A Light Shining in the Darkness – Matthew 4:12-17

February 23, 1992
Scott L. Harris

A Light Shining in the Darkness
Matthew 4:12-17


Not long ago I was talking with someone who did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way to God. This person had several questions and I was trying to help them resolve some of those questions. As I was going over some of the historical evidences for the life of Jesus and His resurrection, this person said, “I am not concerned about history.” To be honest, I was a little shocked by that.

Not concerned about history? You might as well say I could care less about what is true. Now in the person’s defense, I will say that due to so many “historians” now re-writing history text books to conform with their own philosophical or political agenda, it can be difficult to find out just what has happened in history. With that much revision being made, it does remove the study of history from the place of a search for truth into the making up of stories which often far removed from the truth.

But regardless of historical revisionists, history is the basis for most decisions. Sometimes the decision is to make the effort to be written down in the history books, such as the Olympic athletes the last two weeks. Interesting that often these athletes are not only compared to the current competitors but also against the athletes of the past to judge how good or bad they are.

International political decisions are based on the historical data. Sometimes a grudge held over some event in the past that prompts a current problem. And the guessing that goes on about how a country will act in the future is based on how it has acted in the past. An example of this was the Persian Gulf War last year. Iraq used past history that Kuwait had at one time been under the domination of a Persian empire as its excuse to occupy that nation. The response to that occupation was as intense as it was because of Iraq’s history of aggression. The solid belief was that Iraq would not be content with just Kuwait, but would continue to try and swallow up other countries or at least parts of their territories.

Certainly for the person facing a lawsuit or criminal charges historical facts are important because they are the basis for the decision rendered. Did person A do such and such to person B? Did the events really take place or is someone making up fictional stories for their own advantage?

When you go into a Doctor to be treated for something they first thing they do is ask you all sorts of questions to develop a medical history on you. Only after that will run medical tests and finally decide what they believe is bothering you and recommend a treatment. All of that is based on real history. Your medical treatment will be based in a large part on the historical facts of how people with a similar medical history and had similar test results were treated medically. The particular drugs, diet, exercise, and therapy recommendations are based on historical outcomes of others. We just had someone in the church get re-diagnosed and begin new medical treatment because a doctor finally did an extensive medical history on her. History affects us personally.

Even your decision to buy or not buy some item is often rooted in your past history with that item. You bought it before, it did what you wanted it to do and you believe it will perform its purpose to your satisfaction again. Or, you bought it before, it was lousy and you will never buy it again. I like Ford’s. I had a Chevy once and I had a Dodge once and both of them gave me problems from day I got them to the day I got rid of them. Our neighbor was the opposite. He liked Chevy’s. He had a Ford once that was a lemon and he has never wanted another one. Past history determined brand loyalty.

Do you see the effect history has internationally, nationally and personally?

This morning we are going to talk about history. The history of the Lord Jesus Christ. Historical fact concerning His life in His early ministry. Historical fact concerning what He came to do, what He did, and the message He brought to man. Historical facts that will change your life if you believe them. Christianity is not a blind leap of faith, it is not a leap into the absurd regardless of what Kierkegaard said. It is an historical and reasonable faith. If you reject the historical facts, then you continue to live in the fairy tales of the devils lies.

Turn to Matthew 4:12 and lets begin this morning’s historical journey.




12 Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, he withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15 THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES-16 THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND TO THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.” (Isaiah 9:1) 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus, who is the light of the world, brings that light to men who are in darkness. What a wonderful metaphor “light” is to describe our Savior. Light. It brings the idea of illumination (knowledge and wisdom), exposure (our sins), radiance (holiness) to our minds. The apostle John used the metaphor a great deal in his writings. In John 1:4-5 he says of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Later in the same chapter he quotes John the Baptist saying that he, “came that he might bear witness of the light . . . the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man (vs 8,9). Jesus Himself says in John 8:12 that, “I am the light of the world, he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Our text this morning describes Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1,2. He is the great light seen by a people living in darkness, sitting in the shadow of death. He is the light dawning that will break the grip of night.

But when and where did this light begin to dawn? In a sense we would certainly want to say at the birth of Christ in Bethlehem for it was over that spot that the star shined bright. But notice verse 12 of our text. Matthew emphasizes here that it was after John the Baptist had been put in prison and Jesus had withdrawn into the region of Galilee.

But you say, wait a minute. Does this mean that Jesus did not do much until John was arrested? Did John the Baptist get arrested right after Jesus was tempted of the devil in the wilderness? The answer to both questions is no. We learn from the other gospel accounts that time passed, upwards to half a year, after Jesus’ baptism that John was arrested, and Jesus had been doing many thing during that time. Why then does Matthew place the dawning of the light here and not right after Jesus baptism?

The answer is found in Matthew’s purpose for writing. Matthew’s goal is not to bring out everything about Jesus’ life, but simply to demonstrate to a Jewish audience that Jesus is the promised Messiah. We have already seen how Matthew demonstrates that fact in numerous ways including that John the Baptist fulfills the prophecies of the forerunner of Messiah. John’s arrest moves him from center stage of prophetic history and brings the focus on Jesus alone. It is at this time we find that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (John 4:1). It is even as John had said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). So it is here that Matthew concentrates on that point in time when Jesus becomes center stage of prophetic history including the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1,2 of Messiah being a light to those in darkness.

But what occurred in this time period that Matthew does not tell us about? Lets briefly go over some of what occurred in that time span. This will help set the historical chain of events which will latter help you to understand why Jesus receives some of the reactions he is given when it would otherwise appear He has met people for the first time.

From the book of John we find out what occurred after the baptism and temptation of Christ. John 1:19-28 tell us that the Jewish leaders had come out to question John the Baptist about who he was (vs 19). John tells them he is not the Christ, but the “voice crying in the wilderness” (vs 23) and that the Messiah was still to come (vs 27). This all occurs in Bethany beyond the Jordan. The next day, Jesus returns to where John is at and John bears witness of Jesus (vs 29) saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John recognized Jesus as the Son of God because he saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain upon Jesus (vs 33,34).

In verses 35-51 we find that the next day John is with two of his disciples and when he sees Jesus he proclaims again, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Those two disciples of John the Baptist, one of which is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, begin to follow Christ. Andrew then brings Peter to Jesus and Peter follows him. The next day Jesus calls Philip and Philip in turn brings Nathanael to Jesus. These are Jesus first disciples.

In John 2:1-11 we find that Jesus and his disciples go to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Here Jesus does his first recorded miracle when he turns the water into wine.

Next, in John 2:12, we find that Jesus along with His mother, brothers and disciples stay in Capernaum a few days. Remember that his disciples are from that area (Beth-saida).

In John 2:13-22 we find Jesus in Jerusalem for the Passover. Here, for the first time he drives out the moneychangers and those selling things from the temple. It is His first open confrontation with the Jewish leaders. He begins to perform signs, attesting miracles, during the Passover week (John 2:23-25). In John 3:1-21 we find the story of the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night and finding out that he must be born again.

After the Passover feast is over, Jesus and His disciples go to Aenon near Salim where John the Baptist was also baptizing because “there was much water there” (John 3:22,23).

It is after this point that Matthew picks up the narrative. John is arrested (Matt. 4:12) and Jesus returns to the Galilee. On the way he goes through Samaria and talks with the woman a the well in Sychar (John 4:5-42). Jesus goes back to Cana of Galilee (John 4:46-54) where He heals the son of a certain royal official, then back to Nazareth (Luke 4:16-31) where His message is rejected. Finally Jesus settles in Capernaum on the sea of Galilee (Mt 4:13) in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.

From Matthew’s perspective, all the ministry prior to coming and settling in Capernaum was preliminary to the rise of Messiah taking the prominent position in calling the people back to following God. Jumping ahead to Matthew 4:23 we find that Jesus is extremely busy.

23 And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their
synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of
disease and every kind of sickness among the people.

The light was now active among men. If they would see it and follow Him they would have the light of life (John 8:12). Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled for a light had dawned in the land of darkness.




The land that was now called Galilee of the Gentiles was dark. From ancient times it had been a dark place in Israel. The land was original given to the tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali. But contrary to God’s command, Zebulun and Naphtali failed to remove all of the Canaanites from their territories. Consequently from the beginning these unfaithful Jewish people suffered the problem of mixed marriages and the inevitable pagan influence of the Canaanites.

The region was conquered by Assyria under Tilgath-pileser in the 8th century B.C. Most of the people were taken away as captives and the region repopulated with Assyrians and other non-Jews. Even with the temporary revolts under Judas Macabeus in 164 B.C. and Aristobulus in 104 B.C. the region remained largely populated with non-Jews and was under Gentile rule. Hence the reference to the region as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” The Jews that remained there became very weak in both Biblical and traditional Judaism.

The region remained dark. The words of Jesus in John 3:19-21 fit it well, “And this is the judgement, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed, but he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” In Nazareth, not only was Jesus’ message rejected, but they sought to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). The region was dark with sin.

The darkness upon Galilee had just become deeper as Jesus arrived because John the Baptist was now in jail. Matthew 14 gives us the details of the reason John the Baptist was put in jail and gives the account of his martyrdom. In brief, Herod Antipater was the tetrach over the region of Galilee. John the Baptist had opposed Herod’s immorality in that he had taken Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip. The voice calling out for morality in the government had been silenced. It appeared utter sinfulness had gained the upper hand again and was reigning supreme.

In addition, anyone from Galilee was looked down upon by the Jews in the south. The common saying was that nothing good could come from Galilee. Even Nathanael who was from Beth-saidia which is in the region remarked when Philip told him that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” In the confusion over who Jesus was the argument used against Him being the Messiah was, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” When Nicodemus tried to get Jesus a fair hearing before the Sanhedran, he was put down with, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and see that not prophet arises out of Galilee.” Yet Matthew shows right here that there would be a prophet in Galilee. There would be a light shining in that dark place. Matthew again uses the very arguments used to doubt Jesus being the Messiah to prove that He is Messiah. Again, prophecy is fulfilled and to this very land, to these people that were complacent in their darkness (notice in verse 16 that they are “sitting”), to these people in the shadow of death, the light dawned and shined among them.




And the light shined bright. Jesus was now present and He picked up the message John the Baptist had been proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We discussed the meaning of this message several weeks ago when we examined Matthew 3. It was the same call given by the prophets throughout Israel’s history. The message of repentance involved 1) Turning to obedience to Yahweh’s will, 2) Turning to trust in Yahweh and 3) Turning from everything ungodly to righteousness. The message was one calling for the people to be radically transformed. John the Baptist’s message was a call for people to repent and get ready for the kingdom of heaven to come. Prepare, Messiah is coming. In the early part of Jesus ministry we find Jesus repeating the same message as John including having his converts baptized as part of that preparation for the kingdom of heaven to come (John 4:1,2). After John’s arrest there is a subtle change in the message. Yes, the calls is still, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” but now it is even closer for Messiah is here. You will not find a reference to the disciples of Jesus baptizing anyone again until Jesus completes His ministry of atonement and tells His disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19. John’s baptism of repentance was in preparation for the coming of Messiah. Messiah was now here. After Messiah completes His work on the cross, His – death, burial and resurrection, baptism will be practiced again with a whole new meaning and purpose. It would no longer be the outward manifestation of a heart prepared for Messiah to come, but rather the identification of a person who belongs to Messiah Himself and is part of His spiritual kingdom.

The light now shines brighter than ever before. Messiah has come! And in His coming He brings hope to the nation.




Jump ahead to verses 23-25. “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”

Notice first the scope of Jesus’ ministry of hope. He is going throughout all of Galilee. This does not mean that He went to every city, but it does mean that He covered the whole territory. Jesus said in Luke 19:10 that, “the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” Here we find Jesus going throughout Galilee seeking to save those lost in the darkness of sin. We find that He is doing that in three ways. 1) He is teaching them in the synagogues and explaining to them the meaning of the Old Testament. He is teaching them the ways of God. 2) He is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. God was present among them. 3) He ministered compassion by healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.

Verse 24 says “And the news about Him went out into all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” Jesus’ message of hope spread. Hope concerning relief from the physical suffering they had, and hope in a message that Messiah was come. It is no wonder then that the fame of Jesus spread beyond Galilee to all the surrounding regions.

(As a footnote here: Remember that Satan tried to tempt Jesus by appealing to Him to gain the following of the people by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus resisted the temptation and waited for God to do it in his own timing. That time had now come and the people are now following Jesus according to God’s timing and plan).




All of these things are facts of history. You can deny them only at the expense of turning from the truth and following the devils lies. What will you do with Jesus? He is the light shining in the darkness. Will you follow Him or remain in the darkness?

And Christian what about you? You say, nice sermon, lots of good facts. But do you realize that Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 that “you are the light of the world.” Our society is also cloaked in the darkness of sin and you are the one He calls upon to take the light of truth and hope into the blackness around us. Will you do it? It is done three ways. 1) Teach the truth. At every opportunity stand up for the truth. Do not hold back from letting others know what God says about things. 2) Proclaim the Gospel. Jesus has paid the price for their sins. They can be free of their burden of sin and its corresponding guilt. They can have real purpose and meaning in life, but do they know? 3) Demonstrate true Christian compassion. No, we cannot heal diseased like Jesus did because those miracles were done to attest to His deity. But we can show the compassion that Jesus did and love both our neighbors and our enemies.

John 9: 4,5 “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

John 12:35,36 “for a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light in order that you may become sons of light.”

John 12:46 “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

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