Sermon January 26, 2014/Vicar James Preus/ The Light of Jesus Conquers the Tyrants of Darkness/Matthew 4:12-17
12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light.” What does it mean to dwell in darkness? To dwell in darkness means to live under tyranny, with no light of freedom. When we think of tyranny, we might think of infamous tyrants like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. Today we might think of North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Recent reports rank North Korea as the worst persecutor of Christians among all nations of the world. Currently, a Christian from the United States, Kenneth Bae, is serving a 15 year sentence in a hard labor camp for, among other things, being leader of a Christian mission that it accuses of planning a coup against the North Korean government. In nations under tyranny like North Korea, Christians are not free to confess their faith in Jesus, a right we enjoy in this nation.
Yet the people dwelling in darkness in our text are not simply facing tyrants like these, who, in heightened paranoia, throw innocent people in prisons and labor camps. No these tyrants are much worse. The people, who dwell in darkness, include every human-being descended in the natural way from Adam and Eve. That includes all of us. They have three tyrants: the Law, Sin, and Death.
These three tyrants, the Law, Sin, and Death, are the worst tyrants we face in this life. They blot out all light and keep us in complete darkness.
One normally does not think that the Law is a tyrant. The Law is good and wise. God gave us the Law. That is why children learn the Ten Commandments. Yet, because of our sinful condition, the Law is a tyrant, a thug in fact. The Law is a cruel bully to us. He gangs up on us with his fellow cronies, Sin, and Death.
Sin puts us at odds with the Law. As Saint Paul writes, “But Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the Law, Sin lies dead.”
You see there are two types of sin. The sin we do not know, but that we inherited from our parents called “original sin.” The other type of sin is the sin we do know; sin we think, say and do. Sin is like spiritual AIDS or HIV. A person can live with HIV in his bloodstream and not know that he has a deadly disease pulsing through his veins. Yet, when another disease attacks the body, the immune system is unable to protect the body, because of the HIV. The body gets sicker and dies, because a virus living inside it destroyed the body’s ability to fight other diseases. Death takes over the body. So sin, like HIV gets its power to kill outside of itself, from the Law. As Saint Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.”
The Law is our tyrant, because we are sinners. Without the Law, Sin, which dwells in us like spiritual HIV, cannot oppress us. Sin is the oppressor of whom Isaiah speaks in our Old Testament Lesson. The rod he carries is the Law. The Law says, “You shall have no other gods.” Sin makes us incapable to obey this commandment and causes us to make ourselves our own god. Jab! Sin jabs us with the Law. Sin draws us to love ourselves more than our neighbor. Then our oppressor strikes us with the Law again, leaving stripes and wounds. Death then festers himself in our wounds caused by the Law and Sin.
This is how these three tyrants conspire against us. Sin puts us at enmity with the Law and the Law gives Sin the power to strike us. And Death comes in to infect our spiritual wounds. And Death does not just settle with physical death. He wants us spiritually dead for all eternity.
But wait! “The People who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined!” Have you ever lit a match in pitch black darkness? You know what happens? The darkness flees!
Jesus shines his light on us and the tyrants who kept us in darkness flee like scared rabbits. The light Jesus shines on us is the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news: The good news that Jesus conquered these three tyrants, the Law, Sin, and Death. Jesus fulfills the Law in every way. He loved God perfectly. He loved his neighbors as himself. In fact he became a servant to even the lowliest people. The Law cannot find a single fault with Jesus. And Sin has no power over Jesus. Jesus never sinned. Being of miraculous birth from a virgin, he was never infected with this spiritual HIV. The Law can find no fault in Jesus. He is holy and righteous. And where there is no Sin nor condemnation of the Law, Death cannot rear his ugly head.
Yet for our sake and for our salvation, Jesus took on the sins of the whole world. He stood before the Law, covered in our sins, and the Law struck him. The Law punished Jesus with pure judgment. Our sins gave the Law power over Jesus. Our sins jabbed and struck Jesus with the Law. And in those stripes, Death took refuge. Jesus permitted Death to overcome him…for a time.
But Jesus’s life proved stronger than Death. Jesus rose from the dead. Death lost its sting, because all sins were washed away in Jesus’ blood. Jesus’ righteousness proved greater than the sins of all humanity. Sin has no more power, because Jesus fulfilled the Law. These three tyrants enjoyed a short lived victory. When Jesus rose from the dead, he himself swallowed up death forever. Jesus vanquished sin. And he left the Law toothless and weaponless.
And Jesus shines the Gospel-light on us. We receive this good message of forgiveness through faith, and through faith we receive everything Christ has, even adoption as children of God. The Law is no longer a tyrant, but a helper. He guides all on whom the light of the Gospel shines. The Law is the same. He does not change. Yet our relationship with the Law has changed, because we have changed. Sin no longer reigns over us, but through the Gospel we become like Christ. And the Law assists us in behaving like Christ.
The sinner has a new identity, the identity of a Christian. The Christian, having been freed from the tyranny of the Law is “a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” The Christian is not subject to the Law, or Sin, or Death, because he has Jesus’ righteousness. Yet, sharing Christ’s righteousness the Christian is also “a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Just as Jesus, who in the form of God did not see equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself in the form of a servant, we, who are given the right to be called children of God do not lord it over anyone, but we serve others, as our first Brother Jesus serves us. Saint Paul writes, “3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
As Christians we are not condemned or attacked by the Law, yet the Law helps us live out our lives as little christs (that is imitators of Jesus Christ). We have everything from our heavenly Father, yet, like Jesus, we serve others. The Law, which says: “Love your neighbor as yourself” does this to assist us in living like Christ. It is as if Jesus put the Law in a collar and handed us the leash and said, “Here, this Law is no longer your tyrant, but companion and helper. Let him assist you in serving your neighbor.”
So, each Christian becomes a servant of the other in accordance with the example of Christ. And Christ gives us the Law as a guide to help us. As Christians, we are indeed free. But freedom does not mean that we are free to indulge in our sinful flesh. That would be to become a slave to sin. That is not freedom. Instead, Christ has freed us from our three tyrants and made us one body with Christ himself as our head. So just as each of us would nurse an injured knee or shoulder and the other limbs of the body would pick up the slack for the injured limb, we help each other.
But the Law doesn’t seem like a helper. I don’t feel like I have him on a leash. Instead, he still seems to me like a tyrant that reminds me of my sins. In fact, I still sin. And I feel the jab of the Law every time the Law tells me to love my neighbor as myself. I don’t serve my neighbor. I do not care for my fellow members of Christ as I would nurse my arthritic hands or aching back. When I look at the Law I see a shadow blotting out my light. And I know Death is waiting with gaping jaws ready to devour me.
So it seems that my three tyrants are not vanquished. Rather, they still reign over me, and I sit in darkness once again.
And that would be true if our salvation depended on our works and our own ability to fulfill the Law. But Jesus did not give us reigns to the Law, so that the Law could rule over us again. Jesus in fact conquered the Law, Sin, and Death. And he makes us victors through the light of his Gospel. Jesus conquered these three tyrants nearly two thousand years ago, yet he shines the light of his victory on us today through the message of the Gospel and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we were buried with Christ into his death and we rose with him. At our baptism, Jesus first shined the light of the Gospel on us. He gave us the victory and our three tyrants fled.
Yet as long as we live in this sinful world, we will continue to sin, the Law shows us our sin, and death crawls ever closer. But Jesus does not leave us high and dry. Every time we are reminded of our Baptism, these three tyrants run away. Every time our faith receives the message of the Gospel, we are again made victors over these three tyrants. When you are told that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, the darkness flees from the light of the Gospel. When the preacher proclaims the message of Jesus’ conquest of these three tyrants on the cross, your faith receives the crown of victory, from which our three tyrants hide their faces. When you eat and drink the precious body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, your heart beams forth the victorious light of the Gospel. Even on your death bed, when Death approaches to take your body, you remember that Death is swallowed up not only in the victory of Christ but also in your victory, because through faith Christ’s victory becomes yours and in faith you also are a conqueror.
We cannot overcome these tyrants through our own works. When the Law tells you that you have failed to love your neighbor as yourself you can reply, “Thank you Law for reminding me that it is not by my works that I am justified before God, but I am righteousness and I am victorious over you through Jesus.” We do not serve our neighbor to earn righteousness. That would be silly, because we already have righteousness earned for us by Jesus. We receive this righteousness freely through faith. We serve our neighbor, because Jesus first served us.
So as Christians we use the Law for two things. First, to show us our sins and that we constantly need Jesus to shine the light of the Gospel on us and forgive our sins. The second use, is to show us how best to serve our neighbor. Because Jesus has given us his victory over the Law, Sin, and Death by shining the light of the Gospel on us, the Law cannot be used to condemn us for our failed works. The Law cannot condemn us because the Law cannot condemn Jesus. Sin cannot jab us with the Law, because Jesus has no sin. And Death gains only a short victory over us, because our bodies will be raised in glory just as Jesus’ body sits in glory at the right hand of God the Father.
Let us pray,
Lord, when You look on us in love, At once there falls from God above A ray of purest pleasure. Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood Refresh our souls with heav’nly food. You are our dearest treasure! Let Your mercy Warm and cheer us! O draw near us! For You teach us God’s own love through You has reached us.
 Romans 7:8
 1 Corinthians 15:56
 John 1:12
 Philippians 2:6-7
 Philippians 2:4-5
 Romans 6:4
 LSB 395. O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright. Stz. 3. Philipp Nicolai.