This week’s scripture reading – Matthew 4:12-16,
Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, [by] the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
Before venturing into the study for this week on darkness saw great light, let us first have a look at Matthew. The departure of Jesus into Galilee is recorded by Matthew, the author of this gospel account. Matthew, also known as Levi, was a Jewish man who at one time was a publican, or tax collector for the Roman Empire. This role in society was viewed with much contempt since it enriched an oppressive regime off the backs of Israelites often through corrupt and fraudulent methods.
Even Jesus, while speaking to an unbelieving crowd, categorized publicans among others of low reputation as referenced in Matthew 11:19, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. Since Matthew however was called by Jesus to follow him (Matt. 9:9) and became one of his twelve apostles, it is noteworthy that Jesus did not choose high profile individuals from any of society’s elite; in fact many of his apostles were fishermen of the day.
Paul made note of the same common characteristic traits of Jesus’ disciples and endeavoured to provide rationale for these humble callings in 1 Cor. 1:26-29, For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called:] But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea,] and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.
One should therefore never think that they must become someone of significance or a person of importance first in order to be worthy of coming to belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. This should be contemplated during this Bible study on on the people which sat in darkness saw great light.
Light and Darkness
For the remainder of this study, the focus will now be on the prophetic statement from the scripture reading, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light.” This tends to answer the frequently asked question, in what New Testament text do we find a reference to the phrase the people walking in darkness have seen a great light from Isaiah 9. It is important to place this statement though into a contextual timeline of events. Recall from last week’s scripture of the many events that unfolded prior to this. For the sake of reiterating these events, they are listed below and of course span many years as we venture into the subject of how spiritual light from God will strengthen your faith.
A woman gave birth to a child as conceived by the Holy Spirit . He was called Christ the Lord and was destined to save his people from their sins. Wise men brought unique gifts to the child called King of the Jews. John the Baptist led the way for the coming Messiah. Jesus was then baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness. The presence of the triune God with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit took place. Then the temptation of Jesus took place in the wilderness.
Now after all of these events had transpired, Jesus is on his way to Galilee. Interestingly, Matthew aligns the entry of Jesus into this town with scripture that was written centuries before by the prophet Is. (9:1-2). Encompassed in these scriptural verses is a notable contrast of light with darkness. This darkness is a spiritual darkness. The distinction is often mentioned throughout scripture such as when Jesus spoke to the multitudes during his sermon on the mount in Matt. 6:22-23, The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great [is] that darkness!
Lamentations in Darkness
When there is an absence in scripture of the theme of those who walk in darkness have seen a great light, it has never been under favourable circumstances. Even dating back to the plagues God imposed upon Pharaoh and his people in Egypt, the ninth plague was described as an ominous form of darkness in Ex. 10:21, And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness [which] may be felt.
During Job’s lamentation over his many trials and tribulations he cursed the day he was born giving an allusion to darkness in Job 3:4-6, Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. As [for] that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months. Job continued to lament with a sense of hopelessness in Job 10:21, Before I go [whence] I shall not return, [even] to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness [itself; and] of the shadow of death, without any order, and [where] the light [is] as darkness.
Even King David had many lamentations of spiritual darkness such as in Ps. 143:3, For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Despite these times of apparent despondency, we will see how spiritual light from God will strengthen your faith.
Proclaiming The Light
In contrast to this spiritual darkness let us now look at several accounts of the light that has now come into it. Jesus is the source of this spiritual light but the darkness of the world does not understand it, as written in John 1:5-6, In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. Despite this lack of understanding from the darkness, John goes further to proclaim the true spiritual light in John 1:9, [That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
While Jesus was speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus, he contrasted light with darkness in John 3:19-21, And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Children of the Light
Let us look a little further at the spiritual distinction made by the apostles in reference to light and darkness. Paul provides a compelling contrast and admonition of this while writing to believers in Rom. 13:12, The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Paul further reinforced his message to believers with encouraging words in his letter of 1 Thess. 5:4-5, But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
John also provided a heartfelt contrast for believers to live in the light from 1 John 1:6-7, If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
As the ministry of Jesus continued, his words consistently conveyed this thematic overtone of darkness saw great light. He contrasted spiritual darkness versus himself as the light of the world, in John 8:12, Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Later on in his ministry when he started speaking of his eventual departure to his disciples, he stated in John 12:35-36a, Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.
Readers who are new to the Christian faith may be asking themselves, what is this spiritual light and how does one obtain it. This light is provided through the gospel message by having a spiritual birth in Christ as noted in 2 Tim. 1:10, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. It is therefore obtained by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as your saviour for his redemptive work upon the cross for the sins of humanity, including yours and mine!
Christ gives Light
Here are a few more relevant verses from scripture worth mentioning. Paul continues to affirm the Lord Jesus in the theme of darkness saw great light in 2 Cor. 4:6, For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He provides a further and more distinctive contrast of this from Eph. 5:8, For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light. Paul also does not hesitate to warn believers about the risk of remaining within the realm of darkness from Eph. 5:11-14, And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them.] For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
Christ is the Eternal Light
To close off this study on the people which sat in darkness saw great light, many scriptural references were given to illustrate the vast distinction between light and darkness from a spiritual perspective. Finding spiritual light in a world often filled with spiritual darkness is only found by seeking it directly from God as noted in 2 Sam. 22:29, For thou [art] my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness. The Lord Jesus Christ is truly the eternal light of the world as noted in 1 John 1:5, This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. This is a most remarkable verse and for seekers of faith, it is also reassuring to know, this light will shine into eternity, as declared in Rev.21:23, And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb [is] the light thereof. In conclusion therefore, if Jesus really is the light of the world, why not let him be the light in your world.
Bible Study Questions
- Why do you think Jesus chose common people such as Matthew or fishermen, some of whom were not well educated, as his disciples?
- Why do you think sin in a person’s life is often described as spiritual darkness?
- Can you give an example from scripture of people who were in spiritual darkness?
- Why do you think the Gospel according to John states that the darkness did not comprehend the light of Jesus?
- What do you think Paul meant for believers when he spoke of casting off the works of darkness?
- How would you explain to someone who is not a Christian the phrase, Christ will give thee light?
- Can you name at least one person with whom you would like to share this message on the people which sat in darkness saw great light?
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