January 26, 2020
Pastor John Hering
19When they tell you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists, who whisper and mutter,” shouldn’t a people seek their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20Turn to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them. 21They will pass through the land, distressed and starving, but when this happens and they are starving, they will be frustrated, and they will curse their king and their God. They will turn their faces upward, 22and they will look down to the ground, but listen: They will see only distress, darkness, and the gloom that brings anguish. They will be banished into thick darkness.
9:1On the other hand, there will be no more gloom for the one who was in anguish. In the former time, he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will cause it to be glorious, along the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in the land of the shadow of death, the light has dawned.Isaiah 8:19-9:2
It started out as a regular day in the study. When we lived in Japan I had a secretary that worked Mon-Fri in the office right next to my study. She was a huge help! The “jimusho” or Office, often had people who would simply walk in and ask questions or look for material to read while riding the trains. But, on this day a lady entered and was visibly upset. I greeted her kindly and that’s when she reached out to grab the cross I had on my lapel of my sport coat. That will shock you! Saito-san came into the room and tried to talk to her calmly, but she just got more aggravated. It was a dark day. She wanted to go into the church next door. Saito-san called 9-1-1 as I took the lady into the church. That’s when she dropped flat on the floor and started to writhe down the center aisle toward the altar. The police arrived and they removed her from the church and we never saw her again. That’s darkness and sure enough—when fear reaches out its icy hand and presses on your chest. Did I just meet a devil possessed person? Darkness is no fun. It’s got poisonous fangs loaded with fear. Makes we wonder if she was bitten with loneliness, the lost-ness, and the “no one’s here to rescue me, help me, love me”? Maybe you have overcome the “keep-the-light-on-Mom” phase of fear and prefer to have it as dark as possible when you hit the hay, but in general Light Is Way Better Than Darkness. God speaks to us today through the prophet Isaiah and takes the contrasts of darkness and light into the spiritual realm to make the same point that
Light Is Way Better Than Darkness.
Looking for Light
Beside the terrorist attacks on our country, no foreign army has attacked our shores in over two hundred years. Such an attack would be awful. If it would happen, we’d run to the store for supplies and try to create areas of safety. But what if the enemy blew up the roads, burned the fields, emptied the food shelves, stripped the vineyards, and confiscated and slaughtered all the cattle? That’s what happened to the people of Judah as the Assyrians trampled the country up north as God “humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.” Those were dark days! But, sadly, after eliminating the threat of the Assyrians, most in Judah settled into comfortable lifestyles and ignored God. Their day to day lives didn’t seem too dark, but they weren’t really looking for light, either.
Do you think people in our land are looking for light? Maybe so, but is it the right light or just a light to brighten their days? Think of the sports teams that we cheer to victory, but find out they were cheating by stealing signs, or bulking up on drugs. Do we learn our lesson? Probably not. Players deny it, and fans ignore it, forking over gazillions for tickets, team and player gear, because, well….the darkness doesn’t seem so dark. When a favorite team loses a big game, there’s always next year, and the darkness doesn’t seem so dark. Illness hits a friend or relative. We feel sad and sympathetic. But they get better, or they don’t and time separates us from the hurt of losing a loved one and the darkness doesn’t seem so dark. The battles in the Middle East continue, but that was two weeks ago—seems like old news now and the darkness doesn’t seem so dark. Candidates are mixing their mud for more slinging. But we survive and life goes on, and the darkness doesn’t seem to dark. And neither do we see people looking for light, do we?
Maybe it’s because we are tempted not to think we’re living in deep darkness. Isaiah said, “”19When they tell you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists, who whisper and mutter,” shouldn’t a people seek their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20Turn to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.” Maybe you heard that and thought, “I’m sure glad I don’t do that.” Really? I think I can find a place of such darkness, total darkness, horrifying darkness. It’s not in the news or in some other neighborhood. It’s not caused by any outside forces or the economy. It’s not “out there.” Isaiah describes it, “21They will pass through the land, distressed and starving, but when this happens and they are starving, they will be frustrated, and they will curse their king and their God. They will turn their faces upward, 22and they will look down to the ground, but listen: They will see only distress, darkness, and the gloom that brings anguish. They will be banished into thick darkness.”
The scariest darkness is in us. When I say things I shouldn’t, when I elevate my own needs over those of others, when I waste what the Lord has given me or use things for pleasure before I use them for him and others, most of the time I don’t give those “deeds of darkness” much thought. But every once in a while what I’ve said or thought or done gets shoved right in front of my eyes, and I realize that it’s not just my behavior that’s wrong but there’s something wrong deep inside. Even if there were no one to see or hear the black thoughts in my mind, God knows. God knows that we’ve got pitch blackness inside, a deep darkness that we can’t eliminate. God knew the lady that came into the office that day. I often wonder if she was desperately looking for light and I wish I could have done a better job of showing Jesus to her. Because Light Is Way Better Than Darkness – but not just any light, the real light of Jesus.
Seeing the Light
Isaiah knew God’s people needed to see the light provided by our gracious Lord God: “9:1On the other hand, there will be no more gloom for the one who was in anguish. In the former time, he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will cause it to be glorious, along the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. Where is this real light that takes away all gloom and darkness? You’d think the people of Judah would know where to look. After all, they were descendants of the nation God himself created, a people who were entrusted with God’s greatest promise – to send humans a Savior. They were the ones to whom God had spoken through Moses so long ago, through scores of prophets, and even through their great kings, David and Solomon. But where did they look for light? In occult practices. Why? Some might say they were naïve. Some might say they were victims of the corrupt culture around them, surrounded by neighbors who actually believed that dead people still have an impact on the living, that there is such a thing as ghosts. In reality, it came down to a matter of faith. Either you believe in the living God, or you put your faith in someone and something else.
Amazingly, God wasn’t ready to give up on them. The the living God does speak, and he has recorded what he wants people to know about him, especially his love for them, in a book we call the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. This book is his teaching about real light. The powerful bright star that breaks through the darkness of the world is in this book that reveals Jesus Christ.
What’s going to happen to you tomorrow on the way to work? Would you like for me to tell you? Of course I can’t do that. Even Satan himself can’t predict the future. So, what medium or spiritists can do that? None. However, 700 years before it happened, God predicted through the true prophet Isaiah that the promised Savior would bring the light of his love to people in the darkness of sin, and he would do it in the physical place where the darkness of enemy oppression had reigned. You heard the fulfillment of this prediction in the gospel for this day. Jesus did actually carry out much of his public ministry in northern Israel, the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, along the Sea of Galilee, a place where people had been trampled on and abused, had their food stolen, and lives disrupted. That is exactly the place where Jesus walked – not on them but for them, a place where Light didn’t abuse them but diffused the darkness of sin, a place where Light didn’t steal food but fed them.
I can’t imagine how the lady who came into the office was hurting inside her heart. But, maybe you can. Maybe you have hurt like crazy from inner darkness. But, Jesus is the Light. Jesus don’t put a pin hole in your heart to let in a dot of light, but blasts a huge hole that bathes us in the warm glow of his mercy and says, “I know you’re scared. I know you feel alone. But you don’t have to be afraid any longer. I, Jesus, am your light. My light is the complete forgiveness of all your sins.” Listen to Isaiah’s description of that light, “2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, the light has dawned.” Praise God you have seen the same light, revealed to you in Scripture.
We don’t experience complete darkness very often. We have starlight, moonlight, streetlights, headlights, front porch lights, nightlights, the computer “on” button light, the router’s light, the clock face all give light. But the deep darkness of sinfulness inside can still be a threat to our eternal security and safety. Want to see the light? Want to be bathed in that light? To the teaching and to the testimony! There we see Jesus. And being with Jesus means you’re living in the light. And Living in the Light is Way Better Than Living in the Darkness. Amen!