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Jesus Christ – the Light of the World

10 December 2010

These notes of a sermon preached by Keith White on Advent Sunday 2010  have come my way.   Why should Edmonton Baptist Church only have the benefit of them?   So here they are for readers of this website, wherever they may be: Jesus is the light of the world: You are the light of the world.

Keith White works where he lives at Mill Grove in London. 

‘Mill Grove is the name of the home of a unique extended family and residential community that began as an informal foster family in 1899. It is still a place of love and care where children and young people who cannot live with their own families may be fostered, or for families who need accommodation and support. In this homely setting and atmosphere Christians share their lives with children and young people.’

Keith is also Chair of the Child Theology Movement

Jesus Christ – The Light of the World

You will need your Bibles this morning!  We will turn to three places as we explore this wonderful theme: Jesus – the Light of the World.

Our starting point will be a prophecy; we move then to focus on Jesus Christ, and finally to the light of Jesus shining in and through us.

As you open your Bibles let’s pray.
So we begin in Isaiah, chapter 9 verse 2.

(i)   A light Shining in the Darkness

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the shadowlands of death a light has dawned

Isaiah  9:  2

The people walking in darkness…

Have you ever been in complete darkness?  Can’t see your hand in front of your face? 
Have you experienced clinical depression?  Can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel?
Have you ever been through a night when war or fear of attack overwhelmed you?
When Isaiah wrote about darkness he means total darkness:  this is how he puts it:
“no light of dawn…darkness and fearful gloom…utter darkness”  (8: 20, 22)

If we had read the eight previous chapters of his writing we would be in no doubt about it. There is invasion and fear of invasion; slavery; anarchy; despair; a break-up of any family and civic life; there are no shared beliefs or values; the rule of law has become the rule of the jungle.  The Prince of Darkness would be (and is) completely at home here!

And today (as the slide sequence after the message will show), if Isaiah were to use his penetrating God-given ability to see into the very heart of things he would identify with prophetic clarity the darkness in our contemporary world; hunger, sadness, betrayal, tiredness, fear and pain…Somalia, Sudan, Myan Mar, North Korea, Baghdad….

And nearer to home:

The weight of anxiety…
The oppression of wealth and cynicism;
Suicides in Dublin;
Children neglected, anxious and abused;
Christmas overwhelmed by commercialism and exploitation;
Loud blasts of militant atheists;
Ethnic violence and the clash of civilizations…

Into this darkness a great line shines…. 

A great light…

What sort of light immediately comes to mind?

Isaiah doesn’t describe the light in this way, but he describes the source of the light.  We sang earlier of the many names for Jesus Christ: they all in their own way, like those we now consider, are associated with light that in one way or another shines into and disperses darkness.  Isaiah speaks of:

A child being born: a son who is born to be king.

And over time his rule transforms every aspect of the despairingly dark situation as sunrise changes the whole landscape; as a fire begins to warm the whole room…

Wonderful Counsellor: in place of the darkness of anarchy, fear, selfish individuality; the absence of care and love; anxiety; unfairness; immature government; insensitivity  there is one who brings the light of empathy, understanding, wisdom, perceptiveness; sensitivity and encouragement…

Mighty God:  into the darkness of servility; oppression; powerlessness; despair and hopelessness; fallen humanity enwrapped to the point of being engulfed by sin…comes one who with powerful light establishes solid rule and justice that is secure and reliable; the forces of darkness can only shrink to the point of dissolution…

Everlasting Father: in place of gloom of unpredictable changes of leadership; the absence of fathers in the majority of families and homes; temporary expediency; short term outcomes and empty promises…there beams the shaft of light that comes from one who will never leave his family or people; His rule will never end; it is wholly reliable and dependable; and the nature of his authority is love

Prince of Peace: in place of the blackness and bleakness of war operating at, and infiltrating, every level of social life; endless conflict and competition; ethnic and religious strife; restless searching for domination…there is the glorious light of the one who brings peace, shalom; and this peace will gently and irresistibly spread like the rosy-fingered dawn until the whole earth is bathed in its light and well-being.

The coming of this child born to be king will reach the entire world: every aspect of human existence and civil life is transformed.

This is how Isaiah describes it in Chapter 60: 1-3

“Arise, shine for your light has come
And the glory of the Lord rises upon you
See darkness covers the earth
And thick darkness the peoples,
But the Lord rises upon you
And His glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light
And kings to the brightness of your dawn”

But this still leaves the question: where exactly do we find this light, or to be more precise, who is the light and what is His name?

Before leaving Isaiah please note the place names at the beginning of Chapter 9: they are vital clues in the search.

Matthew takes up the theme from Isaiah to show us Jesus Christ by repeating the exact names and places.

Let’s turn to the second passage of Scripture, Matthew 4: 13-16.

(ii) Jesus the Light of the World

Leaving Nazareth, Jesus went to Capernaum…in the area of Zebulun and Napthali to fulfil what  Isaiah said:

“Land of Zebulun and Napthali…
The people living in darkeness have seen a great light
On those living in the shadowlands of death a light has dawned”
Matthew 4: 13-16

It could not be more precise.  Jesus is the light of which Isaiah spoke!

If you trace the life and ministry of Jesus, the Christ, from this moment on you will see that he has come to inaugurate a kingdom of light and life in the land of darkness and death…

Every action and every word confirms that he is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  This could not be said of any other human being including David and his successors.  In fact it would be blasphemous.  But in Jesus every prophecy is fulfilled.  He is in fact Immanuel: God with us!

No wonder the baby Jesus was greeted by Simeon in the Temple in this way:

“my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
And for the glory to your people Israel”

Luke 2:  30-32

And this is where John’s Gospel and the reading this morning develops the theme most fully.

John writes of Jesus, the Word of God in flesh appearing, as:

The light that shines in the darkness
The true light that gives light to everyone
And John describes seeing that light as seeing “His glory”…

       John 1: 5, 9, 14

Then Jesus himself speaks unforgettably:

I am the light of the World
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness

         John 8: 12


Night is coming…While I am in the world I am the light of the world

       John 9: 4, 5

If you read John’s Gospel in this light (!?) you will see it unfold with perfect unity and striking cohesion.  Not a sign, a word, a prayer, a tear of Jesus but that is part of the process by which light and life shine into the darkness.

And if we look at Matthew, Mark and Luke’s narratives, we find that as the sin of the world pressed until it crushed Jesus upon on the cross, there was “darkness over the whole land”: the sun stopped shining.  The light of the world was dying and with him the light seemed to go out.

Thick, heavy, death-laden darkness had returned.  For Jesus is not just one of many lights of the world and in the world.  He is the light of the world.  All light comes through and from him. 

If his light is extinguished then impenetrable darkness, total despair and complete chaos will reign.  The Prince of Darkness would be utterly in his element!

Praise God that we see the life and death of Jesus including Black Friday, in the light of the sunrise dawning on Resurrection Day! Because of this we dare to call Black Friday “Good”!

The light could not be, and was not extinguished.  The light still shines and the darkness has not put it out!

But this is not the end of the matter.  And so we turn, just a page at he most, to our final passage, very close to where you already have your Bible open.

(iii)  You are the light of the World

“You are the light of the world…
Let your light shine before people
so that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Matthew 5: 14, 16

For any who are hearing this for the first time, this is the thrilling news we call the Gospel.  It is why we celebrate Advent and Christmas with light and life and joy.  For light came into the world in Jesus, and still shines…we don’t always have candles in this church.  This is a special day and a special season.  It is, if you like, our Festival of Light!

But there is a final surprise in store for all of us this morning.

The first sermon of Jesus, reported in full by Matthew on the slopes of a mountain by the shore of Lake Galilee, includes some remarkable, startling words to any and all who seek to follow him.  So if you are a follower of Jesus and acknowledge him as the light of the world this morning listen to them as if they are for you personally:

Those who see Jesus as the light of the world; those on whom his light has shone; those whom he has saved from the darkness of despair, sin and the fear of death are told by Jesus that they are the light of the world!  So the message that Isaiah spoke continues in an inexorable line through Jesus, and straight to us!

But how can this possibly be true?  It cannot be that we are to be compared, let alone equated,  with Jesus the light of the world!  And this is so.  We are not the source of light as he is.  Rather we reflect his light as it shines on and into us, as the moon reflects the light of the sun, having no light at all of its own.  Another way of seeing this is to accept that as Jesus comes into our lives his light shines in us, and through us:

Paul writes: God who said “Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” 

    2 Corinthians 4: 6

We are to shine like stars (Philippians 2: 15) because it is God who works in us (verse 13). A fundamental truth of the matter of the Christian life is  that “it is not I but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2: 20).

And the early Christians accepted the challenge of the truth of this teaching of Jesus.  In Acts 13: 47 for example, Paul and Barnabas quote Isaiah 42 (“I have made you a light for the gentiles”) as their calling.  This is what God has commanded them to do: to continue to be the light that Jesus brought into the world.

And there is no denying the implications of this truth for ourselves as followers of Jesus today, even if it seems intimidating.

The first stage in the process is to allow the light of Jesus to shine into our lives. There can be no denying that this will often throw a searchlight beam on aspects of our lives where the darkness of sin lingers; sometimes the light will burn, if not scorch our souls. But once, and only when, it is shining in us, it can shine through us.

Another way of putting this is to see that we are to reflect the light of God in Jesus: that is done by turning our faces always toward him.  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus: look full in his wonderful face…”

And still another way: we are to point the way to Jesus just like the lights of the port and starboard marker buoys in the night time lead ships safely to the harbour…

We are the light of the world simply and solely because Jesus is the light of the world and his light shines into, through, and on to us.

Perhaps there is an analogy with conduction, convection and radiation here!


Advent is a special season of course: that’s why there is something of a buzz this morning in this traditional seasonal service.  In Europe, Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year.  Christmas is a light in this darkness.  Lights on Christmas Trees and in our houses and churches are symbols of this.

But our lives themselves are to be Christmas lights!  The glorious hope that has been revealed to us, warms our hearts and brings joy to our beings including our faces.  We are to be lights in the darkness this Christmas in our families, schools, colleges, work, shops, and streets. 

At Mill Grove we sing carols to neighbours; to housebound elderly friends, never, never, never making a collection.  This is part of what it means to be light.  We have a huge Christmas party including our own pantomime and many join us: another beacon of light.

So Advent and Christmas are unique seasons of the Christian year, but Advent is also a reminder that we are as Christians living the whole of our lives as if it were always Advent: Christ the light has come; Christ is with us; Christ will come again.

For the light of Christ has come into the World and shining in the darkness.  In some places of the world, and sadly in Christian communities, as well as in our own lives, this light seems barely to flicker.  But it has not been extinguished.  It still shines, like the pillar of fire that protected the Hebrews, the lamp in the Jewish Temple that was always burning, and the light of God’s presence in the darkest times of Jewish and Christian history.

But we are also like Isaiah waiting for the dawn: the true dawn, the final dawn when the darkness is completely dispelled, defeated.  And we long for that day and that dawn as Isaiah long for the Messiah, Immanuel.  This is our hope, the reason we will never give up or despair, however dark the darkness seems.  We are waiting for the dawning of eternal day:

The final scene in the Bible is described by John in this way:

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city…There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.     Revelation 22: 3, 5

Until then we let the light of Jesus shine into our lives, that others may be guided to God by the way we live, and come to share our expect hope that the dawn of everlasting day is coming!  Then we will say with Isaiah for the very last time    “Arise, shine for your light has come!”

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