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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Jesus says, I am the light of the world
Text:John 8:12-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 78

Psalm 25:4 (after the law)

Hymn 19

Psalm 56:1,4,5

Psalm 124

Scripture reading: Exodus 13:17-22

Text: John 8:12-20

Theme:  Jesus says, "I am the light of the world."

We'll consider this great claim and:

1. The wrong way to respond

2. The right way to respond


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Have you ever been to a cave?  If you never have, you really should.  One of the cool things about many cave tours is how you deep you go underground.  Often they have electric lights, so it’s easy to find your way around.  But at a certain point, the tour guide may turn out all the lights.  It’s pitch dark.  You can’t see your hand in front of your face.  It’s as dark as dark gets.  I’ve been on a few tours and I’ve sometimes thought:  what would happen if the lights didn’t come back on?  What if no one had a flashlight or a phone with a light on it?  What if you were stuck in that cave in the darkness?  I think you’d be in some serious life-threatening trouble.

Darkness can be life-threatening.  On the other hand, light is life-supporting.  That’s partly why Jesus calls himself the “light of the world” in our passage this morning.  This comes immediately after the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to him.  The Pharisees had engineered that situation.  They manipulated the woman so they could trap and destroy Jesus.  Yet the woman herself had committed adultery.  She wasn’t innocent.  She had been walking in life-threatening darkness.  Then Jesus comes into her life with grace and compassion.  He brings light into her darkness.

Following that, it makes sense that Jesus then calls himself “the light of the world.”  This is a remarkable claim.  We need to pay close attention to it, because there’s a lot at stake in how we respond to this claim.  So this morning we’ll consider Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world and we’ll see both the wrong way and the right way to respond.  Now I should say that unlike most sermons, these points are not consecutive.  What I mean is that I’m going to talk about these two ways of responding throughout the sermon. 

Let’s first note the situation in our passage.  Jesus is in Jerusalem.  It’s around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.  This was a feast which celebrated how God led his people Israel out of Egypt in the days of Moses.  One of the traditions in this feast was the lighting of four massive golden candlesticks in the temple.  This was done in the evening.  It’s said that the light from these candlesticks was then visible all over Jerusalem.  This light was meant to symbolize the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites in the Exodus.  We read about that in Exodus 13.  Now also look at verse 20.  Note how John says that Jesus said these words in the treasury as he taught in the temple.  The treasury was where money was collected, but this was also in the same part of the temple as where you’d find the four massive golden candlesticks.  So Jesus is not saying these things out of the blue, just randomly.  There’s a connection with the time and place. 

Then we can look closer at what Jesus really means when he says, “I am the light of the world.”  If we think back to the Exodus, when God gave the pillar of fire, that meant the kind of guidance that would be life-supporting.  If God was guiding you with his light, you were safe.  The way is clear and safe to where God wants to bring you.  Jesus is the light of the world.  He protects and rescues from life-threatening darkness.  He dispels darkness.  When you have Jesus in your life, you can see.  Darkness means death, but light means life.  Jesus is the source of life, of eternal life.  Moreover, he’s the light of the world.  That means that anyone who believes in him will have him as their light.  The pillar of fire in Exodus 13 was just a light for the people of Israel.  It was limited to them.  But Jesus is different.  He’s the light for all kinds of people.  Whoever believes in him will find him to be the light.  If you believe in him, you’ll find him to be the light.  It doesn’t matter who you are, young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, Australian, Canadian or something else, Jesus is the light of the world.

Then our Lord Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  The word “whoever” confirms that Jesus is the light of the world – for anyone who would believe.  What does it mean to follow Jesus?  That’s referring to being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Disciples follow Jesus.  They believe in him as their Saviour.  Disciples believe that Jesus is their life and salvation.  They trust that he took their sins on his shoulders as he hung on the cross.  But disciples also follow Jesus in the sense that they want to walk as he does.  Disciples want to be like their Teacher.  Since he is the light of the world, he obviously doesn’t walk in darkness.  He doesn’t live in the deadly ways of sin.  Jesus doesn’t live in the destructive ways of evil.  He’s the light and lives as such.  If you follow him as his disciple, you’ll certainly not walk in darkness either. 

Now let me unpack that a little bit more.  Jesus is not saying that a disciple will never sin.  In the New Testament, we see his disciples sinning.  They’re still his disciples, but sometimes they fall into sin.  Someone who believes in Jesus Christ has their sins forgiven, but that doesn’t mean they’re free from the influence of sin in their life.  Notice how Jesus chooses the word “walk” here in verse 12.  That’s important.  That refers to a pattern of life.  A disciple of Jesus will not have darkness as their pattern of life.  If you say you believe in Jesus Christ, if you claim to be his disciple, and you really are, then you won’t live in sin, you won’t wallow in it.  You’ll still sin, but you’ll hate it and fight it and struggle with it.

So let me ask you:  are you following Jesus Christ?  Are you his disciple and is he your Master?  Do you place your trust in him for your salvation?  But do you also want to be like Jesus?  Do you want your life to reflect his, so that you don’t walk in darkness?  If you can answer “yes,” then Jesus says you have the light of life.  You have Jesus as the light and so you have eternal life, you have the promise of glory in the presence of God forever.  This is what Jesus claimed to be and to offer.  He claimed to be the light which offers life unending.

That was a claim the Pharisees couldn’t stomach.  They heard what Jesus said and they responded in verse 13.  They said, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”  That seems to be a dig at Jesus based on something he said earlier.  He said in John 5:31, “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.”  Now the Pharisees say, “Aha, see, we caught you!  You’re caught in your own words, Jesus.  You can’t be telling the truth, because it’s just you spouting off your own opinions.”  What they’re really saying is that Jesus is a liar.  He’s deceitful.  When he says “I am the light of the world,” he’s lying, deliberately and intentionally telling an untruth.

So their response is to paint him as a liar.  He’s a wicked man leading people astray.  You can’t possibly believe what Jesus says about himself.  Their response is one of unbelief.  It’s a common response, even today.  Today it often comes a little differently.  Instead of saying Jesus was a liar when he claimed to be the light of the world, people will say the writers of the Bible were lying or mistaken when they put these words in Jesus’ mouth.  Either way, there’s untruth and unbelief when it comes to the words of Jesus.  Either way, people say, “There’s no way Jesus can be light.  No one needs light.  Everyone is already in the light.  No one is walking in darkness.  Everything is good.  No one needs Jesus and I don’t need Jesus.”  But the reality is different.  Look, there’s wickedness all around us and in us. 

We’re so inclined to destroy other people around us.  For example, we do it with how we speak about other people and tear them down.  Some time ago I watched an interview with psychologist Jordan Peterson.  The interviewer asked him about anti-social behaviour.  He said that anti-social behaviour often gets expressed differently in males and females.  In males, anti-social behaviour often comes out physically.  But with females it comes out in reputation destruction.  Destroying the reputation of others, almost as a kind of hobby.  It’s a fair observation, though it’s certainly not limited to females.  We’re all inclined to destroy other people’s reputations.   

We’re also inclined to self-destruction.  People get enslaved into self-destructive behaviours so easily – enslaved to substances, drugs, smoking, drinking; enslaved to pornography; enslaved to gambling, and so on.  Don’t tell me that there’s no darkness in this world, no death, no self-destructive behaviour.  It’s just not true.  Because of sin, human beings are drawn to death like moths to a flame.  No, it’s a fantasy to say we’re not in darkness and we have no need of the light of Jesus.  The Bible is speaking the truth and Jesus is speaking the truth.  His testimony is true.

Jesus insists on it in verse 14.  Regardless of whether he’s bearing witness about himself, it’s truthful.  He’s speaking reality to the Pharisees.  He knows where he came from – he came from God, he was sent by God.  Jesus knows where he’s going – he’s going back to God.  The Pharisees don’t know anything about his origins or his future destiny in glory.  They don’t acknowledge his divine mission. 

Then in verse 15, he points out how the judgment of the Pharisees is skewed.  They don’t see things properly.  They see things “according to the flesh.”  That means they have a purely horizontal perspective on Jesus, a perspective tainted by sin.  Their judgment about Jesus and his truthfulness is clouded by their lack of clear vision.  They’re blind to who he really is and the truthfulness of what he says.

Jesus then says something interesting.  Look with me in your Bible at the end of verse 15.  He says, “I judge no one.”  Now if you’re like me, you read that and you think, “Hmm.  But isn’t Jesus returning to judge the living and the dead?  Isn’t he going to be the Judge at the end of the age?  How can he say, ‘I judge no one.’”  Well, it isn’t a contradiction in the Bible.  What it means is that Jesus doesn’t judge like the Pharisees do.  If you were to paraphrase it, Jesus is saying:  “I judge no one according to the flesh.  I don’t judge by a purely horizontal perspective tainted by sin.  My judgment is divine and perfect.”  So make no mistake, Jesus is going to judge the living and the dead.  When he does, his judgment will not be according to the flesh, it will be according to God’s perfect standards and according to his perfect insights.  If you didn’t have Christ as your Saviour, that would be a terrifying thought.  But if you’re following Jesus, you have the light of life and no fear of this judgment to come.  If you’re following Jesus, you have the comfort of the gospel.

Verse 16 shows that when Jesus does judge (and he will), his judgment will be in harmony with the Father.  This harmony of judgment comes from the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.  He is the second person of the Trinity.  In the Trinity, there is perfect harmony between the persons.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a unity in how they view things. 

That leads to Jesus directly addressing the accusation of how he’s simply bearing witness about himself.  He refers back to the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 19:15 and other places, God’s law said there had to be at least two witnesses for any charge to stick.  So, for example, if a man killed another man and there was only one other person who witnessed it, that wasn’t enough for the murderer to be punished with death.  There had to be two witnesses.  It was a well-established principle of Jewish justice.  If you have two witnesses saying the same thing, that’s a reliable basis.  That’s to be considered truthful.

So Jesus says in verse 18, “You have two witnesses.  I’m witnessing about myself, and the Father who sent me also bears witness about me.”  Now there are a couple of things we need to think about here.  The language of witnesses and testimony, that’s legal language.  It’s like there’s a court case going on.  But then who’s the accused?  You might be tempted to think it’s Jesus.  And if it’s Jesus, then it might seem illegitimate for him to be a witness in his own trial.  But it’s not Jesus that’s really on trial here.  It’s actually the Pharisees.  They’re the ones who are really the accused.  God has sent the Messiah to them to proclaim glad tidings and they’ve responded with unbelief.  They’re on trial for their wicked unbelief.  Then it makes sense that Jesus is witnessing against them.  He’s heard their words and he also knows the reality of who he is and what he’s been sent to do.  The light of the world is a legitimate witness against those who accuse him of being otherwise.

The other thing we need to look at here in verse 18 is how the Father witnesses about Jesus.  How does the Father bear witness that Jesus is the light of the world?  How does the Father bear witness that Jesus is right in his claim and the Pharisees are wrong to reject that claim?  The answer was given back in John 5.  The Father bears witness through the works Jesus was given to do.  Jesus performs miracles.  John’s Gospel calls the miracles “signs.”  They point to the fact that Jesus was given these amazing things to do by the Father.  The miracles are signs announcing God’s testimony that Jesus is the light of the world.  But there’s also another way that the Father testifies that Jesus is the light of the world.  He’s bringing life to those caught in darkness and death.  That’s through the Scriptures, particularly through the Old Testament.  The Old Testament prophecies for a Messiah are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures (the Old Testament) because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”  So through the pages of the Old Testament, the Father is bearing witness about his Son Jesus.  He really is the light of the world. 

Loved ones, that witness comes to us too.  There’s testimony before us in the pages of Scripture that Jesus is the light of the world.  He’s a light to be followed, a light in which to walk, a light that gives life.  How will you respond to that witness? 

I’ll tell you how the Pharisees responded.  Look with me at verse 19.  See how they respond with scorn:  “Where is your father?”  Remember, they judge according to the flesh.  They’re thinking Jesus is just a wicked, sinful man making up stories.  “Where is your father?” means, “We don’t see your dad anywhere.  He’s not around.  Joseph is dead, isn’t he?  What kind of “witness” is a dead man?”  They’re making a mockery of Jesus.  That’s how they respond.  That’s how unbelief often responds to the claims of Jesus – joking and poking fun.  You see it happen all the time, especially online but also in real life interactions.  If you talk about what Jesus says, they’ll be totally disrespectful and make a joke of your Saviour.  Unbelievers do it today and they did it back then too.      

But Jesus doesn’t flinch.  In verse 19, he points out that they’re the ones who don’t have a grasp on reality.  They don’t grasp the reality of who he is or who his Father is.  They’re religious people, sure, but they don’t really know God.  They know religion, but they don’t know God in a saving way.  They don’t have a vital, living relationship with God. If they heard Jesus and believed in him, the way would be open to knowing God.  If you know Jesus Christ in a saving way, if you have him as your Lord and Saviour, then you also know God in the most meaningful way possible.

At the end of verse 20, we’re told that no arrested Jesus at this moment, because his hour hadn’t yet come.  The “hour” there is the time for his final suffering and death.  God had appointed the time, but the time wasn’t there yet.  Opposition to Jesus was rising and this passage was part of that.  The unbelieving response to Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world was part of that.  It was ultimately all part of God’s plan for our redemption. 

Yet it didn’t and doesn’t excuse the wickedness of their wrong response to Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world.  A moment ago, I drew a line between the Pharisees’ mockery and the mockery we often see from unbelievers today.  That’s a legitimate line to draw.  But there’s more to say because those Pharisees weren’t average vanilla unbelievers out there in the world.  They had a covenant bond with God.  They were part of his people.  They were called to follow the Light of the World when he appeared, and yet they didn’t.  That response made them extra-guilty in God’s courtroom.  If you’re part of God’s people, but you refuse to follow the Light of the World God has sent, you’re in a lot more trouble than the person out there in the world who’s never had any covenantal connection to God. 

Most of you, perhaps even all of you, sitting here this morning have been baptized.  When you were baptized, God publically called you to be a follower of the Light of the World.  He publically called you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, who is not only light, but life and the only way to God.  When you were baptized, God claimed you as his child and called you to respond to him. 

Now there’s a wrong way to respond.  Our text shows us that there’s a wrong way for a covenant member to respond to Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world, and the call to follow him.  The wrong way is to dismiss the claim as either untruthful or irrelevant.  The wrong way is to hear Jesus’s claim and call and mock it.  You might not mock it with your outward words, but you can also mock something in your heart or with your life.  Jesus calls you to follow him, to be his disciple, but you mock him when you choose to walk in darkness, to live in sin.  You mock him when you love your sinful lifestyle and refuse to turn away from it even though it will destroy you, as darkness does.  You mock him by refusing to acknowledge the truth of his claim and the authority of his call.  He says, “Follow me.  I will be your light and life.”  But you say, “No, I want to walk in the darkness.  You lie, Jesus.  Darkness is better.”

I must warn you about such a response.  It’s wicked.  If that’s how you’re responding, you’re under God’s judgment and curse.  And it will be worse for you in the Day of Judgment than for all the unbelievers out there who had nothing to do with God’s covenant.  I don’t say that as my own opinion.  No, I can say, “Thus says the Lord, if you respond like the Pharisees did, you are under God’s judgment and curse.”  Thus says the Lord in Hebrews 10:26-27, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”  This is serious business, brothers and sisters.

There’s a right way to respond and it’s far better.  The right way to respond is to hear Jesus’ call to follow him and do so.  Trust in Jesus Christ.  Follow him as your Lord and Master.  Ask for his Holy Spirit to strengthen you to walk as he walked – in the light.  Be a disciple of Jesus Christ, as you’ve been called to do.  If you do that, you’ll have the light of life.  Instead of darkness and destruction, there’ll be light and blessing.  Following Jesus Christ is the only way to life forever in the blessed presence of God.  Following Jesus Christ is the only way you can live without the fear of death and what comes afterwards.  Following Jesus Christ is the only way to know God as your Father and not as the Judge who will condemn you.  So, I ask you, each and every one of you, why wouldn’t you follow Jesus Christ?  Why would you love the darkness when it will consume you and destroy you?  It’s far better to embrace the Light of the World and follow him.  AMEN.


Our Lord Jesus Christ,

You are the light of the world.  With you is life and blessing.  With you, things are clear and the path is unobstructed.  We want to follow you.  Give us strength with your Holy Spirit to do just that.  Work in our hearts with your Spirit so that we do not walk in darkness, but have the light of life in you.  Lord, strengthen our faith.  Strengthen our walk with you.  Help us to be your disciples and walk in all your ways, for they are good and holy ways. 

Heavenly Father, LORD God, we pray for the work of your Holy Spirit among us.  If there is anyone here this morning still walking in darkness, we do pray that you would convict them.  We pray that you would open their eyes to the path of destruction they’re on.  Father, please work repentance and faith in those who don’t yet believe and are not yet following Jesus as one of his disciples.  Please help us all to see the light of the gospel and know its peace and joy in our hearts.                                                         

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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