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John 8:12 – Brighter Than a Thousand Suns

August 3, 2012

I don’t remember much about the impact. Many moons ago someone built a pulpit weighing approximately as much as a hippopotamus as their personal legacy. Having walked through the church in the dark many times, I just bolted through the side door and sprinted for my office forgetting we’d left it in the middle of the floor. It was sort of like running full tilt into a refrigerator, a large one. As I lay there in the dark stretched out like a possum on the roadside counting the moons of Neptune (There are thirteen; it’s hard to get them all when they’re spinning so fast.), I thought about that man – not kindly.

Some light would have helped. Jesus said, in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” This begins the exchange I described last post where things will get so hot that Jesus’ hearers will make an attempt on His life. Again, Jesus spat out a mouthful of the kind of stuff that can get one killed especially if it’s true. Consider how light describes some very powerful manifestations of the holiness, majesty and power of God (Ex. 13:21,22; I Kings 8:10,11).  Once more, Jesus  expands our view of the I AM of God and puts the paint on His own barn door.  John loves the word “light” judging by how often he uses it. John loves it so much that he’s really yanking it back our of the grasp of people who were bending it out of shape to make it mean what they wanted, people called Gnostics. Today we call them postmodernists. The bottom line for them meant that nothing they called spiritual made any difference in everyday life. “Spiritual ” could mean anything they wanted just because they said so. The material world, the body in particular, was evil and passing away. So whatever you wanted to indulge in – drunkenness, gluttony or sexual immorality – nothing was sinful. “Light”, for Gnostics, describe spiritual truth and knowledge only they had. It made them elitist; God only spoke when their mouths were open. They even wrote some fake gospels using apostolic names to get a bigger hearing. Scholars call this pseudepigrapha; the law calls it plagiarism and intellectual property theft. You can be thrown out of grad school or go to jail for it. Those fake gospels have become popular again largely because they show a Jesus who doesn’t talk much about sin. For Gnostics, “light” and “darkness” were equals. Good and evil slugged it out. Gnostics didn’t become a denomination with buildings. It’s a mindset repeatedly popping up over Christian history. Most of what passes for spirituality today sports a Gnostic flavor. No matter the externals, the reign of self at the soul’s core never gets shaken or stirred.

Isaiah wrote centuries before Jesus, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in a land of great darkness, on them the light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) Light describes truth, but truth of a special kind. Jesus, as light, is true truth.  This means that truth stands as truth even if nobody believes it. This truth isn’t hidden, the private secret of a few illuminati but open to the world, truth flung through the open windows of heaven in the person of Jesus Christ. Inspiring, I even have a goose bump here. So what? We can bring no more powerful or profound question to any Biblical text. So what?

Without Jesus, we’re in the dark as to who God is. We’re worshipping animals; anthropologists can’t find the remains of a great atheistic or secular civilization. We’ve worshipped many gods at one time or one false god. The Greeks of Athens in Paul’s day even built a temple to any god or gods they left out (Acts 17:23). Life circumstances and our own failures bring us repeatedly to the edge of the cliff, the end of our own rope. Goodness of life enjoyed produces a wellspring of gratitude. But gratitude to Whom? Who is there to thank? Beauty stops us in our tracks, drops our jaw in awe, melts our heart to silent wonder and astonishment. Who is the craftsman, the artist, the creator responsible for all this? To even suggest mere accident or chance reeks of the absurd. These aren’t just philosophical questions but evidence of deep cravings gone frustrated through centuries of promise, like Isaiah’s and others, and darkness.

Without Jesus, we’re in the dark as to who we are. One of the things students hammer on while at college includes “trying to find out who they are.” One angle on this comes out in the remake. Off at school, either nobody knows us or they’ve gone somewhere else; the high school stereotype or label doesn’t stick here. So we can become somebody else, not being phony or fake but exploring the chance to be somebody else. It works for some. I remember Annie (not her real name) from high school. She was unpopular for no good reason. She was smart and outgoing but somehow her name had gotten linked to awkwardness and ugliness. She knew it but soldiered admirably through. A couple of years later, a classmate told me that Annie became one of the most popular people on campus. But what if we keep making over and messing it up? What if we find out who we are but wish we hadn’t?

Jesus shows in His life, and especially His death, who we are. Who are we? Someone worth cleaning up and rescuing from all the bad things we keep doing to ourselves. Why should He even care? What’s His stake in us? Simply this. He sees someone who bears all the marks of being at the epicenter of all His creative power, energy and imagination utterly messed up and out of control. Who are we? People created in His image with hungers time can’t satisfy, multifaceted intelligence unleashing creativity into every endeavor from the arts to the sciences to plumbing and an individuality running deeper than our gene pool making us one of a kind in human history.

Without Jesus, we’re in the dark as to what life is all about. “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” (John 1:4) What am I going to do with my life? Jesus has an idea. What should I major in? Jesus has an idea. Who should I marry (if anyone) and where should I live? Jesus has an idea but these all fit inside the frame of something bigger Jesus described as seeking first the Kingdom of God. (Mt. 6:33) Isaiah said, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Is. 55:2) Without Jesus, we hold everything dear up to the wind to watch it all blow away.

We love this darkness and see the light of Jesus Christ as an intrusion and an invasion threat. This seeker sensitive stuff is over-rated; not many really seek God but merely take a nibble at Him once in a while. “…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19) And this darkness proves to be far more insidious and lethal than mere metaphysical ignorance. We’ve been crashing into things in this darkness as individuals, cultures and nations. A little light would help. An old Puritan prayer (removing the “thee’s”) says, “Oh how I need you to abide in me, for I have no natural eyes to see you, but I live by faith in one whose face to me is brighter than a thousand suns!”

With Jesus Christ, we find that no evil, no matter how it spits and snarls or says nasty things in the campus paper, outnumbers or outranks us. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overpower it.” (John 1:5) “…He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (I John 4:4) I’ve gone to the secular campus for the last 28 years and spoke with someone who’d been around the university a lot more than me. I asked, “Have you ever been somewhere you could literally feel the intimidating supernatural threatening of principalities and powers daring you to come on their turf and try anything for Jesus?.” Hesitating as if I’d asked whether or not they’d ever ridden on a UFO, they finally said, “Yes.” I simply said, “Me too.” There is much pressure, influence and intimidation on Christians on campus to feel cowed, bullied and in the minority while institutional secularism, sinful intellectual pride and spiritual evil swagger and loom over us. Without being cocky or rude, we must walk the quad as those who know both His light and His life dwelling in us. The Lord of the cosmos is with us. He loves us and prays for us. His truth will win and every knee will bow. Let us love sinners boldly and bow our own knees to nothing on our campuses but Him.


The Puritan prayer I quoted from just above comes from page 25 of something called “The Valley of Vision” by Arthur Bennett. It’s an amazing collection of prayers that ripples with power and beauty. Get it here and ask for the “Geezer” discount.

One of the cool things emerging on campus is the rise of theological journals produced by students. The newest, from the University of Pennsylvania, is The Lamp Post.  The Harvard Ichthus list a bunch more of these journals on its blogroll.

New on the “Geezer’s” blogroll you’ll find two websites from UCCF (InterVarsity in Great Britain), and Both visually attractive and edgy in content, they give a much-needed different slant to cultural things than our North American context.

If you think any of this will encourage a college student, then share, tweet, subscribe, like and all that social network stuff.

Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant at the rear as you leave. See you next post at


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