Mar 8, 2017 – I Am… the Light of the World
Last week we discovered how Jesus’ use of ‘I Am’ rocked the world of His day with it’s scandal. Jesus’ use of Yahweh, the self-identity of God to Moses, for a reference to Himself created a crisis for the Jewish leaders and Jesus’ hearers. And so today in the lesson, we see that there is conflict over Jesus identity and His use of ego emi.
But today this “I Am” of Jesus happens within the backdrop of the Jewish feast of booths. For us to grasp the scandal of this we need to get hold of what this festival meant and in particular why Jesus statement of “I Am… the light of the world” in John 8:12 sets His hearers teeth on edge.
The festival of booths or tabernacles took place only in Jerusalem and was not to be celebrated anywhere else. This was to acknowledge that God’s saving presence was at the temple. This celebration was done to recall that the saving presence of God led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years. And during those 40 years they lived in tents or tabernacles. They “tabernacled” in the presence of God as they traveled in the wilderness led by the ark of the covenant and one other important thing as well.
But before we get to that, we must remember that God’s presence, as seen by the ark and tabernacle that traveled with them, was a reassurance that God was present with them and that He Himself had given to them salvation and freedom from the oppression of pharaoh. So, His presence among them meant the presence of their salvation.
And as God led them He provided for them both food – manna – and water. The water came from the rock that Moses hit with his staff and that followed them all those years. So, one of the features of the festival of booths was when the women went to draw water, as they did from the rock. On the evening of this portion of the festival they would light lights and go out surrounded by this light to draw water.
Now, as to the other thing that reminded them of God’s presence that we talked about, and that is – that God’s presence was also made known those 40 years as they were led by the pillar of fire and cloud.
That pillar was also God’s presence and light. So, at the feast of tabernacles they would set up lights to remind them of this pillar of God’s salvation. Jewish tradition says “there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illuminated by the light of the place of the water-drawing.”
There is yet another thing that has to be taken into account when we speak of the scandal of Jesus saying “I Am the light of the world” set in this context. We must recall the Genesis account of creation. The first thing that God creates is what? That’s right, light. And the order in which creation takes place is important because without light nothing that God creates after it could survive.
The days of creation began with light. Light is necessary to for life. And the default condition of the universe is darkness as we’re told in Genesis. Only as God speaks light into being does that change. Light overcomes darkness. Light is proactive. Light goes out; it can never be light if it is hidden, enclosed or removed. Darkness is not a force like light. Darkness is simply the absence of light. And into darkness God speaks and there is light and after that… life.
So also for us. Without Jesus’ light, our life is futile. In fact, we can have no life apart from the light of Christ; the light from the cross. In John 1:4-5 we’re told, “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.” That light, Jesus, draws all people to it because all else is darkness.
Jesus in the gospel lesson tonight comes and speaks light and life and overcomes the darkness within us. We are described by Paul as dead in our sins and trespasses and Jesus, by His crucifixion and resurrection, overcomes that death with the light of His life. Then why is Jesus saying “I Am the light of the world” a scandal?
It’s a scandal because Jesus is saying I’m the pillar of fire. He’s saying “the light of the world I am”, just as at creation. Jesus is clearly equating Himself with the salvation of the Hebrews by God and that is scandalous. ‘We’re all expected to believe that this man is God’s salvation-presence now?’ Even in our day today most people find that truth offensive and hard.
The scandal then was and remains to today that, to believe Jesus saying, “I Am the light of the world” is to believe He and God the Father in heaven, are indeed one. It is to believe that God’s salvation is now located in the person of Jesus alone and not in an ark, or tabernacle or the light of the pillar of fire that the Hebrews came to celebrate at this feast.
And that is a scandal those Hebrews then and this world today cannot abide. And for that, for you and I to receive the scandalous gift of faith in Him, He had to suffer and be killed. He is the sacrifice that kindles the light of faith the true light of life for all who trust in Him. In His name, amen.
Sermon #874 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Holy Gospel John 8:12-20
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.