My physics professor began his first lecture by asking, “What was the first thing God created?” The class sat in stunned silence. Did this professor just use the name of “God” in a state university science class? He then spoke more insistently, “Come on, someone tell me, what was the first thing God created?” I cautiously raised my hand, “God said, ‘Let there be light.’” The professor’s eyes brightened and his voice filled with excitement as he exclaimed, “Ah, Light! Light is the fundamental thing! Light came before life, and without light everything else is meaningless.” With those words he began to enchant us with the glorious properties of light.
Jesus Is Essential to Life
The opening words of the Bible describe our fundamental need for light. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep… Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3). The first step out of chaos into order was light.
In the same way, John presents his gospel as the genesis of the new creation. He opens with the identical words of Genesis 1, “In the beginning” and he describes the creation of the world, only this time, God is not creating the light, but coming as the Light.
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” (John 1:4-9).
The true Light is the One who created the sun. He is the source of all life both physical and spiritual.
Yet, the reader is left to wonder, “Who is this Light?” The answer arrives through two emphatic statements from Jesus, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). Yes, light brought order to the physical universe, but only Jesus restores the fellowship with God that sin fractured and gives the eternal life that sin stole. Indeed, Jesus is more fundamental to God’s moral creation than light is to His physical creation.
In declaring to be “The Light of the world” Jesus is also claiming to be God! The reader of the Old Testament quickly begins to associate God’s presence with light. God first appears to Israel at a “burning bush” and a “consuming fire on the mountain” and a “cloud of fire” in the wilderness (Ex. 3:2; 10:21-29; 24:17; 40:38). Therefore their poets sang, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27:1), and their prophets preached, “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isa. 2:5). God’s glorious presence is identified by light.
In this context Jesus’ birth is announced through the brilliance of light – the star in the sky and a shining in the pasture (Matt. 2:1-2; Luke 2:11). Later Jesus revealed His divine glory to His disciples and “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2). Both Paul and John described Jesus’ resurrected glory as being “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13; Rev. 1:16).
“I am the Light of the world” is a claim that should cause us to fall backward in stunned amazement. Jesus is much more than a wise teacher or gracious Savior. He is the glorious Creator, Covenant Maker, and Judge. The holiness of His character and the splendor of His power could burn right through our souls. So, worship Him and obey Him for He is God.
And yet amazingly, Jesus uses His deity for the good of humanity!
Jesus chose a dark moment to first declare that He was “the Light of the world.” Dawn was beating back the haze of night when Jesus arrived at the temple grounds. Crowds gathered around to listen to Him speak. They were in town for the Feast of Tabernacles, which reminded Israel of how God provided for them in the wilderness.
In the temple courts were four enormous 75 foot candelabras. These signified how God lead and protected Israel with a cloud of fire. The Mishnah says that “there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light” of those great lamps (Expository Reflections on John, Leon Morris, pg. 301). Young men climbed ladders and extinguished the lights moments before dawn.
Then men did their dark deed. Corrupt religious leaders caught a woman in the act of adultery. (Convenient timing – was it a set up?) They had no intention of helping her. They only wanted to use her to accomplish their own sinful plans.
However, in stark contrast to the dark deeds of the men, and the sinful act of the woman, Jesus offers forgiveness and calls her to a righteous life saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus then turns to the crowd and says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Jesus is associating Himself with the cloud that led the children of Israel in the wilderness. That fiery pillar of cloud did two things for Israel. It protected them and guided them. Now Jesus fulfills the true meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles for His new covenant people.
- He provides protection from sin. He dispersed the woman’s accusers and said to her, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:10; see Ex. 14:19). “The Light of the world” has the power to separate us from the slavery of sin and ultimately from our sinful accusers.
- Jesus provides guidance for life. Jesus tells the woman, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:10; Ex. 40:38). “Follow Me and you will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Jesus is our guide to safely traverse the wilderness of life.
So, even if we are as sinful as the adulterous woman we can receive Jesus’ forgiveness and follow His guidance and the promise land is in sight!
The next time Jesus claimed to be “The Light of the world” was in the presence of human suffering. Sin brought two terrible consequences upon humanity (Gen. 3). It destroyed our fellowship with God – as embodied in the sinful woman; and it corrupted our world – as personified in the suffering man. Yet, “The Light of the world” can remove the curse of sin and death (Gen. 3:15).
Jesus demonstrates His ability to reverse sin’s curse by giving sight to a man born blind. This miracle proved Jesus to be the Messiah (John 9:32; Isa. 29:18; 42:6), but more than that it illuminates a number of truths about how “The Light of the world” gives us new life.
- First, salvation starts with God. The blind man didn’t call out for Jesus’ help. It was Jesus who reached down into the dust to re-form the man scared by a fallen world (Gen. 2:7; 1 John 4:9)
- In addition, we are helpless beggars living in darkness (Rom. 5:8-10).
- However, God wants us to respond to Him with faithful obedience. Jesus told the blind man, “Go, wash in the pool of Silaom. So he went and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:7; Acts 2:37-38).
- As a result, Jesus changed his life. The man could see, not only physically, but spiritually, and this began to affect the way he lived. The blind man began to tell everyone he knew about Jesus—the beggar became the giver.
- Yet, the beggar became the object of rejection. His parents ditched him and his synagogue discarded him. Acceptance by Jesus often means rejection from the world (John 15:18; John 9:39).
People who see Jesus as “The Light of the world” worship Him, and those who don’t remain in the darkness of sin (John 9:38-41). Jesus is the dividing line (John 3:19-21).
Let the Light Shine
Jesus has now left us with the work of shining as lights in the world (see John 9:5, “as long as I am in the world”). We are to be busy exposing the works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), and through word and works we are to “shine as lights in the world” (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:14-15).
So, dear reader, when you encounter the sinners and sufferers in your world will you shine the light of Jesus that will guide them safely home, or will you leave them wandering in the darkness? Our world needs the Light!
“Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Cor. 16:14)