The Light Was About to Shine - Christmas Eve 2010
|Matthew 4 (NKJV™)|
|13||And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali,|
|14||that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:|
|15||"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:|
|16||The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned."|
|17||From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."|
New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.
As the prophet Isaiah peered through his prophetic lens, he could see a small glimmer of light in the future. At the time of Jesus' birth the world sat in darkness--politically, economically, and spiritually. But when Jesus Christ was born, God Turned on the light! Let’s consider the beautiful source of illumination and learn that while we may be sitting in darkness, God is calling us to step into Son-light.
This collection of Christmas messages from over the years focuses on the birth of Jesus Christ—"Immanuel, which is translated, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23). You'll be encouraged to keep your eyes on Christ no matter the season.
I'm going to be reading a little portion of scripture out of Matthew Chapter 4 tonight. I'll just read it to you. It's dark in your seats so, it's something you probably know so well. As you come in to the church parking lot and into the grounds this Christmas season, you see a lot of lights around. The trees are pretty decorated. There are luminaries which is our local expression. There are lights everywhere. If you go through a town and if you take the drive downtown all town, you'll see many more of those lights.
Lights everywhere, but where do you think in America is the biggest display of lights? What city would you pick? I heard Las Vegas.
I can't hear you because there's --
New York, somebody said New York. Others would say Washington. Actually it's in the South. And there are three that sort of like are close to each other, but number three on the list of the largest display is Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. And there would be 2million lights they put up. Second on the list is Smokey Mountain Winter fest, there are three Tennessee towns that get together and do 5 million light display. But the one that takes the cake also in the South is in Pine Mountain, Georgia called Fantasy of Lights, a five mile drive, 8 million lights. That's' the biggest this year in the country. It's huge.
A huge display of lights, a tradition that goes back all the way to the 16th century, they didn't have electricity back then, they use bonfires and they would put bonfires on roads and in church yards to speak of the birth of Christ. But there is one family that as far as a personal residence probably does more lights than anyone. It's the Fulcher family, they're in Delaware. They put up in their yard an honor house, a total of 100,000 Christmas lights. Now you got to know what it cost them. It cost them $686.00 per hour to run the lights. They estimate that at the end of December, their electric bill will be $82,000.00. That's a big chunk of change.
Years ago, Martin Luther was one of the first to put Christmas trees inside the house -- pine trees. He would put candles on the branches. Gather children around the tree, point to the light on the tree in the midst of a dark room and say, "The light on that tree is a reminder of Jesus Christ who's the light of the world."
In Matthew Chapter 4, there's a beautiful description of Jesus who has come as the light. Here are the few verses. "And leaving Nazareth, Jesus came and dwelt in Capernaum which is by the sea in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet saying, "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And upon those who sat in the region of the shadow of death, light has dawned." And from that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew is quoting from an ancient prophet, the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was able to look through his prophetic lens far into the future, pass all of the dark elements that would soon come to his land and he could see a glimmer of light that was coming his way and it would dawn upon the nation of Israel. Isaiah predicted that Galilee would be the very first place where that light would be seen, not Jerusalem but Galilee. That's interesting because Jesus was raised in Nazareth and spent most of his childhood in Galilee. Spent most of his adult life in Galilee, launched his ministry from Galilee, and again not Jerusalem but Galilee.
Jerusalem was Jewish central, that's where the real cream of the crop would launch a ministry. Jesus picked Galilee. It was predicted that Galilee would be the first place where that light would shine. Galilee was looked down upon by those in Jerusalem. They were sort of seen as hicks. They have an accent up there. There's a lot of Gentiles in that region. It's been polluted more so than Jerusalem. And I love the fact that Jesus said, "No. If you're looking for me, I'll be in Galilee. That's where I'm going to plant my flag. That's where I'm going to make my headquarters. That's where I'm going launch my ministry." Among the outcast, the people of Galilee is where he stayed.
But notice what Matthew says quoting Isaiah, "The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light." Isaiah said, "The people who walked in darkness." Matthew changes this up a little bit then out sat in darkness. It's as if the darkness was so thick around them that they gave up trying to navigate. It's a picture of hopelessness. And it's an appropriate picture.
At the time of Jesus Christ, the world sat in darkness politically. There really weren't freedoms enjoyed like we enjoy in our country. Rome was in charge of every place. They rule the world. Caesar Augustus could sit in Rome and wield his iron fist and march his armies across the world and what he said was done. And that was felt even in the region of Galilee and in Jerusalem. Rome did bring out relative peace to the world. It was called the Pax Romana. It was a peace, but it was an enforced peace. The armies of Rome came in and just wouldn't set up for anything but absolute peace in their myth.
So, what it meant on a daily life is you really couldn't go anywhere, you couldn't go to the store or take your kids to school without seeing Roman guards, Roman soldiers. They were monitoring every single move and that made the political tension very high at the time of Jesus. In fact, there was even a group of people known as Zealots who wanted to take control back from Rome by force, overturn the government and bring them back under Jewish control.
So politically the world was dark, but a light was about to shine, not just politically but economically -- the world was in darkness economically. And the reason is clear. Rome brought peace to the world, the Pax Romana but it caused big bucks to do so. And the only way they could get money to fund their agenda was taxation. And they tax people pretty heavily.
You know a part of the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2. It says, "And those days, Caesar Augustus sent out a decree in the days that Quirinius was governing Syria, that all of the world should be registered." Some translations even say taxed. He wanted to take a census, register people so that he could level a tax against them and gather more money for his kingdom. And the way the Romans did their taxation was under what was called tax farming, sort of like a franchise. The ability to tax would go to the highest bidder in the community. So if you could pay for the position, you could buy the position and you could basically tax people whatever you could get away with. They specify them out, went to the Roman Government, you could keep the rest for yourself above and beyond what was the legal limit that's why everybody hated tax collectors. Not a lot has changed, but it was really bad back then. Back there's an old Roman historian that said, "I've never seen a monument to an honest tax collector." They didn't like them. They hated them.
Now you might think we have a bad nowadays. Let me just tell you what life was like under Roman taxation. First of all, there was the Poll Tax. And the Poll Tax was the taxation of every human being, if you're a male aged 14 to age 65. If you're a female aged 12 to age 65 and that was the tax for living, just being alive, breathing air. That was not income tax, just living. You pay the Poll Tax. On top of the Poll tax, you will play a flat 10% of your income would go to the Roman government. That was the income tax. Beyond that and on top of that where taxes for traveling on roads using harbors and importing goods, the import tax.
Then also there was the ground tax. One tenth of all that you grew the grain of your field. One tenth went to the Roman government. One fifth of all of the wine that you produce will also go to the Roman government. Beyond that, there was the fish tax. So if you live by the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee, your taxes go higher. You're taxed per net of catch and per fish that you would have in that net. Beyond that there was even something called the cart tax. You were taxed depending on how many wheels you have on a cart to push your goods around. So if you have four wheels, taxes go up that's why the most economic thing to do is have wheelbarrow, a single wheeled vehicle that push your stuff around.
So you get a pretty clear picture that 2000 years ago, the world sat in darkness politically and economically because they had a strong government in Rome who is taking their money through taxation. The world was dark but a light was about to shine. Also, the world sat in darkness spiritually. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be a Jew in Jerusalem at the time of Christ or before the time of Christ when for 400 years straight, there had been no prophetic voice at all. God had nothing to say for 400 years. Heaven was absolutely silent. There were no prophets. There were no miracles. There was no word from God. Heaven was silent. And that produced an anxiety, anticipation, a yearning for Messiah in the Jewish people, a deliverer. They wanted a deliverer.
There's always been among Jews a messianic expectation. A very fervent Jewish prayer daily said back then was, "I believe in the coming of Messiah." And even though, he tarries, I will wait every coming day. But you have to know -- historians tell us that that yearning for Messiah was more intent just prior to Jesus coming than ever before in their history. They longed for Messiah's light.
Now pan the camera from the Jewish community to the Pagan community for a moment. In the Greco-Roman world, they had lots of religions and gods and goddesses that they worshipped. But none of them could satisfy. They were false and there was a distant chapmen(ph) with all that the Greco-Roman polytheistic world had to offer. And people were looking for hope because they felt that stain of emptiness and spiritual void.
So spiritually the world was dark. But a light was about to shine. You ask the world was getting darker and darker and darker. Then Jesus was born. When Jesus was born God turned on the light and changed human history. The light came into the world. In fact, of all the ways that God could have used to speak about the character and the mission of His son it's interesting that so often, He used the term light. The metaphor of light, it reveals. It removes any concealment. It lets people see clearly.
Here' the sampling. To the shepherds that were watching their flocks by night when Jesus was born, we are told the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shown, that is visibly by light shown around above them. To the Magi, those Persian visitors who traveled over 500 miles and brought gifts to Jesus when He was a child, they said, "We have seen His star in the East and we have come to worship Him." Zacharias was the father of John, the Baptist. When John was born, he was so elated that his son, John, would be the forerunner of Jesus and he set up Jesus who is yet to come. He will give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
And then there was that old man named Simeon who was in the temple waiting every single day for the Messiah to come. And when that little baby came in by His mother, Simeon said, "He's a light. He's a light to reveal God to the nations and the glory of your people Israel." Then, there was the guy named John who was one of Jesus' followers and wrote the fourth gospel. And he said of Jesus, "In Him was life and that life was the light of men and the light shine in the darkness and darkness did not extinguish it." Even Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness."
So this is sort of how it looked on the stage of history, the Old Testament showed flickers of light, traces of light pointing to The Light, Jesus, SON light, and when Jesus came here. He was not a flicker of light, He was the light. He was sort of like the son leaving the sky and coming to the Earth. And that bright of the light does something to people. You can imagine if you get too close to the sun on a sunny day, or you walk outside from a dark theater, you put your hand over your eyes and "Oh, man. Give me the darkness. I can't handle this." At least I need a pair of sunglasses.
And essentially that's what the people did when Jesus came. John said, "The light has come in to the world but men loved their darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." And by the way, people doing this, covering their eyes with their hands happens every Christmas. People will put up the sun out. They'll put up the lights with the snowman and they'll even put up a little manger scene from time to time, but the adult Jesus who walked up to people, who sat in darkness, to deliver them from their darkness and show them the way of light. Most people put their hands over their eyes and they don't want it.
He came into His own. His own did not receive Him. Let's personalize it. You might be sitting in darkness tonight so to speak, even though you'll go home tonight and you'll see a display throughout this town like no other night during the year. Lights are everywhere but there can be darkness inside. Some of you are in the midst and sitting in economic darkness. It's a tough year for you. Some of you lost a job or worse yet, you lost your home. And this is a very tough season for you economically, you're sitting in darkness. Some of you are sitting in darkness relationally. There's been that estrangement between you and family members. Maybe you're marriage is suffering that throws of a possible divorce or you're in the midst of one.
Some of you are sitting in darkness physically, physiologically. A disease has slammed its way into your life this year making this a very difficult time. Worst of all, some of you are still in darkness spiritually. Your sin has alienated you from God and you are feeling emptier and emptier as days go on. And this time of the year, the reason it feels so astute and acute is because it's the spiritual void. And you can do one of two things with that.
Number one, you could party on the outside and get all the lights go on the outside and cover up the darkness in the inside. But when you lay your head on the pillow at night, it comes back. Or, you could address the darkness on the inside. Step out of the shadows into the light of truth of who Jesus Christ is and we'll do it for you and walk in the light as He is in the light. You could be like the Fulchers in Delaware, if you can afford $82,000.00 bill this month and if you could afford it, you would set your neighborhood a glow. That's about it. Or you could come to Jesus Christ and let Him set your life a glow. And everything is changed from that moment on.
I've always loved the story about Robert Louis Stevenson, you recognize the name. He's a great British author. Robert Louis Stevenson was born in England. He was born in Scotland, Edinburgh to be exact. And that little boy loved to watch the lamplighters every night. They didn't have electricity back then. Lamplighters carry the torch and the ladder and will go through the streets of Edinburgh when it was dark and they would light all of the lamps so that the city would brighten up. He loved to watch that. He loved to watch the city change from darkness in the light. And one evening, as the lamplighters were lighting all of the lamps individually, he shouted out to his parents. And he goes, "Look, look, they're punching holes in the darkness." What a description? Punching holes in the darkness.
I have a hunch that's exactly what the Holy Spirit wants to do in some of your lives tonight, punch holes in your darkness. Take you out of your darkness and bring you to the light of Yeshua, Messiah, Savior, and The One whose birth we celebrate. And we celebrate it because we know that He was born with a mission, and that mission was to rescue us. "You will call His name Jesus," the angel said for He will save His people from their sin. He loves to forgive and He will do it if you let Him.