Epiphany 4 February 4, 2024
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
126, 132, 512, 106 v.1,2,5
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Merciful God, we humbly implore You to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
69 days. What have you accomplished over the past 69 days? If my math is correct, 69 days before today would have been late November. A lot has happened since November. Babies have been born and people have died. We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s, and had a whole lot of wintry weather!
But can you imagine having gone those 69 days without seeing even one beam of sunlight? Some of you may remember how in 2010, thirty-three miners in Chile, were trapped 2,300 feet below the earth’s surface for 69 days. For 69 days the only light they saw was the light that came from their headlamps. How amazing the sunshine must have felt for those miners when they were finally rescued 69 days after being trapped!
But worse than spending 69 days without seeing the light of day, imagine spending a lifetime in darkness. No light to see where you are going. No joyous light to brighten your day and fill it with joy and warmth. What a horrible existence that would be! What a hopeless condition to live one’s life in! Yet that is exactly the spiritual condition of every man, woman, and child born into this world. Scripture describes our natural existence as “darkness” and being spiritually blind.
However, when God brings someone to faith in Jesus, He brings them out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. The Apostle Paul writes of this in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) God commanded light to shine in your heart. The source of light for the Christian believer is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus declares in John 8, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Jesus is the light of the world. He is the light that entered this dark world of sin and death. He gives light to all who follow Him. This morning we read of the promise of this light shining on the gloomy darkness of Galilee. Let us therefore consider the great joy of the Son-shine! Listen and think about the word of God in Isaiah, chapter 9, verses one through four:
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.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. (ESV)
As our text begins there are some geographical names that are used which we may not be familiar with. First of all, in verse one we hear of “Zebulun and Naphtali.” These are the names that were given to two sons of Jacob, and thus, two of the tribes of Israel. When the Children of Israel entered the promised land of Canaan, each of the tribes of Israel were given a portion of land for their people to live in. The land that was their portion was their families’ inheritance. The portion of land for the descendants of Zebulun was just west of the Sea of Galilee. The portion of land for the descendants of Naphtali was on the west and northern coast of the Sea of Galilee.
Because of the location of their land, Zebulun and Naphtali were very often on the front lines when an enemy attacked Israel. Any enemy attacking Israel from the North, would first have to go through the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali bringing death and destruction with them.
Zebulun and Naphtali were lands of gloom and oppression. It was a land of darkness and without hope. Most of it was self-imposed by the people’s idolatry and rejection of the one true God. They dwelt, as Isaiah writes, “in the land of the shadow of death.”
But Isaiah writes that all of that was going to change. A great light was going to shine upon them. A light that would bring great joy to the land and a reason to rejoice. We heard in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 4) the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. “And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet…” The great light that was going to shine on them was Jesus, the Light of the World. Jesus was going to live in region and focusing most of His ministry on this area. Jesus was raised in Nazareth, and then He made Capernaum His home base for His ministry in Galilee.
This would be a cause of great joy for the people. The One they and all their forefathers had so eagerly awaited had arrived and was living in their midst! They have seen a great light! The light Jesus would bring would be the light of the Gospel and salvation. Jesus would bring the good news of sins forgiven. He would give them life and light. They could rejoice in this harvest of righteousness and salvation, as at the joy of harvest. Jesus was coming and would break the rod of their oppressor. As oppressive as those invading armies would have been to the people of Naphtali and Zebulun, there was an even greater enemy that oppressed them. But Jesus would overcome their enemy of the devil by never once giving into His temptations. He would overcome their enemy of death by rising to life on the third day after His crucifixion. And He would break the yoke of their burden by taking their sin on Himself and suffering the consequences of it on the cross. They would then rejoice as men rejoice when they divide the spoil of victory.
And yet how did the people of the region receive the Light of the World? While Jesus did have some loyal followers, what happened when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth and proclaimed in their synagogue that He was the Servant of the LORD of whom Isaiah prophesied? They tried to throw Him off of a cliff! And remember what dreadful words Jesus had to say to Capernaum? “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24) Capernaum was exalted to the heavens because the Son of God was dwelling in their midst! Yet they ignored and rejected the Light that was in their midst.
Why is that? Why would these people reject the Light of the World? Jesus tells us in John 3: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21) Jesus gets right at the heart of the problem. So many reject Him as the light of the world because He shines light on their hearts and shows just how dark and sinful it is. The Son-shine also crushes man’s pride by showing that man cannot save himself, only Jesus can. Many would much rather stay in the dark and keep their evil deeds hidden, rather than having them exposed by the Son-shine.
If Jesus had grown up in this area and decided to make your city His home base for His ministry, how would you react? Would you take every opportunity to hear Him speak? Would you travel, even on bitterly cold days, a great distance to have the Son-shine upon you? Would you invite Him to your home to be your guest? Would you bring your children to Jesus to be blessed by Him? Of course we would! Can we imagine it being any other way?!
While Jesus did not choose our times to live in and our neighborhoods as His home base, He did choose your heart. He came to you in Water and the Word of Holy Baptism and set up His throne in your heart. And there He shines. He shines in you and shines through you. The Son shines on you when He gives you His body and blood in Lord’s Supper and says that this was “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Through His Word the Son continues to shine on our lives. You can invite Him over to your home to be your guest by opening the Scriptures at home and hearing His word. You can bring your children to Him to have Him bless them both at church where the light of His word shines on us, and at home with family devotions.
Therefore, we can have that same great joy that Isaiah speaks of in our text, because the Son is shining. Rejoice as with the joy at harvest time, because through faith we have harvested Christ’s righteousness and eternal life. Rejoice as men rejoice when the divide the spoils of war, because in Christ we are victorious. Death and the devil no longer have power over us. The Son has arisen in our hearts. Following Jesus, we no longer walk in darkness, because we have the light of life.
Lord willing, none of us will ever have to know what those Chilean miners had to go through. We will never have to experience going 69 days without sunlight. But we have a greater joy than they had when they were finally brought to the surface, for we have been brought into the light of the Son of God. What a glorious light is this Son-shine. It warms our days and brings us hope and joy in the knowledge of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life! Hallelujah! Amen!
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