What does it mean to be bright? Ask someone who holds a naturalistic view of the world, who may or may not identify as an atheist, and you’ll hear about a sociocultural movement of intelligent people who have no room for fables about faith, especially the Christian faith.
To be bright nowadays is not to believe in any faith, especially Christianity. Being a “Bright” means you belong to a community of reason. Believing that Scripture has absolute truth that guides a person’s life will probably mean you will be considered a “Dim”, I suppose.
At any rate, being a “Bright” is not a new thing. Unbelief has inundated the whole world like a deluge. It was always in the world, but due to immediate communication unbelief is now able to be seen on your television or your computer screen. The Christian faith still is called a fraud of the clergy and childish superstition as it has been for many centuries. Now it is one’s own reason that is called “light, enlightenment, and virtue” that triumphs over dimwitted Christianity.
“Brights” are seen in today’s Gospel as vile lies pour from the mouths of Jewish leaders. The truth of God’s revelation to them will not stand in their way of denouncing Jesus and His teaching. They boast that they hold fast to the true faith of their fathers. Jesus says otherwise. The “bright” Jews refuse to see the Word made flesh as the One Who gives life. Even Abraham rejoiced over what Jesus proclaims.
Yet the Jews in today’s Gospel will hear none of it. They are reasonable, intelligent people. They know the Law and the prophets, or so they think. Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?
Their answer is “anything but Messiah”. That answer remains firm even today, even among those who identify as Christian. Sometimes it is crass; an outright denial of Jesus as Savior. Other times it is more subtle. Sometimes it appears as “Jesus and something”. Either Jesus saves or no one saves. You can’t have it Jesus + something because that robs our Lord of His glorious work of saving you from sin and death.
So instead of Jesus alone saves, many simply won’t believe in God. They instead turn to other gods who expect some human cooperation. Worse yet, some instead turn to believing in no God. They consider their decision not to believe a “bright” decision. In fact, some who call themselves “Brights” now get together with other atheists and anti-theists every Sunday for something called “Sunday Assembly”. It’s church without any god. You sing happy songs that make you feel good about yourself and hear messages that sometimes mock God, and other times rejoice in the power of self.
Those who refuse to believe see Christians as fools. Yet we who trust in Jesus as our only hope for eternal life see what they can’t, or won’t see. Choosing to be a “Bright” is actually the darkest darkness and insane foolishness. Jesus tells the Jews in today’s Gospel, If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Jesus adds in John chapter ten: If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
Refusing to recognize Jesus as the very Son of God is like calling the noonday sun complete darkness. The spirit of those who blaspheme our Lord in John chapter eight remains today. Some Christians now reject Holy Scripture as the revelation of God. Sure, some of it comes from God, but not all of it.
The next step is to deny Jesus is both true God and true man. A “Bright” person could look at the fact that God has entrusted the furthering of His Son’s Church to sinful human beings and exclaim that this is the chief reason why no fool should believe in Christ. God really should grow His Son’s Church His own self, using some sort of supernatural means to grow it. He has done it in the preaching of Christ crucified through the centuries, in spite of roadblocks put up within and without the Christian Church.
Then there’s the old argument about Christianity being slavery and unbelief being freedom. The Jews in today’s Gospel reject Christ and His Word as godless and imagine their ancestral faith to be God-pleasing. But what do they do when they have no evidence to prove Jesus is not the Christ? They picked up stones to throw at Him. They commit both blasphemy and murder.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. “Bright” people today say nice things like “Do the right thing” and “Don’t be afraid of anyone”. They also say, “God doesn’t care what you believe. He cares about how you live.” You see this when people say silly things like, “I choose to worship God from the deer stand” or “My church building is the golf course.” They worship their god in their own temple.
Words and actions like these show nothing but hatred of God and slavery to sin under the cloak of love, peace, and freedom. They were ready to stone Jesus to death in John chapter eight. They did stone Stephen to death in Acts chapter seven. Saul persecuted Christians without remorse in chapter eight. Yet in the next chapter, Saul sees a bright light from heaven: the resurrected Christ Whom He persecuted.
These examples from Scripture and from history show you what Christians suffer today has been going on for centuries. Hatred of Jesus Christ is nothing new. The greatest hatred is reserved for what Jesus does, even for the so-called “Brights”. He dies for them. He sheds His blood for them, even though they refuse to believe it. Christ died for all sinners. Not all sinners believe that Christ died for them.
That is the message under our Lord’s comforting words today: Before Abraham was, I am. Before there was an Abraham, there was a promise of recompense for sin and death. Satan’s head will be stomped. His power has no authority over you because Jesus Christ has trampled down death once and for all. The great sacrifice for your sin is made. It is finished. That’s what angered so many then and still angers so many today. God becomes man to give forgiveness and life to mankind. Jesus takes man’s sin, death, hatred, foolishness, and betrayal upon Himself. Jesus gives man His life, His righteousness, His innocence, and His joy beyond all believing. Light from above has come in Jesus Christ. Wet in His baptism, you are a “Bright” in the truest sense of the word. You shine in His life-giving light. You live because Jesus lives. You have the knowledge that saves from death and hell.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:21-25 ESV)