Why did Jesus have to come amongst us? Why was it necessary for God to enter into our world in the way he did? Why is the coming of Jesus so important to you and to me? Why do we need Jesus? There are so many people who are indifferent to Jesus and who could care less about celebrating his coming at Christmas? Why should we care about them and about Jesus?
The manner and place of his coming answers many of these questions. Jesus began his short ministry of three years in Galilee, the region around the lake which measured 14 miles long and 7 miles across. Galilee was a fertile area that supported a dense population in 204 villages. It was far from Jerusalem and the heart of Judaism and it was called Galilee of the Gentiles because of the mixture of ethnic groups and the influence of the Roman and Greek cultures. It was prosperous, hedonistic, and religiously diverse. Jesus grew up in this region, in Nazareth, and moved to Capernaum by the lake to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1,2)
The people who were living in Galilee may not have been aware of it but they were living in darkness. Darkness is a metaphor for the absence of God. Light symbolizes God. Darkness connotes everything that is anti-God – nothingness. The Devil is called the Prince of Darkness (Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History, Cornell, 1988). The darkness of our own world is real even when we, or those around us, don’t notice it. It is a darkness of spiritual ignorance. They were ignorant of the work and word of God. They have never heard the gospel. They do not know who Jesus is. They do not know the promises of God to love them, forgive them, enter into their lives to give them comfort and strength, and the hope of eternal life. They may have heard Christianity debunked by sceptics and dismissed by atheists and derided as weak by popular and attractive role models. Yet they have never had the plan of God’s salvation personally explained and applied to them.
They lived in darkness. They were blind to spiritual reality. To overcome their ignorance of the truth of God they sought out alternative theories of life in order to cope with their problems. Galilee was noted for its multiculturalism, its many gods and temples. There are a multiplicity of faiths available to us. Each one has its attractions. There are numerous ways to endure living in the darkness. The entertainment industry provides every kind of diversion. The big business of sports draws us into its web of stimulation. Access to medication, to alcohol, to drugs of one kind or another enable us to dull our pain. We become dependent on our leisure drug of choice to make it through the darkness of our night.
Darkness is a type of sorrow. Without the knowledge of God the heart is restless. We become fearful. In the dark we cannot see what is before us. We have to feel our way lest we injure ourselves. We are alarmed by imaginary dangers in the dark. The disobedient will “grope around like a blind man in the dark” (Deut 28:29). We can become victims of superstitious dread and be filled with anxiety. Despair grows in the dark and causes us to give up all hope. We think the worst and our subconscious feeds nightmares. We cannot know what lies before us and our loved ones and we fear the worst.
We live in the “land of the shadow of death.” Death casts its shadow over all of us. It creeps up on us as we age. It swoops down upon us unexpectedly. We experience the loss of loved ones; friends and family. No matter how affluent we are, how good our access to the best medical care, how pleasant our circumstances, we all have to go through the gate of death and face the judgment of Christ. We all have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Death without the comfort of the love of God and the assurance of resurrection to eternal life is a fearful thing.
With the advent of Jesus the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. “In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood or overcome it….The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:4,5,9).
To the people of Galilee Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, calling people to repentance and faith in him. He called the fishermen Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; James and his brother John. Immediately they left their boats and followed him. He was the light of the world: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He calls each of us to follow him and be his disciple.
“Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them” (Matt 4:23-24).
On the wall next to my chair at home hangs a print of Holman Hunt’s painting of Jesus as The Light of the World which hangs in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. It depicts Jesus knocking on a door that is overgrown with weeds and obviously hasn’t been opened in a long time. There is no outside handle on the door for him to turn to open. It can only be opened from within. He carries in his hand a lamp that illumines the door. It is night and the moon overhead forms the halo of Jesus who is richly robed as a king but wearing a crown of thorns. The door represents the human heart in its darkness of unbelief, choked by the weeds and thorns of the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Jesus comes into our darkness, into our shadow of death and knocks for admission. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and opens the door I will come into him and eat with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Above the painting Holman Hunt wrote the Latin tag: Me non praetermisso Domine: “Don’t pass me by, Lord.”
Jesus comes among us – we who live in the modern Galilee of the Gentiles – as the light of the world. Don’t let him pass by. Open the door of your heart and invite him in to illumine your life and drive out the darkness of spiritual ignorance, of deception, of sorrow, of fear, of hopelessness, of anxiety, of guilt and of desires that fade away.
Why do we need Jesus? Because we live in a dark world. “Our struggle is against the powers of this dark world” (Eph 6:12). When we welcome Jesus into our lives as our Savior and Lord we pass from darkness into light. “For you were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:8-11). “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all… .If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:5-7).
(Some material attributed to C.H. Spurgeon, LIGHT FOR THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS, September 10, 1871)