JESUS: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-14-86 10:50 a.m.
We are all a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, listening to a message from the pastor entitled Jesus: The Light of the World. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are going to return to the first chapter; let us all of us read it out loud together, John, the first chapter. We are going to read the first five verses: John chapter 1, verses 1 through 5. Everybody share his Bible, and everybody reading John 1:1-5. Now, 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 anything 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.
Katalambanō – kata is the prefix: "down"; and lambanō is "to hold," translated here "and the darkness comprehended it not" [John 1:5], the darkness overcame it not, didn’t hold it down. It shined, it glowed, it rose; Jesus, the light of the world! [John 8:12].
We are now entering the winter solstice, the time of the year when the night is the longest and the darkest, the deepest, but also the time of the year when the day begins to grow longer and the light begins to overcome the darkness. In one of those beautiful providences of God, Jesus’ celebration is at this time of the year, in the winter solstice.
Jesus, the light of the world! All of the Gospels begin with that light. Matthew tells us the story of the star. "And they rejoiced with exceeding great gladness when they saw the star" [Matthew 2:10], bringing, guiding the Magi to the Babe in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:9-11]. In the first chapter of Luke, Zacharias the priest, whose tongue is loosed and whose silence is broken [Luke 1:64], refers to the incomparable prophecy in Isaiah: "The people that sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon them who sit in the region of the valley of death, light has shined" [Luke 1:79; Isaiah 9:2]. And we’ve just read the beginning of the Gospel of John: "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness overcomes it not, overwhelms it not" [John 1:4-5].
Jesus is the light of our understanding, the light of our conscience, the light and the hope and the promise of our way into heaven. In the eighth chapter of the Book of John and the twelfth verse: out of the Feast of the Tabernacles, Jesus is standing and looking upon two golden lamps casting their light upon the altar, upon the temple, and upon the city – representing the light of God, who guided them in a column by night through the wilderness and by day through the journey [Exodus 13:21]. And in the midst of that feast, Jesus stands and says, "I am the light of the world" [John 8:12]. Second Timothy 1 and 10, "He brought life and immortality to light" [2 Timothy 1:10]. Second Corinthians 4 and 6:
For God, who made 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.
[2 Corinthians 4:6]
He is the light of the world.
So, John begins: "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness katalambanō, overwhelms it not" [John 1:4, 5]. It was night in 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 people were enslaved under the iron heel of the Roman Caesar. And all humanity in the civilized world lived in a darkened culture.
Had you walked down the streets of Ephesus, or Antioch, or Athens, or Alexandria, or Rome, three men out of every five you met would have been chattel property, bondage slaves. Out of a population of one hundred million in the Roman Empire, sixty million of them were slaves. It was night in Israel and it was dark in the civilized world.
It was then that a star began to shine in tiny Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. It was then that the heavens opened and the angels sang their song of glory. And it was then that God came down in the form of a tiny Babe and laid in a manger [Luke 2:7-16].
"And the darkness katalambanō, overwhelmed it not" [John 1:5]. Herod tried; slew all of the babes in Bethlehem, seeking to extinguish that light [Matthew 2:16]. The townspeople where He grew up, took Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built to cast Him down headlong, to extinguish the light [Luke 4:29]. The citizens in Jerusalem thought to stone Him to death [John 8:59].
Finally, the night came and the light went out. After His arrest and after His trial [John 18:2-40], He was crucified by Roman soldiers [John 19:16-34]. He was buried in a tomb [John 19:41-42] and Satan triumphed. All the demons of hell rejoiced. "The light is out! Darkness shall pervade forever and sin shall reign king over the earth! Death is here forever!" And in the midst of the despair and tears of the apostles and the godly women, they seal the tomb with a Roman seal [Matthew 27:66]. Then, then as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, behold, an angel came down from heaven, rolled away the stone, and in contempt sat upon it! [Matthew 28:2].
He was raised from among the dead [Matthew 28:5-6]. All of heaven rejoiced! And the earth was filled with the light of His presence and promise; His ascension [Acts 1:9-10]. And upon a day, the fiftieth day after the Passover; on that day, there was a light that began like a lambent flame to rise over the head of the apostles. It was Pentecost [Acts 2:1-3]. Then above the brightness of the sun did the Lord appear unto Saul on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:3-5]. And in the midst of seven beautiful golden lampstands, the Son of Man spoke to the sainted apostle John in the Isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-20]: the light of the world [John 8:12].
I speak now of our generation, our era, this dispensation in which we live. The coming of Christ did not dispel the darkness. There is darkness and sin and violence and death over this whole earth. But the coming of Christ did do a marvelous, miraculous, and wonderful thing: the coming of our Lord cleaved the darkness asunder and opened for us the promise and the hope of heaven. Not forever will the darkness obtain and reign, but the coming of Jesus is a portent and a harbinger and an earnest of our ultimate and final victory. The light shall overcome and be victorious over the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world [John 8:12].
May I speak of that, that precious hope and promise and presence, in regard to three areas of our planet? Caesar wrote his Gallic Wars and started off the first sentence: Omnia gallia in tres partes divisas un, "All Gaul is divided into three parts." Let me divide our world into three parts: the secular Western world, the Communist world beyond the iron curtain, and the Mid Eastern world of fanatical hatred and bitterness. And may I speak in each one of Jesus as the hope, and the promise, and the light of our life.
First, our secular Western world: did you read this headline in the daily newspaper here in Dallas two or three days ago? "Contraceptive Use Urged for Teenagers," and did you read the article? Dated from Washington, our national capital:
"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 distributed in places where teenage boys congregate, and that new methods for distributing the pill should be explored.
The day is soon coming when we will use our public schools as areas and dispensaries for contraceptives. And they’ll be educated in the most effective way to use them; a sign of the secular Western world.
I landed in the airport of Stockholm, Sweden, and for the first time walked down the streets of that capital city. I do not know why I should have been overwhelmed or surprised, for the nation is as secular as any in the Western world. Hardly anyone would even think about attending the worship of God, being present in a church. And as I walked down through the streets of the city of Stockholm, on every lamp pole, down every street, were enormous pictures of naked, nude women advertising some kind of a sorry cigarette. Just walk through the city, walk through the city and those big, naked women on every lamp pole throughout the city. As I walked through the capital city, a woman accosted me. She said to me, "Sprechen sie Deutsch? Do you speak German?" I said, "No." And immediately, she cried, "Oh! American, American."
She had a satchel, and out of her satchel she took a tract about the Lord Jesus, and placed it in my hand, and began to talk to me about the Savior of the world. As I visited her, I found that daily she goes up and down the streets of the capital city of Sweden, giving out tracts in many languages and talking to the people about the Lord.
What impressed me was, and these things are inexplicable to me, they’re just things that I feel – what impressed me was, as I stood with that godly woman by a lamppost, there above me was the picture of a naked woman advertising some kind of a cigarette, and here in front of me a godly Christian emissary of heaven, speaking of the Savior of the world. In the darkness, He shines like a light. And in every area of the sordid, humanistic, secular culture of our Western world will you find a representative of the Lord. The light katalambanō; the darkness cannot obscure it, or defeat it, or dispel it, or extinguish it [John 1:5]. Jesus, the light of our world! [John 8:12].
May I speak of that second area: the communist world beyond the iron curtain? The first time I was in Russia, I landed in Leningrad, asked where the Baptist church was, and attended the service on the Lord’s Day.
Out of all of the years and years of my pastoral ministry, numbering now sixty, and out of all the years of my childhood and youth before, I have never attended a service like that. It was the most moving I had ever, or have ever been in. As you know, I weep anyway, thinking of the Lord. But that day, I wept for three solid hours.
What they were doing was this: there apparently were a sizable number of their members who had apostasized; they had renounced the faith. And they’d gone back into the secular world of communism, the atheist world of communism. It is difficult, I learned, to be a Christian and a Baptist in Russia. You’re denied education. You’re assigned to a job that is squalid. You are a fifth-rate citizen and looked upon with contempt. I have heard them, in Russia, dramatized as being lower than insects.
And because of that persecution, there were members in the church that had denounced the faith, turned aside from the Savior, and withdrawn from the fellowship of the church. And that day, that day that I was there, for three hours, the church was taking back into its love and fellowship those that were returning to the fold. They were repenting. They were confessing their dereliction. They were asking the church to forgive their apostasy. And they were asking to come back into the fellowship of that dear congregation. As they were received back, the people cried and wept for joy. I didn’t know any of them, never seen them before. But as I sat there, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God, for those who were coming back home. Oh those dear people! In that dark, dark, dark world, Jesus shines like a light. And the darkness is not able to put it out, katalambanō. "And the darkness overwhelmed it not" [John 1:5].
All through that vast world of communism, will you find our Christian witness and our Baptist churches. They pour their lives out before God – martyrs, hated, persecuted – but true to the faith, my brothers and sisters in Jesus; the light of the Lord [John 8:12].
May I speak of one other: the Mid East world of fanatical hatred, war, bitterness? There was in America, a gloriously gifted doctor by the name of Lambie, Dr. [Thomas] Lambie. He was affluent, a very able and gifted physician. God placed in his heart a great and abiding love for the Jewish people. Our Book comes from them. Our Savior was born to them. These apostles and missionaries that first brought the light of life to this world were they, and he loved the Jewish people and the Jewish nation. What the doctor did, he sold everything that he had, gathered all of his affluent estate together, and went to Israel, and built there a beautiful spacious hospital in a valley of Berachah. No sooner had he built the hospital and opened it than the United Nations divided Palestine right down the middle. And when they came to the valley of Berachah, it was placed in the Mohammedan section, in the Islamic section.
For the years thereafter, Dr. Lambie labored there in the hospital, and died having never seen one convert – not one. When I visited the hospital, and a guest for dinner in the home of his widow, Mrs. Lambie, she was carrying on the work in the hospital. Two American doctors and their families and the household servant Christians were there with her, ministering in that place. After dinner, she said to me, "We would like to sing you a song." And the little group gathered together – the two doctors and their little families, Mrs. Lambie and the household servants – and that’s the first time in my life I ever heard that song:
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back.
Though no one go with me
I still will follow.
The world behind me,
The cross before me.
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back.
["I Have Decided To Follow Jesus," S. Sundar Singh]
"The light katalambanō; and the darkness shall not be able to extinguish it" [John 1:5]. It shines. He shines. And in the darkest areas of this earth does Jesus shine; the light and the life of men. The light of the world is Jesus [John 1:4; 8:12].
O 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]
May we pray?
Our wonderful Lord, the light, and hope, and heaven, and promise of our lives; O God, O wonderful Savior, O blessed Holy Spirit, thank Thee for the light that has come into our souls through Thee. Reading the Word, bowing in Thy presence, communing with Thy saints, worshipping in Thy presence, assembled in this dear place, loving one another and Thee, looking forward beyond the age and death and darkness of this life to the light and the glory of the heaven God hath promised us; O Lord, bless this hour. And may others whose heart God has touched come to the light, the glorious life in Christ our Lord.
In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, to give your heart to Jesus, "I am coming today, pastor." Or, "I am bringing my family into the heart and heaven and fellowship of this wonderful church." Or, "I am answering God’s call. He has spoken to me, and here I stand." In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, in the balcony round, down a stairway; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, the Lord has spoken, and I am answering with my life." Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand, that first step will be the most meaningful you have ever made in your life. May angels attend you in the way, and God bless you as you come.
And thank you, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us this precious saving hour; in Thy holy and life-giving and soul-saving name, amen. While we stand and while we sing: "This is God’s day for me, and I am on the way."