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Jesus Came to Bring Light

Original Date: 
Sunday, December 16, 2012

John 12:46 A Stable Influence: Jesus Came to Bring Light

This past summer my family vacationed in the Black Hills.

Now, I don’t know if you remember much about last summer, but it was hot. Ridiculously so. It was hot, and it was dry.

And so, driving a mini-van across the great plains of South Dakota into a place called “the Badlands” while the temperature gauge is reading 105 doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence. We stayed in some really quaint cabins in the town of Custer. Quaint being code word for “old” and “small”. But fortunately they had working air conditioners, so we were o.k.

It was interesting, because one of the other thing you might remember from the summer is that there were a bunch of forest fires. Big ones in Colorado, and also in the Black Hills. So on Thursday we did some site seeing in Custer National Forest. That morning, we didn’t notice any smoke, but by that afternoon there was a huge plume of it off to the southeast. On Friday morning, as we were driving out of Custer to Rapid City, we noticed a whole bunch of tents and fire trucks staging at the local high school. And Saturday morning, when we went on a Buffalo Safari (which is where we got our Christmas card photo) our tour guide told us she had been up all Thursday night packing her belongings in case the fire got any closer. Apparently, we were one wind shift away from the whole town of Custer being evacuated. A fact about which we were blissfully oblivious.

But we had a really good vacation, and on Saturday afternoon we did something that has become a Muilenburg vacation staple: we went spelunking. It wasn’t actual spelunking, we took a guided cave tour of Jewel Cave National Monument, but it’s something we’ve done on a lot of our vacations. I’m just fascinated by all the work that goes into exploring caves and setting them up for public tours. Plus, it was way cooler inside the cave than it was out in the forest.

And my favorite moment in any cave tour is when they huddle the group up in a big cavern somewhere deep underground and shut-off the lights. It’s always an amazing experience because it is total, complete and utter darkness. You can’t see anything. I mean, you actually hold your hand up in front of your face and it doesn’t register. And it’s not like you can wait for your eyes to adjust. There simply is no light available down there.

And then the tour leader takes out a book of matches, or lighter, and creates one small flame. And suddenly, you can see again. In the midst of all that darkness, one tiny flame is enough to illuminate the highest stalactites and the deepest corners of the cave. You see people’s smiles, and the look of relief on their faces. Darkness is scary. But light is good.

Light Has Come
We are in the midst of a sermon series called A Stable Influence. We’re talking about the difference Christmas makes. Why it should matter to us that Jesus was born in a cattle stall some 2000 years ago.

And for our answers, we’re looking at Jesus’ own words. We’re looking at different statements Jesus made as an adult about why He came. Jesus said things like: “[I] came not to be served, but to serve.” Or: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We’re looking at those statements and trying to understand them. Because the better we understand those statements the better we’ll understand the influence of Christmas.

And this week’s verse is John 12:46. Here’s another explanation of why Jesus came, in His own words:

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Jesus came to bring light. It’s one of our favorite Christmas images. We just sang about how the light of the world stepped down into darkness. One of the reasons we light the advent candles is because we are building up to Christmas Eve, when we’ll light the big candle in the middle that represents Jesus. The light has come.

Light and darkness are consistent themes throughout the gospel of John. Darkness represents lostness, hopelessness. The world is portrayed as being in the dark. Darkness is a place where bad deeds can be hidden. Like being in a cave with all the lights shut off, people who live in darkness don’t know where they are or where they are going.

But Jesus says He came to bring light. Jesus came to push back the darkness. Just like that match in the cave guide’s hands, Jesus brings light into a dark, dark world.

But what exactly does the light represent? We know that light is good and helpful and allows us to see, but what does Jesus mean when He calls Himself the light?

Well, if we push back a little bit and look at the verses that surround this statement, we’ll get an idea. Let’s add in verses 44 and 45:

44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

In this particular context, Jesus is talking about knowing God—“the one who sent me.” And what He is saying is that the way to have a relationship with God is through Him. “When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.”

In other words, people are walking around in a darkness that keeps them separated from the One True God. They don’t have a good understanding of Who He is or what He requires. We were made to have a relationship with God. He is our Creator. He is the most valuable treasure in the universe. But we are in darkness.

And Jesus comes as the light that illuminates God. When we know Him, we know God. When we believe in Him, we don’t have to live in the darkness anymore.

So the point of Christmas, the reason Jesus came, is that we can step out of darkness and into light. Through Jesus, and Jesus only, we can have a relationship with God.

**The Perplexing Problem of Unbelief **
But here we come to a perplexing problem: not everybody believes in Jesus. Some people, despite knowing the stories about Jesus and understanding what He has done for us, still do not follow Him. In fact, even some of those who got the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh—even some of those who witnessed the miracles He performed—still do not believe.

Back up a few more verses, to verse 37, to get more of the story:

37Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.

You can almost hear the dismay in John’s voice. Here are people who have seen Jesus heal a lame man. They’ve seen Him give sight to a man born blind. They watched Him raise dead Lazarus back to life, for crying out loud. And yet, there are still many who do not believe in Him.

So the obvious question is: why not? Why don’t more people step out of the darkness and into the light? Why do people persist in staying in the cave when Jesus is standing outside with a floodlight? The text goes on to give two reasons people reject Jesus.

Blind Eyes and Hard Hearts
The first is what I will call a spiritual blindness. Some people reject Jesus because they have a blindness of the heart. Verses 38-41:

38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
"Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"
39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
40"He has blinded their eyes
and deadened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them." 41Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him.

John quotes two passages from the book of Isaiah which show that the rejection of Jesus was prophesied.

The first quote, in verse 38, comes from Isaiah 53:1. Isaiah 53 is probably a familiar passage to many of you. It’s the chapter that predicts the Messiah would be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.” It’s one of the best descriptions the Bible gives of Jesus’ mission.

But it starts with a lament. Isaiah says: “Lord, who has believed our message? Lord, to whom as the arm of the Lord been revealed?” In other words, even as Isaiah describes what the Messiah will do he is lamenting the fact that some will not believe.

Now, keep in mind that this was written some 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And yet it was already seen that some would not believe. It is very important for us to see that God is not surprised by the rejection of Jesus. It’s not like God is up in heaven wringing His hands because some people won’t believe. It’s not like Jesus’ mission is a failure.

Instead, God predicted it would happen. Their unbelief was a fulfillment of prophecy.

The other quote comes from Isaiah 6:10. It's verse 40 in our text. Here John makes it completely clear that not only was this unbelief not a surprise to God; but it is the fulfillment of prophecy AND, in some way, the work of God himself in judging these folks.

Isaiah 6 might also be familiar to many of you. It’s the chapter that tells about Isaiah’s call to become a prophet, and it contains the majestic, awe-inspiring vision of God in the temple surrounded by angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” But when Isaiah agrees to speak as God’s prophet God warns him that the people will reject him.

That’s where this verse comes in. God says that because the people are rejecting Him, He’s going to reject them. He’s going to place a judicial blindness over their eyes and a judicial hardness on their hearts so that they will not believe and He will not heal them.

And, according to John, the same thing is true of Jesus' ministry. Many of the people who saw Jesus rejected Him, and they did this of their own free will; but they also did this to fulfill the prophecy that God would blind their eyes and deaden their hearts.

Now, this gets a little complicated. This may even be hard for you to swallow. We like to think of God as always holding out His hand with the offer of forgiveness. We picture Him as the father at the end of the driveway always ready to welcome the sinner home. God will always give us the chance to believe, right?

In one sense, that is true. God’s grace is incredible and far reaching.

But in another sense, those who continually reject Him are rejected by Him. Those who harden their hearts, have their hearts hardened. Those who blindly say no to His love find themselves spiritually blinded.

You see, we are responsible for our actions. We are not robots. We are called to believe in Jesus and we have a choice in that.

But do not think that those who choose to reject Jesus have somehow succeeded in defying God. Because they haven’t. The Bible says that those who reject Jesus are merely confirming God’s rejection of them.

That's what the word of God says. Why the unbelief? Because God said so, to fulfill his purposes, to fulfill his prophecies, to bring judgment, and to glorify God.

This is head-scratching, mind-bending stuff. I’m not saying I fully understand how people can be responsible for rejecting Jesus while at the same time they are fulfilling God’s will for them.

But it does raise the stakes. If God’s response to our spiritual blindness and hard hearts is to make us more blind, and harden our hearts even more, then we should take heed. If you have been resisting God, thinking that you’ll get right with Him later; be careful. It says here that the more you hold Him off, the more He may respond by holding you off.

Soften your hearts. Open your eyes. Even if you have doubts, even if you’re not sure how this whole faith thing works, don’t just write God off. Because if you do, you run the risk that God will confirm your blindness and leave you in it.

Here, too, we get some insight in how should think about those family members and friends who do not believe in Jesus. If God is in control of their spiritual eyes and the condition of their hearts, then we need to pray for those folks that God will open their eyes, that He will soften their hearts.

Because, you see, while this is a hard truth, it is also a glorious truth. Because it reminds us that God is fully in control. He is not taken by surprise. It is not possible for us to thwart His will. And so, while it suits His purposes to leave some in their spiritual darkness, we are never without the hope that if He decides to call someone to Himself, He will most certainly bring that person to belief.

So if you are praying for a loved one to believe, do not give up. God is in control. And it may just please Him to answer your prayer.

The Praise of Men
The second reason people reject Jesus might be a little easier for us to understand, though it is no less dreadful. Some people reject Jesus out of sheer, selfish pride. Call it the blindness of pride. Verses 42-43:

42Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

John tells us that some of the leaders in the audience were convinced by what they had seen and heard. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah. But out of fear, out of being scared that their family would lose its prominence and social place or they would be kicked out of the community, they never came forward as followers of Christ.

They tried to be secret believers, and yet they were no believers at all. One commentary says: “They were not prepared to take the risk of openly declaring for him. It would have meant an end of their place, their profit, and their prestige. They would have been ostracized from society and banished from orthodox religion. It was too high a price to pay. So they lived a lie because they were not big enough to stand up for the truth"

They put more value on being praised by men than being praised by God.

This is a sad, sad state of affairs. To think, that we might be more concerned about the opinions of other people than we do about the opinion of our creator, the eternal ruler of the universe, the one who holds our eternal destiny in His hands. You would think we would rather be praised by Him. But the truth is: it is easy to go along with the crowd.

I recently read about a study some sociologists did concerning those little signs you find in hotel bathrooms asking you to help protect the environment by reusing your towels. The researchers found that a majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay. But when they rewrote the signs to point out to guests that a majority of people did in fact participate in this recycling program, participation went up by 26 percent. People like to do what other people are doing.

This kind of herd mentality can cause us to do some bad things too. In the same book I read about signs at Arizona’s Petrified Forest informing people that the forest was slowly being destroyed because so many people were taking pieces of petrified wood home with them. The point of the sign, of course, was to tell people not to do that. But it actually had the opposite effect.

A study was done that compared signs that talked about how much wood was being stolen with signs that simply said “Don’t steal”. What was discovered was that the signs that called attention to the fact that other people were doing it actually led to 3 times as much theft. Upon reading that so many other people were taking souvenirs home, people apparently decided they should too. (Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini, pgs. 12-23)

The point is, when it comes to faith in Jesus we may be tempted to go along with the crowd. Our desire to fit in, to appear independent or cool, may lead us to hide our belief in Jesus.

But if we value the praise of men over the praise of God, then Jesus counts us as unbelievers.

Trying to hide our faith in Jesus is the same as having no faith at all.

So here too, we need to take stock of ourselves. Where are we letting the crowd influence our allegiance to Jesus? Where might we be setting aside our loyalty to Him in order look good in the eyes of others?

If you are here and you don’t believe in Jesus, you have to ask yourself, honestly, how much of that has to do with valuing the opinions of others more than the opinion of God?

And if you have a loved one for whom you are praying, here is another pointer in how to pray: pray that their circle of friends will be filled with people who know and love Jesus. Pray that other believers will come into your loved one’s life and influence him or her for the good.

A New and Glorious Morn
So that’s why people stay in the dark. Blindness of heart and blindness of pride. For those who do not accept Jesus, it is a matter of rejecting God and preferring the praise of others.

But then we come to our key verse. Verses 44 through 46 again:

44Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

We don’t have to stay in the darkness. Jesus came to bring light.

What we need to do is “Believe.” Believe in Him. Jesus is crying out for faith. He is inviting, imploring, pleading, and warning us to put our faith in Him.

Come to the light. Get out of the darkness. Turn to Him.

One of my favorite Christmas Carols is “O Holy Night!” We don’t sing it as a congregation very often, because it gets really high. It’s got parts that really scrape the rafters.

But every year we use it during our Christmas Eve service. We get somebody who can sing a lot better than I to sing it while we pass the light from the Christ candle all around the sanctuary.

And there’s a line in the song that is kind of weird. It goes: “long lay the world in sin and error pining.” We don’t talk like that anymore. What does it mean to “pine”? I looked it up and Webster’s says that “pining” means “painful longing.” That it means “to suffer grief or regret.”

So what the song is saying is that our world, before Jesus, was trapped in sin and error and painful longing. Darkness. A miserable, gloomy existence. Separated from God, and unable to close the gap.

But then Jesus appears. The song goes on:

A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new
And glorious morn

A new day. In the light. You don’t have to stay in the darkness. Come to Jesus. Believe in Him. He came to bring the light.