Seamus McGarvey, Robert Richardson, Claudio Miranda, Janusz Kaminski and Roger Deakins… they are not household names are they… does anyone know who they are?
Would it surprise you to learn that they are all nominated for Oscars this year. Their contribution to the movies they make is so important and so significant but we don’t know them like we do the actors or directors. Yet they are people who have such a major influence on what we see on the screen…in fact they allow us to see the things on the screen. They build on camera worlds with light and then frame it for us…they are the cinematographers. They use light so we can see what is happening, they light up night and turn day into night, they set the mood and tell story. They make average actors look brilliant and help make beautiful actors dark and threatening. They are light artists who create cinematic worlds.
While they light the on screen worlds that can transport us to another time and place, today we are looking at Jesus words “I am the Light of the World’. John tells us Jesus is the word and light that created our reality, Jesus is the one that illuminates the very reality in which we live, that drives away the darkness around us and within us, Jesus is the one that allows us to see the reality of who we are through the lens of the reality of who he is.
Over the period leading up to Easter and a bit beyond we are looking at the ‘IAm’ Statements is John’s Gospel. The series is called Refracted Glory. In the prologue to John’s Gospel he tells us The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. In Jesus the glory of God, and glory means the weighty reality of who someone is, came and dwelt with us. John goes onto say no one has seen God, but the son who is himself is God, and has the closest relationship with the father has made him known. My prayer is that as we look at “I am’ statements in John’s gospel we might see the weighty reality of God revealed to us in Jesus. Just like light refracted through a prism gives us colours that we may capture the amazing hues and wavelengths of the weighty reality of who Jesus. That we might have a renewed vision of and passion for the glory of God in our midst, the weighty reality of God with us and that would fill us and overflow into the world around us.
The first thing Jesus saying sheds light on is Jesus himself, his identity is illuminated.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the festival of tabernacles, which celebrates God’s leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, and he uses various aspects of the festival to reveal who he is to the crowds gathered there. In their book “Jesus: a Theography” Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola show how the whole of the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus and nowhere is that more true that in John’s Gospel. As we saw last week leading up to the festival, Jesus had used the feeding of the five thousand and its connection with the provision of manna in the wilderness to show that he was the bread of life, come down from heaven that could meet our deepest spiritual hunger. In John 7 Jesus at the festival takes the retelling of the provision of water from the rock, in the aptly named desert of sin, recorded in exodus 17, to tell the people that he was the one who could give life giving water. During the festival a great candelabra would have been lit at the temple to signify the way God had lead his people by a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night John tells us that that was the place Jesus stood up and taught. When it was ablaze or on the last night of the festival when it was not, as people were going home, and this may have been when Jesus stood up and Said ‘I am the Light of the World’. This other light may not be here but I am. Either way Jesus takes that sign to point to him as the one who can lead us from darkness to light and life.
More than that Jesus claim goes beyond simply leading the Israelites through the wilderness it points to a greater light a greater salvation. A light for the gentiles, for the whole world, a salvation from slavery to sin and death.
“I am” of course is a not so veiled reference to the name YHWH, I am who I am’ that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. In Jesus “I am-ness’ Jesus is referring to his mysterious part in the triune life of the God head. At the end of this chapter after our reading from this morning we see later Jesus says before Abraham I Am, which caused many to want to stone him. Saying that he is the Light of the world particularly at this festival points to his divine nature. Yet while John may have the highest understand of the divinity of the son of Man in any of the gospels it is also paradoxically where we encounter the most vivid expressions of Jesus humanity, like in that shortest of verses when confronted with a dead friend it says ‘Jesus wept’.
Light of course is a common motif in the scriptures full of messianic expectations , as we had read out in Isaiah a prophecy we equate so closely to Christmas, we see the promise that those who dwell in darkness shall see a great light. That a new age the kingdom of God would dawn on them. In the first epistle of John we also have the assertion that God is light, and in him is no shadow, no darkness. It is God’s nature to shine and reveal Gods self to us and he has done this in the sending of his Son Jesus.
Once again this claim of Jesus to be the light of world, like the bread of life leads to Jesus speaking of his death on the cross in verse 21. The light of world does not come demanding our belief demanding that we put our trust in him; rather the light of the world comes to show us what God is like through sacrificial love. The weighty of reality of who God is, the glory of God is shown in the crucifixion and the ultimate witness from the father to who Jesus is comes in that central tenant of our faith the resurrection.
Jesus assertion that he was the light of the world leads him into conflict with the Pharisees a group within the religious landscape of Jesus day who thought that if they just kept the law, God would deliver his people from roman oppression. All the way through John’s gospel, Jesus assertion that he has come from the father brings him into conflict with someone. For the Pharisees they questioned his authority to stand and make that claim, they know the law and they know that there must be more than one witness to prove that something is true. They question Jesus assurance of his own identity. Jesus enters into debate with them.
In our own world today Jesus saying ‘I am the Light of the World’ also calls us into conflict with the world views around us. John says in his prologue people love the darkness. But also in our multi-cultural post-modern world, people find that it is offensive almost hate speak to suggest that Jesus is the Light of the world. They may see him as a good teacher, as a leading light, as an enlightened one, but Jesus claims more than that, he claims a unique relationship with God. Christians have been rather dismissive of acknowledging truth and light in other religions or worldviews, it’s there. But as Jesus points out to the Pharisees if they do not come to know him and the father they will remain in darkness. In fact he is rather abrupt they will die in their sin.
This light also illuminates us …
Jesus says that whoever follows him will never live in darkness that they would have the light of life. Just as God had lead the people of Israel out of slavery to the promised land so he is the one who leads us out of the darkness of sin and slavery to sin into abundant and eternal life with him. Just as God as able to lead his people through the wilderness so Jesus is able to lead and guide us through this life.
I love the journey motif that goes with this saying, we often see the Jesus as being the light of the world as Jesus being an end point an answer rather here the image of the light of the world is one of following of journeying rather than simply resting where we are. One of my favourite ways of thing so of Jesus is not as the answer, but the burning question, the chief quest-er, who invites us to follow him.
It is the light that reveals the truth and shows us a way forward…that make our story come to life.
We stopped our reading this morning at verse 30, with a great many people coming to believe in Jesus. Jesus continues on from there by equating light with truth. In verse 31-32 He tells those who would follow him if they hold to his teachings they are his disciples. Then they will know the truth and the truth will set them free’. Once again the reality is that to come and believe in Jesus is not just a decision that we make, it is a willingness to put what Jesus says into action in our lives. One of the ways we use light as a metaphor is to talk about truth and here Jesus brings these two things together. He gives us a very practical way in which we will not walk in darkness but in light.
It also is a light that shines on our false hopes and challenges how we see our identity in the world.
Of course there is also a continuing conflict through this chapter with the Pharisees, and it shows up their false hopes, they put their trust very much in their identity as children of Abraham, but Jesus says that that is not enough, that it is only by putting our faith and hope in him and following him that we find life. He is not righting off their faith but rather as this and Jesus other statements are pointing to he is the fulfilment of the hope they have and He is to take primacy… he says to them before Abraham ‘I am’. We can all have hopes and build our identity on things in this world. Nationality, race, our religious heritage, our wealth our social status, social circle, being a good person but in the end Jesus says before all those thing ‘I Am’. Our true identity is found in the light of who Christ is. In relationship to Jesus at its deepest core it is forgiven, redeemed, made new in Christ.
Two quick things to finish.
Firstly the challenge for us like with those who listened to Jesus in his day is to respond to the light, Jesus says he is from above and we are from below, he only does what the father tells him and what pleases the father. Jesus says even to those very righteous and religious people the Pharisees they were in darkness. We all need to open our lives up to the light of Christ and allow it to show up the darkness within us, bring it out and deal with it. That we might be filled with the light of Christ. It may be you know You’ve never given your life to Jesus and you need to do that or like me that as you see more of Jesus you are aware of the darkness within and the need to have it forgiven and dealt with.
Secondly, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says we are ‘the light of the world’ because Christ is in us. We are called to be like cinematographers to be light bearers and light artists and take the light of Christ and bring it to bear on our reality to allow it to bring life into the darkness round us. We are called to step in to the shadow and darkness round us and shine the light of Christ’s love and bring his truth. We can do it with the assurance that we will walk in his light in those places.