Friday, June 13, 2014

The Light of the World

Life of Christ 102
          For three days in a row now, Jesus has had public conflict with His enemies in the Temple. Already today, He has tangled with the Pharisees over the woman taken in adultery. He readily eluded their trap, and, in turn, taught wonderful lessons about hypocrisy and mercy. Our story today takes place later in the evening on this same day (John 8.12-20).
The menorah in front of the Knesset in Israel
          Herod the Great, one of the truly amazing builders of the Roman Empire, and now long dead, had launched a massive rebuilding of the 500 year old Temple that Ezra had built after the Babylonian Captivity. This expansion and renovation, which really consisted of an almost entirely new complex, had been going on at this point for 46 years. One of the changes was a colossal menorah, the seven branched candlestick famous as a symbol of Judaism. We think of them as small lamps, but traditionally, and even now, they can be huge, many feet high. Josephus tells us that this particular menorah, in Herod's Temple, was 75 feet high, and was used to light the vast Temple enclosure known as the Court of the Women. This was where the treasury was, and the treasury was where Jesus was in our story (John 8.20).
          If this is the case, and I think it is, then Jesus made the following statement standing in the light of a truly enormous menorah, one of the largest ever made: 'I am the light of the world' (John 8.12).
          The Pharisees reaction to this was to reject His claims, saying that He was His own only witness to their authenticity, and you can't confirm something with just one witness (John 8.13). Jesus responded by pointing out that He was eternal, and so His vantage point had a perspective that mere humans did not (John 8.14). Not only that, but the Father had borne witness to the truth of these claims, and that provided sufficient support in the witness category (John 8.16-18).
          With this story there is one particular thing that jumps out at me, and, as interesting as it is, it isn't the location of Jesus' words. It is the words themselves. 'I am the light of the world.'
          The concept of Jesus, as light, being contrasted with the darkness of a sinful world, is found elsewhere in Scripture. 'That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world' (John 1.9). However, it isn't just the metaphor itself, but the descriptive phrase accompanying it that arrests me. 'I am the light - of the world'. Jesus didn't come to just be the Jewish messiah, nor even just the Jewish redeemer. He came for the whole world.
          This was referenced by Simeon all the way back at His birth (see Life of Christ 10), 'a light to lighten the Gentiles' (Luke 2.32). This was referenced in Old Testament messianic prophecy, 'a light of the Gentiles' (Isaiah 42.6). This is clearly a reference to the news of salvation from sin through Jesus going all the way around the world. 'I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth' (Isaiah 49.6).
          Not only was this referenced at His birth, and found in Old Testament prophecy, but it was also understood this way by the early Church. Paul, in explaining why he had turned his ministry from the Jews toward the Gentiles, appealed to the verse in Isaiah 49 I just gave you above. 'For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth' (Acts 13.47).
A 62 foot high menorah overlooking Madano, Indonesia
        What are the practical effects of understanding this, that Jesus is the light of the entire world? I think the context of Paul's quotation in Acts 13 answers that nicely. 'And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region' (Acts 13.48-49). See, when the Church gets a hold of the idea that Jesus is the light of the entire world she begins to take seriously her responsibility to send that light to the whole world.
          Do you give? The divinely instituted method for the propagation of the Gospel is the local church, and local churches cost loads of money to operate. You can witness without spending any money, but you cannot give out a tract without spending money. You cannot invite the new Christian to assemble with God's people unless there is a building to assemble in, and those cost lots of money. You cannot have a scriptural church, in the long term, without a pastor, and pastors cost money. Paul, speaking as a missionary on the foreign field, thanked the church in Thessalonica for sending him continual financial support (Philippians 4.16). Do you give?
          Do you pray? More than money, missionary Paul desired prayer support (II Thessalonians 3.1). The work of soul winning, if it is to be done correctly rather than as a sales presentation or a mere manipulation into a prayer, is a spiritual work. The work of preaching, if it is to be effective rather than just another entertaining speech, is a spiritual work. The work of pastoring, if it is to be more than simply being the CEO of another marketed business, is a spiritual work. These things take the wisdom and power of God, and the way our missionaries get that wisdom and power is through prayer.
          So many missionaries undertake to spread the Gospel in spiritually dark places where the devil has held sway for centuries. Demonic powers control these pagan cultures and people, and the only thing that can break that stranglehold is the power of God. Do you pray?
          Will you go? I cannot word this any better than Isaiah did thousands of years ago. 'Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me' (Isaiah 6.8). Twenty seven years ago I knelt at an old-fashioned altar and gave my life to the Lord for His service, and though I have been through some hard things in the decades since I have not, for one moment, regretted that decision. It is the privilege of my life to go wherever He sends me, whether that is rural Pennsylvania, the inner city of Chicago, or the Ivory Coast of Africa. If Christianity is propagated primarily by churches, and churches must have pastors, then Christianity is only a few decades away from being history's footnote provided young people stop joining the ministry. Will you go?

          Let us give. Let us pray. Let us go. Why? Because two millennia ago Jesus stood in the light of the 75 foot high menorah in Herod's Temple, and said, 'I am the light of the world.'

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