When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond 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.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:12-17)
The world shackles John and his prophetic words, little knowing they have unleased the One who would fulfill them. Because Jesus did not see John’s confinement as the end of what was possible in bringing about the kingdom. It was perhaps the end of the beginning, but by no means the beginning of the end.
Do not confuse our present atmosphere of anxiety as conflated with the apathy of our God. What has been locked down on earth induces not the slightest hesitation of heaven.
The people who were living in darkness had the first shout of light occur at the sound of prison doors closing.
John – the same John, by the way, whom Jesus said that no one born of woman was greater – has his final prophetic word fulfilled, which was that “[Jesus] must become greater. I must become less.” And so John’s contribution to his kingdom calling was not found in the exaltation of his temporary ministry but the eternality of his introduction. Sometimes your work is not one of completion, but communication. You say to someone that Jesus has the power to change their life, and wait upon Jesus to do so.
One of the hardest lessons of kingdom work and ministry is that we are not the answer, but we know Him who is. To not become Jesus while proclaiming Him is the great obstacle of ego that every pastor will face, and the more successful one is in doing the latter the harder it is to avoid the former, especially since those who are most desperate for a savior are usually willing to try you as one first. Although the outcomes of such a relationship are inevitably disastrous the temptation of their creation is a constant. Yet John shows us what true hope is, that for self and others it is found in recognizing that just when we believe that we have reached the end of our potential we are finally ready to receive the start of His.
Living in darkness is a curious turn of phrase. The thing you can’t seem to do in darkness is to live at all. But living is possible because what the darkness pronounces unintentionally is the light for which every soul yearns. It is possible for people to see the light because there is still part of them capable of accepting its beam. The darkness provides the canvas upon which light will paint its portrait of redemption. And we exist in a time in which darkness in social chaos, political upheaval, health crisis and financial uncertainty seems the only consistent voices of our emotional and mental world. But we cannot allow the cascade of confusion to overwhelm the stream of living water more pure than our panic, more lasting than our losses, more faithful than our fears. The doors shutting on what we used to do only makes way for God to give us something better – more than that, the closure of what was gives us the chance to experience what could be.
Remember that Andrew and Peter were disciples of John the Baptist before they followed the One John proclaimed. If they had stayed rooted in following what they had known from earth they would have missed the One walking from heaven. We forget that Andrew and Peter followed Jesus from their own place of loss – the loss of John. But the one man that the government put into prison allowed two men to become the foundation of the church. And the One Man the government put to death allowed all men to become a part of that church. The misery intended by Satan inevitably produces by the power of the Spirit the multiplication of the miracles of God. The earth has always been trying to murder heaven. And every effort has thus far given yet more life. Don’t give in for a second to the lie that the cross of our today cannot yield the promise of our tomorrow. Because there is no pain into which God cannot speak His power and no fear into which He cannot give His peace and no weakness into which He does not desire with all of His word to show forth His strength.
Of course we live in a hopeless moment. Because in such moments below we can discover the miracle of the love above. Heaven invades the impossible. It always has and shows little sign of changing inclination.
Those living in the shadow of death – a light has dawned. Surrounded by a society suffocated by the impulses of the raging, the excesses of the established and the secrecy of the ashamed we walk in this valley unencumbered by the degree of darkness because we are endued with the power of light. And now, after the life and resurrection of Jesus through the valley of His cross we do not have only a glimmer of grace but manifest in ourselves its endless illumination. What was on the horizon is now here, today, present. Jesus has brought a radical revisiting of the human experience through the divine invasion of the world, partaking in its worst to show us His best. And so we have hope because we do not manufacture it from the superficial means of what is around us but accept it as boundless from the One who reigns above us and – astoundingly – lives within us.
So hope. Because there is nothing of which we fear today which has not already been redeemed by Him who has no end of tomorrows.