Hope Experienced

Isaiah 9:1-2

December 3, 2022 | Brian Bill

We’re beginning a new series this weekend called, “The Promise.”  Christmas can be summarized with four words: Promises made.  Promises kept.  A promise is an assurance that certain things will come to pass.  One Bible Dictionary defines it this way: “A solemn pledge to perform or grant a specified thing.  God did not have to promise anything to sinful people.  But the fact that almost all biblical promises are those made by God to human beings indicates that His nature is characterized chiefly by grace and faithfulness.”

Some have suggested there may be as many as 30,000 promises contained in Scripture. The Bible is full of the promises of God and not one of them has ever been broken!  Psalm 145:13: “The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made.

Our promise today has to do with hope and is found in Isaiah 9:1-2.  Let’s read it together: “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.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

Our main idea is this: No matter what happens, hold on to hope.

In Genesis 12, God selected Abraham to be the grand patriarch of a special nation.  He became the father of Isaac, who became the father of Jacob, who had twelve sons.  Their families grew and turned into tribes.  

Benjamin and Judah settled in the south around Jerusalem and the other ten put down roots in the north.  They were united for many years but when King Solomon died, a rupture occurred, and the ten northern tribes split off from the two southern ones.  The northern tribes became known as the nation of Israel and the southern tribes made up the nation of Judah.  

It didn’t take long for the northern tribes to turn away from God and begin worshipping idols.  They became increasingly depraved and eventually made an alliance with Syria to attack Judah.

As you can imagine, the people in the south were afraid, so God raised up the prophet Isaiah to give them a message of hope found in Isaiah 7-8.  Isaiah also predicted the Northern Kingdom would be destroyed by the Assyrians.  This came to pass, and the ten tribes were decimated and dispersed to distant places, and became known as the ten lost tribes of Israel.

This area to the north in Israel was filled with darkness, distress, and despair.  While this is real history, it also describes what has happened to the entire human race.  God made us to have relationship with Him, but we’ve all turned from Him and served other gods, leaving us hopeless and helpless.

We get a snapshot of the situation in their society in Isaiah 8:22: “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish.  And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”   The word “distress” speaks of “extreme affliction and discomfort” and “gloom” has the idea of “dimness and despair.”  The word “anguish” means, “restriction” and was used of water turning to ice, which was a metaphor for their frozen faith.  As a result of their sins, God “thrust” them into “deep darkness,” meaning He “banished them by driving them away.”   

1. Jesus brings us from gloom to gladness. 

Into a situation filled with grief and gloom, Isaiah announces a message of grace and glory in 9:1: “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.”  This verse begins with the word, “but” which introduces a contrast to the deep despair and darkness of Isaiah 8:22.  The phrase, “brought into contempt” has the idea of something being cursed or trivialized.  

Zebulun and Naphtali were tribes from the north of Israel, making up the land of Galilee.  The territory of Zebulun was located near major trade routes.  While this tribe fought valiantly in various battles, they also compromised with the Canaanites and descended into idolatry and immorality.  The tribe of Naphtali experienced lots of struggles because of its proximity to Syria.  The “way of the sea” refers to an international highway that ran from Mesopotamia to Egypt.

For many years these people knew only darkness and despair because of their depravity.  God repeatedly warned them to repent but since they rejected Him, He sent the evil Assyrians to assault them.  Because these tribes were the furthest north, they were the first to be attacked and deported by the Assyrians.

In the middle of this mess, Isaiah preaches the promise of future hope and healing.  A time will come when great gloom will be replaced with glorious gladness in Galilee of the Gentiles.

For the last several years, whenever I hear or say the word “Christmas,” I’ve been trying to pronounce it “Christ-mess,” so I’m reminded that Christ came down into our mess.  

Christmas joy is best understood when the junk of life is all around us

Christmas was, and is, birthed in the middle of great grief and deep darkness.  While the angels were proclaiming “peace on earth,” Herod was preparing to annihilate infants; while Mary was worshipping, other mothers were weeping for their children.  Christmas joy is best understood when the junk of life is all around us; gladness comes when we’re grieving. 

No matter what happens, hold on to hope.

2. Jesus moves us from deep darkness to loving light. 

Let’s look at verse 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 shone.”  While people were walking in the dark, suddenly, a “great light” appeared to dispel the deep darkness!  We can’t find the light on our own, so the light comes to us.  Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” 

When we come to the New Testament, it’s clear Matthew had this prophecy of Isaiah in mind when he wrote these words about Jesus in Matthew 4:12-14: “Now when He heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee.  And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”  

Are you ready for some spiritual goosebumps?  Nazareth is where Jesus grew up and is in Zebulun.  Capernaum, which became the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry is in the land of Naphtali.  All of Jesus’ disciples except for Judas, came from Galilee.  The fact that Jesus grew up in Nazareth and lived in Capernaum is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 9!  This is clear from the phrase, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”  The words “so that” can be translated, “for the purpose of.”

Incidentally, Isaiah 7-11 is the heart of what scholars refer to as the “Book of Immanuel.”  The main point is that Jesus, who is Immanuel, the Son of David, is beginning the restoration of the Davidic kingdom at ground zero where God’s covenant judgment had fallen seven centuries before!  Are you worshipping yet?

Promises made.  Promises kept!

Next, look at Matthew 4:15: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.”  It’s important to note “Galilee of the Gentiles” was looked down upon by Jews from the more erudite south, especially in Jerusalem.  To them it was a place filled with hated heathen hicks.  That’s what was behind Nathanael’s question in John 1:46: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

To think the Messiah would come from this region was beyond their comprehension.  In John 7:41 they asked, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?”  In John 7:52, they answered their own question: “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Actually, the Messiah had to come from this region in order to fulfill Isaiah 9:1-2.  Don’t miss the significance of Galilee of the “Gentiles.”  We’re reminded God’s heart is for the nations, for both Jews and Gentiles.  We’re called to take the gospel to all people everywhere.

Matthew 4:16 applies Isaiah 9 directly to Jesus Christ: “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.”   Notice in Isaiah 9:2, the people “walked” in darkness and here we see they are “dwelling” in darkness.  The same thing can happen to us when our walking in darkness turns into dwelling in darkness.  

Don’t miss the good news here.  The region of Galilee that was plunged into darkness and death for so long was the first to receive the dawn of new light!

Promises made.  Promises kept!

Let’s fast forward 700 years from this promise made in Isaiah to see how the promise was kept through an encounter Simeon had with the infant Jesus.

In the first part of Luke 2, we read about the birth of Jesus.  After the angels go back to heaven, and the shepherds are back with their sheep, verses 21-24 describes what took place in the weeks after Jesus was born: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.  And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’”

Three different aspects of the Old Testament Law are intertwined in these verses:

  • Following Genesis 17:9-14, all male children were to be circumcised and given their names on the eighth day after birth.  This would have taken place in Bethlehem.
  • After waiting 40 days after the birth of a son, according to Leviticus 12, mothers were to present themselves in the temple for their purification.
  • Exodus 13 also required that a mother and father bring their firstborn son before the Lord to be “redeemed” by the offering of a sacrifice.  This act of worship commemorated how God spared the lives of Israel’s firstborn sons when they put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  

This passage gives us insight into the financial situation of Joseph and Mary.  Leviticus 12 says when a woman came for her purification, she was to bring a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon for a sin offering.  If, however, she could not afford a lamb, she could bring two turtledoves (and a partridge in a pear tree…sorry) or two pigeons instead.  

At this point Simeon enters the story line.  I like how one pastor captured the scene: “Mary and Joseph are there with hundreds of other moms and dads presenting their babies, and an old guy suddenly runs up to them, grabs their baby, and starts singing.”  Maybe Mary saw that Simeon looked harmless and was OK with it since strangers had been visiting their child since His birth.

Simeon’s name means, “God hears” but we don’t know his background, hometown, education, or even his occupation.  We assume he was a priest, although the text doesn’t explicitly say so.  We also believe he was an old man, but we can’t be certain of that either.  

Luke recounts the narrative in verses 25-26: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Let’s list what we do know about Simeon.

  • He was just and devout.  His character and conduct were God-honoring as he lived carefully and reverently.
  • He was waiting for the Messiah to come.  Luke uses a word of anticipation in verse 25 which means, “To be alert to His appearance, and ready to welcome Him.”  It’s the sort of waiting which comes from deep pain.  Simeon’s hope was birthed out of deep hurt.  The word “consolation” means, “encouragement or comfort.”  Isaiah 40:1 says, “Comfort, comfort my people…”  Isaiah 61:2 promises comfort to “all who mourn.”
  • He was a Spirit-led man.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in three consecutive verses.  Somehow Simeon was assured he would not die until he had seen the Savior.

Early every morning Simeon went to the Temple, watching and waiting for Immanuel to appear.  He was keeping hope alive because He knew God would one day keep His promise to redeem, restore, and revive Israel.  He might have been going to the temple for years or even decades.  I wonder if the religious guys mocked him as they heard him singing, “O Come, O Come Immanuel and ransom Israel…”

How would he know Him?  What should he look for?  Each time a young couple came in with a baby, did he whisper, “Is this the one?”  His anticipation was intense.  Suddenly Simeon’s heart leapt within him.  The long days of waiting were finally over!  Listen to verse 28: “He took him up in his arms and blessed God and said”  

At that precise point, Simeon was like Pastor Ed and broke out into a song of praise.  His song is often called the Nunc Dimittis, which is Latin for the words, “let your servant depart.”

The song begins like the jubilant music of a Jewish wedding but quickly becomes contemplative and ends with a note of extreme agony like one would experience at a funeral.  I picture him with a huge grin on his face as he started his salvation song in verses 29-32: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”   

Simeon knew the Scripture because his refrain is filled with references to the Old Testament.  He saw God as sovereign and himself as a slave.  The song He sings picks up the inspired promise found in Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…on them has light shone.”  

Promises made.  Promises kept!

Simeon was now ready to die.  The word “now” is an announcement or declaration that a dramatic change has occurred.  The word “depart” refers to “the release of a prisoner; to untie a ship and set sail; to take down a tent.”  It was also a military word, used to describe a sentinel who stood watch during the long hours of the night.  He was especially tasked with finding the rising of a special star in the deep darkness.  When he spotted the star, he knew his work was done, and would be dismissed by his commanding officer.  Having seen the light of the world, he could now depart from this world in peace, the same peace the angels had promised to the shepherds.

Hope had come and He was holding Him in his arms! 

No matter what happens, hold on to hope.  Isaiah’s 700-year-old prophecy was now fulfilled!  Hope had come and He was holding Him in his arms!  Jesus had fulfilled Simeon’s bucket list and now he was ready to kick the bucket.

Notice what Simeon says about Jesus.

1. He delivers. 

Check out verse 30: “For my eyes have seen your salvation.”  To see Jesus is to see God’s salvation.  This salvation is…

  • For all people.  Look at verse 31 and the first part of verse 32: “Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles.”  He came to shine the light of God into every nation, every tribe, and every tongue.  Simeon’s words explode narrow nationalism because the gospel is global in its scope.  
  • For God’s people.   In the last part of verse 32 Simeon calls Jesus “the glory of your people Israel.”  In this baby, Simeon sees the fulfillment of all the hopes and fears of all the years echoed by Jewish people across the centuries. 

2. He divides. 

After hearing Simeon’s salvation song, Joseph and Mary responded in verse 33: “And His father and his mother marveled at what was said about Him.” To “marvel” means “to wonder, to be struck with astonishment.”  I think of the lines from the Christmas carol, I wonder as I wander out under the sky; that Jesus my Savior did come for to die; for poor on’ry people like you and like I.”

But their marveling was also going to be filled with some misery; their praise would be intermingled with pain.  Simeon gave a final word of warning to Mary that dark days were coming.  After singing, Simeon preached a short sermon directly to Mary containing three vivid images.

  • Stone.  We see this in verse 34: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel…’”  Jesus will cause some to fall on their faces and others will rise because of their faith.  This phrase comes from Isaiah 8:14-15 which states some will stumble over Christ and be crushed by Him, and others will rise to new life.  We will fall on Christ in faith and be broken to pieces, or we’ll live apart from Christ and be crushed by Him on the Day of Judgment.  It’s impossible to be neutral about the Savior.  You are either for Him or against Him.  When you die, you will go to heaven if you’ve been born again, or you will go to Hell if you haven’t been.
  • Sign.  In the last part of verse 34 and the last part of verse 35 we read: “and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”  Many revolted against Jesus, as many do today.  
  • Sword.  Next, Simeon speaks of the dark shadow of the cross which falls over Christmas in the first part of verse 35: “…and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”   This word for “sword” refers to a large weapon with a wide blade.

It all happened exactly as Simeon had predicted.  Above the cradle stands the cross and beyond the cross is the crown.  After singing His song, Simeon disappears.  What can we learn from his lyrics?

Lessons from the Lyrics

1. Be in the right place to hear from God.

Simeon was in the Temple at the right time.  Joseph and Mary and their son were in the place of worship as well.  Parents, get in the habit of making sure you and your family are in the right place by gathering in God’s place every week.  Oh, and if you’re ready to serve in the nursery, you can be like Simeon and hold some babies, as long you follow our security protocols! 

2. Don’t give up.

Keep waiting patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled in your life.  Don’t give in to the darkness and despair.  Hold on to the One who is holding on to you.  The Lord comes to those who are longing and loves to bring grace to those who have been living with gloom.  Keep watching and waiting because when God makes a promise, He keeps His promise.  Lamentations 3:25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him.”  No matter what happens, hold on to hope.

3. You’re not ready to die until you receive salvation from the Savior.

When Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms, he said, “Lord, I’m ready to go home now.  I can die in peace.”  You’re not ready to die until you have received Jesus and trusted Him as your Savior.  If you come to the end, and you’ve never received the salvation that Jesus offers, you’ve basically wasted your years upon this earth.

Simeon took Jesus personally in his arms… so too, you must personally receive Him.  John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

While our world is dark, the deepest darkness resides inside each of us.  If you’re tired of dwelling in despair, it’s time to repent, believe Jesus died in your place and receive the light of the world into your life.  If you’re ready to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, you will experience hope.

“Jesus, I’m tired of dwelling in the dark.  I confess that because of my sinfulness, I’ve just been stumbling through life.  I repent of how I’ve been living.  Thank You for coming down into our world and for dying on the cross as my substitute and for rising again on the third day.  I believe You are Lord, and You are Light, and I now receive You into my life.  Please save me from my sins and be my Savior and give me what I need to live under Your leadership for the rest of my life.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?