The Light has Dawned

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Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world. You rescue us from the kingdom of darkness and bring us into the light of your perfect kingdom of love and goodness. We pray your kingdom would come and your will would be done in our lives, in our families, in our church, and in our community as it is in heaven. Amen.
Good Morning Living Word! I am so glad you’re here with us today! Today we are in the book of Matthew, chapter 4. This is one of those passages where I think to myself, “I wish I had been there to see this,” because this is the start of Jesus’ ministry. It’s the start of his message that the kingdom of God is near. It’s the start of his calling people to follow him and learn from him. And it’s the start of his healing ministry, demonstrating that he has all authority over sickness and disease.
Sometimes the hardest part in life is just getting started. We live in deeply engrained routines, whether we’re conscious of them or not. Our daily habits, repeated over and over again for a long period of time, shape us into who we are. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the habit.
The thing about starting something new, whether it’s a new job, a new habit, a new diet, a new exercise program, or a new relationship, is that it’s often clunky and messy at the beginning. It’s uncomfortable and awkward. Sometimes we avoid starting something new because we don’t like the discomfort involved. We don’t like feeling awkward. We feel like we might be criticized or laughed at. Or, maybe we’re afraid of failure. And because of that, it’s easy to stay in the comfortable world of the familiar.
What I like about Jesus is, he just starts. He just gets going and steps into his calling. I think that is its own lesson for us today that we need to get started. I believe that God is saying to someone this morning It’s time to get started. But that’s we see Jesus do, He steps out and gets started... He aligns his life — his routines, his habits, and his activities — with his identity. Let’s look at his identity.
Matthew 4:12–17 ESV
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: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew, the writer of this gospel, reiterating the words of the prophet Isaiah, describes Jesus as the light.
Matthew 4:15–16 ESV
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.”

Darkness is the Absence of Light

Jesus, the light, comes to us. Notice how we are described? We are: living in darkness; living in the land of the shadow of death. Darkness and death. Those are terrible words. And even worse, they are terrible conditions to be in.
Do you ever feel the words darkness and death describe the season you’re in?
Do they ever describe your demeanor?
Do they ever describe what you’re feeling in your heart or thinking in your mind?
It is undeniable that the Gospel here is talking about a spiritual sense of darkness, dealing with salvation, but it is also true that sometimes despite our salvation Al state, we might find ourselves in a time or a season that feels dark.
There is a pervasive sense of fatalism and despair in this world. Albert Nolan writes, “Fatalism is not a particular philosophy of life which once existed in some remote corner of the world. Fatalism is the prevailing attitude of most people most of the time.
Fatalism is marked by a sense of hopelessness, a sense of being stuck, or overwhelming feelings of anxiety, worry, or fear. Fatalism is the sense that everything is bad, everything is broken, and nothing can be done about it. It’s the belief that bad things overpower good things, and that evil is stronger than good.
Another facet of living in darkness is societal darkness: crime, murder, exploitation, wars, systemic injustices, and ungodly political leadership. The list can go on and on. We live in a dark world scarred by sin and evil. And I think that most of us would agree that the world and society seem to be getting darker.
So, what is darkness? Darkness is simply the absence of light. Darkness itself is not a thing to be studied, but an absence of something. Darkness is simply the absence of light, just as cold is nothing more than the absence of heat. We don’t really study darkness but we do study light. Darkness is the emptiness, the void, and the absence of the goodness and love of God in this world.
And into this darkness, a light has dawned. Jesus doesn’t curse the darkness, he shows up and gets going. He is the light who comes into the darkness and demonstrates the love and goodness of God.
Jesus said,
John 8:12 ESV
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The life, ministry, teachings, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus — his entire life and work on planet earth— is the light of mankind. Jesus is the source of light where we can see God truly for who God is (infinite love and goodness). Jesus is the source of light that provides guidance and direction for our life (sort of like a headlight on a car). Jesus is the source of light that dawns inside our hearts and minds and makes us new people, transformed more and more into his image. Jesus is the source of light that kills and disinfects our lives from sin (sort of like a UV light that kills germs).

God Rescues Us from Darkness

Matthew 4:17 ESV
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Now, this is some good news! The people who are living in darkness, in the valley of the shadow of death, now have another option. They have been stuck in the kingdom of darkness but the kingdom of light (kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven) is now available to them if they want it. Here’s how the apostle John put it many years later:
Colossians 1:12–14 ESV
giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven has come near, he means it’s immediately available. The Greek word used in saying that the kingdom of God is at hand is the same word that is used to describe a physical hand. How close is your hand to you. How far away is your hand from your person? When God says that the kingdom of God is at hand, He doesn’t mean that it’s almost here. He doesn’t mean that it’s coming soon. He means it’s here, now. Today. It’s near, and all you have to do is decide that you want in.
We have a choice: we can remain in the kingdom of darkness or we can enter into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God. Let me ask you, which kingdom do you want to live in?
The kingdom of darkness is marked by sexual immorality, impurity, lust, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language (see Colossians 3), among other things. The kingdom of God is marked by love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (see Colossians 3, 1 Corinthians 13). The kingdom of God is available to you if you want it.
Matthew 4:18–22 ESV
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

We Follow Jesus out of Darkness and into the Kingdom of God

Here we have a picture of Jesus walking along the water and calling his first disciples Andrew, Peter, James, and John. His invitation was simply to “follow me.” Follow him where? Out of darkness and into the kingdom of God. And as a bonus, he would teach them to “fish for people” so that they would rescue others out of darkness and into this new kingdom as well.
Jesus says the same thing to us today: “Follow me.”  Why should we follow Jesus? Because he leads us into the kingdom of God. In this life! The kingdom of heaven isn’t just something “up there” that we go to when we die. It’s something “down here, right now” that we can live in and experience in this life. It’s possible. And the way we get there is simply to follow Jesus one step at a time.

How do we follow Jesus, practically?

Every kingdom has a king. In the kingdom of God, Jesus is the king and the king has all authority over their subjects and territory. This sounds scary that one person would have so much power, but the good news is that our king, Jesus, is full of goodness and love. This means we can trust him and he has our best interests in mind.
The early church called him, “Lord.” Lord means “absolute authority.” When we pray, “Lord Jesus,” we are confessing that Jesus has all authority. Did you know that’s what the word “Lord” means? It’s not a formal version of “Mr.” as if we’re saying, “Mr. Jesus.” To say Jesus is Lord is to say he is the absolute authority over everything, including yourself.
So, back to the question, how do we follow Jesus out of darkness and into his kingdom? It’s a two-step process: we listen to him and then we do what he says.

Listen to Jesus

How do we listen to Jesus? The simplest way to do this is to read his teachings in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Your bible may be a red-letter edition, meaning that the printed words in red are the words of Jesus, which makes them very easy to find.
A good place to start would be Jesus’ core teaching called The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, and The Sermon on the Plain found in Luke 6:20-49.
What Jesus taught then, he teaches now. His words and teachings are more relevant than ever! Jesus shows us THE BEST way to live!

Do what He Says

After we listen and hear what he’s saying, then what? Then it’s time to put his words into practice and actually do what he says. Remember, Jesus is Lord, he is the absolute authority, and he knows what’s best for us. We need to then put his teachings into practice because it’s the best way for us to live.
This means we try to obey. We do our best. We practice. We fail, we stumble, we mess up, and then we simply try again. Jesus does not expect perfection from us, only our best effort. The Holy Spirit will help us obey and give us the power to become true sons and daughters of God. This is why we “put it into practice” instead of trying to live perfectly the first time. Even Jesus uses the word “practice.”
Matthew 7:24 ESV
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Someone might say, but we are under grace, not law! Obedience sounds very legalistic! Jesus does not ask for my obedience, only my faith.
To those feeling that way, I’d like to share a thought by George MacDonald (1824-1905). MacDonald addressed this exact concern, saying: “Do you say it is faith that Jesus requires, and not works? Yes, I agree! But faith in what? Faith in what Jesus is; faith in what Jesus says. A faith can have no existence except in obedience — a faith which is obedience. To do what Jesus wishes is to put forth faith in him.”
To put the teachings of Jesus into practice is to put faith in him. And, anyone who lives out his teachings automatically lives a radical, counter-cultural lifestyle. To love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To love our enemies and those who hurt us, oppress us, dismiss us, wound us. To pick up our cross and follow him. This is all radical stuff that anyone can do if they listen to Jesus and do what he says. We cannot do it by ourselves, the Holy Spirit helps us.
Jesus teaches us the best way to live. This is how life is lived in the kingdom of God. We follow him step by step, by listening to him and doing what he says. This is our way out of darkness and into the light.

The Light Has Dawned

After calling his first disciples, “Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
Instead of cursing the darkness, Jesus gets going. He just starts living and acting in accordance with his purpose and identity.
To the sick and the poor, he showed them a way out of fatalism and darkness. Jesus’ healing ministry demonstrated the triumph of goodness and love over sickness and disease. His successful ministry demonstrated the power of the king in the kingdom of God. He demonstrated that, as Lord, he has all authority — even over sickness and death.
The kingdom of God dawned in the midst of the kingdom of darkness. It’s available for all of us. The question is, do you want it? I encourage you to listen to Jesus and do what he says. His words are life and he shows us the best way to live. Amen.
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