Summary: Sermon for the Epiphany Season
God Sends His Light into the World
1. A light that shines out of the darkness
2. A light that shines out for us all
Dear Christian Friends:
Have you ever been in a place where there’s no light whatsoever? I remember on a couple of occasions when my wife and I went on tours through caves, and they get to that point in the tour where they turn out the lights. It’s so black in the bosom of the earth that you can’t even see your hand two inches in front of your face. There simply is no light. Before long the darkness presses in upon you like a heavy burden, surrounding you, closing in upon you, it is almost claustrophobic. It’s a great relief when they actually turn the lights back on and continue the tour. At the moment the lights are turned back on the darkness flees and you begin to feel more at ease.
This morning the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us about light and darkness. He speaks to us about living in the darkness of this sinful world. But in his words we have the words of God giving us encouragement. As we live and work in this dark sinful world we are not to be overwhelmed by the darkness because God sends his light into the world; a light that shines out of the darkness and a light that shines out for all.
The kingdoms of Judah and Israel at the time of Isaiah were living in darkness. A darkness that surrounded them spiritually and was darker than the deepest cave you would ever tour on this earth. To truly understand the darkness that Isaiah speaks about we have to go back to the time of the death of King Solomon. After Solomon’s death, the land of God’s people was dived into two kingdoms; the Kingdom of Israel to the north and the Kingdom of Judah to the south.
Now, God had given his people very explicit instructions about how and where they were to worship. He had commanded them to worship him only at the temple in Jerusalem. God didn’t want his people to be caught up in all the idol worship of the Canaanites who lived around them. The Canaanite religion was what we call a fertility cult. To worship their gods, the people engaged in sexual relations with shrine prostitutes. This pagan activity took place on the hilltops and sacred groves all around the land of Canaan. That’s why God specifically had commanded that the Israelites only worship in Jerusalem.
It didn’t take long for the people of the northern kingdom to become involved in the idol worship of the Canaanites around them. They prostituted themselves to the false gods, they may have even sacrificed children to some of the idols, and they forgot the Lord. They were plunged into a horrible spiritual darkness.
To punish the spiritually lost ten tribes, around the time of the prophet Isaiah, and during Isaiah’s ministry, the Lord used a nation from the north called the Assyrians to sweep down and carry them off, never to be heard from again. The Assyrians passed through the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali along the western side of the Sea of Galilee, and they slaughtered or deported the majority of the population in those areas. Now we can see why Isaiah refers to Zebulun and Naphtali as living in the land of the shadow of death when he says, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”