Grote kerk, Tholen, December 6, 2015
the Bible lies opened at Isaiah 8:16 – 9:7
1 Are you afraid of the dark?
I can remember when I was a child, I couldn’t sleep. It was so dark in my bedroom! I’d call my mum: Maybe there is a monster behind the curtains or a tokoloshe under my bed! Many children are afraid to sleep in the dark.
My mother would come and tell me: No, my child, you are safe. Nothing will happen.
Of course she was right. The Netherlands is a safe country. I guess that’s why most of you came here. You are safe. Your family is safe. Even your children can play outside in the evenings without any harm coming to them.
Unlike most of the countries you are from. At home it was far from safe. You taught your kids to be afraid of the dark.
You told them: Don’t walk around alone in the middle of the night. It is not safe, my child. You might be raped or robbed. Many have been killed in the dark.
Living in the dark is not nice. Everybody knows that. Wherever you’re from.
But the prophet Isaiah tells us the good news: The people that walk in the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
2 The shadow of death
What is Isaiah talking about? Which is the land of the shadow of death? To understand verse 2, you must read verse 1:
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 darkness came upon the area given to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, that is in the northern part of Palestine. What we call Syria or Lebanon these days. Maybe you are from that area. Between the sea and the river Jordan.
They are walking in darkness.
Why does the prophet say so? If you read the Bible, especially the book of Kings, you’ll find that the enemies attacked Israel from the North. It was a dark time, full of fear. In the shadow of death. Like it still is today. Fear for your life. Fear for your future.
The people of Syria walk in darkness.
But it is not just political darkness the prophet is talking about. Why could the enemies come from the North? Why was Israel brought into exile? The Bible is very clear on that. 2 Kings 17 explains:
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God … they worshipped other gods … they did wicked things that provoked the Lord to anger. [Like what?] They worshipped idols … they practised divination and sorcery … so the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.
Isaiah also talks about spiritual darkness. Read 8 verse 19:
When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?
Israel doesn’t trust the living God. They go to the medium and to the sangoma – the witchdoctor – to communicate with the dead.
God is light and life. But Israel prefers darkness and death. They worship the devil, the prince of death and darkness.
And then it is hopeless. They will remain in the shadow of death, verses 20-22:
Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
It is still the same in 2015.
I have lived in South Africa for 15 years. We’ve seen dark times over there. Racism and oppression through apartheid. Pass laws and discrimination. Terrorism with necklaces, strikes and petrol bombs. Political darkness.
Those times have gone. But are they living in the light now? No, they are not.
After 1994 apartheid has been abolished. But in the democratic South Africa there is still a lot of spiritual darkness.
Instead of praying to the living God, people try to communicate with the dead. Praying to the ancestors. Consulting mediums on TV instead of reading the Bible.
Yes, you came to Holland. This country is safe and free. No oppression. No violence. A good place to live. You’re in the light now.
But are you?
Most Dutch people are living in darkness. If you can’t sleep at night, you zap around the TV channels … there is porn, naked women … there are false prophets, telling you they can talk to your ancestors about your future …
Yes, you will see many lights in this festive season. The Christmas trees in the houses, in the shopping malls. But most people around us do not know Jesus who is the light of this world.
Yes, Tholen may be an exception. This church is packed twice on Sunday. But where I live in Bergen op Zoom, not even 500 people out of the 60.000 are going to church …
Dutch people live in fear. Looking upwards and downwards, as Isaiah says. Yes, they are rich. But money can’t buy me love or peace of mind. There is only distress and darkness. Until …
3 The light of Christ
Yes, there is hope. Listen to our text: The people that walk in the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
What is going to happen? A new king will come to sit on David’s throne. Read 9 verse 7:
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The political darkness will end. The yoke of the enemy will be shattered. Dictators and ISIS will be removed. Blood of the soldiers will flow. There will be great joy because of the victory.
But it is more than that. This will be a very special king. He will bring justice, peace, life. Spiritual light. No more gloom for the land between the sea and the Jordan. Light will shine into Syria and Lebanon.
When will that happen? Who is this Prince of Peace, this Wonderful Counsellor? You know him: Jesus Christ.
Let me read from the gospel of Matthew 4 verses 12-17:
Jesus Begins to Preach
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 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.”
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus moved. From Nazareth, where he lived with his parents. To Capernaum, more to the North. There he started to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Teaching and healing (4:23f).
Light in the darkness. When Jesus comes into your area, into your life, into your heart.
Capernaum. Galilee. Israel. Syria. Iraq. Eritrea. South Africa. CAR. Sudan. We are far from God through our sins. None of us is able to bring light. All of us deserve eternal darkness in hell.
Jesus descended into hell. Remember the total darkness when he was on the cross? He came in our place. He took our punishment. He says:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
He is the one who brings joy to the world. He helps you to conquer the enemy. Because he is Mighty God and Everlasting Father. Soon we will celebrate his birth, at Christmas:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
4 Afraid of the dark
Are you afraid of the dark? You should be. Living without Jesus is living in fear. It is worse than living in Syria or Iraq. Worse than being a hostage of Boko Haram.
So many are still in the dark. In Europe. In America. In the so called free world. Far from God who is the light (1 John 1:5). Rejecting the good message of the gospel.
The Bible tells us that light has come into the world – into Europe, into the Netherlands – but men loved darkness instead of light. John 3 verse 19. How is that possible?
The light shone in Capernaum. Jesus did so many miracles in Chorazin and Bethsaida. But they did not believe in him. Matthew 11 verses 20-24. And so they remained in the dark.
Do you believe? I do.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? I do.
Accept Christ as your personal saviour … do it now. Do it today. Let us pray with you. Let us pray for you.
Because without Jesus you are still in the dark. Either Muslim or nothing. No hope for you.
To the law and to the testimony! If we do not speak according to this word, we won’t see the light of dawn.
No Christmas without Christ.