January 26, 2020
Text: Matt. 4:12-25
The whole world is groping about in the darkness that descended on creation when our first parents sinned. Darkness, not a thing, but the absence of a thing, an emptiness, a void, the darkness is where the light is not. The darkness is a place where demons can hide. The darkness is a place where obstacles and dangers are hidden from sight. The darkness deceives, it obscures, it blinds. Satan, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning, is the prince of darkness. To walk in sin is to walk in the way of darkness. Death is the valley of the shadow. Our enemies gather for their assault on us in the darkness. When the Prophet Isaiah spoke of the people dwelling in darkness, he was referring to the hoards of Assyrian invaders descending like locusts on the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, raping and pillaging, maiming and killing, taking the remnant captive, chained together by hooks in their noses. Nothing was left. Everything was destroyed. Worst of all, there was no hope. Emptiness. Despair. Darkness. Is that not what our enemies are out to do? Sin, death, and the devil? But what is the Great Light dawning to which Isaiah refers? You know it. It is Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. Jesus says this prophecy is fulfilled in Him. There He is in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, and He is bringing light and life where once there was only darkness and death. He preaches: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; ESV), and Light bursts through the darkness. He goes throughout their synagogues announcing the New Creation, the Kingdom has arrived in the flesh. He is proclaiming the Gospel and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. He takes away their diseases and their pains. He casts out the demons. He heals epileptics and paralytics. He forgives sins. Where the Light is, the darkness is dispelled. There is no emptiness where the space is filled. Where Jesus fills, Satan flees.
Now, you can almost feel the darkness in our world. You can almost see it. The hopelessness. The emptiness. The despair. Everyone divided against everyone else. Anger. Rage. Bitterness. The slaughter of babies. The casting aside of the elderly, the sick, and the weak. Suicide at epidemic levels. Hedonism, which is the fanatical pursuit of fleshly pleasure, a la “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Everything (and I mean absolutely everything) is political, which is to say, it is a struggle for power. Because in a world convinced that this all ends in death and nothingness, you have to get yours while the getting is good. The world has rejected her Creator. She has rejected her Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the Light (John 3:19).
And as much as we may enjoy commiserating over the hell-bound handbasket that is the world, we have to understand that, left to our own devices, we love to wallow in the darkness. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who pulls us out. By sending His preachers into the deep, dark sea. With nets. The Gospel. Preaching. Repent. Believe the good news. The Light has come. Jesus pulls us out by the Word. The stuff of the unbelieving world, the stuff that distracts us and takes our eyes off of Jesus, the stuff of Satan and the demons, the worthless garbage in which your fallen, sinful flesh, loves to root around, that is the stuff of the darkness. In preaching, Jesus exposes that stuff to His Light, to His Word, and He turns you from it to Himself, He repents you, He shows you His wounds, His blood, His cross, His once-dead-but-risen-and-living body, and He breathes His Spirit into you, to enliven you and enlighten you. He gives sight to your darkened, blind eyes. He washes away the filth. He applies the wine and the oil, the disinfectant and the salve of His Word and Absolution. He feeds you with the medicine of immortality, the food that is Himself.
So now you’re a walking paradox, aren’t you? In and of yourself, darkness. In Jesus, Light. We always have to be aware of the danger of slipping back into the darkness, for as Jesus says elsewhere, when a demon is cast out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest. And it when it finds none, it returns to the person from whom it was cast and finds the house swept clean and put in order. But if the house is unoccupied… if there is no Jesus living there… it goes and brings seven more demons more evil than itself, and the last state of the person is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26). See, there is no neutral territory. You are either filled with Christ, or the demons will take over. You either belong to Christ, or you belong to Satan. This is why every Baptism is an exorcism. Yes, even those precious little babies. “Depart, thou unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” Every Baptism is Jesus invading hell and robbing the devil of his treasure. Every sermon, every Scripture meditation, every Absolution, every Lord’s Supper, is an invasion of Light in the region and shadow of death. Stay in the Light. Don’t go the way of the darkness. It looks so good sometimes to stray into the shadows. Just a little bit. Just for a minute. Don’t do it! That way is death. It’s a lie. It’s a trap! And when you do fall into the shadows, cry out to Jesus, who will immediately cast His Light. That is repentance.
This has very practical applications. When you are surrounded by darkness in your life, if you find yourself walking in it, caught once again in some besetting sin, or the darkness of hopelessness and despair, fear and anxiety, hear now the preaching of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus is here, in the flesh and with His holy Word, to snatch you out of the devil’s maw, to forgive your sins and dispel the darkness with His Light, to give you hope that will not put you to shame, His Spirit, His consolation, His faith.
When you are fighting with your spouse, when you are one click away from indulging your lust, when you lash out in anger at a co-worker or another driver: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus is here, bringing His peace and reconciliation, peace with God, the peace of sins forgiven, yours and your neighbor’s, yours and your spouse’s, yours and your co-worker’s, and even those of that so-and-so who cut you off in traffic. Redeemed children of God they are and you are. Rejoice! Forgive. Stop up your mouth pouring out words of bitterness. Look to the Crucified and open your lips to declare His praise.
When you are suffering with pain or disease, the effects of death coming into the world, cancer, grief over the death of a loved one, failing eye-sight, failing health, diminishing strength: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus is here to heal every disease and affliction among the people. Perhaps not in this earthly life. Then again, maybe. But perhaps not. But certainly in the resurrection of all flesh! Eternal life for you and all believers in Christ. Risen bodies to go with your already risen and healed spirits.
That is the Light. Repent. The Kingdom, Jesus, has arrived. And now consider this: Jesus has given you specific gifts to shine His Light in all the nooks and crannies of your life where the darkness looks for sanctuary, and to shed that Light abroad to all who are walking in darkness. When you pray, you bring the Light of Christ to the people and situation for which you are praying. When you take up the Lord’s Prayer, you are blasting the Light of Christ into the darkness with every petition. And praying the Lord’s Prayer, or the Psalms, or the Kyrie, or any other Scripture, has the added benefit of enlightening you as it is a powerful means of grace. Likewise, speaking the Divine Name into which you are baptized, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and tracing the Lord’s cross upon your body. Speaking the Creed as a confession of faith to others and preaching to yourself. Powerful Light this is, for it brings and grasps Christ Himself. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
It is easy to despair looking out over the horizon as the Assyrian hoards of demons, the armies of death and sin, and the unbelieving world come marching our way to devour and destroy. But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Jesus Christ it is. There’s none other God. And He is the Light that dispels the darkness forever. Do not fear. Do not despair. Repent. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Bask in the Light. He who died for you, lives for you. He gave Himself into the darkness, and in this way defeated it. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. You have died and live in Him. He will lead you through the valley of the shadow. The darkness can’t have you. Its days are numbered. Jesus reigns. The Light shines. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.