1/27/2020 10:11:49 AM
Praise the One who Breaks the Darkness
All I have to do is flip the switch; Turn the knob on the lamp; Say, “Alexa, turn on the lights.” And if the power goes out, I don’t even have to go to the drawer to find the matches or flashlight. I just grab my phone.(Which, if I’m being honest, is never more than an arm’s length away) If I’m in the church office at night or early in the morning, I don’t have to do anything. I simply walk down the hall, and all of the lights turn on. It’s all that easy.
And yet, there’s something eerie about the dark. It’s the unknown; not being able to see what might be right in front of you or around the corner. It’s the fear of unseen danger or the possibility of getting lost. It’s the reason cities have streetlights and why we joke about not running into the wrong person in a dark alley. It’s why you have a floodlight on front of your garage or behind your house, and you turn on the nightlight in the hallway before you go to bed. It’s the unnerving feeling darkness gives that’s behind the switch, the lamp, voice and motion-activated lights, the ease of having a flashlight on our phones.
Pictures of darkness, and the contrast between darkness and light, appear on so many pages of the Bible. God uses the concept of darkness to give warnings of danger, being lost, judgment. He uses darkness to talk about fear, death, hopelessness, and helplessness. See, darkness is more than the possibility of stubbing your toe against the dresser in the middle of the night. It’s being so lost – it’s feeling so hopeless – that you’re convinced you’ll never again find your way.
What’s the answer for that darkness? – the darkness we can’t scatter with our phone’s flashlight. We turn to the pages of the Old Testament book Isaiah. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah about 700 years before Jesus. This is what it says in the last verses of chapter 8: 19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
Did you pick up on what was happening at the time of Isaiah? Where were people going for guidance and direction? They were being directed to and then going to the dead. They consulted mediums and spiritists – people who spoke to the dead or at least claimed to. The word translated “mediums” is the word for necromancers. Necromancy is the practice of magic involving communication with the dead. Such practices – whether it’s witchcraft, mediums, even psychics, the occult – they all open themselves up to the work of the devil. The devil is more than a silly cartoon character, cute stuffed animal, or a red costume with a pitchfork that we might throw on for the work Halloween party. He’s real. And he’s dangerous. He wants nothing more than to devour souls. And yet, it was to his realm that the people were going for answers, for some sort of direction, for light. Sadly, that’s where many people still turn today.
Isaiah can’t help but respond with a little sarcasm: Should not a people inquire of their God? It’s as if they never considered the obvious. But more than that, resorting to this as a means of gaining wisdom was a rejection of God. Then, Isaiah points out the irony in it: Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? It’s foolish and shameful to take a guess at things above from things below.
Isaiah goes from the narrow (consulting of mediums and spiritists) to the broad. He says: Go to God! To God’s instruction, to God’s testimony – everything he says. If anyone does not speak according to this word – God’s Word – they have no light of dawn. Isaiah is no longer just talking about necromancy and witchcraft. This is true of everything. The clear source for any insight or guidance must be the Word of God – what he says is good; what he says is right; what he says about who you are! Anyone who “does not speak according to” that or in line with that, if they offer direction that contradicts what God says in his Word, they have no light. They are walking in darkness, and so are those who listen to them and follow them.
Our human race is thirsty for information, for guidance, for answers. You couldn’t begin to count the number of “How to” and “Self-help” books. As of this month, there are now more than 700,000 podcasts with 29 million episodes, and demand always drives supply. Much of it is very good – entertainment, news, there are many good Christian recourses. Yet, a lot isn’t. As I continue to thirst for guidance, is what I’m drinking in light or darkness?
Because it matters. Consider what happens to those who don’t have the light of God’s Word. Remember this is written 700 years before Jesus, so 2,700 years ago. Yet, the result of spiritual darkness is the same. I read these words, and sadly I see a picture of our modern world. People not finding what they are looking for, caught in cycles of addiction and hate, angry at God, blaming God for all that is wrong, and might they seek God after all of that? No. They continue to walk further into the darkness. Two illustrations come to mind: 1) The first is salt water. When I drink it, I become more thirsty. So I keep drinking it. And I become more thirsty. I continue to drink it until it eventually kills me. 2) The second is the one Isaiah offers. It’s the picture of darkness. If I am standing in a dark cave, and I willingly and purposefully turn away from the light and walk deeper into the dark cave hoping to find another way, I only go deeper. The cave only gets darker. The further I go, the longer I go, the deeper and darker it gets. Isaiah paints a very telling picture of the darkness of unbelief.
Yet, I better be careful. Yes, this is a picture of unbelief and unbelievers, but’s this is also the darkness of sin. All sin – my sin, your sin – is an objection to God and his Word. The thought that says “I know this is wrong, but it’s really no big deal.” The desire to do what’s best for me no matter the impact it has on others. It’s the hurtful word. The greedy decision. The action driven by lust. It’s darkness – all of it. And untouched, all sin leads away from God, “thrusting us into utter darkness.” There’s no flip of a switch, no voice or motion-activated lights, for the darkness of my own sin.
So, the earlier question still stands. We have only cranked up its urgency. What is the answer for the darkness of sin, unbelief, the hopelessness that often comes along with living in a sin-darkened world? We find it in the next two verses, the first verses of chapter 9: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
“Nevertheless” – Wow, is that an important word! It shares a beautiful truth about God. See, God still has promises to keep. Two chapters earlier, God referred to the Messiah, the coming Savior as “Immanuel” for the first time. “Immanuel” means “God with Us.” Or in this case, God will come and be with us. That is the promise God has made. And he has not yet kept that promise. The beautiful truth about God is that our sin and our darkness does not stop him from keeping his promises. It doesn’t change him. The darkness of sin and unbelief cannot and will not dim God’s light.
God provides the answer to spiritual darkness. His answer is Immanuel – Jesus, the Son of God, God himself, entering this world to be with us. That’s what God promises through Isaiah in these last verses. He promises the one who will break the darkness. And 700 years later Jesus appears in Galilee teaching and proclaiming the good news and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23) Within just three more years Jesus would go from Galilee to Calvary’s cross. There on the cross as he wore our sin – all of it, every last one – God’s promised Immanuel became darkness for us.
And what Isaiah says in verse two is the result. First, Isaiah looks ahead to Jesus’ arrival and ministry in Galilee. And as with every promise from God, it is certain and complete from the moment he says it. So, in the very next verse, he speaks as if Jesus’ work is already complete. We walk and live in darkness no more. A light has dawned. Jesus is the great light.
He’s the one who breaks the darkness
With a liberating light.
He frees the prisoners,
Turning blindness into sight.
He’s the one who preached the gospel,
Healing every dread disease,
Calming storms and feeding thousands.
He has given peace. (CW 353:1 – amended slightly) Amen.