************ Sermon on John 8:12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 22, 2013
John 7:37-44; 8:12
"I Am the Light"
Candle Light service
I The Golden Lampstand
A Last Sunday night we took a peek at the Tabernacle and its furnishings. We looked at the altar of sacrifice and basin of washing in the outer court; we looked at the table of show bread in the Holy Place. Each of these furnishings, we said, find their fulfilment in Christ. Meaning what? Meaning that Jesus is God's tabernacle because at Christmas "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (Jn 1:14).
I mentioned there were other furnishings in the Tabernacle too. In the Holy of Holies there is the ark of the covenant. In the Holy Place there is also the altar of incense and the golden lampstand.
This evening I want to begin by looking at the golden lampstand.
B One can never overestimate the importance of the golden lampstand. It was there to give light to the Holy Place; it was there to illumine the Holy Place. As such, it represented the presence and glory of God. The golden lampstand is a visible reminder of God as light. I think of the words of the psalmist: "The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear?" (Ps 27:1). I think of the ending to the book of Exodus, after the work of building the Tabernacle was completed:
(Ex 40:34-38) Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (35) Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (36) In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; (37) but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out--until the day it lifted. (38) So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.The golden lampstand reminded the people that God was their light. He was their light during the dark uncertainty of the Exodus and the 40 dark years of wandering through the wilderness.
II The Ceremony of Lights
A By the time of Jesus the Feasts of the Lord in Israel had evolved to include a couple of different ceremonies. One such ceremony, during the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, was the Ceremony of Lights. This ceremony was meant to be but an extension of the golden lampstand in the Holy Place. John's audience didn't need this ceremony explained to them because they lived it every single year. We, on the other hand, know nothing about it because we live some 2000 years later.
So, bear with me as I explain this ceremony to you – as recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus. According to Josephus there were 4 towering lampstands in the courtyard of the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles. The lampstands were 75 feet high – twice as high as the high point of this ceiling. Their reservoirs held over 10 gallons of oil each. Their wicks were made from the linen garments worn by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. The linens would be twisted, dipped into the oil, and set ablaze.
As I was watching the news this past week it occurred to me that we have something similar – the annual tree lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C. and many other cities across our land.
Now, think about Temple lampstands that are 75 feet high. The oil needs to be replenished, the wicks need to be replaced, the lamps need to be lit. I know some here would never volunteer to be even 10 feet off the ground. But in Israel young men would climb up 75 foot ladders to maintain and light the lamps.
B According to Josephus, when the lamps were lit at sundown the light was so bright that it reached every home in Jerusalem. And, when the 4 giant lamps were lit all of Israel would sing and dance with joy and adoration all through the night. The people were remembering the light of God during the Exodus and wilderness years. They were celebrating that God was with them, that His presence filled them, that His gifts surrounded them, that their needs were provided for – something we also celebrate this evening in our annual candle light service (though we won't be asking any of our young men to scamper up 75 foot ladders).
The children of Israel were celebrating the words of the psalmist I already mentioned: "The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear?" (Ps 27:1). They were celebrating the light and glory of God that filled the Tent of Meeting and the Temple, the light of the Lord that led them during their travels.
III Fulfilment in Christ
A I mentioned last week that the furnishings of the Tabernacle found their fulfilment in Christ. The altar of sacrifice points to the cross of Christ. The bronze basin and its washing points to the sacrament of baptism and our washing by the blood and Spirit of Christ. The table of show bread points to the Lord's Supper and how we are nourished by the body and blood of the Lord. Similarly, the golden lampstand in the Holy Place – and the Ceremony of Lights – also find their fulfilment in Christ.
John begins by telling us the place and time of our Bible reading this evening. Where? Jesus, we are told, was "teaching in the temple courts" (Jn 7:28). When? Jesus was teaching "on the last and greatest day of the Feast" (Jn 7:37). What feast? The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.
For a moment, allow your imagination to put you in the Temple courts. You are watching the lighting of the lamps. Let your emotions soar with the people as they celebrate for one final night. Join in singing the songs of praise to God for His light that shines in the darkness (cf Jn 1:5).
B Now, allow an awesome chill of excitement and expectation to run up and down your spine as you watch Jesus walk to the center of the Temple court and stand in the middle of the 4 giant lampstands. All eyes turn to Him. All voices become quiet. The tambourines, trumpets, cymbals, strings, and flutes are stilled. The dancing stops. Pointing to the four brightly burning lampstands Jesus speaks and His voice rolls out like a thunder: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12).
"I am the light of the world." Nothing could have shocked and startled the people more than these words. "I am the light of the world." The golden lampstand in the Holy Place points to me. The four giant lampstands point to me. The cloud of glory covering the Tabernacle and Temple points to me. It all points to me. I am God's light overcoming the darkness.
"I am the light of the world." Many titles in Scripture ascribe light to the Messiah: the Star out of Jacob, the light of Israel, the light of the nations, a refiner's fire, a burning lamp, the Sun of righteousness. Meaning what? Meaning Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus was claiming to be the light of God's presence – the same light that led Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness.
C "I am the light of the world." The Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus was claiming. Because the very next verse tells us the Pharisees challenged Jesus on this and called Him a liar. They knew Jesus was claiming equality with God. They knew Jesus was claiming to be light even as God was light. To them this was blasphemy.
Later that same day – it is still the last and greatest day of the Feast – Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. He brought light into that man's darkened life. As He did so, He said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (Jn 9:5). Again, the Pharisees became angry.
IV Jesus is Our Light
A "I am the light of the world." Jesus declares He is the light that shines in the darkness.
We need this light as we face life, as we face choices, as we face difficult situations. Many times it seems that a heavy fog of indecision, confusion, and uncertainty surrounds us. Our minds are darkened and we need the light. As the years go by we remember foolish choices and wrong decisions. If only we had the light.
We need the light because we live and walk and work in the darkness. I am talking about the darkness of sin and evil. I am talking about the darkness of the fall. I am talking about the darkness of misery. I am talking about the darkness of slavery to idols.
We need the light because the darkness threatens to overwhelm us. Not a week goes by that we don't hear about war and rumors of war. Not a week goes by that we don't hear about some dictator killing his own people. Not a week goes by that we don't hear about security breaches at some bank or another. Not a week goes by that we don't hear about murder and abuse and drive-by shootings. Our world is filled with darkness.
B "I am the light of the world." He is the light that shines in the darkness. He is the light that shines in our darkness. So, He gives each one of us a personal invitation to follow Him: "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." "I am the light," He says, "... follow me."
In the same way as Jesus walked to the center of the Temple court so He strides into the middle of our lives with the same awesome claim: "I am the light of the world. I am your light. Follow me!" Discovering our direction, discerning God's will, and making our decisions all begin with living and walking in His light. Jesus does for us what light does to the darkness: He illumines, dispels doubt, and guides.
The answer to all our questions and problems about life and direction and wrong decisions is a personal relationship with Jesus, the light of the world. This light pierces our darkness, penetrates our minds, and shows us the way.
C I am the light of the world ... follow me." Is He your light? Do you follow Him?
Let me highlight three things that reveal if Jesus is your light. This list is not exhaustive and I am sure you can think of many more things. But let me list what I consider to be three important signs that you follow Jesus the light.
First, you must open your sinful self to His penetrating truth. Those who follow Jesus the light allow nothing to be hidden from Him. Quite often the greatest darkness in our life is the fear of being known and exposed. But unless we admit our sin and repent of our sin we cannot follow the light.
Second, those who follow Jesus the light live a life of obedience, faithfulness, and discipleship. Jesus is their first priority and their biggest priority. They seek first the kingdom and its righteousness. They set their minds on things above, not on earthly things. They realize that the purpose of the Christian life is to walk in the light. They ask basic questions about all they say, think, and do:
-Does this fit my agenda as a Christian?
-Does it advance the Kingdom of God?
-Does it glorify God?
-Will it being me into a deeper relationship with the Lord?
-Can I take the Lord with me every step of the way?
When I dare to ask and answer these questions, the darkness begins to lift and I begin to live by the light of Christ.
Third, those who follow Jesus the light know His will. The Word of God is basic. I must know the Word, read the Word, study the Word, meditate on the Word. I must attend worship to hear God's Word. I must be a living part of a church that is faithful to the Word.
In our time of worship this evening we will be lighting candles. But as we do, realize we are pointing beyond the candles to Christ Himself. Because He is the light of the world. He is the light that shines in our darkness. He is the light Who calls to you and to me, "Follow me."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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