Lent 4, March 30, 2014
Text: Isaiah 42:14–21
As a pastor, there are a few times in the Sunday Scriptures where I can talk about blind guys being healed and seeing. For a few of my sermons, I illustrated my experience with LASIC. Growing up, I was really nearsighted. My eye doctor as a kid was always sadly amazed at someone as young as me being as nearsighted as me. But when I was 35 or so, a doctor shot a laser in my eyeballs and the next day, I saw at 20/25 without glasses, glasses I had worn since I was 7. Last year, you may recall one of my eyes developed a cataract and one surgery later, I am again without glasses. Of course, now the weird thing is with one eye I can see great out there. With this eye I can see great here. And at three feet, I can’t read. But my eyes were always correctable, I do not know what it is like to be literally blind.
There’s another way to talk about darkness and lack of vision: for the things of God. We have been talking during Lent about how blessed we are to have our good, Gospel stuff. We have also talked about those in the dark out there who do not have the good, Gospel stuff. What’s it like to be without God, without a future, without hope, without a destiny beyond the grave? That is the ultimate blindness, the deepest darkness, isn’t it? Living in a blindness like that is the worst thing that can be.
Now you would think that God’s people, of all people, would know that, see it, and get it. We want to be in the light of God’s love, right? Well, welcome to the human race. The devil, sin and our sinful selves always try to drag us down and away from God into the abyss of darkness. You know firsthand how easily, how quickly the power and persuasion of temptation draws our vision and attention from God to “gods” more convenient, conventional, and comfortable. Skipping church to go to the golf course or bass fishing. Rolling over and going back to sleep on a gloomy Sunday morning. Not letting faith interfere with the deal or the corporate climb.
This is nothing new. In our text, the prophet Isaiah spoke about old Israel. The Lord tells His people, “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant” (v 14). God can wait no more. In swift words of judgment, the God of heaven and earth, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; . . . turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools” (v 15).
Couldn’t they, God’s people of old, see this coming? Let me rephrase that. How often do you hear the words “Won’t they ever learn?” We see this all the time. People who keep electing a corrupt politician, thinking the next term they will “behave.” People who say to themselves, “I will eat just one (chip, cookie, whatever)” and then eat the whole bag. People who every year think the Univ. of Wisconsin basketball team can make a Final Four. Didn’t they see? Didn’t they take anything whatsoever out of what happened?
If any people could have walked by sight, enjoying the presence of God, living in His seeable, touchable blessings, was it not Israel, coming out of Egypt? Water parted, manna carpeted, walls fell, pagan knees knocked, nations melted at the mere mention of God’s name. But see, here is the thing. People for years and years and years have said, “If God showed me a sign, I would believe in Him.” Jesus fed more than 5000 people, and according to John, afterward people asked Him to show them a sign He is God. Eh? Blindness. Darkness.
Do you doubt this? Doubt that reality? In Exodus times, with God standing right there, column of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, Israel grumbled and complained about dying in the desert as though God would not feed, clothe, or keep them. When He brought them into the Promised Land, He cleared out everything and everyone to their benefit. Israel, the chosen (though by no means better) people of God were to be His banner flying high over all the world. Instead, they chose to do what their neighbors did, usually to the tune of “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I?” The cycle of Israel’s idolatry, foreign occupation, repentance, and deliverance gets monotonous in the Book of Judges. Through the history of the kings of Israel and then Judah, there is a common, human thread: They were slaves to sin even when God was right there in their face. They saw God’s work and blessings every day. It was not enough. We see God’s blessings around us every day, and it is not enough. There is no convincing. Hard hearts will simply follow their hard line.
It is faith that must precede sight. Only then can one see, truly see, the world through the eyes of God. And faith comes from the same source, the Holy Spirit who works through Baptism. Who works through the Word. As Jesus once said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29).
On target, the prophet in our text said of Old Testament Israel, “Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear” (vv 19–20). But there is Gospel. Amazingly, in the same prophetic breath, Isaiah also speaks promises: “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know. . . . I will turn the darkness before them into light” (v 16). That’s judgment and grace. It is the Law, but also the Gospel. Israel will be severely disciplined for their sin . . . and yet restored by the gracious God who created them as a nation.
Where the Old Testament servants of the Lord failed, one was raised up who did not. In fact, this servant of the Lord would come as one of us to take up all our blindness, and our total darkness. He would take on the cause . . . sin itself. I am talking about Jesus. He would take our place under the curse of the Law. In a few chapters, the prophet Isaiah would say of this Suffering Servant that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). This Servant would bear our griefs and all the sorrow that sin and its blinding consequences have hit each one of us. This Servant Jesus, agreed with God the Father’s plan that the punishment our sins righteously deserve would become His punishment. In a moment of our time on His cross, God is satisfied. Jesus is pronounced guilty. We walk away free, innocent.
In Him we hope because in Him we believe. By grace through faith, we see Him where these eyes could never see Him. We see Him imbedded in the waters of Baptism exactly where He said He would be. We see Him in, with, and under the bread and wine of a meal that He gave to feed His people while we are here. He comes to us in words, simple words, but still His Word. The eyes of faith see the goodness of God in circumstances that would to the regular eye seem hopeless.
In today’s Epistle, that great man of God, the apostle Paul, had something to say about light and darkness, seeing and not seeing. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light . . . and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:8–10). God’s people by His grace walk through this life with their eyes wide open. God’s people see things the way they really are before God. God’s People See Because God Has Removed from Them the Darkness of Sin, Death, and Hell, and Set Them in the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God’s people see. We see. You see. I see. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).