Sunday the 22nd of January 2017
Mathew 4: 12-13
I don’t know about you but often when I read the bible I sometimes over look details that I think are unimportant. I want to move on to the interesting parts, the parts that speak to me. But detail is very important in God’s word, nothing written in there is by mistake. In today’s reading from Matthew chapter 4 we have details that are worth looking at, namely the places Zebulun and Naphtali. The first time that these places were spoken of by God, was about 700 years before Jesus. They were spoken about in a time where the two Northern tribes of Israel were conquered by Assyria. In other words, Zebulun and Naphtali had not been on the lips of God’s people for a very, very long time. The last time they were, in the book of Isaiah, this was what was said: ‘In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations’ (9:1).
And now in today’s Gospel we have Jesus moving from his home town in Nazareth to the town of Capernaum that was also occupied by a foreign power, just as the areas of Zebulun and Naphtali were all those years before. It is interesting that Jesus leaves Nazareth and goes into a hostile territory. He does not go to the safe place of Jerusalem, but the dangerous place of Galilee. It is like the Father was saying to Jesus: “it may look like empire is in control, but you know the truth, and you have to be the truth”. It is of no coincidence that in the very next chapter, Jesus would go on to tell his disciples who and what he needs them to be in places where they will be persecuted; who and what he needs them to be in the midst of powers that will seek to overpower them; who and what he needs them to be when it would be so easy to give up. You see Jesus has moved from the safe place of Nazareth to an unsafe territory.
And why did he go there? He went there on a journey of promise, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles might see the light. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned. At the mention of these two tribes, those who were paying attention knew that in and through Jesus, God was up to what God does best: making good on God’s promises to God’s people. He was bringing his light into the darkness.
Jesus took a journey into a place filled with darkness, to bring them the light of God through him. There is something about this that is worth thinking about.
As Christians we know that Jesus is the light of the world and that through him his light shines through us. And the image of Jesus being the light is a great comfort to many, particularly as they face seasons in their lives that seem to be filled with darkness. But I wonder whether at times we need to pause and reflect on what it means to be in darkness a bit more often than we do. Wherever there is sin there is darkness. As we look at the world around us, it is not that hard to see this truth, is it? Sometimes just thinking about things can bring a heavy darkness, almost depressive feeling when we do.
But what about when we think about the church? Is there any darkness here in this place? The thing is that whenever anyone of us sins it clouds Jesus light. When we are prideful and act proud, we live in darkness; whenever we do what we know is wrong, we live in darkness; whenever we judge others, or spread untrue gossip we live in darkness; whenever we let our anger get the better of us, we live in darkness; whenever we let the conflicts and the sin amongst us, stop us from praying and building each other up, we live in darkness.
The people who Jesus went to “were sitting in great darkness”. In other words they were stuck in their sins before God and unable to break free. Because of this it says that “they sat in the region of the shadow of death”. When any of us sin against God it brings consequences and as we, as Christians, know the ultimate consequences of sin is death. Now we may know it is true, but do we think about it in how we behave? Every time we are prideful, deceitful, judging, gossiping, acting in unrighteous anger etc the consequences should lead to death. There are times when we need to be confronted with the reality of our own sins before God.
But here is where Jesus’ actions are so important. Notice that Jesus did not wait for those people in Galilee to come to him, rather he went to them. He went to them in amongst their sin and darkness and he shone his light as he preached “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. Jesus took the risk of leaving his safe place to go to a place that was full of darkness. Jesus is the one who takes the initiative.
And he does all these things for you and me. Here in this place, among all of us who are full of sin and where darkness at times does cloud out God’s light, Jesus is present. Here in this place where we so easily take our eyes off of him, Jesus is present. In this place where sometimes we struggle to see him, because of conflict with others, Jesus is still present. But Jesus is more than present, he comes to us, he comes into our darkness to shine his light on us. He comes to us to speak his word to us. Jesus takes the initiative. And as he comes to us he brings us more than just his light – he gives us forgiveness. Every single one of us here sins against God, but Jesus comes and gives every single one of us complete forgiveness because he paid the penalty of death that we deserve for us. Again this is something worth spending some time thinking about. Jesus paid our death penalty.
Jesus began his ministry by walking into the dark places to bring his light of salvation, and in Matthew he ends his ministry by telling his disciples to Go and make disciples of all nations. Leaving their comfort zones and travelling into the darkness of the world. Jesus took risks to bring his light to others; he also empowers us as his followers to do the same. We live in a world where the forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed to those who do not know him and are stuck sitting in their sins, sitting in their darkness. But it is not only out there in the world where this Gospel needs to be proclaimed, it needs to be proclaimed at times to each of us here, by each other, so that we can receive Jesus as he comes to us.
Our Triune God is with us throughout the entire time we worship in his house, he is always present with us. But it is at Holy Communion that we come, in repentance, to receive him as he comes to forgive and strengthen us in faith. This is a place where he comes to give us strength to do what often we cannot do by our own strength. This is a place where he comes to give us everything we need to grow in faith in him and in love towards each other.
I encourage you in your walk with Jesus to reflect on the lengths that he has gone to come to you in your life, the lengths that he has gone to come into your darkness and give you his forgiveness.