I have so many great memories of my grandma, especially when all the cousins would be together, playing in the basement while all the grown-ups were upstairs. Sometimes, we even all got to stay overnight down there. It was awesome, except for one thing: the coatrack. It was one of those things that was always there but you didn’t always notice it, unless it was the middle of the night and you woke up and looked toward the one ray of light. That’s when I saw what I was sure was a person or a monster — whatever it was — it certainly didn’t belong there and shouldn’t be watching me, waiting for me to fall asleep – to do who knows what. So I didn’t fall asleep.
And then the daylight came and the lights were turned on, and, oh yeah, it was the coatrack, not a monster. My fear was silly. It’s amazing how things look different in the light. Actually, today, our text from Matthew 4:12-23 shows us that everything looks different in the light.
Open up your Bible and read it. Jesus is revealed as the One promised who would bring light. Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah: "On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned." Literally, that light is rising. It’s getting brighter
Do you see the picture there? The light is gradually being revealed; the darkness is being peeled back. So the land of Zebulun and Naphtali looks different now – instead of being the land of disgrace, about which people would say, "Nothing good comes from there!" … Now this was the place honored by the presence of God himself in the flesh. And occupations look different (look at how those fishermen respond to his call) and even sicknesses looked different. Before, certain diseases meant you were lost, helpless, worthless, basically dead. But now with Jesus on the scene there was hope. There was light — His power bringing health to the sick, His teaching giving knowledge that was lost, his preaching calling the ones in the dark to the light.
Verse 17 gives us his message: "From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’" Repent. In other words, get out of the darkness. Should be self-evident, right? Light is better than dark, right? Yet Jesus has to tell us: "Repent".
The simple truth is: There is still darkness. It’s kind of like if you’ve ever been out in the woods early in the morning, there are areas of light and areas of shadow.
So also today – Jesus’ arrival as Messiah started the dawning of a new day, a day that one day will mean total light — no darkness at all in the Son-shine of heaven. But until then, in the world today – there are still dark corners. Of course, that’s not where you find Christians, is it? We wouldn’t hang out in those dark places, would we?
Or are there times when the darkness seems good? Like the teenager whose dad turns on all the bright lights while he’s trying to sleep. He just wants to bury his head in the darkness under the pillow and keep doing what he was, sleeping.
How often do we act like that? Think of all the things in your life you’d just prefer the darkness keep hiding. Think about the parts of your life that you really don’t want the light of Jesus shining on.
But Jesus calls us to live in the light for a reason, because when you are in the darkness, the darkness grows. It grows on you. It grows around you. It grows in you. And you know that. Sin is progressive; it gradually removes the light so you don’t even really always realize it is happening.
Think about it. The hardest time to steal is the first. The hardest time to tell what you call a little white lie is the first. The hardest time to sin sexually is the first.
But then it gets more comfortable. Sin isn’t passive. Jesus calls us out of darkness into light because if we walk in the darkness long enough, we start to make excuses for our sin. We rationalize it. We get comfortable with it.
Then what do we do? We start to defend it. We start to choose it, the darkness over the light.
So Jesus calls us out of that: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." That total, perfect light is coming. So see the light now.
And when we do – when we Christians have Jesus in our hearts through faith, when he brings us from the darkness to the light, we do see it. Everything looks different in the light — even my life. I see God’s love in the forgiveness he has given me so freely for all my acts of darkness. I see the value God has placed on me that he sent his Son to come and seek me. I see myself clothed in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. In the light — I see my Savior — and then, in the light, I see my life the way he does. And boy does it look different than in the dark!
Look at how that plays out for the guys we see in the text, these professional fishermen, guys living for the fish, living for the paycheck, first Andrew and Peter, and then James and John. Seeing their careers and lives in the light of Jesus -— at once, Matthew tells us, (v. 22) "Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him" Why? Because everything looked different in the light. No longer defined by the catch of fish, but now by their work of catching men. ...
Can you appreciate the significance of this change? Everything that seemed important was no longer quite so important. Everything that once was an EMERGENCY, was deprioritized. Their lives became about following Jesus.
Today, Jesus calls you through His Word to follow him. Start to see your life in the light of what Jesus has made you, and live in the light.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information is at www.abidinggrace.com.