I AM: The Light of the World

Good morning, and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I am one of the pastors here and it is a privilege to speak with you today about Jesus.

This week we will celebrate the fourth of July.  And the fourth is one of those holidays where – no matter where you go or who you are with there will be several elements that are similar – and will be played out all over the country.  There will be food.  Hamburgers, Hotdogs, watermelons and the like.  There will be drinks – water, ice tea, lemonade, and more.

And there will be fireworks.  (I took this picture last year – that is the bottom of my street here in Gretna.)  This town is cray cray about its fireworks!

This week I read up a little on the history of fireworks and the fourth of July.  When did these things get paired up?  And I was genuinely surprised to read that it’s John Adam’s fault!  In fact – this is what he wrote to his wife Abigail the day before they signed the Declaration of Independence – this was written on July 3rd, 1776.

“The occasion should be commemorated with Pomp and Parade, with shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Illuminations!  Something to light up the dark sky!

There’s something special about the night sky being illuminated with brilliant color and lights – it’s special.  Unless you have kids trying to sleep, then it’s horrendous.  But they will one day grow up to keep other people’s kids awake.  Because it’s tradition!

Now the fourth of July, like all good Holidays, have really a two-fold purpose.

In one sense we are looking back – and remembering the moment we were freed – But in another sense, we are celebrating our country today.  Our freedom!  And what a great country we live in.

This morning I want to talk a little about another holiday – this one though isn’t an American celebration – it’s a Jewish one.

See, the Bible tells us that God gave instructions to the Jewish nation that they should have feasts and festivals and celebrations throughout the calendar year.  In fact, the Old Testament law spells out seven different feasts – the last of the feasts was called the feast of Tabernacles.  And this feast, like the fourth of July, also has a two-fold purpose.

This feast was a long one.  Eight days long.  It started on a Sabbath and ended the following Sabbath.  It was held in late September or early October – and there were two things going on – in one sense – it was a celebration of the Harvest.  It was an agricultural feast.  The Harvest had come in and so there was a celebration – a party, really – thanking God for his faithful provision to the nation of Israel – providing rain and crops.

Deuteronomy 16:15 

15 For seven days you must celebrate this festival to honor the Lord your God at the place he chooses, for it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvests and gives you success in all your work. This festival will be a time of great joy for all.

But there was also a second aspect to the feast.  Not only was it a thanksgiving for the crop – it was a time to look back and remember from where they had come.  In particular – it was meant to look back on the manner in which God provided for the nation of Israel when they travelled in the wilderness for 40 years, after being set free from slavery in Egypt, but before taking over the promised land.

So one of the elements of the feast was for the people of Israel to make booths – temporary shelters, and to sleep in the temporary shelters, as a way of remembering that they once slept in tents, so to speak – as they wandered in the wilderness for 40years.

Now – just as the fourth has elements to it – like Hotdogs, parades, and fireworks…  the feast of tabernacles, (or booths, or shelters) had elements that distinguished it.  I want to tell you the three main elements of the feast of Tabernacles, and the reason will become clear as we learn about them.

First – there was bread.  Eating.  Partying.  Food.  Why?  It was a celebration of the harvest.  God had provided for the nation once again through the crops.   And that food pointed backward – to the time in the desert when God provided for them – how?  By providing each morning Manna – bread from heaven.

Each morning manna was given to feed the nation of Israel.  People awoke each morning and collected what they needed for that day.  There was never too much, and never not enough.

In John chapter 6 – Jesus has a conversation with some hungry people who are asking Jesus for some food.  And Jesus says to them – your forefathers ate manna every morning.  But let me tell you a little secret.

“I am the bread of life.”  John 6:35 I am the real manna.  You thought it was manna keeping you alive in the desert – and it was ME all along.  I am the bread of life, come down from heaven – and anyone who eats this bread will never have to worry a single day of their life about dying.

Let me ask you – you really think it was that bowl of cheerios that kept you alive this morning?  Jesus is what’s keeping you going.

The next chapter of John – John 7 – has Jesus, the bread of life, on his way to a festival that celebrates the bread that brought life in the desert.

The second element of the Feast of tabernacle.  It’s water.  The ceremony begins with a procession – the chief priest takes a large jar and travels to the pool of Siloam and fills it with water – and a parade of sorts celebrates this water as it is brought into the temple.  That water is poured out into bowls near the altar where it stays as a reminder.  Of what?  That it was God who provided the rain to grow the crops today.

But it is also a reminder of how God provided water for the nation of Israel in the desert during the years of wandering – and you can read the story – about how one time Moses, in Exodus 17 – struck a rock and water began to pour out of the rock – streams of water.

And on the last day of the feast of tabernacles – in a very fitting display – the priests pour out the water that has been held in the bowls all around the altar as a reminder of the time water streamed from the rock in the desert.

Now on the last day of the festival the priest would take those bowls of water and pour them out all around the altar as a visual representation that it is God who provides the rain, and as a reminder fo the streams of water from the rock in the desert.

And check this out – in John chapter 7 – at that very moment that the priests are pouring out the water – Jesus stands up to speak to the gathered crowd – and he says…

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

You celebrate the water that flowed from rock?  You thought the water from the rock was the ting that kept you alive in the Desert?  It was me.  I am the living water.  Come to me and drink – all who are thirsty – and find the one who can quench your greatest thirst.

That’s exciting!  That’s dramatic!  That’s bold!  That takes guts!  In John 6 – Jesus says he is the bread of life.  In John 7 he says he is the living water.  But it’s nothing compared to what’s about to happen in John 8.

See – the third element of the feast was light.

Here’s an image of the temple as it would have appeared in Jesus day during the feast of TabernaclesAnd notice these giant street lights? 

The lighting of the giant candelabra’s in the temple court.  It was called the Court of Women because it was the part of the court where women where allowed to worship.

Just as we light lights at Christmas time – part of the celebration of the feast of tabernacles was to light these giant candelabras – and at the top of these menorah’s there was four giant bowls – each of these bowls would hold 5-8 gallons of oil.  And they used old worn out priest garments as wicks.  And they would light these bowls – 16 of them – and the result was that the entire city was lit by them.

It illuminated the sky.  It was like first century fireworks, perhaps?  Illuminating the night sky.

Now the light was a reminder as well – and a symbol of God himself.  See – if you were to read about the Nation of Israel in the wilderness, you would find a very interesting aspect.

See – they lived in a desert.  For forty years.  Deserts are brutal living conditions!  The sun can roast you during the day.  And at night, it gets cold – really cold!  So the sun will kill you during the day, and the lack of sun will kill you at night!

What was the solution?  God travelled with the nation in the form of a cloud to shield the people from the sun during the day.  And at nighttime?  When it got cold?  God’s presence was seen in the form of a pillar of fire.

So here – at the feast of tabernacles – they lit these enormous pillars of fire – representing the presence of God in their midst.  Each night for the first seven nights – they lit the fires.  However – on the last night of the feast – they didn’t light the fire.  Why not?

It symbolized the fact that it had been a long time since God’s presence filled the temple.  And so they allowed the temple to remain dark – with the hope that one day God would send the light back to Israel.

And it is here, in John 8 – in the court of the women – near the extinguished pillars – where Jesus once again speaks to the crowd.  And he says,

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.”

At the very moment when the lights are left off as a way of symbolizing to Israel that someday the glory of God will return – Jesus says – the light you’ve been waiting for is me!  I am the light.  These giant candelabras – I am the pillar of fire.  I am the light of the world!

Do we see what Jesus is doing here?  John 6 – he is the manna.  John 7 he is the water.  John 8 he is the light.

These are not the words of a great teacher.  Listen – you know they have these TED talks – you’ve got fifteen minutes to talk about whatever….if you went to hear a TED talk – and some teacher gets up and says, “I am the light of the world.  Believe in me and you – follow me – and you will have the light of life… ”  You don’t walk away saying, Wow, such Charisma!  Great use of visuals.   Food for thought!

You’d walk away saying – what kind of nut-job is that?

Now let’s be really clear here – Jesus is claiming to be God when he makes this claim.  And that wasn’t lost on his audience, who considered stoning him to death numerous times…

When Jesus says he is the light of the world, he is claiming that Genesis 1 is about him.   In fact – Genesis 1:3 – three verses into the bible-  it says that God said let there be light – and people who read the creation account say – how can there be light?  The sun and the moon and the stars weren’t yet created.

Well God is light.  In him there is no darkness – 1 John 1:5 tells us.  He was the source of light.  And guess what?  In Revelation 21 – 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 

And Jesus announces – it’s him.  He is the Lamb of God.  He is the light of the world.

I mean – I am the bread of life.  Streams of living water – flow through me.  I am the light of the world.  This whole feast is about me – all of it.

What more does Jesus have to say to get us off the fence?      All of these seven I AM statement of Jesus – they are meant to move us off of the fence – to force us towards a decision.   Why?

The bible is super clear why.  The bible says that there are only two kingdoms.  And we are each born by default into the Kingdom that the bible says is characterized by darkness.

Which means that unless you have made the decision to cross over into the kingdom of light by placing your faith in Jesus – then you are still in the kingdom of darkness.

Now – listen – in my house when I was growing up – we lived in an old house in the Suburbs of New York – and it was a small house and it had a creepy basement.  And it was dark and damp and smelled like old damp things…  It wasn’t a dirt floor but it was – to all of us – super creepy.  And it was dark down there night and day – it really didn’t matter.

Now – the good news was that there was a light and a light switch – and we had a washer and dryer down there – and so we had to go down there – but the light switch saved us.

But every once in a while you’d click the switch and nothing – the light bulb was out – and then it became – who is going to go down there and switch out that light bulb – and you know what – Not me!  Anyone else have a dark and sinister basement?  No way!  Anyone else have a basement like that?  Like a horror movie basement.

Even my mom was like – I ain’t going down there.  And I remember for some reason – like our only flashlight was like this boy scout one that was like curved at the top and had a red light and man – it barely produced light but I was the oldest and I had to go down there….  and that light – I’m telling you man!  I’m getting chills thinking about it.

Here’s the deal – this world that God created – it fell into darkness.  Deep darkness.  And God watched his creation stumbling through darkness and just – he watched this world turn into a horror show man.   Darkness.  And he looked around and said – who’s going to go down there and bring the light.  And Jesus stepped up to the plate and said, I’ll go.

John 12

46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 

Colossians 1:13  For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,  14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Have you been rescued from the Kingdom of darkness through faith in Jesus Christ?  Have you come to the place where you realize that you needed rescuing?  That the darkness wasn’t just out there, but in here? If not – then you are still in the dark.  And only Jesus can rescue you.

Check out John 3 –

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

there are two kingdoms in this world.  And you don’t have to stay in the darkness. Faith in Jesus transfers you into an entirely different kind of Kingdom.  To which Kingdom do you belong.

Now let me tell you something – two things that happen when you do place your faith in Jesus.

Jesus is the Light of the world.  And when we place our faith in him.

First:  You don’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore.

I don’t mean literal being afraid of the dark – even though I read one study that suggested 40% of adults admit to still being afraid of the dark – and I think at least another 40% were lying.

But I’m not talking about that kind of darkness.  I’m talking about the darkness that still exists in this world.  The kind of darkness even that our community has had to walk through these past 13 days.  The kind of darkness that shakes our collective soul.

We need not fear the dark.  Why?  Because even when we walk through the darkest valleys, thou art with us.  Thy rod and thy staff they comfort us.

When we place our faith in Jesus – we become fearless.  Because nothing can stand against Him.  And he promises to never leave us, never abandon us.

It doesn’t mean we will not have to walk through dark times – But we never walk in darkness.  The light of life itself is with us and in us.

We get to live without fear of the dark.

And check this out.  Not only do we live without being afraid of the dark – but check this out.  The dark begins to fear you.  The darkness fear us!

Why?  Because Jesus tells us that we become the light of the world.  And everywhere we go – darkness flees. You become a child of the light – and darkness wants nothing to do with you.  Darkness doesn’t want to see you coming.

And when followers of Jesus build medical centers and church communities in Africa – we are the light of the world.  When orphans in Haiti eat a meal donated by followers of Jesus – light shines.  When we pray for hurting people – we bring light.

When followers of Jesus who are going to the darkest places on earth to bring light and justice and love.

Not only are we rescued from the dark – but we become rescuers for those in the dark. We suddenly find our lives are not lived trying to run from scary things.  We run toward those things with the light and love of Jesus.

Ephesians 5

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

As we turn to the communion table – what are we celebrating?  It’s a remembrance of what Jesus did long ago for us.  When his body was broken.  His blood was poured out.  And it’s a symbol of his presence with us today.  His love.  His life.  His light poured out for us and into us, that we might become the kinds of people who live a life filled with love.