From Darkness To Light

January 25, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 4:12-17

Christ Withdrew To Galilee

1. When I was a seminarian, I had the experience in which a certain person attending the same seminary had told me the following story about his own divine call. He had a pastor who patiently and tenderly guided him. But then the pastor died. He was very sorrowful. He could not accept the death of his pastor. However, when he petitioned his grief to God, then he heard God speaking to his heart. Go! So he enrolled into the seminary to become a pastor. That's how his story went.

2. It was very sorrowful to be sure, but not an event that seemed totally illogical and absurd; on another level, it did come time to hear a message from God, the time had come to hear of the arrival of the hour, that now is the time. -- The arrest of John [the Baptizer]. It seemed to be that kind of a signaling event for Jesus.

3. The reason John the Baptizer was imprisoned was not because he had done wrong. Rather, he was imprisoned on account of his having done what was right. The regional ruler Herod had committed acts in rebellion against God. Everyone was unwilling to challenge him about it. Only John boldly identified to the ruler that he was transgressing against the law of God. It was for the ruler Herod's own good. But, he was imprisoned. You probably know what came next. He got his head chopped off while in jail and was murdered.

4. Jesus was baptized by John and he even said about John, "Among those born from women, no one ever appeared greater than John the Baptizer," and so Jesus surely was hurting in his heart so much from John's imprisonment. However, for Jesus, it did not remain a sorrowful and illogical event. It was also to Jesus, bell chimes from God announcing the hour. At last, the time had come for Jesus to begin speaking out in public. God the Father's set time had arrived. As a result, the Lord headed for Galilee. In verse twelve the text says, "When Jesus heard that John was arrested, he withdrew to Galilee," (verse twelve).

5. When it says, "he withdrew," part of it could sound like he was afraid of getting arrested himself and so he ran away, but that's not how it was. If he were running away, he wouldn't be going to Galilee because that's where Herod's turf actually was. By "withdraw," it means that he moved back to Galilee, which was a good distance from the center in Jerusalem. [He moved] because the right place to begin his mission wasn't actually the capital Jerusalem, but Galilee afar off in the distance.

6. Galilee was where Jesus was raised and where he was to go preach first of all. But what has been related about it as a place? In the passage that I read to you today, the Book of Isaiah was quoted. There we find the words, "the Galilee of the Gentiles" and then some. From long ago Galilee was a region that belong to ancient Israel. Zebulun and Naphtali, which are found in the text there, are names of tribes from Israel. But, since Galilee was situated on the northern border, it was also a region that had been exposed to invasions from the north over and over. Also, in the eighth century B.C.E., a decisive event had taken place. It is found in Second Kings chapter fifteen. The following is written there. "In the period of Pekah the King of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser the King of Assyria attacked and occupied Ijon, Abel Beth Maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, Galilee, and all the territory of Naphtali, and took their inhabitants away as captives to Assyria," (Second Kings 15:29). Thus, Galilee was placed completely under Assyrian occupation. Later it would be placed under several foreign rulers in succession, Babylonia, Persia, Macedonia. In all that time it would freely mix its blood with the settlers. In a certain sense both religiously and culturally they would lose [their] purity. As a result, that region would come to be called "the Galilee of the Gentiles."

7. It was an appellation that included a slur. That is, for the Jews, Galilee was not just a region that was in the northern limits far away from the capital. "The Galilee of the Gentiles" -- It included the inference that it was far from salvation as well. Jesus was headed for "the Galilee of the Gentiles" which was thus considered far from salvation. He initiated his public activities as the messiah from there. In fact, it was also a quite symbolic start because Jesus would make the gospel known to people who were considered the farthest from salvation. What kind of persons did Jesus see in the places he would go? There were tax collectors. There were persons called sinners. There were persons considered "unclean" due to illness. There were persons like prostitutes called "women of sin." These kinds of folks were set to meet Christ and hear the gospel.

The People Dwell In Darkness

8. Thus, the Christ headed for "the Galilee of the Gentiles." The gospel account says of it that the words of Isaiah the prophet were fulfilled. "The people who dwelled in darkness saw a great light, the light shone into the people who dwelled in the land of the shadow of death." [The gospel account] said that this was fulfilled.

9. "The people who dwelled in darkness saw a great light." That's what the scripture declares. But now, what does it mean by "the people who dwelled in darkness?" Just ago, I touched upon the historical situation in which Galilee had been placed. But, were they in darkness because they had often experienced invasions? Were they in darkness because they had been occupied by Assyria? Were they in darkness because they had been governed by a foreign race of people?

10. No, that's not why. Even in the book of Isaiah, and also even in the book of [Second] Kings which I just read to you, it does not write of the northern region's being occupied as some poor unfortunate thing that happened. No, it doesn't, rather it is written as an event that took place in the history of Israel, when it had been continuously rebellious against God. That is, Galilee was occupied by Assyria and furthermore the Israel monarchy was completely destroyed, but what was being shown in that was the history of the unbelief of Israel. Losing the nation was certainly disastrous. It was a calamity. One could argue that being in a calamity is also being in darkness. But, true darkness is the darkness of unbelief and distrust. It is the darkness where one loses God.

11. I said it is the darkness where one loses God, but to go even further, I could also make the case that it is the darkness in which one turns one's back on the love of God. No matter how much God loves us, no matter how much God calls out to us, no matter how much God keeps reaching his hands out to us, we don't notice it. So, we don't even believe in God's love. Isn't that darkness? When you don't believe in God's love, then fear will surely rule. No matter how much you've prepared and saved, the fear doesn't leave. No matter how happy the situation may be you are placed in, fear never leaves. When you don't believe in God's love and fear is in control there, can people together even believe in each other, I wonder? If there is fear, they cannot love each other. As far as we can look out and see, fear fills in between them, whether it is between close friends, between nations, or between races, and also distrust and animosity fill up between them. Don't they? They were living in that kind of darkness, and so do we.

12. [The text] says, "the people who dwell" in that darkness. They are "dwelling" in darkness. The word "walk" was originally used in Isaiah. But Matthew deliberately used the word "sit." He puts it as "the people who are sitting in darkness." They make the darkness their own place. They are staying there. They think that place there is their own place. It is saying that.

13. As a matter of fact, all the people whom Jesus met were like that. The tax collectors must have felt kind of like they had never been loved by God. The sinners most likely felt that they had already been abandoned by God long long ago. The persons with illnesses whom Jesus met: Undoubtedly, they must have felt that they were so sick because they were cursed by God. They must have lived for years and years already thinking, "This darkness is my place, where I live but God's love has nothing to do with me, I live but without believing in God's love."

14. But is that their story alone? No, it truly is not. It was the same way even for the Pharisees in the center of Jerusalem. They were very religious. They had lived doing their best to keep the law of God. But, they were like children living each day jittery paying way too much attention to their strict father's viewpoint. They did their best to be pleasing to God, however, they never once felt that God loved them first of all. I don't think they ever experienced, since being born, a sense of security in which they had been unconditionally loved by God. That's darkness, too. They were sitting in that darkness. They, too, were dwellers of the darkness. The figure of those persons dwelling in darkness, whether that of the tax collectors or that of the sinners, or even that of the Pharisees, should also concern those of us here in this place.

They Saw The Great Light

15. However, the scripture says, "The people who dwelled in the darkness saw a great light." Jesus had come as the light. Nobody, not anybody, should be sitting in darkness any more. No one should say any more, anything like "The very darkness is my place" because Jesus has come as the light that shines in the darkness. Jesus has come carrying God's great love with him. He has come carrying with him the perfect love of God along with a perfect pardon from sin. Therefore, it is unnecessary to sit in the darkness any more.

16. As a result, the Lord has said, "Repent! The kingdom of God is near," (verse seventeen). To say "The kingdom of God is near" is to say "Salvation is near." That's right. Because Jesus has already come as the light, to have a share in perfect salvation, though it may be in the future, we can live in the light of God's love, the light of God's salvation, right now. We can live all the while hoping for the perfect salvation that will soon be given to us.

17. There is one and only one thing to do for that. It is to repent. It is to change directions. It is to alter one's course. Since Jesus has come as the light, we are to re-direct in the direction of the light, believe in God's love and God's forgiveness, and follow Jesus. Therefore, in The Gospel According To Mark, the scripture says, "Repent and believe the gospel!"

18. Jesus has come as the light. However, the person himself or herself has to stop sitting in the darkness and stand up and start living in the light. Even though [you] may be offered a present, unless [you] receive it for [yourself], it will never become [yours]. Though the sun may rise, but unless one opens the curtain for oneself, the room will not brighten. No matter how much the light shines, if you keep your back turned, it will only be your own dark shadow that you see. In order for the person dwelling in darkness to see the great light, they must re-direct towards the light. The Lord says: Repent! Change directions! Salvation is near. It is. The darkness is not the place for you to dwell.