“The People Dwelling in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light” (Matthew 4:12-25)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 22, 2023

“The People Dwelling in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light” (Matthew 4:12-25)

In our Gospel reading for today, St. Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. And to do so, he quotes a passage from our Old Testament reading from Isaiah. Matthew writes: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” And this gives us our theme for this morning’s message: “The People Dwelling in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light.”

Yes, like the Galileans, we Americans are a people dwelling in darkness. We too are those dwelling in the region and shadow of death. But there is hope for us, just as there was for the Galileans. Because Christ has come to us, and we have seen a great light. On us a light has dawned.

“The people dwelling in darkness”: Is that us? Really? Yes, really. Just take a look around you, and you will see the darkness. People blinded by sin. People groping around in the dark. People living and breathing–even doing well, perhaps, successful, enjoying life–but spiritually dead on the inside, because they lack the light of Christ. That characterizes our society. We are people dwelling in the region and shadow of death.

Let me give you an example. It was fifty years ago today, on January 22, 1973–a date which will live in infamy–that the United States Supreme Court came out with its Roe v. Wade decision, striking down all state laws against abortion. Not only was that wrong constitutionally, violating the Tenth Amendment, of course it was also terribly wrong morally, legalizing the murder of unborn babies. And since that time, more than 63 million abortions have been committed in America, 63 million lives snuffed out. We are indeed people dwelling in the region and shadow of death.

Now thankfully, last year the current Supreme Court rightfully struck down Roe v. Wade. And in Missouri, there are no more abortion mills operating here. But just drive across the river from St. Louis, and one of the first things you’ll see is a giant billboard saying, “Welcome to Illinois, where you can get a safe, legal abortion.” Of course, an abortion is never safe, since it kills that little baby in the womb. And it may be legal in Illinois, but it is murder according to God’s law, which is always supreme.

Oh, by the way, about a week and a half ago, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that “(1) condemns recent attacks of vandalism, violence, and destruction against pro-life facilities, groups, and churches; (2) recognizes the sanctity of life and the important role pro-life facilities, groups, and churches play in supporting pregnant women, infants, and families; and (3) calls upon the Biden Administration to use all appropriate law enforcement authorities to uphold public safety and to protect the rights of pro-life facilities, groups, and churches.” Now this should be a no-brainer, right? Unanimous consent, yes? Who could be against condemning attacks on pro-life facilities, groups, and churches? Who could be against protecting the rights of American citizens? Well, apparently, almost half of the House. The measure passed, but just barely, 222-209.

We live in a land of darkness. We dwell in the region and shadow of death. And it’s not just out there. It’s in here, too. In us. Inside you and me. Too often we go along with the darkness and the death. Too often we live like the people who lack the light of Christ. Oh, sure, maybe you wouldn’t go along with abortion, but in other ways have you gone along with things that are popular in our culture but go against God’s word? Same-sex marriage? Premarital sex? Divorce for less than biblical reasons? Greed? Drunkenness? Not going to church when you are able to do so? See, there’s plenty of darkness to go around, sin out there and sin inside of us. And where sin is, death will surely follow. The death rate is still 100%, one per person. Your name is on that list, whenever that day comes calling.

But, as our text says, “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” That’s for us! We have seen a great light! On us a light has dawned! For here comes Jesus, doing his thing. And his “thing” includes the three things we see him doing in our text: preaching, teaching, and healing. “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” Preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus brings his light to us.

First, he preaches: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus is bringing the kingdom of heaven into our midst. And because he is, it’s time for us to repent. We all have sins to repent of. And it even goes deeper than that. It’s our whole sinful self that we have to repent of. As self-serving sinners, we turn away from God and choose our own way to live. To repent means to acknowledge your sinfulness, get sick of it, confess it to God, and seek his forgiveness and help. He will give it to you; you have his promise on it.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus brings the kingdom to us. It is the active reign of God, his gracious rule coming into our midst. The kingdom of heaven is the driving out of darkness and death and the entrance of light and life in their place. Jesus comes bringing the kingdom of heaven here on earth. He manifests the blessings of that kingdom in his ministry.

So first, preaching: proclaiming a call to repentance and the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. The next part of Jesus’ ministry is his teaching. And so he calls to himself people whom he will teach. He calls disciples. The first bunch are some Galilean fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus is going to train these guys, so that they in turn can bring more people into the net of the church, so that they too can learn from Jesus and follow him.

And guess what? That’s you! You and I have been called to follow Jesus and learn from him. The purpose of Jesus’ teaching ministry is to unfold for you the true meaning of God’s Word, so that you can believe and live aright, according to God’s design. And that means living in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. Jesus teaches us not to trust in our own righteousness, which does not amount to a hill of beans. Instead, we trust in the merits of Christ, who went to the hill called Calvary to obtain for you the only righteousness that does work. Christ crucified–there is true wisdom for you, God’s wisdom and power, but which look like foolishness and weakness in the eyes of the world.

Following Jesus in faith, learning from him as his disciple–this is an ongoing discipleship, your whole life long. Oh, your salvation is already won. Jesus took care of that by his death on the cross and mighty resurrection. You have been joined to Jesus in your baptism and given the Holy Spirit. Your hope in Christ for eternal life is secure, because it rests outside of you and on God’s promise. But your life as Christ’s disciple is always growing. The Lord will continue to teach you, as you continue in his Word.

Preaching, teaching, and now the third part of Jesus’ ministry, healing. “OK, Pastor, explain that! You say that Jesus did preaching and teaching and that he’s continuing to preach and teach through the ministry of the church. Fair enough. But where is the healing? Look at what Jesus did: ‘And they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.’ Why isn’t Jesus doing that today?”

Well, remember this about those healings: All those people that Jesus healed–they all ended up dying. They got sick from something else down the line and died. But it wasn’t like Jesus’ healings didn’t “take.” It’s just that they served a limited purpose. Those healings showed what’s in store for all of us, because of what Jesus has done by his death and resurrection. Those healings are a “sneak preview” of the ultimate healing we will receive when Christ comes again on the last day. The point being, God is committed to healing our bodies. He will restore the whole of this broken creation. That day is coming, the day when Christ returns. Resurrection. Glorified bodies. Paradise restored, better than ever. New heavens and a new earth. Everlasting life, with our Lord and all his saints.

And this is where the sacraments come in. The sacraments that Christ instituted show that God is committed to healing your body as well as your soul. The very acts of the sacraments–Holy Baptism and Holy Communion–these sacraments are applied to your body. God has redeemed you in both body and soul.

Luther makes this point in the Large Catechism. About Baptism, he writes: “I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism: the body–which can grasp nothing but the water–is sprinkled and, in addition, the Word is spoken for the soul to grasp. Now, since both, the water and the Word, make one Baptism, therefore, body and soul must be saved and live forever.” Likewise, in regard to the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther writes: “It will cure you and give you life both in soul and in body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved.”

Preaching, teaching, and healing: Jesus is still doing these things today. And you are the beneficiary of his ongoing ministry. Christ is still coming to us, into our midst, bringing with him the kingdom of heaven. “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them”–on us!–“a light has dawned!”

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Published in: on January 21, 2023 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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