Jesus: The Light of the World
December 14th, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
JESUS: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-14-86 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the multitudes of you who share the hour on radio. You are a part of the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Jesus the Light of the World.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are going to return to the first chapter; and we are going to read out loud the first [five] verses together. In your Bible, turn to the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, John chapter 1, and together let us read the first [five] verses. Ready? Together:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
This is the winter solstice: the time of the year when the world is at its deepest time of darkness, when the night is the longest and the day is the shortest. But also at this winter solstice, the day is beginning to lengthen, and the light is beginning to overcome the dark. In the providences of God, it is at this time of the year that we celebrate the coming of our Lord into the world, when the light is overcoming the dark. It is a beautiful thing that the Gospels begin with the light of the glory of God in the coming of Jesus, our hope and our Savior.
Matthew begins with the story of the star: “And they rejoiced with exceeding great joy when they saw the star” [Matthew 2:10]. Luke begins with a glorious reference to the prophecy of Isaiah: “They that sat in darkness, have seen a great light; and they who sat in the region of the valley of the shadow of death, upon them light has shined” [Isaiah 9:2l Luke 1:79]. And John begins his Gospel in the same glorious avowal that we have just read: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” [John 1:4].
Our Lord is the light of our understanding, and of our conscience, and of our hope, and of our promise in heaven. In John 8, verse 12, standing in the midst of the temple in the day of the Feast of the Tabernacles, “Then Jesus spake again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world” [John 8:12]. At that feast, two great golden lamps were raised, and they cast a glorious glow on the altar, on the temple, on the city. And our Lord, standing at that feast avowed, “I am that light, the light of the world.” In 2 Timothy 1:10, “He hath brought to light life and immortality.” In 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And in the incomparable passage that we have read in first [chapter of] John, “In Him was life: and the life was the light of men [John 1:4]. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness,” translated, “comprehended it not,” katalambanō, kata, “down,” lambanō, to hold,” and the darkness was not able to hold it down, to extinguish it, to put it out; it shines” [John 1:5].
It was a night in the life of Israel when Jesus was born [Luke 2:8-16]. Religion was at its lowest ebb; even the high priesthood was sold to the highest bidder. The nation was enslaved under the iron heel of the Roman Caesar. And the whole humanity of the civilized world was nothing but chattel property. Had you walked down the streets of Ephesus, or of Antioch, or of Rome, or of Alexandria, three men out of every five you met would have been bondage slaves. Out of a population of one hundred million, sixty million of them were sold; they were slaves. It was into that dark world that Jesus came as a light, and as a hope, and as a promise. A star shines over Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-11], a little Baby is laid in a manger, and the heavens are sundered apart, and the golden choirs of angels begin to sing [Luke 2:8-16]. “And the darkness katalambanō,” could not extinguish it, could not put it out” [John 1:4-5].
Herod tried: slaying all of the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16], seeking to reach the life of this little Child. Once in a while, someone will ask why is it that Josephus, Jewish historian, who so meticulously writes the life of Herod, doesn’t mention this? Simply: because it was a peccadillo in the bloody reign of Herod, in the little town of Bethlehem. In His ministry, His own townspeople sought to extinguish that light. “They led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built to cast Him down” [Luke 4:29]. These who live in Jerusalem sought to extinguish that Light: they tried to stone Him to death [John 8:59]. Finally, His night came. He was arrested, He was tried [John 18:2-40], and He was crucified on a hill called Golgotha [John 19:16-34]. It was night. And the weeping and the despair of His apostles but figured the hopelessness of the whole darkened world.
Then as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week [Matthew 28:1], the light began to shine. An angel came down and rolled the stone away [Matthew 28:2]. The tomb was empty! [Matthew 28:4-7]. And the glory of God shined forth in the resurrection of the living Lord, katalambano, “And the darkness could not put it out” [John 1:5]. In that glorious triumph, a lambent flame rose over the head of each one of the apostles: it is Pentecost [Acts 2:3]. Above the brightness of the sun, He appeared to Saul on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:3-5]. And in the seven-branched lampstand, He spoke to the sainted apostle John: the Light of the world, Jesus [John 8:12].
We now speak of our age, our era, our generation, this dispensation. The coming of our Lord [John 1:9-11], has not brightened our history, nor has His coming dispelled the darkness of our present world. We are still as lost and undone as we were when our generations began, cast out of the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:23-24]. But the coming of our Lord has done a miraculous and wonderful thing: the coming of our Lord cleaves the darkness of this world in twain. And we see in Him a promise that the darkness someday will be turned to light; and in our risen and living Lord, we have hope and promise of heaven: Jesus, the Light of the world [John 8:12].
In this moment, may I divide the world into three parts and speak of Jesus, a light and a hope in each one of those divisions. You remember how Caesar began his Gallic Wars, “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.” all Gaul is divided into three parts. May I divide the world into each part, and speak of Jesus, our Light and our hope [John 8:12]: first, our secular Western world; then the communist world beyond the iron curtain; and then the Mid-eastern world of hatred and bitter fanaticism.
Jesus the Light of the world [John 8:12], our Western, secular world: did you read on the front page of our daily newspaper two or three days ago? On the front page, with that big headline, did you read this? “Contraceptive Use Urged for Teenagers,” dated from Washington D.C.:
“Contraceptives should be distributed free to teenagers,” the National Research Council said Tuesday. The report by the council, a congressionally chartered organization that is the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on a two-year study by a panel of outside experts, including doctors, public health experts, sociologists, and demographers. It concluded that the birth control pill was the safest and most effective contraceptive for sexually active teenagers, and recommended aggressive public education to dispel myths about health risks for young women who use the pill. The report advocated, moreover, that rubber condoms should be widely distributed in places where teenage boys congregate, and that new methods for distributing the pill should be explored.
And on and on it goes. Modern, secular, Western culture and society: the day is soon coming when our public schools will be forums of the dispensation of condoms and contraceptive devices—Western, secular civilization.
The first time I was in Sweden coming into Stockholm, their capital and walking down their streets, I do not know why I should have been amazed or surprised or aghast, I had read of the secular society of Sweden, typical of so many modern Western nations. Why I should have been surprised, I do not know. But on every lamp pole, down every street, was an enlarged picture of a naked, nude woman, advertising some kind of a cigarette; one after another after another after another, down every street. Just walking down the street, I was accosted by a woman. She said to me, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” Do you speak German?” I replied, “No.”
“Oh,” she said, “American, American.” I said, “Yes, an American.” She took out of her satchel a leaflet, a tract about the Lord, about Jesus, and began to talk to me about the Savior. And I found, of course, a deep repercussion in my heart of gratitude and gladness; learned from her that she gives her life every day, walking up and down the streets of Stockholm with her satchel of tracts in many languages, talking to the people about the Lord. And what impressed me so deeply, just psychologically: there above her head a naked, nude woman advertising some kind of a cigarette. And there she’s standing in front of it, witnessing to Jesus the Light of the world [John 8:12], shining in a dark, dark place, “And the darkness katalambanō, extinguishing it not” [John 1:5]. He shines, He shines!
May I speak of the communist world beyond the iron curtain? Out of all of the services that I have ever attended in the years of my life, there has never been one that was more emotionally fraught and laden than the first time I was in Leningrad, in Communist Russia. I never heard of anything like it. I had never thought of anything comparable to it. For three hours I sat there in that one service, weeping all the way through. What they were doing is this: they were receiving back into the fellowship—and back into the church, and back into the love of the Lord—they were receiving families and members who had apostasized, who had denied the faith.
It is difficult in that communist world to be a Christian. Your job is assigned you in the lowest of all the categories of work. You are denied education. In a thousand ways are you discriminated against. And many of the members of the Baptist church there in Leningrad had turned aside from the faith, had denounced their Lord, and had apostasized into the communist world. That day, that day, those members who had disowned their Savior and had disassociated themselves from the Christian faith and from that Baptist church, they were coming back; they were coming back, with deepest confessions of repentance and commitment. They were coming back to the fold, to the fellowship, to the church. And the church was receiving them. Lord, in heaven! I’d never seen, I had never shared anything like that in my life! And when they prayed—and they prayed many, many times—they prayed like this: down on their knees, and their arms raised to heaven. Lord, Lord! Shining in a dark world, Jesus the Light of the world [John 8:12]; our hope and our promise of a victory [1 Corinthians 15:57].
May I speak of one other? The fanatical, bitter world of the Mideast: thinking through the times I have been there, as many of you have—what Jesus can mean to that bitter world [John 8:12]. There is no other hope in that land of darkness and hatred, and war and division.
I think of the first time I ever heard the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.” There was a marvelously gifted and affluent physician in America named Dr. [Thomas] Lambie. Out of the love of his heart for the Jewish people—and to them we owe everything that we have in the religious faith, our Book, our Savior, our knowledge of the one true God. Out of his love for the Jewish people, he sold everything he had in America, gathered all of his possessions together, and in the Berachah Valley built a beautiful and spacious hospital; Dr. Lambie. No sooner had he built that hospital than the United Nations divided Palestine and on one side was the Islam and on the other side was the Jew. And the Berachah Hospital was just across the border in the Mohammedan section, in the Islamic section. Through the years of his ministry there as a physician, he never won a convert, not one. And Dr. Lambie died, having seen not one brought to the Lord.
His dear and faithful wife carried on the work. And when I was there with two doctors and their families and the household servants—the only Christians in that part of the earth—after dinner Mrs. Lambie said, “Could we sing you a song?” And the doctors and their families, and Mrs. Lambie and her household, they gathered together in a little group, and sang. That’s the first time I ever heard the song:
I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.
Though none go with me, I still will follow.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
[“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” author unknown]
The Light of the world, shining in a dark place: the Light of the world is Jesus [John 8:12].
Oh come to the light, ‘tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus!
[“The Light of the World is Jesus,” Philip P. Bliss]
And that is our dear invitation to you. To come to the Lord, the hope of my heart, and the light of countenance, “Pastor, today I have decided for Him, and here I stand, accepting Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, our hope of heaven” [John 14:6]. Coming into the fellowship of our dear church, “Pastor, this is my family; all of us are coming today.” A thousand times welcome. Or answering the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me and here I stand.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment when we stand to sing our invitation hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, that first step will be the most precious and meaningful in your life. God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing, “This is God’s day and God’s time for me…”