The Great Light in Deep Darkness
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, February 16, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
Are you a star worshiper? Like many other people in the world, American people are known to be star conscious and star worshipers. By stars I do not mean heavenly bodies; I am referring to men and women who have achieved great success in the world.
We have a great tendency to idolize such people, yet these people are not really worthy of worship. Biblically speaking, these men and women are not stars; rather, they are deep darkness, and if you follow them, you can be assured that you, along with them, will be caught into a black hole of misery and wretchedness. Why? They all are sinners, as the Westminster Confession says in chapter VI, section IV, "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good and wholly inclined to all evil." And in chapter IX, section III, the Confession tells us, "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation." We can find no true light in the stars of this world.
To the great darkness of the world came the great light, Jesus of Nazareth. He alone is the Holy One, the Son of God, the Immanuel of Isaianic prophecy, the Son of David, the Suffering Servant, the one baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness, approved by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Having defeated the devil by the power of the Spirit and by the sword of the holy and infallible Scripture, Jesus came, and it is he and he alone who said, "I am the Light of the world." He is the Sun of Righteousness risen with healing in his wings. He alone said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus is the Light who gives light and the Life who gives life. He is the great Light of the world.
The Place of Shining
Where did this great Light shine? In Galilee. It appears from the first four chapters of John's gospel that Jesus ministered in Judea until John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas in the dungeon of a castle in Machaerus near Jericho. Why was John imprisoned? In Matthew 14 we read that John the Baptist had publicly denounced the immorality of Herod Antipas. He spoke against Herod's unrighteous actions in seducing Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod divorced his first wife and married Herodias, which was against God's law, and the great prophet John denounced this sin committed by King Herod.
Although John was imprisoned, the message of the kingdom could not be silenced. What John had preached in Judea Jesus now began to preach in Galilee. Like John, Jesus would also be killed for his preaching, but it did not happen right away. Remember, Jesus had authority to lay down his life and authority to take it up again. Before he would lay down his life voluntarily for each one of us, Jesus had to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and he did so in Galilee.
Jesus traveled north from Judea to Galilee and settled there. And we must ask why Jesus made Galilee the center of his ministry. Why didn't he settle in Jerusalem, the city where the stars--the rich, famous, successful people--lived? Why Galilee?
Galilee was bordered on the north by Syria, on the south by Samaria, on the west by Phoenicia, and on the east by the Decapolis, which were ten independent cities where Greek culture prevailed. Galilee was the area of ancient Israel which had suffered most during the invasion of Syria in the eighth century. In 2 Kings 15:29 we read that in the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria conquered Galilee and deported its people to Assyria. Thus, the Galilean people were a mixed population who were very despised by the people of Judea and Jerusalem. They were influenced greatly by the paganism of their time.
Why did Jesus come to Galilee to begin his ministry? The prophecy of Isaiah stipulated that the great light of the Messiah would shine in the deep darkness of Galilee, bringing the people of that region reason for great joy and celebration. Immanuel, the virgin-born Son, would minister to the people of Galilee who sat in the deep darkness of desolation, depravity, and despondency. For a long time the Galileans had dwelt without light. They lived in darkness, in danger, in fear, and in anxiety.
In Isaiah 9:1,2 we read of this great promise, "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."
Why, then, did Jesus go to Galilee? The Isaianic prophecy stipulated that the Son of God, the Son of David, the great light, would first shine there. Jesus knew his Bible, and so, as an obedient son, he went to Galilee to minister to the most despised. When he got there, first he went to Nazareth and then to Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Light Comes to Galilee
Capernaum was located on an international highway. Peter lived in Capernaum as well as Matthew, the revenue officer. According to Josephus, Galilee during this time was heavily populated. From Capernaum Jesus had access, either by land or by the Sea of Galilee, to many other towns.
Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, but he abandoned it after the Nazarenes tried to murder him who was the true Nazarene. Jesus adopted Capernaum as his own town, as we read in Matthew 9, and I suppose that he used Peter's house as his headquarters. If you go to Capernaum in Galilee today, you will see a basilica erected on the presumed site of Peter's house. Next door to it is a synagogue which might be standing on the very site of the original synagogue of Capernaum wherein Jesus himself ministered.
To the people of Galilee--these people of deep darkness and despondency--Jesus came as the great light. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had prophesied about this in Luke 1:76-79: "And you, my child," speaking about John the Baptist, "will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
The Light Comes to the Despised
By going to Galilee, Jesus was going, not to the wise, the influential and those of noble birth, but to the despised people of the world. God does this. He chooses the foolish things of the world, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, the lowly things, the despised things, the nothings of this world, and shines his great light on them.
Generally speaking, the so-called stars of the world miss the great light of Jesus. Why? In their eyes, at least, they have no need. Jesus comes to the lost, the sick, the thirsty, the guilty, the hungry and the depraved. He comes to the desolate and despondent. He comes to those who are in deep danger. Why? To bring us out of our darkness into his marvelous light. Peter the Galilean wrote about this in in his first epistle, chapter 2, verse 9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Let me assure you, the darkness of the Galileans did not produce light. Darkness can never produce light. But great light in the person of Jesus Christ dawned in their darkness and changed their darkness into light. In the same way, Jesus also will change our death into life, our gloom into laughter, and our darkness into light.
Did the Galileans seek Jesus Christ? Did they seek the light? No. They were sitting and dwelling for long ages in darkness when the great light sent by heaven came to them by God's grace. Salvation is by grace alone.
Directed by the Scriptures to preach the gospel to the vilest of sinners, Jesus went to Capernaum in Galilee. He came as light in darkness, as a friend of sinners, and preached the good news: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Jesus alone can cure our spiritual blindness and cause us to see in his light.
The Bearers of Light
In going to Galilee to preach the good news, Jesus was foreshadowing the subsequent commissioning of his disciples for the universal proclamation of the gospel that we read about in Matthew 28. The whole world was foreshadowed in Galilee, the place of deep darkness. To proclaim the good news, Jesus must choose and train disciples so he could send them into the world as bearers of light. The whole world is in trouble and Jesus alone is the Light of the world.
Can we find any other light in the world? No. Oh, during the Renaissance people discovered Greek culture and Greek writings, and thought, "We have discovered light in Socrates and Plato." Let me tell you, Socrates is darkness and Plato is darkness. The whole world is encapsulated in this Galilee of deep darkness.
Jesus called his disciples to him so that he could train them and send them into the whole world as bearers of light. People tend to think that all people have a spark of light in them but there is no spark of light in anybody. We must acknowledge that we are darkness and we shall never come out of the darkness until Christ comes to us and brings us out.
Called to Fish Men
In Matthew 4:18 we read, "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew." These were the first disciples Jesus called to him. He had known these men before, as we read in John 1. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, but when he heard the message, "Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world," he, together with John, left to meet Jesus. Andrew then introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, who gave him the new name of Peter. The brothers then went back to Galilee and to their fishing business. Now Jesus was calling them to come and follow him.
Jesus chose these lowly fishermen, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to become fishers of men. Soon he would choose eight others, including Matthew, another resident of Capernaum. They were all called to be with him that he might train them and send them out into the world to disseminate and radiate the light of the gospel.
"Come, follow me!" Jesus said to the disciples. It was the voice of the Son of God, the royal call of the King. The King's business requires haste, and the disciples responded immediately. They stopped what they were doing and followed him. Theirs was a wholehearted response.
The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. They left their nets, their boats, their parents and their families. Why? They must follow the King who had called them to ministry. To him shall the obedience of the people be.
Who Called You?
Jesus told the disciples, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." What is the most important question in Christian ministry? The question of calling. Those who consider themselves Christians, especially Christian ministers, must ask this question: Who called you? Was it God, or others, or did you call yourself?
Jesus spoke about calling in Luke 9:57-62. As Jesus and his disciples were walking along a road, a man said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go." There was one problem: Jesus had not called him. There are many people like that even today who are calling themselves. To them Christian ministry is a way of making a living. Notice, it says, "A man said to him, ' I will follow you wherever you go.'" In other words, man, he didn't call you!
Look at verse 59, "He said to another, 'Follow me.'" That is the call of Jesus Christ. He didn't call the other man but he called this one. "Follow me." Look at verse 61. "Still another said, 'I will follow you, Lord.'" But Jesus didn't call him.
It does not matter whether an organization called you or whether you called yourself. If God has not called you to the ministry, you are a walking danger. Such people will bring dishonor to Christ and his kingdom. He who called Andrew, Simon, James, John, Matthew and the others still calls people to his ministry. If you are so called by him, you will respond in faith instantly and wholeheartedly. You will leave your things, your profession, and your parents. You will leave all to follow Jesus wherever he leads you.
If you are called by God, you will love Jesus more than anything or anyone else in the whole world. You will love Jesus more than your mother, your wife, your husband, your children, your brothers, your sisters, or your own life. So Jesus told the disciples, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." That was a better job than fishing fish. There is greater dignity in fishing men.
Called to Serve God
Notice, the disciples were working when Jesus called them. Jesus does not call lazy people. There are some people who are lazy and do not know which end is up. Along comes a missions conference and what do they say? I got a call. Oh, no. These men were busily engaged in fishing. Jesus calls people who are busy and hard at work. He calls people of patience, hard work, and perseverance--people who can endure hardships. He calls such people to a superior service.
God calls his people to real service, not to ease, comfort, and recreation. And this service includes suffering. In Acts 12 we read how James became the first apostle to be martyred. We know that later on Peter was martyred by crucifixion.
Fishing for the Kingdom
What does it mean to be a fisher of men? Jeremiah 16:16 speaks about fishing for men. In that context, God was sending fishers of men to gather people that they may be sent in judgment to exile away from the land of promise.
But this is a different kind of fishing. Jesus trains us to be fishers of men, meaning to be skilled in catching men and women from the waters of judgment and bringing them to salvation in the kingdom of God. He wants people to be skilled in the casting of the gospel nets in the power of the Spirit and in the direction of the Holy Scriptures. He wants people who will proclaim unashamedly that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. So he tells his disciples that he will make them fishers of men. Oh, that is a promotion, isn't it? They went from fishing fish to fishing people, both great and small.
God did a similar thing for David. David was a shepherd of sheep, a man of sweat and stench. God promoted him, and we read in the Scriptures that he made him the shepherd of Israel.
Fishing of men is a good business. In Proverbs 11:30 we read, "He who wins souls is wise." In Daniel 12:3 we read, "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." These are the true stars--not the actors, actresses, politicians, scientists, and philosophers of this world, most of whom, as I said, are in deep darkness. (PGM) The rich and famous of the world who do not know God are darkness themselves. Who are true stars? Those who lead many from unrighteousness to righteousness by the proclamation of the gospel.
Casting the Gospel Net
What about you? Do you know how to cast the gospel net? Do you know the gospel and believe in Christ who died for you on the cross? Have you led your father, your mother, your husband, your wife, or your children to righteousness from unrighteousness? Have you given them the gospel? Have you earnestly prayed for their salvation? If you are a Christian, you are a fisherman commissioned by God to catch people out of judgment and bring them to salvation in Jesus, who is the great Light.
Are you like Andrew? In John 1:40-42 we read that when Andrew learned that Jesus was the Messiah, the first thing he did was to go to his brother, Simon, and say, "Simon, we have found the Messiah. Come and meet him!" Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, and Simon was saved and received a new name. In John 6 we read how people were starving and Jesus asked the disciples what they could give them to eat. It was Andrew who led a small boy with five small barley loaves and two fish to Jesus. Andrew was in the business of bringing people to Jesus. In John 12 we read that some Greeks, cultured people, came to the disciples and said, "We would like to see Jesus." Once again Andrew, along with Philip, brought the Greeks to Jesus.
Are you like Peter? On the day of Pentecost he preached the gospel, casting the gospel net so effectively that we read in Acts 2:41 that three thousand people were fished out of the waters of damnation and judgment that day. Through the word of God coming through Peter they entered into the kingdom of God. They were brought out of darkness into the marvelous light.
I exhort you : Be wise. Be a star. Be a fisher of men. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and know the gospel. Stand unashamed in the world of darkness. Shine as light!
The Ministry of Preaching
And what does it mean to shine as light in the world of darkness? It is summarized in Matthew 4:23: Jesus went about preaching, teaching, and healing the sick.
What is preaching? It is the work of a herald. It means to announce the good news of the gospel. What is involved in preaching? First of all, let me tell you, biblical preaching deals in certainties, not doubts. Preachers must preach certainties. Now, if you are not called of God, you cannot preach certainties. You can read poetry or quote the scholars and philosophers of the world or tell stories, but if you are not called by Christ, you will have no certainty to preach. You will pepper your preaching with a lot of perhapses and maybes, creating doubts in your listeners.
Second, we must realize that preaching is directed especially to the will of man. The mind and emotions are involved, but the listener must make a decision in the light of the message that was preached. What is the gospel message? "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near. God's reign is dawning and the sphere of salvation is seen. Enter into this kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit--the kingdom of eternal life--today through repentance and faith." Repentance is at the heart of the gospel message.
The kingdom of God is dawning in the person of Jesus, and repentance and faith are required to enter into it. We know from the Scripture that without new birth no one can see or enter the kingdom of God, but where the kingdom of God is, there is the Holy Spirit who will bring about new birth in the hearts of people as they hear the gospel. Where there is regeneration, there will be repentance and faith. Where there is repentance, there is faith, and where there is faith, there is repentance.
What do I mean by repentance? We find a definition of repentance in the New Geneva Study Bible. As you read it, examine whether your own repentance is true or false:
Repentance means changing one's mind, so that one's views, values, goals, and ways are changed, and one's whole life is lived differently. Mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and lifestyle, motives and plans: all are involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life. The call to repent was the fundamental summons in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Matt. 4:17), the Twelve (Mark 6:12), Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 17:30; 26:20), and the glorified Christ to five of the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). It was part of Jesus' summary of the gospel that was to be taken to all the world (Luke 24:47). It corresponds to the constant summons of the Old Testament prophets to Israel to return to the God from whom they had strayed (e.g., Jer. 23:22; 25:4, 5: Zech. 1:3-6). Repentance is always set forth as the path to remission of sins and restoration to God's favor, while impenitence is the road to ruin (e.g., Luke 13:1-8). Faith and repentance are themselves fruits of regeneration. But as a practical matter, repentance is inseparable from faith. Turning towards Christ in faith is impossible without turning away from sin in repentance. The idea that there can be saving faith without repentance, and that one can be justified by embracing Christ as Savior while refusing Him as Lord, is a dangerous error. True faith acknowledges Christ as what He is, our God-appointed king as well as our God-given priest, and faith that trusts in Him as Savior will submit to Him as Lord also. To refuse this is to seek justification with an impenitent faith, which is no faith. The Westminster Confession says that in repenting,
"a sinner out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of his commandments" (Westminster Confession, 15.2).
"Feelings of remorse, self-reproach, and sorrow for sin generated by fear of punishment, without any wish to resolve to forsake sinning should not be confused with repentance." (New Geneva Study Bible , edited by R. C. Sproul et al, [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995], 1756 n).
The Ministry of Teaching
The ministry of Jesus included preaching the gospel, which meant proclaiming that the kingdom of God is dawning, the sphere of salvation has come, and we must enter into it by repentance and faith. It also included teaching. What is teaching? Teaching emphasizes the impartation of information in detail to human minds. The mind is especially involved in the teaching. The book of Romans is an example of teaching, and studying it requires some serious mental activity. But whether you preach or teach, you are proclaiming the gospel, you are proclaiming the truth.
The Ministry of Healing
Not only did Jesus' ministry include preaching and teaching about God's kingdom, God's mercy, and God's grace, but there was also healing. Jesus healed everyone who came to him for that purpose. He healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. He healed the paralytics and those who were suffering with terrible seizures. He cast out demons because he had defeated the devil in the wilderness. And in Luke 4:14 we read that Jesus had come to Galilee in the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of the power of the kingdom of God. In Acts 10:38 Peter said, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and. . . he went about doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
The Messiah Has Come!
How do we know that the kingdom of God is near? How do we know the great light has dawned? How do we know the Messiah has come? We know because we see the power of the kingdom of God at work in the preaching, teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ.
Jesus preached with authority. He was the Son of God, the Holy One, the Son of David, who came down from heaven and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He was the Son in whom the Father was well pleased. He alone fully obeyed God and defeated the devil. He alone said, "I say to you. . ." "Truly, truly, I say unto you. . ." "I am the light of the world" "I am the living Bread." He alone made such statements. How could he do so? He was not just the herald. He was both the king and the preacher.
With full authority Jesus preached, taught and successfully commanded demons to go out of people. When he commanded the wind and the waves to be still, and they were, his disciples asked the question, "What sort of a man is this?" And the answer clearly was that Jesus was the Messiah that the Old Testament had spoken about. He was the deliverer of mankind, the one who would set people free from the kingdom of Satan.
How do we know if the Messiah has come? John asked that question from his prison cell, as we read in Matthew 11. What evidence did Jesus cite? "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised," and most important of all, "the good news is preached to the poor" (Matt. 11:4,5).
Let me assure you, the kingdom of God has come right here. How do we know? The good news is preached to the poor. Jesus bound the strong man, who is the devil. The devil's hostages are being set free by Jesus, as he said in Matthew 12:28, "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." The devil is bound. He is on the run. Why? Jesus the Messiah has come. The great light is shining in deep darkness, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against the kingdom of God.
The People Who Sat in Darkness Have Seen A Great Light
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and deliver people whom the devil had taken captive to do his will. Jesus came to open blind eyes and turn people from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins.
The despised Galileans saw the great light, and the elect despised Galileans experienced the power of the kingdom of God. The elect despised Galileans were set free. Just look at Peter, James, Andrew, John, and Matthew. We know that many did not believe in Jesus, and in Matthew 11 we see Jesus cursing the cities of Galilee because they refused to repent. Yet the truth is this: the kingdom is here. Whether many repented or not, whether many believed or not, the truth is, the kingdom is here. The devil is on the run, the sun of righteousness has risen with healing in its wings for you, and the power of the Spirit is felt. The elect are being regenerated, repenting truly and turning away from sin to the Savior. The Lamb of God was sacrificed and by his death on the cross he takes away our sins.
What Should We Do?
Therefore, what should we do? We need to be wise. We need to repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. We need to turn many from Satan and darkness to the Savior and light. We need to commit ourselves to casting the gospel net to those around us. Why? Jesus Christ, the great light, has made us wise and made us stars to shine in this world of darkness.
Christians are not called to seek after riches and fame like the stars of the world do. We are called to cast the gospel net and win souls for Christ. If we are fishers of men now, we shall shine like the brightness of heaven on that day when Christ the King comes again from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will come to punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, and to be glorified in us, his holy people.
May we appreciate the dawning of the great light to the despised, to those in danger, to the fearful, to the anxious, to the confused, to the despondent, and to the depraved. As such, God sought us and came to our darkness as great light. The devil had blinded our eyes but God gave us sight. By the power of the Spirit, he gave us new birth, true repentance, and faith to turn away from sin and to trust in Jesus Christ alone, the one who died on the cross for our salvation. He imputed to us his perfect righteousness and made us stars, saying, "You are the light of the world," and so we are.
Therefore, may we not seek to become rich and famous. May we strive to be wise stars and shine as lights in the world by living and declaring the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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