In her recent Wall Street Journal article (03/18/17), Peggy Noonan referred to ‘the observation that a great leader has more in common with an artist than an economist. Economists drill deep in narrow fields, but the artist’s view is more expansive; he’s more able to grasp the big picture, and see how it is changing’.

Any serious consideration of Jesus challenges us with the evidence that he is not just ‘a great leader’ but an exceptional one, who grasps life’s ‘big picture’.

H. G. Wells, historian, and author of books such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, once remarked: ‘I am a historian. I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history’.

In John’s Gospel, we read: 

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

When Jesus said this he was in the Jerusalem temple for the Feast of Tabernacles. A feature of the festival was the lighting of four huge elevated bowls filled with oil. The light they gave was spectacular. They symbolized the great day of God’s Messiah.

Again his words “I am…” stand out. Again he claims to be one with the God who revealed his name to Moses as, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). As the light of the world Jesus invites everyone to come out of the darkness of self-absorption and turn to the true light that uniquely shines from God.


Light is a metaphor for truth – which includes moral attitudes and actions. Later he tells us that he is committed to truth and is himself the truth (John 14:6). He also calls on us all to live in the light of his truth. When we think about it, we can’t experience great relationships at any level – with God or with another human being – unless they are framed in truth.

Because our age insists on political correctness and tolerance we easily lose the impact of Jesus’ imagery. We don’t see the moral darkness of life around us. Yet when we digest Jesus’ words here we feel the weight of how far we all fall short of the God standard.

Significantly, he promises us freedom: “…If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).


Yet, when we rightly understand it we see that freedom is not the absence of all constraints, but submission to the right constraints. It is not the rebellion that recognizes no authority, but the discernment that distinguishes legitimate authority. As someone observed, ‘true freedom is not the license to do as we please, but the liberty to do as we ought’.

We need to relearn this vital distinction, for we are all in danger of failing to observe the difference between exercising liberty and taking liberties. Jesus is telling us that true freedom is bound up with knowing him. This is why he wants us to continue in his word.

We’ve already noticed his insistence on our need to know the truth – about who God is and what he expects of his people. This truth is not just head knowledge. It is a knowledge that awakens, drives and frames our relationship with God and our relationships with one another, impacting our mind, conscience, will and heart. So, as with any relationship, we need to work at knowing God better through his special written self-revelation in the Bible.

Furthermore, as with any relationship, we need to persevere with it, even when things don’t seem to be going our way. Jesus is not asking us to join him in a one hundred yards sprint, but in the marathon of life. The extraordinary thing is that when we do this he, being the leader he is, frees us from our bondage to self-interest and sin and opens our lives up increasingly to develop a world-view through his lens, and so enjoy life as we were meant to live it.

Prayer – Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Advent – adapted)

© John G. Mason