“The Scriptures: Life & Light” (Matthew 4:12-17 sermon)

My wife Cheryl & I will have been married for 35 years on May 28th. (She has already informed me that we are not going to be here that Sunday — so I am informing you! 🙂 As you can imagine, with all those years together, she has a lot of stories to tell on me. One of her favorites is the time when we were living in Tulsa, and the control pad on our garage door opener wasn’t working. So we got out the directions to the control, and we were both looking at it, and I noticed that the directions were printed in several languages. So I started reading the directions in French, which I’d had in high school. As I read, I was really pleased at how well my French pronunciation sounded, even though I didn’t know what all of the words actually meant, and didn’t know what it was telling us to do. In the mean time, while I was reading, Cheryl, having read the directions in English, FIXED the control pad! (This will save Cheryl from telling each of you this story personally — we’ll just get it out there for everyone now!).

But those directions were not for “reading pretty out loud”; they were supposed to guide our actions. Unfortunately that little episode can be a parable of how many Christians are NOT using the word of God as we should. The scriptures were given to us by God to guide and direct our lives, and to point us to His saving light in Jesus Christ — but too many of us aren’t really using it the way that God meant us to. God’s word should serve both as the model for our lives, and as the guide to the Light we need to save us. And we see both of those things in our text for today in Matthew 4:12-17:

I. A Scriptural Life

These verses tell us that when Jesus left the area around Jerusalem and settled in Capernaum, that (:14) “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.”

So Jesus was not just out there “winging it”; doing whatever He felt like doing on a given day. His life was directed by the word of God, by scriptures that had prophesied about Him hundreds of years in advance. This is one of the proofs of His authenticity; that He really was who He said He was — He fulfilled all these scriptures from the Old Testament.

And this is not only here in Matthew 4; we see this over and over in the gospels, and especially in Matthew, which was written primarily to the Jews, who knew the Old Testament. It repeatedly points to the prophecies which were made about Jesus in the Old Testament, and how He fulfilled them when He came. Flip back to Matthew 1 and let’s look at some examples of this, just in these first chapters of the Book of Matthew:

— Matthew 1:22-23 speaking of his birth from Mary: “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel”. This is a quote from Isaiah 7:14 in the Old Testament.

— Then if you turn to to Matthew 2, when Herod asks the magi where the Christ is to be born, they said in :5, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'” This is a quote from Micah 5:2 from the Old Testament.

— Then look down to :15, after the Holy Family goes to Egypt, it says: “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.'” (Hosea 11:1)

— Then in the next verses when Herod killed the babies, :17 says; “Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children …” from Jeremiah 31:15 in the Old Testament.

— Then in Matthew 3 when John the Baptist comes, :3 says “This is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet” in the Old Testament ….

— And now Jesus comes to begin His ministry in Galilee, and it says: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet.” And it quotes Isaiah 9:2, that the people in darkness in Galilee would see a great light come upon them.
We’ll stop there, but if you continue reading through the Book of Matthew you will come across even more examples. They are all through this book!

One of the things this tells us is that Jesus spent His whole life fulfilling scripture. Everything He did was based on the word of God.

Do you know that if you are a Christian, YOUR LIFE is to be the same way? Just as Jesus’ whole life was based on fulfilling the word of God, so YOUR life is to be based on the word of God as well.

Now a person may rightly say: “But pastor, my life is not prophesied event by event and step by step, just like Jesus’ was in the Old Testament, is it?” And that’s true, it’s NOT. But your life should not be any less BASED on the word of God than Jesus’ was! God’s word should give guidance and direction to everything you do in your life:

— Do you want to know what kind of employee you are to be? Look to the word of God: Ephesians 6:7-8 says “With good will render service, as to the Lord and not to men”

— Do you want to know what kind of wife you should be? Look to the word of God, where I Peter 3 tells you to be submissive to your own husband, with chaste and respectful behavior, and that your beauty is not just to be external only, but the hidden person of the heart, with a quiet and gentle spirit which is precious in the sight of God!

— Do you want to know what kind of husband you should be? Men, look to the word of God, where Ephesians 5:28 tells you “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” and be willing to sacrifice for her.

— Do you want what your attitude should be towards lost people? Look to the word of God, where Paul says in Romans 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”

— Do you want to know how you should respond to your enemies? Look to the word of God, where Jesus commanded you in Matthew 5: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

— Do you want to know what your life mission statement is? Look to the word of God, where Jesus told us in Matthew 28:18-20, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.”

— Do you want to know what your purpose is in life, for everything you do? Look to the word of God, where I Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether then you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

— Do you want to know what you are supposed to believe about all the contemporary issues: abortion, homosexuality, whatever? It’s not “follow the crowd”; it’s not “just follow your heart”; it’s “What does God’s word say about it?” As a follower of Jesus Christ, that’s all you need to know: what does the scripture say?

Listen to me: if you say that you are a Christian person, then EVERYTHING you do in your life is to be based on the word of God, just like Jesus. I don’t know where we have gotten the idea that we can call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, and just flat out IGNORE what He tells us to do in His word in whole areas of our lives. Do you understand that this church is not a “nice social club” that we come to one or two times a week to be entertained, but that a church is a gathering of people who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ as LORD, which means that we are to base our whole lives on His word? The Bible is not just “some book” we get nice lessons out of once a week. It is the rule book for our lives. If this Book says do it — we are to do it. If this Book says don’t do it; we are not to do it. If this Book says believe it, we believe it. This Book is what your life is built on, if you are truly a Christian.

When Christian missionaries came to Africa years ago, they began to teach the peoples there the word of God. And the Africans noticed that every time the missionaries shared with them about their religion; every time they’d give them some lesson about what to do or not do in life, they kept pulling out this “Book” — the Bible. So the people of Africa started calling the Christians: “The People of the Book”, because everything they did was based on this Book!

We should ask ourselves in light of that: are we so identified with God’s word today that people around us would look at us and say that we are “people of the Book”? Can people look at our church and say: “These are a people of The Book!”? More specifically, Can someone look at YOUR life and say: “There is a ‘person of the book'”?
Do you get up each morning and look for what God has to say to you in His word, and if it says “do it”, you do it; but if it says “don’t do it”, you don’t do it? Like Jesus, is your whole life based on the word of God?
But here is the thing: how can we base our LIFE on the Bible, when for the most part, we don’t know what the Bible actually SAYS?!
So few people today actually read the Bible. They came out with a study not long ago that indicated that Biblical literacy is at an all-time low in America today. Over 80% of Americans say that they THINK they know the Bible pretty well, but less than half of those 80% can even name the first 5 books of the Bible — much less what the Bible actually SAYS in those books!

And of course the obvious reason that most of us don’t know what the Bible says, is that we don’t spend anywhere near enough time in it. So many of us are content with so little of the Bible. Now I have said before that reading the Bible is not a matter of how many verses you read, but what you are getting out of them, and I do believe that is true. But we still need to spend quality amounts of time, reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible — and most of us just aren’t doing anywhere near enough of it.

Some of us get a verse on our email every day, or glance at a verse on our cell phone real quick on the way in to class, and think what a great Christian we are — because we read “a verse”! And that verse is great — it’s God’s word — but that’s kind of like eating a single cherry in the morning — if that’s all you eat, you are going to starve to death over time — and that is exactly what some of us are doing with God’s word. That verse you are reading is great; but you are going to starve to death spiritually over time if that’s all you are getting!
And deeper truth is, many of us have no idea what that one verse we’re reading really means, because we don’t know what the verse before it said, and we don’t know what the verse after it says, and we don’t know the context of the chapter or book in which it was written because we haven’t read the whole thing — so the truth is, many of us have virtually no clue as to what most of God’s word really says. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most Christians in America today are living our lives in virtual ignorance of most of the word of God.

I have been so disappointed by our U.S. Congress — now controlled by Republicans — which recently announced that they have come up with a so-called “spending plan” to “keep the government open”, as well as passing a new health care bill, that according to published reports, numbers of the guys say they have not even read! We’re talking TRILLIONS of dollars, our whole government is going to run on the basis of these things — and no one even knows what all it says! This is a foolish way to run a government, and we are going to pay the price for it.

But listen, as foolish as that is, that is what most of us as Christians are doing too — with the word of God. This book is what we are supposed to be basing our whole lives on, but the honest truth is, most of us have absolutely NO IDEA what MOST of this book says. So what happens is, instead of basing our lives on the word of God, we base our lives on what the media feeds us — because most of us spend much more time watching tv and movies than we do in God’s word — or we just do what we “feel in our hearts” is right — but we don’t know what God’s word says.

It’s like so many people you hear today, who say things like: “Well the Jesus I know just wouldn’t send anyone to Hell; He is just so loving and merciful.” The problem is “the Jesus they know” is a figment of their own imagination. It’s not based on the word of God. In reality, most of what we know about hell in the Bible comes from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself! The problem is, most people live their lives based on what they “feel” should be right, rather than on what the word of God really says. We’ve got to get away from this ignorance and get back into the word of God and know what it says, and then DO what it says. But we can’t possibly build our lives on a Book that we are not spending massive amounts of time in.

Many of us need to make a commitment today to get into the word of God like never before. We need to commit to get into it first thing every morning; to start our day in it and let it guide us for the day. Begin with a book of the Bible and read through it chapter by chapter so what you are reading is in context. And come back to scripture again later in the day.

Many of us need to make sure we have actually read through the whole Bible — we’re supposed to base our life on this book; we need to at least have read it, don’t you think? That’s why I am praying about leading our church to read through the whole Bible together as a church family starting next January — there’s a way to do it that gives you 3-4 different readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms & Proverbs, so that you don’t spend several days trying to slog through the genealogies or Deuteronomy or whatever. Now, just reading through the Bible is not the answer to everything, but for many of us it would be a great start! Let’s at least be able to say we have READ this whole book that we are supposed to be building our lives on!

— We also need to be memorize scripture. Find verses & passages you need in your life and commit them to memory. It is amazing the impact that the memorized word of God will have in your life. I told our discipleship class last year that my goal was to memorize the first 5 Psalms, and the last 5 Psalms, and I just recently finished that — and I have to say, it is one of the best things I have ever done. I quote one or more of the last 5 Psalms, which are all Psalms of praise, to start my prayer time in the morning. Then after I’ve finished my quiet time and am shaving and brushing my teeth and getting cleaned up for the day, I quote the first 5 Psalms, which give you a godly perspective for the day. It is a marvelous way to start the day. It is one of the best things I have ever done.

Now I am not telling you this so you’ll say, “Oh Pastor Shawn you are just so amazing!” No — I am NOT amazing; all of these are short Psalms, and they are not hard to memorize. And the truth is, most of us have this much memorized, we have just memorized other things instead of God’s word: we’ve memorized somebody’s batting average or passing completion percentage, or we’ve memorized all details of how someone hurt us years ago — instead of memorizing scripture! We memorize what is important to us. Folks we are supposed to be building our lives on this word! We need to be memorizing it and using every day!

The bottom line is, if our lives are really going to be based on scripture like Jesus’ was, we are going to have to be much more familiar with the Bible than we are now. We’ve got to spend more time in the Bible than we do watching television or anything else. (I love what my friend Jesse over at Walker Road Baptist said on Facebook the other day: “If I were the devil I’d make it easy to binge watch Netflix for four hours at a time, and hard to read the Bible for 10 minutes.” We need to reverse that, if we are ever really going to be basing our lives on the word of God.

If someone was writing a biography of you, like Matthew did of Jesus, could he write that everything you did, step by step, every day, was living out the word of God? Could they write:
— That you got up early in the morning and went out to lonely place to pray, fulfilling Mark 1:35?
— Could they write that you prayed for your lost friends, fulfilling Romans 10:1?
— Could they write that although someone hurt you, you didn’t strike back, because you were fulfilling Romans 12:17, which says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God”?
And on and on for everything you do, in every area of your life. Could it be written of you, like it was written of Jesus, that everything you did in YOUR life was according to the Word of God? We are going to fall short, and thank God we have His grace in Jesus Christ when we do; but as Christians it is to be the goal of our lives that everything we do is based on the word of God. Just like Jesus, we are to have A Scriptural Life.

II. The Scriptural Light!

But listen: as important as the word of God is to us — and I hope I have emphasized that it IS important! — I don’t want you to think that a “book” is going to save your life. It’s not a book that saves you; it is JESUS who saves you! HE is the One that all these scriptures point to.

Verse 16 says that the scriptures prophesied that “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.” What is this light? Well it’s not a “what”; it’s a WHO! The Bible says in fulfillment of this scripture, that JESUS came to the region of Zebulun and Naphtali; HE was the light who shined on them. It is no coincidence that the very next verse says that “From that time JESUS began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The light had come, and the light the scriptures had pointed to, was JESUS.

— Jesus said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.”

— He told the Jews in John 5:39, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about ME”! Jesus said I am the One the scriptures point to. He is the light; He is the One who saves us.

See, the Bible tells us that God made us to know Him, and to live with Him in heaven forever. But we sinned, and our sin brought darkness into our lives, and into the whole world. As a result, this world can be a dark, dark place, because all of us in our world — ALL of us — have sinned. And it’s dark:
There is the darkness of selfishness
The darkness of greed
The darkness of murder
The darkness of every kind of immorality, multiplying all around us
The darkness of addiction to what will never really satisfy you
The darkness of discouragement, and depression, and despair, having no hope.

That is our world isn’t it? It can be a dark, dark place. Many of us know that very well. Some of you feel it very strongly right now. Your life is so dark. And it’s because of sin, because we have neglected God’s word, the Bible. But into this world of darkness, God’s LIGHT shined one night in Bethlehem: the angels sang, and the sky lit up — God’s light had come! And His light had a name: the angel said “You shall call His name JESUS.” Jesus was God Himself who came to earth to give us light for how to live — but more than that, He came to die on the cross and pay for our sins, to “buy us out” of our darkness and sin back to God if we’d be willing to come back to Him. And He came to send His Spirit into our hearts to give us the power to turn from the darkness and follow His light. But all of this only happens if you turn to follow Jesus. He is God’s light.

The last couple of weeks I have mentioned the testimony of author DIKKON EBERHART, who left agosticism and Judaism to become a Christian as a senior adult. His conversion finally happened at a time when he was in deep darkness and despair in his own life. One weekend he looked at his wife and said, “I can’t do this by myself” — he knew he needed something, and that Sunday morning he walked across the street to a little Baptist church. And that church had a greeting time, like we do here, and the people were all loving each other, and loving him, and he said he kept wondering to himself, “What is this; What is here?” And he later said I found out that what was here was JESUS — He said “It was JESUS who was walking the aisles of that church”; It was JESUS who was loving those people; it was JESUS who was loving him. And it was Jesus who finally touched him and saved him. After all those years of trying religion, Dikkon Eberhart found out it wasn’t Judaism that would save him; it wasn’t even “Christianity” or any “religion” — it was JESUS! JESUS is God’s light!

The Immanuel Matthew 1 predicted, who would be “God with us” — it’s JESUS!
The Leader who would arise out of Bethlehem in Matthew 2 — it’s Jesus!
The Child who would come up out of Egypt whom Jeremiah foretold — it’s Jesus!
The Messiah to whom John the Baptist pointed in Matthew 3: it’s Jesus!
The Light that came to shine in the darkness in Matthew 4: it’s Jesus!
The One who will change YOUR life if you will turn to Him today: it’s Jesus!

Listen: if like Dikkon Eberhart you are in the darkness, and you know you need something in your life today, that “something” is Jesus!
The answer is not just “go to church”
The answer is not just “get religious”;
The answer is not even just “read the Bible”; you need to turn to the Light the Bible points to: you need to turn to JESUS. STOP living your life in rebellion against God and the Word He sent to guide you. Accept the forgiveness He bought you in the death of Jesus on the cross. And turn to follow Jesus as your Lord & Savior — and make His word the basis of everything you do in your life.

And if you will, Jesus said in His word, “The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.” He’ll forgive you; He’ll take you; He’ll lead you. You can have a better life here on earth, and eternal life with God in heaven, if you’ll:
Turn to the LIGHT of scripture: Jesus Christ.
And then base your LIFE on His scriptures every day.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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