"Seeing the Light"

September 3, 2017
Matthew 4:12-17
In the context of salvation, the term "darkness" can best be described as a life without God while the term "light" refers to a life with God.

[Read Matthew 4:12-17]

The text is referring to that region of land that was allotted to the Israeli tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali as Israel entered into the Promised Land.

These were part of the Northern Kingdom after the nation was torn in two.

Jeroboam became king of the Northern Kingdom, also called Israel.

Rehoboam became king of the Southern Kingdom, also called Judah.

Rehoboam was actually Solomon’s son.

The Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom were established about 930 BC.

The Northern Kingdom was made up of 10 tribes and fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC.

The Southern Kingdom was made up of 2 tribes and fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

The most northern region of the northern kingdom was the area of Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.

The land was under attack by the world super power, Assyria.

Eventually, Zebulun and Naphtali fall under the aggression of the Assyrian army.

Why did this happen?

2 Kings 17:7,8 = All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.

The people of Zebulun and Naphtali were taken away as exiles.

Through the years, some of these exiled Jews were able to return home from their captivity in Assyria.

But life was difficult for these returning Jews.

It was a dark place.

Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 9, verses 1 & 2, offered a glimmer of light to these Jews living in Zebulun and Naphtali.

Isaiah 9:1,2 = 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.

We then find the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 4:13-16, the passage I read earlier.

The great light refers to Jesus.

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Christopher Hitchens was an English-American author, columnist and literary critic.

Before his death in 2011, Christopher Hitchens was well known for his disbelief in God.

He was called an atheist by some.

Hitchens himself preferred the label “anti-theist”.

An “anti-theist” is someone who not only is certain that God does not exist, but who actively opposes the very idea that God exists and also opposes those who support the idea.

In his book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, he wrote this:

“I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an anti-theist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful.”

Hitchens wrote another book that is even more well-known, one that reached No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list in its third week.

That book is titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

As a result, it caused quite a stir in the religious world when Christian author Larry Taunton spent some time with Hitchens in Hitchens’ last days.

Larry Taunton published a book in which he speculated that Hitchens, who was dying, was moving toward belief in God.

The two men spent hours together traveling to scheduled debates between Hitchens and Christian speakers.

The two would talk as they traveled.

Tauntondoesn’t claim that Hitchens actually came to Christ.

But based on their conversations, Taunton does say that Hitchens, in his last days, seemed open to the possibility that Christianity was true.

And at least one Christian magazine, reviewing Taunton’s book, declared that his comments about Hitchens offered hope that the famous unbeliever found salvation before he died.

But Hitchens’ friends disagree.

Hitchens’ friends insist that his intellectual tolerance and largeness of heart made him open to discussion and honest consideration of others’ views, but that he had no change of heart toward religious belief.

Even Hitchens’ wife, Carol Blue, who was with him to the very end, stated that he did not have a late-life or deathbed conversion.

She said: “He lived by his principles until the end. To be honest, the subject of God didn’t come up.”

Whether or not Christopher Hitchens converted to Christianity before his death, there are people who have seen the light later in life and some even near the end of life.

The most noted example of the latter is the dying thief on the cross next to the one on which Jesus was dying.

The thief asked Jesus to remember him in the kingdom of God to which Jesus responded: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.

                                                (Luke 23:42-43)

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Speaking of seeing the light, Isaiah 9:2 speaks of a people who walked in darkness who have seen a great light.

Isaiah 9:2 = 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.

In the context of salvation the term “darkness” can best be described as a life without God while the term “light” refers to a life with God.

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The Apostle Paul was one who had been actively persecuting Christians.

On the road to Damascus, traveling there for the purpose of persecuting Christians, Paul was overtaken by light from heaven that flashed all around him.

This was not an ordinary beam of light.

This bright light was the cause of Paul’s sudden and temporary blindness.

This bright light led to an inner enlightenment and a wholehearted commitment to follow Jesus.

Paul saw the light and it was so bright that it blinded him for a time.

Whatever the case, both the Isaiah text and Paul’s Damascus-road experience speak of this light as something God turns on.

This suggests that we should respond when such light is revealed to us and not wait until the closing moments of our lives.

Don’t bank on a deathbed conversion.

In other words, don’t wait until you are on your deathbed to accept Christ as your Savior.

We may not even be in our right minds when we are on our deathbed.

We may slip into a coma without any warning.

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At the age of 87 my grandfather was dying in a nursing home.

He wasn’t responding anymore but I decided to go and see him anyway.

When I said: “Hi Grandpa”, he opened his eyes.

I didn’t know how much time I had with him so I went directly to the plan of salvation with him.

I used an abbreviated version of the Gospel.

He kept his eyes open throughout the explanation.

I then asked him if he would like to invite Jesus into his life to be his Savior.

He said “Yes”.

I prayed a prayer of salvation and he repeated every word after me.

Not long after that he closed his eyes again and did not respond anymore during that visit.

A couple days later, my mother went to visit her father, my grandfather and again he did not respond.

After a while he did open his eyes and he said: “Orville was here” and then he closed his eyes again and died not long after that.

What I am hoping is that he remembered that I had been there because of the prayer he prayed, the decision he had made for Christ.

My hope is that I will see him in heaven.

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We just don’t know when our lives will end so it is important to get right with God.

Jesus puts it this way: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

                                                (Matthew 4:17)

Or as the Bible says elsewhere: . . . now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.       (2 Cor. 6:2)

“Light” seems to be the right word for all of this, for the light that God turns on is a means for us to discern – to see – what is real and true.

But why does it take so long for that to happen for some of us?

Perhaps we need to have enough life experience to become aware of the darkness before we grasp the need for the light.

It’s significant that some people who have come to Christ as an adult have done so while struggling with certain darkness in their lives.

For example, Joy Davidman was an American poet and writer who eventually became the wife of C.S. Lewis.

Joy was initially an atheist.

After her first marriage broke down, her resistance to God broke down.

She stated: “For the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, the master of my fate. All my defenses – all the walls of arrogance and self-love behind which I had hid from God – went down momentarily – and God came in.”

Or consider Mortimer J. Adler, an American philosopher, educator and popular author.

He was agnostic for most of his life and even described himself as a pagan.

During an illness, however, he began to pray and accepted God’s grace.

He then professed his belief not just in the God his reason so stoutly affirmed but the God on whose grace and love he now joyfully relied.

Or think of Christopher Hitchens’ brother Peter, who is an English journalist and author.

He is as well known in the United Kingdom as his brother, Christopher, was here in the United States.

Peter Hitchens, too, was an unbeliever in his youth and early adulthood.

In fact, he says that at age 15, he actually set fire to a Bible his parents had given him.

But he explains that later, as he advanced in his career, he lost his faith in politics and his trust in ambition.

He became fearfully aware of the inevitability of his own death.

He says: “I was urgently in need of something else on which to build the rest of my life.”

Somehow, in that mood, he rediscovered Christmas which he said he had pretended to dislike for many years.

He attended a Christmas Carol service and began to become aware of the light.

He was also engaged to be married.

Something moved him to choose to be wed in a church service instead of a civil ceremony.

Regarding the wedding ceremony, he stated: “I can certainly recall the way the words of the Church of England’s marriage service awakened thoughts in me that I had long suppressed. I was entering into my inheritance, as a Christian Englishman, as a man and as a human being. It was the first properly grown-up thing that I had ever done.”

Those are just some examples to point out how the darkness of our own struggles creates a place where we can become aware of the light of God.

Certainly not everyone who chooses God and embraces God does so from a point of need or darkness.

But many do.

And it falls in line with what Isaiah said: 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.

Some Thoughts on Light and Darkness:

  1. God has plenty of light for us as we face challenges in life.

We should look for that light from day to day through prayer and time in the Word of God.

 2. It is possible that darkness will not always move people closer to the light of God.

It can have the opposite effect.

Some people seem to prefer to walk in darkness.

Darkness can be a temptation even for Christians.

 3. For some people, the darkness is not always complete denial of God in their lives, but denial of God in certain areas of their lives.

People in this category may think thoughts such as this: “Well, that sermon was what so-and-so needed to hear. I’m glad I don’t have that issue.”

 4. It’s possible to walk out of the light of God and we may do so even while continuing to attend church.

These individuals go through the motions of Christianity without experiencing the reality of God’s transforming power.

The light of God is real.

God has turned the light on to help us when we walk in darkness.

 5.Any conversion of any kind is the awareness of what God has already been doing in our lives.

We become suddenly aware of the light that has always been there.

The blind fold is removed and we can see the light, the light of the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 4:4 = The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, . . .

When praying for the salvation of others, pray that God would remove the blindfolds from people’s eyes so that they can see the light of the gospel.

 6. Followers of Jesus – who is the light of the world – can be reflectors of that light so that others may see it.

  

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In some parts of the world, it is very dangerous to walk in darkness.

Howard Chapman from Marion, Iowa tells of his experience as a boy in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

His parents were missionaries.

Flashlights were very important to them.

They never walked anywhere at night without a flashlight.

There were no streetlights so you needed a flashlight to keep from tripping and falling.

But the other problem was deadly, venomous snakes that were nocturnal.

The snakes would come out to hunt at night.

If you stepped on a cobra or a black mamba and it bit you, you could be dead in a matter of minutes.

One night Howard, who was only 5 or 6 years old, was walking with his mother along a path.

It was very dark.

Howard kept asking his mother if he could carry the flashlight.

She finally agreed.

She told Howard that the flashlight was not a toy and that it was needed to watch for snakes along the path.

Howard was freaked out by the thought of encountering a snake along the path.

So he started shining the flashlight off into the underbrush and long grass at the side of the path looking for snakes.

His mother did not put up with that for very long.

She snatched the flashlight away from Howard and asked him, “What are you doing?”

Howard replied, “Looking for snakes.”

“No” she said.

“We are not looking for snakes.”

“We are looking at the path ahead.”

“As long as there is nothing ahead of us, we keep walking.”

“If we see something, we stop.”

“The snake will be afraid of the light and will go off into the dark.”

“When it is safe, we go on.”

“The light must always shine on the path ahead of us.”

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Jesus said: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Jesus lights up the path directly in front of us, showing us that it is safe to take the next step.

Sometimes we get impatient with that.

We stare intently into the underbrush terrified by the dangers that might be there.

Jesus keeps saying to us: “Look to me and my Word and your next step will be perfectly clear and safe.”

The Psalmist wrote the following:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

                                                                        Psalm 119:105 NIV

In ancient times, sometimes small oil lamps would be fastened to the ankles of people so that the path in front of them would be illuminated.

The path would only be illuminated one step at a time.

The Psalmist is saying that the Word of God does the same thing.

It illuminates the path before us, often, one step at a time.

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Darkness can be a scary thing.

I lived on a farm until I was 8 years old.

We had electricity but no running water.

What it means to have “no running water” is that there are no water faucets in the home.

There was no shower or toilet.

We had just an old round tub that was used for baths.

To wash our hands we would go out to the porch wash our hands in a wash basin with water poured from a pitcher.

All the water we used in the house had to be brought up with pails from a well down the hill.

To go to the bathroom we had to go outside, winter or summer, and use an outhouse.

We did not have running water but we did have electricity which was wonderful.

Sunday evenings was the time that people would visit one another.

There were no telephones yet in that area, so people often just showed up at someone’s house.

One of the families we would visit did not have electricity.

Try to picture this in your mind.

You drive into this farmyard.

The only light there is are the headlights on your car.

There is no yard light because there is no electricity.

As we drive up to the house, all you can see is some dim light in the windows.

The only light they had in the house came from kerosene lamps.

As a small boy, it was kind of creepy to walk into the house and see these lamps burning and seeing people’s shadows on the wall.

The shadows on the wall of the people in the room were larger than life.

As people walked around the room, these large shadows would move around the room.

Us kids couldn’t go outside and play because there was no light outside.

We could have run into machinery and seriously hurt ourselves.

It was such a good feeling to get back home and turn on the lights.

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There are good seasons and bad seasons in our lives.

It’s interesting that when we are in a good season, we instinctively know that it is temporary and will end.

But when we are in a bad season, we feel like it will last forever.

Life is difficult for most people.

Do you know what would make life even more difficult?

Not having any hope.

Having to live life without God.

Having to live life without the promises of God.

Having to live life without God’s mercy.

Having to live life without God’s forgiveness.

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

There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

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On any given Sunday, some of us are going through a hard time.

There are those who are facing difficult times, hard situations.

It may be spiritual.

It may be physical.

It may be financial.

It may be a relationship.

It may be a relationship where one is experiencing hurt or rejection or loss.

Sometimes these difficulties can become a cloud, an oppression, a darkness that surrounds the soul.

There is a light that shines in the darkness.

It shines for all the world to see.

It will shine in your life if you will let it.

That light is Jesus.