Ephesians 4.7-13

Matthew 4.12-17

Rising from the waters of the Jordan the LORD Jesus was revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit to be the Son of God incarnate. St John calls Him the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18), thereby proclaiming Him to be the Name of God revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush (the image of the Virgin Theotokos) in the wilderness (Ex 3.14). At the Jordan, the voice of the Father Himself ‘sings’ the coronation hymn of Psalm 2: ‘This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased’ (Ps 2.7); and the Spirit, descending upon Him as a dove after having overshadowed the Virgin at His conception in Her womb (Lk 1.35), reveals that this Jesus is the Child prophesied by Isaiah: ‘For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the Government will be upon His shoulder, and His Name will be called Mighty God.’ (Isa 9.6) As the Child born of the Virgin (Isa 7.14) who was of David’s seed, Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, is the Son of David whose Government of peace will not end.’ (Isa 9.7) That is, Jesus is the True King of Israel revealed to be the True King of creation before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess to be LORD of all.

In this theological vision of the prophets, one is caught when one reads from St Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism: ‘And immediately, the Spirit drove Him out, even expelled Him into the wilderness’ (Mk 1.12). This is the same verb in Genesis when the LORD drives Adam out, or expels him from the Garden to live opposite the Garden. And what would this land opposite the Garden be if not a spiritual wilderness? (Gn 3.25 LXX)

When the LORD, then, is ‘driven out’ into the wilderness after rising from the Jordan, He is going into the land where the fallen Adam is to be found. And if He defeats the devil there in the wilderness, what is this but the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah? ‘The wilderness shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.’ (Isa 35.1)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which is His cosmic victory over the devil—because it is the overthrow of the devil’s kingdom that holds all men subject to life-long bondage of fear and death—that victory has already begun in the LORD’s defeat of the devil in the wilderness.

Now this morning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, St Matthew describes this beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: ‘The people sitting in darkness have seen a Great Light; and on those sitting in the region and shadow of death, Light has risen.’

St Matthew is quoting from Isaiah, but the imagery takes us to Genesis: ‘Darkness [was] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.’ [Gen 1:2-3]

The Darkness that was on the face of the deep is not the darkness of the region and shadow of death Isaiah is talking about in his prophecy. But it is not disconnected from that darkness. The Darkness that was on the face of the deep and on the waters are images of the impenetrable compassion of God (as we are taught from Scripture and from the Church’s prayers). And now that Darkness of God’s Compassion, in the mystery of the God-Man Himself—as was manifested on the Day of His Cross when that Darkness of God’s Compassion visibly covered the whole earth, to the point that it darkened the sun—descends into the darkness of the region and shadow of death when He descends into the Jordan. And from out of the Darkness of God’s compassion, in the darkness of the region and shadow of death, a Great Light is seen rising from the Jordan; and in that rising from the Jordan, His mighty victory over the devil begins; and that it was begun in the Jordan is proved in truth by His defeat of the devil in the wilderness, when He makes the desert already to begin blossoming like a rose, as the prophets foretold!

What is this Great Light? It is not the light that came to be at the creation. That light was created; this Light is Jesus Christ Himself, the only-begotten Son of God. Nonetheless, that first light of creation was the life of creation. It was not the light of the sun, for the sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day. It was the light of the Torah, the Law of God, and in that light, on the third day, the plants of the field that need light to grow, began to grow and flourish. The sun, moon and stars came to be not so much to give light as to serve as signs to signify the seasons of the year (Gn 1.14-16)—and specifically, to signify the season of the Coming of the Great Light Himself, Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righeousness, He Who Is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father, He Who Is the Child born to us from the Virgin, He Who Is the Son of David, the Son of God, now incarnate in the flesh, upon whose divine-human shoulders will be the Government of the Father that will rule over all those who come into His Kingdom of Light and whose peace will have no end!

That light of creation, then, the light of the Law of Moses, was but the copy of the True Light, which was the heavenly pattern Moses saw on Mt Sinai (Ex 25.9&40), and which those sitting in the region and shadow of death see. For Jesus is Himself the Radiance of the Father (Heb 1.3), He is the True Light coming into the world (Jn 1.9). I want you to see that the Great Light seen by those sitting in the region and shadow of death is not just some heavenly light that shines from heaven: that Great Light is the Son of God Himself.

What, then, is the Radiance of the Father that shines forth from Him? It is eternal life, joy and peace the darkness of death cannot extinguish, because He, Jesus Christ, the True Light has come into the world, and He has destroyed death by His death. And so, this Great Light is healing, it is deliverance from Adam’s life-long bondage to death, it is the Light that reveals the way from the wilderness back to Eden because it is God the Son Himself.

But it is much more than that. This Light is the Image of the invisible God in whose Image we were made. So, to see this Great Light shining in the darkness of our death is to see the heavenly pattern of whom we are the copy. That is, you in your inmost identity are light. In His Light, we see light; we see our true selves; we see our beginning and our end. The Heavens, then, from which He descended are our true home; and if those heavens were opened at the Jordan, just as the curtain of the temple was torn in two when He descended into our death on Great and Holy Friday, then to unite ourselves to Christ is to follow Him into those opened heavens through His Tomb, the Gate that opens onto the heavens. In His Tomb, our tomb is filled with Light; our tomb becomes redolent with the fragrance of His Holy Spirit in the Glory of His Resurrection. It becomes the death of our death and our entrance into the opened Heavens and into Christ God the True Light Who is our True Life. It is to become a new creation in the Great Light that is God Himself rising in us from our darkness and overshadowing us with His Light, with Himself, in the Joy and Peace of His Holy Spirit, filling us with His Glory, raising us up no more as children of the night but children of the day that in newness of Life we may walk in the Light as He is in the Light.

Precisely this mystery is what we now get ready to do. Great Lent approaches, that blessed season when we together take up the cross of the ascetical Fast in order to descend with Christ into the tomb of our inner man there to become one with Christ in His New Tomb, that we may be found rising with Him in the joy and glory of His Holy Pascha. How do we do this? Through repentance in the confession of our sins. To the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be all glory, honor and worship! Amen!