Those of us who are baby boomers remember our childhood experiences in the era of the Cold War – where we had drills in school that sent us to the basement covering our heads against the wall in preparation for a possible Soviet nuclear attack.
My mother-in-law was a child during World War 2 when the terror of Blitzkrieg bombing raids was descending upon Europe. Though we now know that the United States homeland was never attacked, it was not at all beyond the imagination then that things could become bad enough for such to happen. Mom has said that she remembers the drills and the education about the necessity for a total blackout of cities and towns. Standing out in her mind was the mention that even the lighting of a cigarette in the dark could be easily seen by a spotter in an airplane.
A little bit of light can go a long distance in the darkness. Our passage today begins with Jesus speaking of himself as the light penetrating the darkness, just as John had done in chapter one.
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.”
I recently shared with the church a picture of myself from 40 years ago when I had long, curly black hair. Add to that my Germanic last name, and in my college years I was occasionally taken by people who did not know my background to think I was Jewish. No, not at all, though there are Buchmans who are Jewish. But I often look at the Jewish festivals and think about how much fun they must have been for a child, and almost wish I had grown up in that culture.
The Feast of Tabernacles looked back at the preservation of the Israelites through the time of their wilderness wanderings. People would spend a week living in booths – or tents – to recall the experience. In the Temple in Jerusalem in the Treasury – also called the women’s court – there were giant lanterns that were lit during this celebration. Worn-out garments of the priests were used as the wicks, and this light illuminated the entire Temple area where the people joined in songs of praises and dance. The light was to serve as a reminder to the Jewish people as to how God had led them through the desert with the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
At this time … in this context of the light of the lamps at the Feast of Tabernacles … Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Is that cool, or what!?
But, the Pharisees were not impressed at all …
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
Imagine you were standing before Judge Thomas in the district court in Hagerstown and were accused of shoplifting a package of underwear from Walmart and making your rapid escape on one of those motorized shopping carts. You might say to the judge, “I’m a really good person and I would not ever do such a thing; and I’m too scared of the other shoppers at Walmart to ever go in that store.” Well, will the judge believe you? Is your word alone good enough? Probably not – you would need witnesses who could vindicate your character and Walmartaphobia.
The Pharisees were saying that Christ’s testimony was legally insufficient without an additional witness. But who do you call as your witness if you are the Son of God?
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
So Jesus asserts that the Father God is his other witness – God being the one who has sent him. This statement is clearly lost on the Pharisees …
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
And so the debate continues. Did you ever have a conversation with someone about a topic you know well, but the other party does not only not understand what you are talking about, they don’t even know the category about which you are speaking … yet at the same time, they are talking back like they understand everything? That is what is happening in this passage and other surrounding passages in regard to understanding Christ and his mission. Jesus is speaking on a heavenly and spiritual level; the Pharisees are stuck on earthly and material levels.
The religious leaders were clearly completely lost in these discussions. More likely to accept Christ was the simple, common, ordinary person who in faith had a genuine heart of expectation for a Messiah. Though their expectations were almost always short on understanding the spiritual issues, the simple people were more likely to put faith in Jesus … and this remains true to this day. Those who have the things of this world much in their grasp are less likely to look for solutions and blessing with fruits in eternity…
21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
25 “Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
Many believed … even as many, many more rejected. Which camp would you have been in? At our juncture of history where all of this is a part of the historical record, there is really no excuse to not believe and follow Jesus Christ. He has been “lifted up” on the cross, beaten death, and been exalted to heaven from which he has promised to come again. We have seen God Up Close – he has been the light in the darkness, and we must be people who walk in that light.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light …
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”