marcel-strauss-TdVgqfFJM5s-unsplash (1)

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. (Isaiah 9:4 ESV) With these words the prophet Isaiah declares to his hearers and us the glorious victory of the LORD! Today at International Lutheran Church, we see the light of God’s Christ, our Savior Jesus, shining into our lives. While the torch of Gideon showed God’s power to save from oppression, the true Light that shatters the darkness of our sin and death is Jesus our Epiphany!

Throughout this Epiphany season, we have been reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. We touched on this particular prophecy during the Christmas season as it pointed to the Child, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God that was to be born for us. Here the emphasis is on the Light of God’s salvation as it shines in the darkness, the land of deep darkness. In fact, Matthew uses these very words of Isaiah to validate and confirm the good news of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Matthew 4:12-25) that begins perhaps in the unexpected place of forsakenness, in the land of “Zebulun and Naphtali.” This is no accident, “plan B,” or “avoidance” of powers that put John the Baptist in jail. No, this is the very fulfillment of God’s word and mission to save even as He did in the Day of Midian.

This morning we need to reconsider the context both of Isaiah’s prophecy to the people of God in his day as they faced the Syrian-Ephraimite allegiance (Isaiah 7-9) that was threatening Jerusalem, but also to recall the events that these words were meant to evoke – namely the miraculous deeds of Gideon (Judges 6-9) and how God saves/ed His people both then and now. You will recall when we studied Isaiah 7 that King Ahaz and all of Judea were being threatened by an alliance between Israel (the northern kingdom) and Syria. The threat of war from Assyria was threatening the whole region and so these two countries sought to force Ahaz to side with them against Assyria. But instead of listening to the word of Isaiah to wait on the LORD, Ahaz instead chose to side with Assyria. What follows is Isaiah’s prophecy that not only will Assyria devour Israel and Syria, but it will even surround Judah. His words at the end of chapter 8 leave Israel and Syria (the land of Zebulun and Naphtali) in deep darkness. So the first surprise is that this place of “darkness” will be the place to see God’s full revelation – His Light dawn! This is a complete reversal of the brokenness and abandonment that they will experience because of their own rebellion. God will shine there!

With the short phrase “as in the Day of Midian” Isaiah tells just why and how God makes the darkness turn to day. You may not recall these events but the story of how God did, does and will deliver us is revealed in the life of Gideon – the mighty man of God. During the time of the judges the people of God repeatedly fell into false worship and all kinds of sinful behaviors. They would be oppressed and subjugated by one of the surrounding peoples and then God’s people would cry for mercy and God would deliver them by sending a judge – someone to be their hero, their defender, their redeemer. In Gideon’s day it was the Midianites who were oppressing the people and so God called Gideon. What is salient to Isaiah’s hearers is “how” God delivered His people through Gideon. With only 300 men, Gideon was told to go into the camp of the Midianites whose number was 120,000 and they were to blow their trumpet, smash the jar that concealed their torch and then hold up their torch. No sword, no weapons, just a trumpet and a torch. It was a light show! And with that torch, that light of the LORD, the Midianites destroyed themselves and God rescued His people.  When the people tried to make Gideon their king, he said to them that it was the LORD who had delivered them, not Gideon. As we celebrate our LORD’s Epiphany, as we reflect on the Light that has dawned, Isaiah and Gideon point to our Savior Jesus. In the midst of the darkness of our sin, He calls His disciples. He begins His ministry. When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus goes to Galilee, the very place where God said His light would dawn. And just as in the day of Midian – God saves – not by might or by strength but by making His Light shine. On the cross, He breaks the yoke, the staff and the rod of our oppression. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the Light that shatters the darkness and forgives our sins. His Light swallows the darkness!

In Baptism we have been made His torch, His light to shine in the darkness. Even as His Light shines into our darkness each day, His Light is also shining through our darkness to bring light and life to an entire world filled with oppression and pain. He does not choose the strong, but the weak. He does not choose the wise, but the foolish so that His Light - His Epiphany - can shine through the darkest, helpless, most impossible places in our world. As in the Day of Midian, His Light shines in the darkness then and now! 

Pastor Carl