You knew we’d get here eventually. Any series looking at the idea of light in the bible at some point has to cover these iconic words of Jesus in John chapter 8. All those glorious Old Testament promises of light that we’ve been soaking up over the last few days, those great prophecies about the coming hope, the coming Saviour…. and here is the fulfilment! Or as John puts it at the start of his gospel: ‘The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.’ (1:9)
There’s not much I could say today which would add to the volumes written and spoken about this great declaration of Jesus. But I would just encourage us to think about the context in which Jesus spoke it. John begins v12 as follows: ‘When Jesus spoke again to the people…’ which implies that what Jesus says next in some way connects to what has happened before. He has something to share which throws light (pardon the pun) on recent events.
And what has just happened? Well, that is a matter of intense debate. It all depends on whether that famous story of the woman caught in adultery (vv1-11) is part of the original text or not. Let’s imagine for a moment that it isn’t: in which case the context is the debate that erupted between Jesus and the Pharisees at the end of chapter 7 after Jesus had declared that thirsty people should come to ‘drink’ the water of life from him. So it’s possible that this subsequent teaching that he is the light of life is a corollary to his also being the water of life.
My personal view, though, is that the story of the woman is original to the text, but has been largely excluded by the manuscript writers because it was too controversial. It’s more credible that something controversial was left out than inserted later. If that is true, then suddenly those famous words of Jesus in John 8:12 have a fascinating context. He declares that he is the light of the world immediately after this extraordinary encounter with the Pharisees and the woman.
Suddenly the follow-up sentence: ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life,’ has a direct application. In both cases the Pharisees and the woman were invited to confront their own darkness by Jesus and to choose light and life. For the woman, that meant a new start, and a new lifestyle. For the Pharisees that meant a new mindset, a new humility when confronting issues of sin and forgiveness in themselves and others. In both cases, it was an invitation to turn their backs on darkness and to embrace the light.
We too face that choice every day. We face personal darkness, the darkness of situations, as well as the physical darkness of this time of year. And into each, Jesus invites us to receive the light of life. The light of forgiveness and strength to face temptations and dark thoughts. The light of hope to shine into difficult situations. The light of Jesus’ own abiding presence to lift our spirits on cold winter evenings.
Let’s claim that light today. Jesus is not just the light of the world in general – he is our light. May we know the light of true and abundant life today.