JESUS, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-25-66 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, on WRR, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And could I say first to you who listen who are not able to come to church tonight: you are always so interested in the attendance, and you are especially asking me, as I visited some of you in the hospitals and other places last week, “Would you tell us what kind of a crowd that is in church when you stand up to preach?” Well, at both morning services we had tremendous crowds, and tonight we have a tremendous audience here in this great auditorium, which is one of the largest church auditoriums in America.
The only place where you might see that it is down is the choir, but what they lack in quantity, they make up in quality. And that quartet tonight and these special songs they have sung, ah, they have blessed our souls. Now I think the reason for that is the choir is made up of people in our own church, and so many of them have gone to see mama, and papa, and grandmama, and grandpapa some other place. But where our people have gone to visit in the audience, out of the audience these wonderful visitors; and we have so many of you dear, dear, precious, welcomed friends tonight. You visitors have made up for their absence, and God has given us in all three services today a gloriously encouraging attendance. And that is as it ought to be. What finer day could we ever hope for to go to church than on Christmas day, His birthday?
Now on the radio you are invited to turn to the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, and in the first chapter we shall read the first fourteen verses. This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled Jesus, the Light of the World. In John 9:5 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And the sermon tonight is built on a text, John 1, verse 5, the last part of that verse.
We shall now read the context together, the first fourteen verses of the first chapter of John. And if your neighbor did not have his Bible and does not have it, you share your Bible with him, and let us read it all of us out loud together, the first fourteen verses of the first chapter of John. Now together:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
There was man sent from God whose name was John.
The same came for a witness, to bear witness to the Light that all men through him might believe.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.
He came into His own, and His own received Him not.
But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
This is John’s account of the incarnation, of the nativity, of the birth of Christ, the coming of our Lord into the world. The Word was made flesh, born in Bethlehem and dwelt among us. Then in another way the apostle describes the incarnation: “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light,” the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, “and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness”—the King James Version—“comprehended it not” [John 1:4-5]. If you will take a series of translations of the New Testament, you will find practically every one of them will translate that word in a different way. In Him was light and the light shineth in darkness, “and the darkness katalambano, katalambano.” And the darkness—now, how would you translate that word? Kata is the Greek word for down; lambano is the Greek word for seize or take or grasp. Literally the word is “and the darkness casteth not down.” You could translate the word, “overcame it not.”
Many of our finest translations of the New Testament so use it: “and darkness overcame it not.” The darkness overwhelmed it not. The darkness was not able to extinguish it. It shines and it shines God’s light in Jesus Christ, shining in the world. And that is the sermon tonight.
It was a dark hour when the Lord was born in the world. It was dark in Judah. Israel was at its lowest spiritual level. It was dark in the Roman Empire. So ingenious and so successful were those Roman legions that they captured and made slaves of one nation after another after another until, from the British Isles that they enslaved down to the Indus River, they held the entire world in their iron grasp. It was the last great world empire.
Can you imagine living in a world where most of the citizens and people were slaves? It was a dark day for humanity. I have not time to describe the practices, inhuman, unbelievable that characterized the Greco-Roman culture; such, I will speak of one, such as the exposing of children. If a child was born into the home and father did not choose to keep it, what he did with the child was to expose it: set the child on a highway, on a road, or on a hillside where the jackals, or the foxes, or the wolves, or the carnivorous vultures and birds would eat it, or worse still, where somebody unscrupulous would pick up the little thing and break its bones and its limbs and raise it up to be sat in a city street begging alms of the people. It was a dark hour when the star shone in Bethlehem, when the angel chorus announced the coming of the Savior, and when the babe was laid in a manger [Luke 2:10-16].
“Now the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness was not able to overwhelm it, to extinguish it” [John 1:4-5]. Even in the beginning of the life of our Savior, satanic forces sought to extinguish the light of God in the life of that Child. Herod’s bloody sword was raised above Bethlehem, but the Light still lived [Matthew 2:13, 16]. In the announcement of His ministry, beginning in Galilee, in Nazareth, so infuriated were His townspeople that they took Him to the brow of the hill upon which their town was built, to cast Him headlong down to destroy Him [Luke 4:29]. But the Light continued to live.
And when He spoke of His preexistence, “before Abraham was, I Am” [John 8:58], the Jews took up stones to stone Him, but the Light continued to live [John 8:59]. Finally, on a dark Friday of a Passover Feast, satanic forces seized Him, crucified Him, and buried Him in a grave [Matthew 27:32-60]. It seemed as though that the Light was extinguished. But on Sunday, on resurrection day, on the first day of the week according to the Scriptures the Spirit of God raised Him from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:4]. He ascended into glory and is now at the right hand of the Power which is on high [Hebrews 1:3]. He appeared unto Saul of Tarsus on his bitter and persecuting way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-5], and He appeared to the apostle John in his lonely exile on the Isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-13], and through the centuries since, the march of those martyrs and witnesses and evangelists has reached down to us to this day, and the Light continues to shine.
In our generation, in our dispensation, and in our age we also live in an admixture of light and darkness, of truth and error, of war and peace, of sin and righteousness. The light has not dispelled the darkness. The darkness of sin, and of unrighteousness, and of violence, and of war is still in this world, but God has done in Christ, and in the Christian message, a marvelous and a miraculous thing.
One: God has cleaved the darkness. God has split it. God has torn it asunder, and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shines through today, now [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And second: we have the promise, the assurance that someday the light shall overcome the darkness, and sin shall be no more, and death shall be no more, and war shall be no more, and unrighteousness shall be no more, and the whole earth shall be filled with the holiness and the glory and the goodness of God. This is the light that shines in the world.
Now may I speak of it as I have seen it? First, in the Levant: it is a dark world, a dark world. The world where Jesus lived, and Paul preached, it is oppressively dark. When the Mohammedan, when the Muslim arose in the seventh century AD: by the sword and by the violence of murder and blood and war, the churches of Northern Africa, and the churches of Palestine and Syria, and the churches of Asia Minor and the churches of European Turkey, all of them were destroyed. And the cross was pulled down, and in its place the star and the scimitar was raised. And to this day, when you go through that great, vast, extended world of North Africa, of the Levant, and of southern Europe next to the Bosporus, you will go through almost a solidly Muslim world. What an amazing thing to walk through the great cathedral of St. Sophia, built by the emperor Justinian in 500 AD: the largest dome in the world, bigger than a baseball diamond, erected in a day when steel was unknown, a miracle of architecture by the series of domes and domes and domes; it is almost like the vaulted chalice of heaven itself.
Here the incomparable preacher John Chrysostom, there did he preach the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus; in Constantinople. And now it is a Muslim mosque; a Mohammedan mosque. And when I was in Istanbul, they were furiously working on a wide boulevard following the course of the Bosporus. And why were they feverishly working? Getting ready for the soon coming five hundredth anniversary of the fall of Christendom and the capture of Constantinople by the Muslim soldiers. Oh! the darkness, the darkness, but a light: “Jesus, the Light of the world” [John 8:12].
When we came down, my companion, my preacher companion and I, when we came down the ramp from the airplane that landed in Istanbul, it was raining. And at the bottom of the ramp there was a young man with an umbrella over his head, and as every passenger passed him by, coming out of the plane, he asked, “Are you the Christians from America? Are you the Christians from America? Are you the Christians from America?” And when I came to the door I heard him as he’d ask everyone that went down that ramp, “Are you the Christians from America?”
And when we came down the ramp, he asked the two of us, “Are you the Christians from America?” I said, “We must be. We are Christians and we are from America.” The American Bible Society had told the young man of our coming, and he was there to meet us. He took us to dinner that evening. He did not eat. I said, “Why don’t you eat?” He said, “Every Wednesday is my fast day. I pray to God for His blessing upon this country and this people and this city, and every Wednesday is my fast day.” And after we had eaten––my companion, my preacher companion and I––he said, “Would you go with me to our prayer meeting?”
And for the first time I crossed the Bosporus and set foot on Asia. And we made our way to his house, his home. He lived on the other side of Istanbul, the Asian side across the Bosporus. And there until after midnight, we spent the time in intersession and in prayer to God for his people, for his nation, and for his city. Jesus, the Light of the world: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness, katalambano, overwhelms it not” [John 1:5].
I speak now of the darkness of pagan religions. In India this rise and surge of nationalism seeks pointedly and steadily to extinguish the Christian faith. No missionaries any longer invited and welcomed to India, and it is the stated policy of the government to try to destroy the Christian faith.
One of the young men there said to me, “It is difficult for me to find work because I am a Christian.” I speak of Israel and of Jordan, of Palestine. A great, glorious, wonderful doctor who read the Bible, believed its promises, a well-to-do man named Dr. Lambie, took everything that he possessed—and he was well-to-do—and went to Palestine, and in the Valley of Baraka, in the Baraka Valley, he built the Baraka Hospital.
There with Bibles and with Christian testimony, he built the hospital to testify to the Jew; that he might come to know and love and receive Christ his Messiah. No sooner had he built that hospital than the war broke out between the Jew and the Arab. And when the United Nations drew that demarcation through Palestine from top to bottom, the hospital that Dr. Lambie had built in the Valley of Baraka was just inside the Muslim sector, a part of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. And not only that, but one of these Jordanian Arab refugee camps was located and built right there by the side that hospital.
So in those years since, that Christian doctor and his wonderful wife and their staff of Christian nurses and doctors have testified in that hospital to those Muslims. And Dr. Lambie died and never saw one single convert. And when I was there after the passing of other years, there still had never been one convert, not one to the Christian faith.
And that is why it so moved my soul, as in Doctor Lambie’s home, his widow gathered her Christian servants and her Christian doctors and the Christian nurses, gathered them around the table, and they sang that song:
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
Though no one joins me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
[“I Have Decided,” author unknown]
Jesus, the Light of the world: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness, katalambano, overwhelmed, cast it down, not” [John 1:5].
I speak of the world of communism and atheism. Not in life could you think of a more poignantly moving story than when I was in Hong Kong, and Red China had just seized the mainland, and the refugees and the Christian pastors were coming out of the bloodbath of Red China into a haven and a refuge in Hong Kong. And one of the stories that came through the border was this: the pastor, his church destroyed, his flock forbidden to assemble, and he himself, his life spared, forced into secular labor, and this is what he did: he chose to be a shepherd with a few sheep. And as you have seen pictures of that Oriental nation, where the soil is intensely tilled, the rice patties will come to little foot paths, little pieces, little islands of dirt that surround them. And here will be a rice patty and then a little green footpath where the grass will grow, and here will be a rice patty up to that same footpath where the grass will grow, and so the rice patties and the rice patties and the rice patties with those little pieces of green where the people can walk between them—he is a shepherd, and he takes his few sheep and he grazes them up and down the trails of those rice patties.
And as the people are working in the rice patties, he sings to his sheep, and he sings Christian songs to his sheep as he shepherds them along those green paths. Then he quotes Scripture to his sheep as they follow those green paths, and then he encourages his sheep with words of Christian consolation and comfort. And as he sings to his sheep, and as he quotes Scriptures to his sheep, and as he encourages his sheep, other sheep hear him who are working in the rice patties. “Jesus, the Light of the world; and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness, katalambano, cast it not down, extinguished it not” [John 1:5].
Oh, I have so many other things to say! I close with one other about us; Jesus, the Light of the world. There are darknesses that we know in our lives, there are valleys that we go through in our pilgrimage, there are sometimes impenetrable darknesses into which our paths lead us, and all of us sometimes, somewhere, shall face that dark trial.
I am thinking now of a dear young wife whom I sought to help and encourage. She greatly, fondly, adoringly loved her husband. And one morning in the routine day of his work, he kissed her fondly, preciously goodbye, got in his car to drive off to work, and somehow, in one of those dark, sad providences of life, he had a car accident, a wreck, and was killed. And that dear wife that I sought to help and encourage and comfort pulled down the shades, refused to go out, buried her life in an impenetrable sadness, and recently was taken to an institution, her mind gone.
Oh! how shall we face these sorrows and the sadnesses of life, the frustrations, the disappointments, the despairs, the casting-downs that all of us inevitably shall know? In the beautiful eighteenth Psalm, there’s a little verse that has become the title of a beautiful poem. Psalm 18:28: “For Thou, dear God, Thou wilt light my candle.” And the poem:
Lord, it is dark; the road is rough to go;
I lift my unlit candle in the night.
Behold it, Lord, within my upraised hand;
Touch it the flame from Thy heavenly light.
This slender waxen thing that is my faith,
Fire it, Lord, with some divine white spark.
Until its circle widening at my feet
Will mark my certain way through the dark.
“Thou wilt light my candle…” thus assured I
Shall go forward through this unknown land;
The way can never grow too dark, too long;
For I shall bear Thy light in my hand.
[“Thou Wilt Light my Candle,” Grace Noll Crowell]
Jesus, the Light of the world: “for the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not” [John 1:5]. Better than an assured way is to walk into the future with the light of the knowledge of the grace of God shining in our souls from the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6].
Now we must sing our song of appeal. You, somebody you give your heart to Jesus; come tonight. A family you, into the fellowship of the church, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming tonight.” A couple you, a child you, a youth, as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it tonight. However God shall say the word, answer with your life, “Here I come, pastor. Here I am.” Make it now. Do it now. On the first note of the fist stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.