Gospel: Matthew 4.12-23. After John is arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee where “the people had dwelled in darkness” (Isa 42.7) during the Assyrian conquest of Israel in the eighth century B.C., but now “have seen a great light,” i.e., the light of Christ has shined n the darkness as “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The text from Isa 42 is the first Servant Song about the Servant of God who is given “as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon” (vv. 6b-7). The Servant is a type (a forerunner) of Jesus who will redeem His people by taking their place (Isa 52.13-53.12) of suffering as a substitute to redeem them. The references to light remind us that this is a the season of Epiphany when God’s light breaks into the dark world and spreads throughout lands that have lived in the darkness of defeat and exile as well as sin and hopelessness. But the kingdom of God is at hand in the person of Jesus who reveals God’s love for His people by taking on flesh and dwelling among us as He promised to be Immanuel, God with us. Jesus manifested God’s love by visiting His people and living as a human being in order to take our sins to the cross as a sacrificial substitute redeeming us and making atonement for us. By dwelling among us He shows explicitly how God ’s plan of salvation is fulfilled not by what we do but by what He has done for us. The Old (Mosaic) Covenant required obedience to the Law or face the penalty of condemnation. But in the New Covenant, inaugurated by the sacrifice of Christ, His followers receive the Spirit who empowers them to love God with their whole heart on which is written the desire to please God and live lives worthy of Him. As Paul explains in Romans 8, Christians who are indwell by the Spirit are enabled to walk in the Spirit, which brings the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22,23) overcoming the flesh and bringing joy and peace.
People who don’t know Christ live lives of quiet desperation because “without faith it is not possible to please Him”, and life apart from Him is a matter of dwelling in a waterless wasteland amid thorns and thistles. Life devoted to Him and lived for Him gives meaning and purpose and fulfillment. Followers who have experienced this life in the Spirit want to pass it on to those who have not experienced it so that everyone can share the blessings of the abundant life regardless of circumstances. Church is the place where seekers gather with those who are a little farther along the spiritual path. Seekers benefit from the wisdom of those who have passed that way before, and the latter experience the joy of helping their brothers and sisters in Christ progress along the way. In so doing believers reap the benefit of taking their eyes off themselves, of dying to self, and pouring out their lives into others and thus bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal 6.2). Christ urged His followers to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you–and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt 28.19-20). Epiphany means “manifest” or “show forth” and this is what His followers are doing when they abide in Him and shine His light into all the world to transform it by bringing His kingdom to reality to a suffering world. This is carrying out the mandate of the Lord’s prayer–“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6.10).
Memory Verse: For indeed the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17.21).