What’s your favorite book of the Bible? Is one of the Gospels? Or a letter by Paul like Ephesians or Colossians? Maybe you like First or Second Peter? Or the Psalms? But what about Deuteronomy, Leviticus or Numbers? I bet those books wouldn’t make it to your top ten list at all, would they?
Sometimes Christian believers neglect reading the Old Testament and opt for the New so they can focus primarily on the teachings of Christ. But when we skip out on what we might describe as the less interesting parts of scripture, we also unintentionally miss out on knowing Jesus better as well. In John 5:46, Christ said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” Well, Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy… the Law. Jesus says quite plainly that part of scripture we often avoid also tells us about Him. And I have found that understanding the Law often sheds new light on familiar parts of the New Testament.
Here’s a little background that I think adds depth to Christ’s declaration to be “the Light of the World.” (John 8:12)
In Leviticus 23:39-44, God commanded the Israelites to observe The Feast of the Tabernacles. This annual week-long celebration probably looked something like a national camp-out, if you will. The people constructed and lived in temporary shelters so that they would be reminded how their ancestors had wandered in the wilderness before finally being delivered into the Promised Land. (vs 42-43)
Historical records tell us that the observance developed into a mighty celebration that reminded them of God’s protection, provision, and presence. On opening night of the festival, four gigantic candelabras were moved into the Temple courtyard and took center stage. With four branches extending upward, these golden posts would looked something like a modern-day menorah on steroids. Standing 75 feet tall, each arm supported a bowl capable of holding 10 gallons of oil. Loud singing, dancing and playing of musical instruments preceded the lighting of the massive beacons. Ancient accounts describe the streets of Jerusalem as completely illuminated and visible from miles away. This magnificent gala reminded the Israelites of the time when the glory of God had first entered the temple. (1 Kings 8)
It was against this backdrop that Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the World, publicly and scandalously claiming to be the Messiah of Israel. Possibly back lit by this enormous display, His words would have been impossible to ignore. He had equated Himself with the Lord of Israel and proclaimed His presence meant the glory of God had returned to the temple!
Christ is still that same beacon of glory today. He promises that anyone “who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12b) While the world in which we live can seem exceptionally dark, and punctuated by the harassing taunts of neglect, abuse, disease and death, Jesus still promises that those things will never suffocate His children. If we come to Him in salvation, He will drive away sin, fear, brokenness and hopelessness just as the light drives away darkness. In their place, He illumines our hearts with His Spirit so that He can fulfill, sustain and complete us.