Archives For The Light of the World

Let There Be Light

Mark Beuving —  July 8, 2013 — 1 Comment
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

Light BulbIn our modern world, darkness is weak and temporary. Anywhere we go, we simply flip a switch and there is light. We can travel anywhere at any time of the night by simply switching on our headlights and lighting our path. We have streetlights to keep our parking lots and streets lit all night. We have flashlights so small they fit on our key rings. We even have apps to turn our smart phones into flashlights. And my personal favorite: we have the clapper for those situations where we can’t muster the strength to travel the three steps between the couch and the light switch. (Apparently you can get a remote control for your clapper as well. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Maybe it makes the clapping sound for you so you don’t have to overexert yourself…)

But think back to the very beginning. The first words that God spoke in creation were “Let there be light!” Immediately before this, the world was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the earth. Then God spoke a word, and light flooded the earth, scattering the darkness. It’s an impressive picture.

John picks up on this imagery as he begins his gospel. Other gospels (Matthew and Luke) begin with genealogies and Christmas stories, but John begins his gospel where Genesis begins: “in the beginning.” And John echoes the Genesis account of light appearing amidst darkness:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9)

In Genesis, God speaks a word and the darkness scatters. In John, God speaks a Son, whom John calls “the Word,” and the darkness scatters. John’s presentation of Jesus as the light of the world is striking. It’s profound. Just as our world began with a flash of light that dispelled the darkness, so the gospel begins with Jesus as the light which overcomes all of the darkness of the world.

This imagery of the light entering the darkness and refusing to be overcome sets the tone for John’s gospel. In essence, this prologue to the gospel tells the story in miniature. It’s a cosmic version of the tale John is about to tell. All of the stories, sermons, and conversations that John will record for us will come together to say this same thing: Jesus is the light that entered the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome the light. Just the opposite. This light came into the world and gave light to everyone.

In the next post, I’ll look at Jesus stunning statement that picks up on this same theme: “I am the light of the world!”


This entry is part 2 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

In John 7, the Jews go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. While this festival is going on, there is nonstop speculation about who Jesus is. Everyone is talking, whispering, and accusing with regard to Jesus’ identity and intentions.

Some are convinced that “he is a good man,” and others are saying exactly the opposite: “no, he is leading the people astray” (7:12). The question of whether or not Jesus is the Messiah gets raised a few times (7:26-27, 31, 41). Others speculate that perhaps Jesus is “the Prophet” (7:40), an Old Testament figure that would rise up to fill the shoes of Moses in leading God’s people.

CandleIt’s in this context that Jesus addresses the people in John 8:12, and says simply: “I am the light of the world.”

Light is a common metaphor. It speaks of purity rather than filth. Of truth rather than error. Of knowledge rather than ignorance.

As it happens, we have many candidates vying for the status of “light of the world.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, we had “The Enlightenment,” where the wisdom of the ancient Greeks was re-embraced. Some of these enlightenment philosophers were set on escaping the darkness in which the church had held the world (during a period that came to be referred to as “The Dark Ages”), and shining the light of true humanistic, autonomous, philosophical light around the world.

Those types of thoughts are still with us. Some would say that knowledge is the light of the world. All we need is better education and we will step out of darkness and into the light. Or perhaps we could argue that science is the light of the world. As we learn more about our universe through science, we will finally be able to become the type of superhuman race that can rid the world of its evils and enter into a golden age. Others would argue that deep religious knowledge is the light of the world. We need to look deeply within and gain the type of inward knowledge that leads to enlightenment (this is the mystical/eastern/new age approach).

But Jesus’ statement is unequivocal. I—and I alone—am the light of the world! It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus made this statement hundreds of years after Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle lived and spoke their profound philosophical teachings. As helpful as those insights may be—and some have said that all philosophy is simply footnotes to Plato, these guys still have a voice in the debates—there is only one light of the world.

The setting in which Jesus spoke these words is also significant. John 8:20 tells us that Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, which means that he was in the Court of the Women, which was the most public part of the temple. In this court were four golden candelabras. Each had four golden bowls that were filled with oil by the priests. On the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was either still going on or newly ended at this point, these candelabras would be lit. These may have inspired Jesus’ statement.

Pillar of FireBeyond that, the Feast of Tabernacles is significant here. They were celebrating God having led his people out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness (hence the “tabernacles” or tents), and into the Promised Land. Remember that God led his people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was this unique light that guided the people out of slavery and into the Promised Land.

And here Jesus stands, at the conclusion of this feast, identifying himself as the light of the world. He is the one who will lead his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. And he will lead not only his Jewish people, but the whole world. Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We won’t be lost, we will know where to go. We will know who to follow. We will have the light of life within us. And as we will see in the next post, this last statement is incredible.


This entry is part 3 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

Invisible ChurchJesus is the light of the world. As profound as that statement is, it gets crazier. Because this is a title that Jesus claims for himself, and then also bestows upon us.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus shares his identity with us. He is the light of the world, and we have been filled in that light. And Jesus intends for us to shine.

Consider Jesus’ lamp illustration. A lamp gives light. That’s just what it does. A lightless lamp is an inherent contradiction. It’s pure nonsense.

Imagine coming over to my house for a chat. We grab some coffee and sit down. The room is dark, so I reach over and turn on the lamp sitting between us. Then I say, “Oh wait, just a minute.” Then I grab a basket off the floor and set it over the lamp, completely blocking its light. “Ah, there we go. Now what were you saying?”

Jesus’ example here is absurd. I’m willing to bet that you don’t know anyone who has ever turned on a light, then covered it up so that none of its light escapes.

And yet—and here is the tragedy of the whole thing—it’s our everyday lived experience to encounter Christians who claim to be filled with the light of the world, yet never emit a single ray of that light. “Well, yes. I’m a Christian. But I’m not crazy. I mean, there’s nothing about me that would hint at the person of Jesus Christ.”

Martin Lloyd-Jones

Martin Lloyd-Jones

Martin Lloyd-Jones speaks some strong words in commenting on this passage:

“As I understand it, and it seems to me to be an inevitable piece of logic and interpretation, there is nothing in God’s universe that is so utterly useless as a merely formal Christian. I mean by that, one who has the name but not the quality of a Christian.” (from Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)

It’s not that we must become the light or we must act as light: we are the light. A basket over a lamp doesn’t make it any less a lamp. So first we need to examine ourselves and assess how we are relating to Jesus as the light of the world. And if he is truly in us, then we are the light, so we must act and live in accordance with what we truly are. The light of life shines within us, so we must find all of those ways in which that light is obscured by a basket. What things in your life cover up the light of Christ? If the light of the world shines through you, what in your life is keeping the people around you from seeing that light?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer also gives a blunt comment regarding this passage:

“Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.” (from The Cost of Discipleship)

This was a big statement for Bonhoeffer to make, but he backed it up with his life. When Bonhoeffer, who was a pastor in Nazi-dominated Germany, had the opportunity to stay abroad until the trouble passed, he decided that he could not be away from the German church in this dark hour. And at the greatest possible cost, Bonhoeffer reminded that church that they could not hide their light, even if it meant losing everything.

Jesus is the light of the world, and he has chosen that he will continue to shine in this world through us, his church. We cannot afford to lose a single ray of that light. Every one of us has to take this seriously, because together we make up that city on a hill. An invisible city is the farthest thing from God’s intention. We are that city on a hill, shining with the true light of life that scatters the darkness of this world.

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

Jesus is the light of the world. John tells us all about that in his gospel. But the most striking picture of this actually comes on the last pages of our Bibles.

Revelation 21-22 give us a picture of the world set to rights, of the world as it was meant to be. God’s justice has finally been satisfied. He has done away with death, with evil, with sorrow, with pain, with every effect of the curse. He has wiped every tear from the eyes of his people. Now God’s people dwell with him in a new heavens and a new earth. And God’s holy city, the New Jerusalem, comes down to earth. And Jesus is the light of that city:

“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” (Revelation 21:23-25)

Isn’t that an amazing description? We actually see this imagery twice at the end of Revelation. The concept of Jesus as the light of the world will take on an even greater significance at the end of the world.

No Sun, No NightHere we see echoes of Genesis 1 of the light scattering the darkness. We see echoes of John 1 of Jesus chasing away the darkness and not being overcome by it. We get a picture of a world in which there is no sun, moon, or stars. Yet this is a world without darkness. A world without night. Why? Because Jesus is the light of that place.

Jesus is now the light of the world. And when we finally see him face to face and dwell with him forever, he will be the light of the world.

This image of the light of Jesus filling the earth ought to flood our dreams. It ought to inspire our actions. This is the hope for which we are living. It is our privilege now to be set ablaze in Jesus, to bear that holy flame in our very being, glowing with the light of life. One day it will fill the earth directly, making even the sun and moon embarrassingly inadequate and unnecessary. But right now the lamp through which Jesus sheds his light is us, his church. A city on a hill.


This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

Last week I did a series of posts on Jesus and his church as the Light of the World. Today I want to add one final related thought.

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor was a brilliant fiction writer. She was also Catholic and deeply committed to Scripture. Though her fiction is often dark and disturbing, she insisted that it flowed out of her belief in Christian truth. How did she explain this? By appealing to Jesus as the light of the world. As a fiction writer, she said,

“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”

This line of thinking is so profound for thinking through the kind of art we make as Christians. But I also believe that it extends much farther than that. If Jesus is the light of the world, then he illuminates everything we see. We simply cannot see anything without him. The objects around you are not the light, but you cannot see them apart from the light.

Sometimes as Christians we get that idea that we must only be looking at Jesus, as though our books must be Christian, our music and movies must be Christian, our clothing must be Christian, our jobs and our cars and our friends must be Christian. But the reality that Jesus is the light of the world gives us another way to view the world. It’s not that everything we view will have the face of Jesus painted onto it, but everything we see will be seen in the light of Jesus.

Light Bulb 3If you’re a Christian plumber, for example, your job is not necessarily to install Christian pipeworks, adding as many cross-shaped pipe junctions as you can, thinking that this is what it means to be a Christian plumber. If you’re a Christian police officer, your Christianity does not mean that you will sneak in the Apostles’ Creed every time you read a criminal his rights. If you’re a Christian salesman, your Christianity will not mean swapping out the items your customers order with a New Testament, saying “They don’t really know what they want, this will do them eternal good.”

This is not what it means to bear witness to the light of the world. Jesus is the light of the world, so everything we see will be painted in his light. Jesus doesn’t want us engaged in “religious” activities every moment of every day.

He wants the plumbers among us to see their plumbing in light of who he is. So they will be hardworking, fair, gracious, and they will honor God with their work. Our Christian policeman will see God’s image stamped on every victim and every criminal they encounter. They will uphold God’s justice, and also love his mercy. Our Christian salespeople will see their wares and their customers in light of Jesus. They will temper their healthy desire for profit with the best interests of their customers, considering the ways that grace, truth, and the biblical definition of the good life affects their product, their approach to sales, and the way they treat their customers.

Jesus is the light of the world. He’s more than a message we proclaim. He also provides the illumination through which we view every aspect of our existence. As Christians, we should encounter nothing that we do not view in light of Jesus. As the light of the world, he is our interpretive grid for everything.


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