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A Child Is Born, A Son Is Given! - Part 1

Tom Pennington Isaiah 9:1-7


Well, this morning, I want us to leave our study of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes that we now have just recently left behind us, but hopefully we'll return to that the first part of the year. But for this morning and the next couple of Sundays, I want us to look at the birth of Christ from a little bit of a unique perspective. I want us to look at it through one of the most important prophecies that's given of His birth in the Old Testament.

As I thought about the passage that will study this morning and in the coming weeks, this past week I was thinking it through. I was reminded of something that was a common element in the painting of the great renaissance masters. The Renaissance masters often used an effect in their painting called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is a Latin term which literally means "light dark". It is the combination and the contrast. In painting it describes a clear tonal contrast between light and darkness. If you look at some of the Renaissance paintings, you'll see that the central figure in the painting is all light. But surrounding that light, is a background of darkness and everything else fades away into darkness. The contrast brings out the focus of the subject.

When God created the world, He created it with chiaroscuro, with that great, clear contrast. Specifically, He created light and darkness. You ever thought about why? You ever wondered why? Revelation tells us that in the new heaven and the new earth there'll be no darkness. So, why did God make this world to have the reality of both light and darkness? Well, in His great wisdom, God knew what would come. He knew about the fall and redemption. He knew about all of those issues and had planned them out. And so, even in the creation of the world He gave us, in light and darkness, a constant and powerful picture of great spiritual realities. Every time the sun sets and darkness spreads across this planet, every time the dawn breaks and the light streams across our world, God has given us a powerful and abiding picture of great spiritual realities. God Himself is light. 1 John 1:5 says, "God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness [no none] at all." Moral, darkness on the other hand, is the absence of all that is God and of His light.

Christmas is really a story about the contrast of light and darkness. It's a story about man's darkness and his desperate need for light. We sing about this truth often. In fact, I was struck even as we sang last night, the number of Christmas carols that have in them this contrast between light and darkness. We sing often Chris Tomlin's song, "Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness." It's because this is a constant biblical theme - this chiaroscuro in God's world, this contrast between light and darkness.

To really appreciate why we needed the light, you have to understand something of the power of the darkness in which we all live. In fact, most of the great prophecies about Jesus' coming as a Savior, were given in the context and with a backdrop of the darkness of human sin. The very first one comes in Genesis 3 immediately following the fall, and sin, and the destruction of relationships between man and woman, and between man and God. In that context we have the first great prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same is true for the great prophecies in Isaiah as well. They are all set against the backdrop of the darkness of human sin.

Over the next three Sunday mornings, I want us to study what may well be the greatest Old Testament prophecy about Jesus Christ and His coming. It's a promise that God would send a person who would bring the light of His own personal presence into the darkness of a world filled with human sin and its consequences. The prophecy is found in Isaiah 9, and I invite you to turn there with me this morning.

Now, before I read it to you, let me just set the context in Isaiah's prophecy. Isaiah's name means Yahweh (which is God's personal name) - Yahweh is salvation. That's essentially the message of his book. God is a rescuer. He is a Savior by nature. He will provide salvation or rescue for those who deserve even His just wrath. It's why Isaiah has been called the Old Testament gospel. The salvation that Isaiah promises in his book, he promises will come through a specific person, a mysterious figure that is sometimes called Immanuel, sometimes called the servant of Yahweh, and other times called the Anointed One. That's a translation of it. The Hebrew is Hamaschiach, from which we get the Messiah.

Isaiah 9 is in the middle of a section about that mysterious figure who will accomplish salvation. It's in a section that runs from chapters 7 through 12. The theme of chapter 7 through 12 is that Judah, the southern kingdom where Isaiah prophesied - Judah's only hope and our only hope is found in a coming king, the Messiah. This section of Isaiah has even been called the Book of Immanuel.

There are about 30 prophecies of Christ in Isaiah that were fulfilled in His first coming. The very first of those is in the section. Look at Isaiah 7:14, to the wicked king Ahaz who refused to really trust the Lord and the words Isaiah spoke to him. In response to that, Isaiah writes in verse 14, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign [that is, that He can be trusted, that you ought to trust Him]: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [that is, God with us, a unique child]."

Several years ago, at Christmas time, we studied that great prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. If you weren't here, you can go back and catch up with us. But it was probably about a year and a half to two years later in Isaiah's life, that he makes another prophecy about this virgin-born child that really adds to our understanding of who this child will be. And that comes here in chapter 9. Let me read it to you. Isaiah 9 beginning in verse 1: "But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He [that is, God] treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this."

Amazing prophecy! God will cause brilliant light to shine where there has been only darkness. How? A great king will be born, a king who will destroy the darkness of sin and its consequences, and who will one day establish an eternal kingdom of light and righteousness.

Now, this prophecy that I've just read to you comes to us in two parts - two distinct parts. And today we're going to look just at the first part. The first part of this prophecy is this: the light will shine in a most unexpected place. The light will shine in a most unexpected place. Look at verses 1 and 2: "But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them."

Isaiah wrote those words 700 years before Christ. During his ministry, the times were dark. We speak of the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages in our own history and background. And, of course, that's true. But when it comes to spiritual darkness, one of the darkest of times was the time in which Isaiah ministered. And in this passage and hinted at in the verses I've just read to you, but in the larger scope of Isaiah's prophecy, we see the darkness of sin and its consequences - the darkness of sin and its consequences. Isaiah compares human sin and the consequences of that sin, both natural consequences and God's judgment on that sin - he compares it to darkness. And that spiritual darkness that he describes, expresses itself in a variety of ways, and if we're going to understand the promise and prophecy of the light, we have to understand the darkness against which it's set. This darkness that Isaiah is referring to here, if you look at the rest of his prophecy, it expresses itself in several ways. Let me unfold them for you.

Isaiah speaks of the darkness of idolatry, the darkness of idolatry. For the first 120 years that Israel was a nation with a king, there was one king who ruled over all 12 tribes. Of course, first there was Saul, and then there was David, and then there was Solomon. But after Solomon's death in 931 BC, Israel divided into two separate kingdoms. There were two tribes in the south - Benjamin and Judah. That kingdom is usually called either the south or sometimes it's called Judah because Judah was the largest of the two tribes that made it up. The north, the northern kingdoms, were made up of 10 tribes. It's often called Israel because ten of the twelve tribes were a part of that area. Sometimes it's called Samaria after the capital city (which eventually became the capital city). So, you had two tribes in the south; they had their own king. You had ten tribes in the north with another king. So, this period of Israel's history is called the Divided Monarchy.

It was in that period of time, when Isaiah served as a court prophet in Judah, the south, where Jerusalem was located. And at the time of the prophecies of Immanuel, which we're looking at together here, the king of the southern kingdom was a man named Ahaz. Ahaz had a rich spiritual heritage - in fact, a unique one. When you look at the entire time that the kingdoms were divided and Judah stood as a separate kingdom, she had 19 kings and one queen who ruled over Judah. Out of those twenty, only eight God says were any good. But Ahaz was extremely blessed by God because he came after two of those eight good kings. His grandfather, a man named Uzziah, and his father, a man named Jotham, were both, according to the chronicler, ones who did what was right in the sight of the Lord. He had a great spiritual heritage. He had a grandfather and a father who were faithful to God, to the God of Israel. But when Ahaz became king at 20 years of age, he decided to take a different path from his grandfather and his father - sadly as even kids who grow up in Christian homes can do. He wanted to be his own person. He wanted to make his own decisions. And Ahaz was more influenced by the culture around him than by his godly family and heritage. And so, he made some tragic decisions.

Look over at 2 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 28. Remember now, this was the man who was king when Isaiah was making these prophecies. Here was the darkness of the land of Israel at the time. 2 Chronicles 28:1: "Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do right in the sight of the LORD as David his father had done [or Uzziah's grandfather or Jotham his father]. But he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel [that is, the kings of the northern ten tribes]; he also made molten images for the Baals." Here's a man who was king over the area that had Jerusalem, that had the temple that Solomon had made, and yet he erected images and alters to the Baal, the Baals of the nations around them. It gets worse, though. Verse 3: "Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom [the valley on the southwest side of the city of Jerusalem] and burned his sons in fire [he took part in that terrible sacrifice of children that God had so condemned. Here was a wicked man consumed with idolatry. He did it], according to the abomination of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel. He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places [in other words, to false gods], on the hills and under every green tree." Here was a man given over to the darkness of idolatry. And he led the children of Israel to do the same in Isaiah's time. So, Isaiah often confronts the idolatry of the people.

Turn over to Isaiah now, Isaiah 2, and you see this recurring theme in Isaiah's prophecy. Verse 8: "[God says] Their land has also been filled with idols; they worship the work of their hands, that which their fingers have made." Over and over again, Isaiah confronts the idolatry of the people. Turn over to chapter 40, Isaiah 40. Again, there are many different instances. Let me just show you a couple of others. Isaiah 40:18: "[God says] To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver. [And if you can't afford precious metals then the person who is too] he who is too impoverished for such an offering [to do that] selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter. [Isaiah says, "How ridiculous is that?]. Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? [that the true God, the true and living God] it is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. [He is active in the world He made.] He it is who reduces rulers to nothing... [Verse 25] 'To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?', says the Holy One." Israel was completely immersed in the darkness of idolatry.

In chapter 42, Isaiah makes that very point. Look at verse 16. God eventually says, "I'm going to step out and deal with your darkness. You've lived in this darkness, this blindness, and I'm going to rectify it." Verse 16 of 42: "I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them... [What kind of darkness? Look at verse 17] They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame, who trust in idols, who say to molten images, 'You are our gods.'" The people of Israel lived in the darkness of idolatry.

None of us worship gods of metal or wood or stone, but left to ourselves and apart from God's grace, we are all, by nature, idolaters. We are all prone to worship something but the true God. Ezekiel makes us really uncomfortable when he talks, not about idols of wood or stone or metal, but idols of the heart, things in our own hearts that we crave more than we crave loving and serving and obeying the true God. If there's anything in your life this morning that you love more than God, that you make more sacrifices to than God, that you pursue more aggressively and diligently than God, then that has become an idol. As John Calvin said, "The human heart is an idol factory." We can take sin and make it into an idol, whether it's the sin of selfishness and pride and reputation or sex or whatever it might be, we can turn that into an idol. We can take good things, as well, and convert them into idols. Idolatry, in all of its forms, creates spiritual blindness and darkness and that was the circumstance into which this prophecy came.

So, there's the darkness of idolatry. There's also the darkness of willful ignorance of God's Word, willful ignorance of God's Word. In chapter 6, you see this, even in Isaiah's commissioning. You remember, God commissioned Isaiah and gave him a mission. And this is what he said to him (Isaiah 6:8): "Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!' ["And here's your mission", God says, "Isaiah"] He said, 'Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.'' Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim..." How? How was Isaiah supposed to render their hearts insensitive and their ears dull? Through the very message he preached. The point is, God would use Isaiah's message to hide the truth from those who didn't want to know it. In other words, they were willfully ignorant of God's truth. This is darkness as well.

Look over at Isaiah 8, and again, Isaiah makes this point. In Isaiah 8:19: "When they say to you [when the people around you say to you], 'Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter...'" You want to hear from God? Then find a way to get in touch with the dead. This is necromancy. This what Saul did with the Witch of Endor. And it doesn't have to be this method. It doesn't matter - something other than God's Word. Find some other way to consult God. Isaiah says, "...should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?" And then he says this; this is key (verse 20): "[If you want to consult with God, if you want to know what God thinks] To the law and to the testimony!" If you want to consult with God, consult His Word. That's what he's saying. "God has spoken. The truth is clear. Go there! Listen to my words!", Isaiah says.

And then he makes this very telling statement at the end of verse 20: "If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn." True believers are known by their connection to God's Word. But those who live in willful ignorance of God's Word, who don't want anything to do with God Word but seek Him some other way, Isaiah says, "They have no dawn". What does that mean? It means they still live in the, what? The darkness. They still live in the darkness. It's the darkness of willful ignorance of God's Word. We live in a country that's filled with the willful ignorance of God's Word. There're Bibles everywhere, in almost every hotel room, and yet people consult everything and else to find out what God thinks. They read the latest bestseller. You know, the surveys say that people today consider themselves more spiritual than ever, and yet they're trying to find it everywhere else. Isaiah says, "Listen, if that's where people are going, if they're not going to the law and to the testimony, if they're not going to God's revealed Word, then their heart is filled with the darkness of willful ignorance."

E.J. Young, commentator on the book of Isaiah, writes this: "Light is found in the law of God, the written revelation, the Scriptures. Those who speak contrary to the Scripture, remain yet in the darkness of deep night. Upon them the morning light has not broken, nor will it break until they turn, as little children, to the law and submit all their thinking and their opinions to it." It's what it requires. It requires the humility to leave your pride and humble yourself before the revelation of God, or you'll stay in the darkness of willful ignorance.

There's a third kind of darkness Isaiah talks about. It's the darkness of personal sin, the darkness of personal sin. You see this at the very beginning of his prophecy. Go back to chapter 1:1: "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah [that's his grandfather], Jotham [his father], Ahaz [the one we're talking about a moment ago] and Hezekiah [that's Ahaz's son], kings of Judah." Here is God's complaint. Here is God's indictment against His people. "Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the LORD speaks [here it is], 'Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master's manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand. Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.'" To live in a pattern of personal sin is to be under the control of sin, to walk in darkness.

Again, Isaiah says this very clearly over in chapter 5. Look at chapter 5. In chapter 5, there are a series of six woes Isaiah pronounces on the people. The first one is in verse 8. The second one is in verse 11. The third one in verse 18. But look at the fourth one in verse 20. Here's the fourth woe he pronounces on the nation. And it has to do with the darkness of personal sin. He says, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" What's he talking about here? Well, in the Scripture, light sometimes refers to truth and darkness to error. Other times, especially here we see this, light refers to holiness or purity and darkness refers to sin. He's talking about those who walk, as a pattern of life, in personal sin, in the darkness of personal sin.

But notice what they do, then. They're living in darkness, but then they redefine the darkness as, what? Light. Folks, that was 2700 years ago. It sounds like it came from this week's newspapers. We take what God has said is darkness and we live in it, we wallow in it, we live it out. But not content to live with ourselves thinking of ourselves as sinners, we take it and redefine and reclassify and make what God said was darkness to be, what? Light. But God's perspective hasn't changed. To live in a pattern of personal sin, is to walk in darkness.

Later in Isaiah's prophecy, he gives us these powerful pictures of the controlling power of sin. Turn over to a passage that we quote often but I don't think we often see its fullness. Look at Isaiah 64. Here's what it means to live in the darkness of personal sin. Isaiah 64:6. He's describing sin. Notice the four "likes" in this verse.

The first one is in the first line: "For all of us [there are no exceptions] have become like one who is unclean..." There's a powerful image there. It's the image of a person who was a leper who everywhere he went had to say, "Unclean! Unclean!" because he didn't want to taint others with the infection. Isaiah is saying all of us have become like a leper. We are personally filled with infection, and we infect everything and everyone we touch.

There's a second image in the second line there: "And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment..." That phrase "filthy garment" literally in the Hebrew text, "like a garment of times or periods". We might say like a garment of a woman's period. It refers to the cloths a woman uses during her cycle. And notice it's not a description of our sins but of our righteousness. God finds even our best actions disgustingly sinful.

There's a third "like". Notice "...and all of us wither like a leaf..." We are all like a leaf that has become withered and lifeless. Sin literally sucks the spiritual life out of us and there's none left. No spiritual life.

And the final simile is in the last of the verse: "...and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." We understand wind here in North Texas; we see it come blowing in with those fronts. And the picture behind this image is that our sins are so overwhelming, they're so enslaving, that they take us wherever they want to take us, like the wind drives everything before it.

We think we're in control, but we're not. And yet the power of sin is so deceptive, that in spite of these patterns of sin, we like the children of Israel can still believe that our own spiritual acts are acceptable to God and guarantee us His favor. If I had time, I'd take you back to chapter 1. Guess what they were still doing in spite of this personal sin, this darkness in their lives? They were still making sacrifices. They were still having their feasts and their festivals. And God says, "I've had it up to here with all of that. It makes me sick" - the darkness of personal sin.

There's a fourth kind of darkness. It's the darkness of divine judgment on sin. Not only does the Bible refer to idolatry as darkness, to willful ignorance of the truth as darkness, to living in patterns of personal sin as darkness, but the Bible also refers to God's response to our sin, both in this life and in eternity, His divine judgment, as darkness.

Look over in chapter 5 of Isaiah. Again, Isaiah is using this image of light and darkness. Isaiah 5. Right after those six woes we were just looking at, in verse 24, because of the sin of the people, because of their personal sin, (verse 24): "Therefore [here's God's response], as a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, so their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust [God says, 'I am going to bring judgement']; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. On this account the anger of the LORD has burned against His people, and He has stretched out His hand against them and struck them down. And the mountains quaked, and their corpses lay like refuse in the middle of the streets. For all this His anger is not spent [exhausted], but His hand is still stretched out [still moving in judgement]." And then he describes, beginning in verse 26, that God is going to bring some foreign nations. He's got a whistle for nations to come and attack His people - first Assyria and later Babylon. And there's just a powerful picture of those intimidating armies in the verses that follow. But go down to verse 30. Here's how he finishes this description of the judgment He's going to bring: "...If one looks to the land, behold, there is [what?] darkness and distress..." God says, "When I bring My judgment, it's like darkness."

God responds in judgment to those who will not acknowledge or humble themselves before Him. In eternity, but also even in this life, in fact, with the people of Israel, instead of delivering them physically, He brought the judgment of military defeat and exile and captivity.

You see this again, by the way, in the life of Ahaz. Look back in chapter 7:1 - this wicked son of a righteous grandfather and father. Verse 1 of chapter 7: "Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram [Syria, that's the first one] and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel [that's the northern ten tribes], went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it." Now, if that's all we knew, it wouldn't seem so bad. But I won't take time to take you back there, but if we were to turn back to Chronicles and read what happened in that circumstance, it was unbelievable. In one campaign, the one campaign described in that one verse I just read for you, Ahaz lost 120,000 men; more men than the US lost in all of WWI, he lost in a single campaign. Moreover, 200,000 women and children were taken captive by this confederacy that came down against him. God was bringing His judgment to bear against Ahaz and the people for their sin and He did it in the form of military defeat. God says, "When I bring My judgment, in this life or in eternity..." By the way, what is, how is hell often described in eternal judgment? It's a place of, what? Darkness. But God says, "When I bring it, it's like darkness covering the land."

How do sinful people respond when God brings the weight of sin to bear in their lives? Do they repent? Do they say, "Oh, I finally see what I've been doing and how I've been living." No! There's also the darkness of defiant rebellion. This leads us into our passage. Go to Isaiah 8, the end of Isaiah 8. God says, "I'm going to bring My judgment." Verse 21: "They will pass through the land hard-pressed... [He's probably describing the eventual onslaught - invasion of the Assyrians. God says, "I'm going to bring My judgment to bear"], and it will turn out that when they are hungry [when they don't have food to eat, when they're being attacked], they will be [repentant. Is that what it says? No! They'll be] enraged and [they will] curse their king and their God as they face upward." Reminds me of Revelation when it says, "and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds." Defiant rebellion.

Verse 22: "Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness." Wherever an unbeliever looks, there's nothing but darkness. It is unrelieved. Sin and its consequences are like an unrelenting, unending darkness, within the person and all around the person. Again, E.J Young writes, "Sinners think that they are in the light and that they possess freedom, independence, truth, an unprejudiced mind. Actually, they walk in darkness and are slaves of gloom, subject to falsehood and prejudiced in favor of evil.

So, human sinfulness and its consequences are like living in a never-ending darkness. Our only hope is if by divine fiat, God brings light. And that's exactly what He did and it's the reason for Christmas. It's not a warm and fuzzy time. It's a time when the world was covered in darkness of every kind and desperately needed the light. The entire world lies in the gloom of anguish, has been driven away into darkness, lives in the darkness of idolatry, the darkness of willful ignorance of God's Word, the darkness of personal sin, the darkness of divine judgment, now and forever, in the darkness of defiant rebellion. And that's how we would still be. It's true of all mankind. It's equally true of each one of us personally and individually.

But into the darkness of sin and its consequences, God promised to bring the light of truth and its messenger. Look at verse 1 of chapter 9. That's the darkness. But here's the good news: "But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles." God says there's no more gloom. God is promising that into the darkness of human sin, He will cause the light to shine. But His light is going to break forth in a most unusual place.

Isaiah identifies it several ways. He says it's part of the land of Israel that two of the twelve tribes received as their inheritance, specifically, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. They had that land apportioned to them in the time of Joshua. And he further describes it as "by the way of the sea". That's a reference to a major road that ran up the coast of Israel and along the western (the Mediterranean) side of the Sea of Galilee. That's the "way of the sea". It's a road on the other side of Jordan (that's the east side) away from the Mediterranean of the Sea of Galilee. And, specifically, he's talking about the region called Galilee. The region of Zebulun - what was called upper, excuse me, lower Galilee - the region of Zebulun, which was lower Galilee included Nazareth, where Jesus was brought up. The region of Naphtali, upper Galilee as it was called (on the north side), was Capernaum where Jesus established His ministry headquarters. And for a year of Jesus' earthly ministry, He traveled throughout both lower and upper Galilee doing miracles, teaching large crowds out in the open, and on every Sabbath day teaching in their synagogues.

"In earlier times", verse 1 says, "God treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt", that is, it was a contemptuous place. Why? Well, because it had always been associated with the Gentiles and paganism. In fact, Joshua tells us that when they got this land (back in the time of Joshua), a lot of the pagans who were already living there just settled down and stayed. And so, there was a lot of that influence among these two tribes. In addition to that, the west side of the Sea of Galilee was the first place that most invading armies came from. Armies coming from the fertile crescent would go up, over the desert, and down into the land of Israel through this very area. And so, it was often abused in various ways. It was also the outer edge of the land of Israel, furthest from the religious center of Jerusalem, and so, was often infiltrated by pagans, by Gentiles. It's called "Galilee of the Gentiles". And with that greater Gentile presence, came all of the pagan influences. Galilee, at times in her history, was barely Jewish. For all these reasons, people treated Galilee with contempt. The religious establishment in Jerusalem looked at Galilee as the backwoods, paganism of the land. That's why in John 1, Nathaniel says, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" In John 7, the council says to Nicodemus, "You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee." He's treated with contempt.

But verse 1 says, "...later on He shall make it glorious..." Isaiah prophecies that someday God would make that same piece of land to be filled with His glory. How? Because it would be in that most unexpected place that God would cause the light of His truth to shine. Look at verse 2: "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them." They "walk in darkness" - in Hebrew thinking, life is a walking journey, step-by-step. To walk in the darkness means to live a pattern of life characterized by darkness.

We walked in the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of idolatry, the darkness of sin like they did. And notice they lived "in a dark land". So, they not only had darkness within, they had darkness all around them as well, surrounded by others who live in the same darkness. But to them, there's a great promise here - to us as well. Notice what it is: "[they] will see a great light". Like a streak of lightning suddenly lights up the dark Texas night, the light will shine on them.

What is this light? The light is not theoretical truth. They weren't going to come to embrace some theory of truth. The light, we learn, was encapsulated in a person. Turn to Matthew 4. The light is not a "what"; the light is a "who". Matthew 4:12: "Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth [lower Galilee, where He'd grown up], He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 'THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES - THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.'" Who's the light? It's Christ. He brought the light to that most unlikely place.

But Jesus wasn't just a light to Israel. God intended His light to shine around the entire planet into the darkness of all the nations on earth. If you read later in Isaiah's prophecy, listen to what Isaiah writes in Isaiah 42:6. God says this to His Servant (to the Messiah): "I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations..." - not just Galilee, "to the nations"! Isaiah 49:6 God says to His Servant, the Messiah: "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

This is exactly what unfolds in the New Testament. Look at Luke 2. Luke 2. Simeon got it - that old man whom God told he would see the Messiah before he died. He got it. He understood it. In his prayer he says this in Luke 2:30: "For my eyes have seen Your salvation [the One through whom you're going to bring spiritual rescue] which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel."

But the one who most made use of this chiaroscuro, that God built into the creation, is John the Apostle. Look at John 1. John 1:4, speaking of the Word who became flesh: "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it [overpower it]. He [John, verse 7], came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man."

Listen, your only hope to get out of the darkness, of all of those things that Isaiah describes, is a person - Jesus Christ. He's the only one that can bring light into the darkness of your soul and mind.

Look over chapter 8 - one of the famous "I am" sayings of Jesus. John 8:12: "Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, 'I am the Light [not of Galilee. I'm the light] of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.'" John 5, or excuse me, chapter 9:5. Jesus says, "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."

But I want you to especially notice chapter 12 where John brings this to a conclusion. John 12. On Tuesday of the Passion Week, some Greeks come seeking Jesus. And in response to that interchange, Jesus says this in verse 35. Look at John 12:35: "So Jesus said to them, 'For a little while longer the Light is among you [He's already made it clear He's talking about Himself. He is the Light]. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.'" When you put your trust and confidence in the One who brought light into the darkness of our world, you become a son of light. You're changed.

Notice verse 46: "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in [what?] darkness." When you come to put your confidence in Christ and Him alone, He turns on the light and the darkness of all of these things begins to subside in your life. The dawn of truth and of righteousness breaks across your life.

God's great Light will shine in a most unusual place in Galilee. But not just in Galilee. Jesus deliberately chose that little land of Israel, the only land bridge between the three great continents of the ancient world - Asia, or Europe rather, Asia, and Africa). Only one little land bridge to travel between those three continents - it was Israel. And in that little country, He started His ministry in a region that was right on the major international trade route that ran through there. Jesus intended to use His ministry in Israel as a hub from which the spokes would reach out across the inhabited earth.

The Light didn't just shine in Galilee, but from Galilee, it shone to sinners around the world, to sinners lost in the darkness of idolatry, of willful ignorance of God and His Word, the darkness of personal sin, and the darkness of current and future divine judgment as well as of defiant rebellion against that God. In other words, God chose to shine the Light on His enemies, to those who were lost in the darkness. God, by His sovereign grace, decided where the Light would shine.

If you're here this morning, it's because God decided to shine the Light in your heart, because God didn't just shine the light in Galilee or around the world. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6: "For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' [in other words, the God who at creation said, 'Let there be light', and there was light - that God] is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Listen, if you're here this morning and you have come to see and embrace the Light that is Jesus Christ, it's not because of you. It's because God, in His goodness and grace, said to your heart what He once said to the darkness of creation. He said, "Let there be light", and there was light - the most unexpected place for the Light to break forth.

Next week, if the Lord wills, we'll look at the second part of this prophecy - the Light will come through a most unusual person. We'll see that in verses 3 through 7, but let's pray together.

Our Father, it's not a very attractive picture that You have drawn of us, and yet, we know in our hearts and sense it to be a reality. Lord, apart from grace, we would be lost in the darkness, the blackest night of sin. But Father, we thank You that by an act and expression of Your mercy and sovereign grace, You have commanded the Light to shine in our hearts. You have allowed us to see Your glory in the face of Your own dear Son. Father, thank You. And I pray, Father, that through this season as we celebrate Christmas, that You would bring us back to this as the great reality - that we who once lived in darkness and in the shadow of death, You have brought the Light. Father, may we love You and adore You. May we worship You for Your grace to us in the Light who is Jesus Christ. Father, I pray for the person here this morning and my fear is that there are many who have never come to really embrace the Light, who still live lives of the shadows, lives of the darkness that Isaiah described. Father, I pray that today would be the day when they would really see the light of Jesus Christ and they would respond to Him in repentance and faith. We pray, oh God, that You would do it for the glory of Your Son. We ask it in His name, Amen!