How extraordinary to think that in the person of Jesus Christ, of Jesus Messiah, eternal God dwelled on earth in human form! And how extraordinary to think that through union with him by the Holy Spirit he sends, human form is enabled to dwell eternally with our Father in heaven! For as we saw last week,[1] God’s Triune decision was that in the person of Jesus Christ, eternal God who is light entered this world to deliver it from darkness and sin. For God’s Son came not only to expose the darkness; he came not only to expose sin; but he came so that all who hear him might be drawn into his light and thereby become children of the heavenly Father, citizens of his eternal, heavenly kingdom. Jesus Christ understood that this was the purpose of his life, death, and resurrection from death. And this morning we’re going to consider briefly three passages that teach about this light—and a fourth that calls us to live in his light so that we might, in turn, shed it upon others.

The first passage in Matthew 4 begins with the statement, verse 12, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.” If you’ll recall we also saw last week that after the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her that she would be mother to Jesus the Savior, she then went to see Elizabeth, her relative, who was six months pregnant with the very same John whom Jesus now learned had been put in prison. Though we’re told little about Jesus and John’s childhoods, it’s likely that these two grew up together—playing together, laughing together, doing together the things that all children do. But now, as fully grown men, we see that John the Baptist whose mission had been to prepare the way for Jesus, having done this work of preparation, found himself in prison for having condemned King Herod’s immoral behavior in marrying “Herodias, his brother’s wife” along with condemning “all the other evil things he had done.”[2] As Luke then notes, “Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”[3] In our passage from Matthew, it’s evident that Jesus was moved by this news about his relative for he withdrew to Galilee upon hearing it.

Next we’re told, verse 13, “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” Matthew tells the significance of Jesus having made this move. As stated beginning with verse 14, he did so “14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’” Again, the eternal Christ, the eternal Messiah, the eternal Son of our heavenly Father who was one with him and the Holy Spirit, well understood his purpose in coming to earth. He understood that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy recorded in the opening two verses of Isaiah 9 read earlier and quoted here by Matthew.[4] Christ Jesus is the one who came to bring light “on those living in the land of the shadow of death.” He is that great light dawning on this world of darkness and sin.

As the one who is that light, Jesus “began to preach.” And the heart of his message was, verse 17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This of course is the very message that John had proclaimed as he prepared the way for Jesus. As stated in the opening of Matthew 3, “1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” As noted last week as well, the lives of both John the Baptist and Jesus were in fulfillment of prophecies made by Isaiah.[5]

Now if the message that both John and Jesus brought began with, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” it’s worth asking: What does it mean to repent? For if we don’t understand repenting, we won’t understand how we might enter God’s kingdom. To repent is to acknowledge that we have been living in a manner that doesn’t please God; it’s to admit that, try as we might, we’re unable by our own willing and wanting to be the people that God has called us to be. It is to acknowledge that our ways are not his ways. As one commentator notes, “Repentance means changing one’s mind, so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. Mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and lifestyle, motives and plans: all are involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life.” What is more, “Turning towards Christ in faith is impossible without turning away from sin in repentance. The idea that there can be saving faith without repentance, and that one can be justified by embracing Christ as Savior while refusing Him as Lord, is a dangerous error.”[6] So to repent is to confess our darkest thoughts and actions to our all-knowing Father in heaven in order that we might receive his forgiveness and light—for God is very forgiving towards all who repent. And the reason we repent is that we might, by God’s forgiveness, be welcomed as his children into his heavenly and eternal kingdom. This heavenly kingdom came near in the Person of Jesus for, as the wise men knew, even at his birth Christ Jesus was born King and, as God, was worthy of our worship.[7] He was the heavenly King who came to earth to usher in his eternal Kingdom and rule.

Now on the first Sunday of Advent, we noted how many times Jesus in John 8 alone testified concerning himself that he had been sent from the Father for he had been with the Father prior to coming to earth.[8] So, too, we see in our second passage this morning from the twelfth chapter of John that Jesus combines the themes of being sent by the Father with the fact that he has come into the world as a light. Starting with verse 44 of John 12, we read, “44 Then Jesus cried out,”[9]—and I need to pause here to note that if Jesus “cried out,” we ought to take heed of what he is so urgently crying out for us hear. Namely, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.” If Christ did indeed come from the Father, it would follow that to believe in him is to believe in the Father who sent him; and that to see him is to see the Father who sent him. This is what Jesus also told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…. 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?”[10] In his teaching and preaching, Messiah Jesus is but testifying to what the heavenly Father—with whom he is One and from whom he has come—has taught. Therefore, if we want to know what God thinks, we need but listen to the Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent to tell us his thoughts.

Next in John 12, Jesus goes on to state, verse 46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” Apart from Jesus we are in darkness; apart from him we are blind, unable to see; apart from him we are lost. This is why Christ Jesus entered the world: to bring us his light; to give us eyes to see him; to save us from the evil and sin that have led us astray from him, causing us to be lost apart from him. God loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to remain clueless as we attempt to muddle our way through life. He loves us so much that he has offered us Jesus to be our light in the midst of this world of darkness, evil, suffering, and sin.

Jesus then testified, verses 47–48, “47 If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” Now though it’s clear that Christ’s initial coming was for the sake of salvation, not condemnation, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cost for not believing in his message. For as he goes on to state in verse 48, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” Jesus comes as one who brings the words of truth and light from his Father. For Jesus is the only way to his Father; Jesus is the only way to God.[11] Therefore, if anyone doesn’t accept his words, his Father will one day condemn the person who rejects the words from him that are spoken through his Son; his Father will one day condemn the person who rejects him—and the Son whom he sent.

Jesus next reiterates, verse 49, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” Again, in and through his eternal Son, we are provided everything that God, our Father in heaven, wants us to know. Therefore it’s astonishing that any would reject his words for, as he testifies, verse 50, “I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” How could anyone reject One who offers us eternal life? How could anyone reject One who is the gateway to our loving and heavenly Father?[12] In Christ Jesus, and in him alone, our heavenly Father has sent us the truth about himself—and ourselves—and about how we can know, love, and enjoy him both now and forevermore! This is the Good News; this is the Gospel he came to earth to proclaim!

Well, Jesus, awesome rabbi and preacher that he is, understands the value of repetition for you and I are forgetful and easily distracted. The message he declares in Matthew 4—and again in John 12—is the very message declared in our third passage this morning from John 3. We all no doubt have heard, if not memorized, verse 16 which begins the passage: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This verse calls to mind yet another of Isaiah’s prophecies which Larry Schell brought to us a few weeks ago: “For unto us a child is born; for unto us a Son is given.”[13] John tells us, as Isaiah prophesied, not only that a Son is given us but that God is the one who did the giving; that God the Father is the one who gave us his Son. How awesome is that?! Martin Luther, the great Reformer, called John 3:16 “the heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.” And we can certainly understand why for in this one verse we have summarized for us the purpose of Christ, God’s only begotten Son, coming to earth; having been sent to earth; having been given to us by our Father heaven. Despite knowing that it would cost him the life of his Son, God the Father, out of his boundless love for the world he had created, gave his Son nonetheless. God gave his Son in order that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. For he knew that apart from believing in his Son, people will perish; apart from believing in his Son, people are unable to have eternal life. For eternal life is possible only in Christ; eternal life is possible only through union in and with him.

Verse 17 goes on to state, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God’s promised Messiah, the Christ, his eternal Son, came into this world he created[14] in order to save it. Satan sought to destroy this world at the time of the Fall. But God in Christ was sent by the Father in order to save it. And as we saw last week, “Savior” is the meaning of Jesus’ name. Therefore, John goes on to state, verse 18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” We have only two choices: Believe and receive Jesus Christ and receive eternal life or disbelieve Jesus Christ and be condemned even as Satan was condemned in the garden.[15] There’s no other choice. There’s no “none of the above.” There’s no neutral stance available when we are confronted with God’s Words; there’s no neutral option available when we are confronted with Christ Jesus, God’s Son, given to be our Savior. No, the choices are clear: either believe in Jesus and receive the gift of salvation the Father has sent or refuse to believe and receive the gift of Jesus and thereby be condemned. For belief in Christ Jesus is the admission price into God’s Kingdom. There’s no other way to God but through him. The choice is ours to make.

Verses 19–20 again underscore the weightiness of this truth as these verses clearly state the price of unbelief: “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” Christ, God’s eternal Son, has been given by the Father to save the world through his love; Christ, God’s eternal Son, is the Light who has entered this world of darkness. But John teaches that those who don’t embrace him, hate him. They hate him because they don’t believe what he has taught concerning himself. They hate him because they don’t believe he was sent by the Father and has taught what the Father commanded him. They hate him because they don’t believe he was sent by the Father to save all who are willing to repent from the ways in which they would like to live in order to live according to God’s ways instead.

For all who hate Christ Jesus, that is, all who don’t believe in him, know that to embrace him as the Light means that they will have to let go of their preferred way of living. They’ve considered the cost and have decided that the price is too high. They’d rather walk in the comfort of their self-inflicted darkness than have that darkness exposed and have to change their ways. They’d rather live according to their own ways—which is to say according to their evil ways—than have their ways exposed by the light of Jesus, the Savior, the eternal Son whom God the Father has given. They’d rather live according to their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong—which is, again, according to their evil ways—than embrace Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

And here’s the thing: those who don’t embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord, that is, those who choose to embrace evil; who choose to determine for themselves what right and wrong belief and behavior are rather than follow what God tells us are right and wrong belief and behavior, aren’t wrong in their assessment of what it means to follow Jesus as the Christ. For the cost of following Jesus, of repenting and believing that he is the Savior given by the heavenly Father, is to follow his teaching. Jesus himself declared, “15 If you love me, keep my commands.” But he went on to state, “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”[16] To love Jesus, is to trust Jesus. To love Jesus is to trust that he, because he is our Creator, Savior, and Lord, knows best how we’re intended to function. Therefore if we love and trust Jesus, we’ll do as he commands even if we don’t fully understand why he gives those commands. And if we love—and trust—and do as he commands, he will give us his Holy Spirit to help us live as he expects us to live. For we can’t live as he calls us to live by our own strength. Therefore Jesus gives all who believe in him his Spirit who is not only Holy but is also the Spirit of truth and is one with the Father even as Christ Jesus the Son is one with the Father and has presented us with the truth from the Father. And just as Jesus is our advocate, just as Jesus fights for us, the Holy Spirit, too, is our advocate; the Holy Spirit, too, fights for us. It is through him that Jesus helps us; it is through him that Jesus is with us forever.

For all who have decided to repent, to let go of their evil ways and receive Jesus as the Savior and Light he is, have agreed that his good ways are better than our evil ways. They have acknowledged that in Jesus the King, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Therefore they have chosen to live according to the ways of Christ Jesus who is King over heaven and earth. As stated in verse 21 of John 3, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” If, as Isaiah prophesied, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways,[17] then when we do come to Christ, believing that he is the Son who is given by Father and are enabled by his Holy Spirit to live in his light, it will be clear that what we do is done in God’s sight for we will seek to do what pleases him; we will seek to live according to his Word.

As Jesus declares in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 concerning those who believe in him, “14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”[18] The good deeds we do in obedience to Jesus’ commands and by the power of the Holy Spirit he has given, are how his light can continue to shine in this world of darkness. The good deeds we do in obedience to Jesus glorify our heavenly Father because they are given us by our heavenly Father.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us seek to live in the light of Jesus that others might seek to embrace his light which has dawned upon this world of death’s shadow;

Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus by repenting, by acknowledging, turning from, and confessing our sins to God knowing that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand through the coming of Christ Jesus who is King over heaven and earth;

Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus in order that others might come to know God the Father who sent him;

Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus that others might come to receive the eternal life he so graciously offers;

Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus that others might receive his salvation rather than his condemnation;

Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus that others might leave their evil ways and embrace his good ways;

Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus by shining our light before others by the good deeds we do as we seek to love others the way Jesus loved and thereby glorify our heavenly Father who gave us his Son and Holy Spirit that we might know and live according to his truth and receive his eternal life.

Let us pray.

Benediction: Romans 15:5–6: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

[1] See sermon preached on December 20, 2020, Expecting Jesus, on Luke 1:26–38.

[2] Luke 3:19.

[3] Luke 3:20. Matthew later provides a full accounting of what occurred in Matthew 14:1–12: 1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

[4] Isaiah 9:1–2: 1 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—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

[5] As noted above, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 9:1, 2; John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah 40:3: A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

[6] Reformation ESV Study Bible article on Repentance on Acts 26:20.

[7] Matthew 2:1–2: 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

[8] See sermon preached on November 29, 2020, Jesus the Light of Life, on John 8:12, 34–47, 53–56.

[9] Ἰησοῦς δὲ ἔκραξεν. The Greek verb is  κράζω, to “call out, cry out, shout, exclaim.” <https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/krazo>

[10] John 14:9, 10.

[11] John 14:6–7: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”

[12] John 10:7, 9a: Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

[13] Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

[14] John 1:1–3, 10: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.; 1 Corinthians 8:6:  yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.; Colossians 1:15–17: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

[15] Genesis 3:14: So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.; John identifies this ancient serpent with the devil, Satan, in Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.; Revelation 20:2: He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

[16] John 14:15–17.

[17] Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

[18] Matthew 5:14–16: 14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.