Christ. So we can talk loosely about following Jesus, but the truth is friend, it’s God who’s been following you all along.
If you’re listening to this message today, I can tell you for a fact that although you think you may just be enquiring about the Christian faith out of personal interest, or are hearing these words purely by chance – you’re not; God is pursuing you.
4. IT IS POSSIBLE TO ESCAPE THE DARKNESS
Once you and I understand that this world is in darkness and that indeed our own hearts are darkened by sin, it is really good news to know that it is possible to escape the darkness, as Christ himself says: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” But what does that mean? If it means I’ll never disobey God again, then I think we all have reason to doubt our salvation. Thankfully that’s not quite what he’s saying here. I believe there are two aspects to ‘never walking in darkness.’
The first is what we’ve described as ‘following Jesus’ – putting our faith in him for our salvation. In so doing we escape once and for all the darkness of eternal separation from God. We’re saved, delivered, rescued for ever from the punishment of our rebellion against God!
This is so important to remember because one of the “inevitable consequences” (to borrow Eaton’s phrase) of this realisation should be immense gratitude and unspeakable joy!
You may not have the job or the relationship you want, you may be tired and anxious, you may be weighed down by life’s troubles – but friend, if you’re a Christian, you have been rescued once and for all from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves! (Col 1:13). If you’re not a Christian, this invitation is yours today!
The second meaning of escaping the darkness is found in 1 John 1:5-7
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out 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
So although escaping darkness doesn’t mean we’re automatically perfect and incapable of sin, it does mean that we are free from the dominion or rule of sin and are empowered by the Spirit to live lives that are pleasing to God, saying “no to ungodliness” (Tit 2:12); refusing to avail the members of our bodies as instruments of sin (Rom 6:13) – simply put, walking in the light.
And now to the final statement and its presuppositions:
S3: But will have the light of life
P5: There are many “lights”
P6: Only one is the light of life
5. THERE ARE MANY “LIGHTS”
Jesus says here that the man or woman who follows him will have the light of life. This suggests to me that there are other kinds of “lights,” – things and or people who promise us life, fulfilment happiness. Another Biblical word for these is idols.
Here’s a simple exercise to find what some of those might be for you. When you’re feeling low or depressed or anxious, where does your mind turn for comfort and hope? Is it the hope of more money, the hope of a relationship perhaps? The hope of a better future for yourself? My friends, these are the false lights that we keep hidden in our hearts.
They promise us the world, but they cannot deliver. When I was in high school, all I dreamed of was to be selected for the Zimbabwe School’s hockey side and the U/21 side after that. I remember staring at the hands of a national player who had come in to coach us for a while and thinking to myself, “what is it about these hands that makes him so good – can my hands ever be like his?” To cut a long story short, I was later selected for both squads, but the funny thing is once I’d told everyone I knew about it, it couldn’t do anything more for me. When I when to university I pulled out of a tour to SA and opted to play for the university team. I’ll never forget the words of one of the senior players who said to me, “what a waste of talent.”
The point is this – there are things in life that you and I want so badly that we cannot imagine ever feeling fulfilled if we don’t get them, but like so many people discover every day; none of those things can satisfy our deepest longing – none of those “lights” can conquer our deepest darkness. That’s why the world stands back in wonder after yet another celebrity with all the money in the world takes their own life in an expensive hotel suite. We stand back, but we do not wonder – we know that they may have found many “lights” but ultimately they ignored the only one that could conquer their deepest darkness.
6. ONLY ONE IS THE LIGHT OF LIFE
The last point follows on from there – there are many things that we pursue and that we hope for, but only one can give us life that is truly life.
In the very next chapter, Jesus performs a miracle that demonstrates and indeed validates his claim to being the Light of the world. As he was walking along with his disciples, they came across a man who had been blind from birth.
(2)His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed… (5) While I am in the world, I am the light of the world… Go, wash in the pool of Siloam… So the man went and washed, and came home seeing
Here’s this man, who had lived in physical darkness all his life, he had no idea what light was, no concept of what it was to live life outside of complete darkness. That right there is a picture of all of humanity. But then Jesus steps in and demonstrates in the natural realm what he does as light of the world in the spiritual realm – he turns his man’s darkness into light.
In verse 10 his neighbours and all who had seen him begging previously asked a question that we all have to ask; “How then were your eyes opened?”
His answer? “The man they call Jesus…”
My friend, if you’re not a follower of Jesus, the Bible describes you as being in darkness. Maybe you feel like you’re in darkness or maybe you don’t – but that’s irrelevant. If a pregnancy test is positive, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re feeling the effects of morning sickness, you’re still pregnant – pregnancy is not a feeling, it’s a fact that is sometimes accompanied by feeling.
And like I said earlier, if you’re hearing this invitation to follow Jesus, it’s actually because he’s been pursuing you.
If you are a follower of Jesus, the Bible describes you as being in the Light, and more than that – being a light in your own right. So when you flirt with the darkness, either in your heart or outwardly, you’re acting out of character and you need to repent.
In both cases, as John declares in the 1st chapter of his gospel, Jesus is the light that gives light to all people. Ours is to welcome that light.