More than a great moral teacher: The world’s light.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

John 8.12-20.

If we skip the Adulterer Story as we read John (as we probably should, ’cause whether it happened or not, it didn’t happen at this point in John), this lesson took place right after Sukkot was over, after the Judean senators had decided Jesus isn’t a relevant prophet. Because, among other things, he’s Galilean.

Which only goes to show they didn’t know anything about Jesus’s family and backstory. They could’ve found it out with some very minor investigation. Talk to any of Jesus’s family members; they knew the entire story. But the senators didn’t bother, and stuck with their fairly superficial observations—which Jesus, in today’s passage, calls judging “according to the flesh.” Jn 8.15 They presumed they knew better, and missed their Messiah.

So when Jesus made really bold statements about himself, they naturally balked: These statements are too bold. You can’t go making unsubstantiated statements like this. Like “I’m the world’s light.”

John 8.12-20 KWL
12 So Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.
My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”
13 So Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t true.”
14 In reply Jesus told them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true:
I know where I come from and go to; you don’t know where I come from and where I go.
15 You judge according to flesh; I judge nothing.
16 When I judge—and I do—my judgment is true, for I’m not alone:
Instead I and my sender, the Father, agree.
17 It was written in your Law that a testimony of two people is true. Dt 19.15
18 I’m a witness to myself, and my sender the Father witnesses about me.”
19 So the Pharisees told him, “Who’s your father?”
Jesus replied, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you’ve known me, you’ve also known my Father.”
20Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, teaching in temple.
Nobody seized him, for his time hadn’t yet come.

And y’notice Jesus kinda agreed with them: No, he can’t make unsubstantiated statements about himself, but his statements are substantiated, because they’re backed by the one who sent him to us, his Father. Whom, he radically commented, they don’t know. If they did, they’d listen to him, and know from him Jesus is legit.

Jesus sounds like God. (’Cause duh, he’s God.)

I wrote elsewhere about Jesus being the world’s light, as he commented when he later cured a blind man. He reflects the fact God is light. 1Jn 1.5 When we follow him, we reflect his light, and we become the world’s light. Mt 5.14 And in following him, like he said, we ought not walk in the dark.

This is a radical statement. One we Christians tend to take for granted, ’cause hopefully we’ve been following Jesus and know this to be true. But one which makes a lot of slacker Christians and pagans balk. Because they like to reduce Jesus to being “a great moral teacher,” and little more. And saying stuff like “I’m the world’s light” indicates he’s infinitely more.

Some of these pagans, particularly the fans of “Historical Jesus,” tend to claim Jesus actually never said such things, John notwithstanding. Based on what? Based on their own narrow definitions of Jesus. They claim he was a great moral teacher and nothing more. That he never actually said any of the radical statements which freaked out the Judeans; John made up all these stories because John and the ancient Christians were trying to reinvent Jesus as divine. But they, 20 centuries later, know better than these guys who heard Jesus in person, and saw him raised from the dead. 1Jn 1.1-3

Yep, these folks are seriously hoping Jesus isn’t God. ’Cause it means they’d have to take him seriously, follow him, and probably change their entire lives to suit him. Much easier to reinvent Jesus to suit themselves. And claim they do respect him—as “a great moral teacher”—and ignore the fact he didn’t only teach morals. He also said hardcore stuff like this.

Pharisees taught morals too, and the reason they objected to Jesus was because he didn’t just teach morals like they did: He made bold statements like this. And while Jesus and Pharisees could substantiate moral teachings by pointing to bible verses (or, in Pharisee custom, quoting greater rabbis), Jesus’s declarations were only substantiated by the Holy Spirit within—assuming he even is within.

Hence the Pharisees objected: These are unproven statements. You’re the world’s light? Says who? Can’t just be you, by yourself.

And Jesus agreed: It isn’t just he, by himself. There’s the Father. If you know the Father, you’ll know to take Jesus seriously. And if you don’t… well of course you’ll object to Jesus’s statements. You don’t know the Father well enough to recognize his words coming out of Jesus’s mouth.

Pagans like to describe God and Jesus differently. Plenty of Christians do too: They claim God is full of rules and wrath and anger and blood sacrifices and Old Testament judgment. Whereas Jesus is full of mushy forgive-y hippie love stuff. They can’t see God’s grace all over the Old Testament, and can’t see Jesus’s many statements about how he expects us to behave ourselves. They don’t recognize the significant—and not coincidental—overlap between the LORD and his Messiah, because the God-image in their minds isn’t actually based on God. Because Jesus is God. If you see one, you see the other. Jn 14.9 If you know one, you immediately recognize the other. Jn 8.19

And if you don’t know God, you won’t identify Jesus.

Sadly a lot of Christians don’t know their Father. They’ve read the New Testament but seldom the Old, and presume the Father is a wrath-filled angry psycho whom Jesus has to placate. If that’s you, you don’t know him. Start reading your Old Testament, and start noticing how much the LORD sounds like Jesus. It’ll startle you. (It’ll make you wonder how the Pharisees could possibly miss him.) Same benevolence. Same patience. Same compassion. Same grace. Same love. Same joy. Same grief.

Selective hearing.

Pharisees projected a lot of themselves upon God. They taught God actually followed his Law the same way their rabbis taught it. Medieval rabbis actually described the LORD as sitting in heaven, studying the Law same as they did. (As if he’s forgotten his own commands and needs a refresher.) Talk about remaking him in our own image.

So if God looked like them, he certainly didn’t look like Jesus. They couldn’t fathom God ignoring their customs like Jesus regularly, deliberately did. They lacked forgiveness, so they imagined God wasn’t all that forgiving either. They lacked grace, so they were blind to God’s grace, and likewise Jesus’s. According to Jesus, the Father is nothing but gracious: He sent us his Son to save the world. Jn 3.16

Proving Jesus’s point, the Pharisees responded, “Who’s your father?” and Jesus responded, “You know neither me nor my Father.” It’s obvious to anyone who reads John, hardcore skeptics included, that Jesus always meant the LORD by “the Father” or “my Father.” (Not always by “your father,” as you’ll see in a bit.) Various interpreters claim the Pharisees were densely and literally talking about Jesus’s adoptive dad Joseph, but they weren’t that stupid: They knew Jesus meant the LORD, and were trying to get him to flat-out say so. Because they wanted to throw that back at him: He’s not your father.

Various interpreters also claim Jesus was the first person to ever refer to God as אַבא/Abbá, “Dad,” Mk 14.36 and in so doing they prove they’ve not been all that thorough about reading their bibles. Isaiah beat Jesus to it centuries before. Is 63.16 Pharisees called him their heavenly Father too. Mishna, Sotah 9.15 But again: Their idea of God as their heavenly Father was significantly different than Jesus’s identification with his Father. He’s like his Father; they couldn’t see this because they didn’t know his Father, and presumed they knew him better than Jesus.

Bias can be blinding. Too many Christians claim the world is blind because the devil is an expert deceiver, or because God hides so much from those who don’t seek him. In fact people blind ourselves just fine without any devilish help. We get so locked-in to our points of view, we can’t see anything else. Such were the Pharisees. As Jesus said at the beginning of his lesson, his followers shouldn’t walk around in the dark. Yet sometimes we do. Pray that God remove any blind spots we unknowingly have.

Christ Almighty!