This was the beginning of the end. With these words Jesus had no more to say to the public crowds. From then on He spoke only to small groups of His followers, but not to the people in general. The crowds had heard the message and had seen the miracles. Most were interested, some believed, and a few even followed Jesus. But for the most part they did not care enough to make a difference.
The religious leaders, the Pharisees and Saduccees, had heard the logic of His teachings, and had felt the force of His God-centered personality. They had tried to trap Him and had plotted against Him. They, too, had witnessed the signs of His authority, but instead of believing they became more set in their opposition to Jesus.
When all was said and done they did not want a prophetic word from God. They cared nothing for the message of God which came as a light to a darkened world. What the religious leaders really wanted was for God to bless their stranglehold on the synagogue, to okay their interpretation of their scriptures, and to give the nod of approval for their ethics. The last thing many of them wanted was for some prophet to come along preaching love and justice. The very idea!
So the days of the crowds and the accolades were drawing to a close, and everyone seemed somehow to know it. The crowds dwindled and the accolades turned into a collective “ho hum.” Had you or I been in Jesus’ sandals we probably would have thrown up our hands in despair and said, “Well, if this is the way you’re going to act, you can just forget the whole thing.”
Thank God neither we nor anyone like us was in Jesus’ place. Instead of shaking the dust off His feet and telling the human race to fend for itself, Jesus never quit. John 11:44 puts this in unusual words: “Then Jesus cried out ….” The miracles had made only a temporary impact on the people. The authoritative word from the Lord Himself left some people cold. But Jesus never gave up.
When all seems to have been said and done, when everything seems to have had “The End” stamped on it, Jesus cried out: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” Here were His last words to the public. “I have come as a light and no one needs to live in the darkness anymore.”
People do not need to be religious or even have a church background to understand Jesus here. The world for so many people is a dark and dangerous place. Many seem to live in the dark, to have their minds blackened by their refusal to live in the light.
A woman came to my office in another state one day and briefly told me her story. Her husband lived in darkness. He had been an alcoholic and regularly beat her up. She finally divorced him for her own sanity, but then the children refused to have anything to do with her. She lived alone in a bleak house staring through blank windows into a forlorn future.
She asked, as tears welled up in her eyes, “Why does it have to be this way?” She did not want an answer, of course. She just wanted someone to hear her out and say, “I care about you.” But the question is still relentless. “Why is it this way?” Let’s explore it for a moment.
I. Life is Black when we Choose to Live in the Darkness.
John 11:47-48 hold before our eyes the frightening reality of moral judgment. “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.” So what is the judgment? Look at John 11:48. “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.”
I think Jesus’ words here refer to the end of time, but I know they pertain to the here and the now, too. It is simply an inviolable law of the universe that if we try to slap God in the face it is we who suffer the pain. If a person acts as if he is his own master, he finds sooner or later that he is a slave to something. To choose the darkness over the light is to go stumbling through life with bruised toes and a bruised heart.
Look at the Pharisees in this passage. John tells us that some of them actually believed in Jesus but were afraid to acknowledge it. Why? They feared being put out of the synagogue, “for they loved the praise from men more than praise from God.” They chose institutional security over sacred truth. They chose personal prestige over faithful following. This is always a mistake. The word prestige comes from a Latin word which means an illusion or a juggler’s tricks. That’s what prestige is — an illusion, a trick. And they chose that over God!
Routine and habit are powerful task masters. When we do something over and over again we learn it deeply. A child plays scales up and down the piano keyboard even when she would rather tackle something with rhythm. A college student writes out foreign words again and again in order to let them become part of him. An athlete practices his moves on the gridiron many times so he will not have to consciously think about them on game day. Habits in this sense can be helpful and positive.
But we all know that the threads of a habit can become a steel cable. Lon Chaney Sr. starred as the villain in the classic movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” He said that he had to strap himself in a harness and tie himself hunched over in order to look like a genuine hunchback. But as the days of the films stretched into weeks, Chaney found that the longer he stayed in the stooped position, the longer he took to stand up straight after the day’s filming. His body was getting used to being bent over.
This happens morally, too. A person can choose to stay bent over and mishapen morally instead of standing up straight in Christ. One can choose the darkness and live more like an animal than a human being made in God’s image. I have a cousin who died at age thirty-nine of delirium tremors brought on by alcohol abuse. His last days were spent strapped down in a hospital bed hallucinating about snakes and people who wanted to hurt him. When you continually choose darkness, sooner or later you lose the ability to see the light.
Some of you might have visited some of the caves in central Tennessee. On one of the tours visitors are shown some small fish which have lived in the dark caves for generations. As the eons have passed the fish have simply lost their eyes. They lived in the dark so long they finally lost their ability to see.
Many of the people in Jesus’ day had been in the darkness so long they just could not, or would not, see the light. Some followed, certainly, but so many turned their backs and hardened their hearts. “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
Isn’t that sad? It was in Jesus’ day, and still is. The refusal to believe, or the shallowness of belief, brings moral darkness. It discolors and shrouds life. The apostle Paul spoke of such a person as a “natural” or “carnal” man. This is the person who closes his eyes to the truth and says, “I don’t care what anybody says, I’m going to do it my way!”
Life seems black and bleak when people choose to live in the darkness. But the other side is just as true:
II. Life is Illuminated when we Choose to Live in the Light
Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” Did you catch that? We do not have to live in the darkness. The darkness of a cave is alright for a bat, but human beings are not bats. We are made for the light. Psychologists are discovering that some people who suffer from chronic depression simply fail to get enough light. A part of the treatment includes installing brighter lights in the depressed person’s home, and having this person go outside more often.
God gave us eyes to perceive with. But more importantly, he gave us a mind and a heart to respond to the light which comes our way in Christ. His light is truth.
My wife and I have visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky on several occasions. Twice we have gone into the largest cavern several hundred feet underground. The guide points out the extensive system of electric lights in the cave, and then, after a warning, shuts them off. The blackness is so thick and total it is disorienting. I have heard of darkness so complete you could not see your hand in front of your face, but that was the only time I have ever experienced it.
After a few seconds of this complete blackout the guide lights one match. One tiny match can light up that entire cavern of thousands of square feet. On those occasions I have always remembered what John says about Jesus at the beginning of his gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This is true with Jesus’ followers as we live in His light. An elderly woman showed this to be true in her life. Her eyesight was getting worse, and her glasses were not doing her much good, so she went to her ophthalmologist. The doctor could not find much to encourage her about her eyes. To his surprise, she did not seem upset. She told him about all the wonderful things God had done in her life: how she had a great husband, loving children, and a meaningful church. Her sight was getting worse but she was not going to fret over that.
The doctor listened to all of this for a while and then said, “Your eyesight is poor, but your vision is better than perfect.”1
Jesus said that no one who believes in Him should stay in the darkness. That message had gotten through to a few people in His day. We read John 11:42-43 earlier. They said that most of the leaders of the people who did believe were afraid to say so. But jump ahead toward the close ofJohn 19:38-39, we see something remarkable. Joseph and Nicodemus had been “closet” disciples, but the death of Jesus brought them out into the open. They had seen the immortal light shine in their own lives, and were determined not to remain in the dark. To live in the light means to put belief into practice.
Carla and I spent a few weeks at Mansfield College in Oxford, England, several years ago. One afternoon we noticed a small black cross on the sidewalk beside one of the major streets. We stopped to see what it was and this is what we found out.
Two men had been burned at the stake on that spot in 1555: Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. These men were influenced by the thinking of the Protestant reformers. They broke from the Church of England and tried to establish what we today would call a Protestant church. For their trouble they were sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Onlookers took down their last words. This is what Bishop Latimer said: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.” He was right. The light that shone through their lives is still shining today in this church. They were two men who put belief into practice. They had seen the light of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and they would not back down for anything!
You and I have two choices in life. First, we can hide in the caves of our own making and exist in the darkness. But be sure you understand what this means. It means ultimate defeat, because, as Jesus said, “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.” If a person really, really wants to stay in the darkness, he can. God lets him.
The second choice is to follow the light as it comes in Christ. This means believing, but more than that it means acting on our beliefs — in other words, living like one who has been changed in Christ.
Robert Louis Stevenson looked out his window one evening many years ago. Those were the days before electric lights. Stevenson saw the town lamplighter coming along. As this lamplighter lit the street lamps in succession, Stevenson was impressed at the sight. He wrote about the lamplighter who went along “punching holes in the darkness.”
Jesus Christ came into this world to punch holes in the darkness. Has He done that in your life? He can, you know. You need only to ask His presence in your life, and live in His light. Why live in darkness when light is available?
1. Told in a sermon by the Rev. John Eric Killinger of Los Angeles: “When the Son Gets In Your Eyes,” August 23, 1987.

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