Sermon, June 6, 2021 | Grace Reformed Church
We return again to the gospel according to John, as we have been since last September. Now that it’s June, the last couple summers you may remember that I took on various Psalms then, but both of those summers we weren’t actually in the middle of anything. But we’re still in the thick of things here in John, so we’re going to stay in it for a while longer, even though it’s June.
I don’t know if anyone reads the titles I write for these sermons, but today I settled on “In Case You Missed It,” which was coincidentally the title for the last Wyoming Choral Arts Ensemble concert that we had, way back in February 2020, some of you were there. Well, the reason I chose the same title for that concert and this sermon is that there is a similarity of theme. That concert was a retrospective of the first three seasons of music that that ensemble had sung. We pulled out some of the most prominent pieces, our favorite ones, and really the ones of the most significance, and we took the time to sing them again. So too in this passage we find a similar theme. I almost titled the sermon “review” or something like that, because in it we’re going to hear a lot of the things that we’ve heard before in these last nine months of sermons. Jesus says them again, and so we preach them again, they must be important. There are repetitions of teaching from earlier in this chapter, and repetitions of images stretching all the way back to chapter 1, all collected here, in case you missed it. It’s even complete with a bunch of people hearing the words of Jesus, but definitely not understanding, and those are characters we know quite well. So, turn with me in your bibles to John chapter 8, we will begin with verse 12. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word for us this morning:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
The Word of the Lord.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.
If you remember last week, we spent a good part of the beginning of the sermon talking about the legitimacy of the first 11 verses of this chapter, how, on balance, we probably can’t and shouldn’t rely on them with the same confidence as scripture, but the story is useful insofar that it likely relays something that actually happened, and is in its message consistent with what we read in other parts of scripture with the character of God and his moral standards. We’re definitely not going to go over that again, but I mention it because those verses are likely not in the right place chronologically in the story of Christ. If we remove the story of the adulterous woman from the flow of the text, then what we have before us today fits really well with what was going on before, it’s a nice extension of Jesus’s teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles.
So with that in mind, what teaching does this next episode extend? Well, there was great controversy over Jesus at the end of the festival, there were if you remember officers going to arrest Jesus, some really angry Sanhedrin people, and still some others who heard Jesus and believed. The controversy was brought to a point by the last thing that Jesus taught, the last thing that he said, and that was in verses 37-38 of the last chapter:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as[f] the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
And, if you remember, this flowing water that Jesus referred to pointed to a specific feature of this festival, the ceremonial pouring out of water at the temple, to commemorate Moses bringing water from the rock. One of the reasons our passage today fits so well with the Feast of Tabernacles is that what Jesus says at the outset here also points to a feature of this particular feast.
Every night at the Feast of Tabernacles, they would light four huge lamps in a place called the “Court of Women,” and they would have a grand celebration under the lamps. And in that context, what does Jesus claim to be? The light of the world. In verse 20, we read that Jesus said to have said this in the treasury, and we’re not totally sure, but it’s likely that was a part of or within this Court of Women. So that would fit quite nicely. It’s another instance of Jesus pointing us to concrete images in our lives and using them to point to himself. This is in fact the second specific “I am” statements in the book of John, the first being “I am the bread of life,” which we dwelled on at length in April and May. He is using the image of light to point to himself.
I said this was review, right, because we have already had introduced to us this image of Jesus as light twice in the gospel, once by John in the prologue, and once by Jesus in the teaching surrounding John 3:16. And so here’s the review. In our passage today, what does Jesus say as he stands beneath the celebratory lights of the Feast? He says
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This is the big message of all of John. Jesus is the light. Light = Life, Darkness = Death. We understand these metaphors so well. That passage from Zechariah that we read for the Old Testament reading talked about it being light all the time, but not light because we have a sun, and when the earth turns away from the sun as it does every day, we have no light. No, Zechariah speaks of a different kind of day:
On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.
The gathered people would know this text, they probably heard it read as part of this feast, so it would be fresh on their minds. And Jesus says, that light, that light that shines in morning and evening and is the light for the whole earth? That’s me. I am the light of the world. We see the same picture in Revelation, about New Jerusalem, where we will need no lamp nor sun, because Jesus will be the light.
But furthermore we know that Jesus is pointing here beyond simply physical light. He’s not just promising some magical brightness here that never goes away, he is talking directly about the spiritual life of the believer as well. Whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Of all of the metaphors we find here, this is the one that John chooses to use as the introduction to this whole gospel, that of light.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
And why did he do that? We can’t know his exact thought process, how the Spirit guided him to that, but logic can give us a clue. The reason that light is such a powerful and accurate metaphor in this context is the absoluteness of it. There is no half-light. In our limited experience here on earth we experience gradations of brightness all the time, but there is a fundamental difference between the presence of light, and the absence of light, total darkness.
I remember two years ago when we visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and went on one of the most popular cave tours—if you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. One of the features of that, and many of the cave tours is when they lead you far into the cave, and then with a little drama and preparation for a few seconds they shut off all of the lights, and you are standing in utter darkness, a darkness so profound that it can only be found deep in a cave. No light. And if any of us there had introduced even the smallest light, lit a match, or woken up one of our phone screens, that darkness would be overcome immediately, because true darkness is instantly overcome by even the smallest glimmer of light, it is at that point no longer darkness.
So Jesus takes on this mantle, of being not just a light, but the light of the world, and when he does that he is making a substantial claim, that it is either him, or nothing. There is no half-light somewhere else to stake your claim to, there is no light within you, even a small one that will help get the job of being righteous done. It’s him, or nothing.
I know we’re only on the first verse yet of these 19 verses that we’re considering, but in a way it is the whole point. Don’t worry, we won’t deal with each one in so much detail. What we see that follows is more misunderstandings, more controversies that we’ve encountered before, and each one of them can be traced back to the fact that the people to which Jesus is talking reject him as the light. Look at the controversies that come up, and you’ll see how they sound a little familiar. The first is an issue of witness—we can’t trust these things you say, because it’s just you saying them—the same argument that was had in the middle of chapter 7:
13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.
Jesus’s response to this first charge sets up the dichotomy that will continue in all of the other arguments. We come from different places, Jesus says. You come from the earth, I come from heaven, so even if it was just me testifying, it would be true, because of where I come from. But even though I don’t need to, I satisfy your standard for witness. He says in verse 17
In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”
He says I don’t need to pass your “witness” test because of where I come from, I don’t have to play by those rules. But even if I did have to, I satisfy it. He says the same thing about judgment in verses 15 and 16:
15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.
You judge according to the flesh. And then another misunderstood phrase that has been used, like we talked about last week, to justify all manner of licentiousness. Jesus says “I judge no one.” In two ways that is true. First, Jesus is saying to these Pharisees, you judge according to the flesh, by human standards, and I do not judge that way, like in the previous chapter when he told them not to judge by appearances, but instead with “right judgment.” And secondly, it’s also true to say that Jesus judges no one because that is not the purpose of this coming of Christ. He said as much in John 3:17
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
He will come to judge, we know that, but only in the fullness of time, when the hour comes, but we read in chapter 5 that the Father has given all judgment into Jesus’s hands, it will be his to do, but that was not the purpose of his first Advent, first coming, it was to save.
And as we continue on in the passage we see more familiar issues brought up, more misunderstanding. When Jesus mentions the testimony of his Father, they of course misunderstand and want to find his physical father, they just don’t get it. Then in verse 21 Jesus says another puzzling thing that they don’t understand
21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”
Jesus said something similar, and also terribly misunderstood in the past chapter (do you see the review now?). He said then he is going away and they won’t be able to find him—and they think he’s going to Greece—and he’s talking about his ascension. Here he says where I’m going you can’t come, and he’s talking about his crucifixion.
And to get through some more of the “review” or recapitulation features of this we’ll skip down to verse 26 and following, where Jesus reminds us of a few more truths that we have had before as themes of entire sermons from earlier in the gospel.
In verse 26 Jesus reminds us again of the unity of will that he has with the Father, that what he testifies about the Father is exactly what the Father wants to testify to the people. He says “he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” And we are reminded that the will of the Father and the will of Jesus are completely the same, they are inseparable. Jesus is the Word of the Father. Jesus expounds on this further in 28-30, that of being the messenger of the Father.
He says in verse 28 that not only his message comes from the Father, but his authority to deliver that message also comes from the Father. He’s saying this to people who hold up their scriptures so high, that they come from God, that those words and prophesy have all of their authority from God the Father. On one hand they hold all of that up so high, with God’s authority, and Jesus comes to them and says that I have that same authority. The words that I speak bear the stamp of the Father and you should hold them that high too, because they come from the same place.
In verse 29, Jesus claims that the Father is with him continually, further binding the idea that their wills and their teachings, their words are not out of sync, because Jesus says that he always does things that are pleasing to the Father. So, further tying Jesus and the Father together into a completely unified purpose and message.
And this relationship between the Father and the Son, which he states and then expounds on once more, we read of course in verse 27 they don’t understand. And Jesus, and we, are not surprised by this, because of the situation we are all in without Jesus. Back up now to verse 23, and we see what leads to all of this lack of understanding.
23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.”
I say again as I have before, let’s marvel for a second at the great patience of Jesus. They keep asking who he is, but then they don’t like the answer so they’re either angry or they are confused, depending on who Jesus is talking to. In what we just read again, Jesus tells us the whole story again, showing again why this misunderstanding still exists, and it has to do with the completely opposite origins of Jesus and who he is talking to, not just in this story but also to us sitting here today. He is reminding us of the human condition and the complete dependence we have on him for our salvation, nothing in ourselves.
We are from below, he is from above. We are of this world, he is not. He is the light, we love the darkness. It’s just what he’s been telling us from the beginning! You don’t see because you are in the dark. You don’t hear, because your ears are stopped. You don’t believe because you don’t want to believe. That’s why everyone in these stories are so confused and angry, because they do not have the light of Christ in them. They are not given to understand.
We have brothers and sisters in the faith that still want to cling to the idea that when you choose to become a Christian, choose to put your faith in Christ, that’s when you become a Christian. That’s not when you are saved, because you would never make that choice. We are from below, of this world, loving the darkness, that’s where we start. No, we are saved the moment that the Spirit comes within us and makes us alive, makes it possible for us to choose the good, opens our eyes, makes us understand. God comes to you, gives the Spirit and births you again, and that person, that person can respond to the gospel.
If the gospel preached, or the gospel understood, or if your faith or my faith, or anyone’s faith is anything except 100% the work of God, it’s not the gospel. Jesus says to us here in John and in the entire scriptures that there is nothing that we can do to be saved except to place every bit of our faith in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, and in his work on our behalf. “Unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” That’s it. That’s the gospel, and it’s good news. Repent and believe, because Jesus is the only Savior, not just the perfector, but the author of all of our faith. Thank God for the work he is doing here and in each of us gathered in his name. Amen. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you for this reminder today, that there is nothing we can do but fall down in humility and thanksgiving for the faith you’ve worked in us. Because it’s not us, it’s all a work of you. Our lives are in your hands and we pray that you use us mightily to gather in the sheaves for the great harvest ahead of us. Bless us now as you gather us around your table. In the mighty name of Jesus, in whom rests all of our hope, amen.