I had rather a traumatic experience last Saturday. It was about 10:00 in the morning when I found myself in total darkness. After being led along several long corridors I eventually found myself seated in a chair, totally disorientated. To my horror, I was then hurtled at great speed backwards in the pitch dark, to the left then the right, up and down, tossed about like a doll. The torture was made worse by being surrounded by screaming people.
I could not see where I was going and simultaneously felt sick, trapped and totally powerless unable to escape the ordeal. After what seemed hours I eventually escaped down yet more darkened corridors into the bright sunlight relieved to have my feet on sold ground. As I looked back I realised I had been in a strange pyramid like building with an ominous sign over the entrance which read, "X - no way back" If you are of a nervous disposition I would recommend you avoid the ride if and when you visit Thorpe Park.
How the Sunday school children could go back no less than five times I do not know. Light and darkness have a profound influence on our psyche, our metabolism, our experience of life and my experience of that ride at Thorpe Park seems to me to be a pretty accurate picture of life on earth without Jesus. Leading up to Christmas, on Sunday mornings we are considering the claims of Jesus Christ under the heading "The Deity of Christ and the Destiny of Christians" for the two are linked. We are examining the great "I am" statements of Jesus recorded in John's Gospel. Last week we considered the first in John 6, "I am the Bread of Life". Today we come to the 2nd.
1. The Occasion of Jesus Testimony
To set the scene let me just read a few verses from the immediate context. Read 7:37-38
1.1 The Setting of Jesus Claim: The Feast of Tabernacles
It was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish Year.
The Feast lasted seven days, from the 15th to the 22nd of the seventh month. It was a time of great rejoicing. Every Jewish male was required to attend. Jerusalem was packed. But there was plenty of room at the hotels. That's because everybody went camping, living out of doors in home made tents, put together from the branches of palm trees. This was to remind everyone of the Exodus and the way their forefathers had wandered through the desert for forty years. In the Temple special sacrifices were offered on each of the seven days, reaching a climax on the last day, the great day of the feast, when the people could leave their booths for the final celebrations.
During the feast there were two very important events. The first was a great procession led by the priests to the Pool of Siloam to collect water which was ceremonially carried back to the Temple through the Water Gate, and poured out. It was a vivid reminder of the Lord's provision of water during the Exodus. It was at this point that Jesus stood up and said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 7:37-38
Jesus could not have picked a more controversial moment to make this great promise, and claim about Himself. He was claiming to no less than the one, the very One they were commemorating for giving them the water in the first place. The context shows us how the people responded. Read 7:40-44.
That was the first important ceremony in the Feast of Tabernacles which Jesus applied to Himself. The second was even more dramatic.
The Feast actually went on for seven days and seven nights.
To make this possible, each night four huge candelabra were erected in the Court of the Women to provide illumination for the whole Temple area, and the surrounding galleries packed with pilgrims. They were very large, the height of the Temple walls. The Temple itself was built on the highest point in the city of Jerusalem, so these huge flaming torches could be seen right across the city giving light to its squares, courts and lanes.
All night long until the cock crowed the next morning, the greatest, wisest and holiest men in Israel danced before the Lord singing psalms of joy and praise while the Levites played harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, and other instruments of music. It was some party.... Imagine the scene, the night sky dark, the Temple brightly light by the flames, the Court area packed with pilgrims, and priests. it was then that Jesus stood up and said, "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness"
The Setting of Jesus Claim.
1.2 The Source of Jesus Claim: A Messianic Hope
The flaming candelabra were not simply lit so that the party could go on all night. The light was a powerful symbol. It was a symbol of,
1.2.1 The Shekinah Glory of God
The Shekinah, the glory of the God seen as a "pillar of fire at night" which had led Israel on the journey through the wilderness to the promised land.
That's what made Jesus declaration in John 8:12 so controversial.
1.2.2 The Messianic Hope
The lights were also associated with the great expectation of the coming Messiah, and of the harvest of peoples turning to the Lord. (Isaiah 62:1-3) The Jewish teachers taught that the name of Messiah was "Light".
David used the phrase to describe the Lord in Psalm 27, and of the Messiah in Psalm 118. In the very last chapter of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, the Messianic hope burns brightly,
"For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness, or the dawn from on high will rise with healing in its wings..." When Mary and Joseph met wise old Simeon in the Temple, he knew he had been allowed to live to see the Messiah. On taking the baby Jesus in his arms he cried out in praise to God.... "My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel." The Setting of Jesus Claim, the Source of Jesus Claim.
1.3 The Significance of Jesus Claim: The Nature of God
1.3.1 The Uniqueness of Jesus "I am the light..."
Jesus was making the audacious claim to be nothing less than Divine.
The one who had led His people through the desert, the one they had longed for had now arrived. Amidst a plethora of prophets and gurus, Jesus says....
1.3.2 The Universality of Jesus "of the world"
Jesus was claiming to be greater than all the other religious leaders.
He was not simply a prophet to the Jews. His claim is universal. All religions most certainly do not lead to God. There is only one way, and He's it.
1.3.3 The Unambiguousness of Jesus "...whoever follows me"
His simplicity is refreshing. No religious humbug, no qualification, no fudging. His promise is crystal clear. Notice Jesus does not say "My teaching is the light of the world," He didn't come to give important teaching, ultimately he came to give Himself.
1.3.4 The Ultimatum of Jesus "...walk in darkness"
The choice is infuriatingly either/or. There's no in between, no neutrality, its either the light of Christ or darkness and confusion without him. It is a take me or leave it ultimatum. What does it mean to walk in darkness?
In what ways is the world in darkness? When people reject moral absolutes based on the character and will of God such as contained in the Ten Commandments we have not only moral decay but moral anarchy. People live by the philosophy "Do unto others before they do you." And "If it feels good do it, just don't get caught." I came across an example of this darkness on a London Underground advert for Boots the Chemist. Above a picture of a person holding some vitamins in her hand the slogan read, "If your body is a temple, worship here." Although its witty, its actually a perversion of 1 Corinthians 6:19 "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; therefore glorify God in your body."
That advert sums up for me what Jesus means here about walking in lighjt or darkness. In the light we learn to worship God alone. In the darkness we worship ourselves. Here's another example from the Sunday Times today.
(A picture of Rachel Welch on a cross under the slogan, "Heavenly bodies").
Had this been an insult to Islam instead of Christianity the editors of the Sunday Times would, like Salman Rushdie, have incurred the wrath of a Fatwa and death threats and fire bombings from angry Moslems. Sadly we seem to have become desensitised to such blasphemy. The Occasion of Jesus Testimony. "I am the light of the world...." As relevant now as ever.
2. The Opposition to Jesus Testimony 8:13-29
Not surprisingly the religious leaders found Jesus claim threatening.
They wanted evidence. Lets follow the debate. Read 8:13-18.
The Father had verified Jesus claims, by the miracles which Jesus had performed. Miracles no one since the apostles have replicated.
But to the blind sceptics that wasn't enough. They ask Jesus two questions.
Who is your father? 8:19
Who am I? 8:25
Notice the way Jesus replies. On the surface his reply appears ambiguous, for he doesn't give straight answers, but that's not actually true. His reply could not have been clearer. Jesus is saying at least six things about Himself.
2.1 The Revealer of God the Father 8:19
2.2 The Eternal One 8:21, 23
2.3 The Omniscient One 8:24, 26
2.4 The Suffering Servant 8:28
2.5 Communion with God the Father 8:29
2.6 The Sinless Son 8:29
Human nature has not changed in 2000 years. People still raise objections to Jesus claims, but they do so in spite of the evidence.
They remain in wilful ignorance which is a man made darkness and they will die in their sins. The Occasion of Jesus Testimony. The Opposition to Jesus Testimony.
3. The Opportunity of Jesus Testimony 8:30
Read 8:30 "Follow" = Akoluthein has five meanings.
3.1 The Soldier
When a soldier follows his commander through enemy land. On the long route marches, and into battle the soldier follows his commander where ever he may lead. In an evil dark world, when it is very natural to be afraid, the Christian is a soldier whose commander is Christ, the king of the Universe.
3.2 The Slave
When a slave accompanies his master. The slave is always ready to serve. In a world that tries to enslave us to its ambitions and distractions, the Christian is the slave whose joy it is always to serve Christ
3.3 The Counsellor
The word is often used of accepting a wise counsellors opinion or verdict, when in doubt or uncertainty. The Christian is a person who guides his life according to the counsel of Christ, and not to the empty philosophies of a world that has rejected him and is in darkness.
3.4 The Citizen
The word is often used to describe a citizen's obedience to the laws of the State, as a useful member of society. The Christian is a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, because the law of Christ rules in his heart. Our citizenship transcends nationality, sovereignty and patriotism.
3.5 The Teacher
The word describes the way a scholar follows his teacher's line of argument carefully, to understand its meaning. The Christian is one who has given his life to listen, understand and obey the greatest Teacher in history. "To follow" then is rich in meaning (summarise).
Let the enormity of that promise sink in, "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life...."
Now let me ask you, "Are you a follower of Jesus?" I didn't say "Do you believe in God?" I didn't say "Do you go to church?" I said "Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?" For that is what a true Christian is.
Are you allowing Him to illuminate your path, as you follow in His footsteps? For if you do, you need never be afraid of the dark, or of the future.
He will never leave you in ignorance. We need never again grope around in doubt or uncertainty. He is the one who said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."