The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

We just heard these famous words from Isaiah in our first reading (Isaiah 9:1-4). The last time we heard these words was at our Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve, when we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the light that shines in the darkness. He is the great light that shines on all who live in darkness. And so we raised our candles and sang, “Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light.”

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Why have we returned to these words today? Because our gospel reading from Matthew quotes them (Matthew 4:12-23). So, we get a little Christmas again. A month after that great celebration, with all of our lights and our decorations put away, (hopefully!), we get to come back to this passage from Isaiah, and be reminded that in Jesus, we have seen a great light.

And this time, we see that the light does not only show itself through a baby in the manger. That child has grown up, and is now going throughout Galilee, proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and inviting us to follow him. This time, in other words, as we come back to this passage from Isaiah, it is not simply to hear the story, but to be invited into the story. This time, we not only give thanks for the light, but we receive an invitation to follow the light. 

Jesus is our light. He lights our way. And when we follow him, we never walk in darkness. No matter how dark things may seem. Jesus still lights our way. Because he is the light of the world.

Acknowledging the Darkness

But we might wonder sometimes, if we are being honest with ourselves, where this light is to be found today. Because there is still darkness in our world. There are still wars raging. There are still shootings. There is still hatred and division. There is still persecution of people of faith. There is still, for too many people around the world, hunger, poverty, and homelessness. There is still darkness in our world.

And even in our own personal lives, we still face darkness. It might be a health concern that we have, for ourselves or a loved one. It might be a relationship that is struggling. It might be frustrations at work or school. It might be financial concerns that seem insurmountable. It might be depression or addiction. It might just be a general restlessness with life. Or it might be something I have not named, because darkness has many shades. And it affects us all. 

There is still darkness in our world. We need to acknowledge that. And so we might wonder, where is the light? 

The prophet, Isaiah, was not afraid to acknowledge the darkness in his world. He admits to living in a time of deep darkness, as he himself describes it. A time when Israel was split in two by civil war. A time when his own country of Judah was strong and wealthy, but had grown complacent. They weren’t concerned about the poor in their midst. In their arrogance, they didn’t fear the countries threatening their borders. And they didn’t believe that they needed the Lord’s help to face their challenges. Today’s passage from Isaiah is one of promise and hope, but it’s important to remember that much of Isaiah’s book is about judgment and warning. There was darkness in his world, and much of it due to sin. 

700 or 800 years after Isaiah, Jesus came into a world that was still filled with darkness. Our Gospel Reading for today begins with the news that John the Baptist has been arrested. He will stay in jail until he is finally beheaded. John will be one of many thousands killed by the leaders of the day. When John is arrested, Jesus, we learn, withdraws to Galilee. Perhaps out of concern for his own safety, we might think. But not so. Because in Galilee, Jesus begins to proclaim exactly what John the Baptist had been proclaiming – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And if this got John the Baptist arrested, Jesus must have known it would bring him trouble, too. The rulers of his day did not want to hear about another kingdom coming and threatening their power. 

Darkness filled Jesus’ world, just as it filled Isaiah’s. And just as it fills ours. But the darkness is why the light matters. If there is no darkness, then we don’t need light. And so, if we close our eyes, and refuse to acknowledge the darkness, then we see no need for the light, and we have no reason for hope. But there is reason for hope. And there is reason for joy. Today. Because we who walk in darkness have seen a great light. 

Seeing the Light 

And that great light has a name: His name is Jesus. God’s Son. Our Savior. The light of the world. Into our darkness – ours – into our turmoil and conflict and chaos and despair, comes a great light. And he shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. 

Jesus’ time on earth gave us a glimpse of this light. He taught us that his presence on earth meant that the kingdom of heaven had come near. And he promised that when he returned, the light would shine fully and completely. But in the meantime, Jesus gave us some clues in this reading, for how to find the light, and even how to help reflect the light. 

That is one of the things that I love about this reading. It paints a picture for us of what it means that the kingdom of heaven has come near. It shows us where the light is to be found. 

After Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of heaven has come near, he goes throughout Galilee doing three things: teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease. That is what it means that the light has come into the world, that the kingdom of heaven has come near. The kingdom of heaven comes near when Jesus teaches, and proclaims, and heals. And it comes near when the Church, when Christians, do the same. 

Think about these three things. And let’s start with the good news of the kingdom being proclaimed. It certainly is true that there is a lot of bad news these days. That hasn’t changed. And that’s why it is so important that the good news be proclaimed. When you turn on any news channel these days, you will immediately see some kind of “breaking news” banner. And the breaking news is usually bad news, right? 

So what’s the good news? God loves you! God loves the world! Jesus was sent to be the light of the world. To redeem us from our sin. To offer us hope and healing. That should be the breaking news we see every day. But that will only happen if we proclaim it. And when it is proclaimed, the kingdom of heaven draws near. 

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom. He also taught throughout Galilee. And when we continue to learn and to teach what Jesus taught, the kingdom of heaven also draws near. 

When you think about it, hearing the good news proclaimed is just the beginning. It sets us on the journey. We begin to follow Jesus. And then the real learning begins. A disciple is literally one who learns. We are disciples, learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Learning God’s purpose for our lives. But it takes time, doesn’t it? And so, it takes patience. And persistence. And the willingness to keep learning, about God and about ourselves. And when we do? The kingdom of heaven draws near. 

And finally, this gospel reading reminds us that the kingdom of heaven comes near when Jesus heals. And when the church heals. And when we heal. Our world needs healing. Not just physical healing. So much more than that. And when we participate in the healing of our world, we are continuing the work of Jesus. We are reflecting his light. Offering his hope. Sharing his mercy. Helping to heal our world. And when we do? The kingdom of heaven draws near. 

Reflecting the Light

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and then he shows us what that means, by proclaiming and teaching healing throughout Galilee. But that’s not all that he does in today’s gospel reading. He also invites us to come into the light: to repent, and to follow him. And all who follow Jesus are told something incredible by Jesus – that they are the light of the world. We are the light of the world. 

In the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his followers, to us: 

You are the light of the world. a city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

We are the light of the world. If the people who walk in darkness are going to see a great light, it is going to be through us, through followers of Jesus. Jesus is asking us to let our light shine, by proclaiming the good news, by learning and teaching what Jesus first taught, and by participating in the healing of our world. Let our light so shine before others that they see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. 

There are still too many people in our world dwelling in darkness. Too many still without hope. Too many consumed by the bad news constantly being proclaimed. And it is up to us to show them the light. To be the light of the world. To let our good works – our lives, our love for Jesus – so shine that they may see the light that came into the world through Jesus. 


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. We have seen a great light. At Christmas, we gave thanks for this light, who was laid in a manger because there was no place for him in the inn. Today, we give thanks for this light who went around Galilee, teaching and proclaiming and healing, and inviting others to follow. We give thanks for all those who have let their light shine before us, who brought us into the light of Christ, and who helped us to put our hope in the light of Christ. And today, we resolve once again to let our light so shine before others that they, too, may join us in giving glory to God. Amen.

3 thoughts on “Learning to Reflect the Light: My Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

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