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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Testimony of Two (John 8.12-18)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - February 23, 2014
Text: John 8:12-18

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Fairest Lord Jesus" (Sorenson)
Hymn of Praise: "Arise, Your Light is Come" (Walter/Duck)
Song of Praise: "Marvelous Light" (Charlie Hall)
The Word in Music: "Walk in the Light" (Thomas
Offering of Music: "Renew Me, O Eternal Light" (Manz)
Hymn of Sending: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (Prudentius; Austell)
Postlude: "Bright and Glorious is the Sky" (Bedford)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
"12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to Him, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. 16 “But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. 17 “Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. 18 “I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me. " ~John 8:12-18
We continue today in our series, “It is written.” We are looking at how Jesus used Scripture in his teaching and ministry and, increasingly, how he fulfilled it himself. Most of the texts we have looked at involve some sort of run-in with the Pharisees, and today is no exception. In today’s text, Jesus is teaching and the Pharisees more or less call him a liar. Jesus answers using scripture and, in the process, re-asserts the original thing he was saying.

As we look at this text, let me highlight one more thing about it. Sometimes scripture texts tell us to do something, like “love your neighbor” or “you shall not murder.” Other times the scripture tells a narrative story and we learn something about God, ourselves, or others. Other texts, like today’s text, are more declarative – they state something as true without particularly connecting that to a “to do.” We will see that here Jesus is primarily making a statement about his divinity and purpose in the world. It is a “this is who I am and why I’m here” teaching. There are some implications that can be drawn in response, but those are left to us as readers rather than explicitly stated in the text.

The Light of the World

Let’s start with Jesus’ teaching: “I am the Light of the world.” (v. 12) Earlier in the service you heard readings from the first chapter of John which describe and name Jesus in this way. When you read those words you start to get a sense why the Pharisees were upset. John describes Jesus as the “True Light” the “Light of men (humanity)” who was in the beginning with God and who WAS and IS God. John powerfully concludes the introduction to his Gospel in 1:14 with “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Now here’s the thing; no one today (then or now) really disputes that this is what John thought of Jesus. But many today think that this divine Savior Light of the World God-Man was a kind of over-exaggeration by Jesus’ followers. Jesus, they say, was just a wise teacher who ran afoul of the religious establishment because he didn’t play by their rules. And if you insist on thinking this is how it played out, I won’t be able to talk you out of that or prove otherwise. But do note that unless John also put words in Jesus’ mouth and made up the whole encounter in chapter 8, Jesus does have something to say about who he is.

Using “I am” – the classic word combination for the name of God, he declares: “I AM the Light of the World.” This is one of many times recorded by John that Jesus used this combination. He also said, “I AM the Bread of Life,” “I AM the Way,” and “I AM the Shepherd of the Sheep” (and many others). And the Pharisees did not miss the implication: Jesus was claiming to be God and to have been sent by God.

They claimed he was bearing witness to his own truth-claims and called him a liar. Before we get to their challenge don’t miss that here we have Jesus and John (narrating) and multiple Pharisees all bearing witness to this: Jesus was claiming to be God and be sent from God.

As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, Jesus might have been lying or might have been crazy, but he did claim to be divine. It ignores multiple testimonies to assert that his message was something else.

True Testimony

So, Jesus gives a somewhat maddening reply to the accusations of lying. He basically said, “I know I’m telling the truth because I know where I came from and where I am going; but I know you don’t know that.”

But then he questions their judgment – their ability to truly judge who he is and what he has claimed. And that’s where he refers to scripture, paraphrasing from Deuteronomy: “In your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.” (19:15)

Ironically, as the Light of the World, he is uniquely qualified to testify about himself and judge himself, but that is lost on those in the darkness. Is there anyone who could bear legitimate testimony to one who claims to be God and be sent from God, who was “in the beginning?” Well yes, says Jesus, “the Father who sent Me testifies about me.” (v. 18) But of course that is also maddeningly unprovable. But would any lesser answer have sufficed? “My mom says I’m the real deal.”

Is that too philosophical for you? Imagine a group lost in a dark cave and someone comes in and finds them and says they know the way out.

“How do we know you aren’t lost, too?”

“I found you and I’m here now.”

“How can all of us trust the judgment of the one of you?”

Because I’m not alone; someone out there sent me in to find you.”

I can understand the Pharisee’s frustration. Sometimes we just want proof. But God wouldn’t be God if we could add up His existence with a calculator. You can weigh risk and reward. You can evaluate character and the “truthiness” of someone’s words and actions (even Jesus). You can take an honest look at your own motivations, situation, and trustworthiness. (Like, “Am I really lost myself?”) But in the end, I think this God-thing comes down to trust. Is there something or someone bigger than, stronger than, truer than, what I can apprehend or accomplish; and can I know… or perhaps more importantly, trust such a one?

Those questions are not answered in today’s text, but they are raised. What is present is Jesus’ declaration: “I have been sent to find you and help you.”

The Light of Life

He does say a bit more: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (v. 12) Jesus never chose his words haphazardly. “Light” is a compelling word: it dispels darkness; as “illumination” it is a metaphor for understanding; it helps us to “see” and find our way. As John makes clear in his opening chapter, as this living, breathing Light, Jesus shows us God.

As Jesus says here, one who is following him will not walk in darkness, though there is darkness all around. The presence of Jesus in our life has bearing on all of life.

Yes, it is circular and self-authenticating to say that “in my light you will understand and see who I am” and “without my light you will not understand or see who I am.” But God must be self-authenticating; there is no greater power to prove or authenticate God (or His sent Son) to us. As creatures, we certainly are not in a position to do so.

So what are we left with?

We are left with a declaration of this Jesus that he is the Light of the World and, for those who believe and follow, the Light of Life.

We can reject that and call him a liar; or we can accept that and strive to understand. Jesus does say that in believing him, we will experience some illumination and understanding. If he is who he claims to be, that will prove true!

That’s either great news or it’s no news at all.

I imagine at this point Jesus would say, “For them with ears to hear, let them hear!” Amen.

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