The Great Light!

Matthew 4:12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “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.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Shortly after Jesus' baptism and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, John the Baptist was arrested. This great prophet, doing the Lord’s work, ministering faithfully, preparing the way of the Messiah, was arrested, thrown into prison by an angry king. He would soon become a martyr for the Lord, being beheaded at the request of a young girl.

Two things jump out in verse 12 that should be clear reminders to us that God has a plan and that His plan is not always the most comfortable, easy, or unintrusive of plans for His people. Sometimes His plans are radical and even mysterious as we consider them.

Of the two things that jump out in verse 12 the first is the arrest of John. Just like that, this preacher is taken from his wilderness ministry and sidelined, so to speak, to eventually die in prison. Make no mistake about it, this was God’s plan for him. When John said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase, he probably didn’t know that this would take place in such a dramatic way. So while we must not make the mistake of thinking this was somehow outside of God’s perfect plan, we must also not make the mistake of thinking that God was not with Him in this and was not carrying Him through this trial. God is faithful, and His faithfulness extended in John the Baptist's life through his prison term and his ultimate death there. God’s promises to John were not stifled, but were fulfilled. God did not leave nor forsake John, God did not turn His back on John, God did not stop providing for John. God is not absent in trials – He was not absent in John’s trials and He is not absent in yours.

Psalm 145:18-19 was true for John:

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.

I am not saying that there are not times when we fail to feel the presence of God, or we are maybe afraid He is not there, but the truth is, He is there in the life of the believer. He was with John, He is with you.

The second thing that jumps out in verse 12 is just how Jesus alters His path at John’s arrest, how He, as the Scripture says, “withdrew” to Galilee. This withdrawal was also a part of God’s will and His plan for Jesus, as is clear because of the prophecy that is referred to in the following verses. Jesus' withdrawal fulfilled a prophesy that had been given. We just need to know that in every twist of this book, God is involved, we need to know that everything, whether we totally understand it or not, is clicking along according to the perfect and all-wise Father's plan. That will be true throughout this book, and it is true in each of our lives.

So we can cry out “Where is God?” in moments of weakness, but when we do, if we do, we need to come back to the truth and know and believe that He is near.

Now let’s see where Jesus ends up and also, the incredible truth of this prophecy mentioned.

Matthew 4:13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali

Capernaum was a very prosperous and large city, it was a thriving city in the region of Galilee. Galilee was a very metropolitan area and was also a very spiritually bankrupt region. In fact, some Jews said in John 7:41 that surely the Christ was not going to come from Galilee, was He?

This move by Jesus was the fulfilling of the prophecy given in Isaiah 9.

Isaiah 9:1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. 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.

So we see another fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus.

Now, what I want us to key in on here is what the prophet said next, and what is recorded by Matthew in chapter 4 verse 16.

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.”

In this verse we see a summation of sorts of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. What is the gospel message? What is it that we are to be proclaiming to our family, to our community, to our world? What is it that we are to communicate about the wondrous work of God in the world in which we live? That though we are born in darkness, born an enemy of God, though we have sinned terribly against the Creator, though we are helpless in our own flesh, though we are in darkness, there is a light, there is a way, there is salvation, there is rescue in Jesus Christ.

And who is this message for? It is for the people who dwell in darkness. Who dwells in darkness? All who are born in this world, all who have not embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In Romans we read this:

Romans 3:10b "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Those in darkness need light, they need light to see. It is a grim picture really, to think about people trying to live, trying to navigate through life in darkness. This of course is figurative, not literal darkness but spiritual darkness, but there are great parallels between spiritual darkness and physical darkness.

If you go home and tonight turn out all the lights in your house, so that you can see no light at all, and try to navigate through your house, go from room to room in complete darkness, I’m guessing that won’t go very well.

Last Sunday I left my Bible in the pulpit and when I was leaving, I remembered where it was, so I walked into this room. All the lights were out; it was pitch black in here. But I’ve been in here a lot, I knew there was a clear path to the front, an aisle. So I didn’t bother to turn on the lights, I just walked where I knew to walk. I have made that same walk many times, I didn’t think I needed the light. I got to a point where I thought the stage was and stopped. I began to wonder where all the mic stands would be, where the cords for the sound equipment would be. I thought I knew, since I have walked up here many times before. I was about to take another step and thought, "You know, I think I’ll turn on the flashlight on my phone" just to be sure nothing was in my path. I flipped on my light and looked down, and I was about a half-step away from the front monitor that is about shin high. I saw that and realized that I would have walked right into it, and being shin high, there was a good chance I would have tripped and fallen over it. My light saved me, saved me from a fall.

The light made all the difference. It even changed my course, it changed my path, it provided for me new information that was critical for my well-being.

Think about where Jesus was. The Father sent Him to a land, to a region that was in darkness, spiritual darkness. He went to a land where people were in darkness and had no idea what light really was. People who did not know the way of salvation. They would have been going about their business, doing their own thing, but always in darkness.

And here comes Jesus, who is described in John 8:12 as the light of the world. In fact, here is what Jesus said:

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Just as Jesus walked among those who were in darkness, just as He preached the truth among the lost and dying, we too walk among many who are in darkness, and we too have the truth of God’s Word, the truth of the gospel message, life-giving truth of salvation. We too can share this message with others.

the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light,

In Matthew 5 Jesus says this:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.

I wonder how often we are content to leave those people who are in darkness, just leave them in darkness, and fail to be a light to them, a light of truth. I wonder how often we purposefully separate ourselves from those people in darkness? Maybe we don’t want to get too close to them, maybe we don’t think they are safe, maybe we don’t understand them, so we are uncomfortable with them, or maybe we just don’t care. Maybe it is too complicated, too time consuming to be a light to others. And yet Jesus said we are the light. We are the ones who are to be seen by the world. Why? So that they may see our good works, and do what? Give glory to the Father in Heaven.

But look at what is next. Just in case we fail to see how bad and fiercely destructive the darkness is, verse 16 continues with this: "and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death"

This darkness is in the shadow of death. What is this? It is that they are near, so near to the consequence of final spiritual death. They are in the shadow of that death, the finality of separation from the favor of God – a scary place. And since they are in darkness, they don’t even know it. Just like I didn’t know that monitor was in my path, they don’t even know of the destruction that lies ahead.

And we see the graciousness of God enter into this scene. A helpless, hopeless people on the edge of death, spiritually dead, it is here that we begin to see God’s incredible, amazing, life-changing grace.

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.”

On them the light has dawned! They were on the edge, and the light dawns, dawns for them.

God sent His Son into the world to rescue a people for Himself. He is the light that has dawned. Christ has shone the way, and He has provided the way by living a perfect sinless life to the glory of His Father and giving of Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He took our punishment and gives us His life. We are those in Capernaum.

It is with verse 17 where we see Jesus' ministry begin. How did it begin? He began to preach.

Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus began to preach. What is preaching? The commentator Lenski said, “to preach is not to argue, reason, dispute or convince by intellectual proof...[it is] simply to state in public or testify to all men the truth which God bids us to state.” To preach is to proclaim the truth that God has given us to proclaim, to proclaim the Bible. Hearing it that way, it seems we are all to be preachers, and it sounds rather easy, doesn’t it? It is in a sense. It is just to speak what the Bible already says, to explain the Bible. To explain God’s Word.

Jesus began His minsitry by proclaiming publicly the truth. But the truth that He proclaimed called for change. Everyone who would accept His words was in great need of change. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

A call to repentance is a call to change. The darkness in which people found themelves was a darkness of sin and evil, and the darkness was not just all around them, but it was in them. Jesus' call was for them to turn from that darkness, it is a total change of orientation. It is to turn and seek another way. Or you could say, to look at sin in a different light, to see it as sin, to see it as offensive to God. It is a radical change of heart.

This is the first part of the saving work of the Spirit in a person's soul. And now in Jesus' ministry it was an urgent call because the King had arrived, the Kingdom was at hand.

A truly repentant heart is a heart where the Spirit is at work. What we will see in the rest of this book of Matthew is Jesus as the light shining in the world. The perfect light shining in the darkness. If you are here today and you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, if you have not seen Him as the light of the world, then I would urge you to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus and embrace Him today as your Savior, then follow Him as your Lord.

If you are here today and you are a follower of Jesus, then I would say to you: be the light that God has called you to be, be a light of Jesus in the darkness of the world around you. Do as Jesus did and speak truth, preach truth. Ask Him for help with this, ask Him for boldness, and let your light shine.

God help us to do this, help us to say with the apostle Paul:

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek

This kind of boldness to be a light only comes to us through the power of God. Through His power and because we love Him we can make Him known in this world. It is in Christ that we too can be so bold, and only in Him.

Matthew 4:12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “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.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”