Matthew 4:12-16 (Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
“Bringing the Light into the Darkness”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
January 22, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 4:
Now after [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, He departed into Galilee. And after He had left Nazareth, He came and lived in Capernaum by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, in order that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah should be fulfilled, saying: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people sitting in darkness saw a great light, and for those who were sitting in the region and shadow of death, a light rose for them.
“You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip. Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol).
I don’t know too many people like Ebenezer Scrooge who like the darkness so well, cheap or not. Darkness is scary to many. Who knows what evil may lurk in the dark—things that go bump in the night!? As long as the night-light is on in the room, no monsters under the bed will come out because they only come out in the dark. There is a negativity associated with the dark—blindness, a helpless groping, not knowing what is out there to hurt or to harm you. Paul highlights a negative aspect of darkness in Ephesians 5, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret,” the wicked things people do under the cover of darkness (Eph. 5:11-12 ESV). Darkness, the, becomes associated with evil, imprisonment, and even death.
It might be surprising, then, that the people of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali are said by Isaiah the prophet to be “sitting in darkness” and “sitting in the region and shadow of death.” But a darkness had come upon those northern territories of Israel by God’s divine judgment meted out against their unfaithfulness and sins through the Assyrian conquest and their deportation to Nineveh. In 722 B.C., the Assyrians sacked the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. The Israelites were taken captive by the foreign invaders, many of whom remained in the area so that Galilee became known as “Galilee of the Gentiles!” Sounds like a time of darkness to be sure: defeat, conquest, captivity. Yet Isaiah promises that a new day would dawn for God’s people, a great light would shine. The people would return from captivity. They would come home to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, to this Galilee of the Gentiles.
However, Isaiah had more in mind—a bigger and better light, a dawning of a truly new day. Listen to the whole text that Matthew quotes from. “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isa. 9:1-7 ESV).
Immanuel, God with us, would break into human history. He would bring the very light of God into the middle of a world sitting in the darkness of sin and under the power and authority of death. Jesus’ arrival in Galilee, His move to Capernaum, signals this great moment as Jesus begins His public ministry in the midst of sinners, for the salvation of sinners.
Sin itself is depicted in terms of darkness. John 3:19, Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” Paul says that at one time we were darkness because of our sins and our separation from God (Eph. 5:8). Peter reminds us that we had to be called “out of darkness” (1 Peter 2:9). We, by the very nature of our being, are in darkness because we are evil. That’s what the Bible tells us. It is not only criminals in the dark allies who are evil. There’s more than enough wickedness in our own sinful hearts—lust, greed, jealousy, and hatred. As much as you and I might try to shield our evil deeds from the light of God’s Word, we know that the light of God’s Law penetrates even our most secret sins and declares us condemned under the Lord’s perfect justice and holiness.
Jesus Christ, Immanuel, is the Great Light. He is the Light who has risen to shine on all sinners of every time and place with the mercy, grace, and salvation of God. John 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:1-5 ESV). Jesus, God-with-Us, entered this sin-darkened world, entered into our sinful darkness. He allowed Himself to be oppressed by the darkness of our sins and enveloped in the darkness of our death. On the cross, Jesus literally went into the darkness. “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45 ESV). What’s more, Jesus became the “darkness of the world” for us, bearing our sins, bleeding and dying in our place in the darkness of hell, forsaken by the Father, so that we might become “the light of the world.”
You and I have seen the great light of Christ come to us in the Gospel of the Savior’s life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, at one time we were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord! (Eph. 5:8). Jesus says to us who live by grace through faith in Him, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12 ESV). You have new life in Christ. You no longer live in darkness and under the shadow of death. “[The Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14 ESV). The light of Christ’s forgiveness and everlasting life shines upon you! Your sins are forgiven. You live in His marvelous light as redeemed children of the heavenly Father (1 Peter 2:9).
Living in the light of Christ means that you and I now reflect the light of Christ to those around us. Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16 ESV).
So many people in our community still live under the darkness of sin and unbelief. They do not know the light of Christ, the love of Christ, or the forgiveness and release from sin and guilt which the Lord Jesus has won for them on the cross. You have the opportunity to share that light and love and forgiveness as you tell them about Jesus. On a Southern battlefield during the American Civil War, so the story is told, there was a soldier who had an artery of his arm lacerated severely by the fragment of a shell and was fast bleeding to death. A passing doctor bound up the artery and saved his life. As he was leaving, the soldier cried, “Doctor, what is your name?” “Oh, no matter,” said the doctor. “But, Doctor, I want to tell my wife and children who saved me!” Because the Lord Jesus has come binding up the wounds of sinners and saving our lives in body and soul eternally, there is now a burning desire within each of us through the work of the Holy Spirit to tell others what He has done in bringing to all people the light of forgiveness and eternal life through His cross and resurrection!
Because you have become Jesus’ disciples, you are the world’s light. Jesus, through you, shines His light in this “Galilee” that we call Enfield, Somers, Longmeadow, Suffield, or East Windsor. Through your words and your works of mercy and love done in the name and in the stead of Jesus Christ, you shine the light of the Gospel into the lives of others. It is that Gospel in word and action that scatters the darkness of sin and its consequences. It is the Good News of Christ that binds up the broken-hearted, that forgive sins, that re-creates lives to trust in, to love, and to serve Christ as Lord. Pray and ask your Father in heaven that He might open up opportunities for you to share the Good News of Jesus who is our Light and our Life. Amen.
 Jacob A. O. Preus, Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel (St. Louis: Concordia, 2000), 68-69.