Unless You Believe…


“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.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 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. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 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. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 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.” 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. 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.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM (he) you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 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.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 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. 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.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” (John‬ ‭8:12-30‬ ‭ESV – italics and emphasis are my additions‬‬)
This story is best understood when you remember that it ties back to the Feast of Tabernacles in chapter 7. As mentioned last week, the story of the woman caught in adultery was inserted into the text later. When it is removed, it is easy to see how this passage (8:12-30) flows directly out of the story of the Feast (7:1-52). The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates God’s provision during the Exodus. The booths or shelters they build recall the Exodus wandering. The water that is poured around the altar recalls God’s miraculous provision of water from the rock. Finally, the priests light torches as a reminder of the pillar of fire and smoke that led the Israelites day and night during the Exodus. 

Light of the World:

As the priests are lighting these torches, Jesus tells them that HE is the Light of the World. In a very vivid way, he tells them that he is the physical manifestation of God in this physical world. When God appeared before them in the Exodus as a pillar of fire, it was the Word of God – Jesus, lighting their way, leading them to God’s presence. As he stands before them now, he asserts that He and He alone is the Light of the World. The light that can lead them into the presence of God. But, just what does it mean for Jesus to be the LIGHT of the World? What does it mean for my life and your life? 

Jesus referencing the Exodus story and asserting that HE is the light that can lead us to God is not coincidental, it is intentional. He says, “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” It isn’t just seeing a distant light and wandering aimlessly towards it, it is having a light that illumines a specific path and helps us avoid the pitfalls along the way. The pillar of fire from the Exodus wasn’t a distant light, it was a light that illuminated the path towards God’s promised presence. The Promised Land. A place of God’s blessing and powerful presence. The pillar of fire led the way to God, and Jesus asserts that He is THAT light and whoever follows him HAS that light of life. In other words, the path to God is found by following Jesus and the light He provides. 

Jesus IS the bread of life, the living water, and light of life. He is the good shepherd, the Passover lamb, the great High Priest. But notice this one incredible statement, “if you follow me you will HAVE the light of life!” 

Have you ever been out walking in the dark? We are all familiar with having or owning a flashlight. We turn it on and it lights our path as we move along. If the path is unfamiliar we are probably likely to keep shifting from seeing what is directly in front of us to what is a little further out, and then back again. But, this is not like owning a flashlight, it’s a relationship. This is important, don’t miss it. This isn’t about getting a set of directions or having a GPS that tells you where to turn. This is about HAVING the very Light of the World as your personal guide. He doesn’t hand you a map and walk away, He walks alongside you. All the way! Every step! He knows the way because he cut the trail. He says, be careful here it’s a little tricky and you could slip and fall. Watch out for tree roots or rocks in this area. Avoid that area, it is a mess and you will get muddy. So, trust his guidance and don’t try this journey alone.

I Need Some Proof: 

In this next section, the Pharisees challenge Jesus claim and question his authority. Their challenge is based on the law’s requirement of at least two witnesses to support a legal claim. In essence they say, “you make these claims about yourself but you have no proof, no witnesses to validate them.” Jesus responds by talking about judgment. He says that the Pharisees judge based on what they can see, by human standards, or “according to the flesh.” He doesn’t yet judge anyone, but when that time comes, his judgment will be true and correct for he and God will render judgment together. “You say the law requires two witnesses in a judgment, I will be one and the Father will be the other. My claims of righteousness will be vindicated and your claims of righteousness will be judged. 

You can see how “according to the flesh” they really are, because Jesus is talking about God the Father and they are asking about his earthly father. “Where is your father?” they ask. Jesus responds, “You don’t know me or him. If you knew me, you would know my father, too.” Ok, this might seem like just some sarcastic banter between two groups who disagree, but you need to see the huge implications. If Jesus is THE light of the world, then he is the only one who can light our path to God.

Now, some would say this is arrogant, excludes others and isn’t like God at all. Yet, these are not the words of an arrogant church or religious leader but are the very words of Jesus, a humble servant whose love and sacrifice are unequaled. His claims would be arrogant if they were of man, but if they are of God then they are incredibly important and ultimately enlightening. What makes Jesus special? How can he be the ONLY path to God? 

Either Jesus is what He claims to be, the Light of the World, or he is a huge fake. “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM (he) you will die in your sins.” The NIV and the ESV include the pronoun “he” in this phrase, but it is not there in the Greek text and so I’ve placed it in parentheses here. If you leave it in, it reads as though Jesus emphasis is on being the Messiah. If you take it out, it reads as though Jesus emphasis is on being ONE with God, the I AM. Given his statement, “you are from below (earthy), I am from above (heavenly)” the emphasis appears to be on his deity and equality with God. 

He finally ends this dialogue by stating clearly, “when you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM (he).” The proof of his claim to deity will be seen in his crucifixion and resurrection. Either the resurrection is proof of his deity or his lunacy. As C.S. Lewis said, there is no other option. He didn’t give us one. He didn’t intend to. 

As He was saying these things, Many believed…

We seem to think that belief is contingent on proof. However, there were many who heard his words that day and believed. It wasn’t a matter of waiting until the proof of the resurrection to convince them, the powerful Spirit of God was moving and working through the Word of God. They heard, they believed. Why? How? They knew God, or desired deeply to know Him and the Spirit worked faith in them. Faith isn’t something you work up. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

You don’t believe someone because you’ve worked up enough faith in them, you believe someone because they have shown themselves to be trustworthy, faithful. Faith isn’t something you produce, it’s something they produce in you “so that no one may boast.” Are the actions of Jesus worthy of your trust? I’m not talking about another man, I’m talking about this man WHO was and IS unlike any other. A man who is so unlike any other, I believe what he said… “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.”

Do You? 

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