GALILEE’S GLORY GLEAMS The 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - January 23rd, 2011 Isaiah 9:1-4

Doom, gloom, vexed, dejected – those are the words that Isaiah uses to describe the land belonging to the descendants of Zebulun and Naphtali, two of Jacob’s more obscure sons. Zebulun, the tenth of Jacob’s twelve sons, born as a part of a feud between the two wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. He was Leah’s 6th son, the one who would surely force her husband to treat her with honor. Napthali, conceived and born of a twisted plot of Rachel, who gave her maidservant to Jacob to conceive children so that she could “keep up” with Leah in the struggle to be the superior wife. Two obscure sons – both born under less that desirable circumstances, and yet both given a piece of the land inheritance that God had promised to the descendants of Jacob. The land that the descendants of these two obscure brothers inherited was to the far north. It was a corridor ripe for invasion. Enemy troops repeatedly descended on Zebulun. They repeatedly overran Naphtali, and among the tribes of the north, Zebulun and Naphtali were among the first people to be deported to exile. Doom, gloom, vexation, dejection – adequate description of this oppressed land of the obscure brothers. But, the place where enemy troops trampled and left their footprints would be the same place where more precious footprints would be found – those of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah of the world. The gospel lesson for today tells of the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. What a contrast we are presented with as God “honors” these same places that once were “contemptuous” and “vexed,” by having the world’s Christ make himself known there, where he preaches the good news of salvation and calls out to needy souls to follow him in faith. The Glory made flesh that made himself known in Galilee continues to gleam with unparalleled brightness. Watch and listen carefully today as the Galilean Glory gleams before you, the Light of the World who penetrates the deep darkness of the land of death, who calls out with his message of hope to enlarge the nation of believers, and shatters the oppressor’s might, that we may live eternally in peace and freedom and safety. Isaiah 9:1-2: “1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Darkness is scary! Children are often afraid of the dark. I can remember as a child any number of times that I would sit in my room at night and the shadows of the trees outside would make creepy images on the wall or the closet door. If I became scared enough, I would jump out of bed, run over to the light switch and turn on the light – and, of course, the shadows would go away. Everything that caused fear would disappear when light completely filled the room. So, what about people who are in “deep darkness”? The word that Isaiah uses for “deep darkness” is the same word that we hear in Psalm 23, “the shadow of death.” That’s pretty scary, isn’t it? Death’s dark shadow is constantly hovering over us. We would be foolish to have the “teenage” mindset that we I. Penetrating the deep darkness

are “invincible” and that nothing can touch us. Death is always there, and contrary to some opinion, we can’t cheat it! Sin is going to receive its due wages! When, where, how, we have no idea – which is why the Psalmist David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...” It’s there, it’s hovering and lurking, and nonetheless remember what he goes on to say in Psalm 23, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me!” Light swallows up the shadows. In an instant they go away, so does the accompanying fear. We live in the “land of deep darkness.” Surely Zebulun and Naphtali could identify themselves as a deep and dark land of death. Death was all around them! It’s all around us too. Every single day we see evidence that sin’s wages are being paid, in the obituaries in the paper, on the news, in our own lives, and in our families. Death’s dark shadow is there. But for the Christian, death’s dark shadow has lost its power to strike our hearts with paralyzing fear, because the Word of God has shown to us that the Light of the World has absorbed sin’s full wages upon himself, going to the cross, going to death, enduring complete separation from the Father, all with a wonderful result - that death, in all its terror, becomes for the believer a transition from contempt to glory. That’s the thought we glean even from the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” Darkness is completely absorbed when light is present. We walk in the valley of death’s dark vale right now! Let’s not be ignorant of that fact. But, like the Psalmist, we need not fear for the Light of the World is with us, shining with the unparalleled brightness of his salvation so that we see with 100% clarity and 100% confidence that when God calls us to leave this world, for us to depart from the body, we will be “at home with the Lord.” II. Enlarging the nation of believers

The Light penetrates the deep darkness, destroying its power to leave us in paralyzing fear. Isaiah continues in verse 3: 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.” Light brings comfort. It brings joy, and the kind of joy that this light brings is compared to a harvest and a victory in battle – two pictures that the people in Galilee would have been very familiar with, as an agricultural area that had seen its share of invasions. The joy is a result of “multiplying the nation...” the Light making the nation more numerous. During Isaiah’s day, the actual number of believers among the Israelites was quite small, at least in comparison to the entire nation as a whole. I think we can sympathize a bit. It can be quite discouraging to a pastor, to a congregation, when what we see is not as grand as what is seen among the heretics of our day, whether the heresy is blatant or subtle. It’s toilsome, it’s challenging, it’s difficult, and sometimes very discouraging when we aren’t allowed to see right away the fruits of our labor. But we need to remember that where the Light of the World is, there is joy and increase. Where the gospel is, there the Glory of Galilee, Jesus Christ, calls out just as he did with the disciples in our gospel lesson for today, extending an invitation to sinners to follow him in faith, they we might receive the blessings that he came into the world to provide, forgiveness of all sins and a place in heaven. Praise God that he has extended that light and glory to you! Praise God that the call of the gospel invitation has reached your ears and reached your heart, and that you have been included in this “enlargement” of the spiritual nation of Israel, that isn’t hemmed in by boundary limitations. Praise God because the gospel’s call continues to go out, for when souls are led to Calvary and to the empty tomb to

see the glory of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, there the Spirit has opportunity to make glorious what was once contempt – the heart of a stone-dead sinner. And whether or not we are able to see the fruit of the gospel’s production right now is of no consequence. Like harvesters, the immediate work is hard. Like soldiers, the immediate task is difficult to bear. But in the end, we will share in glory with all who have heard and followed the gospel’s precious call – the harvest, the spoils of war, the saints of God! III. Shattering the oppressor’s might

Verse 4 concludes that thought by giving us a glimpse of eternal glory that comes through the Galilean Light - Jesus: “4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” An end to war, in other words, where no longer will there be an oppressor or those who are oppressed. Now, obviously this cannot refer to earthly war. People are always saying that the one thing they would like more than anything else in the whole world is “world peace.” That’s not going to happen. Even if every weapon was taken away from every army and every soldier, the chief instigator of war would still remain – the sinful heart. The root cause would remain. The Light of the World came to shatter the root cause of man’s spiritual oppression. Sin plagues us. Death haunts us. The devil prowls around us, looking to devour, and Jesus came to shatter and crush them all. Hebrews 2 tells us: “14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” By his victory in death, death’s might and death’s great proponent was destroyed for us, and it’s all an act of grace. The picture we’re given is the defeat of Midian, where 300 were chosen by God to go and fight an army that was “thick as locusts,” and yet the people of God emerged victorious, not because of their tremendous strategy and military expertise, but simply because God was gracious to them. No strategy of ours can defeat the enemy. We can site all the good things we think we do, all the ways that we should be honored by God, and not a one of them eliminate the accusations of the devil against us before the law of God – true as they are. End to the oppression comes through innocent suffering, by the willingness of one to step in and receive what he did not deserve so that everyone else can receive what they do not deserve. The end of the war, and the end of the oppression comes to us as a gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No longer are we weighed down with that eternal question: “What will happen to me if I die today?” That rod has been shattered. We don’t have to wonder: “How do I stand before God?” That staff has been broken. Jesus’ victory on Calvary’s hill was complete and answered every necessary eternal question for us, so that we can face each day with confidence, knowing that victory has been achieved, the oppressor has been defeated, and eternal joy awaits us and all who believe. No more doom, no more gloom for those living in the land of the shadow of death. For into that obscure land of those obscure brothers walked the Christ of God, the Gleaming Glory of Galilee whose light continues to shine in the gospel – erasing fear, crushing death, and imparting life eternal. Amen.

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