Beloved. In today’s Gospel Jesus gives these fisherman a wonderful promise as He calls them to follow Him as His disciples and to be His apostles—those who as eyewitnesses of all of Jesus’ life, work and teaching He would send out into the world to gather the peoples of all nations into His Church. This promise takes the form of a tremendous object lesson. Look at what had just happened—these men had finished fishing—their livelihood—that day and had gotten nothing so they returned to shore to get ready for the next day’s attempt. Then Jesus goes into Peter’s boat and has Peter take him a bit off shore so He can preach to the crowds. When Jesus was finished teaching, He has Peter put his nets into the water and what happens? When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets were about to tear apart. They signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. This was an object lesson, as Jesus tells Peter: “Have no fear. From now on you will be catching people.” Just as, at Jesus’ word they enclosed a huge number of fish in their nets, so also as they would become His apostles and preach Jesus—or perhaps better put, as Jesus would preach through them—many people would come to faith, would be caught in the glorious nets of the Gospel; but unlike fish that get caught in a net—they end up on someone’s dinner plate—the ones who get caught in the net of the Gospel are caught for life—eternal life. From now on you will be catching people–alive and for life. And with that great number of fish [so that] their nets were about to tear apart they have the promise that their work would not be in vain. The Church today —and each Christian—has that same promise as we tell others the Good News about Jesus: Have no fear. From now on you will be catching people.
As we look at our text from Isaiah, at first, with a superficial glance, it seems a bit out of place. Usually we hear it at Christmas, after all there is that great theme of Christmas: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. And then right after our text comes familiar lines from the prophecy so clearly foretelling the birth of the Son of God: For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Maybe with last week’s celebration of the birth of St. John the Baptizer we see a “Christmas in July” theme. But that’s not it. What makes our text so fitting with today’s Gospel is where the events of the Gospel take place: Lake of Gennesaret or as it is called elsewhere in the Gospels—the Sea of Galilee.
In fact, our text is quoted by St. Matthew [4.13-16] as being fulfilled when Jesus came to live in Capernaum: And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” And here not only does the Lord through the holy prophet prophesy where Jesus would live—not in mighty Jerusalem but in lowly, despised Galilee—but He also states that from there—from Galilee—the light, the work and kingdom of the Messiah would first dawn. Jesus came and dwelt in Capernaum, He also first preached there and He called His disciples from Galilee.
But why is this important? Our text gives a great promise of comfort to the people of Isaiah’s day who were living in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, which in Jesus' day was Galilee. What was going on there 7 centuries before Jesus walked the paths of Galilee? At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the enemy army of the Assyria was threatening to conquer and overrun the northern kingdom of Israel and Judah, with Jerusalem. Eventually, the Lord preserved Judah and Jerusalem, but the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun and conquered by the Assyrians. That’s where you hear about the 10 lost tribes of Israel—they were conquered by the Assyrians. The Assyrians came from the north and the east—and guess what were the first lands of Israel they conquered? –The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But through Isaiah the Lord gives these first conquered lands a promise and comfort. Our text: But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. At the time of Isaiah, that is, in the former time, as a result of their sin and rebellion against the Lord, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, that is, He let their enemies conquer them. But what would happen? What would be their comfort? What is the Lord’s promise? But in the latter time that is, at the time of the Messiah, he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. How would the Lord do that? The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. This land, the first to be conquered and to suffer—at the time of Isaiah—would later be singled out for the honor of having the Savior come and live there first—in Nazareth in Galilee and then Jesus would make Capernaum His home base; Jesus preached first in Galilee; like in today’s Gospel, Jesus called His disciples from Galilee; Jesus’ first miracle was at the wedding at Cana of Galilee where He turned the water into wine.
The glory of the person and work of the Messiah came first to Galilee—just as God had prophesied through Isaiah centuries before. In despised Galilee, so far removed from Jerusalem and the temple, Jesus first revealed His glory. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Jesus, the light of the world, first shone there! With His coming He brought the light of grace and the saving knowledge of God. And just like the first rays of the sun peek over the horizon, giving light far off, but soon the sun is overhead in the sky giving light to all, so Jesus, that great light, first appeared to the people walking and dwelling in darkness of long off Galilee, but now by His Gospel and Church is shining brightly in all the world. That light of Jesus is shining on us, dear Christian. He has come to us in His holy word and Sacraments and called us into His Church, into His Kingdom of Grace. Now, by the grace of Jesus, we by faith know Him rightly as the true God with the Father and the Son; we know Him as our Savior from sin, death, devil and hell.
Dear Christian, it is a great grace of God that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. That’s not just the people of Galilee but that’s also the description of each one of us as we come into the world—you and me-- walking in the darkness for we are conceived and born in sin and left to ourselves and our own devices we would be still walking in darkness and dwelling in a land of deep darkness. But what? We have seen a great light; on us has light shone. God has in Jesus come to us. Not only did Jesus walk the roads of Galilee and finally into Jerusalem to die on the cross, but in Baptism and in the word Jesus has come to us, into our hearts, working faith in us, dwelling in us. And Jesus continues to come to us physically/ bodily in the Blessed Sacrament as He gives us with the bread and wine His very body and blood. Here Jesus keeps shining on us so we no longer sit in the misery and wretchedness of our sin, death and awaiting damnation. We live in the light of the grace of God, the forgiveness of sin and the certainty of heaven.
In no way did Galilee merit or deserve to be the place where Jesus first revealed His glory. That is the way that God works. Remember: it was because of its sin and rebellion that God allowed in the Assyrian armies to conquer and bring into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali…Galilee of the nations. But Jesus still came there first and shined His divine, saving light. There’s a wonderful lesson for us here as well—no matter how great our sin, Jesus is shining on us with His love and forgiveness; He doesn’t turn away from us, but like with the people of Galilee, He wants to come to us first. Open your eyes and see Jesus shining on you with His grace, mercy, forgiveness, wanting to give you every heavenly and spiritual blessing. And even as He has In the former time brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, that is, they suffered, don’t think of your sufferings as God’s wrath as if He has something against you—in Jesus we are reconciled to Him; instead see it as it was for the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali: a preparation to make us ready and to long for the light of Jesus to shine on us, or to shine on us all the more brightly—His light of peace and blessedness, of life, of knowledge, of salvation. And like God did with the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali by Jesus being there first, having the dawn of salvation break forth there first, He wants to make us glorious by having the light of Jesus shine on us and we reflect that divine light: but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
When Jesus—according to the promise of God—came first to the despised and suffering land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, that is, to Galilee, that was just the beginning: the light and salvation of Jesus would go out from there into all the world. Our text: You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. By the Lord multiplying the nation, we catch a glimpse of the world wide work of Jesus which began in Galilee and which He now continues in and through His Church. The nation does not just mean Jews but Jews and Gentiles—all people; that’s the Church! That light that first shone in Galilee continues to rise and send its rays into all the earth. St. John [2.11] records after the account of Jesus turning water into wine: This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. From that first group of Galilean disciples gathered together around Jesus, we now have believers spread over the whole world. Now, Jesus working through the word and sacraments He entrusted to His Church, gathers a people from throughout the world and down through the ages into His Church—He has gathered you and me, dear Christian! And that’s why we have the account of today’s Gospel of Jesus calling these Galilean fishermen on the Sea of Galilee to being fishers of people/ to catch people alive/ to being His apostles. These Galilean fishermen were the beginning of the NT Church—the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light– and they went out into all the world and preached Jesus and gathered a great people from the Gentiles—including you and me. They and those faithfully following them and their teaching have brought down to us the great joy of salvation, forgiveness of sin and eternal life—all these great blessings that Jesus won for us as He destroyed by His suffering and death our spiritual enemies and our slavery to sin, death and devil. The light of Christ has shone on us; by faith we hold to Him and His saving work. Now in the light of Jesus we have great joy: For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you [Jesus] have broken. May we always rejoice in this, keep ourselves close and in the light of Jesus shining on us; and may we also be fishers of people and bring the light of Jesus to them. INJ Amen.