PREACHER – Rev. Yap Kim Hao

26 Jan 2014

From Darkness to Light

Matt 4:12-23

The reading that you have just listened to is from the Gospel of

Mathew which embedded the prophetic message of Isaiah in the Old

Testament. It is the version in Contemporary Language.The theme is

reflected also in Psalm 27 with these words: “Light, space, zest —

that’s God! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and

nothing.” Paul’s message to the people in Corinth was this “God did

not send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the

Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he

didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own lest

the powerful action at the centre – Christ on the Cross – be

trivialized into mere words.” The emphasis is not proclaiming the word

but using words to tell the story of what Jesus has done and not just

what he said..

This contemporary rendition of the Biblical message seems to me to be

a dazzling display of light illuminating the way for the followers of

Christ. It is like the laser beams piercing the the darkness and

enlightening us. The light and sound shows at night in a number of

tourists spots often feature a light display or a scintillating light

show. We have the Christmas lights on Orchard Road, the lantern lights

on South Bridge Road, the flickering flames in Little India, the

glittering displays in Sentosa and Marina Bay. When I was a teenager

and just before I left to further my studies in 1948 my favorite haunt

was along the dimly lit Kinta River in Ipoh. You don’t need to know

what I was doing there. When I visited that spot last year they

cleaned up the river and planted artificial trees and lighted them

with different sets of colour bulbs and it became a tourist attraction

and for those who are dating.

This is as far as I want to go. Let’s us make the U turn in our train

of thought and go back to serious reflection of our Biblical messages

this morning. The Lectionary passages has suggested the theme for my

sermon – From Darkness to Light.

We retreat to dark places because of our fear and seem to find safety

in deep darkness. The ambience in this place consciously and

unconsciously express our inner deep feelings. I remember a

conversation I had with Zihao about his creative work as an architect.

What is the living environment that is desirable and helpful

peculiarly for the LGBT community. I am glad that subsequently he has

the assignment to create one with that in mind when we move to One

Commonwealth. I am looking forward to his creative effort along with

that of Eugene.

When light appears it changes the situation in which we are in. Light

transforms. We speak about the light of knowledge for our darkened

minds. With light we can see the road where we are to go. Light

illuminates. Whenever we preach we also ask that the lights be turned

up higher not because the preacher wants you to see him or her. It has

the practical use for me to see my script and to make some eye contact

with you. With a brighter environment you will not fall asleep that

easily and more ready to pay attention to the message.

Now for the context of the account in the passage from Matthew’s

Gospel. John the Baptist whom Jesus was following was arrested and

imprisoned when he offended King Herod for he had denounced him for

seducing his brother’s wife and married her.

He was subsequently put to a brutal death.The tragic beheading was

further dramatized by placing severed head on a platter for display.

This event cast a blanket of fear and gloom over the heads of those

who followed John the Baptist and that included Jesus.

The narrative goes on to track the flight of Jesus from Nazareth

which is his hometown to new town of Capernaum in Galilee. It is not

easy to leave one’s familiar home to go to a different place. But it

was no longer safe for him to remain in Nazareth. His life is in peril

and his future is bleak. He decided to take flight and escaped to

Galilee and started his own ministry.

Galilee was a deliberate choice of destination. It was safe and he

need not be fearful. Josephus the Roman historian who was once a

governor of the province wrote: “It is throughout rich in soil and

pasturage, producing every variety of tree, and inviting by its

productiveness even those who have the least inclination for

agriculture; it is everywhere tilled; no part is allowed to lie idle

and everywhere it is productive.” It looks like an ideal rural

society. Contrast it with our present urban situation where we build

structures of every shape and form upon every available strip of land

to produce at the end money. From rural to urban we uproot vegetation

and raise up concrete structures. From opening to sunshine to shutting

the sun and very soon we will burrow under the ground without

sunlight. This is the price we pay for progress and modernity and we

can only lament of the good old days and try to survive in the

present.

Galilee at that time attracted people all around and the population

increased. There was diversity. It soon surpassed the Jewishness of

its origins and was known as Galilee of the Gentiles. It became a

cosmopolitan town and crossroads in the region. From uniformity to

diversity was the direction. We in Singapore are familiar with that

manner of historical development. More importantly was its distance

from the political power of the Roman rule and the religious power of

the Jewish Temple. It was most certainly a safe place for Jesus with

His new mission.

Later history tells us that after the stoning of Stephen the followers

of Jesus took the same route to flee to Antioch another important

town in Galilee. It was the place that the Gentiles were brought into

the early Christian movement without undergoing the Jewish rite of

circumcision. It was the opening act resulting to separation of

Christianity from Judaism. It is reputed that it was in Antioch that

the followers of Jesus were first called Christian. Scholars tell us

that it was in Antioch that the Gospel of Mathew was written decades

later.

What is the first lesson we learn to deal with the fearful situations

that come into our lives. It is obvious that we have to deal with

them. Those are the moments of darkness. We see Jesus moving from the

familiarity of his hometown of Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee. We

remember how the Holy Family fled from the birthplace of Bethlehem to

Egypt. The the Jesus followers moved from Jerusalem to Antioch. I just

received an autographed copy of his memoir from Tan Wah Piow, the

alleged leader of the Marxist Conspiracy in the early seventies. He

had to escape from the land of his birth Singapore to London.

We don’t ignore our fears or divert them with other activities. We do

not retreat deeper and deeper in our dark closets that we have created

for ourselves and for our community. We have to recognize them and

deal with them. We deal with them frontally and find ways to overcome

our fears. We must step out and begin our journey from darkness to the

light. We have to discover our own Galilee.

Matthew goes on to narrate that Jesus began his ministry of repentance

and this is a familiar theme within our Christian history. It has

primarily been associated with the the traditional call of “Repent and

be baptised.” Are you saved?’ is the the traditional evangelistic

question. You are expected to declare the traditional formula of “I

believe and I accept Jesus Christ.” If you do the evangelists will

declare that salvation is assured and heaven is the destination.

Repentance, baptism, heaven-bound is the order in the life of the believers.

In the realm of darkness of the religious faith of most people they

see salvation as that of saving them from hell on earth and gaining

entry in the realm of heaven. This is so in the goal of entry to

paradise or gain merit to achieve nirvana after death. Even among

Christians we view death as the journey through the darkness of the

tunnel towards the light of the arms of Jesus in the heavenly realms.

Therefore the early believers speak about the kingdom of heaven in the

hereafter and images of God in Christ on the heavenly throne and

others on the right and left hand of God. What about the life on earth

in the meantime? We suffer and bear the pain and sorrow in our efforts

for survival in this evil world. We say we cannot in our good works

gain salvation and we don’t bother to be engaged. We may express some

compassion and help the poor and needy. But the work that we must do

is to be faithful and just worship and pray to God and ignoring the

injustices in the world. Instead,we must begin to realise our

religious duties in involving the task of seeking justice and

restoring the flourishing environment which we have destroyed.

Let me at this junction help you to realise the different

interpretations of the Bible embodied in the different versions

currently used. There is a need to choose which one to guide us. It is

not for casual readers. It is for those who want serious and careful

study with the various interpretations that expect us to choose from.

Matthew 4:17 The New International Version which most of you states:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” King James Version “at

hand.”

The Revised Standard Version which I normally use says: “Repent, for

the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The contemporary version interprets the call in this manner: Change

your life. God’s kingdom is here.

Just in these three versions we find the difference – Near, has come

near, here. There is the variance of time and distance between us and

the kingdom called heaven or God.

Take your pick.

Allow me to chart my own spiritual journey to religious faith. I was

spared of that baggage of the traditional way of salvation. Like many

people I come from a traditional Chinese family. I was led by my

mother to visit the Chinese temple faithfully on the first and

fifteenth day of the month in the Lunar Calendar. We the different

altars in the homes where we offer sacrifices of food and joss sticks

and paper money. Incense was spread around the house near sunset to

ward off evil spirits who come out more in the darkness of the night.

Then I recited the mantra of just one word “amitofu” before a picture

of Buddha following my mother in her act of daily devotion. And take

part in Buddhist practices, we released live tortoises and birds.

As a teenager I started to attend the Christian Sunday School in ACS

Kampar and the Sunday services in the small Gospel Hall where a local

doctor was the preacher. A Christian friend invited me to accompany

him to Church. Then it was in Ipoh ACS that I enrolled as secondary

school pupil immediately after World War II. I was moving from

darkness in my early childhood to the light in my youth. It was my

good fortune that the missionary pastor had a social passion and and

the sermon that inspired me most was that from Amos. In fact his

daughter discovered the original text with his handwritten additions

and sent me a copy of it a few years ago. I did not go in the

direction in which most of you moved in your faith journey that I

described earlier with the emphasis of sin and salvation. For me it

was a trajectory of faith and responsible discipleship and I did not

waver in that direction in my college and seminary education.

Matthew recounted the invitation of Jesus which he issued to the

simple people to become disciples. Significantly it is “Follow Me”

which suggests a way of life. I recall how from the beginning of my

Christian pilgrimage I saw my acceptance of Christ implies a way of

life and not a set of doctrine. Mathew did not record that Jesus

preached the message of repentance only. He associated it with the

Kingdom of God or the reign of God in our lives. He did not stop with

repentance alone and extended to teaching and proclaiming the good

news and conducted the acts of healing. We know he did not stop at

healing the diseases of the people and become a Healer only in his

ministry. He went beyond to the way of life of people as reflected in

his Sermon on the Mount. He participated in the confrontation with

the political and religious powers in Jerusalem which led him to be

crucified as a subversive seeking to overthrow the government which

was the form of punishment for that crime. Jesus moved from the

darkness of oppression and exploitation to the light of sacrifice and

fulfillment.

The pilgrimage to heaven or life after death to be precise must

necessarily pass through this world of strains and stress, pain and

sorrow, and that is what to follow Jesus entails to us in our

contemporary setting. The invitation that Jesus made to Peter &

Andrew, James & John is to follow Jesus. That means a new way of life.

They belong to the lowly class of fishermen. That is the group that is

most responsive.

Can you imagine the life of the simple fishermen. The life of those

who depend upon their livelihood from the sea is a hard one then and a

hard one even now. If you visit those places we see those especially

in the developing countries the misery of their lives mending their

nets, repairing their small boats, sailing out to the open sea and

facing the the dangers to try to make a living.

When they were confronted with the invitation of Jesus they must have

said that anything is better than this. Those like me around the

middle class level find it more difficult to leave our jobs, our

house, our cars, and our relatively comfortable lives to be a disciple

of Christ. We are settled in our comfort zones and will not take the

risk. And the rich and the famous will continue just to thank God for

their blessings upon them and care less for those whom they regard as

those who are not in favour with God.

These simple fishermen were called to become fishers of men. They

experienced a tremendous transformation and became leaders of a

movement which in turn transformed the world. They like Jesus were

were moving from darkness into the light. The impoverished rural

people found life difficult under the heels of the Roman Emperor and

the control of the Jewish religious leaders in the Temple of

Jerusalem. After the death of Jesus, Peter and the disciples

recognized the leadership of Paul the Apostle who brought the Gentiles

into the Jesus movement. This was a significant movement from darkness

to light. From dark days of domination by those in authority to the

bright days of liberation in promoting the Jesus movement which

surpassed Judaism, the religion of the Jews.

When we read the Bible we seem to have domesticated the Jesus

followers Jesus was perceived to be at best a Rabbi or a religious

teacher who had nothing to do with the what we know as politics in his

time. He was going about doing good and healing the people and

teaching them to lead a moral life. He did more than that if we

examine the context of his mission. There were persistent resistance

and vicious rebellion. There were subversive and terrorist groups much

like those that we know. There were revolts that the Bible did not

feature but secular history has recorded. For many years before and

after the ministry of Jesus the oppressed people launched protests and

revolts against Roman Rule. There was the reaction by Rome and the

people were persecuted, fed to the lions in the arena and crucified

and killed. Galilee has its share of rebellion. The Temple in

Jerusalem was destroyed, rebuilt and finally razed the ground without

ever being rebuilt until today. The faithful Jews continue to weep in

the remaining wall of the sacred building in Jerusalem today.

More often when Christianity became the religion of the Emperor

beginning with Constantine we have given a different interpretation of

the Jesus Movement . Jesus was portrayed as a religious teacher

un-involved with the social problems of his people. He was seen to be

meek and mild and render to Caesar the things that are Caesar and to

God the things that are God. This actually meant that all things

belong to God. There is nothing left to offer to Caesar. There are

other passages especially in the writing of the social prophets,

Isaiah, Amos and Micah which described the domination of the Jews by

foreign powers. Faithful followers of Jesus refused to bow to worship

the Emperor. The Christian movement grew out of the flow of the blood

of the martyrs.

Jesus and the prophets in Biblical history declared God’s condemnation

of the rulers for their political and economic domination of the

Jewish people. He offered help in embracing the Kingdom of God which

including healing of the illness because of disorders brought about by

Roman imperialism. He was building what in our day a movement for an

alternative social order of caring and compassion and cooperation with

justice and equality for all.

These are some of the interesting aspects that most churches miss

which a renowned Richard A Horsley wrote about ten years ago entitled

“Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.”

This is one of the books that influenced my life and challenged my

ministry.

Horsley ended one of the chapters which described God’s judgement of

the Roman Imperial Order with these words: “Jesus of Nazareth belongs

in the same context with and stands shoulder to shoulder with these

other leaders of movements among the Judean and Galilean people, and

pursues the same general agenda in parallel paths: independence form

Roman Imperial rule so that the people can again be empowered to renew

their traditional way of life under the rule of God.”

We have forgotten our Christian past and its roots about the struggles

of the common people living in darkness when they were dominated. They

struggled for the liberation from the injustices of their time. We

have become comfortable and compromising in the lap of our luxury and

comfort. We show no responsibility for the darkness in the misery of

the people in our time. We neglect the duties of following Jesus

Kingdom of Heaven or God is not about angels and archangels and their

music and rejoicing. This reign of God is about the people who are

oppressed and suffering and their moans and groaning. There is no

rejoicing in earth or heaven with the tears and cries down here or up

there.

The path to fulfillment – from darkness to light – is the nature of

our discipleship in follow the way of Christ – repentance and

willingness to change – worshiping in the Temple – teaching the faith

– healing the sick – rebelling against oppressive powers and struggle

for the reign of God in our common life. This is the nature of

salvation, personal piety and social holiness. This is what being

saved entails, this is what accepting the call to follow Jesus is all

about. Jesus says to you now as he called his disciples of old “Follow

Me” from darkness to light.

© 2013 Church Theme | Made with love.
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