3rd Sunday after Epiphany – January 23rd, 2011
Text: Isaiah 9:1-4ff; Matthew 4:12-25
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.
You’ve heard it said that Epiphany is a season of Jesus revealing, making known, manifesting God’s salvation– it’s the true season of Light – where the glory of YHWH shines forth in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus Christ – the Light of the World; the light of the Gentiles, of Huntington Beach. This is all true. And yet it sounds rather odd to talk about darkness in Southern CA, where we average over 266 days of sunshine a year.
But you and I both know that Isaiah isn’t talking about the weather and Jesus didn’t come to Galilee to make sure every home had the proper CFL energy-efficient illumination. Isaiah uncovers what we modern, “civilized” people have largely forgotten, or at least tried to cover up, what in the not so distant past was quite apparent – that darkness is death.
God’s people in Isaiah’s day knew this – they sat in the darkness of exile, awaiting the Dawn of the Messiah. It’s no different today. For as hard as it is to find darkness and bad weather in California, it’s even harder to admit that you sit in darkness, sin and death. That you have sinned in thought, word and deed. You see, sitting in the dark is a lot like being lost you don’t really know how lost you are – or how thick the darkness is - until someone shows you a map or turns on the lights.
Jesus exposes the darkness of our sin in one short little sermon. He cuts to the heart. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The light also exposes the way we sprint blindly into arrogance and gossip, lust and disobedience – obeying false gods in order to brighten our day for just a little bit. Yes, believe that you are indeed a great sinner, but believe that Jesus is a far greater Savior. Jesus’ comes not in terror or judgment or punishment; He comes to scatter the darkness with His Good News.
That’s the difference between Isaiah and Matthew. We no longer wait for the Messiah. New Light has dawned. The Day of the Lord has come in Jesus. In Christ’s forgiveness, God’s verdict of the Last Day slips out. For the Light of Bethlehem’s manger has moved from the Jordan River to the wilderness to Capernaum for you. The reign of God on earth has arrived in the flesh and blood of Jesus. And wherever Jesus reigns, He reigns with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation abounding like an ever-rushing river.
To the world around us, the light of Jesus’ ministry looks rather dim, dull even some skeptics say. Calling disciples, healing, preaching, casting out demons…dying and rising; none of this really sounds like the kind of kingdom or King anyone would have expected. Where’s the conquering? Where’s the victory; where’s the healing?
Because if it’s hard to see the darkness of our sinful condition, it seems just as hard, if not harder, to see the light of God’s salvation when the gloom of this sinful world overshadow the ones we love: where growths and tumors intrude on our family and friends; where little 8 year old boys are killed in tragic accidents; where wicked men slaughter innocent people – a creation held captive to sin and death – shrouded in darkness.
Into this darkness walks Jesus: God of God, Light of Light- in Him is life and that life is the light of Zebulun and Naphtali, of Capernaum and all people; light and life for you. He is your Good Shepherd; He is your Good Fisherman. See how easily He calls His disciples. With a short sermon and two performative little God-does-what-He-says words: “Follow me.” Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. The Word is spoken and all is accomplished. Jesus speaks and His disciples follow. Jesus preaches and sinners are forgiven. Jesus heals and the afflicted are restored. Jesus casts out demons and the prince of this world is thrown down from his self-imposed throne.
The God who gave victory to Gideon’s 300-man light brigade is the same God who now comes and shines with heavenly light in the flesh and blood of Jesus; He wins victory on a Friday afternoon amidst clouds of thick darkness. The glory of the Lord is no longer in the temple; He has taken up permanent residence in human flesh. From Bethlehem to Capernaum and from Capernaum to the cross. Follow God’s glory as He goes, not in a pillar of fire or smoke, but in a pillar of skin and bones. Jesus the Greater Gideon goes once again to fight in battle for us. There is God in crucified, blood-shed-and-poured-out-for-you glory.
Shall anything separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? The forces of Midian or the devil himself? Disease or famine, sword or persecution? The ICU or tragedy – even death? No. Nothing will stop this Savior. For the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness on them – on you – Light has shined. And not just any Light; for that was no ordinary darkness.
Matthew tells us John was arrested; handed over. The forerunner is at it again – always pointing to the Crucified Lamb of God. Jesus too is handed over, betrayed, arrested. John goes where Jesus goes – birth, baptism, arrest and death. And Jesus goes where you go – birth, baptism, obedience, temptation, bearing diseases and suffering, yes even death so that in His death you are given life, consolation. The oppressor’s rod is broken, the yoke of your sinful burden has been laid to rest on the arms of Jesus and Satan’s rule is cast out as easily as Jesus casts His saving nets. This Good Fisherman; He rescues you, pulls you through water to Himself– fishes you out of the darkness – with a Word as strong and powerful as the call to His first disciples: I baptize you...follow me. Not maybe, not sort of, not kind of…but immediately – the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in Jesus.
I’m sure it was a beautiful morning when Jesus walked into Capernaum, fished his disciples out of their boats and set them about the Father’s business. But there is no more beautiful morning this side of heaven than when the light of God’s Word breaks into our lives and speaks a Word of hope and eternal comfort: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Do you find yourself suffering tragedy and in need of comfort? Jesus is at hand. Are your loved ones or friends sick or distressed; do you find yourself overwhelmed by the shadow of death. Are you blinded by this world and in need of saving light? Jesus is at hand.
That’s why Jesus calls His disciples: to spread the light of His Gospel, to rescue, preach, teach – the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. So, He sends them fishing with the same Word He used to pull Andrew and Peter and James and John from their boats and into His net. And that’s the same Word He uses to cast His nets and gather His Church.
For the reign of heaven is not a “what.” But a “who!” You need look no further than Jesus; in Him, God’s Kingdom has come and continues to come. Wherever you find Jesus, there’s the Kingdom.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy Kingdom poured over you in the water. Thy Kingdom fed to you in the Supper, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily body and blood. Thy Kingdom proclaimed into your ears: “I forgive your trespasses as you trespass against Me.” What joy. You go where Jesus calls you: Come, Follow Me.
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.