Gospel Matthew 4:12-25
Following the Light
Do we really know what the night is anymore? Sure, the sun goes down and it gets dark outside. Long ago, it was a darker world, at least in terms of artificial light. What we experience at night is not nearly the same as our forbears would have known about the darkness that falls every 24 hours. Of course, today we take for granted how our night is lit up by electric lights, on the streets, in our homes, in parking lots. In fact, all that light generated in the urban areas where most of us live washes out the night sky so that we are no longer able to observe the stars above us. There are fewer and fewer places where you can look up and see the Milky Way because the sky is washed out by lighting. We don’t really have a sense of just how dark the night can be. Now, I’m not complaining, I certainly do not advocate nor pine for a time when all we had were candles and lanterns and the occasional torch.
But for ancient peoples darkness was a different story. Darkness had the upper hand. It was associated with the unknown and unknowable. Darkness was a hindrance to movement and action and foresight. You can’t see what’s coming in the dark. Darkness was all about fear and anxiety and potential peril. Things are also hidden in the darkness. People fumble around in the dark relying on other senses to feel their way. Darkness is also thought of as not knowing, ignorance, even unbelief. (Maybe you’ve had the experience of being “kept in the dark” when something was deliberately kept from you that you wanted or needed to know.) But as I said, the physical aspect of the darkness of night is really not a modern problem. Today we don’t confront the same fears about the night because artificial light creates artificial daytime – we can see what’s out there. But even so, there is a daily darkness in our lives that no artificial light can overcome. We live with plenty of frightening darkness whether it’s day or night. The darkness in our lives comes despite street lights and lamps, and even despite the sun coming up in the morning. We can’t escape it, because sin has come into the world, bringing spiritual darkness and death. Sometimes it seems this darkness also has the upper hand. This too is all about fear and anxiety and potential peril. But this season of Epiphany is about how the light of Christ has broken in upon this darkness. Jesus is the light of the world! Even as we fumble our way in the darkness, the light has come, and we follow the light.
So when Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry for us which we heard today in our Gospel reading, he goes back to the words of the Old Testament, in the prophet Isaiah. “2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”1 We hear that John the Baptist now sits in prison having prepared the way of Jesus. We have previously heard about the Baptism of Our Lord through the Words of the Evangelists, and now Jesus has come out of the wilderness of temptation and relocates to this part of Galilee, “Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.”2 You don’t need to get out a map to understand what is going on. We can only understand these things as the fulfilment of prophecy. Israel’s own story provides our illustration. They were delivered from the power of the Egyptians and given a land of promise, overflowing with blessing. But the people turned away. So they have suffered much under the judgement of God. The prophets warned the people that for them a day of darkness was approaching. Amos, for example: “20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 3 So they went into exile and there they lived under the oppression of harsh rulers and false gods. The people of Galilee are among those who have returned, descended from that history and surely they understand the darkness of life under the Law – the Law cannot save, but can only condemn. So the people sit in that darkness, and they fumble around in the darkness of sin looking for the righteousness of God. They look in vain.
Does the world still sit in darkness? Surely we have overcome such superstitious ideas and have the benefit of reason and modern thinking to guide us away from these old fashioned ideas. Well, we can look around our culture today and see darkness all around. And we can see the false lights that attempt to illuminate a false path for those who sit in darkness. We can certainly see this played out in the culture of death that increasingly defines our so-called modern society. Canada has gone further and faster than just about any other nation in legalizing and normalizing the killing of human beings through its medical system. Right now the Canadian government seeks to obtain feedback on expanding the existing assisted suicide regulations because they are now viewed as “too restrictive.” The idea is to make it much easier to obtain a medically assisted death. So now perhaps those who are mentally ill, those who are unable to speak for themselves, even minors and the frail elderly, will be subject to this new “enlightenment.” It seems that this particular solution to darkness and despair is more darkness, not light. Those who walk in the darkness are unable or unwilling to turn toward the light of faith and repentance. For our world human life is relative, not sacred, and sin is an outdated superstition. To offer guidance from the Holy Scriptures risks being branded as an extremist, intolerant, backward. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”4
Jesus breaks into this darkness, a new day dawns for people who wait for the night to end. St. John brings us themessage from our Saviour: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”5 So as we hear St. Matthew tell us of Jesus calling the disciples we surely must think that they understood something of this light that had now appeared, because they “20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”6 They heard the words of Jesus, “Follow me,” and they had no choice, they had to go. The newly minted disciples knew that from that moment on that nothing could ever be the same again. The light that had come into the world was falling across the path of their lives, the light which brings the kingdom of God – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”7 The Words crash in on us, they rouse us from our fumbling and turn us toward the light. The disciples knew what this means: we must walk in this light, we must follow, or we must perish. And so they go.
Now the thing about these disciples is that they are rather ordinary men. But still Jesus calls them, these ordinary fishermen. He calls them to cast a different net which is the Word of God, and to become “fishers of men.” Ordinary men called to bring this Word to ordinary people. People like you and me. But there is nothing ordinary about this message. We are called into His kingdom, we are called to let the same light that illuminated the hearts of Peter and Andrew and James and John fall upon our paths. We are called out of stumbling and fumbling around in the darkness of sin and instead to turn in repentance and follow the light. Jesus goes before us, and we confidently follow even through the darkness of all that this world can sometimes throw at us.
It seems there is so much darkness. So we must follow the light of Christ because He preserves us in both body and soul. When He begins His ministry this is the light that is cast on those who gather to Him: “He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”8 He proclaims the forgiveness of sins that He will win on the cross for us. He is on the move, and people from all over follow. It’s true that we live in a time when it seems the church is in a time of bust rather than boom, at least in our part of the world. But wherever and whenever we gather in Him name to receive His gifts in the Divine Service He is here with us. That’s why we are here. The light continues to shine in darkness. We need the light. “1The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”9
But those who are called to follow in the light – that’s us – are also called to bear that light in this world that sits in darkness. We are called to walk on this path and follow the light. What does this mean? It’s not knowing a set of facts or winning at a game of Bible trivia. The basis for the light is the ministry of our Lord. But we also learn along this way about a life lived under the cross, a life lived in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another. Jesus calls you to learn from Him your entire life, and to live in the light. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”10
The light has come to save His people from all that goes bump in the dark. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 11 We bear witness to the light in our gathering, witness to the grace and mercy of our Lord. Baptized into the resurrection and death of our Lord and Saviour we receive life, salvation, and forgiveness, feasting on His very Body and Blood in His precious Sacrament as we walk through this pilgrimage. A pilgrimage illuminated by the Light of the World. Real light which shatters the darkness, a light for us to follow, a light that sustains us and preserves us unto life everlasting.
1 Is 9:2.
2 Mt 4:13.
3 Am 5:20.
4 Jn 3:19.
5 Jn 8:12.
6 Mt 4:20.
7 Mt 4:17.
8 Mt 4:23.
9 Ps 27:1.
10 Mt 5:16.
11 Col 1:13–14.