daily biblical sermons

Those who sat in darkness have seen a great light
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Third Sunday of the Year, January 26, 2020
Isaiah 8:23-9:3, Psalm 26, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17, Matthew 4:12-23


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“Now when he [Jesus] heard that John [the Baptist] had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:12-17).



Isaiah had prophesied that the northern area of Galilee, which saw great armies devastate them in the days of Isaiah, would in the days to come, in the messianic age, be made glorious, for in those days it will come to pass that those “who walked in darkness [in northern Galilee] have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).



This is Isaiah’s great messianic prophecy that “to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In his days the people of Galilee will be released from their heavy burdens that formerly oppressed them, for, as Isaiah prophesied, “The yoke of his [Israel’s] burden, and the staff for his shoulder, and the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:4).



St. Matthew tells us today that this prophecy has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, when he left Nazareth and came and dwelt in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee in the very area of Zebulun and Naphtali that Isaiah had prophesied would see a great light. Jesus Christ brought those people, and us as well, a great light, when we put our faith in him and sincerely repent of our sins. This light is the kingdom of God in our heart and salvation from our sins, for, as Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21 NKJV).



It is this kingdom that Jesus came to preach. And for the sake of preaching this good news, this gospel message, he called his first disciples to leave everything – their boat, their father, and their nets, that is, their family and their livelihood – to follow him and become fishers of men. In other words, they were to catch people from now, on instead of fish, by their words of preaching in order to bring them into this kingdom of God that Jesus is establishing in the world.



St. Matthew then says, “From that time Jesus began to preach” (Matthew 4:17). And what did he preach? He preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [that is, the kingdom of God] is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). What is the very first word of his preaching? It is, “Repent.” This is the same thing that John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).



All of this is very important for us today, for all sorts of new heresies have arisen these past few years in the Church. We are now being falsely told that the worst possible thing you can do is try to convert anyone to Christianity, and yet Jesus called his disciples and tells them, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). How can you be a fisher of men and not convert anyone to the Christian faith? It can’t be done! The whole purpose of calling apostles to be fishers of men is to call people to go out and preach. And what are they to preach? They are to preach, “Repent.”



These words of Jesus refute the false teaching that we are now hearing from some of our highest Church leaders today that we should never ever try to convert anyone to Christianity and that repentance isn’t necessarily needed in some cases, and that some people in difficult life situations can live a life of constant mortal sin and do not need to repent, because God will not count it as sinful in their case, since he is so merciful and sees that it would be too hard for some people in difficult life situations to repent. So if God doesn’t call certain people to repent, they are doing his will by not repenting; and if they are doing his will, they are growing in grace, virtue, and holiness by living in a constant state of mortal sin, according to this current false teaching of some of our highest Church leaders today.



This is the heresy of Modernism that tells us that there are no fixed moral principles that always apply to everyone. Rather, a Modernist is a relativist. Everything depends on your situation (a form of “situation ethics”) and the difficult circumstances of your life and on discerning in your conscience in a process of accompaniment what God’s custom-made moral law is for you personally, which may well be the opposite of what God normatively revealed in the Scriptures, according to this heretical opinion.



This heresy is causing great damage to Christians today and must be directly exposed and refuted for the good of the Church, lest people by following it jeopardize their eternal salvation by living a life of grave sin and refusing to repent. One who does not repent will not see this great light and will not have “the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, and the rod of his oppressor … broken as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:4). He will rather remain under the yoke and staff and rod of the oppression of Satan, sin, guilt, and eternal death in hell after this life.



This relativistic Modernist heresy that condemns trying to convert people to faith in Christ is bringing darkness not light, death not life, not only to the world, but also into the Church herself for all those Christians who are deceived by this false teaching.



What is the solution to the problem of this false teaching that is spreading in the Church and world today? It is to counteract it with true preaching, the preaching of the genuine gospel of Jesus Christ as we find it in the New Testament.



“There is no office so honorable as that of the preacher. There is no work so important to the souls of men. It is an office which the Son of God was not ashamed to take up. It is an office to which He appointed His twelve apostles. It is an office to which Paul in his old age especially directs Timothy’s attention. He charges him with almost his last breath to ‘preach the word.’ It is the means which God has always been pleased to use above any other, for the conversion and edification of souls” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



Priests and ministers of the gospel should preach this message clearly. We should not be cowed by false teachers both in the world and in the Church today who are trying to discourage us from genuine gospel preaching.



“The word evangelism is unpopular in vast swathes of the church today. Those churches hesitate to proclaim Jesus as ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ They are especially loath to voice Jesus’ claim, ‘No one comes to the Father, except through me’ (John 14:6). It is worth noting that those churches are shrinking rapidly and tend to be populated by people with gray hair” (Richard Niell Donovan, emphasis added).



Notice also that Jesus chooses busy people who are doing useful things to be his disciples. “God usually calls people while they are busy doing something, Jesus called the apostles when they were casting a net into the sea or mending their nets. ‘They were busy in a lawful occupation when he called them to be ministers: our Lord does not call idlers but fishers’ (Spurgeon)” (David Guzik).



Jesus wants useful people to be his ministers, to be the ministers of the gospel. He wants people that use their time well in useful work. If we have been appointed ministers to preach the gospel, if we have been ordained priests, we should preach the gospel whether by word-of-mouth if we are assigned to a parish where that is possible or in writing; and the Internet opens up vast new possibilities of publishing and preaching the word of God in writing.



And what should we preach? We should preach the basics. Nowadays in the Church we often find preachers who despise the basics and never even mentioned them, but spend their time on novel theories to keep their audience entertained (but not benefited). But look at Jesus in today’s gospel reading. He preaches the same thing that John the Baptist preached, “Repent.” How often do you hear that word in sermons today? I daresay, not very often.



But Jesus “pitches upon this old, plain text, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This he preached first upon; he began first with this. Ministers must not be ambitious of broaching new opinions, framing new schemes, or coining new expressions, but must content themselves with plain, practical things, with the word that is nigh us, even in our mouth, and in our heart … This [repentance] is preached often upon; wherever he [Jesus] went, this was his subject, and neither he nor his followers ever reckoned it worn threadbare, as those would have done, that have itching ears, and are fond of novelty and variety more than that which is truly edifying” (Matthew Henry, 1662-1714).


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