Summary: The region that Jesus began His ministry brings to us some great truth about the Kingdom of God.

A Light in the Darkness

Matthew 4:12-17

Ill. Driving through Texas, a New Yorker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. "How can you now claim to have all these injuries?" asked the insurance company's lawyer. "According to the police report, at the time you said you were not hurt." "Look," replied the New Yorker. "I was lying on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The net thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me and asks, 'Are you okay?'"

There are seasons in our lives, some good, some harder to take. It’s interesting that when we are in a good season, we instinctively know it is temporary and will end. But when we are in a bad season, we feel like it will last forever. The same is true for nations as with us individually, and Churches.

There are things that we can do to shorten the seasons, and things that can lengthen the seasons. But the message of hope for us in the darkest times is that this, too, will pass.

In today’s passage, it helps if we understand the history of the peoples in the areas. When placed in the context of the historical setting, this passage comes a live with meaning.

Mat 4:12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.

Mat 4:13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Mat 4:14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

Mat 4:15 "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

Mat 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."

Mat 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Today, we are talking about the region of land that was allotted to the Israeli tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali as Israel entered into the promise land. These were part of the Northern Kingdom after the nation was torn in two because the sons of Solomon. Jeroboam was the natural king, but Rehoboam, who had been in exile in Egypt, returned and led a rebellion. 10 of the tribes followed Rehoboam, the northern kingdom, or the Kingdom of Israel, and two remained under Jeroboam. The two southern tribes comprised the southern kingdom or the Kingdom of Judah. This happened about 975 BC.

So, now let’s jump to 730 BC, some 245 years later. The most northern region of the north kingdom was the area of Galilee, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali. Being on the outer edge of the territory, this land was the most vulnerable to attacks.

The prophecy of judgment was happening. The land was under attack. This time, the invading army is the new world super power, Assyria.

The Assyrian invasion doesn’t come quickly and powerfully, but grows like a slow cancer. And the cancer is sqeezing the life out of the northing kingdom, ending all hope. Slowly, Zebulon and Naphtali, fall.

Their fall is the foreshadowed death of the ten tribes of the northern Kingdom. Assyria is in no hurry. The fall is a foregone conclusion. It takes several years for the death that overshadowed Zebulon and Naphtali to strangle the life out of the northern Kingdom.

2Ki 15:29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.

The people of the northern kingdom were ripped from their homes and relocated to live in servitude in Assyria. All of their property was given to Assyrians who moved into the area. So the land was colonized by Gentiles. That is why it is called Galilee of the Gentiles.

This was not only a dark time for the North Kingdom, it was their funeral. There was something Israel did to cause this dark season.

2Ki 17:7-18 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods

2Ki 17:8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.

2Ki 17:9 And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places (of idol worship) in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city.

2Ki 17:10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree,

2Ki 17:11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger,

2Ki 17:12 and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this."

2Ki 17:13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets."

2Ki 17:14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.

2Ki 17:15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them.

2Ki 17:16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.

2Ki 17:17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.

2Ki 17:18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.

This occurred during the days of Isaiah the Prophet. He had tried to warn them.

Isa 8:21-22 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.

Isa 8:22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.

And that they were, thrust into a hopeless darkness.

Through the years, some of these exiled Jews were able to return to the area from their captivity in Assyria. The land was already colonized and inhabited by people who brought in their false Gods. The Jews would have to scratch out a living to be able to buy some property back. Others became laborers for the pagan people in the land. Oh, the good old days are gone.

But there was a small, narrow shimmer of light. In Isaiah 9, God had sent through the prophet a small reason for hope.

Isa 9:1-2 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

Isa 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

When the darkness seem to not be able to get worse, there was a ray of hope. Not just a small hope, but a great light. That is the setting of our passage text today.

When the text takes place, the Romans ruled the world. The Greeks, and then the Romans, allowed a peoples to have their local heritage and religion.

The region of Israel was divided into territories. Herod Archeus was the tetrarch ruling in Judah. Herod Antipas was ruling in Galilee. Fortunately, Herod Antipas was so lazy and self-indulgent, he seldom cared about what went on in the country.

Jesus went to minister between the outers regions of Galilee, the Syrian Provence of Roman and areas ruled by Phillip the Tetrarch.

Jesus went to Galilee of the Gentiles. This was a derogatory term used by Judean Jews from around Jerusalem.They looked at Samaria as half-breeds and the Jews of Galilee as nothing more than non-jews, Gentiles, those forgotten by God and who forgot God’s way. That gives our passage such rich texture.

Let me point out a few things from our passage and then a final thought.

Mat 4:12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.

The complete account of John’s arrest is found in Matthew 14:1-13. Herod was one that when he finally aroused to take action, he usually overreacted.

Mat 4:13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Mat 4:14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

Mat 4:15 "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

Mat 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."

Mat 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

I. We all will have dark periods.

In his poem “Rainy Days”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,

But at every gust the dead leaves fall,

And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,

But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,

And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; (or in our lingo, that could read “stop the whining”)

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;

Thy fate is the common fate of all,

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.

John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Job got it. Job 14:1 says, "Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.”

Life for everyone is tough. Do you know what would be tougher? Life if you have no hope. Life without God. Life without the promises of God. Life without His mercy and forgiveness.

Consider governments, for instance. Very few national governments were founded upon Christian principles. However, many have started upon markedly unchristian values. Every one of those, without exception, have ended in oppression, lawlessness and anarchy.

It is true, our country, one of the very few which has been founded on Christian principles, may have wandered from those values. But because of the undergirding of those values, written in our founding documents and still serving as guiding lights to our nation, we have the best society that has ever lived.

It is getting worse out there because we are turning from our founding values. But take the lesson of history. Hard times are not a sign of weakness. Every life will have hard times…. But look…

II. Some dark periods are of our own making, and some are not.

God sent prophecy upon prophecy, prophet upon prophet, telling the Jews if they wanted to avoid this type of judgment, follow His way. Over and over, He told them that their nation would be stripped from them if they brought in foreign idols and gods. But they did not listen.

Looking back, we can see that these people often lived in disregard of God. They lived as if their lives were the sum of life and that God did not exist. They ignored Him, and sometimes despised Him.

Sometimes our troubles are because of our choices. Sometimes, troubles find us anyway.

Did you realize that regardless of the cause of your darkness, the way to survive is the same? Regardless what sends your trouble, draw near to God and hold on to His hand. If you did not invite the trouble because of poor choices, you will soon see God’s greater purpose and good. If you did invite the trouble because of poor choices, He will hold on to your hand and will keep all of His promises to you.

God gave the Northern Kingdom a promise of hope. A light would shine right into their darkness, even though the darkness was judgment. And look…

III. For God’s people, there is always a light at the end of the darkness.

Wouldn’t it give you the sense that God has forsaken you to have the land He gave you taken away and given to someone else? Wouldn’t it be hard to explain God’s love to your family if you had to explain to them why you were being ripped from your life and taken to live as servants in a foreign country?

What was worse, the few that got to return were returning to someone else’s land. God’s promise that the land was yours seemed completely legally null and void. Where is God? “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me.”

But God says, “The story is not over yet. You will be the first to see the great Light from Heaven working around you. The Messiah will dwell with you first, not the religious snobs in Jerusalem. He is coming to restore hope in the hopeless.”

Ill. In the movie “Big Fish”, Ed Bloom Senior has always told stories that seemed to his son to be bigger than life. Ed Junior began to doubt his dad’s stories, only to discover that they were based upon truth, though imbellished a little.

In one scene, Ed Senior as a boy accepted a bet to go to the neighborhood witch’s door. Everyone told him not to look her in the eyes, because, “if you do, you will see how you will die.”

When Ed looked into the witch’s eye, his fear melted away. There was a sense of understanding that came over him. From that point on, he lived fearlessly in the light of danger. He wasn’t afraid of dying because he had seen how he was going to die, and the dangers he faced was not how he was going to die.

Although the book is fiction, there is a truth from that which should give us courage. We might not know how we are going to die, or when, but we know what lies beyond death. Shouldn’t that take away all of our fear in living? Shouldn’t this give us plenty of reason to live fearlessly?

Listen, I’ve read the end of the book. I know how it’s going to turn out. I have nothing else to fear in this life if I fear God. Let’s live with courage! Let’s live every moment like we believe what God says is true.

IV. Usually, those with the greatest dark periods will know Him first.

We have been around a lot of pain and suffering. We have watch a dear friend begin losing control of voluntary functions until the disease slowly squeezed the life out of her. We have known children born with such challenges that every day is painful. I can assure you, some people will suffer more in one year than I have all of my life. Others will seem to never have to suffer significantly.

But I can promise you this, those who suffer most can know Jesus more. The apostle Paul was thankful for his suffering that God counted him worthy to suffer.

Ill. There is a book I don’t recommend by a writer that I do not recommend that happens to capture this thought better than I can. This one dreamed that he was in the judgment of the believers’ works standing before God with all the saints through the ages. Everyone was represented as eagles (I know that is a little odd, but bear with me).

Some eagles had almost solid golden feathers on their breasts. Others had a mixture of gold and black. Some had only a few golden feathers.

This believer, in the form of an eagle, asked an angel beside him what was the meaning of the golden feathers and why did people have different amounts. The angel said that the golden feathers were for the suffering experienced in life.

As he was admiring the beauty of those who had many golden feathers, he asked the angel,

“Why didn’t God send me more suffering?”

The angel responded. “Probably because you complained about what He sent.”

Everybody will suffer in this life. Some periods of suffering we cause, others just come anyway. But for God’s people there is always a light, always hope, always grace. And those who suffer most can know God most.