Epiphany 3 – “Out of Darkness” (Matthew 4:12-25)

A-19 Epiphany 3 (Mt 4.12-23)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

I remember when I was on vicarage, we took the youth group camping for a week. One of the things we did was visit a cave in northern Kentucky, one that was dated “millions” of years old. It had beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, water running down the walls reflecting off of the artificial lights installed in the cave. We got to an area of the cave with benches and they had us sit. The tour guides warned us that they were going to turn out the lights and it was going to get dark, really dark. Once they turned out the lights, there was nothing but darkness, not a single bit of light shone in the caves. It was disconcerting to say the least. The reason you were seated was because your balance would be thrown off, and it was. To be thrown into utter darkness was not a comforting feeling.

As we look at our Gospel reading, we see a prophecy from Isaiah, from our Old Testament reading, fulfilled: “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.” Light appears to cast away the darkness. That is the joy of the season of Epiphany, the light appearing. The promised light of Jesus Christ rescues us from the darkness of death for the endless light of eternal life.

As Matthew records this account for us, Jesus retreats and lives in Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. For those living in the Old Testament era, this was not the place to be living. This was the equivalent to the run-down and rough part of town, the place where no one likes to go, let alone live. This was due to the foreign kings living and reigning in that area. As Isaiah says, it was called the “Galilee of the nations.” Just so we’re clear, that’s not a compliment, but a derogatory statement. But as Isaiah points out, they did not remain in the darkness because they have seen a great light. We’re not talking about a bright light in the sky, but rather the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. They were given the promise of a Child to come who would restore God’s creation to Himself. If there were any doubts as to who the Light was going to be, we are given these words just after our texts, words that are familiar to us during the season of Christmas: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….”

As we return to Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus withdrawing to this area following the hearing of John’s arrest. He returns to Galilee in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, becoming the light seen by those sitting in darkness. Darkness symbolizes wickedness, ignorance, and unbelief. Most of the people did not know the way of salvation. But then Jesus, the Light of the world, came to Galilee. He proclaimed the saving truth throughout that land. He attracted huge crowds of people who followed Him from place to place to hear Him preach and see Him perform miracles.

Jesus comes to shine His light into our world of darkness, our world of sin and death. He comes preaching the same message that John the Baptist was preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This repentance that Jesus preached implied a radical change of heart and mind, followed by a corresponding change in behavior. As we saw with the Pharisees and Sadducees when John was baptizing, there was no change in heart or mind, nor was their a change in behavior. That kind of change wasn’t necessary because of their own righteousness which they had earned. But for everyone else, people started to take Jesus’ word seriously, and so they should. Jesus’ call to repentance was an invitation as well as a command.  The people could not respond positively to that invitation unless the Holy Spirit prompted such a response through the power of the Gospel. To repent and believe the Gospel is not a decision anyone can make on his own. Unfortunately, the initial enthusiasm of Jesus’ words did not last long and the people would ultimately turn against Him, leading Him to the cross.

Following His encouragement to repent, Jesus encounters two fishermen doing what they do best, fishing. He extends an invitation to them, as strange as it sounds: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Now let’s look at what Jesus is saying and not saying. He isn’t talking about going fishing for mermen or mermaids. He invites Simon Peter and Andrew into His inner circle of twelve to bring others into His kingdom. He invites us to become a part of Him, to be connected to Himself. After finding Simon Peter and Andrew, Jesus stumbles upon James and John and extends the same invitation to them as well.

The interesting part of Jesus choosing these four men to be His disciples is that He was the one who sought them out, not the other way around. Being the Son of God, we might imagine that Jesus would choose those who were of like-mind or well-trained to be His disciples. Instead of choosing the seminary graduate, Jesus chooses the everyday common man. Jesus does not ask them to prepare themselves for their new calling. He rather promises to make them into workers for God’s kingdom. He would teach them what they needed to know. They would see His miraculous power. They would witness the crucifixion and the empty tomb. The Holy Spirit would provide them with the gifts they needed to become fishers of men. These men had, however, met the first and foremost qualification for service to the Lord: they knew him as their personal Savior—the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

That same invitation to follow Jesus is extended to us. He bids us to come unto Him, to become a part of Him and He a part of us. He invites us to find rest for our souls in Him. Jesus comes looking for us to give to us what we can’t get for ourselves: His forgiveness, life in His name, salvation imparted to us by His life, death and resurrection.

What made the four disciples deserving of Jesus is the same for you and I as well — nothing. There was nothing worthy of them and there is nothing worthy of you and I either. We are not worthy of our status as redeemed children of God. We are what we are solely by the grace of God.

As Matthew ends this account, he says what the ministry of Jesus is: “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” While the teaching and preaching of Jesus was important, it was His healing that made all the difference. I don’t mean the earthly healing but the healing that He accomplished on the cross. It was the healing from sin and death that is needed the most. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His command to repent holds within it the promise to deal with the punishment of our sins. He dealt with the punishment of our sins by taking them onto Himself and carrying them to the cross. At the cross He endured the punishment of our sin with His suffering and death. There our sins died with Him. In this way, He triumphed over sin, death, and the power of the devil. As Jesus calls His disciples and begins His ministry, it is done with you in mind, to come to you, to call you, to forgive and to heal you. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.