Gospel: Matthew 4:12-25 (Epiphany 3: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Though it may feel to us like the darkness is winning, God’s Word reveals the darkness is waning. The Light of the world has come.

Your city’s latitude and how far east or west you are in your time zone will affect how much daylight you have on a particular day and when you get that daylight (you can find the data for your location here). I live in western Washington, near Seattle.

On December 21, the shortest day of the year, sunrise is at 7:54 a.m. and sunset is at 4:20 p.m. This gives us eight hours and twenty-five minutes of sunlight. But on June 21, the longest day of the year, sunrise is at 5:11 a.m. and sunset is at 9:10 p.m. We get fifteen hours and fifty-nine minutes of sunlight that day! The difference is significant on a personal and experiential level. Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated S.A.D.) is a real thing. The darkness is difficult. There is an energy and a joy which perceptibly increases as the days lengthen and the light of the sun illuminates more and more of our waking moments.

Of course, too much light coming at us too quickly can be uncomfortable. I have fond, albeit slightly sadistic, memories of flipping all the lights on when my kids or a group of campers were soundly sleeping in their dark and cozy beds. I would accompany the sudden burst of light with an off-key and stentorian rendition of: “Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory!”

The coming of light can be welcomed or unwelcomed; a lot depends on what we are experiencing at the time. This season of Epiphany recognizes the Light has come. Here in Matthew 4, we get glimpses of how that Light is experienced as both Law and Gospel.

When I flooded the sleeping kids with light and sang the silly chorus, I only sang the chorus of the song (because that is all I knew). But it turns out the verses of “Rise and Shine” are all about Noah and the Flood. It is one of the darkest narratives about the depths of human depravity and our need for repentance. None of the groaning kids thought I was calling them to repent by blasting them with the bright light. They just wanted to sleep, but I think there is a connection there.

Ephesians 5:11-16 talks about the deeds done in darkness, and how the light of Christ calls us to wake up, even as it exposes and makes visible what was hidden in the shade. The light of God’s Word shines, exposes, and calls us to repentance, and this is just what we see here in Matthew 4.

Matthew quotes the words of Isaiah about the light shining in order to set up the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. And the very first word Jesus says is, “Repent” (4:17). Earlier, Jesus spoke to John the Baptist briefly and dialogued with the Devil in the wilderness, but His public preaching begins with a message of repentance. The exposing Light of God’s Law calls us to repent. And like the sleeping kids, our natural inclination may be to bury our head in the darkness and hide from the exposing light.

But Jesus has more to say and do which blinds us with the glory of God’s Law and reveals our dark failings. In the same breath, Jesus announces that the Kingdom, the reign of God is at hand. The dawn of a new day has begun. Most of our churches sang of this dawn just a few weeks ago at the end of our Christmas Eve service:

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

With the birth of Jesus, the gracious redeeming love of God shines afresh.

With the birth of Jesus, the gracious redeeming love of God shines afresh.

In the days leading up to the winter solstice on December 21, the darkness deepens incrementally where I live. December 18 has twenty seconds less daylight than December 17. December 19 has fifteen seconds less daylight than December 18. December 20 has nine seconds less daylight than December 19. And December 21 has four seconds less daylight than December 20.

But then, in the week of Christmas, it flips, and accelerates. December 22 has just one second more of daylight than December 21. Jump ahead to December 30 and you have forty-five more seconds than you had on December 29 (and three minutes and thirty-six seconds more daylight than you had on December 21). By the time we get to the end of January, each and every day has close to three minutes more daylight than the previous day.

Psalm 130 gives us the image of watchmen waiting for the morning through the long dark night (the Center for Worship Leadership’s Psalm Library has some specific resources for the Psalm if you are interested). With the saints of old, we have been waiting for the Lord, as one waits for a long dark night to be vanquished by the first rays of the morning dawn. Jesus Himself shines the radiant beams of God’s redeeming grace.

While too much light too quickly can be as painful as a direct call to repentance, Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah and the application to Jesus gives the assurance that Jesus’ presence is not just a consuming fire but a cleansing coal from the altar of God. God does not just expose, He shines. He does not just wound, He binds up. The language of the quote from Isaiah is good news.

The line from When Peace Like a River gives voice to the goodness of God’s coming light:

And Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.

The days are getting brighter and brighter, more and more every day. And though it may feel to us like the darkness is winning, God’s Word reveals the darkness is waning. The Light of the world has come. Every single passing day brings us closer to the great and glorious Day. The Great Dawn is closer now than it has ever been. The literal lengthening of daylight in this season (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) is a reminder that God’s gracious reign in Christ is hastening towards us.

And though it may feel like our consciences and our world are stuck in Good Friday or in the silent shadows of Holy Saturday, we know the dawn of Easter is coming. We wait for it as watchmen wait for the morning, confident that even now, even on us who dwell in the shadow of death, a Light has dawned.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 4:12-25.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 4:12-25.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 4:12-25.