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Epiphany 3 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
January 22, 2023
Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-25
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
New York city. It’s full of glamor, city lights, wealth and power. It’s the capital of capitalism. Things happen in New York city. It’s the city that never sleeps. Always lit up bright late into the night and early in the morning. The people who live there are proud of their city. Tourists flood to the city in droves, with about 56 million people visiting in 2022. Tourist traps sell “I heart NY” pins and stickers. You take pictures when you visit there. Just the skyline of the city is recognizable. The Statue of Liberty, symbol of the American spirit, is just outside the Big Apple. NYC truly is the city in America.
Hamilton, OH, on the other hand, is a little different. I haven’t lived in Hamilton all that long, but I don’t remember seeing any places selling “I heart Hamilton” pins or stickers. Hamilton boasts a unique Skyline, but I haven’t seen any tourists taking pictures of their chili. Unlike New York, Hamilton sleeps. Usually pretty well. It’s not the city in lights, there’s not always something going on in Hamilton like there is in New York. Someone from New York might even look down on we who live in lowly Hamilton.
To the Jews in Jesus’ time, Jerusalem was like the New York of Israel. Jerusalem was where the temple was. Jerusalem was where the prophets preached. Jerusalem had the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees. Jerusalem was where the people came to celebrate the Passover. It was the place where things happened. It was the place with the light of God’s temple. With the light of His Word. They dwelt in high Jerusalem.
Galilee, on the other hand, was a little different. It’s a little closer to the Hamilton, OH of Israel. Galilee wasn’t really a place you would visit on purpose – at least, not back then. There weren’t any pilgrimages to Galilee, because Galilee had no temple. In fact, there were so few Jews in Galilee that it was known as Galilee of the Gentiles. No-one made a pilgrimage to Galilee for the Passover. If there was a light of God in Galilee, it was well hidden. Those in high, bright Jerusalem looked down on those who lived in lowly, dark Galilee.
To top it all off, to give those in Jerusalem just one more reason to look down on those lowly Galileans; when the Assyrians came and took Israel into exile, Galilee was the first to go. That must mean the worst sinners were there. All of Israel had sinned, certainly. But the sins of those in dark Galilee must have piled higher than the rest. Stacked high in a dung heap, a stench before the LORD. So, God took them into exile first. Jerusalem was the city of the worthy, Galilee was the region of the worthless.
It’s easy to feel like you’re dwelling in darkness, and not because you live in Hamilton instead of in New York. No, this is an internal darkness. The kind that eats away at you from the inside. It seems like everyone else has life figured out. You scroll through social media and see the best of everyone else’s life, and you can’t help but compare it to the worst parts of your own. It’s like they’re all living in high, bright Jerusalem, but at the end of the day, you slink off to low, dark Galilee.
Even if they all treat you well, and politely, maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t really deserve their kindness. After all, they don’t know you. They just know the face you let them see.
They just see your mask of polite conversation. You know the truth. Behind your mask, are sins stacked high in a stinking heap. All the things you’ve done, left undone, thoughts, words and deeds.
You might even tell yourself that your greatest lie was convincing everyone that you’re a good person. The truth is, you’re not really from Jerusalem. You’re just an imposter from lowly dark Galilee.
It’s easy to feel that way before others, and it’s even easier to feel that way before God. The words of God’s law are clear. He sees your sin. He sees your thoughts, your words, and your deeds. He sees what you have done and left undone. His holy law condemns your sin. It calls you out, naming you a sinner, lost and condemned. It rips the mask off your dung heap and exposes your sin for what it is. You are a citizen of Galilee. Your sins have piled high so that you dwell in their dark shade.
What does this mean for you, citizen of Galilee? Surely, it means judgment. Surely, God will unmask you before your friends and family, pointing out each and every one of your horrible sins. That is what His law demands. It’s what you really deserve. God should pour out the cup of His wrath on you. Just like He did to Galilee. You should drink the cup of God’s wrath down to the dregs.
So let us hear the word of the LORD to Galilee. Hear what He spoke by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah. Thus says the LORD:
There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
Thus says the LORD, anguished sinner! God will bring, not His doom and gloom, but His glory!
God will pour out His cup on Galilee, but not the cup of His wrath. The cup of His blessing! He has glorified the first of the exiles. The worst sinners in Israel. Those who once piled sin upon sin in a great and stinking heap He has blessed.
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.
God does not let the land of darkness stay dark. He brings light. Light, bright, shining, incredible and glorious. Light into darkness. Light like in high Jerusalem. But not like the light in Jerusalem. New York City could turn on every light in the city. But you wouldn’t see that glow if it was high noon. The day is brighter than every city light.
The day has come to Galilee. To you, lowly sinners who dwelt in darkness. And the day is brighter than the brightest light in high Jerusalem. God’s light, Matthew tells us,
…went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—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.”
Jesus, the light of the world, comes first to Galilee. To the land of darkness. To the land of sinners. Not to high Jerusalem. Not to the ones who have life all figured out. No, Jesus comes to poor, miserable sinners like you and like me. This is where He begins His ministry. He comes to the dark land of the Gentiles. There was no doom and gloom on that day for the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, for the LORD, Jesus Christ, had drawn near.
And Jesus knows who He is coming to. He can see through any mask. He knows the heaps on heaps of sin that Galilee piled against Him, a stench before the LORD and yet He comes to them anyway. He knows your sins too. You might be able to fool others, but you can’t fool God.
Jesus knows your sins too. He knows your thoughts, your words, and your deeds. He knows what you’ve done and what you’ve left undone. And He comes to you anyway. He comes to you and He washes you. He makes you clean, taking your sins away from you. He takes your sins and He puts them on Himself. He carries your sins throughout His earthly ministry. He carries them out of Galilee and into Jerusalem. For in Jerusalem, Jesus will be judged.
The law of God is clear. Sin must be punished. Justice must be carried out. The wrath of God must fall. God looks down on the world. He sees all things. Every thought, word and deed. What all have done and what all have left undone. He sees every sin throughout all time that has ever been committed and will ever be committed. And He sees them all on the shoulders of His Son.
Jesus is nailed to the cross. There is a great weight upon His shoulders. A great, stinking heap. A stench before the LORD. The law of God is clear. Sin was punished. Justice was carried out. The wrath of God fell. On Jesus. He drank the cup of God’s wrath down to the dregs. He took the full punishment for sin. On that cross, Jesus was rejected by God. Jesus was punished for your sin. Jesus, who came first to sinners.
The Son of God was not the only thing to die that day. All the sins of the world perished with Him. Every thought, word, or deed. Jesus dragged your sin into the grave. The law of God looked at Jesus and sentenced Him to death. Justice is done. God’s law is fulfilled.
Now, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see your sins. He still sees you for who you are. God does not lie. Instead, He sees the righteousness of Christ. The cross is the great reversal. God looks at sinners and sees righteousness, because God looked at His perfect Son and saw our sin. The great exchange.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Jesus is, after all, the sinless Son of God. God raised Him from the dead three days later. Justice demanded it. All that righteousness and perfection can’t lie in death forever. Which is really good news for you.
When God looks at you and sees the righteousness of Christ, it’s not like the wool was pulled over God’s eyes. He’s not seeing something that isn’t there. You’re not lying to God about your own righteousness. No, Christ’s righteousness actually belongs to you. Jesus was raised from the dead because of His righteousness. Now that righteousness belongs to you. What do you think that means for you when you die? This is why we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. It’s because Christ’s righteousness was given to us! It’s ours, not by our works, but by His grace.
Yes, it’s easy to feel like you’re living in darkness. It’s easy to feel like a citizen of lowly Galilee. It’s easy to feel worthless. Not like a worthy citizen of Jerusalem. But remember who Christ came to first. Remember that Jesus lived in Galilee. Remember that Jesus killed your sins on the cross. But also remember that He rose again. You have His righteousness. One day, you will join with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven. Until that day, rest in the peace that only God can give.