When Jesus came into the world as an infant, it was not the same as when you or I came. When God gave us to our parents, it was the beginning of each of us in the world. When Jesus came, He left the throne of Heaven to do so. He left the vision of His glorious Father and the adoration of the angels to become an infant, taking on all of the vulnerability of a human baby and the challenges of life that follow. And when He came, it was to the nation of Israel. God had raised up this nation from the beginning, the children of Abraham, to bring salvation to all the nations. Little did Abraham or his descendants understand the remarkable way that God would do it. The Lord would show up Himself, coming in the form of a man, making Himself a servant (see Phil. 2:5-11). And though Jesus went around the nation of Israel teaching the bright, ringing truth of God’s love and His Kingdom…even though He spent His days healing the sick, making the lame walk, and casting out demons…even though all He ever did was profound good…the religious leaders of Israel wanted to kill Him.
Jesus came with a message of repentance, longing for the people to recognize their sin and turn from it. He came with the power to free them, if they would only agree to being freed. Yet for the most part, the people did not repent. Many enjoyed hearing His preaching. His miracles were amazing and the rumors and guesses about what He was going to do next were exciting, but when it came down to it, the hearts of the crowd were not inclined to deal with their rebellion and lack of love for the things of God. They wanted a spectacle more than they wanted a Savior.
At this point in the story, Jesus had been traveling around the nation of Israel for over three years. He had gone to their synagogues, journeyed to their villages, and preached under the open sky. He had relentlessly pursued them with His love. Now He had come to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem to lay down His life. How would the people respond to His teaching in the last days of His presence among them?
In the midst of the broad rejection of Jesus, there was a remnant of those who believed, even among the Jewish leaders. Yet as time passed, the religious leaders that hated Jesus made sure there would be a steep price to pay for loyalty to Him. His followers could be put out of the synagogue. They could lose their positions of influence. In the end, many of the leaders who supported Jesus at first began to fall away. They loved the praise of men more than they longed for the praise of their heavenly Father. To their shame, they were too afraid to stand with the Christ. The remnant that had seemed so promising caved under the pressure of the powerful religious leaders. They rejected Christ, too.
Jesus cried out:
“‘When a man believes in Me, he does not believe in Me only, but in the One who sent Me. When he looks at Me, he sees the One who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.
Wow. Imagine what it was like to be among the people who were listening to Jesus.
For you and I, Jesus has been famous for two thousand years. Billions of people have believed He is the Son of God, and so for many of us, these words don’t seem so strange. But imagine if you were hearing them for the first time. Jesus was claiming to be the Light. He didn’t say He was pointing to the light, or that He was explaining the light. He said, “I am the Light.”
But there is more. Not only did Jesus claim to be the Light, He claimed to speak for Almighty God Himself. The way the Bible explains God to us is that He is all powerful, all knowing, and absolutely perfect in holiness. And because God wants a right relationship with the people He created, it is very important to Him that we understand who He is and what He is like. This isn’t because God is vain or selfish. It isn’t because He is power hungry or controlling. Those are qualities that describe humans when they misuse the good things God has given them. The reason God wants us to know Him as He is because He is good…He defines what goodness is, and He made humans to thrive with Him as their source of joy and happiness. He designed us to live in close relationship with Him, and when we are without it, we suffer. Often, we then try to find other ways to be happy, but it doesn’t work. It would be like trying to use water in the gas tank of a car. Cars aren’t made to run on water. It would be like putting a lamp on a plant and hoping it will grow. A plant doesn’t need lamplight, it needs the sun. We need the light of God, and when Jesus came into the world, He said that He is that Light. Anyone who does not live in His Light is in darkness because He is the only true Light. Jesus went on:
As for the person who hears My words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of My own accord, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and how to say it. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father told Me to say.’”
This was an interesting thing for Jesus to say. While Jesus was the Light, He was still living in total obedience to God the Father. He was not claiming to be the Light out of His own demand for prestige or status. He was claiming to be the Light because He was submitting to His Father. It is what God the Father told Him to do. Jesus was simply asking the people of His day to do the very thing He was doing…to listen to the Father and obey Him in the same way Jesus was listening and obeying. If they didn’t, the judgment of God would be upon them.
Either Jesus was right, and everyone in the world should have bowed on their knees and submitted to every word He said, or He was wrong, and He was spreading the most despicable lies the world had ever heard.
Who can claim to speak for God? Who dares to command the authority of the One who made all things? Yet Jesus did. Was He completely insane? Was He desperately evil? Or was He the Son of the Living God? His outrageous statements were so extreme that those were the only options He gave the crowds. What were they to do with this Jesus that their rulers hated so much? Where would their loyalties go?
For those who choose to follow the light of Christ, there is an amazing example of what is possible for us in the life of Jesus. He delighted to obey His Father. And He knew that whatever His Father told Him to say to the people, it was because His Father wanted to bring them eternal good. It was no fleeting happiness He offered, no fading beauty or time-bound hope. The promise was for everlasting joy and freedom…a world of total security and happiness and rest and health.
Try to imagine living in a world where sickness, financial stress, and relational pain are totally and completely over. Imagine a world where a good and gracious God loves you with a lavish, perfect love that never ends. Imagine living where there is no death and all of your struggles with sin are over. That was the gift Christ came to win. All He asked for was repentant faith. However, all the people could see were the tawdry things of this world.
The stories of the Bible are powerful because they not only tell us what happened in ancient times, but they also show us the kinds of things that have happened between God and the human race. throughout the ages. We have many examples in this story of things that are still happening today. We can choose to be like the religious leaders who hated Jesus and wanted to kill Him. We can be like the cowardly religious leaders who saw Him for His beauty but turned away because loving Him meant losing status or power among the “right” people. We can be like the crowds who only wanted Jesus for what He could give them instead of seeking to give Him everything. Or we can be like Jesus, who wasn’t thinking about what He personally wanted at all. He turned to His Father and listened, and then moved out into whatever direction His Father said. That simple purpose, that eloquent plan, was the one necessary thing for Christ…and it is the vision of the life He has for us.
Imagine the feeling of delight. Think of moments where you felt a powerful, deep delight in your heart. What were you doing? Who were you with? Maybe you have never felt it, but can you imagine how wonderful it would be? That is what God wants us to have…with Him. That is what Jesus had, it is how He lived and breathed. It is what we can have as we grow into deeper life in Him.