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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 34 – John 8:12

The light of the world

In one of his greatest and most loved passages the prophet Isaiah said: “he has made glorious … Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

With his divine gift for looking down through many centuries the great prophet saw that a light was coming and that it would have to do with Galilee. Of course, he thought he was talking about his own day but we can see that he was actually forecasting the appearance in the province of Galilee of Jesus some 800 years later. He thought of this person, unknown to him but known to us, as a light. It is no surprise to us that he went on to say: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Jesus was not born in Galilee but circumstances meant that he grew up there. He will have thought of himself as a Galilean.

Given that background it is no surprise that John saw Jesus, and Jesus saw himself, as a light, the light.

Jesus was still at the Festival of Tabernacles that he went to when it was halfway through in 7: 14. It was a festival of both water and light. The light part had huge lamps burning in the Temple courts at night, bright enough to throw light over all the city of Jerusalem so that everyone was aware of them and could profit by them. It would have avoided painfully stubbed toes or branches lashing across the face if you had to walk past trees or bushes.

Jesus stood up at the festival. “I am the light of the world” he said. Not ‘a light in the world’ but the light of the world, so not just of Jerusalem but of the world, of lands they knew nothing about. They may just have heard of China but they will never have imagined there was a country called America far across the seas with no land connection to theirs. He is the only true light of all the countries of this world of ours.

There are many Old Testament references to light. A pillar of light guided the Israelites through the desert during the Exodus. Light was often a picture of the Word of God. Psalm 119: 105 says ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’, so the meaning of light is now guidance rather than anything physical.

All this may seem odd to us because there has been a distinct failure of much of the world to recognize him. He was the Prince of Peace according to Isaiah, who went on to say that ‘of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.’ But wars continue to rage – more at the moment than there have been in much of the last half century. But we must not be short sighted. When Jesus was on this earth the most civilized country in the world had regular circus shows where man had to fight man, often to the death, for the entertainment of the common people; they strung people up, sometimes by the thousand, in crucifixion, the most awful form of execution man has ever devised; it was a dreadfully cruel world. Yes, we still have wars, but with only very few exceptions we do not see the barbarisms of those days repeated anywhere in this world of ours. The Kingdom is coming. It is not a noisy kingdom, bludgeoning its way into mankind. It is the quiet Kingdom of the one of whom Isaiah said ‘He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.

For yourself, think of it this way: think of one of those modern torches that does not need a battery because it produces light when you give a handle a turn or two. It never runs out and leaves you in the dark provided you do not neglect to give that handle a turn or two very frequently. So it is with the light of Jesus – provided you do not neglect to keep in contact with him through the Spirit at regular intervals through prayer, meditation, Bible reading and meeting in fellowship. Jesus may be the light of the world but he is also our light, your light, my light. John goes on to say we will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.

Walk in the light of Jesus; avoid the darkness.

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