Matthew 4:12-23 (EHV) 12 When Jesus heard that John was put in prison, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 He did this to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and on those dwelling in the region and the shadow of death a light has dawned. 17 From that time, Jesus began to preach: “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” 18 As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.
My dear friends in Christ,
What’s the darkest place you’ve ever been? Is it your room during a storm in the middle of the night? The power goes out—there’s no clock shining next to the bed, no night light in the hallway or the bathroom, no street lights shining in the window, no flashlights, no candles. That’s pretty dark! When it's dark, how do you feel? Scared! Not sure if you should move—you might bump into something, trip over it, fall, and hurt yourself! Being in the dark is scary!
Maybe the darkest place you’ve ever been is a cave, like Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. If you visit this national park, guides will take you deep into the earth. In the middle of the tour with everyone gathered around and standing still, the guide turns off the light. It’s dark. So dark you can’t see the person standing next to you, or even your hand in front of your face! an you imagine being in that cave all by yourself? In the dark? That would be scary too!
The darkest place on earth is difficult to reach. The Mariana Trench is 6.8 miles deep. It’s so deep that if you turned Mt. Everest upside down, it wouldn’t touch the bottom of the trench! Down that deep it’s dark, and darkness is scary!
Jesus experienced darkness, but it wasn’t in a dark room, a cave, or at the bottom of the ocean. Jesus had just faced the darkness of temptation. The devil came at him again and again for 40 days, trying to find the weak link in Jesus’ armor. Satan incessantly tempted Jesus in his efforts to derail God’s plan of salvation.
After Jesus had defeated everything the devil threw at him, the devil took a different approach. He went after one of Jesus’ closest supporters. “When Jesus heard that John was put in prison, he withdrew into Galilee” (Matthew 4:12 EHV). John the Baptist had pointed everyone, even his own disciples, to Jesus as the promised Messiah. John’s message made King Herod so angry that the king threw him into a prison cell. That’s not the way anyone wants to begin their first day on the job, is it? Jesus is facing the darkness. Chances are good that if Herod would throw John into prison, he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to Jesus. Satan hoped that Herod would do just that. So, instead of doing something to antagonize the king, Jesus took refuge far away from Jerusalem. “He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Matthew 4:13 EHV). Do you remember why Jesus had to leave his hometown? The people rejected him as the promised Messiah. They had even tried to throw him off the edge of a cliff. More darkness. Satan was building a wall of hatred between Jesus and the people he had come to save. If they wouldn’t listen to him, they couldn’t be saved. Darkness. Darkness is scary!
We understand that darkness, and it scares us too. All kinds of dark, scary things are going on around us. I asked the children a few moments ago what scared them. They shared their ideas. What would you add to the list?
There are times we aren’t afraid of the darkness. Want to eat the pile of Halloween candy mom told us not to eat? Eat it in the dark. How about drinking too much? Do it in the dark. Want to take advantage of your date physically? Do it in the dark. Need drugs to escape the anxiety and fear you’re dealing with? Use them in the dark. Want to take that device someone left in an unlocked car? Grab it while it’s dark. We hide in the darkness because no one else can see what happens. No one will know.
This is how we are. This is what our hearts look like. Jesus said, “People loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. In fact, everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, or else his deeds would be exposed” (John 3:19–20 EHV). Makes sense, doesn’t it? Darkness hides the things we do wrong, and that’s why we like it. That doesn’t sound so scary—but it should. Do we realize who loves the darkness and wraps himself in its inky embrace? Paul warned us in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 EHV). The darkness is terrifying because the devil owns it. He wants to drag us into darkness, deep darkness, a darkness that will suck all of the love and peace and hope out of life and replace it with empty despair. That’s scary—not monsters under the bed or in the closet; not bugs or snakes or creepy crawlies; not accidents or injuries or illnesses. We should be scared of the devil, because once he envelops us in darkness’s cold, dead embrace, we will never escape. That’s scary!
Being in the dark is scary, but not always. Have you ever heard of a place called “Massacre Rim”? It is located in southwest Nevada, close to the town of Cedarville, CA. Massacre Rim is one of the darkest places in the United States and has been designated a “Dark Sky Sanctuary.” Only 10 dark sky sanctuaries exist in the world, with four of them in the U.S. At more than 100,000 acres, Massacre Rim is the largest one in the country. It is surrounded by thousands of acres of sagebrush and grass, making it perfect for cattle and for camping. These places have been designated as sanctuaries so that people can go to them and see the light—starlight. It is so dark and the air so clear that people can view the Milky Way in all its glory—they can see the light!
In the middle of this dark world, God sent someone to drive away darkness. 700 years before Jesus was born God shared this message with the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and on those dwelling in the region and the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:15–16 EHV).
Light! Light that drives away darkness, even the darkness of death’s scary shadow. What is this great light that has dawned? Matthew continued, “From that time, Jesus began to preach: ‘Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17 EHV). Jesus is the Light Isaiah prophesied about. Jesus is the Light that drives away darkness. Jesus even said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 EHV). If we are trapped in the deepest darkness and have even embraced it, the Light of the world is shining. Do you know him very well? Has it been a long time since you’ve seen the Light? Maybe you’ve never experienced it before. Stop and open your eyes. See Jesus. He is your Light and will show you the way.
Jesus walked that way first. He entered this dark world, but the darkness never defeated him. He never used darkness to conceal fleshly fantasies or hurtful behavior. Jesus lived his whole life in the bright shining light of perfection. Even when Satan himself tried to cover him in darkness, Jesus would respond, “It is written!” God’s Word says it. I believe it. It’s true! Jesus walked through the deepest darkness—“the region and the shadow of death” to his cross. Jesus hung on that scary, terrifying place so you and I wouldn’t have to. Three days later, the Light of the World burst forth into new life when he rose from the dead. Jesus is alive, and he shines brighter than LED headlights on a cold winter night. He shines brighter than the sun in all its glory. He shines on our hearts and drives away every dark fear and sin. He shines in every part of our lives—every dark closet and cave, into the deepest depths of our souls—so he can fill us with hope, peace, and one day, with eternal life!
We are illuminated by the Light. That gives us a chance to shine for the people around us. It doesn’t have to be a huge production. Look how Jesus did it—one or two people at a time! Matthew shared that Jesus took a walk along the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum had a booming economy thanks to an east-west trade route through the city. Fishing played an active role in that economy. As Jesus left footprints in the sandy beach, he met two brothers, Andrew and Peter. They were fishing with a casting net. “He said to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:19 EHV). The two brothers heard Jesus call and saw the Light. They immediately dropped their nets and followed him. It happened again a little farther down the beach. “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21–22 EHV). Same invitation. Same call. Same results. Immediately. Jesus’ words move people!
We have the same power. We need to share the Word of God with someone. Jesus shared it. The final verse in this section says, “Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23 EHV). Jesus shared the Word. He showed how the Word pointed to him as Savior. His miracles were the exclamation point on the message. We have the same message. Jesus came to light up this dark world and to shine light in hearts that are hurting, afraid, and desperate. Jesus loves you more than anything else. He sees your sins—everything you’ve ever done—and he has forgiven everything. His resurrection is the exclamation point on the message. It’s true, because he lives.
We need to let that light, the message of Jesus’ forgiveness, shine brightly for others to see. This past week Pastor Jake and Sarah, Ryan Klatt, Katie Gruba, Zuber Shah, Brian Shult and I had a chance to attend the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. During his presentation, Pastor David Rosenau reminded us just how simple evangelism can be. We need to connect people to the Light of the World. It starts by spending personal time in God’s Word. Take time to read it, whether you turn the pages or swipe through it on YouVersion. Pastor Rosenau offered a great piece of advice. All it takes is an invitation to get someone connected to God’s Word. Invite someone—anyone. Invite them to come and hear what Jesus says, and then see what he can do to change their life. Afraid you won’t say the right thing? Don’t worry. Just ask, “Do you have a pastor? Would you like my pastor to visit you? He will learn your name and remember you, and he will welcome you when you come to hear more about Jesus!”
I know someone very near and dear to my heart who is deathly afraid of the dark. If this person is all alone at night, every light in the house blazes as if to say, “Darkness, stay away!” Even if people are around, this person still likes to turn on all the lights. It’s true, isn’t it? When the lights are on, we are so much less afraid. Maybe we’re even bold enough to say, “I’m not afraid of anything!” Don’t forget, my friends, Jesus has turned on the light. He is the Light of the World. Darkness flees before him. If you’re struggling with darkness in any part of your life, look at the Light. Open up your Bible. Read all about what Jesus has done for you. Share the Light with someone in the dark. We can because we are ILLUMINATED! Amen.