Sunday, January 23, 2011

Matthew 4:12-17; Third Sunday after the Epiphany; January 23, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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 4:12-17, ESV)

Grace and peace to from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The light is Jesus. He saves you from the darkness of your sin, by bringing the great light of forgiveness of sin through His life, death and resurrection. End of sermon. Amen.

Long pause

Well, we’ve still got some time left. Maybe we should fill it with something. How about a story?

There was this guy named Gideon. He lived in ancient Israel. He was a man who was just a bit timid. He wasn’t alone, you see, all the people there were a bit timid. Things looked pretty dark for the Israelites. They were being bullied big time. These guys called Midianites were crossing the borders and harassing them every time the crops were ready to be harvested. They’d burn the crops, destroy the fields and kill the harvesters. They are the …

Mighty Menacing Midianites.

Crop destroyin, plague deployin, quite annoyin.

Fond of fightin, strike like lightnin, man they’re frightnin.

Kill, steal and destroy every man, woman, girl and boy.

Because they are the…

Mighty Menacing Midianites. (Dr. Reed Lessing, Concordia Seminary)

Well, one day, Gideon is hiding in the shadows of a pit beating the wheat to separate the grain from the chaff. He was hiding in the dark from the Midianites. God spoke to him there and told him he would be the one who would get rid of the Mighty Menacing Midianites and set God’s people free from the terror they were under.

Now Gideon wasn’t too keen on the idea. “Hey God, you’ve got to be kidding right. My family is the smallest one in Israel and I’m the smallest one in my family. Give me a sign! Show me the light. So I know for sure.” So he took a sacrifice and laid it out on a rock. All by itself it caught fire and burned up. So Gideon decided he was the guy.

Well, it wasn’t long before Gideon had an army. For a little guy he did pretty good. There on the bank of the river he had gathered 32,000 men ready to put the fight to the bad guys. But God wasn’t ready to work the way Gideon wanted to, so He told him to send home all those who were afraid. Well, I think it’s pretty amazing that only 10,000 left considering the crop destroyin, plague deployin… Mighty Menacing Midianites… you know what I mean. Gideon was still pretty happy with his 22,000. But not God. “Send them to the river and have them drink.” He said. “Keep the one who drink like dogs. You know, lapping up the water with their tongues.” That left 300. (Isn’t that a movie?) Finally God had the army he wanted, but not Gideon.

Just imagine Gideon’s head bouncing back and forth between his 300 doggy soldiers and the Might Menacing Midianites whose numbers were too great to count. Once again darkness crept into Gideon’s thoughts. “God!” He protested. “I need another sign.” He put a fleece (that’s just a ball of wool) out on ground and asked God to make it wet overnight but keep the ground dry. The next morning he found the fleece soaked and the ground bone dry. In fact he could wring the water out of it. But being a timid kind of guy he put it out again and asked for the sign to be reversed. The next morning the ground was soaked and the wool was dry. Gideon had to be sure now, right. Well, no not quite. God had him sneak into the Midianite camp and eves drop on the guards. He heard one say to another that he had a dream of bread rolling into the camp and destroying them. “That’s Gideon and his army, we’re doomed!”

Well, now Gideon was pretty sure now that God was on his side. So he had his little army surround the Midianite camp in the darkness of the middle of the night. And here’s the interesting thing. He gave them all lights hidden under jars. At the sound of the trumpet they broke the jars and shouted. Well the Mighty Menacing Midianites weren’t so big now. They were literally scared to death. They actually used their weapons on each other. The great light around the camp defeated them. That great light was something more than just the light of 300 torches. God made it really, really, bright. They were no match for the light of God. Hey, did I tell you that the place where this all happened was the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. In Jesus time it was called Galilee. Way back then in the time of Gideon Zebulun and Naphtali saw a great light and it saved them from their enemies.

Hey! Wait a second! That sounds familiar. A great light in Zebulun and Naphtali? Hey haven’t we heard that at least two other times this morning? In Isaiah and Matthew? But I thought the “light” was Jesus?

Well… It is. That’s how these Old Testament prophecies work. God does something miraculous to save His people to show how He was going to do the same thing in Jesus. Gideon and his army are a great light in Zebulun and Naphtali. Jesus is the really great light in Zebulun and Naphtali.

By the way, did I tell you how the Israelites got into the dark mess they were in? Hey if you go back to the book of Judges and read about the story of Gideon you find these words.

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. (Judges 6:1, ESV)

These people had suffered a lot, but it was because of their own sin.

Now you won’t be surprised if I talk about that darkness in our hearts as our problem too. It’s an unholy trinity; the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. Each one darker than the other. Satan is out there turning out the light of truth. He lies about God and you. He tells you that you’re too much of a sinner to be loved by God. He tells you it’s better to hide in a dark pit than come into God’s light. The world around us is all darkness, too. Not only is sin public, but darkness is called light and light is called darkness. This week was the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. That made it legal to kill a baby at any time during it’s pre-born life just because it might be unwanted. A pastor in Albany, New York, said the abortion business was

“sacred ground where women are treated with dignity, supported in their role as moral decision-makers ... sacred ground where the violent voices of hatred and oppression are quelled." (Rev. Larry Phillips of Schenectady's Emmanuel-Friedens Church,

Now calling evil “sacred ground” might seem as evil as it gets, but there is darkness that is even worse. You don’t have to look far to find it either.

Jesus said it like this:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19, ESV)

He was only echoing what was said in Genesis:

… the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. (Genesis 8:21, ESV)

And your experience with it tells you the same. It’s

Friendship destroyin, plague deployin, quite annoyin…

Kill, steal and destroy every man, woman, girl and boy.

Now that is being in the dark. But as I said at the very beginning, in that very short sermon, Jesus is the light. The people dwelling in darkness, (that’s us!) have seen a great light.

You know after hearing the story of Gideon, I can’t help but think of that song, you know;

This little gospel light of mine I'm gonna let it shine… Hide it under a bushel, NO! I'm gonna let it shine… Let it shine all the time Let it shine

The Gospel light is what Jesus does for us. Matthew tells us that when Jesus died there was darkness over the whole land for three hours (Matt 27:45). The darkness of Satan, the World and our Sinful flesh were there on the cross with Jesus. He took it all into the darkness of death, so that when the first bright beams of the Easter morning sun hit the empty tomb the darkness was gone forever. In that same way, Jesus shines His light of forgiveness into our sinful hearts. The darkness guilt and shame Satan wants us to feel so we hide from God flies away. The lies of the world that fill us with darkness scatter and even our dark sinful nature is no match for the life of Jesus given for us on the cross. It’s like St. John says at the very beginning of his Gospel.

In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5, ESV)

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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