Before we get into our text for this morning I’d like to give a brief explanation as to why we’re temporarily moving past John 7:53-8:11.
In most of our Bibles you’ll find brackets around this text with a little note that says, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts omit this passage.” At first a comment like this can jar the soul, that something in the Bible may really not be in the Bible. All this means is that the earliest and best copies of Scripture do not include this passage, and because of this it is likely not something John the apostle wrote. Yet, rather than leave it out altogether we still find it in our Bibles, why? Well, though the earliest copies leave it out some of the later copies keep it in, placing it in a variety of locations. Some place it here at the end of John 7, others put it at the very end of John’s gospel, others even put it at the end of Luke 21. The bottom line is this – if John 7:53-8:11 isn’t original to John’s gospel, but a later addition, it doesn’t mean it never happened, it most likely did occur and we can glean a great deal from it. But because it’s location within the text seems difficult to place, it means the annual Feast of Booths or Tabernacles which began in chapter 7 continues on into chapter 8. Which means the very next thing Jesus says at this feast after making the ultimate offer of living water in 7:37-39 is the great I AM statement of John 8:12.
So this morning we will move on ahead to 8:12 to continue tracking with the events of the feast. We will come back to 7:53-8:11 once the scene at the feast is over at the end of chapter 8.
Recall Jesus had just given a powerful and vivid invitation and promise of ultimate satisfaction. Any who came to Him and believed in Him would find rivers of living water flowing in them and through them. This offer of living water would’ve been entirely understandable to this crowd who was gathered together during a dry time of year to celebrate God’s providing for them in the wilderness. But throughout this feast more than manna, quail meat, or water from the rock was remembered and celebrated. There was a special ceremony of illumination to remember the light of God’s guidance. At this ceremony four large lamps or candles were lit in the evening to symbolize the pillar of fire that led them by night. Some say these candles were as tall as the temple walls themselves, so that when they were lit the whole of the temple and much of the city would be lit up as well. After being lit the Levitical orchestra would begin play and the people would light their own smaller torches in response and spend the entire evening dancing, singing, and rejoicing in that light.
Into this context Jesus once again speaks up and says in 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This verse stands forth from John’s gospel as a multifaceted diamond, shining brightly and brilliantly from every angle we look at it. So this morning, we’re going to slow down and take a look at three ways this verse shines out at us.
The True Fiery Glory
What Jesus has to say about Himself here would have been hard to misunderstand. Not only does He use the literal name of God “I AM” to make His point, but in the midst of this ceremony of illumination at the end of feast week, He proclaims Himself to be the very light of God.
See this scene in your imagination.
Four towering candles are blazing high above the people and they are reminded of the pillar of the fiery glory of God that led them by night in the wilderness. This pillar was a real life display of the great glory of God. The same glory that was revealed against Pharaoh in the plagues, the same glory that led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, the same glory that they then saw shroud Mt. Sinai. It was this great glory that threatened anyone who came near the mountain, that thundered as the Law was given to Moses, that fell on the tabernacle and later the temple once they were completed. This same glory was the substance of the cloud that guarded them by day and the substance of the fiery pillar that guarded them by night. In this regard the pillar of fire not only would’ve proved dreadful and terrifying to anyone who’d tried to attack Israel, at times it also proved dreadful and terrifying for Israel because they too couldn’t go near it without being struck dead.
Yet here is Jesus Christ, making the astounding claim that He is the truer fiery pillar of glory come in human flesh, the light of God’s holiness come to God’s people once again. This time though, unlike before that glory is accessible, touchable even. Anyone could come to Him and learn from Him, all were invited to believe in Him, and those who came, those who believed…were filled with the “light of life.”
Of this moment the old man Zechariah rejoiced in Luke 1 saying “Because of the tender mercy of our God…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). Later when Jesus was born do you remember what the Shepherds saw? In Luke 2:9 it says, “…an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” There is something about the glory of God that shines out a terrible wonder. That warns us to not come near unless we are right with this God of glory. Lesson? As creation began with a light of glory in Genesis 1, so too the dawn of new creation began with the birth of Jesus Christ, who would grow up to one day stand in the midst of the ceremony on feast week and proclaim Himself to be the true fiery glory of God, the blazing center of all His manifold wonder, the very light of the world.
Jesus has throughout the past three chapters of John shown Himself to be the fulfillment of all of God’s provision in the wilderness. In chapter 6 Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the bread of life that’s greater than the manna from heaven. In chapter 7 Jesus proclaimed that by coming to Him and believing in Him we experience rivers of living water rushing in and out of us that’s greater than the water which gushed out of the rock. And here in chapter 8 Jesus proclaims Himself, not to be a light in the world, but the very light of the world that outshines the pillar of fire that led them through those dark wilderness nights. This means as Israel followed the pillar of fiery glory by night, we follow Christ, the true pillar of fiery glory. This brings us to the next this verse shines out at us.
Following Fiery Glory
Notice when Jesus says He is the light of the world that He isn’t a light for the whole world, He is only the light for those who follow Him. When the cloud and pillar moved, Israel moved. When the cloud and pillar stopped, Israel stopped and made camp. This shows us what it means to follow Christ. Where Christ goes, we go. What His Word commands, we obey. What His Word promises, we trust. In other words, following Christ means we are not free to map out our own course through life. To follow Christ means we follow His lead, not our own. J.C. Ryle puts it like this, “To follow Christ is to commit ourselves wholly and entirely to Him as our only leader and Savior, and to submit ourselves to Him in every matter of doctrine and practice.” Do you know what this means? In regard to doctrine we follow Christ, meaning we’re not free to believe what we think is true, what we’d like to be true, or what we want to be true. We’re to believe what the Word says, no matter the cost to us. Similarly, in regard to practice we follow Christ, meaning we’re not free to live how we want to, make up our rules, or disregard God’s truth for our opinions. We’re to live as He would have us, again, no matter the cost to us.
So you see, it really doesn’t matter if you profess faith. Many people profess to be Christians and live wickedly everyday. No, true religion, true faith, true following Christ is more than a mere profession of faith, it’s possessing that faith that matters, or perhaps being possessed by it that matters.
Allow me to illustrate. I truly do appreciate the ministry of David Platt, and what God is doing through him. I’ll never forget the first few times I heard him preach. The preaching was strong, the call was deep, and the reward of Christ was clear! I remember thinking ‘WOW, God has made a new John Piper!’ But really, his book Radical really helped me see through the fog of American consumeristic Christianity and see what it really looked like to live life as a disciple of Christ. But, for all the good I’ve gleaned from Platt you know one thing I don’t like? Calling the book Radical gives the impression that this kind of forsaking all to follow Christ is for those who really want to know God and mature in faith. You know what the book should’ve been called? Normal. Why? Because living radically for Jesus isn’t something mature Christians do, it’s something Christians do. The radical life of following Christ should be normal for Christians, so if it’s not normal for you, you may be a Christian in name only and function as a kind of practical atheist.
Church, this is kind of life we’re called to in following Christ. If we choose to follow our own will we must also see that we’re choosing to reject God’s and if we choose to follow God’s will we must also see that we’re choosing to reject ours. So, what will you choose? Who is sovereign in you? God or you? Your choice will determine whether your life is in the light or in the dark. I wonder if all of you sitting here today are following this Christ. Are you? Or do you embrace the world’s values, serve the world’s priorities, and dream the world’s dreams? Perhaps you’re not acting on these things in any external way, but internally do you wish you could live life as if God didn’t exist so you could give free reign to your passions and pleasures? Perhaps some of you are acting on these things in an external way and you believe you’re doing a wonderful job of secretly managing two opposing lifestyles. Do not be deceived, repent, and see clearly the terror of the fiery pillar of Christ.
I get it though, really. We live in a dark world where what ought to happen doesn’t. The upright should be the ones ruling our cities, states, and nations. But it’s often the wicked who rise to power and prominence in our world. Those who labor diligently to care for their families should be the ones who advance and get ahead in life. But it’s often the dishonest and crooked who move ahead in life. Justice should flow like water through our cities, yet injustices all of kinds reign. Isaiah 8:22 describes what we experience, “Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” Even in our hearts, the good we often yearn to do we don’t do and by not doing it we make way for the evil we hate to consume us. No wonder why Paul speaks in Ephesians 6:12 of the “cosmic powers over this present darkness.”
Our world is a dark place indeed, no doubt about that. Even so, Jesus, the true pillar of fiery glory is the light of the world and all those who follow Him will never walk in darkness.
This brings us to our final point.
Becoming Fiery Glory
Think back with me to John 1. As John begins his gospel he says in v4-5, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This light of Christ is the light of men. Yes it’s true that Jesus is the true fiery pillar of glory shining out a terrible wonder. It’s true that whoever follows His fiery glory doesn’t walk in darkness but walks bright in this dark world. But it’s also true that those who follow His fiery glory become, in a very real sense, a fiery glory of their own. How so? Remember Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The light of life flows into our dark sinful souls and changes everything with its brightness.
Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 5:8 when he says, “…at one time you were darkness…” Notice he doesn’t say at one time we were in the dark, but that we were darkness. “…at one time you were darkness, but now (because of the gospel) you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” The light of life has changed us into an entirely new person.
It is said that the moon is the lesser light in the sky, and in one sense this is true. The moon doesn’t shine near as bright as the sun. But in another sense this is not true, for the moon doesn’t shine at all of it’s own accord. The moon shines yes, but all of it’s light comes from another source, it’s only a reflection of the sun. In the same manner, saved sinners don’t have any brightness of their own that shines. No, our light is derivative…it comes from another source, from Christ Himself. So Jesus can truthfully say of us in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” And again in 13:43, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Or if I can say such a thing, when we become a believer we become a moon of Christ.
There is something very Christmasy and Adventy about John 8:12 isn’t there? In it the great promise of Isaiah 9:2 comes to fulfillment before our eyes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Do you feel dark? Do you feel the deep and cavernous darkness within you? Or do you feel that much of your days, though perfectly sunny, are spent walking around in the darkness? Take heart, with the birth of the Christ, came the light of the world. This light would shine for a time, but would be rejected and snuffed out on the cross, for us. But the darkness of men could not snuff out the light of life forever, and with His resurrection came light powerful enough to resurrect our dark and sinful hearts, causing them to shine like stars in the sky with gospel grace.
In Him there is light for thousands of dark nights, and in Him there is warmth for thousands of cold hearts.
 Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 232.
 John MacArthur Study Bible, notes on John 8:12-21, page 1598.
 Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 515.
 William Hendriksen, quoted in Phillips, page 515.
 J.C. Ryle, quoted in Phillips, page 515.
 Ibid., page 516.