By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2018 11:10AM
On Wednesday of last week we had a super blue moon. Did anyone see it? Early in the evening, as it rose, it looked like a big orange balloon bobbing on the horizon and then it turned into a glorious shining globe, lighting up the night sky. It was a welcome sight because January always seems such a dark month, coming after the bright lights of Christmas. Somehow the light makes the darkness seem even darker when it comes. Today's section of John's gospel is all about the contrast between darkness and light.
But before we get there, the keener eyed amongst you might be wondering why I've skipped the first part of John chapter 8, the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. It's a favourite story for many of us. The reason is written in your Bibles: those verses simply aren't there in the earliest copies of John available. In others it is found in different places. The event probably happened, but not exactly here, so we're going to carry on with events as John originally wrote them, and as we pick up the story, you'll see that the end of chapter 7 and the rest of chapter 8 fit together naturally.
If you were here last week, you will remember that Jesus was teaching at the Festival of Tabernacles. It was a celebration of God's provision for his people in the wilderness; they built booths to remind them of the tents they lived in as they wandered and they brought water in from the Pool of Siloam to celebrate the way God made water come out of the rock to quench their thirst. It also looked forward to the day when God's promises would be fulfilled in the arrival of the Messiah. On the last and most important day of the feast, Jesus stood up and declared 7:37 "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me . . . rivers of living water will flow from within them". It was a massive claim - Jesus was the one who could give them life and help them bring life to others. It wasn't his only claim.
Another great theme of the Festival was light. To enable the celebrations to go on into the evening, great lights were lit around the temple complex. Contemporary sources note that the lights were so bright that they lit up all the nearby homes too. But on this last night, all the lamps bar one were extinguished. It was a reminder that the true light of the Messiah hadn't arrived yet. But it was at that moment that Jesus spoke up v12 "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The promise of Isaiah 49:6 was being fulfilled. The great light for the whole world was right there! The light which casts away the darkness, the light which brings life, right there. And more than that. Remember that the phrase 'I am' is like the very name of God. When Jesus says it he's telling people who he is. It's like "Here I am, your God, the light I promised to send." The light is for each and everyone who will follow him. "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness." It's a wonderful announcement, and what's more it's still true today. This is what Jesus offers: light and life. This world can often seem a very dark place. Our own lives too can be filled with so much darkness: money worries, relationship problems, illness, bereavement. We can even wonder what the purpose is of it all. There are people in our community who feel that there is no purpose, no future. Life is just one long trudge along to death. It's one of the reasons why drug and alcohol abuse is so rife. Hopelessness. But Jesus offers light in the darkness. Think about what light does. If you're trying to navigate your way around an unfamiliar room in the dark, you don't know where the obstacles are. You bump into things, hurt yourself, maybe even put yourself into real danger. Switch the light on and the obstacles are still there, but you can see them for what they are, and with the help of the light you can avoid them. Jesus the light of the world shines his light into our lives so we can see things as he sees them. And there's more even than that. Without light there would be no life at all. The plants need the light for photosynthesis, we and the animals need the plants to eat, as well as to properly run our own bodies. No light, eventually we die. Jesus is the light. In him we live forever. Is there a better offer than that?
You would expect the Jewish leaders to be falling over themselves to follow him. They'd been teaching the people about their past and looking forward to the fulfilment of God's promises, and here was Jesus saying "I'm here! The living water! The true light! I'm here!" But just like in 7:40 the response was underwhelming. v13 "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid". We're not interested in your claims, Jesus, because there's no one to back them up. But do you need someone to tell you the sun is shining, unless you are blind? Even here in Wales where a clear sight of the sun is worthy of a facebook posting, we know the sun is there because there is light. The Pharisees' response shows that they were deep in darkness.
The subsequent discussion contains a series of objections to Jesus, each one more ridiculous than the last, until we reach the pertinent one in v25 "Who are you." I'd love to go through each one in detail, but time is already against us, so we're going to whizz through as quickly as we can, looking at each challenge from the Pharisees and its matching truth from Jesus.
Challenge 1 was v13 'your testimony is not valid'. We've already noted that Jesus didn't need a second witness as his light was clear to see, but Jesus reveals one anyway v18 "My other witness is the Father who sent me." This leads to . .
Challenge 2 "Where is your father?" A fair question, in earthly terms, but one which lights up a more troublesome problem. "You do not know me or my Father . . . If you knew me, you would know my Father also." Don't forget, these are the religious leaders Jesus is talking to. The ones who teach others about God, and Jesus is saying that they don't even know him. It is entirely possible to look like the most religious person on earth and still not know God. But the flip side of the truth shows something of wonderful comfort. If we know Jesus, if we believe in him and follow him we automatically know the Father too. God the creator, God the mighty and holy and powerful, God who sees all time here in the now can be known by us. It's a mindblowing truth. While the implications were sinking in for the Pharisees, Jesus said something else v21 "I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come." It's a repeat of the equally unsettling statement of 7:34.
Challenge number 3 is less of a challenge and more the product of complete confusion. 'Will he kill himself? Is that why he says where I go you cannot come?' They think that the only place they won't be going is down to hell, because they are such good Jews. The belief then was that if you took your own life you did go to hell - an idea which is not found in the teaching of Jesus nor of the church today, so don't be distressed by it - but it was what they thought then. So they drew the conclusion that Jesus was about to take his own life and go to hell where they couldn't follow. But here's the truth v23 "You are from below; I am from above". A complete reversal of their assumptions. It is they who belong in hell because they will die in their sin. Just as before the negative becomes a positive when the remedy is offered "if you do not believe that I am he - literally 'I am' - you will indeed die in your sins." The remedy for death is simple: to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. You might imagine that to live forever with Jesus and his Father would be such a precious thing that nothing less than an Indiana Jones style quest would be the way to get it, or to spend years in a monastery on top of a hill studying the scriptures and praying. But no, Jesus offers his life and light to those who believe in who he is and what he's done. That's it. It is that simple. HIs offer hasn't changed.
The fourth challenge is at least a sensible one v25 "Who are you?" In spite of all the evidence in front of them, they won't understand the answer until after the crucifixion, says Jesus. But he adds a wonderful truth about himself and his father "I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me, he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." Jesus and the Father are completely united, they are one and they act as one. The things that will happen to Jesus aren't the work of an angry cosmic child abuser as some have called him, but Jesus and his father working together for our good; for the good of all who will come to him.
So, an in depth section of teaching today. But such wonderful truths! Jesus the light of the world who brings us life. The question for each of us is: are we following Jesus in the light, or are we like the Pharisees who thought they had enough light by themselves? Will we die in our sin or live in his light? There is no middle ground. Jesus makes no provision for the sincere agnostic or the distracted consumerist. But he makes no discrimination either. Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, bad lad or head girl all are invited into the Father's presence by the loving embrace of Jesus. Will you come?