In a sermon titled, “Jesus Came to Be the Light,” Robert Russell told the following story.
“About twenty years ago a house near the entrance of our subdivision kept their Christmas lights burning long into January, even though the Christmas season was long past. Even through the first of February those outside lights were burning every night. About the middle of February, I became a little bit critical and said, “You know, if I were too lazy to take my Christmas lights down, I think I’d at least turn them off at night.” But about the middle of March, a sign outside of their house explained why they’d left the lights on. It said simply, “Welcome home, Jimmy.” We learned that family had a son in Vietnam, and they had unashamedly left their Christmas lights on in anticipation of his return.
“Lights are a symbol of hope. A person lost in a dark cave turns a corner and is relieved to see a ray of sunlight breaking through a crack. A person adrift on a life raft in the middle of the ocean at night is excited when he’s able to say, ‘I see the light of a ship on the horizon.’
People in darkness are delighted to see a light. It’s a symbol of hope. The world in which we live is engulfed in spiritual darkness, and people are groping to find a way out. But Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world.’ The attributes of light reflect the hopeful impact that the light of Jesus Christ still makes on our lives today.”
Message: Isaiah predicted the Messiah would be the Light. Jesus fulfilled that prediction.
- Isaiah 9:1-2 predicted the Messiah would also be a light for all peoples, not just for the Jews.
CONTEXT: The first word is NEVERTHELESS, which unites these vs. with the previous ones, so context is particularly important. Isaiah 8:11-22 is a foreboding warning to Isaiah to NOT join the people in their idolatry. 9:1 is a turning point where God goes from threats to promises to encourage the prophet’s loyalty. (In fact, in the Hebrew Bible 9:1 is numbered as 8:23. Chapter and verse divisions are added, not inspired.)
Let’s start backwards and do the secondary point first. The secondary point is the amazing prediction of the geography of the Messiah’s ministry.
ZEBULUN was the 10th son of Jacob. He may be the most anonymous of Jacob’s sons; little is known about him. The land allotted to his tribe was one of the northernmost areas of land allotted to the twelve tribes of Israel.
NAPTHALI was the 6th son of Jacob, one of the most godly of the 12 sons. The tribe descended from him was the northernmost parcel of land in Israel.
Along with the tribe of Asher, these tribes particularly failed to drive out the pagans from their lands, in disobedience to God’s directives. As predicted, intermarriage and idolatry became particular problems for them (see Judges 1:30, 33).
GALILEE OF THE GENTILES is the region that included Zebulun, Napthali, and Asher. The name GALILEE means “circuit, district, or region.” Geographically, it’s the region around the Sea of Galilee, the means by which travelers from the north would enter Israel. The designation OF THE GENTILES refers to the fact that these three tribes were bordered on three sides by foreign lands, it was the part of Israel most exposed to Gentiles.
BY WAY OF THE JORDAN is the final geographical clue. With the Jordan river to the east and the Mediterranean sea to the west, the caravan routes went down the middle, between these bodies of water.
The geographical details are important and interesting, but the primary point of these verses is the prediction that the Messiah would be the Light – the glory of God. The contrast here is between the LIGHT and the DARKNESS that is provided by 8:22 = THEN THEY WILL LOOK TOWARD THE EARTH AND SEE ONLY DISTRESS AND DARKNESS AND FEARFUL GLOOM, AND THEY WILL BE THRUST INTO OUTER DARKNESS.
Who are these people?
– Vs. 8:19-21 tell us that they have consulted mediums and spiritists, inquiring of the dead instead of God.
– They do these forbidden, sinful things and then suffer distress and hunger as the penalty for these sins. They curse God and suffer spiritual darkness.
– This prophecy most immediately dealt with the people of Israel who were conquered by the Assyrians and carried off as captives, force to assimilate into their conqueror’s culture.
– In general, they are people who trust in idols – in worldly things – instead of trusting in God. Their choices land them in spiritual peril.
– The word translated DARKNESS is particularly ominous; the “shadow” casts deep darkness. This refers to both physical and spiritual darkness. It is the SHADOW OF DEATH.
The good news is that even these spiritually malnourished wanderers in darkness will SEE A GREAT LIGHT. This prophecy is reiterated in Isaiah 42:6 = “I, THE LORD, HAVE CALLED YOU IN RIGHTEOUSNESS; I WILL TAKE HOLD OF YOUR HAND. I WILL KEEP YOU AND WILL MAKE YOU TO BE A COVENANT FOR THE PEOPLE AND A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES.”
- The prophecy came true in MTW 4:12-17 & John 8:12.
The secondary point is the amazing fulfillment in the geography of Jesus’ ministry (MTW 4:12-17). Galilee is where Jesus spent most of His life and conducted most of His ministry. The region was still a “melting pot” of various faiths & ethnic groups in Jesus’ day.
Jews living near Jerusalem looked down their noses at Galileans, thinking them unsophisticated hicks and spiritually compromised. In fact, knowing that Jesus was “from” Galilee was one of the reasons the Jewish religious leaders rejected Him as/t Messiah: Nazareth was located in the land of Zebulun. Knowing that, we see God once again reversing worldly expectations. Not only would the Messiah appear in this “backwoods” place, but appearing to the GENTILES as well! Scandalous!
This passage follows the temptation of Jesus, so it represents His “setting up shop” to begin His public ministry (v. 17 = HE BEGAN TO PREACH). Why Galilee?
– It was the most fertile land in all Israel. As such, it was also densely populated.
– It was the part with which He was most familiar, his hometown being located in the region.
– It was in the opposite direction of the trouble John the Baptist had gotten into. This move should not be misconstrued to imply cowardice on Jesus’ part: It was simply not yet Jesus’ time to get arrested and imprisoned.
– Given its position on the northern border, surrounded by Gentile provinces, and as a crossroads of trade routes, Galileans were naturally more open to new ideas than their stodgy, status quo-bound brothers in Judea.
– Most importantly, Jesus chose to minister in Galilee to fulfill this prophecy. Jesus intentionally fulfilled prophecies like this to give His followers evidence of His true identity and to reveal the continuity between their historic faith and His new revelations of God.
The primary point is that Jesus, as the Messiah is the Light – the glory of God.
In John 8:12, it is written, WHEN JESUS SPOKE AGAIN TO THE PEOPLE, HE SAID, “I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. WHOEVER FOLLOWS ME WILL NEVER WALK IN DARKNESS, BUT WILL HAVE THE LIGHT OF LIFE.”
CONTEXT: John 8 is a series of confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders opposing Jesus.
The occasion is the annual Feast of Tabernacles. At sunset on the first day of the Feast, there was a ceremony called the Illumination of the Temple. In the center of the Court of the Women, four giant candelabra were lit. It was said that the brilliance of these lights illuminated the whole city of Jerusalem. Holy men danced all night around these candelabra, expressing their joy in the Lord. It may well have been that Jesus pointed to these well-known lights as He referred to Himself as “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.”
We’ve already referred to the symbolism of light as we looked at Isaiah’s prophecy. Notice Jesus adds to that image, referring to Himself as…
– “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD” = In all the world, there is only one way to God, that is by Jesus.
– “THE LIGHT OF LIFE” = He is the illumination that leads us to God & eternal life in Him.
Our response to the light must be to follow Him. That word “follow” was used of a soldier obeying orders, a slave awaiting orders from his master, a wise man accepting good advice, obeying the laws of the land, and understanding the line of reasoning set forth by a teacher. Following Jesus is all of these things.
In Psalms 27:1; Isaiah 60:19 & Micah 7:8, God is described as our LIGHT. When Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the LIGHT, there was no doubt in the minds of His listeners that He was claiming equality with God.
In John 12:46, Jesus explained, “I HAVE COME INTO THE WORLD AS A LIGHT, SO THAT NO ONE WHO BELIEVES IN ME SHOULD STAY IN DARKNESS.”
CONTEXT: Coming after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus rebukes the people who stubbornly refused to believe in Him. In this passage, Jesus is attempting to define for them who He truly is and His mission among them. He is confronting them with the truth they refuse to accept.
Jesus is the light that illuminates our path to God. He said, “NO ONE CAN COME TO THE FATHER EXCEPT BY ME” (John 14:6).
He said, “NO ONE…SHOULD STAY IN DARKNESS.” Though they may choose to, no one needs to stay in darkness. God abandons no one, but many will choose to abandon Him. Jesus makes it plain here that there is no good reason for being stuck in sin and self-condemned.
As the season of Lent has begun, we should make it our prayer to ask for the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, to shine on us. The purpose of this light is profound: to lead us into the presence of God the Father. To borrow from the song, may your oft-repeated prayer this Lent be, “Light of the World, shine on me!”