When I was 12 years old, my family moved from Wichita Falls, TX to a small town just 10 miles from there called Iowa Park. That’s an unusual name, but it’s a town of about 6000 people in North Texas. When we moved to this small town from the bigger town, I remember some people thinking of my siblings and me as the big-city people. Especially for my sister who was starting 8th grade, some of her fellow students were apparently intimidated by her at first, because she came from Wichita Falls, which, again, was “the big city” in our area.
Sometimes there can be a lot of clout with where you come from, right? Sometimes it’s legitimate and sometimes it’s not, but if you think politically, socially, intellectually, to be from certain places sometimes means you have more influence. “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m from LA. I’m from the big city. I’m from Great Britain.” Let’s not pretend like we don’t immediately respect people with a British accent for some weird reason. I don’t think I’m the only one. Especially when it comes to particular subjects, you might be seen as having more authority based on where you’ve come from. If a New Yorker started trying to argue with you about the Kansas City Chiefs, you might just respond: “I’m from KC baby!” Maybe you wouldn’t say it quite like that.
Jesus employs a similar argument in John chapter 8. Over and over and over, in less than 20 verses, he talks about where he came from, and even more specifically, that he was sent from the Father. In effect, this is his way of saying to the Pharisees, “’Why do you think you know more than me!? I came from heaven!” That’s his argument, especially after he makes a remarkable claim about himself in verse 12. He’s going to make this stunning claim about himself, and then, in a sense, argue for why they should believe this stunning claim about himself. Turn with me to John chapter 8. I’m going to ask Shane/Michelle to come and read for us verses 12 through 30. Again, John chapter 8, starting in verse 12:
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “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, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “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 authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
Thank you, Shane/Michelle. So Jesus makes this awesome statement right at the beginning, right? “I am the light of the world.” That is a huge claim that Jesus is making, and I’m actually going to wait to focus on that claim until a little later this morning. Because in the bulk of this text Jesus is explaining why he can say something like this. Why in the world does Jesus think he can say something like, “I am the Light of the World”? A mere man, in the Pharisees’ eyes especially, saying something like this.
So, in total, for the Jews listening, Jesus drops four truth bombs. For those of you unfamiliar, a truth bomb is, just, a moment when you tell it like it is. Jesus said some hard truths in these 20 or so verses that I want to summarize into Four Truth Bombs.
- I Came from Heaven.
In what we just read, you may not have caught the number of times Jesus refers to where he came from. Over and over and over he brings up where he came from. After he makes this huge claim in verse 12, the Pharisees accuse him in verse 13. They say, “You are bearing witness about yourself; therefore, your testimony can’t be true!” In other words, you can’t just claim things for yourself. You have to have other people testify about who you are. Right? That’s just like in an investigation, you have to have corroborating evidence, right? We would agree with that. You have to have evidence and witnesses! And Jesus responds in verse 14 by saying, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, [why?] for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” In other words, he’s not a mere man who has to have other people reinforce what he says to be legitimate. No! he’s not like us! He says, “You don’t know where I came from, but I do.”
We also see, in passing, Jesus bring up “the Father who sent me.” Did you catch how many times he uses that phrase, “the Father who sent me?” Four separate times: verses 16, 18, 26, and 29. Over and over he’s telling them, “I came from the Father. I came from Heaven. That’s where I’m from. I’m not a mere man.” But they don’t get it; they don’t even realize he’s talking about God the Father. They think he’s just talking about his earthly father. In verse 19, they ask: “Where is your Father?” They’re thinking in human terms. They’re wondering where his earthly father is, when Jesus is actually talking about THE Father. Again, he’s making the point: I came from heaven.
And then in verse 21 he says, “I am going away…Where I am going, you cannot come.” And with that they wonder what he means. Apparently, they even ask, “Does he mean he’s going to kill himself? Is that what he’s saying?” And Jesus’ response to that is when this truth bomb just really hits hard. What does Jesus say? Verse 23: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”
Yet again, he’s speaking about Heaven: “I came from Heaven. I was there in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. In fact, I was the agent through whom God created the Heavens and the earth.” If you remember back to the beginning of John’s gospel, John 1, verse 3: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus is making the ultimate argument for why they should listen to him; why they should believe even these seemingly unbelievable claims he is making: I came from heaven. I came from the dwelling place of God. And that actually leads us right into the second truth bomb from Jesus. 1st, I came from heaven. 2nd:
- You did not!
That’s pretty simple, and yet profound: I came from heaven, but you, you didn’t! If you ever struggle with pride, which I’m guessing this is probably quite a common struggle among us: read and memorize verse 23 that we just read. What Jesus says there is not only true of the Pharisees listening, but it’s true of us as well! Verse 23, again: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” What a phenomenal self-esteem booster, right? You are from below. Everyone say, out loud, “I am from below.”
Now, when he says to them that they are “from below”, he doesn’t mean what we might first think. We might first think he’s talking about hell. But that’s not what he’s saying; neither we nor the Pharisees originated in hell. What he means by that is that we are from the world, which is why he then says, “You are of this world.”
He means we’re worldly; we are fleshly. Therefore, the way we think is fleshly and worldly. He made that clear in verse 15: “you judge according to the flesh.” Why do we do that? Because we’re of the flesh! We are worldly and corrupt as human beings. We have fallen natures. We can’t think or judge purely, without God’s help. This is exactly why we cannot be our own authority. We cannot be the ones to just figure everything out on our own, because we’re not reliable as sources for truth and discernment. Our thinking is skewed, to say the very least.
Instead, Jesus must be our authority. Again, just imagine the New Yorker arguing with you about what he thinks he knows about the Kansas City Chiefs. How offensive is that?! We’re from Kansas City! We live here! That’s our team! Or even better, when we go in to the doctor’s office after googling our symptoms, and we’re completely convinced that we have this incredibly rare disease. I know some of us probably think that Google makes us doctors. I bet that gets old for doctors, having so many patients who’ve never been to med school convinced they know more than the doctor, walking in with printed-off articles from WebMD. I know doctors can be wrong. I’m just using this as an example. What Jesus is saying is far bigger, even, than a doctor saying, “Why are you arguing; I’ve been to med school.” Jesus is saying, “Why are you arguing?” I came from heaven! I came from heaven, and I’m going back there! You came from below! You’re of this world! I am not! What kind of authority or knowledge do you think you have?”
Listen: you and I are the Pharisees in this situation. We are the ones, in our flesh, who are not the subject-matter-experts, to say the least. As Christians, especially, we cannot trust our own judgment that comes from our flesh. When it comes to spiritual matters, especially, we cannot trust our own judgment. Can I tell you what will happen if we do? What will happen if we trust our own judgment? We will slowly mix a biblical worldview, we’ll mix trusting God as our authority, and His Word as our written authority— we’ll mix it with new age influences. [The heart of the new age movement: man-centeredness].
We’ll start to conform our views and beliefs into whatever the modern feeling or sentiment is in our culture. When questions come up, our gut reaction will not be, “What does the Bible say?” But instead, “How do I feel about this?” When that becomes the first question we ask, we are no longer trusting Jesus as the authority. We’re trusting in ourselves. We’re following our own fleshly hearts, even though the Bible makes clear that the heart is deceitful above all else, according to Jeremiah 17:9. With parenting, is our first question, “What does God say?” Or “How do I feel about this?” With divorce, is our first question, “What does God say?” Or “How do I feel about this?” With abortion or mental health or biblical marriage or sexual purity or even obeying the law, is our question, “What does God say?” or is it “How do I feel about this?”
Jesus came from Heaven; we did not. Jesus came from the Father. He is God; we are not. This, especially, is where Jesus’ awesome claim in verse 12 becomes especially relevant, doesn’t it? Truth Bomb number 3 from Jesus:
- I am the Light of the World
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Not you, not me; he is the light of the world! He ALONE exposes the truth! Isn’t that what light does? Only with light can we see and grasp what is really there! Otherwise, we are in darkness. Jesus is the light that came from heaven. We are not. This is why it’s so absurd to trust our judgment over that of Jesus, especially when it comes to the gospel. Especially when it comes to our identity as human beings, and God’s identity and character. To think that God is a certain way just because it’s nice to think of him like that. It’s absurd for you and for me, so locked and limited within our time and culture, to think that we can determine for ourselves who God is and who we are. Thank GOD he gave us Jesus. Thank GOD HE is the light of the world.
Do you see the increasing importance of who Jesus is claiming to be as we work our way through John’s gospel? We have to keep in mind what’s going on when Jesus is teaching. Context-wise, Jesus is most likely still at the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles. Especially considering that the first 11 verses of this chapter probably did not originate in the Gospel of John, as we talked about two weeks ago. If that’s the case, then this section comes off the heels of chapter 7. So, he’s still in the temple in the midst of this huge Feast.
And we know from Jewish history and tradition that during this feast, they would light four massive lamps in the court of the temple, and celebrate under the light provided by these lamps. All through the night, even, men would dance and sing and celebrate, often with their own torches in their hands. And all this light, especially from these main four lamps would light up the whole city of Jerusalem. That’s the background for Jesus’ statement: “I am the light of the world.” In other words, “You think that’s fantastic, you think that’s bright, you think that’s magnificent: I am the light of the whole world!” Forget just Jerusalem; I am the light of the world. Through me, and me alone, can you see and embrace God! Only through me can you see and embrace reality! If you wonder in such a politicized culture especially, where can we find truth. How can we sift through all the false representation!?
Only in Jesus, and only in receiving his Spirit, can we see anything correctly. Only by God’s power can we make accurate judgment calls about anything because Jesus is the light that reveals the truth. He literally turns the lights on for us, so that we can see! That’s what he said in verse 12: “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Think about this. Jesus being the light of the world means that he has the ultimate trump card when we think we know more than God. When it comes to science and human discovery: We say: “No, this is actually how the world began.” Jesus says, “I was there!” When it comes to interpreting the Bible: We say: “Eww, no, I feel like this is what that means.” Jesus says: “I wrote it!”
This the heart of the fall, that we trust our own judgment rather than God’s. If you’re following Raintree’s Bible-Reading plan, then you read it this week. Genesis 3:6- “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” The heart of sin is trusting in yourself and in your own judgment. Jesus made clear in verse 15: “You judge according to the flesh. I, however, judge as the Father judges. My judgment is true.” This is why it’s so absurd to trust our judgment over that of Jesus, especially when it comes to the gospel. So, how, according to Jesus, can we be saved from this corruption? How can we be redeemed? How do have Jesus turn the lights on for us? Truth Bomb #4:
- Believe, or die in your sins.
I’m not intensifying or exaggerating his words here, am I? No, no! This is exactly what he said! Verse 24: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Unless you believe and trust in me as the Christ, your only Savior and Hope, you will die in your sins. I’m your only chance! Especially when it comes to our very hope in life and death, we must let Jesus be the authority here!
I love how the gospel is laid out here in these last few verses. You have Jesus, the perfect lamb in verse 25: “for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” Always! We have the perfect, sinless Jesus. And we have this perfect sinless Jesus going to the cross in verse 28: “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 authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” He’s referring to the cross! Being lifted up! That’s a clear expression referring to the Cross. Listen: this God-man Jesus, who never sinned, nevertheless died for sinners!
Unless you believe in Jesus, trusting in his completed work on the Cross, you will die in your sins! And let me tell you what it means to die in your sins: It means to be condemned! We know from Scripture that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” That’s not my discernment, or my teaching, by the way. That’s straight from Exodus 34:6-7. I’m quoting directly from that. God is abounding in love, and yet he does not let the guilty go unpunish.
God is just, and yet merciful to us, in sending Jesus to be our Substitute. Your sins must be dealt with, and they are only dealt with by believing and trusting in Jesus because Jesus bore your guilt for you. He was punished for you. Believe! Otherwise, you will die in your sins. That’s not me saying that, that’s Jesus! I have no truth bombs to give you. But Jesus does, and this, truly, is THE truth bomb. This, especially, is when we must take into account Jesus’ words when he says, “You come from below, I come from above.”
I want us to apply Jesus’ main point here to two major obstacles to the gospel. One obstacle for non-Christians, and one for Christians. The major obstacle to the gospel in the 21st century, and perhaps since the beginning of time, is pride. When it comes to the question of why we should be let into Heaven, we say, “You know, I think I’m in a pretty good spot. I’m a good person.” If that is you this morning, hear Jesus’ words: “Believe, or die in your sins.” You are a sinner deserving of nothing other than condemnation. BUT, Jesus says, I will be lifted up for your sin. Believe, and let me deal with your sin.
The other major obstacle to the gospel I want to mention is for Christians, those who have believed upon Jesus. Certainly we still struggle with pride. All of us still struggle the fleshly pull toward pride. But, another obstacle, one that has come up a few times in the last few months, but I feel the need to bring it up yet again: a major obstacle to the gospel for Christians is the exact opposite of pride—self-deprecation, or beating yourself up. Can I tell you: if you struggle with sin, which we all do at times: your greatest tool again that sin is not beating yourself up. Your greatest tool against sin is claiming your identity in Christ, RESTING and SETTLING more and more into your new identity in Christ. [Bean-Bag anal.].
You are a child of God because of what Christ has done. And because of what Christ has done, God loves you like He loves Jesus Christ, his own son! Don’t start trying to claim that you know better than God: “I just don’t know if God can still love me. Look at me! I’ve messed up too many times.” Instead, let Jesus be the authority when it comes to who you are in Christ. You know what he says? Just two chapters later, in chapter 10: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
If you’re a Christian, the only thing that truly changes as far as your identity, is how much you are settled into your new identity. Your identity doesn’t change, because Jesus himself does not change! If you struggle with wondering if God can love you: “I’m so inconsistent. I’m so unworthy. I struggle so much with sin.” That’s the point! That’s why it’s called GRACE! That’s why Jesus is our Substitute! Your identity as a child of God does not change because Christ himself does not change! He bore your sin. His righteousness is credited to your account! And you are a child of God no matter what because Christ himself is the Son of God no matter what. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If you’ve believed upon Him alone for your salvation, you too are a child of God yesterday, today, and forever. Stop wondering if God can still love you. Don’t trust your own judgment on that question. Trust Jesus instead.
Richard Sibbes, the Anglican Theologian, put it like this: “Measure not God’s love and favor by your own feeling. The sun shines as clearly in the darkest day as it does in the brightest. The difference is not in the sun, but in some clouds which hinder the manifestation of the light thereof.”
Jesus is the light of the world, and that light doesn’t change. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This is true, you can be assured. Why? Because, even just logically speaking, light can’t help but verify it’s own legitimacy! Right? Light, simply by nature of being light, reveals truth. It can only reveal truth. Jesus is the light, you can trust him. He came from heaven. We did not. He’s the light of the world, and by believing in him, we see, truly.