Light Has Come
December 7, 2019 | Brian Bill
Whenever I hear about Jesus being the light of Christmas, I think about a time I tangled with darkness when I was about 8 years old.
My bedroom was in the basement, which was really cool because I got to be away from my four sisters and have some privacy. The tough thing was that it was really dark at night. I was normally pretty adept at finding my way around in the dark and liked the challenge of finding the bathroom in the middle of the night.
I still remember my route. I’d get out bed, feel for my paneled wall and then find the door. After opening the door, I would turn right, walk through a curtain, touch the water heater on my right, some shelving on my left and would then turn right at my dad’s workbench. I’d then put my hands up to feel the ductwork in the ceiling, walk past the furnace, being careful not to crash into the woodpile and finally make it to the bathroom. I could do the whole thing without ever turning a light on. I know that’s more information than you wanted to know.
One night I woke up and got out of bed in order to use the bathroom. Without realizing it, I had gotten out of the wrong side of the bed. Instead of finding the door, I was on the other end of my room, frantically searching for a way out. I started to panic. I couldn’t figure out who moved the door on me – it must have been one of my sisters!
The more I searched for the exit the more upset I became. I was completely in the dark. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. The darkness was so thick I could almost feel it, which started to freak me out. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and panicked. My heart started racing and I began screaming at the top of my lungs for my mom and dad. Eventually they came running down the stairs, opened my door (which was behind me) and turned the light on. I’ll never forget how glad I was to see them!
We’re beginning a new series called, “Down to Earth: Christmas According to Isaiah.” Over 700 years before the first Christmas, a plaintive plea was uttered by those who wondered how much longer they would have to stumble around in the dark. Our theme verse is Isaiah 64:1: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”
Please turn to Isaiah 9:1-2. If you’re using the Bible from the rack in front of you, this text begins on page 680. If you don’t have a Bible, feel free to take one with you.
In order to interpret our passage correctly, it’s important to understand some history. Please don’t check out – I’ll keep it short and I think you’ll find it interesting.
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. These twelve tribes eventually settled in the Promised Land (Wisconsin); the land God had originally promised to Abraham.
Benjamin and Judah settled in the south around Jerusalem and the other ten put down roots in the north. They were all 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 ones 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 in order to attack Judah.
As you can imagine, the people in the south were afraid, so God raised up the prophet Isaiah to give them hope in Isaiah 7-8. Also Isaiah predicted the Northern Kingdom would be destroyed by the Assyrians. Not surprisingly, this came to pass, and the ten tribes were decimated and dispersed to distant places. They’ve become known as the ten lost tribes of Israel.
God made us to have a relationship with Him, but we’ve all turned from Him and served other gods, leaving us in deep despair and darkness.
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 a relationship with Him, but we’ve all turned from Him and served other gods, leaving us in deep despair and darkness.
We get a snapshot of their situation 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,” which means He “banished them by driving them away.”
Zephaniah 1:15 describes a day of “darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Because of their unbridled depravity, they were thrust into unquenchable darkness.
Our main idea from Isaiah 9:1-2 is this: Jesus lights the way for those living in darkness. As we look at these two verses, we’ll see two movements taking place.
- Jesus moves us from great gloom to glorious gladness (9:1)
- Jesus moves us from deep darkness to the light of life (9:2)
1. Jesus moves us from great gloom to glorious gladness.
In the midst of grief and gloom, Isaiah announces a message of grace and glory in verse 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 of Isaiah 8:22. The phrase, “brought into contempt” has the idea of something being cursed or trivialized.
Zebulun and Naphtali are 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 attack them. Because these tribes were the furthest north, they were the first to be attacked.
In the midst of this mess, Isaiah brings a message of future hope and healing. A time is coming when great gloom will be replaced with glorious gladness in Galilee.
For the last couple 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; gladness comes when we’re grieving.
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.
Jesus lights the way for those living in darkness.
2. Jesus moves us from deep darkness to the light of life.
Verse 2 uses the past tense to describe future events as if they’ve already happened. This shows us the certainty of how prophecy will be fulfilled, specifically how the birth of Christ will bring brightness to a world of darkness: “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.”
The idea behind “walking in darkness” is someone stumbling as they come and go. Proverbs 4:19 reads, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” Jeremiah 23:12 shows the dangers of walking in darkness: “Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall, for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, declares the Lord.”
Watch this. While people are walking in the dark, all of a sudden a “great light” appears and shines into the deep darkness! We can’t find the light on our own, so the light comes to us. We were reminded of this by the Edge Kids from 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 that Matthew had Isaiah’s prophecy in mind when he wrote these words to describe 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.” Jesus left Nazareth because He had no honor in His hometown; in fact, they tried to kill Him.
Are you ready for some spiritual goosebumps? Nazareth is where Jesus was born and is located in Zebulun. Capernaum, which became the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry is in the land of Naphtali. 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.”
Look next 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 that “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 ask, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” In John 7:52, they answer 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 Scripture. Don’t miss the significance of Galilee of the “Gentiles.” We’re reminded that 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.” Let me point something out. In Isaiah 9:2, the people “walked” in darkness and here we see they are “dwelling” in darkness. The same thing can happen to each of us. You can start by walking in darkness and end up dwelling in darkness. Psalm 107:10-11: “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.”
Darkness in the Bible is often a symbol of divine judgment. According to Exodus 10:21-23, there were three days of darkness “that could be felt” in Egypt before the first Passover lamb was slain, and there were three hours of darkness before the Lamb of God died for the sins of the world. The ninth plague of darkness preceded the killing of the firstborn and deep darkness proclaimed the death of God’s first-born Son.
Listen to Mark 15:33: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” From noon to 3:00 in the afternoon it became pitch black. It was as if God the Father placed His hands over the sun and said, “Sun, you shall not shine on my Son while He becomes the sin substitute.”
Check this out. At the birth of Jesus, a supernatural star ascended to light the way for the Magi and at His death supernatural darkness descended in the middle of the day. His birth announcement was a display of brightness at midnight and the notification of His death was deep darkness at mid-day.
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!
Have you gone from walking in the dark to dwelling in the dark? Do you love living in the dark or do you want to live in the light? John 3:19 says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” It’s not enough just to have some light shine on you.
Jesus calls us to repent from living in the darkness in order to receive the light of life in verse 17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Let’s go back to our theme verse from Isaiah 64:1: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” God has come down into our despair and darkness!
Jesus lights the way for those living in darkness.
- He wants to move you from great gloom to glorious gladness (9:1)
- He wants to move you from deep darkness to the light of life (9:2)
A boy heard in Sunday School that Jesus was the light of the world. After class, he went up to his teacher and said, “If Jesus really is the light of the world, I wish He’d come hang out in my house. It’s awfully dark where I live.”
Is it dark where you live? Are you stumbling around in the dark? Are you tired of living with gloom? If so, it’s time to make Him room. I love this line from the Edge Kids’ musical: “Let our hearts be your home.”
Jesus makes you an offer in John 12:46: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
If you’re tired of dwelling in the darkness, it’s time to repent, believe that Jesus died in your place and receive Him into your life.
If you’re ready to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, please pray with me.
“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.”
If you prayed that prayer and meant it, I wonder if you would have the courage to come up front so I can pray for you? Please stand as we sing “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” Listen to these lyrics: “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” I invite you to come now.