The Light of the World

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ ” John 8:12

The setting of John 8:12 is back in chapter 7. It is the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the very special events during this feast was the “Illumination of the Temple.” This ceremony took place each evening in one of the courts of the Temple – the Court of the Women. In the center of this court four giant candelabra were set up (the many-branched candlesticks used by the Jews). Some accounts say that these golden candelabra were as high as seventy-five feet. At night, they were lit and they brought light to the whole temple area and most of Jerusalem. It was spectacular, and people would celebrate all night.

The reason they did this was to remember another wilderness experience. It was the pillar of fire. During the exodus from Egypt, God protected and guided the people of Israel through the wilderness with the pillar of fire. God was with them.

At the end of the feast, the lights were purposely put out. Why? Because the Messiah had not come yet.

It is in the same temple area where the lights were put out the night before that I believe Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12a). It is as though Jesus is saying, “Do you remember the pillar of fire that came between the Israelites and the Egyptians near the Red Sea, the pillar that protected them and led them on their wanderings in the wilderness? That was My presence with them. I was God with them and I am God with you! It was I who protected them. It was I who guided them through the wilderness. I am the light of the WORLD – not just the light for the nation of Israel, but the light for the entire world. I offer hope to every one of every country, culture, and color.” What a statement! Jesus is claiming to be God.

The phrase “I Am” is how God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). “I Am” is also how Jesus will continue to state His own identity to the people of Israel. Jesus has already stated, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Later on, He will identify Himself with more “I am” statements: “I am the door” (10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (14:6), “I am the true Vine” (15:1). Each one of these staggering statements attested to the fact that He was and is God.

Because Jesus is God (cf. I John 5:20), there is no darkness or sin in Him. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). Since Jesus is “the light of the world,” He can offer hope and life to every person of every country, culture, and color. Christ does not favor one particular culture or color of people over another. He loves every person equally and longs to have a personal relationship with each one.

So much emphasis is placed upon the color of a person’s skin today which leads to much hatred toward those who look differently. This is not from the Lord (cf. I John 2:9-11). God created all people of all colors and we are to praise Him for this. The real problem in the world today is not skin, it is sin. All people of all colors have a problem called sin (Romans 3:23). This is why some people think they are superior to others. This is why some people allow their own prejudices to mistreat others. This is why there is racism in the world. Until we stop focusing on skin and start dealing with our sin, there will be no lasting reconciliation among the different cultures and colors of people in the world today.

God has provided the solution to our sin problem by giving His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world (John 3:16a; 4:42). Christ loved us so much He died in our place on a cross to pay the full penalty for our sin, and three days later He rose from the dead and He is alive today (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus invites us to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life. When we do, we become “sons of light.” Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36).

Notice that Christ says we can become “sons of light” simply by believing or trusting in Him alone for His gift of salvation. This verse does not say we become “sons of light” by going to church, being baptized, confessing our sins, praying five times a day, living a good life, or by keeping the sacraments. The only condition is to believe in the Light which is Jesus Christ.

After believing in Christ, we are no longer defined by our sin and shame. We are defined by the Light of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8). How do we live as children of light?

Jesus explains, “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12b). This is such a wonderful promise. There is nothing we need more in this world than light on our path. Many people are walking in the darkness of sins today. They don’t know where they are going. They have no idea of what is ahead; they are running into disaster and they cannot even see it coming. But how does a person break loose from the bondage of sin? How can we come out of the domain of darkness and its influence into the domain of God and the influence of His light and purity? Simple. By following Jesus!  “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” That tells me two things: 

1. Jesus will never lead me into darkness. He will never lead me into sin. So if I will just follow Him like a sheep follows a shepherd, I will not find myself in darkness but in “light” (holiness and hope) and “life” (relationship with God). On the other hand…

2. If I am living in sin, if I am walking in darkness, I must not be following Jesus—because that’s not where He is going. I can never blame Jesus for my sinful lifestyle or hopelessness. Because He is the antithesis of both! If I am letting Him lead me, I will have holiness and hope in my life.

I have had those who are opposed to Christianity try to justify their rejection of Christ by referring to all the horrific things done in the name of Jesus Christ, such as The Crusades or the atrocities of Adolph Hitler. I assure them, that those who have done terrible things in the name of Jesus Christ are not representing biblical Christianity. When people murder or mistreat other people because of their different skin color or religion, they are not following the example of their Leader, Jesus Christ, Who taught us to love our neighbors and our enemies by blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 10:27-37). Jesus Christ is not responsible for those who misuse His name to justify their own sinful choices. Those people will answer to Christ for the wrongs they have done.

Notice how positive the solution is in John 8:12. It is not that I fight off my horrible lust, prejudices, selfishness, and greed so I can follow Jesus. That would be impossible for me to do. But if I will choose to follow Christ and obey His Word, and continue in that choice no matter how imperfect or how weak I may feel my walk with Him is — that choice lived out day by day will take me where I need to go. Can you say with firm conviction, “I have decided to follow Jesus”? Peter didn’t follow Jesus perfectly, but he followed Him as a choice of life. James and John and the other disciples were slow learners like some of us are. But they were followers of Jesus and that journey led them out of darkness into light.

What the world needs today is the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can transform the sinful human heart so that hatred is replaced with love. Until people find peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5:1), they will not be able to live peacefully with themselves or others (Ephesians 2:13-18). Governments and politicians cannot do this for us. Only Jesus Christ can and does when we come to Him on His terms.

I read a story about a grandfather who took his little grandson for a walk in the woods. As they were walking along they stopped for a moment and the grandfather asked, “Do you know where we are?” The little boy said, “No!” The grandfather asked, “Do you know where we’re going?” And the little boy again said, “No!” The grandfather chuckled and said, “Well, I guess you’re lost then.” The boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “No, I’m not lost. I’m with you.” When you are with Jesus, when you are following Him, you will never be lost and you will arrive where you need to be.

Prayer: Father God, as I look at the world today, I see people wandering in the darkness without any lasting hope. They don’t know where they are going. They have no idea of what is ahead; they are running into disaster and they cannot even see it coming. I was once one of those people. But when You removed the blinders from my mind, I was able to see the light of Jesus’ glory so I could believe in Him (2 Corinthians 4:4). And at that moment, You transferred me from the domain of darkness into the marvelous light of Your Son’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13; I Peter 2:9). I am no longer defined by my sin and shame, but by the Light of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:8). I now have a choice. I can choose to follow Jesus, the Light of the world, and no longer abide in the darkness of sin, or I can follow my own sinful flesh and the course of this world which leads to the darkness of sin, hate, and death (John 8:12; 12:35; I John 2:9-11; 3:11-15). Thank You, Lord Jesus, for never leading me into darkness when I follow You. Forgive me for the many times I have blamed You for my own sinful choices. How foolish I was to do such a thing! But even then, You did not stop loving me nor did You give up on me. You still loved me and patiently waited for me to turn back to You. Thank You so much for the hope I have when my eyes are fixed upon You. Please lead me to those who are abiding in darkness that I may share the Light of the world with them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hope for tomorrow

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

As we close out 2019 and prepare for the New Year, we may feel that there is little hope for our future. Recent circumstances or past painful memories may leave us feeling alone and discouraged. We may ask ourselves, “Is there any hope?”

This question is asked everyday by thousands of people in thousands of different ways. When your home is destroyed by flood waters or a Typhoon, you ask, “Is there any hope?”  When you are sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for test results, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When you feel stuck in your marriage, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When you are unable to find a job, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When you keep struggling with an addiction, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When people keep rejecting you because of your commitment to Christ, you ask, “Is there any hope?”

I believe this was a question the people of Judah probably asked when they were taken into captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah sent his first letter to them while they were in captivity and wanted them to realize that God “caused” them “to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon” (29:1, 4) so they would trust that He is in control. He advised them to make the most of their time during their 70 years of captivity by building “houses,” planting “gardens,” marrying, having “sons and daughters,” and anticipating grandchildren (29:5-6). They were to “seek the peace of the city” where they now lived and “pray to the Lord for it” so they would be blessed as God blessed the city (29:7). God warned them not to let their “prophets and diviners who are” with them to “deceive” them into thinking their time in captivity was short (28:8-9) because He had already said it would be for 70 years (29:10; cf. 25:11-12).

God’s ultimate plans (“thoughts”) for His people were “of peace, not of evil, to give” them “a future and a hope” (29:11). At the end of their captivity, God’s people would “call upon” Him and He “will listen” to them and bring them “back” to the land He promised them (29:12-14).

Listen carefully to what God is saying in verse 11. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you.” God is thinking of you. When believers feel hopeless, they may feel that God has lost their address. They conclude that God does not care about them nor pay attention to them. But God is saying that you are important to Him, so much so, that He is thinking of you.

But you may wonder, “What kind of thoughts does God have toward me?” If you have unresolved trauma in your past, you may fear that God’s thoughts toward you are “evil,” and He is plotting to harm you. God assures us that His “thoughts” or plans for us in the future are filled with “peace, not of evil.” God is not making plans for you that are filled with chaos and evil. He is planning a quiet and tranquil “future” for you that is filled with “hope.” Hope is the confident expectation of good from God.

God may have led you to read this article today so He could say to you: “Don’t give in to discouragement or despair. Don’t give up, look up. Don’t despair, turn to Me prayer.” If you have believed in Jesus Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you need to know that Jesus Christ is thinking of you and believes in you. He is on your side and nothing can separate you from His love (Rom. 8:31-39). He wants you to see yourself through His eyes so that you can live a victorious Christian life that is filled with confidence and hope!

If you do not have Jesus Christ in your life, He wants you to know that He has been thinking of you before you were ever born. He longs to be in a personal relationship with you. But we all have a problem that separates us from God. Our problem is called sin. Sin is when we disobey God with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. But God does not want any of us to be separated from Him, so He provided a solution to our sin problem. The Bible says, “But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b). God loved us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross and rise from the dead so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Christ alone (I Cor. 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Christ now invites you to trust in Him alone (not your good life, baptism, or church attendance, etc.), and He will give you everlasting life as a free gift which can never be lost (John 10:28-29).

After you put your trust in Christ alone to give you everlasting life, you can be assured that God has a future for you that is filled with peace and hope! You can now talk to the Lord through prayer at any time and at any place about anything.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for showing me that I am important enough for You to think of me. Sometimes I feel forgotten and unimportant to You, but the truth is You are always thinking of me. Please help me to believe that Your thoughts or plans for me are filled with peace and hope, not chaos and evil, so I can trust You to do what is best for me. Each day when I awake, I can now anticipate good from You through the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for renewing my sense of hope through Him. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

God’s remedy for worry

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

When we are “anxious” or worried about something, God instructs us to talk to Him about it through “prayer.” He wants us to worry about “nothing” and pray about “everything.” The word “supplication” means to tell Him what you need. Few people ever identify what they need because they are so busy worrying. The word “request” refers to asking God for what you want or desire (Psalm 37:4).

For example, if I am worried about what people think of me, I can talk to the Lord about this and as I do, He may show me that my underlying need is for acceptance. I can then ask the Lord to meet this need for acceptance. He accepts me in Christ no matter what others think of me (Ephesians 1:6). As I meditate on this truth, I can express my desire (“request”) for God’s peace to rule over my heart and mind when I feel alone and insecure.

As I talk to God about my anxiety, needs, and desires, He promises to guard my heart and mind with His peace that surpasses human understanding. The “peace of God” is like a deep calmness in the midst of life’s storms. For example, the water underneath the surface of the ocean remains calm during a storm. The phrase “will guard” pictures an armed soldier walking back and forth in front of the city gate, protecting the occupants inside the city from intruders. God’s peace constantly protects those who choose to talk to Him about their worries, and ask Him for what they need and want.

How do I calm my soul when I am overwhelmed with anxiety?

17Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence. 18 If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. 19In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:17-19

The Psalmist seeks the Lord to avenge the righteous on the earth who are being unjustly oppressed by the wicked (94:1-7). Then he scolds the wicked for assuming that God is not aware or capable of judging them for their unjust treatment of the righteous (94:8-11). Even though God does discipline His wayward people, the Psalmist believed the Lord would eventually judge those who oppress the godly (94:12-15). 

After looking every where for “help” to overcome opposition from the wicked, the Pslamist found it only in “the Lord” (94:17a). Had God not intervened for him, he would “have settled in silence” without any hope and died (94:17b). Without the Lord’s “mercy” to “hold” him up, he would have given up  (94:18). “In the multitude of” his “anxieties within” him,  God’s “comforts” brought “delight” to his soul (94:19). 

Where can we turn when anxiety and hopelessness keep us awake at night? Like the Psalmist, we can turn to the Lord Who has the supernatural power to “help” us overcome our anxiety (94:17). Even when we “slip” morally, financially, or socially, the “mercy”of the God of the universe “will hold” us up so we do not give up (94:18). When we are overwhelmed with “anxieties,” the “comforts” of the Lord “delight” or satisfy our souls (94:19). 

What are God’s comforts? Three different sources of comfort come to my mind:

1. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit soothes our soul when we are anxious (94:17; cf. John 14:16-17). His presence and power assures us that God can deliver us from whatever is causing us to worry.

2. The promises of God’s Word give us encouragement and hope (94:18; cf. Romans 15:4). The more we abide in God’s Word, the more we will know the truth of God which can set us free from the lies which produce feelings of hoplessness and anxiety (cf. John 8:31-32). 

3. The protection of God in our past also calms our anxious hearts in the present (94:19; cf. Joshua 4:1-7). Remembering how God has protected us in the past can assure us of His continuing protection in the present.

Some people sit in silence when they are overwhelmed with anxiety and hopelessness. But God wants us to turn to Him so His comforts can satisfy our souls. 

A pastor once said, “Whoever controls your thoughts determines your feelings.” When we give God control of our thoughts, He will determine our feelings. So if God is controlling our thoughts, we will feel the way God wants us to feel. The Bible explains why in Proverbs 23:7, “For as a he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Spend time with God in prayer and listen to His voice of truth as you read the Bible, and your thoughts will begin to line up with His. And as they do, you will begin to feel the way He wants you to feel.  

The voice of God in a Thunderstorm

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders… The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” Psalm 29:3, 11

As Pat and I flew from Los Angeles to Omaha this last Monday night, the Lord put on quite a display of His power as we flew by several thunderstorms over the state of Utah. These pictures do not adequately display the majesty of these storms, but they do remind me of what King David wrote in Psalm 29. 

David describes God’s power as he watches a thunderstorm begin out at sea and move inland over Lebanon toward the north of Israel (29:3-9). Seven times the phrase “the voice of the Lord” (29:3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9) is used in this Psalm to refer to the sound of thunder during the storm’s movement inland which set forests on fire through its lightning and shook the earth causing the deer to give birth.  

The same power manifested in a thunderstorm is available to God’s people today to give them His peace (29:11). His voice can calm the storms in our lives as we look to Him in faith (cf. Mark 14:35-39).