Jesus begins his work.

MATTHEW 4:12  Jesus, having heard that John had been imprisoned, withdrew8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 into Galilee.
13And having left Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the seaside in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14in order that it may be fulfilled what had been said through Isaiah the prophet:

15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

A light has risen for them

17From then Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 18Then walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother, casting a large fish net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And Jesus said to them ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.’ 20And they immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21And moving on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with their father Zebedee, repairing their nets, and Jesus called them. 22And they immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. 23And Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people.

Apparently, as seen from space, Las Vegas is the brightest city in the world. In New York City, Times Square is home to the ABC ‘SuperSign’ a whopping 3,685-square foot screen with wavy LED ribbons. The Eiffel Tower in France is illuminated by 20,000 bulbs. Closer to home the light towers of the MCG have a total of 844 2000 Watt lamps. Each have an individual angle that is computer generated to provide maximum coverage of the arena without any shadowed areas or dark spots. A few years ago, Sydney’s cloudy night sky was seemingly turned into bright day when the city ushered in the New Year with 7 tonnes of fireworks including 1000 that were launched from the Opera House sails, as well as glittering waterfalls of fire that cascaded over the harbour. This paled into insignificance when compared to Dubai’s Guinness World Record effort in which over half a million fireworks were used spanning 94 kilometres of the Dubai Coast, costing nearly $7 million.

All this light in the world – it is not true light. The world is still in darkness—the darkness of greed, selfishness, broken homes, violence, theft, destruction, substance abuse, injustice and exploitation…and everything else that comes with worshipping the self as number 1. And so these man-made lights are a symbol of the extravagance and decadence that place the self on a pedestal to be served with whatever society wants to be served with.

A few years ago it was questioned by one mainstream newspaper why millions habitually flock to parties and what they actually celebrate when the same selfishness characterised by injustice and violence and family and social breakdown continues and calamity and strife surround us on a daily basis. Really isn’t this the picture we hear of from the prophet Isaiah cited by Matthew today?

The people of the Land of Zebulun and Naphtali are dwelling in darkness and gloom—God’s chosen people, the Jews, as well as Gentiles, were in darkness, error, unrighteousness—that 3 letter ‘s’ word that dare not be mentioned: sin. The people are ‘living’—that is, barely existing—in the state of sin, and therefore dwelling in the field of the shadow of death. That was the situation of the human race during the time of Isaiah’s prophecy. It was the situation when Matthew wrote…we see that with the opening verse of our text: John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod because John was faithful to God’s Word and reproved Herod for unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s daughter Salome danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired. Prompted by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John beheaded in prison. What had John the Baptist done? Faithfully proclaimed God’s Word.

As our nation celebrates its greatness and the achievements of its people today, how much room will be made for public thanksgiving to God for His blessings? For all our greatness as a nation, the Australia I see is the land and the people Isaiah and Matthew spoke of centuries ago—a country that is desperately in need of the light of Christ. A country that rejects God’s Word—lost, stumbling, consumed with the decadence and self-worship of the Western world that will do away with anything that stands in the way—even God Himself.

It’s a chilling thought, but we too have inherited that condition—the condition that has the potential for us to be the next tyrant who we are sickened by. The condition that makes us all enemies of God because it shows itself in all the ways we know of or deny that are contrary to God’s will expressed in His Word. We were among the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who sat in gloom and darkness, even in the very shadow of death, needing rescue. So behold, the gospel, for you this day:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

A light has risen for them

That light is Jesus and His Gospel. The first words Jesus proclaims in our text is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus is talking in a geographical sense. In the person of Christ, heaven has come to earth. Wherever Jesus is, God’s kingdom is present and at work. Every other religion requires us to ascend to God through our good works. God shows his grace in that even though the world is darkened by sin and in bondage to it, blind to the true God and unable to free itself, God came down with love in the person of Christ, to bring freedom from the bondage of sin and dare I say it—ourselves. He came to trample over death with His own and make a mockery of the demonic realm of darkness with His redeeming work on the Cross.

Matthew tells us today that this Christ went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people. This is the light that has risen for the people. These healings are a witness that Jesus is indeed the Son of God with all authority over the created order, over sin, death and Satan, and the authority to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sins which is the greatest of blessings even in the depths of our brokenness and despair because it is only through forgiveness that we enter into God’s presence as His holy children and have peace and life with Him forever.

All of this is an undeserved gift to a people helpless to help themselves. So repentance is the only appropriate response to such lavish love; a love that none of us deserve but a love that is given without condition, a love that does not count our wrongs against us but counts them against the Christ who was crucified in our place to take our sin from us and exchange it with His holiness and righteousness. A love that welcomes the least into the family of God through His Son to be co-heirs with Him. Entry is through faith alone in the promise that there is a righteousness apart from the Law; the righteousness that comes through faith in this Messiah, Christ the light of the world.

Jesus says to us today: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Wherever Jesus is, the Kingdom of Heaven is present—God’s gracious rule. Where is Jesus? In His holy word and sacraments. Just as He taught in the synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, Jesus is truly present again today, preaching and enacting the gospel through the readings, the liturgy, this sermon. Preaching the Gospel to you that will not return to Him empty but accomplish everything He desires it to do. He is the host of the holy meal we are about to receive, speaking His word that does what it says, making ordinary wafers and wine His true body and blood that He places in your hands, so that as you eat and drink there is no mistaking that the forgiveness and redemption that He won for the world He gives to you and you receive personally through faith in His promise: given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

You too have seen this great light shining in the darkness. It is not spectacular in the way the world understands spectacular, but it is far more powerful for this light has freed you so that you are no longer captive to your sinful nature but captive to Christ, who made you His very own in the waters of holy baptism. What a gracious God we have to come into our world and give us these holy gifts to bring us into personal relationship with Him! And in these waters, you too were called by our Lord to be His followers in your daily life and work. Just as Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John who immediately follow Jesus, not because they have a better faith or greater willpower or have sinned less than others, or for any quality within themselves. They are able to follow Jesus because He calls them to do so. The words that Jesus, God Himself utters: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people” are not just words, but words that do what they say they will do…because what Jesus says, happens. We are reminded of God’s words in the creation of the universe: “Let there be light…and it was so; let there be…and it was so; let there be…and it was so.” Here in our text the Lord of creation brings about a re-creation in these fishermen through His speech: “Come, follow me”—the same re-creation He works in your life.

Not only has Jesus won forgiveness and salvation for undeserving sinners, but in His task of building His church, chooses to use them in this work, leading and guiding them in the harvest of souls. And so the people you live and work with see a great light when they see how you live God’s word in your life. Just before our text today was Matthew’s account of the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Without food for forty days Jesus is hungry. The devil knows Jesus has the power to turn the stones around Him into loaves of bread and tempts Him to do it. But Jesus answers: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus isn’t talking about simply existing. He doesn’t say ‘Man does not exist on bread alone, but live on bread alone; real living. And so when you live—really live—meeting with Jesus Himself through His word, receiving the Holy Spirit He sends through the Scriptures, you have peace and contentment and strength no matter what your situation is because the Spirit is at work bearing His fruit. People see that in your life and they know there’s something different about these ‘churchy people’ as we’re often referred to. They see the light of Christ at work because you are a little Christ, to borrow Luther’s terms, in the darkness of the world around. When others see how you say grace at Maccas because you want Christ to be present and bless the food for you, when others see you come to church on a Sunday instead of sport or sitting on the header or sleeping in, when others see how you interact in a patient and forgiving way to those who have wronged you, when others see how you care for others, when others see how you respect authority, when others see how you cherish God’s name rather than using it habitually, when others see how you handle a crisis or live in integrity, when others see you feasting on the Word of God to really live, they see Christ the light of the world, living in and building His church among you.

It is not because of any effort on our part, but this only happens because Jesus has first preached the good news to you, and as he continues to preach to you and teach you through the scriptures, he continues to inspire and enable you to serve others and witness to him. Again today, He is in this church right here and He sends forth His gospel to make you everything He wants you to be, so that even as we live in the shadow of the valley of death of this life, His eternal light lights our way and—by his work in us and through us—shows the world a glimpse of the incredible love of its Saviour. Amen.

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