The Light Guides UsPastor Lutzer | December 13, 2015
Religion can block the path to light.
Selected highlights from this sermon
This world is steeped in darkness with desires for wealth, power, and fame. No fulfillment can be found in the darkness. However, Christ can pierce the darkness and give us hope because He is the Light of the world.
His light enters us, regenerates us, and guides us on our journey—assuring us even when we doubt. Christ Himself will even welcome us to heaven when we die, but only if your trust is in Him. Which path are you on—the path of light or the path of darkness?
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Well, as all of us know, it’s Christmas, and the question is, “What do we buy one another?” I have no idea what to buy Rebecca at Christmas. She has everything, and then besides that, she has me. (laughter) It’s what you call a fringe benefit.
There was a man who bought his wife a gift certificate, and immediately she wanted to take it to the store and exchange it for a bigger size. Things are so hard even up at the North Pole I am told. Money is in short supply and things are rather desperate. Somebody phoned Santa and said, “How’s old Rudolph doing?” Santa said, “Delicious.” (laughter) Yep, it’s come to that.
What is Christmas all about? It can be very easily summarized when it says, “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light.” In the Bible what you find is that this motif between darkness and light is very clear and it runs from the first chapter of Genesis all the way to the book of Revelation. The Bible teaches that there are two paths. There is the path of darkness, and there is the path of light, and you and I today are on one path or the other.
May I read to you what the path of darkness really is like? This is what it’s like. It says regarding those who are in darkness: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of heart. They have become callous, given themselves up to sensuality, greedy practices, every kind of impurity.” That’s the dark path.
The dark path is the path where you lack understanding, but you think that you have light. It’s the path in which there is seeking, but there is never finding. There is desire but never real fulfillment.
Sometimes God helps me make up a sermon. Well, I hope He helps me all the time actually, but He’ll give me an illustration in the middle of the week. Yesterday I met someone who gave me his testimony, who knows all about the darkness. He began to pursue darkness in rebellion against his religious training, and one of the things he said is that darkness is incremental. You begin at one point and then you end up going where you never thought that you would go. He said that he pursued the big three. The big three were money, some fame and power, which he had, and lots of sex. That’s the path to happiness. Right? It brought him into such deep darkness he said that he didn’t know whether or not he could make it, and he cried up to God, and finally received Jesus and received the gift of light. That’s what darkness is like. It’s terrible. And so that’s the path of darkness. Now that’s moral darkness, but there is also such a thing in Scripture as religious darkness.
Now I’m going somewhere with this, but I want you to turn in your Bibles to John 7, because I want to look at a text today, but I want to see it in context. In John 7 Jesus goes to a feast in Jerusalem. It is the Feast of Booths, sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles, which pious Jews still celebrate today where for a week they live in a tent. They live in a hut to symbolize the fact that they came through the desert and God took care of them even when they didn’t have permanent houses.
And so there they are at the Feast of Booths, and when they are there it says in John 7:37 and 38: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’”
Now, needless to say, that caused some real division among the people. When you think of the Pharisees, they were not necessarily bad people in a sense, but they were addicted to their rules, and to them religion was their rules, and so they say later on in these verses that if you believe in Jesus you are deceived. That’s where they were.
Now when you come to chapter 8, you have a story that we have frequently known and read, and I’ve preached on. It’s the story of the woman caught in adultery where Jesus is confronted by these people, and they want to trip Him up. And they say, “Well, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. What do you want us to do to her?” because in the Law it said you should stone her. And Jesus said, “Fine, you stone her. Fulfill the Law, but let’s begin, first of all, with you men who have come here. First of all, you may ask, where the man was in all this. But at any rate Jesus said, “Go ahead and stone her, but you who have not committed a similar sin, you throw the first stone.”
And the Bible says that beginning with the eldest, even unto the last, they all walked away. Wow!
You know, sometimes this has caused… In fact in my Bible it says in chapter 8 “the woman caught in adultery.” It could be the men caught in adultery. They were the ones who were really caught in adultery with their hypocrisy, but you know, I mention that because here you see two different forms of darkness. You see moral darkness, and then you see religious darkness. And this religious darkness is a kind of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, which Jesus really spoke against. And I think I could say that He hated that kind of religiosity. He may have loved the people, but he hated what their religion was doing to them.
So that’s the context in which we get to our text today, which is in verse 12: “Again Jesus spoke to them.” Now you have to connect that with Him being at the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This story of the woman is not found in many of the early manuscripts, but it was apparently inserted in later manuscripts, but nobody (in what I’ve read) doubts that it happened. It’s just that it was not part of the original text.
So if we think of Jesus being at the Feast of Booths, we think of Him there, and He’s saying, “I am the living water,” and He’s also saying, “I am the light of the world.” Now at this feast, at the end of it they had candelabra. They had candles that were so powerful that when these four candles were lit, it is said that they lighted up all the courtyards in Jerusalem. These candles represented the light by which God led the people of Israel through the desert - the cloud during the day and fire by night. That’s what they were trying to illustrate.
And so now in the middle of this Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Undoubtedly He said this to astonish. He said this also because He wanted to show that He was the supreme light. He eclipsed all the other lights. We all know what that is like, don’t we, when we have a power shortage or an outage? We sit there in our condos and in our houses, and Rebecca and I have been through this (and you have too) where I thought to myself, “I know exactly where the flashlight is,” and then I discover that it’s not where I was absolutely confident it was. Rebecca might light a candle. But when the lights come back on you extinguish the candle and you turn the flashlight off. Why? Light has come. Jesus is saying, “I am the light, and all other lights go into oblivion.”
Today I want you to understand that if you are interested in knowing God, if that’s your desire, and it must be if you are here or if you are watching online or listening by radio or any other means, because in your heart you’d like to know God. You have to come to Jesus.
You know, light in the Bible is used frequently for God. For example, in the Old Testament, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” In Isaiah 60 it says that God is your everlasting light. Light is God. Jesus – the light of the world!
Now, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go on a journey, and we’re going to see how Jesus is at the beginning of the journey and how He is at the end of the journey. Thank you so much for joining me on this exploration of who Jesus is.
First of all, Jesus is at the beginning of our journey. He is called the light of the world, and you can’t begin the journey without believing on Jesus. And when you begin that journey, what happens is a light comes into your soul. First of all, conversion is instantaneous. Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” There’s an analogy between creation (Genesis 1) and the recreation of light in our hearts. And that’s what happened when you were converted, or we sometimes call it the new birth. We’re talking about the same thing. First of all, it is instantaneous. One moment you are in the kingdom of darkness, and in a moment of time you are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
Now the man to whom I was speaking yesterday told me all of the things that preceded his conversion, so it’s not as if this just happens without any context. It happens when we are convicted of our sins. Now in his case God had to bring him so low that he didn’t think he was going to make it. It was a point of desperation. Now you don’t have to get to that point to receive Christ as your Savior. Children can if their hearts are not hard. And children’s hearts are usually very tender. But you find some who are rebellious, some who hold out, some who will not give in, some whose minds are made up, and they need to be brought to a great point of humiliation before they cry out to God. But the actual transfer is instantaneous – from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
Furthermore, it is miraculous. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” It is a miracle that happens in the heart that you cannot do. It’s not a matter of determining that you are going to do better, and you’re done with your old life, and you’re going to start to go to church and begin a new life. No, this is something that God does. It is miraculous and it is instantaneous, and it has to do with the giving of light, and the transference from one kingdom to another.
Do you remember the words of Charles Wesley? This is his testimony.
Dark my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and darkest night.
Thine eye diffused the quickening ray.
I woke. My dungeon was flaming with light.
My chains fell off. My heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
I want to speak to you candidly today. If you cannot pinpoint a time when you received Christ as Savior, almost certainly you are not converted and you have not received God’s light. And don’t tell me it happened when you were baptized, or when you went through some ritual. It must be the receiving of light. “As many as received Him…” Now there are some people who are genuinely saved who can’t remember the exact day, but most people can. I can. It was 50 – 55 years ago. I remember it with clarity. And so Jesus is there at the beginning of our journey, at the beginning of our experience.
Secondly, Jesus is there also as He leads us during our journey. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” “Those who follow Me,” Jesus said, “will not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”
How do we understand that? You know, about 25 years ago (and I can just throw out those numbers without a problem – 25 years ago or 30 years ago) I met with some college students in my study here at the church. You know, the reason it is so wonderful to be with college students is because oftentimes they are so idealistic and so committed. But maybe sometimes they’re just maybe even over-saved, if I can put it that way. These students felt called of God to the ministry in Chicago, but they wanted to know the leading of the Holy Spirit, the leading of Christ, in such a way that they would not need a map, so they deliberately came to Chicago without a map. Of course, this was long before the days of GPS and all those other things. And they thought that if they are sensitive to the Spirit, the Holy Spirit is going to say, “Turn left here; turn right here.” I would think that the Holy Spirit would always say, “Stop,” at red lights. I mean that would be my assumption. And I told them, “You know, you don’t have to do that. Invest a couple of bucks and get a map.” Now, on the other hand, maybe the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing (Well, the Holy Spirit always knows what He’s doing, of course.), but isn’t it interesting that they were led to The Moody Church, which is where I think the Spirit should take most people. (chuckles)
So when we talk about following Jesus and sensing the leadership of the Spirit, that’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about, first of all, Jesus gives light as to whom we are. Jesus, by His Holy Spirit… You know it says in the book of Romans very clearly that if we are led by the Spirit of God we are the sons of God: “For your did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness within us that we are children of God.” That’s what happens when we receive the light. We have the assurance that we belong to God, not only because of His Word, but the witness of the Spirit of God within us. And as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we cry Abba Father because one of the proofs of being born again is you begin to call God, Father. And so that’s the assurance of the Spirit of God.
Jesus also comes along and gives us the light in terms of leadership – moral leadership. You know, even after we receive the light we sometimes go into darkness, don’t we? Haven’t we all had the experience of crossing the line? In other words, we know for sure that we are going across the line and we are sinning now. How do we know that? It’s because the Spirit of God (the Spirit of Jesus) is the one who tells us through conviction, “You have crossed the line.”
So He leads us in many different ways. Spiritually yes! He also leads us morally. And the Bible says this: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
I’ve given you the example before but when I was out on the farm in Canada as a little boy (That was before electricity even) we used to go from the house to the barn at night, and we had a lantern. The lantern didn’t shine very far, but it showed you what you needed to do to take the next sure step. What amazed me was that if the lantern wasn’t working or you were without one, no matter how well you knew the farmyard, in the midst of darkness you’d go wrong.
So the Word of God leads us. It enables us to be able to be led even as we follow Jesus spiritually and morally. So Jesus is with us during the journey. He’s also there at the end of the journey. You know, Jesus says this. Now let’s look at the text again: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but (Notice the phrase now.) will have the light of life.”
The light that leads to life leads to Life with a capital L. And Jesus said that if you follow Me, you will have the wisdom, you will have the insight, and furthermore the permanence of the work of the Spirit of God within your heart so that you will be led to life the way in which it should be lived. Everyone wants a life of fulfillment, a life of joy, a life of purpose, and Jesus gives that to us here. And the good news is that beyond that, of course, is to be with Him. And so we don’t go into the darkness alone.
King George VI, when he was giving a speech, I think in 1939, regarding England needing to go to war, said (He quotes this.), “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.’” I would change that just a little bit and say, “Put your hand into the hand of Jesus and it will be to you better than your own light, and safer than a known way.” So Jesus is at the beginning of the journey. He’s at the end of the journey.
We think, for example, when Stephen was being stoned, he was there, and you remember the heavens were opened and Jesus was standing on the right hand of God. What was Jesus doing at the right hand of God? He was welcoming Stephen. Ten times or so in the New Testament it says that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. This is the only time when it says Jesus was standing at the right hand of God, because He was there and welcoming Stephen and saying, “Stephen, you’re going through a very difficult journey. It’s a time when you are in great pain because those rocks are hurting you. But when it’s all over and when you are dead, I am here for you.” I want to say to you today that nobody should be in the dark after the sun goes down. Jesus is the light who begins here and then takes us all the way, and is the light of life.
I find that this passage is transforming for many reasons. First of all, I just want to warn you here that religion can actually block the path to light. Religion can block the path to light, because if you read the rest of this chapter, and it’s rather long but you ought to read it, what you will discover is that the Pharisees argue with Jesus. They’ll say, “Who gives you the authority to be able to say these things?” Jesus indicates that his own ministry is self-authenticating, that if they really were following God they would receive Him. And on and on the discussion and the argument goes.
They have trouble with the divinity of Jesus. But there was something else that troubled them greatly, and that was the grace of Jesus. Accepting grace is very difficult. I mean, you think of the gracious way in which Jesus dealt with the woman that we talked about just a moment ago. You know, “No man has condemned thee; I don’t condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” I mean, where was Jesus with all of the laws and the rules, and all the things that made up the Judaism of that day? It’s not as if Jesus was disregarding them. He was fulfilling them, but He was also fulfilling them by pointing to a better way, the way of grace, the way of forgiveness, the way of love. And that’s difficult to accept.
When He told that story about the two people going into the temple, and one of them began to pray and said, “Lord I thank Thee that I am not like other men who are extortionists. I fast twice a week. I did this and this and this,” that’s religion. And then Jesus points to the other man who doesn’t even look up to heaven but simply says, “God, forgive me. Be gracious to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said, “He’s the one who actually goes home justified.” The Pharisees hated that. Where are your rules?
This past week, Pastor Bertsche and I were in a cab together going downtown and we enlisted the cab driver in what could be called, I think, a spirited discussion regarding religious matters and eternal life. He was absolutely convinced… Now we asked him whether or not he feared dying. He said no. I’m not sure, but he was convinced that he could even redeem himself for some pretty evil things if he just did enough things to balance the score. That’s religion. Religion is self-righteousness. Religion is ritual. It is not relationship. And you could be brought up today very religious, and religion will do one of two things for you. Either it will make you feel good because you think that you are better than you really are, or it’ll turn you off and you’ll be like the friend I began the message about who decided to reject it all and go into sin, and to really be deeply in darkness. Religion can be a great stumbling block to the light.
You know, Jesus is speaking to these Pharisees, for example. I’m just picking this out, for example, in verse 24. “I told you that you will die in your sins for unless you will believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” What an indictment! They could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the light, and was offering it freely to anyone who would believe on Him. Religion can be a hindrance.
Secondly, light and darkness can’t coexist. You know, when you go into Ace Hardware and you say, “I want to buy a flashlight,” and I’ve done that, and you probably have too, nobody goes into Ace Hardware and says, “Do you know, I always buy a flashlight, but today I’m coming to buy a flash dark. I want to buy a flash dark so that I can just shoot darkness all over the room whenever I want to.” Nobody does that. There are no flash darks – only flashlights. It’s because darkness has no inherent power. It is the opposite of light. Light has energy. That’s why you can buy a flashlight with batteries. And sometimes I think you can even buy batteries that are empowered by a battery. But it has energy and so you buy that.
You know, there is that analogy and that legend about a cave saying to itself, “I know only darkness.” And if you’ve ever been in a cave you know how dark it can possibly be. The cave said, “I know only darkness.” It said to the sun, “I don’t believe in light.” And the sun said, “I don’t believe that I’ve seen any darkness at all.” And the cave said, “Well, come into my cave and you’ll see darkness.” Well, you know the rest of the story. The sun came into the cave, and there was no darkness at all. You couldn’t find any darkness.
You see, when you and I receive Jesus Christ as Savior, light comes into our heart, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot again walk in darkness. We can give darkness to our hearts, but once that is exposed to God, forgiven and cleansed, the light dissipates the darkness. That’s why it says, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
The reason that it is so necessary to believe on Jesus is because Jesus is the only one who can take away our sins so that we can have fellowship with God, because in God there is no darkness at all, the Scripture says. None! And so we want to have fellowship with God. We come to God through Jesus who cleanses us, who makes us acceptable to the Father because of His own sacrifice. And there we are, and we discover that no matter how dark our lives are, light will always trump the darkness.
I may be speaking to somebody today, and this message may be designed especially for you, because you look into your life and all that you see is darkness - religious darkness, moral darkness. You have a cave and you have closed the mouth of it and you have said, “It’s all dark.” When Jesus comes in, that darkness has to leave. It is more powerful than the darkness that you bring to Him. Light and darkness cannot coexist.
There’s a final lesson and that is this: Both light and darkness have a destination. The Bible says very clearly that if you walk in darkness you end in darkness. As I’ve already been emphasizing during this series of messages, John plays off of this motif of light and darkness, so in chapter 13 Jesus is there with His disciples. He’s having the Last Supper, and the Bible says: “Satan, having put into the heart of Judas Iscariot that he should betray Him…” And then you know the story how Judas was identified finally. And it says: “Judas went out and it was night.” Wow! John means more than the fact that it just happened to be evening and the sun had set. Judas went out and it was night.
What I find interesting is if we want to find the destination of darkness and light, all that we have to do is to look at two buddies who hung out together with Jesus for three years. On the one hand, there is Judas, and on the other hand, there is John the Apostle. And John the Apostle and Judas were together for three years. They did miracles together. They served the Lord together. I mean they were there and they helped distribute the bread that Jesus multiplied. They were there when He was walking on the water. They saw all of the things that He had done, and they hung out together for three years. We could say that they did church together in that environment.
I have no doubt that there were times when Judas and John probably, when they were sleeping outdoors along with Jesus, may have shared a blanket. Two buddies hanging out, but one going out, and it is night, and what does the Bible say about those who walk in darkness? Finally, the end is this - that they are in outer darkness. Wow!
It’s like the miser who died, and said to his daughter before he died, “Blow out the candle. I can die in the dark.” You live in the dark, you die in the dark – even greater darkness. But here’s John, and John, of course, is the one to whom God gave the revelation, the one who was friends with Judas for three years. And John wrote this about the final destiny of all those who follow Jesus, who walk in the light: “And I saw no temple in the city, for the temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, (and notice this) and its lamp is the Lamb. (Wow!) By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.”
Now I need to clarify that there are plenty of people who are going to be in heaven who have done detestable things and false things. It’s speaking of those who did those things and they never came to the light. They lived in darkness. They died in darkness. But those who live in light end in glorious light.
The bottom line is this, that Jesus is saying that there are two classes of people. Even you today, sitting here, don’t know whom you are sitting next to. You may be sitting next to a Judas who has sung all the right songs, said all the right prayers, and done all the right things - undetectable. The fact is that they are walking in darkness. You also may be sitting next to someone who is walking in light who will enjoy the light of eternity.
The very last words of Silent Night say this:
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus, light of the world, offered to everyone! But it does not come through closed doors. You must receive it, and receive it as a gift, and receive it by faith. And the light will break into your soul.
Have you received Christ as Savior? Can you pinpoint a time when you said, “I savingly believed at this moment.” Perhaps you remember your age. You may have remembered where you were when you received Christ. If not, you may be walking in darkness.
Even as I pray, if you want to receive Christ as Savior, in your heart say, “Today, Lord Jesus, I open my life to light, the fact that you died for me to take away my sin, that I might come to know a God in whom there is no darkness at all.”
Father, we thank You today for the coming of Jesus. We thank You for His grace. We thank You, today, that He is the light of the world. Help us to represent Him well, I ask, and may our representation lead others to the saving grace of Christ. Help nothing to stand in the way of seeing Him as the light who came to our darkness. We pray in His name, Amen.