Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, illumine us as we read your word. Draw us near to Jesus Christ, the light of the world, so that in his light we might know your word, know the Triune God, and behold your salvation. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I invite you to open your Bibles with me to John, chapter 8, verse 12. John is the fourth book in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John 8, verse 12. This Lenten season, as we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, those days when we heighten our focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are listening to Jesus in his own words. Seven times, Jesus tells us who he is by saying, “I Am.” Last week, we heard Jesus proclaim, “I am the bread of life.” He is both the giver of all good gifts and the very gift of God himself. Jesus is the true bread that satisfies our souls. This morning, we will listen to the second statement Jesus gives of his identity. But I am going to ask for a couple helpers with our Scripture passage this morning. For the months of January and February, our Family devotions from the book “Lord, Teach us to Pray” included today’s verse as part of the preparation to read the Bible. After so long, I learned my children knew the verse by heart, so I asked them to help me this morning. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Our kids love playing in the dark. Elijah, in particular, loves to go into the basement with all the lights off and pretend there are ghosts everywhere. He will walk around with a blanket on his head claiming to be a ghost. This is a game he learned from Alice Oliver months ago, but it is one of his favorites. Part of the fun of the game is that the lights are off and they cannot see. Because in order to see, we need light. We need light to reflect off of objects at specific frequencies to give us different colors and shapes. Without light, surrounded by darkness, it does not matter what color or shape something is, because we cannot see it.
But we also need eyes to see. Not only do we need light, but we need eyes that can receive the light through our cornea and irises onto our retinas and then transfer the information to our brains. If the light is there, but our eyes cannot see, we cannot see. If we have eyes to see, but there is no light, we cannot see.
Jesus proclaims himself as the light of the world. He is the light. He enables us to see – to see God, to see salvation, to see the path we are to walk in this life. Just as without light, we cannot see, without Christ, we cannot see God or the good things of God.
Jesus says he is the light of the world. This is an expansive and exclusive claim. It is expansive, because Jesus is saying he – Jesus himself – enables the whole world to see God, to see salvation, to see the path we are to walk in this life. There is not an area in this world where the light of Christ cannot reach, where Christ cannot open the eyes of the blind, where Christ cannot save. This is expansive. Jesus is the light of the world. He is the light in Brantford and Bogota, in Neon, Kentucky and in Nepal. He is the light in Utrecht and Uzbekistan, Kinshasa and Kingsville.
But it is also exclusive. Jesus is the light of the world, which is to say, Jesus is the only light of the world. The only light that enables us to see God, to see salvation, to see the path were are to walk in this world is the light of Christ. Jesus is telling us that if we want to see what truly matters, we need to be near to him.
Imagine for a moment that the curtain on that window is drawn and these brand new dimmable LED lights were all turned off. All we would have is the light of this candle. In the pitch darkness, the only thing would enable us to see would be the light of this candle. Which means that if I want to see, I need to be near the candle. If I want to see, I need to be close and facing it. If I was a hundred meters away and turned in the opposite direction, I could not see. It would not be mean, or bigoted, or narrow-minded of me to say that if I am far from the light, I cannot see.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” Jesus is telling us that he is the light by which we see all that matters and that in order to see, we need to draw near to him and follow him. With this is a promise: when we follow Christ, we will not be led astray.
If you have ever tried to walk around in the dark, it is easy to stumble. Sometimes you can manage it around your own house, because you are very familiar with it, but anywhere else and you run into things, trip and fall, and often hurt yourself. Jesus says that to walk apart from him is like walking around in the darkness without any light. We stumble into error – we believe untrue things about God, ourselves, and the world. We also stumble in our lives – we hurt ourselves, hurt each other, and walk in disobedience to God. But if we draw near to Christ, draw near to the light of the world, we are able to see. The light that Christ gives, the light that is Christ, will not go out, will not abandon us in the middle of the journey so we are fumbling in the darkness. Instead, the light of Christ will lead us all the way to life.
When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” he is telling us we need him in order to see what matters. But, in order to see, we also need eyes that are opened to the light. How do we know whether we have eyes that can see? Let me tell you a story that will help answer our question. It begins not long after Jesus first said, “I am the light of the world.” It is from John, chapter 9, beginning in verse 1.
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
In the story we just heard, who is blind and who can see? Jesus Christ is the light of the world. It is by Christ and through Christ that we can see God, see salvation, see the path we are to walk in this world. But even with physical eyes that work, not everyone can see the light. Only those whose eyes have been opened. We won’t come to Christ to be healed until we realize we are blind.
The story begins with a man blind from birth. He has never known what it is like to see. There has been physical light all around him his whole life, but his eyes have never been able to receive it. Yet by the act of Jesus Christ, with spit and mud and washing, his eyes are finally made to see. His eyes have been opened, not just physically to see the world around him, but spiritually to draw near to Christ and live in his light.
The man who has been blind is now able to see, but most of those whose physical eyes work perfectly are unable to see what has happened, are unable to see what is going on.
After Jesus heals the man, the neighbors start talking. These are the people who have known him and seen him his whole life. They have all the advantages of being near a man who has been with Jesus. But they still cannot see.
They notice he no longer sits and begs, but they become divided. Though they have seen him for years, some can recognize him for who he is and some cannot. Some of them, even with eyes that work, cannot see. They are blind to what Jesus has done in this man.
After he testifies to Jesus healing his eyes, they bring him before the Pharisees. These are the experts in God’s Word. These are the people who had all the advantages of intelligence and knowledge of the Bible. But they, too, become divided at the man’s testimony. Some reject Jesus as not being from God because he performed the miracle on the Sabbath, while others recognized he performed a miracle, which means he must be from God. Some of them, even with eyes that have poured over the scriptures again and again, cannot see. They are blind to Jesus.
They still do not believe this man’s testimony, so they call his parents. His parents are afraid of being ostracized, so they refuse to stand up for him. Even having a family member, a loved one, who has been with Jesus, is not enough for them to see.
The Pharisees call the man again and his testimony grows bolder. He claims he wants to be Jesus’ disciple and that Jesus must be a man from God, because without God he would not have been able to heal him. Those blind to Jesus double down, reject the man, and drive him away.
The great irony of this story is that the blind man is the only one who can truly see Jesus. All those who have advantages and should have easily been able to see what was going on, remain blind. Only the one whose eyes Jesus himself opened was able to see Jesus. Like the neighbors, just being near people who know Jesus is not enough. We need to have our eyes opened and draw near to Jesus. Like the Pharisees, we cannot even read the Bible and follow God’s word well unless our eyes have been opened and we draw near to Jesus. Like the parents, even having a family member who follows Jesus is not enough. We never walk with Jesus alone, but no one can do it for you.
After they drove him out, Jesus went out and found him. He revealed himself to the man, who put his trust in Jesus and worshipped him. This blind man was the only one who truly saw Jesus.
The story ends with this startling exchange between Jesus and some pharisees: Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
What prevented the Pharisees from truly seeing Jesus was that they refused to recognize that they could not see on their own. They believed they could see perfectly well without Jesus. They thought they could see when they were actually blind. To go back to the image of the candle in the dark, they were facing the opposite direction in the dark, but claiming they could see perfectly well.
Only when we recognize the darkness of the world and our blindness apart from Christ will we see our need for our eyes to be opened and come to Christ. As our spiritual forefather John Calvin says, “men will never present themselves to Christ to be illuminated, until they have known both that this world is darkness, and that they themselves are altogether blind.”
Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
In order to see, we need both light and eyes that can see. Jesus provides both. He is the light of the world – the only light by which we can see God, see salvation, and see the path we are to walk in this world. He is the light to ends of the earth. But Jesus also opens our eyes to see him if humble ourselves to admit we cannot see without him. If, like the Pharisees, we refuse to admit our need, we will remain blind in the dark. But if our eyes are opened and we draw near to Christ, we will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. This Jesus promises to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.