Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: Isaiah 9:2
O.T.: Isaiah 9:1-4
N.T.: Matthew 4:12-23
Light’s absence is blinding. Julie and I once had a friend who wanted us to experience his life as a coal-mine inspector. He took us to the Tour Ed Mine above Harmarville. As we traveled the rail line into the mine, lights were placed along the wall to define the route into the darkness.
We traveled a football field’s length into the mine and turned left into a vaulted room where miners had extracted the black gold decades before. The coal car came to a stop and our friend turned explained what we were seeing – how miners had hewn the room beneath earth’s soil and rock.
Then he turned off the mine’s lights. Only a blind person experiences such darkness. When you stand in total darkness there’s no forward or backward. Right and left are meaningless. Time and space collapse in black.
Darkness beneath the earth is unlike night, where God’s heavenly lights shine. The moon is a brilliant orb lighting the earth. Stars and moon give illumination that create shadows. They show us time’s movement.
The stars and moon travel above where we stand. They provide direction as the earth rotates beneath our feet, and around the sun. Beneath the earth, where there’s no light, there’s no past, present, or future. There’s no direction for life in which you can have faith. There’s simply existence – the knowledge you’re alive, breathing, and blind.
Beneath the earth you have no relationship to anything else that lives above the ground, except you memory of what life is like. There’s nothing on which to pin your future.
When people are afraid, there are great similarities to the darkness beneath the earth. They’re aware of living. But they have no direction they receive in life’s forward movement. Absolute terror knows only the here and now. There’s only the realization that the threat of blindness is so powerful that living collapses in darkness and despair.
Perhaps that’s why we’re so afraid of losing our life. We intuitively sense that beneath the earth there’s only darkness. We’re afraid of losing our faith and trust in Jesus’ promises which direct us to God’s future light.
Isolation dominates the fearful. They’re separated from God’s presence that guides us into His glorious future. They’re consumed by the threat of non-existence. There’s no past to reassure in the stories of Jesus. There’s no future of Jesus’ promises in which to find hope. There’s only an abiding darkness that blinds the fearful from seeing God’s goodness in life.
National fear is yet a further example. When a nation faces natural or man-made cataclysms that render the light of government and its courts impotent, darkness covers the people in a mantle of fear. Fear generates anarchy. Reason no longer operates in the halls of governance. Faith in institutions and leaders collapses in a power grab to fight fear. The nation becomes shrouded in darkness.
Such was a time when Isaiah proclaimed the prophecy we read this morning. The terrible nation, Assyria, was descending on the northern kingdom of Israel. Assyria’s reputation for destroying countries and massacring their people had all of God’s people shaking.
The region of the Galilee had already been conquered. Assyria of the sixth century before Christ, was a fierce opponent against whom no nation stood. The stories of Assyria’s brutality terrified its neighbors. What the Assyrians did to people they defeated in battle rivals what we’ve seen ISIS do during the past few years.
Judah’s King Ahaz was so blinded by terror that he sacrificed his own son as an offering to stop Assyria from destroying his kingdom. Ahaz’s murder of his son was an abomination. God’s ethical boundaries for His covenant people in the law He gave Moses had collapsed at the highest level of Israel’s government – the monarch.
Isaiah warned God’s people of the disaster that was about to descend on Israel. King Ahaz’s despicable act exposed his failure to have faith in God. Ahaz represented Israel’s spiritual and ethical collapse into sin’s darkness. The people’s were blinded by fear and faithlessness. They lost faith in God.
They no longer trusted God would protect them from the Assyrians. They no longer believed God’s wisdom would direct them into the future without fear and trembling. They resorted to whatever means it took to avoid God’s refining fire of judgment – even the sacrifice of their children. Darkness descended upon Israel and its king.
Isaiah had warned Israel of the punishment that was coming for its terrible sin. Now he came to King Ahaz with a new message. Isaiah brought his own son with him to see King Ahaz. The lad’s name was Shear-yashub. This child was a sign that if Ahaz would repent, along with his people, God would protect those who repented.
You see Isaiah’s son’s name meant, “A remnant shall return.” In Isaiah’s son’s name God offered hope. A small number of Israel’s people would return to God despite the darkness of their sin.
Isaiah was sending God’s message to His people. A remnant of God’s people who repent will be restored by God. Their faith in God will ultimately triumph over the terror they feared. God’s presence was directing them into a future promise of life. God was offering His light to shine in the darkness of Israel’s fear, sin, and faithlessness.
The parallel between the hope in Isaiah’s son to King Ahaz and God hope in Jesus Christ for the sin of the world was not lost upon Jesus’ followers. Judah was again being punished for its sin under Rome’s occupation of the Promised Land. The darkness of Judah’s national leaders forming an alliance with pagan Rome sacrificed the future of hope for Judah’s children.
The faith of the nation in God’s protection had collapsed in darkness. It was a time of revolution and anarchy. Judah’s ethical and spiritual vitality collapsed. Zealots were plotting social revolution, not only against Rome, but against the Judean government and the Temple’s priests who were in league with the Romans. In the middle of Judah’s growing chaos, Jesus Christ offered hope to Judah through the light of a faithful remnant.
Isaiah’s prophecy reminds us that in the life of nations God offers the light of hope in His Son, Jesus Christ to a faithful remnant. Periods of deep national darkness can and will descend on a people and its leaders. Ethical and spiritual collapse among government leaders and the people signals that faith and trust are lost in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and salvation purpose. But a faithful remnant will be spared God’s judgment.
Today, we are being threatened by our fears. We are facing the possibility of an ethical and spiritual collapse across our land. Many people seem to be close to losing their remembrance of God’s faithfulness from which that nation was created by our ancestors. They trusted in God’s light and were not blinded by the darkness of the world in which they lived.
The darkness in social injustice and demonizing rhetoric casually spoken and written by public figures compromises the future for our children. The future of younger generations is sacrificed by fear’s darkness and the dissension it generates among us.
When John Calvin saw moral and social collapse across sixteenth century Christendom, he turned to Jesus Christ and His Word to instruct a faithful remnant to return to God. God’s Word in Jesus Christ was a lamp in the darkness of the Church’s spiritual collapse.
When John Knox saw the corruption of the Scottish and English monarchs destroying the spiritual vitality of God’s covenant people, he pointed his people to Jesus Christ and Christ’s Word to instruct a faithful remnant to return to God.
When Abraham Lincoln saw our nation so deeply divided by the darkness of civil war, he turned to Jesus Christ and His Word to instruct the nation about the emancipation from darkness God gives to a faithful few who return to God’s vision of freedom and equality by which we were founded as a light to the nations.
When Karl Barth saw the moral and spiritual collapse of Weimer Germany in the twentieth century leading to the destruction of Christianity’s faith, he turned to Jesus Christ’s Word to instruct the Confessing Church to return the German people to God with the light of Jesus Christ.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. saw social injustice breaking out in riots across America’s cities during the 1960s, he cast a vision for national reconciliation that came from Jesus Christ and His Word. He refused to accept the violence that filled the streets and called for God’s people to remember whose they were. God has a mission for all Americans to be a light to the nations where children would not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.
In each case, Christ’s light gave a vision of hope for a faithful remnant. Christ’s light illuminates a path to a better life for new generations.
God never leaves the affairs of the world unattended. Neither does God abandon us to our faithlessness. God offers Jesus Christ’s light to lead us from darkness into the promise and blessing of His future life.
The faithful remnant is not blinded to God’s saving work by their fears. God’s future will be filled with the glory of Him.
Where there are men and women committed to seeing the light – there will be the Church of Jesus Christ’s light show the path to God’s future! Where there are men and women who return to Jesus Christ and His Word – there will be His light of hope shining as a beacon to lead His faithful remnant into the promise of God’s kingdom. As Psalm 119 reassures the faithful, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light for my path.”
It isn’t easy being torch bearers for hope in a world determined to live in the dark. It takes courage and determination not to return evil for evil. It takes fortitude to love your neighbor as yourself when your neighbor sees you as the hated enemy. It takes vision to see in the deep darkness God’s light shining to lead the way to a better tomorrow.
Friends, you and I have been entrusted with showing the world the light of Jesus Christ.
- When others succumb to the darkness, we keep our faith in Jesus Christ, and show His light through our trust in God’s sovereignty over our land.
- When others succumb to fear, we keep our faith in God’s wisdom that we’ve learned from Jesus Christ, and carry His message of reconciliation to a frightened, broken people.
- When others give up hope in despair, we keep our hearts steadfast in Jesus Christ, and show the glory of the Lord’s love so others see Christ’s light in this contentious world.
The glory of the Lord’s light is for all flesh to see together. There is no blindness when the glory of the Lord is shining!
The light of Jesus Christ isn’t simply for His followers, it’s for the entire world – for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it as a revelation to the Gentiles, and a hope for God’s people!