August 16, 1992
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Darkness is dangerous, and I’ve got the scar to prove it.
I got that scar the summer I was twelve. Our boy’s club was out camping together in the woods. Those campouts were always a riot, especially at night. We’d sneak around pulling pranks on our leaders and on each other, and then we’d escape under the cover of darkness before anyone could identify the culprit.
On this particular night, it was fun and games as usual. I had just pulled a fast one, and now it was time to make my escape. I was racing through the trees as fast as I could go, in complete darkness. I could hear the shouts of my pursuers, and I wasn’t about the turn on my flashlight, or they’d find me for sure. As I was running, I suddenly tripped over something–I’m still not sure what–and I landed hard. But I had to keep going, so I scrambled to my feet in the darkness and took off again.
Later, after things had settled down a bit, I sauntered casually into the light of the campfire, pretending nothing had happened. And that’s when I saw it: a hole in my blue jeans surrounded by a dark stain that was still spreading. It was blood, oozing from an ugly gouge in my thigh. Apparently, when I fell, I must have landed on a sharp branch or something. Whatever it was, it had plunged right through the skin and into the muscle. The wounded area had gone numb, so I didn’t feel it at first. As soon as the men in charge saw it, they poured on some iodine and bandaged the wound, and later on a doctor did a more thorough job.
Frankly, I’m still not sure what I tripped over, and I still don’t know exactly what it was that injured me–when it happened, it was too dark for me to tell. There’s a verse in that Bible that says, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble,” (Proverbs 4:19), and I’m living proof: I did my wicked little deed, I ran off in deep darkness, and to this day I still don’t know what made me stumble.
I suspect, however, that when the Lord says, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble,” he’s got more in mind than a twelve-year-old pulling pranks in the middle of the night. He’s talking about people who spend their lives running around in spiritual darkness. They fall again and again and again, and they often don’t even know what’s tripping them up or how seriously they’ve been injured.
A man has a drinking problem. His wife wants him to change; the company he works for even has a rehabilitation program that’s covered by insurance. But the man doesn’t want help. He doesn’t have a problem! He enjoys his liquor; he thinks he handles it pretty well; meanwhile, he just can’t figure out why his family is a mess and his job is in jeopardy. He’s in deep darkness, and he doesn’t know what makes him stumble.
A few more examples: We surround ourselves with movies and music that glamorize violence, and then we wonder why we don’t use a calm, peaceful approach to settle our differences. We ignore God’s will for sex and childbearing within marriage–we laugh when Dan Quayle criticizes Murphy Brown–and then we can’t figure out why society is going downhill so fast. We believe educators who tell us that we evolved by accident from primordial slime, and then we wonder why we treat each other like dirt. We walk in deep darkness, and we don’t know what’s making us stumble.
Some people never read the Bible or pray about important decisions, and yet they can’t understand why their lives seem to be such a muddle, lacking purpose and meaning, and direction. They think that people who get all excited about Jesus are a little soft in the head; they’re too sensible for such nonsense; and yet they can’t understand why their own lives seem so stale and pointless.
These are just a few examples of what the Lord is talking about when he says, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” When individuals live in darkness, their lives may be all messed up, but they have no idea why, and when an entire society lives in darkness, it stumbles from one crisis to another with no clear idea why these things are happening.
The most accurate psychological term for this condition is probably denial, but the Bible simply calls it darkness. The problem, you see, isn’t just psychological; it’s spiritual.
Maybe you’re in that kind of a situation right now. You’ve got a vague sense that there’s something amiss in your life, but you’re not sure what. You’ve been racing around in the darkness; you keep on stumbling without knowing why; you don’t really know the extent of your injuries. If that’s your situation, it’s high time for you to face the light. You need to hear what Jesus says in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
When Jesus says he’s the light of the world, he’s claiming a lot for himself, but he’s not saying anything he can’t back up. Often when Jesus made a sweeping statement like this, he would also perform a miracle to prove it, a sign, a sort of visual aid to demonstrate the truth of what he said. On an earlier occasion, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” and he said this just after he had given bread to thousands of hungry people. This miraculous sign demonstrated his claim to be the bread of life. Likewise, when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” he gave a sign. You can read about it in the gospel of John, chapter 9.
Jesus met a man who had been blind from birth. He reminded the people once again of what he had said earlier, “I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, mixed the saliva with the dirt to make some mud, and smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes. “Go,” Jesus told him, “and wash in the pool of Siloam.”
Well, at that point the man had nothing to lose (and I don’t imagine he wanted mud all over his face anyway) so he did what Jesus said. He went to the pool and washed, and came home seeing. After literally living in darkness his entire life, this man could now enjoy the light.
As soon as he returned from the pool, some religious leaders who were enemies of Jesus began to interrogate the man. They insisted that Jesus was no good, that he was a sinner. The man replied, “Hey, I’m no expert on whether he’s a sinner or not. I just know one thing: I was blind, but now I see.” After more heated discussion and questioning from these so-called experts in religion, the man went a step further. He said that anyone who could open the eyes of a man born blind must be from God. Well, the authorities didn’t like that one bit. They lost their tempers and threw him out.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Isn’t that a great story? First Jesus gave the man physical sight, and then he opened his eyes to spiritual reality. He drew the man to faith in himself. Jesus did all this, and God made sure the story was written down in the Bible, to show us that Jesus is who he says he is: the light of the world.
Well, then, if Jesus is the light of the world, why doesn’t everybody want to follow him? When Jesus walked on earth, some trusted him and followed him, but many others hated him. Eventually, they even crucified him. Why? Why do people reject the light of the world? Jesus himself explains it this way:
Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3:19-21)
Light has the power to expose. When people love darkness instead of light, it’s because their deeds are evil. Light is a child’s best friend, but it’s a burglar’s worst enemy.
For some, the light is protection; for others, it’s a problem. That’s always been the case. Back when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Lord went ahead of them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). This fiery cloud gave God’s people a sense of his nearness; it guided them and gave them direction; it protected them and made them feel safe.
But the armies of Pharoah that were pursuing the Israelites felt very differently about the pillar of fire. You see, when God’s people reached the edge of the Red Sea and stopped running, the pillar of fire went from in front of them and moved to the rear, where it stood between them and the enemy. All that night, while the Lord was preparing a path of escape through the sea, the fiery cloud gave light and comfort to God’s people, but to the hostile troops of Pharoah, it brought a terrifying darkness (Exodus 14:19-20).
That’s what always happens with the light of the world. Jesus Christ is welcomed as good news by some people, but to others he’s a threat. Some love him, others hate him.
But whether you love the light or hate it, one thing you can’t do is put it out. The enemies of Jesus tried to snuff the light by having Jesus crucified, but on Easter, the light shone more brightly than ever. Jesus rose again; the light of the world overcame the dark powers of death and sin. The light is here to stay, and we can’t make it disappear. Jesus is alive, and he’s going to keep right on shining no matter what you or I might do.
So we’re left with just two options: we can either turn toward Jesus and keep moving closer and closer to his light, or else we can keep walking away into deeper and deeper darkness. The Bible describes the possibilities this way:
The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of the dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble (Proverbs 4:18-19).
Which option sounds better to you? The second, stumbling around in the dark is one we’ve already talked about. We think we’re pretty clever avoiding the light, but meanwhile, we’re stumbling along and hurting ourselves, never knowing quite why we’re being hurt or how serious our injuries really are.
You and I are simply not designed to function well in the dark. We need to see where we’re going. When you get into a car at night, what do you do? You turn on the headlights; you don’t want to drive a car in the dark. So why drive your life full speed ahead in the dark? When the electricity goes off at night, what’s the first thing you do? You go look for a flashlight or a candle so you can see something. So how can you be content to live in spiritual darkness? Sad to say, that’s exactly what many of us are doing.
In Isaiah 59, the prophet says,
We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.
Isn’t that a vivid description? Without God’s light, we fumble and we stumble along, injuring ourselves repeatedly as we go.
We need light. We need a pillar of fire who leads us and comforts us and protects us from the attacks of the enemy. We need someone who can open our blind eyes and keep us from stumbling. We need the light of the world. We need Jesus. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
When we follow the light, we’re no longer in darkness. We begin to see Jesus more clearly, and we begin to see ourselves more clearly.
First, we see who Jesus is: He’s light. What does it mean to say Jesus is light? Well, light is the energy that makes life possible; there would not be a single living thing on this planet if there were no light. Light is also the thing that makes it possible for us to appreciate color and beauty. The very first thing God created was light. When we meet Jesus, we discover that the Creator of light is himself the light of the world. He is the light of life. Apart from him, there’s only death. Also, as the light, he’s the source of all beauty; without him there is nothing but shadows and ugliness.
The apostle Paul writes that “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So who is Jesus? He the radiance of God himself, shining in glory and purity and life-giving power.
Once you begin to see Jesus, you also begin to see yourself clearly for the very first time. It’s pretty easy to live in denial, to walk in darkness, to pretend that your sins and flaws really aren’t all that serious, to think that you’re actually a pretty decent person–at least it’s easy to think that way if you ignore Jesus. But that’s a little like looking at a mirror in the dark and telling yourself how great you look. You need to step into the light before you have a realistic idea what you look like and before anything can be done about it.
Only in the light of Jesus can you take a searching and honest and fearless moral inventory of yourself. When you read about Jesus in your Bible, you see yourself in a new light. The Holy Spirit opens your eyes to what a perfect person is really like. You see how Jesus loved even his enemies and prayed for them, and then you realize that you don’t even treat your friends and family so well, let alone your enemies. You see that Jesus always told the truth, even when his life hung in the balance, and all of a sudden your little white lies don’t look so little or so white. You see his love for poor people, his concern for prostitutes and other social outcasts, and you begin to realize how cold and uncaring you are. You see how devoted he was to obeying his heavenly Father, and it hits you how selfish and disobedient you are. When you see yourself in the light of Jesus’ holiness, you realize how unholy you are.
This process of self-discovery is painful, sometimes it’s downright frightening, but it’s absolutely essential.
Remember the story I told at the beginning? I hurt myself while I was racing around in the dark, and I didn’t even know it. When I stepped into the light, it wasn’t very pleasant for me to discover that nasty-looking wound, but it’s a good thing I did, because I needed help. That wound was going to keep bleeding whether I saw it or not, and I needed someone to bandage it.
We all have deep wounds that we’d rather not look at, sins that need God’s forgiving and healing touch, but we’re not going to find any help if we stay in the dark. If we pretend we have no sin, says the Bible, we’re walking in darkness, we’re deceiving ourselves, and we’re calling God a liar (1 John 1:6,8,10). That’s a dark and gloomy path; it leads from one misery to another and ultimately ends in the utter darkness of hell.
We need to get out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus. That’s the only place we’ll see how destructive our sins really are, and that’s the only place we can find help. When we step into the light, when we confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The light of holiness, which we avoided for so long because we feared being exposed, turns out to be the light of love. In Jesus’ light, we see ourselves, not just as sinners, but as forgiven sinners. His blood shed on the cross, his life given up in exchange for ours, makes this forgiveness possible.
And once Jesus forgives us, he also changes how we think and how we live. The light of Jesus shows us not only our problems, but also our possibilities. His Word, the Bible, shines into our minds. The Lord directs us so that we can see where we’re going. We understand that the great moral absolutes of Scripture are there for our own good, to keep us from stumbling. We’re no longer trapped in denial and darkness. We recognize sin for what it is, and we learn to avoid it more and more. We can see and understand God’s will for us, and because we can see, we don’t stumble as often as we used to. And on those occasions where we do stumble, we’re at least able to see what we stumbled over, and we know where to turn for help and healing. That’s walking in the light, and it keeps getting better and better. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of the dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18), and the ultimate destination is heaven itself.
Jesus transforms our relationship to God, and he also revolutionizes the way we relate to other people. The Bible says, “God is light. If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other” (1 John 1:7). We can enjoy friendships that are deep and real; we can have family relationships that aren’t shallow and phony. When we walk in the light, we see ourselves realistically; we don’t keep pretending that we’re better than others; we don’t have to put on a false front all the time. And that can make all the difference in our relationships. Let’s face it: nothing ruins a relationship faster than self-righteousness and phoniness. Who likes a person who’s never wrong, who’s too proud to say he’s sorry? Jesus helps us to become honest about our faults, and he helps us more and more to treat others the way we would like them to treat us.
So if you’ve been walking in deep darkness for too long, if you’re not even sure anymore what’s making you stumble or how seriously you’re being hurt, if you’re far from God and you’re not getting along with others, isn’t it time you stepped into the light? Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Lord Jesus, you are our light and our salvation. Shine into our darkness. Help each of us to see in you the glory and holiness and love of God, and in your light help us to see ourselves more clearly. Help us see what’s making us stumble and what it’s doing to us. Then, dear Lord, forgive these sins for the sake of your blood and change the way we live. Help us to follow you, and give us the light of life, that we may shine with your radiance. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.