What if you looked at my Facebook page and saw that I had a picture of myself against the background of the sky, with arms outstretched looking like I was flying through the air. But then the next picture would show a wider view and reveal that I had merely jumped off a step-stool. However, if the next picture had rather showed me about 10 feet off a cliff and diving into water 100 feet below, well, you’d be more impressed!
The context makes all the difference. And so it is in so many Scripture passages.
As we consider the joy of Christmas and the theme of Jesus as the light coming into this dark world, we cannot help but recall that Christ himself made the proclamation saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
So where and when did Jesus say this? As we look at John chapter 8, we see that it follows the story of the woman caught in adultery. Now don’t let this blow your view of the Bible to pieces (and I’ll save you the details for another time), but that account is not generally believed to be a part of the original text of the Gospel of John at this point. Therefore, to see the context of Christ’s proclamation, we need to go back to chapter 7, and there we see that Jesus is teaching in the Temple on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles.
In that immediate context we see this account of the temple guards not arresting Jesus as instructed …
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
(An interesting angle here is to consider that Nicodemus had come to Jesus by dark of night, but now the light of truth was shining in his life.)
So Jesus was teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles, and his message was resonating with a considerable portion of the people. Earlier in the text, where it introduces this section, it said …
14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
So it would seem that the words of Jesus that he was the light of the world were uttered in the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles.
A part of this feast involved a ceremony called the “Illumination of the Temple.” In the Court of Women were four oil-fed lamps (menorahs) that were simply huge–75 feet high! The light produced was so bright that it was said to be sufficient to illuminate the entire city of Jerusalem. The meaning of this light and this ceremony (during Tabernacles) was to remind the people of God’s faithfulness in guiding Israel by the pillar of fire through their wilderness wanderings!
And with this incredibly bright light shining, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Not just of Jerusalem, but of the world. Not just of the Jews, but of all mankind… recalling again the text from yesterday in John 1:9 — The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
Yep, I think that is a pretty big deal. That is something to celebrate with Joy … Unspeakable Joy!