Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 26, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

The Light of Jesus Shines in the Darkness” (Matthew 4:12-25)

          Oh, I know I complain about the dark days of winter here in our region. I suppose it could be worse. It could be Alaska. Or it could be Rjukan, Norway.
          Rjukan is a village of about 3500 people in the southern portion of the Scandinavian peninsula. It lies in a deep valley that sees no sunlight from September to March. But last year, the town decided to do something about it. Following the example of an Italian town that similarly receives little sunlight, the people of Rjukan installed on a mountain ridge a set of massive mirrors that track the sun and reflect the light down into the valley. Now, when the sun is up, there is a 6500 square foot beam of sunshine in the town square. Not enough to brighten the whole town, surely. But certainly enough to brighten the spirits of any villagers who venture out to soak up some rays.1

          The benefits of sunlight are well known. That’s why some of us need to pop a few extra Vitamin D supplements in the wintertime. That’s why some people install bright artificial lights in their homes. That’s why some northerners become snowbirds in the winter months.

          But even our gray days here are nothing like the darkness of a moonless night in the forest or a pitch black cavern where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. There is a certain fear that comes with that kind of darkness. For some, it might be terror. Darkness and the lack of light is associated with evil. Just ask a police officer about what kind of things they see in the middle of the night when they are on patrol.

          But no matter how dark the world may be, the light of Jesus shines in the darkness. Jesus experienced the darkness of opposition. Not long after he was born, murderous Herod forced Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt. Thirty years later, Satan tempted him in the wilderness following his baptism by John. And it was the darkness of opposition to John that prompted our Lord’s move to Galilee rather than face opposition in Jerusalem. The cross was still to come. It was not time yet. The shadow of death would come upon Jesus soon enough. And so Jesus moved to Galilee and preached the same message as John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John preached this message to prepare the way for the Lord. Jesus preached it because in him, the kingdom is here. The rule and reign of God is present and active in the presence and activity of Jesus.

          Galilee was the land allotted to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. It had known much darkness in its history. It was the first region to be overrun by the Assyrians, scattering the Jews who lived there. By the time of Jesus, Jews had resettled there, but there were many Gentiles living there, too … descendants of people who settled there during the reign of Babylonia, Persia, and Greece. With the Gentiles came their idolatrous beliefs, not to mention the mistaken notion of the Jews who lived in the darkness of persistently clinging to their own attempts to keep the Law in order to please and appease God.

          Galilee was a pluralistic society much like our own. Compare the darkness of our “regions” today. Think about the opposition to Christ and his Church. The message of the cross is called “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18).

          Consider also the darkness of the “regions” of our hearts. In Genesis 8, the Lord said, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). And remember what Jesus said: “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15:19). In 1 John 2, the apostle writes, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (1 Jn. 2:9). Even for you and I who are baptized saints in Christ, we still have the darkness of our sinful nature lurking below the surface. And it doesn’t take much for it to rear its ugly head. We must heed our Lord’s call to “repent.”

          Out along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, four fisherman were plying their trade. Although the waters were calm that day, the lake was also known for violent storms. Stormy seas in those days were symbols of death and evil and chaos. Jesus calls these men to “fish” for people out of the darkness … not the darkness of the sea, but the darkness of sin and the separation from God that sin brings. They were to call people to repentance and faith in Christ, casting the net of God’s love and mercy over them, and drawing them into the boat of God’s Church.

          And notice how Matthew describes their response: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him … Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Mt. 4:20, 22). Christ’s call is effective to make someone answer the call. It’s his powerful Word that works. Later, he calls 8 others and commissions them as “apostles” … his special, authoritative messengers. Fishermen. A tax collector. A political extremist. And others we don’t know much else about. Like the apostles, pastors and missionaries today are not necessarily from among the elite. God uses all kinds of people from all walks of life and social strata. The same goes for all whom the Lord calls. Moreover, you may not be called to leave all behind you like the 12 did. But you are called to reorder your priorities. Everything you do is now framed and shaped by your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. He has called you to follow him, and you do so in various ways, as the hymn says

If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
You can say He died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior’s waiting arms.

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Off’ring life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your bounties
You can do what God commands;
You can be like faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

          Peter, Andrew, James, and John then saw the darkness overcome by the light of the kingdom. Jesus went through all Galilee “teaching … and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Mt. 4:23). The powerful Word of God creates faith and brings people into the kingdom. The shadow of death is removed because Jesus gives eternal life. Jesus heals disease and removes the effects of sin. He also casts out demons, proving his power over Satan’s domain. You see, while we recognize the clear physical effects of sin in the world, ultimately we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Paul writes in Ephesians 6: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

          But thanks be to God that Jesus 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). The kingdom of heaven is at hand for you in Jesus. The light of Christ shines in the darkness.

          So what does the kingdom look like when it is present among us today? The Word of Christ is taught, the Good News of the cross is proclaimed, and the kingdom is present. Care and comfort are brought in the name of Jesus to the diseased and afflicted and oppressed, and the kingdom is present. The Church casts the net of God’s love and forgiveness, repentant hearts are filled with faith, guilty consciences are set free, Satan is resisted, and he must flee. And the kingdom of God is at hand.

          The light of Christ shines in the darkness. Crowned upon the cross he rescued you from your sins. Coming forth from the tomb, he removed the shadow of death once and for all. The kingdom is at hand for you today in Word, water, bread, and wine. And the kingdom will come in all its fullness on the Last Day. Jesus’ ministry in Galilee gives us a preview of Paradise, the glory of God’s eternal kingdom, where there will be no more disease, no more demonic oppression, but only peace and joy and a place with the saints in God’s everlasting kingdom where there “the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).



2 LSB 826, stanzas 2 and 3

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