John 8:12-16: I Am the Light of the World


In John 7-9, Jesus is celebrating the annual Festival of Tabernacles.  For eight days each year, the Jews traveled to Jerusalem for this ritual, living in temporary shelters to remind them of their time in the wilderness.  In their exodus, with the Red Sea at their backs, a water shortage waited for the Israelites at every turn.  So, the daylight festivities for this celebration revolved around water. 

The Pool of Siloam, a rock-cut pool, is nearby, outside the gates, fed by water transported through two aqueducts.  Chosen priests carry this water and pour out this liquid of life on the bronze altar in the Temple court.  Each time the people experienced this event, they are to relearn how God provided water for their ancestors during their arduous journey to Canaan. 

Without water, someone dies.  So, God will take a physical necessity and use this part of creation to give spiritual life.  “With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 12:3).  On the final and eighth day, Jesus takes the last outpouring of water to point the people to what He will provide.  “All who are thirsty, come to me and drink” (John 7:37-39).

At night, the celebrations lit up with a different focus and theme.  The priests lighted four sizeable candelabras, and the glow from them became visible across the city.  The burning flames are supposed to recall the people back to the pillar of fire by which God led Israel through the darkness. 

Like water, the Scriptures also testify to light as God’s deliverance to the people.  “The Lord is my light and my rescue” (Psalm 27:1).  “Arise, shine, for your light arrives, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).

Light is a significant theme in Holy Scripture.  The story of its text is one of moving from darkness to light.  Delve deep into the way the Bible begins: “The earth, formless and void, and darkness covers the face of the deep.”  “Be light!”  Now, light is, existing and called into being (Genesis 1:2-3).  The first thing God speaks into existence is light.

In Scripture’s sacred pages, darkness speaks of sin and Satan (John 3:19-21; Acts 26:18), but “God is light” (1 John 1:5).  Designated as His people, we live as “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8-13).  “Outer darkness” is how Jesus portrays hell (Matthew 8:12; 25:30), with unbelievers stuck in this darkness (John 12:46).  Not so for the believer.  In heaven, the despair of night does not exist (Revelation 21:25), all because God calls us out of darkness “into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

The source of saving water, Jesus, also proclaims, “I am the light of the world!”  About 700 years earlier, Isaiah pointed the people to this: “The Lord will be your everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:19).  “By God’s light, I walked through darkness,” Job held firm despite his suffering (Job 29:3).  In summarizing his hope, despite the dreary gloom all around him, Micah faced the future, shining with hope.  “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord is a light…  To the light, he will bring me, and I will behold his righteousness” (Micah 7:8-9).

In some way, all these foretell of the prophesied Messiah.  So, on a particular night during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Grand Illumination, Jesus declares Himself as the Light.  How can this be true?  Only because in the pregnancy of time, God sent His Son, Jesus, to a world in rebellion.  In Him, resided true life, who brought light to everyone, who is shining into the darkness, which cannot extinguish Him (John 1:4-5).  Listen to what Jesus says about those who dwell in His light.  “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will receive the light, which gives life” (John 8:12). 

At the festival, the people celebrate in the glow of the lampstands and torches.  Entranced by the flickering, Jesus breaks their reverie, “I am the world’s light!” (John 8:12).  For those startled by His words, they find themselves at a singular moment—they are celebrating the feast for the wrong reason.

The glinting flames are intended to remind the people about their saving God, who guarded and guided them in a pillar of fire by night.  With the substance of this celebration lost to so many, everything became about the fervor of bright flames, dancing, and feasting.  Perhaps, a close analogy to this in our culture is Christmas, with Christ yanked out of the celebration, replaced by merrymaking and gift giving.

The flames are meant to point to the Messiah, the Light no darkness can overcome.  Only He claimed to be an illuminating Light for the entire world, shining with salvation.  In the truth of His Being, Jesus becomes the source of eternal knowledge for all humanity.  Not only will this Light dispel all darkness—He will also expose everything hiding within its darkened shadows (Ephesians 5:13-14).

The darkness, however, refuses to dance with light; no, he wants to smother out the brightness.  Jealous and threatened by the new King of the Jews born in Bethlehem, King Herod tries to extinguish the new-born Light.  So, on to Egypt Jesus escapes with His parents for a few years.  The Pharisees and other religious leaders scheme and plot to put out our redeeming Light.  At every turn, they try to trip up Jesus in His words, to turn the people against Him. 

On a dark Friday, they, at last, succeed.  For a little while, the darkness quenches the fiery brilliance of God.  Soon to die, Jesus admits to His executors, “This is your moment when darkness rules” (Luke 22:53). 

The world’s rescuing Light recognized He needed to submit to these dark powers, for a short time, to free us from their darkness.  So, a gloom covered the land as Jesus, humanity’s saving Light, hung on the cross and died for our sins, taking in the cost of this darkness.  Extinguished of life, He descends into a borrowed tomb, and a massive stone seals its entranceway.  Guarded by men of war, they do all to make sure the snuffed-out Light will never escape the darkness of death.

The hours pass by.  In the early dawn of Easter, no darkness in creation can vanquish this gleaming Light, not sin, death, or the devil.  To this day, this bright Light still shines in the gloom, and the suffocating blackness cannot overcome Him.  For Jesus speaks, in the present tense, “I Am the Light of the world.”  To be this Light means He must be with His people, in every moment and era, to save them.  So, His victory over death and grave comes anew to illumine our sin-darkened hearts, here and now.

Now we can live, as Scripture tells us, as “children of light.”  No longer do we belong to the shadows of the night.  Well, if not, who are we now?  A light, but for what?  This world, Jesus taught, like a city atop a hill, blazing in brightness before all.  “No one lights a lamp to be under a basket, but on a lampstand, to give light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so they may catch sight of your beautiful works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). 

Such is our mission because Jesus sparkles inside us with His salvation, which allows us to glisten and glimmer in the gifts He gives us.  In the past, Jesus died and rose for you to wash your sins away; today, He delivers this to you.  In the future, He will call you forth from the dust, and bring you to the place He prepared for you.  Only in the “I AM,” does an abstract future become real because Jesus will become present for you in the time yet to come.  In Him, every day becomes the Day of your redemption.

In the time before time, before the world came into being, God chose you as His own to live forever as His child.  In Him, you find a purpose for living, and hope when you are dying.  In God, everything becomes new, because He is always with you, in the now, beyond and outside of time, beyond everything, which but falls apart and decays.  In this way, He can guide you every step of the way through your wilderness journeys, until you stand before His throne in glorious splendor.

The resplendence of your Lord is also aglow when you refuse the wickedness of shadow and gloom.  “At one time you used to be darkness, but now you are light in the Lord,” Scripture reveals.  So, go about your daily lives letting Jesus, the saving Light of this world, sparkle in and through you.  In kindness, in works of love and service for the people around you, Jesus’ light will shine.  “Walk as children of light, for this light within you produces what is virtuous, right, and true” (Ephesians 5:8-9).

Still, when we stumble and fail, falling in the temptation to sin, the Holy Spirit leads us to turn, once more, to Christ in repentance.  The Spirit moves us to seek God’s mercy in Christ’s shimmering word of pardon—and His radiance glimmers again within us. 

In this world made dark by sin, we follow our Savior, who is the divine Beacon for a fallen world.  In the beaming brightness of His forgiveness and love, we live, shining in the obscurity, inviting others into the light.  Whenever Jesus lights up our lives, we glow, becoming mirrors of His Light, shining before others all our days.

What a privilege!  For our Lord fills us with Himself so we can reflect Him like the moon reflects the sun.  To help illumine this sin-darkened world, He calls us to this task.  In His name as Jesus dwells in you, “Let Him shine” (Isaiah 60:1).  For Jesus is “I Am,” the God who saves, in the present, who frees you from the bleakness of death and sin. 

Yes, if you walk in the light of Christ, He brings you into communion with others.  How?  By this reason alone—His blood cleanses you from all sin (1 John 1:7).  Do you realize what this means?  In the “I AM,” your best is always now.  Amen.