This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 12:44-50
Sermon Prepared by Rev. Elzo Tenyenhuis, Kincardine, Ontario
‘…I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness…’
Dear friends in Christ,
How many of you have ever found yourself stumbling in the dark? The flashlight dimmed and the batteries finally failed, and there you are in the attic or basement groping your way around. Think of what it would mean to drive anywhere at night without headlights or streetlights? Without light it is hard to carry on things we take for granted.
Light means so many things for us. We travel by light. We organize almost every activity by our ability to see what light shows us. We send messages by light, shrinking our world. Light has the amazing ability to show us what we would never otherwise experience.
Light also indicates understanding. To be enlightened means that we understand. Think of what we would be if we had never been enlightened? If we had never been introduced to knowledge or understanding or ideas? Perhaps grunting in fear at the back of caves – suspiciously clinging to whatever we can grasp just to survive. Light means not only that can we see, but we can grow in understanding and knowledge. Those who do not allow themselves to be enlightened fall behind. Any student in school can tell you that.
This is also one of the thrusts of John’s gospel, a gospel aimed at Greeks who thought themselves enlightened, or on the pathway of enlightenment. They knew about philosophical speculations about the natural world. Yet Greeks were in what the Bible calls darkness. Another word for darkness is confusion. Greek philosophy didn’t acknowledge the sovereignty of God. The Apostle Paul says that without light from God, people fall into the darkness of confusion and do only what they feel like doing – whether it is satisfying an urge or appetite, or following a trend or tradition.
One poet, John Milton (1608 -1674) wrote:
“He that has light within his own clear breast,
May sit in the centre, and enjoy bright day;
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the midday sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.”
In other words, you can think yourself to be in the light, or you can be limited by very dark thinking – thinking that traps you and keeps you imprisoned. In Romans 1:21 Paul teaches “For although [people] knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Our hope and prayer today is that you have the light of God in your life. To do that you need to make Jesus your Savior and Lord – that Jesus is the light of your life who lights every moment and guides you in every step. And if you can take one thing home with you today, then let this be it. God wants you to have the light of Jesus today. God, who loves you, desires to give you the glory of his light in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you’re asking, “What is God’s light, anyway?” Light is God’s first word of creation in Genesis at the dawn of time (Genesis 1:3.) By God’s own word, light overcame darkness. By God’s word and Spirit, this is still happening now. God’s word of light is still breaking through the darkness in this world. This is the Apostle John’s testimony. He wrote that God sent Jesus to this world to be the light of God (John 1: 9; 8: 12; 12: 6.)
Jesus, God’s light came into the world but the darkness has not understood it (John 1: 5.) The Bible declares that God has sent his light and those who believe in Him have his light. Jesus says that if anyone believes in him, that person will never walk in darkness. Maybe you’re asking, “What does it matter whether I have Jesus as God’s light or not?” Does it matter that you are stumbling around in a dark room looking for the tool you need? Would not a little light be helpful? Or suppose you’re in a dark place and you need light and then someone hands you a hammer or a tuna-fish sandwich. The hammer may be helpful for some things, the tuna sandwich certainly can help your hunger, but what you need is light.
To have Jesus as our light means two things for us: first that we don’t have to search for another light. Many people are suggesting other lights. Buddhism has a lot of appeal these days. Islam is making inroads in our western world. These are the religions where self and materialism are central. All these religious systems ask require our blind trust. But look closely. Each of these religious systems leads to idolatry that really only serves our pride. We are to trust that Jesus is God’s light for the world. If you have to trust someone, trust Jesus. God wants you to have the light of Jesus today.
Jesus himself says that he is the Light of the word. The light we need to live by comes from God Himself. 1 John 1: 7 says ‘If we walk in the light, as he is in the light…’ Jesus is the light who comes from God. Jesus obediently walked in God’s light and we are challenged to follow him. If we try to ignore Jesus, or if we want to be our own light, we’re going to find quickly that we are lost. We have to let Jesus be the one who lights our way.
When we let Jesus to light our way, then we can have what God really desires to give us, namely that we find our way home to Him and be at rest.
Jesus has come as light into the world. Receiving Jesus as God’s light fulfills the purpose God has for us. Receiving the light of Jesus means having faith in God , that is, trusting God as the source of light, trusting the light God’s of truth, trusting that God’s light brightens the darkness of our days, and trusting that God’s light gives us hope and rest. Jesus says that all who come to him shall find rest in him (Matthew 11:28.) That has to be good news to us all. God wants you to have the light of Jesus today.
The Bible teaches that in Jesus Christ God has sent his light into the world. Consider these passages:
- Romans 13:12-13: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime…”
- 1 Corinthians 4:5: “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God…”
- Ephesians 5: 8 -10-11: “…you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light …for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
- Colossians 1:13: “…he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”
- I Thessalonians 5: 4 - 6, 8: “…you are not in darkness so that the day of the Lord’s return should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled… we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”
It matters a great deal whether we have Jesus as God’s light. Maybe you’re asking, “How can I get God’s light?” Jesus’ words from the passage in John show that we have to receive the light God has sent. Light has to enter in. It has to be turned on. In Revelation 3.20 we hear Jesus say, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
We need to receive the light God has given us in Jesus. Stormy Omaritan authored a book entitled, Just Enough Light For The Step I’m On. In it she describes how we would want to have clearer knowledge of God’s plans for our lives. But God, in his grace, mercy and wisdom, prevents us from seeing and knowing too much. We need only to let God – His Light, His word, His truth – enter into our hearts and we find that God provides enough for us to withstand all that we face. We may want more, but we can only handle so much.
We need to receive Jesus into our hearts so that he can lead us, guide us and direct us. This requires an act of surrender, submission and obedience. In Deuteronomy 29.29 Moses teaches that the secret things belong to God, but the revealed things belong to us. If we humbly ask God to be led by his light, God gives us what we need to go forward. God wants you to have the light of Jesus today.
Still, maybe you’re asking, “What will God’s light do for me?” God’s light provides several benefits. Jesus has already said that whoever accepts him has the rest, shalom, and the peace that God promises. This already is a wonderful gift. Yet, here are some other concrete benefits. First, light reveals the truth. It shows flaws as well as perfections. And so light prevents us from relying on things that are not reliable. We can always trust God’s truth. Think of using any product that has not been completely tested. It won’t be reliable. The Bible teaches in Psalm 36.9 “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” We can know the truth about ourselves and this whole creation by trusting God’s word. When we trust God, his word and his light, we begin to see that God is faithful and true, steadfast and unchanging, just as he says. If we doubt God’s light, we waver as James says and our faith falters (James 1: 6-7.)
Second, light provides direction. Where do we go in life? How do we navigate through circumstances and trials? On what will we base our goals or happiness? The Bible teaches in Psalm 25: 5: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” And in Psalm 119: 105 we read, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…”
Third, light offers hope. Psalm 37.23-24 says, “If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” We want and need God’s powerful hand to help us through, especially when trouble comes. God wants you to have the light of Jesus today.
Two illustrations will help us see the goodness of light and how we can be a light: In 1864 during the American Civil War, the Confederate army of General Robert E. Lee faced General U. S. Grant’s Union Army at Petersburg, Virginia. The war was 3½ years old and the soldiers were tired of fighting. Late one winter evening, one of Lee’s generals, George Picket, received news that his wife had given birth to a son. Up and down the Southern line Confederate soldiers began lighting bonfires to celebrate the good news.
These fires didn’t go unnoticed by the Northern camps. General Grant asked what was going on. He was told the news that General Picket’s wife had given birth to a new son. These two generals, Grant and Picket, now opponents, had once been comrades at West Point Military Academy and they knew each other well. So to honor the occasion, General Grant also lit bonfires to celebrate the birth. A peculiar sight indeed: fires burning along both sides of the lines. But during this time no shots were fired, no yelling back and forth; there was only light in order to celebrate the birth of a child.
However, it didn’t last. Soon the fires burned out and darkness again took over. The darkness of night became the darkness of war. The good news of Christmas is that in the midst of the darkness of sin, God sent a light. And the darkness was not able to overcome it. It wasn’t just a temporary flicker but a true eternal flame. We need to remember that.
There are times when world events and personal tragedies seem to plunge us into darkness and we may feel that the light has been snuffed out, but the Bible affirms that whatever happens, God’s light in Jesus light still shines, even today. Take him at his word.
Here is another story to show how we can be light. Robert Fulghum, author of the book All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, visited an institute dedicated to reconciling Turks and Greeks on the island of Crete. At the end of the visit, he asked Alexandros Papanderos, a leader there what the purpose of life was.
Laughter followed, as those present thought this was a silly question. People started to get up from their seats to go home. Papanderos looked at Fulghum for a long time. He took the question seriously and indicated that he would give an answer.
After a while, Papanderos took from his wallet a small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. He said, “I was a small child during the war. One day, on the road I found a broken mirror and I kept the largest piece, this one. I began to play with it and I became fascinated with it. I noticed that it could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine, deep holes, crevices, dark closets. I kept the little mirror and as a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I could do with my life, namely that I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design I do not know. With what I have, I can reflect light – truth, understanding, meaning, knowledge – into the black places in the hearts of men and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I do.” We too, reflect whatever light we can so we can give light to those who are in darkness.
In the passage we looked at in John 12, some who were with Jesus refused to accept him. They were in the presence of the light of the world, yet they did not open their eyes. Jesus came into the world as light. God wants you to have the light of Jesus today. If you hear the voice of God calling to you today, listen to him and receive Jesus, the light of the world, into your heart. Amen
Suggested Order of Worship
Opening praise Shine Jesus, shine [SNC 128]
PH 367 “How bright appears the morning star”
Call to worship
Leader: In whom is our help?
Congregation: Our help is in the name of the Lord, creator of heaven and earth.
Leader: Let us worship God
Congregation: Let us worship in spirit and in truth
Leader: Grace Mercy and peace from God the Father, the love of Jesus his son, our Lord and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is with us all.
Sing PH 453 “Let all things now living”
Confession and renewal
Sing “Shine on me” [SNC 51]
Scripture Reading: John 12: 44 - 50
Message: The Light of the World
Sing PH 600 “Christ is the world’s true light”
Sing PH 370 “The king of glory comes”
Leader: Go in peace to love and serve the lord in the light of his love
Leader: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you his light and his peace.