Jesus the Light

Jesus the Light

When I was in elementary and junior high school, I had more than one teacher ask us a question I didn’t like then and I don’t like now, namely: If you had to lose one of your five senses, and were allowed to choose which one, which would you choose? Would you choose to lose your ability to hear? Or would you choose to lose your ability to see? What about the ability to touch? Or taste? Or the ability to smell? And, while we’re at it, we may as well add a sixth to these, the ability to speak. And even a seventh, the ability to walk. And an eighth, the ability to use our arms and hands to hug and to hold. Again, I’ve never liked this question because I am one of those who has been blessed throughout her life to have the use of all of these faculties that we so often take for granted. And having known the pleasure of each, I find the thought of losing any one of them terribly distressing.

And we should feel disturbed at the thought of losing any of these capacities. For though God has made us beings who have souls, spirits, that allow us to know and love him, he also chose to make us physical beings in order that with our entire being, both body and soul, we might know and love him, each other, and this wondrous world in which he’s placed us. And the truly amazing thing is that God, who is Spirit, before he ever created this physical world knew that he himself would one day take on a physical body in the person of Christ Jesus, a baby in a manger, that we might better know what he—God—is like. Because even before he made us, he knew we would turn from him. Even before he made us, he knew we would choose darkness over light; blindness over sight; deafness over hearing; disobedience over following him; selfishness over serving others; pain over joy; misery without him over relationship with him; death over life. And yet because he made us for light—and sight—and hearing—and service—and relationship—and life, he knew that in order for us to find and know our purpose in him, he would need to come and live among us to show us the way back to himself whom we reject. To use Paul’s words, God knew that it is in and through Christ that he would rescue us from darkness and bring us into the Kingdom of Jesus, the Son he loves, who offers and gives his redemption, the forgiveness of sins, to all who ask.[1]

Now if ever there was a person who knew these truths about Jesus, it would have to be John the Baptist for the very purpose of John’s life was to point others to Jesus as the one who, as God in human flesh, had come to rescue us from our sin by removing our sin and placing it—and its death penalty—upon himself. Even before John’s birth the angel of the Lord appeared to his father, Zechariah, and told him that John would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[2] And in our morning’s passage, the apostle John confirms John the Baptist’s call starting in verse 6 as he tells how “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”[3] And this was indeed John’s ministry who came “preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” For indeed the kingdom of God did come near with the arrival of Jesus Christ, King over heaven and earth. And the Scriptures foretold not only Christ’s coming but also that of his servant, John the Baptist. As Matthew states, “This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’’”[4] John the Baptist himself knew that he was the one of whom Isaiah spoke. One time when he was asked who he was, he, too, answered “in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’’”[5] And on the very next day, when “John saw Jesus coming toward him,” he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[6] So if ever there was a man who knew that Jesus was the Christ, God’s Son, God’s Messiah who as God had come in the flesh to take away our sins, to shine light into the darkness of our lives and our souls, it was John the Baptist.

And yet, it is this very John, whose entire call in life was to point others to Christ, who, when faced with his own mortality and death while sitting in Herod’s prison as he awaited his own beheading, sent his disciples to ask of Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”[7] At a moment when he was confronted by the reality of his own death, John sought reassurance that Jesus was indeed the giver of life. And rather than simply answer, “Yes, I am he,” Jesus instead answered John with the Word of God John knew and loved. “4 Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’”[8] Jesus Christ the King came to earth to make right all that has gone wrong with the world. This is what the Scriptures teach. And the passage from Holy Scripture Jesus referenced is taken from another portion of the prophet Isaiah who hundreds of years earlier had exhorted the people of Israel with these words from God,

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”[9]

In citing this particular passage Jesus was letting John know that he was indeed the one who was to come; that he was indeed God’s promised Messiah, the Christ, God who had now come in the flesh to undo the devastating effects of the Fall. Through Jesus, all that is wrong with the world was begun to be made right. Evil and injustice were overturned by divine retribution; the blind were given sight; the deaf were able to hear; those with physical limitations were set free from them; the mute were not only enabled to speak but were able to shout for joy. These are words of genuine hope indeed. Again, the coming of Christ into the world, who as God is King over heaven and earth, means that his kingdom has also arrived, a kingdom typified by his sovereign rule of justice and mercy and goodness and compassion and kindness; the coming of Christ into the world in the person of Jesus means that a piece of heaven has arrived upon earth, a bright light has come to shine in the darkness, a healing balm has come to sooth our weary minds and bodies and souls; the coming of Christ into the world means that evil has been conquered, the demonic will be vanquished, and the corrupt and the cruel will be punished as Christ Jesus the King brings God’s shalom, God’s peace, to everything that has gone wrong with this world. For apart from God, we don’t know how to love him as he made us to; apart from God we don’t know how to love each other as he intended; apart from God we don’t know how to care for this earth on which he’s placed us; apart from God we don’t know how to care for ourselves. So God came. In the flesh. In the person of Jesus. As a babe in a manger. To give us sight. And strength. And hope. And joy.

This is the testimony of Scripture, God’s Word. We see this in Jesus’ fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah he had John the Baptist’s disciples bring back to him. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy not only in what he taught but also in how he lived. One of the many things Jesus proclaimed concerning himself was in fact, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[10] Jesus is the light and he offers his light to any and all who are willing but to receive it. Yet as the apostle John sadly and rightly states about Christ’s coming starting in verse 9 in our morning’s passage, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”[11] The Maker of heaven and earth came to earth that all might know and see him who had made it, yet they were blind to the truth of who he was. Those who were made in his image, who were made to know and love and serve him, rejected him a second time even as Adam and Eve turned from him the first. God in Christ came to his own, as one of his own, that they might recognize and know and embrace him, but his own did not receive him.

And Jesus didn’t merely come with a claim of being the light of the world. No not only in word but also in deed he bore witness to being that light. Prior to telling John the Baptist’s disciples to return and tell him Isaiah’s prophecy, Luke notes how “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.”[12] One instance of his doing so is recorded in chapter 9 of the Gospel of John when Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth.[13] And just before healing the man “so that the works of God”—that is Jesus—“might be displayed in him,”[14] Jesus proclaimed, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”[15] Only he who is light is able to bring one who has lived in darkness from his birth into that very light. But he who made us body and soul came not only to bring light to our bodies, but also to our souls. At the end of this account the man whom Jesus had physically healed was actually thrown out of the synagogue for testifying before the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, that Jesus had come from God since only one who had come from God was able to heal.[16] And when Jesus heard about this, he went to the man to complete his work of healing. Having healed the man’s eyes, he sought to heal his soul. Therefore “when he found him, [Jesus] said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’”[17] The man answered, “Who is he, sir?…. Tell me so that I may believe in him.”[18] And dear Jesus then extended his soul healing, his salvation, to this man who was yet blind despite having regained his physical sight, by saying to him, “‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ 38 Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.”[19] And so this man was now twice blessed for he had been healed by Jesus not only physically but now also spiritually. The man born physically and spiritually blind was twice blessed because he could now see with his eyes and he could now see with his soul that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is God. And so he worshiped him.

Following this incident Christ went on to tell about his purpose in coming to earth in human form: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”[20] This is the other side of the coin. God in Christ has come that all who seek him might find him. Yet judgment awaits those who deny and reject him. Judgment awaits those who think they see but are in fact blind. This is what Jesus also taught a man named Nicodemus concerning God’s purpose in sending him: “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Again, the salvation, the deliverance God in Christ offers is there for the taking. Yet in his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus similarly warned about the price of rejecting him,

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.[21]

Time and again Jesus presents us with a choice: Will we choose his light or will we choose instead to remain in a darkness of our own creating by rejecting him?

In the miracle of Jesus Christ’s birth, we are presented with the wonder of who he is and the choice he presents us with. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”[22] Brothers and sisters, our Creator has come in the form of this baby in a manger. He who brought light into the world when he first made it,[23] is the very God who came to earth as a baby. Therefore to see Christ is to see God.[24] To believe in Christ is to believe in God for he displayed his own glory, his very presence, “in the face of Christ.” And because Christ is not only God but is also the means God has chosen to provide a way for us to return to him, to believe he is God is to be joined to him by the Holy Spirit he gives and so to become children of our heavenly Father and brothers and sisters to one another. As John states in verses 12 and 13 of our passage, “12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, of human decision or [the will of man], but born of God.”

That Christ Jesus is the light of God is taught from the beginning to the end of Scripture. As God in Christ brought his light into the world at the time of creation, and then again in the giving of his Son, one day Jesus, “the Root and…Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star”[25] will be the only light needed to light up his heavenly city. As John testifies in the Revelation given to him by God, “

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.[26]

God, who is light, brings his light of life to the world. In Christ Jesus he has demonstrated that he is the light of life by giving us a foretaste of his shalom, his peace. For as he told John the Baptist’s disciples to declare to John, in and through Christ Jesus, the blind receive sight—and the lame walk—and those who have leprosy are cleansed—and the deaf hear—and the dead are raised—and good news is proclaimed to the poor. In and through Christ Jesus the lame leap like a deer—and the mute shout for joy—and water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. For Christ Jesus is the light of the world and he is the life of the world and in the words he taught and the deeds he did he began to make right all that haa gone wrong with the world.

And, amazingly, until he returns and completes this work of making all things right again, he desires to use us, his followers, his friends, his siblings, to continue the work he began and so bring his truth and light to shine in a world of darkness that is still in such great and deep need of him.

Until he returns, Jesus calls us, who together with him are children of our heavenly Father, to rely on our Father’s strength by the Holy Spirit he has sent us to do as Jesus did—to care for those who are physically blind; and to bring his message of good news to those who are spiritually blind. For though this side of heaven we may not be able to bring complete healing to those who suffer physically and emotionally and spiritually we can help, and are called to help carry one another’s burdens and the burdens of all who suffer, pointing them to their Maker who desires to Redeem them, to save them from all of their pain and sadness, that they, too, might know his truth—and his love—and his kindness—and his light. As John proclaims at the start and the end of our passage, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Let us pray.

[1] Colossians 1:13: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

[2] Luke 1:17.

[3] John 1:6–8.

[4] Matthew 3:2, 3, respectively. Verse 3 is quoting Isaiah 40:3. See parallel accounts in Mark 1:1–5: 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.; Luke 3:1–6: 1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’” Quoting Isaiah 40:3–5.

[5] John 1:23.

[6] John 1:29.

[7] Matthew 1:3. See parallel in Luke 7:19.

[8] Matthew 11:4–6. See parallel in Luke 7:21–23: 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

[9] Isaiah 35:3–6.

[10] John 8:12.

[11] John 1:9–11.

[12] Luke 7:21.

[13] Another account of Jesus healing a blind man, Bartimaeus, may be found in Mark 10:46–52: 46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. See also the a parallel account in Luke 18:35–43: 35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

[14] John 9:3.

[15] John 9:5.

[16] John 9:30–33: 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

[17] John 9:35.

[18] John 9:36.

[19] John 9:37–38.

[20] John 9:39.

[21] John 3:18–21.

[22] 2 Corinthians 4:6.

[23] Genesis 1:3: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

[24] As Jesus said to Philip in John 14:9: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

[25] Revelation 22:16.

[26] Revelation 21:22–27.