“Dark Nights Will End—The SON Will Rise” – Sermon by Greg Albrecht – Excerpt from Spiritual Soup Vol. 3
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. —Isaiah 9:1-7
There are many times in life when the darkness of despair, discouragement, disillusionment and dissatisfaction envelop our lives—we can’t seem to see a way out. It seems things are darkest just before the dawn. While it doesn’t always happen, sometimes things get worse before they get better. But there is always light—the Light of Jesus Christ, even though it may seem far away.
One of my favorite quotes about darkness and light is from Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables—one of my favorite books, musicals and movies. “Les Miz” is a powerful story of God’s grace and redemption. Hugo says, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
Have you heard the story about a little boy who was playing a Little League baseball game? He was playing right field when a man wandered by the field and asked the boy what the score was. The boy said, “We’re behind, 8-0.” The man said, “Well, you don’t seem discouraged.” “Why should I be discouraged?” said the Little Leaguer. “This is just the first half of the first inning. My team hasn’t even come up to bat yet!”
Our message today, “Dark Nights Will End—The Son Will Rise,” is about being surrounded and enveloped by darkness, while living with the comfort, hope and assurance that the Light of Jesus Christ will rise. The Son will always rise!
Our sermon is not about positive thinking; it’s not about pop psychology, platitudes or proverbs that will make you feel better. As we carefully consider Isaiah 9:1-7, we will talk about the undeniable and absolute promise of the Light of Jesus, who will always come to you and me in the midst of darkness. Isaiah, as you may know, is known as the Messianic Prophet because of the many prophecies in this book about Jesus. The New Testament quotes Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book because it is so Christ-centered.
Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four kings of the nation of Israel—during a period of about 40 years. Isaiah 9:1-7 was written during the first period of his ministry. It speaks of a time when the nation of Israel was heading downhill fast. Perversion and corruption abounded. It was a time of deep darkness, spiritual impoverishment for most and physical poverty for many. Some who initially heard these words of Isaiah no doubt thought a new king would lead them out of the spiritual and moral darkness of their lives into a transforming light. They hoped for a king who would make good political decisions, manage wisely and rule compassionately. However, we read this passage some 2,700 years after the initial audience heard it. As Christ-followers, we immediately see the Christ-centered prophetic implications and meaning. As we read Isaiah 9:1-7 carefully from a Christ-centered perspective, we see that this passage includes hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow—but it’s more than that.
Isaiah 9:1-7 is no mere pie-in-the-sky, feel-good blather—long on hot air and short on reality. Isaiah does not dodge or flee the real world in which you and I live. The world we live in—the “real world”—is beyond our control. It’s a world running as far away from God as fast as it can. The real world often appears as if it is run and overrun by silly, stupid and selfish people—and I include, sadly, many who occupy places of authority in government and religion. It is a dark and depressing place, seemingly overwhelmed by evil. There is no doubt that our world is filled with the darkness of hostility, hatred, violence and corruption—a world of lust and greed, shame and sin.
The first eight chapters of Isaiah focus on issues in the real world of Isaiah’s day and age—in the context where Isaiah ministered. By extension, he addresses the real issues of our 21st century—the darkness and despair that continue to fill our world. Isaiah talks about justice and the plight of the poor—about materialism, corruption, decadence and inequality. Throughout the first eight chapters, he warns the original audience that they were sowing a wind that would reap a whirlwind.
And of course, behind this passage is the implicit question: will we choose the Light of Jesus, or will we choose to remain in darkness? Let’s pause and think of that word, “choose.” Sometimes, when the biblical prophets warn of the consequences of sin, they speak of God’s judgment and even God’s wrath. But the judgment and wrath of God are presented as the results of the choices that people have made.
God does not force judgment on us or direct condemnation at us—he acquiesces to the decisions we make and the consequences that follow. What the Bible refers to as God’s judgment and wrath is not out-of-control anger. It’s not a matter of finally losing his patience and blowing up—God’s judgment and wrath are his consent to the consequences that are incurred by the way of life people choose.
God doesn’t force our obedience—he gives us real choices. And choices have real consequences. When we choose self-obsession, self-absorption and self-gratification, the consequences are self-destruction. But God doesn’t forget us. He is always there, even in the midst of the horrific suffering people bring upon themselves. Many times, people suffer because they forget God—and he allows them to do so. But God doesn’t forget.
Of course, not all of the suffering and misery we endure is self-inflicted. Sometimes we suffer because of the heartache and pain brought on us by the actions of others—those who cause us pain, whether they wound us literally or emotionally. But what others do to us is not the wrath of God. It is wrath—and it is wrath that God permits because, once again, human beings have choices and make decisions.
Within the world of Christ-less religion, people often speak of God’s will—as if God’s will is fate. They speak of God’s will in a superstitious way. But the truth is that most of the things we suffer and endure are not God’s plan. We suffer and endure the consequences of sinful behavior—either our own or someone else’s. And sometimes we suffer simply because accidents happen due to time and chance. Maybe we were in the wrong place at the wrong time when a flood, an earthquake, a tornado or some other so-called “act of God” happened.
The Bible does say that God is with us during times of pain and heartache. The Bible does say that when we experience wrath, God will offer us rescue, healing and salvation. But some ask, “What’s God plan?
God does not force us to be healed, to be rescued or saved from the predicament in which we find ourselves. He invites us—he welcomes us—he stretches out his arms beckoning to us. But we must respond and walk toward him. We must accept his outstretched hand.
How does the Light of Jesus shine in our darkness? Let’s reiterate: God doesn’t force his will on us. He doesn’t rain down the fire of judgment on us—we do that to ourselves. We rain down wrath on our own heads.
My favorite parable is the parable of the Prodigal Son—I assume it’s a favorite with many of you. We remember that Jesus tells us in this parable about a prodigal Father who let his prodigal son leave. Father and son were both prodigal, as it turns out—in their own ways. When the son wanted to leave, the father consented to his son’s wishes. The father didn’t lock him in the basement for his own good, waiting for him to come to his senses. The Father gave the son his inheritance. The Father watched him leave. The Father did not launch a search and rescue mission. He didn’t engage trained ex-military people to kidnap his son from debauchery and drag him home. He waited for his son to make that decision, which the parable describes as “coming to his senses.”
Where was the son when he made that decision? He was feeding the pigs—a lowly and humbling job for anyone. But for an observant Jew, you are feeding unclean animals unfit for kosher consumption. As a Jew, one couldn’t sink much lower. But apparently this was the only work the prodigal son could get after blowing his entire inheritance. Down and out in the manure of the pigpen, the son, Jesus says, “came to his senses.” He made a decision to go home. Then, once the son was en route, the Father ran to meet him.
God’s grace often works in the failures, the low places and the deep pits of our lives. New starts, new beginnings and real transformations often happen when we hit rock bottom because that’s when we realize we really need help. When we are living in a pigpen, the swill and the smell often wakes us up and opens our eyes because at such times we can’t ignore the painful fact that we really need help.
Isaiah 9:1-7 calls us to live in the light of the Light of Jesus. This passage promises us that Jesus will come. This passage promises that the Light of Jesus will overcome the darkness. The Light of Jesus will overcome, overpower and eventually obliterate the darkness. You know, it is easy to live in fear. In fact, there are many within the twin towers of our society—government and religion—who feed us a steady diet of fear so that they can more easily control us.
Our world is filled with doom and gloom—and with those who make a “great living” broadcasting, forecasting and stirring the pot so that people are forever filled with anxiety and fear. Many within Christendom find themselves directed to a steady diet of the fervor and emotion of those who continually point out the evils in our world.
Countless people find themselves drawn to pessimism and fear. Many watch “world news” so they can wring their hands about how bad people are and how evil the world is. Some find themselves urged by their churches and pastors into never-ending wars against immorality and evil. They picket—they protest—they stand against evil. So much so they find little time to see the Light of Christ all around them or to tell others about the Light of Christ. Many church-goers seem to have a negative opinion about just about everything. It seems they believe the gospel of Jesus is more about cursing the darkness than lighting a candle.
We should never forget the promise of Isaiah 9:1-7—the real, concrete and absolute hope, both in the future and right now—is the Light of Jesus. As Christ-followers, we do not hide our faces in the sand or deny that this world is a dark place. However, we do not deny the reality of the Light of Jesus, and we affirm that God’s grace eventually and always overcomes darkness, for God dwells in unapproachable light.
All dark nights will eventually end—and the Son of God will always rise. Thus, we pass on God’s grace by lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. We thank God for the new day in Christ that is continually dawning in the lives of people all over this world—the Light of Jesus, our risen Lord whose light will forever rise and forever illuminate and forever conquer the power of darkness
We thank God for his never-ending day—described at the end of the book of Revelation—for those new heavens and new earth—for the city of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven to this earth. There is no need for artificial light there, nor any reason for the sun or moon, for the eternal Light of Life—Jesus Christ—will dwell there forever.