Pastor Walther / Epiphany 3 / Matthew 4:12-23 / January 22, 2017 / The Truth About Jesus
Did you hear that Oxford dictionary picked their word of the year for last year, for 2016? The word is “post-truth.” The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of a year, mostly in the context of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the U.S. “Post-truth” basically means that emotion and opinion can best objective facts, that the truth isn’t important.
Just seeing this word of the year reminds me that people are becoming more and more skeptical: skeptical of politics, skeptical of people’s claims, skeptical of religion. How can we not be? We look at the presidential race. The news would claim one thing, but the truth and reality was so far off. People look at religion and see the hypocrisy of belief vs conduct. Sometimes it’s even difficult to have a simple meaningful relationship with someone because they say one thing, but their Facebook feed says another. You can’t trust them. The world around us is a dark place, filled with dark thoughts, dark motives, and dark actions. We see darkness all around, but we can’t seem to escape even our own darkness, and so we seem to settle and compromise our beliefs because in the world around us the concept of truth is no longer objective, hence “post-truth” becomes our reality as we become skeptical of everyone else’s truth or darkness.
The philosopher Plato once described how people grow accustomed to the darkness of their own reality. He described people as if they had lived their whole lives chained up facing the wall in a dark cave, only able to see the shadows on the wall from what is happening behind them outside the cave. The shadows are the prisoners' reality because that is all they see. Even if someone would be let free from the cave to experience life outside and to see the objects creating the shadows, even if they came back to explain to the prisoners the beautiful world outside and that it’s not just shadows, the inmates in the cave still wouldn’t want to leave because they don’t want to know any different. They like the shadows.
God gave us this prediction through the words of Isaiah. Isaiah would speak about the areas of Northern Galilee, Zebulun and Naphtali. That is where Jesus decided to set up shop, particularly in the area of Capernaum. Capernaum was nestled on the North coast of the Sea of Galilee, much like the Fox cities are nestled on the North part of Lake Winnebago. These areas were usually emotionally dark places because whenever foreign invaders came through, these were the first to be invaded.
Galilee was also populated by many Gentiles in addition to the Jews who lived there. This mixture of Jews and Gentiles had its effect upon the religious life of the people. The God of Israel was not unknown there, but the worship of God had departed considerably from the forms of worship that the law of Moses called for. The true gospel light was dwindling because of the unnecessary Jewish laws and apathy and was being replaced with delusion and false religious ideas. They no longer saw the idea of their God as important and relevant anymore. Isaiah the prophet described the people as “walking in darkness,” separated from the light of salvation. But Matthew takes it a step further in his description by saying they were “living in darkness.” It’s not that they were walking around searching for the light. No, they were sitting and living in the darkness, completely content with not moving, content with the darkness, happy with the shadows on the wall.
The Bible gives a simple explanation to us in John 3:19-20. “But people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” People hate to be told that they are sinful, yet they love living in darkness and love sin, skeptical of the supposed beauty and light that is outside of sin.
Jesus walks into a land where people clearly would have been skeptical of him: both the Jews who were skeptical to believe in him as the Messiah, and the Gentiles who had no idea who Jesus was or what he was claiming. People in the past maybe came claiming to bring the truth about spiritual peace but would have failed them. Some people maybe came along claiming their order of government would bring peace, but would have failed them. The people would have been skeptical just like we so often doubt and the unbelievers around us doubt that Jesus really is the answer.
But, Jesus reveals the truth in such a simple way. Instead of a politician or a motivational speaker or anyone telling us what they think is wrong our society, Jesus brings us to the real problem at hand. It’s so simple and make so much sense that Jesus HAS to be speaking the truth, not just an opinion. He brings the truth about our world and the truth about ourselves in just one word, “Repent.” There has to be something wrong with US if Jesus would say repent. He doesn’t say, “Slow down with being so awesome.” No, he says, “Repent.” It isn’t a government with higher or lower taxes that makes me act all crazy. It isn’t my spouse that brings all the problems to my marriage. It isn’t any of the other people we blame for the problems in our lives. It is nothing outside of us, because the problem IS us and everything we do. Every human whether they are 100 seconds old or 100 years old is the problem. Whether this was the Jews or Gentiles that Jesus was talking to, whether this might be the Christians or the Muslims in our world today, Jesus shows that everyone is dealing with this spiritual cancer, a sickness that we can’t rid ourselves of. No homeopathic remedy can cure. No chemotherapy can rid ourselves of it. No amount of good actions can make up for all our bad actions. We are all stuck in darkness.
Jesus brings this truth to our eyes. The solution to that truth, to that reality of our sin, doesn’t come from our attempts to improve ourselves or even our attempts to forget about the problem. No, the truth is so much simpler than that and so much closer. If Jesus clearly pointed out the problem, that we are sinners living in a sinful world, riddled with sinful consequences, if Jesus spoke truth about the darkness that we sit in and deal with, then THE truth and THE solution can only come from the one who spoke the truth, Jesus. The truth is that we need saving from this darkness. It’s as if Jesus turned on the light to reveal the truth of the situation, something we are so ignorant and stubborn to see.
I want you to think right now for 30 seconds about a family member or friend who doesn’t know Jesus and look at their lives, not to judge them but to examine them. Do you see the darkness that they live in, maybe the utter hopelessness for their future? Do you see how that darkness ruins relationships as they always put themselves first? Or maybe do you see how that darkness infects everything around them? I now ask you to think about how quickly and easily we are affected by the darkness of sin around us. Do you see how that darkness ruins our relationships as we always put ourselves first? Do you see how that darkness infects everything about us?
That was the purpose of Jesus ministry in this area of Galilee: he was showing both Jew and Gentile alike that there is something wrong with this world and with us, but that he was here to do something about it. Instead of us trying to reach God or even trying to forget about our problems, the kingdom of heaven was brought to us though Jesus. God reaches his hand to pick us out of the darkness that we sit in. These early disciples were sitting in that darkness as they questioned when the Messiah might come, as they questioned the darkness of their relationships, as they questioned the darkness of the “post-truth” that their society brought to them.
Jesus came to them and found them. And from then on, their lives would be turned upside down as they learned from Jesus. Obviously, they weren’t immediately the best disciples but it took time, just like a basketball player doesn’t become an NBA star over night, just like it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the light after the darkness. These men needed to be trained for apostleship and to share the wonderful news of salvation to the darkness of the world. Simon Peter “the changeable” needed to still become that “rock,” just like the other apostles needed to grow. None of the disciples when we first meet them were the brightest bulbs when it came to spiritual understanding. They were so mixed up with their beliefs.
Matthew, the gospel writer, was keenly aware that there were so many false ideas about the Messiah imbedded in Jewish thinking because they would simply accept a lie at face value without thought of searching the Scriptures for verification. That is always a dangerous, even soul-jeopardizing, practice if we rely on the opinions of other people and their “view” on spirituality. Rather, cling to the only truth that Jesus has so aptly pointed out and gives to us. We need that constant reminder in our lives with daily devotion and bible study and church to see the truth and light about Jesus, because our spiritual mind has a short memory and we forget about the darkness that we often sit in. Cling to the one who equips us for the darkness that tries to surround us. Cling to the one who strengthens us because Jesus is the light, he is truth.
People are looking for that truth and stability when everything else in the world is darkness.
Jesus is THE truth in a post-truth world not because it is an opinion but because everything he does is truthful and breaks all barriers. It is not too often when something breaks barriers like that. I mean sure, there are times where an idea transcends language barriers. For example two Packer games ago, “Hail Mary” were words heard at the end of the second quarter by German announcers. But, the words that Jesus bring to us has eternal life attached to it. From fishing boats to synagogues, from workmen to crippled men, from musicians to doctors, Christ casts a beacon of light into the darkness of sin and skepticism. We have an objective truth that the kingdom of heaven has come for the salvation of each and every person in the world through the light of Jesus. Let us always cling to the truth about Jesus. Amen.