Soon after our family arrived here, nearly 25 years ago, someone shared with us a prophetic word that had been given to this church. The word was this, âYouâve been called to be a river, not a lake.â To be honest with you, my heart sank a bit when I heard that statement because I knew what it meant. It meant we were going to send people out about as fast as we took them in, which is a fine way to build the Kingdom of God, but pretty hard on the heart when you have to keep saying goodbye to people you love. And that has indeed been the case. Sure, some people have left for sad reasons, but most have left for good ones. We sent people off to school, weâve planted churches, we sent missionaries to the other side of town and the far side of the earth. Some people even moved back home in order to win their unbelieving family to the Lord. Others followed job offers to distant cities and became part of what God is doing there. And some left us by stepping from this world into the arms of Jesus.
Thankfully, at least as many people have come in the door as have gone out, so there is still a strong community of believers here. But if we had somehow managed to keep all those people over all those years, we would have become a big lake, but that wasnât Godâs plan. His plan was for us to give away, not just receive; to bless at least as much as weâve been blessed; to be a river, not a lake. This is a deep theme in the heart of God: He gives us something, so we can give it away. And thatâs the way it is with His light.
Letâs hear it again:
âI am the light of the world, the one who follows Me will not [at all] walk in darkness, but will have the light of lifeâ (literal).
How can one statement be so full of meaning? But it is. Today we look at three of the great truths contained in these words. First weâll recognize Jesus as the pillar of fire who leads us through the wilderness. Second weâll see Him as the One who shines light on our path to reveal the next step, so we wonât stumble. And third weâll examine the phrase âthe light of lifeâ to discover that He wants us to become a source of light for others.
The pillar of fire â¢ DBS (Fri, Sat)
As we read through the Gospel of John we repeatedly hear Jesus use images from the Exodus to explain His ministry. He is the serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness (Jn 3:14); He is the manna from heaven (Jn 6:32-33, 45-51); He is the rock that poured forth living water (Jn 3:37-38), and then on the eighth day of the Feast of Booths, when the great lamps had been extinguished, He compares Himself to the pillar of fire that led Israel for forty years (Ex 13:21-22; Ne 9:19). However in this case, Jesus says He is not only Israelâs light, but He says Heâs the light of the world.
When Israel walked through the desert, a great pillar of fire lit their way at night. It led them through strange, unfamiliar territory and finally brought them safely to their destination. As they went it illuminated the rocky ground in front of them so that they wouldnât stumble. And its very presence, hovering over their camp, assured them that God was with them. Listen: Numbers 9:15-23.
By comparing Himself to that pillar of fire, Jesus is teaching us about how He guides us. Just as Israel followed the cloud and the fire through the wilderness, we are to follow Him. He doesnât give us a map and say, âGo!â He goes before us day-by-day, and says, âCome!â Such following requires great trust. When we donât know where we are going, we have to trust that He does. We have to believe that if weâll obey, step-by-step we will in His timing arrive at our promise.
This process forces us to become very dependent and requires us to stay in constant relationship with Him. Itâs uncomfortable; itâs dangerous and itâs amazingly effectiveâ¦ when we do it. He takes us places we would never have the courage to go on our own.
The light on our path
Physical light illumines what is hidden in the darkness. Spiritual light reveals truth that has been hidden from the human mind. By applying the term âlight of the worldâ to Himself Jesus announced that He is the One who accurately reveals the truth about God. By watching and listening to Him we are, in effect, watching and listening to the Father, because everything Jesus said and did was initiated by the Father and then perfectly expressed by the Son. Those who walk by that light will find answers to the most important questions about God and themselves. That light will protect them from being deceived or confused. They will walk and not stumble because step-by-step He will reveal His truth to them. They wonât walk in darkness. There will always be light on their path.
When faced with a decision we ask ourselves, âWhat has Jesus taught us?â Then whatever He says, we do, and whatever He forbids, we stop. The result of walking this way is a remarkable string of successes. Situations that could have turned out badly, because we walked in His light, turn out well. What might have been a stumbling-stone, because His light has revealed it and warned us that itâs there, becomes a stepping-stone. And a life so lived becomes an accumulation of such successes. Obedience to Jesus, of âwalking in His light,â is the true source of blessing, of peace and of fruitfulness. âYour word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my pathâ (Ps 119:105).
The light inside us
I think one of the characteristics of Jesus that confirms to me that He is truly the Son of God, is that there is not only a depth to what He says, but there is always an element of surprise. He says things we humans, or at least I, would never have thought to say. He adds statements you have to stop and think about. And at first they donât make sense, but then if you reflect deeply it suddenly dawns on you that what He said makes perfect senseâ¦ in light of the character of God. But neither you nor anyone you know would have ever thought to say that.
Hereâs a perfect example: Jesus said, âI am the light of the world, the one who follows Me will not [at all] walk in darkness.â That makes sense, assuming of course Heâs the divine Son of God; otherwise itâs crazy. Heâs telling us that Heâs the revealer of spiritual truth, so if we follow Him we wonât be deceived or confused. We will know the truth about God. Hallelujah! So far so good. But then He adds this, âBut he (the one who follows Me) will have the light of life.â What does that mean? Everything would have gone smoothly if He had just said, âThe one who follows Me will not walk in darknessâ¦ but I will light his path.â But He didnât. He said those who follow Him will have the âlight of life.â The phrase âlight of lifeâ is like âbread of lifeâ (Jn 7:35). Jesus is the âbreadâ that produces life in those who eat that bread. And we would want to say, âAnd Jesus is the light that produces life in us,â and thatâs true. But here comes that typical surprise that He so often inserts. He said those who follow Him will have the light of life. So what do we, His followers, have that can give off such light? I believe Heâs speaking about the Holy Spirit whom He would place within those who come to Him. Heâs saying that those who walk in His light will become a light for others.
Thereâs a pattern here. Earlier we learned that Jesus doesnât just give us a drink of living water and leave it at that. He causes rivers of living water to flow out of us to refresh others (Jn 7:37-38). And now we discover that as the âlight of the world,â He not only leads us and lights our path, but He also fills us with the Holy Spirit, with the One Paul calls âthe Spirit of Life in Christ Jesusâ (Ro 8:2), until we become sources of light to others. He doesnât leave us at the stage of being followers of God; He presses us further and places the Spirit inside us until we become carriers of God. He who said, âI am the light of the worldâ later said, âWhile Iâm in the world, I am the light of the worldâ (Jn 9:5). And then He said, âWhile you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of lightâ (Jn 12:36). And in case we miss the point, He said earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:
âYou are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heavenâ (Mt 5:14-16).
Letâs review what weâve learned:
1) Jesus doesnât give us a map and wait for us at the end. He guides us day-by-day like the pillar of fire guided Israel.
2) Jesus reveals the truth about God. He teaches us His ways, so choice-by-choice and decision-by-decision we wonât be deceived and stumble. He shines His light on our path, so we can become blessed and fruitful.
3) We receive from Him, but then we become a source for others. Thereâs an attitude adjustment in this. As a follower of Jesus I donât come to Him only to receive the things that I need, but He wants to change me until there arises from my life an overflow of everything He has given me. You might say I become a river, not a lake.
1) Name an area of your life where you are following Jesus step-by-step. All you know is the next step, but He hasnât told you anything beyond that.
2) When did you do something or not do something only because of what Jesus told you? Was it easy or hard for you to obey? How did it work? What did you learn?
3) How has God made you a âriver,â a source of help to others? A river quickly runs dry if it doesnât continually receive more water. How do you refill, so you can give out?