A Light in the Darkness

A sermon preached on Matthew 4:12-23 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church by Pastor Michael Johnson on January 26, 2020.

“You light up my life, You give me hope to carry on.” In 1977, Debby Boone’s rendition of You Light Up My Life shot up to the top of the charts. In fact, it held the record for a #1 single on the Billboard charts until they redid how the charts were tracked in 1991. Why? No offense to anyone who likes it, but it’s not that amazing of a song. I know the two lines I sang and that’s it. Maybe it was just the right time for a song about light and hope. The country had been divided over the Vietnam war. Tensions were still high due to the Cold War. Light and hope is what the people could use because they were surrounded by the dark.

Likewise, the people Isaiah originally prophesied to in our first reading were surrounded by the dark. They were living in it. It was around 700 BC. They were far removed from the faithful leadership of King David. You think your government has issues? Their leaders were actively pulling them away from God and his Word.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel lived with the darkness of the Assyrian Empire looming over them, threatening to wipe them out. Yet, amid their darkness, God sent Isaiah to turn them away from their sin and their pain and suffering and to his Word and the forgiveness he reached out to them with.

Yet, Isaiah also brought this stern warning to them. If they would not listen to God, Assyria would come and wipe them off the face of the earth. Well, they turned from God. Assyria came, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel was completely destroyed. This was a stern and powerful message to the rest of the Israelites in Judea not to turn away from God and his Word.

And this is the area Jesus entered and began his preaching. He came to a people living in darkness. When the Assyrians defeated the Israelites, they deported most of them and brought in foreigners who inter-married with the remaining Jews. They were now living in the darkness of their sin and didn’t have the ability or desire to pull themselves out of it. They needed someone to call them out of the darkness and into the light of God’s forgiveness. This is the light Isaiah was talking about when he wrote: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

Jesus came to fulfill this promise. He came with the light of forgiveness. And we live in the light of that forgiveness. Yet, I still have this sinful nature clinging to my heart that makes it all too easy to forget just how bright the life Jesus called me to live is.

And that’s exactly what the Devil works hard to do. The Devil works to put something in the way to block at least some of the light of God’s Word from our lives. The Devil tries to get us to hide our sin and say it’s not that big of a deal. Yet, saying things that don’t need to be said brings darkness – into my life or someone else’s. Holding onto a grudge doesn’t hurt them, but it brings darkness into my life. Trying to find a loophole to revel in my sin brings darkness. The Devil wants me to become comfortable with the twilight of temptation.

Jesus walked among people like you and me – people walking in the darkness of sin. Yet, in Jesus, there was no darkness. Never did he embrace the darkness and hold a grudge against the Pharisees. He never lost his patience with his disciples who were slow to understand. He never even played in the twilight.

Yet, you could say Jesus stepped into the darkness. First, he walked among those living in darkness. He was known for being with the tax collectors and “sinners” and calling them to the light of repentance. Jesus really stepped into the darkness on a day the sun stopped shining. It stopped shining because the perfect Son of God took on all the darkness of your and my sin and took it and paid for it all on the cross. And Jesus shined a marvelous light into your life when he called you out of the darkness and into the light of forgiveness – for many of you, while you were a little baby through the waters of baptism.

And now he calls us to walk in that light. There are many dark places in this world, but we are not to be one of them. Jesus came and shined bright light into every corner of our lives. He brought us to faith, not to remain in the darkness but to follow him in the light. By God’s power, we will not allow any of his rays to be blocked from shining into our hearts. And by his power, we won’t allow ourselves to block that light from shining into someone else.

Maybe you have the same concern I do hearing that. I don’t always live the way I ought. I get too angry. I am not as patient as I have reason to be. I haven’t loved with unconditional, one-way love. Some days I block someone from seeing God’s love. If you share this concern with me, this is what we need to hear.

The brightness of the light Christ has shined cannot be measured in something like lumens. It is measured in souls saved. Jesus is the light of the world. He’s the light brighter than any other because only Jesus can shine light into the darkness of a sin filled heart – and he has. He has here, and he gathers you again and again to remind you of his light and confess your sins and be showered with his forgiveness and walk in the light.

It doesn’t matter if you remember the song, You Light Up My Life. The light that walked in the darkness has placed another song in our hearts through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit pierces the darkness and gives us a song of light and hope that will continue to strengthen us until he brings us to heaven.

Jesus scatters the darkness. He shines light in our lives. He invites us to follow him.