The Light Redeems UsErwin W. Lutzer | November 29, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus created the universe, yet the world rejected Him. He is the Light which shines in the darkness, yet He is not comprehended or overcome by that darkness. Confounding the wisdom of the world, Jesus Christ became God in the flesh and dwelt among His creation. God’s glorious salvation arrived, full of grace and truth.
You know, sometimes it’s so tempting to get involved in the details of something that we miss the big picture. This can even happen at Christmastime. We can be so fascinated by the wise men, and the shepherds and the manger, and even the baby Jesus, that we can somehow forget what the real Christmas is all about.
Let’s remember that Christmas is nothing more, nothing less than the intervention of God. Have you ever participated in an intervention? That’s what we do when we find that there are people who may struggle with insanity or addictions, and they need to understand the extent of their problem, and they need to be delivered and they need help. Christmas is the coming of God to this planet to give us the help we need.
You know, in the Bible the word light is frequently used, and this is the beginning of a series of four messages titled The Light Has Come. To the scientist, light means energy. To the person who is walking in moral uncleanness, light means purity. To the philosopher, light means knowledge and understanding, and Jesus really turns out to be all of those things as the light of the world.
What we’d like to do is to look very briefly at the world in which Jesus came, and then see this explosion of revelation that we celebrate at Christmas. First of all, the world in which Jesus came was spiritually dark. It was dark because of paganism – the mystery religions. They promised a form of redemption, but it was really self-help. And self-help doesn’t do what is necessary for those who are sinners like we all are. And so there was that.
In Judaism there was really no joy. There was not a whole lot of help because religion was really the keeping of the rules, so spiritually things were dark. Morally the world was dark. Philosophically it was dark.
You know, when John wrote his book he was speaking to both the Greeks and to the Jewish community because there was now this clash of cultures. And Plato had a great deal of influence in the early centuries of the Church. If you are Greek, I want you to listen carefully to what I have to say.
I believe that Plato and Aristotle were two of the most brilliant men that God ever created. Can you imagine writing these thick philosophical books that are so interesting and so encompassing that PhD students today still do their dissertations on Plato and Aristotle. Amazing! But they were not able to give the hope that mankind sought, not because they weren’t brilliant but no human being, by using natural reason, has the building blocks upon which to construct a system that makes sense out of it all, and to give this world the hope that all of us seek.
There’s a man who bought a special puzzle for his daughter. It was very special because no matter how you put the pieces [together] they never came out right. He said he bought the puzzle so that his daughter would know how the world works. Nothing ever comes out right!
Well, God is going to enter into the world, and I want you to take your Bibles and turn to John 1. Every Bible opened! We have to look at this text together. This is one of the most profound passages in all of Scripture. It is profound, and yet, all of the words that are used are simple words. Amazing indeed!
John begins now by introducing Jesus Christ to us as the creator. When he was sitting down and wondering how he was going to pen this, I’m sure he probably spent a moment or two saying to himself, “How can I describe Jesus?” And he came across, in his thinking, that he would use the Greek word logos because this word would have meaning to the Greeks. To the Greeks logos was wisdom and knowledge. To those who were Jewish in their thinking, the whole Old Testament has within it the emphasis on the Word of God – the word Word.
• “He sent forth His Word and He healed them.”
• “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made and the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”
And so he uses the word logos, which is the word Word. And beginning therefore he says, “In the beginning was the Word (In the beginning before there was anything there was the Word – the logos.), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What a beautiful way to describe the two members of the Trinity. You’ll notice that the Word was with God, and the Word was God. There’s only one way to understand that, and that is to realize that John is teaching us about the companionship between the Father and the Son from all eternity. And He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. Amazing!
God, the Father, is the creator, but the agency that He used was the Son, and so that’s why the Son of God, Jesus, is spoken of as the creator. “And all things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
We’re reminded of Colossians 1 where it says, “All things were created, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, by Him and for Him.” That’s a phrase that ought to be in your mind frequently. “For Him and by Him all things were created.”
Do you realize what John is saying here in these opening words of this great revelation of the book of John? What John is saying is, “I’m going to introduce you to your creator. What follows in the rest of the book is me trying to explain to you the creator who came to earth there in Bethlehem, and was born of a virgin.”
So John tells us, first of all, that Jesus, the Word, is the creator. But then Jesus also is the revealer, and here we get to the concept of light. John loves the light-darkness motif, and uses it here throughout his Gospel, and also in the letters of John – 1, 2 and 3 John. He speaks of Jesus being the light. “In him was life (verse 4), and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We have to pause there for a moment. He is saying that Jesus is the light, and the darkness has not been able to extinguish it.
You know, the word that he uses here that is translated in my Bible as overcome, is a very interesting word. It can mean to arrest, to capture, to overtake, or as indicated here, to overcome can mean all those things. And in this context it means all those things.
There are two basic interpretations. Let’s just use the word grasp. Alright? I think that that’s a pretty good translation of the word. So the Scripture says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot grasp it or comprehend it.” Isn’t that true? I mean you find today that there are people who fight against the light. They choose to try to extinguish the light. Eventually the darkness even crucified Jesus to get rid of the light. But although they crucified Him, they could not destroy Him. And so the light still shines.
And in this series I am sure that I am going to be talking about various ways in which people have tried to extinguish the light. So on the one hand they can’t grasp it. The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. He cannot do it naturally because they are spiritually understood. What that means is this: If you are listening to this message and your heart is closed and your mind has been made up, and you have no interest in allowing the light to shine within you, that would be one way in which you can try to extinguish it. But the light still shines in the darkness. So on the one hand, you can’t grasp it. You don’t understand it. It doesn’t even make sense to you.
But then there’s another way to understand the Word, and that is to think of it in terms of hostile intent. Did you know that it’s the same word that is used in Mark 9:18 where it says “an evil spirit seizes the child and throws him on the floor and there’s foaming at the mouth”? It’s speaking about a demonic spirit. So the idea is that Satan wants to take the Word and wants to extinguish it but can’t. He seizes it or tries to control it, but he can’t.
You know, it’s amazing that the Bible says that demonic spirits – Satan actually has the power to take ideas out of the human mind. That really is true. Remember the parable in which Jesus said that a sower went forth to sow, and some of the seed just fell on shallow ground, and the birds of the air came and devoured it. And later Jesus explained that these birds actually are the wicked one. So what Satan tries to do is he tries to seize the Word of God. He tries to extinguish the darkness, but the darkness cannot overcome it. The smallest candle in a dark cave still gives it light.
So John says that there is going to be opposition to Jesus, but He is the revealer, and I’m going to continue on now and skip to the theme of light in verse 9. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” I need to pause there and say that Jesus is the true light. Now there are false cults who claim to have the light. Krishna claimed to have the light. Bahá'u'lláh claims to have the light. And what you find in pagan religions is this idea of enlightenment, but the Bible even says that false prophets really have light as well, and that Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. You think of all those who don’t believe in Jesus who have a near death experience, and in the process they experience light. It’s false light. It’s the light that has been transformed and it is light that actually is satanic. But Jesus is the true light because He alone has the credentials to be the light of the world.
And then what he says is: “He’s the true light which enlightens everyone who is coming into the world.” The best way I think to interpret that is this: When Jesus came into the world there was a prior light that existed in all people, and it is the light of conscience. And it’s a flickering light, but if human beings have the desire to be able to follow that light (if they do that), God is obligated to give them more light, and certainly throughout history we have had those kinds of incidents that have been reported. So everybody has within them the light of Christ if you think in terms of the conscience. And so what he’s saying is that Jesus Christ is creator. Jesus Christ is also the revealer, but now I’m going to skip to verse 14.
Verse 14 of John 1 is the most explosive verse in the entire Bible. If you ask people what verse of Scripture is the most common, everyone would say John 3:16. As a matter of fact, have you seen those sporting events where people have a big piece of cardboard and they write on it John 3:16? I’ve often thought to myself, “What in the world does that mean to the average person who is not acquainted with the Bible?” They must surely think to themselves that this person has some kind of a hidden foolish message, which doesn’t relate to them. Now the Christians who do it, I’m sure, mean well, but to the common person John 3:16 doesn’t mean a whole lot. Without the verse the reference simply does not connect. But all of us would say that that’s the most common verse in all the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It’s the most common.
But this verse shattered the religious world: “The Word became flesh.” Let’s think about why this particular Word was so powerful, and why the average person living in John’s day could have never accepted this. Let’s talk about the Jewish community.
I checked with my good friend Michael Rydelnik about this and asked him whether or not the Jews were expecting a divine Messiah. Now a divine Messiah was predicted in the Old Testament in Isaiah 9, but after the Jews came back from captivity, they interpreted that phrase and those teachings differently. And they could not accept a divine Messiah. That’s why throughout the rest of the book of John, whenever Jesus claimed to be God, the people were taking up stones to stone Him because they said, “You cannot be a man and claim to be God.” So for them the idea that the Word became flesh was unthinkable. It was idolatrous.
But let’s think of the Greeks. Do you remember back to the days when you studied philosophy? Plato taught that there was a sharp distinction between matter and spirit. Spirit was the soul. Spirit had certain knowledge. Two plus two is equal to four. Two plus two is always equal to four. Two plus two is equal to four even if the Cubs were to win the World Series. I mean there’s nothing as certain as the fact that two plus two is equal to four. That, in Plato’s mind, generally speaking, was what he called a form, which was certain, but it existed in the soul. As for matter, it was always corrupt and imperfect.
So a Greek reading John 1:14 would read it this way: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh. The Word became imperfect” because the Word took on humanity, because it took on a human form, and a human body.
As a matter of fact, in the Christian church there was a great heresy that arose, and the heresy was that Jesus Christ was only a phantom. They said that when He walked He left no footprint because He really did not exist as a human being. He couldn’t without being imperfect. So you can see here that when John says the Word became flesh, he was saying something that was difficult to grasp, but thankfully it is true.
Now notice the rest of the verse: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word became flesh! The Greek word for dwelt among us is the word tabernacle. Jesus came and He tabernacled among us. Now in the Jewish mind they would immediately think of Exodus 33. There in Exodus 33 the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, was established, and Moses would go in, and the glory of God would appear. And now, in the book of John, what you’re going to see is a replacement motif. Jesus is going to replace all of the Old Testament’s sacrifices, all of the Old Testament’s ritual of worship.
When you look in chapter 2 of John’s Gospel you’ll notice that Jesus claims now to be the Temple. He says, “Destroy this temple,” and He’s referring to Himself.
I want you to think along with me about all of the changes that Jesus brought because He is the true Temple. Think, for example, of the fact that now Jesus is the place of worship. You no longer go into a temple; you no longer go into the tabernacle to worship Jesus as the high priests did. Rather Jesus now is the point of worship. When we come to the Father through Jesus we have full, extended access into the presence of God and the worship of God, so He becomes the place of worship.
He becomes the fulfillment of the Law. You remember that in the tabernacle itself there were Tables of the Law, and Jesus, of course, fulfills the Law on our behalf, does everything that the Law requires, and lives a perfect life in our behalf, so He fulfills the Law.
You’ll notice also that He becomes our sacrifice. No more sacrifices are necessary because Jesus now offers Himself. In the Old Testament the priests offered the sacrifice. In the New Testament our high priest becomes the sacrifice. And so what we have is the fulfillment of the Old Testament all resides in Jesus. When He came, as the text of Scripture says, He dwelt among us and we have seen His glory.
Now when you think of glory you immediately think of the Shekinah Glory in the Old Testament where there was a bright light, and where the glory cloud actually filled the area, and filled the Temple. And Jesus, indeed, did do that when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus was the Glory of God. And three of the disciples were to behold Him in all of His glory. But that’s not the only way in which Jesus manifested His glory.
In chapter 2 of John’s Gospel Jesus performs a miracle. He turns water into wine, and it says that the disciples beheld His glory. Later on in the Gospel of John Jesus is predicting His death, and He says these words: “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” So we see the glory of Jesus in His power and in His ability to do miracles, but we also see the glory of Jesus in His suffering and His willingness to die. And you know, when you and I pray that God will be glorified through our lives we should not think that there’s going to be some kind of Shekinah Glory. If we are as obedient to God as Jesus is, Jesus Christ will be honored. He will be glorified in our individual lives in the warp and woof of our common experience. So here in the text we see Jesus, first of all, as the creator, as the revealer and as the one who gives light, and then we see Jesus also as the redeemer who redeems us from our sins. And He came to dwell among us, and that’s what Christmas is really all about.
We also see that He’s a divider. He divides the crowds. You’ll notice that it says these words: “He was in the world (verse 10), and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (They did not accept their creator.) He came to his own (in the sense that He was the creator and created all things), and his own people did not receive him. (They did not receive Him.) But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood (There is a new birth that you must have to become a child of God that is not of blood. It’s not something that you inherit through your parents. You can’t say to yourself that you are a Christian because your parents were Christians. There is a birth from above that is not of blood.) nor of the will of the flesh (It’s not something that is willed because your parents wanted to have a child.), nor of the will of man (It’s not the kind of thing that men can scheme or men can will and dream up, but there is a special birth from above. It is called the New Birth.), but of God.”
And by the way, did you have any say in where you would be born, or whether you would be born? Absolutely not! Do you have a say in whether you are going to be born from above? Yes, you do, but the reason that you desire to be born from above is really a gift from God. God helps you to see that you must be born again. Through the conviction of the Spirit, through the preaching of God’s Word, you begin to realize that you need to be born from above.
And so the glory of Jesus is manifested by His coming, and the fact is that the world of people – the Jewish nation – did not receive Him. Now, some did. You know that some did, but as a nation, the nation did not accept Him. And Jesus always is dividing people. And by the way, it does say in verse 16: “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The one who brought grace is rejected on earth today, and the reason for that is because in many respects what He brought is such a condemnation of our own need, the fact that we need His grace, we need to humble ourselves to receive it, and we need to understand who Jesus really was and why we desperately need Him.
Let’s [help us] nail this down. What does this passage of Scripture really teach us about Jesus and about our need? First of all, let me say that Christ is the final and most complete revelation of God. After all, who would know what God is like except God Himself? And at Bethlehem, in that manger, yes, there was God in the flesh, and there’s nobody else out there like Him.
In the third century there was a man, one of the Roman emperors, by the name of Alexander Severus. Alexander had seen that the Christians had been so marginalized and so persecuted throughout the centuries. He said to the Christians, “What you can do is go into the Pantheon in Rome,” and by the way, the Pantheon still exists in Rome. If you ever go to Rome, go into the Pantheon. The first century building is still standing, amazing in its architecture and in its structure! But he said, “Here is the place where all of the gods are gathered. You can now put up a statue of Jesus, along with all of these gods because we’re giving you tolerance. And the Christians said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” They said, “Jesus does not belong in the Pantheon of gods. He does not fit next to all the other Roman gods.”
And I say to you today that if you wanted to put up a statue of Jesus in the Pantheon, don’t put it where all the other gods are. What you’d have to do is put it at the very, very top of all of the other gods, because He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and there is none other like Him. (applause) Only Jesus is the one who is the light of the world, King of kings and Lord of lords.
One day I was having a discussion with someone who belongs to the religion of Baha'i, and he was telling me that there are plenty of people who receive enlightenment. He said, “Our founder has received enlightenment and light since the coming of Jesus.” Now if you know anything about the Baha'i faith, you know that it teaches truth, or supposed truth, that is very contrary to what Jesus taught. But that’s a separate subject. But I said to him, “You may think to yourself that you have the light of the stars, but when the sun comes out, the stars fade into oblivion because the light of Jesus obliterates all the other lights and all the other teachers of the world. (applause)
So Jesus stands alone, King of kings, God of all gods, and there He is in the manger. Veiled in flesh the godhead see,
Hail the incarnate deity. God has come to us. So Jesus is the last and the most complete revelation of God.
Secondly (and let me take this from my heart to yours), without Jesus, without you knowing Him, without you receiving Him (as John says here), you are simply managing your darkness. Now, in one of these messages I’m going to be emphasizing the fact that many people are simply finding different ways to manage darkness, and calling it light.
You know, the Bible is so explicit in the way it describes things. It says, “The way of the wicked is deep darkness. They stumble and they don’t know what it is that they are stumbling over.” Have you ever been in real darkness, and you don’t know whether or not you are standing on a stone or a piece of gold? You have no idea but you keep going along, managing your life that may be falling apart in so many different ways. Without Christ there is no light.
Finally, what we must realize is that if you have the desire to choose the light, choose the light, and you can do that even today. You can choose the one who came to bring us life, and to bring us light.
Many of us, when we think of the name John Bunyan, we’re reminded of his Pilgrim’s Progress. But he wrote another book entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. And what Bunyan said in that book… It was really his own autobiography, his own struggle to believe. In his case, if I’ve read it correctly, it took several years for him to finally come to the assurance of faith, and he was wrestling. First of all, he said, “As a sinner nobody could out-sin me. In terms of the blasphemy, and the way in which I lived, I was the chief of sinners.” But what happened was this great sense of conviction came to him, which he fought. He put it off for as long as he possibly could. But then he began to search, and the disquiet within his soul led him finally to read the Scriptures and to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And he wrote and he said, “Even when I had a good attitude, it did not change my relationship with God. What changed my relationship with God is trusting the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I could not make that righteousness any better, and I could not make it worse by my attitude.” But there it was.
He said, “When I repented and trusted the righteousness of Christ (and I’m quoting now), I was loosed from my affliction.”
The inner turmoil of soul! If you, today, are sensing within yourself that need for the light of Jesus, you can believe on Him. You can open your life to Him, and you can say, “Today I trust You,” because the light of God has come into the world. He is the light who enlightens everyone, but gives special light to those who believe on Him.
Let’s pray together.
And our Father, we want to thank You for the coming of Jesus. We pray that You might help us to identify our darkness, and we ask, Lord, that You might give us the grace that we desperately need to believe on Jesus. For those, Lord, who know You as Savior, but are walking in darkness, may they come to the light to restore their fellowship with You. And for those who have never believed, we pray, Father, that they will come to the light, and in that light they may receive grace and help and healing and forgiveness. We thank You that the light has come. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.