Sermon for March 19, 2023, Fourth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 42:14-21 (Fourth Sunday in Lent—Series A)

“I Can See!”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

March 19, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text this morning is the Old Testament Reading from Isaiah 42:

14I have been silent for a long time. I have kept sill. I have restrained myself. Like a woman giving birth I will shriek. I will gasp and pant together. 15I will lay waste mountains and hills and I will dry up all their grass. And I will turn rivers into islands, and I will dry up pools. 16And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know; I will guide them in paths they do not know. I will turn darkness before them into light, rough places into level ground. These are the words I will do for them and I will not forsake them. 17They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame—those who trust in idols, those who say to a molten image, “You are our gods.” 18O deaf ones, listen! O blind ones, look and see! 19Who is blind but my servant and deaf like my messenger whom I sent? Who is blind like my one in covenant peace and blind like the servant of Yahweh? 20You see many things, but you do not observe. He opens his ears but does not hear. 21Yahweh was pleased because of his righteousness. He will magnify his teaching and cause it to be glorious.

          The Pharisees sneered at the man who had been blind from birth. Jesus had healed him, given him his sight, but on a Sabbath Day. After much questioning, the man confessed, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” That was enough for the Pharisees. They leveled him in anger with the charge, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” (John 9:31–34 ESV).

          Theologically, what the Pharisees said of the man who was formerly blind was true. It was true for him, but also true for each of the Pharisees. It is true for all people. We are born in utter sin. That’s the spiritual condition for all the descendants of Adam and Eve. Humanity has inherited the fallen, broken condition of sin to this very day. David confessed this truth in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5 ESV). Every person is now born without the ability to fear and love God. All humanity is born spiritually blind and dead—this man whom Jesus healed, the Pharisees, the people of Israel, you, and me. We confess as the Church, “It is our teaching, faith, and confession that human reason and understanding are blind in spiritual matters and understand nothing on the basis of their own powers, as it is written, ‘Those who are natural do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them and they are unable to understand them’ [1 Cor. 2:14] when they are asked about spiritual matters. Likewise, we believe, teach, and confess that the unregenerated human will is not only turned away from God but has also become God’s enemy, that it has only the desire and will to do evil and whatever is opposed to God, as it is written, ‘The inclination of the human heart is evil from youth’ [Gen. 8:21]. Likewise, ‘The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed, it cannot’ [Rom. 8:7]. As little as a corpse can make itself alive for bodily, earthly life, so little can people who through sin are spiritually dead raise  themselves up to a spiritual life, as it is written, ‘When we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ’ [Eph. 2:5].”[1]

          The sin with which we were conceived and born, inherited from Adam, is the cause of our spiritual blindness. The spiritually blind are those who have been deprived of their spiritual sight by their sin and sin results in punishment by the holy and just God. Because of the spiritual blindness of their sin, the people of Israel put their faith and trust in idols, like the gods of the Canaanites. They followed the Baals and offered this molten image their worship and faith, “You are our gods.” We can’t help but think of the golden calf fashioned in the wilderness or the golden calves set up in Dan and Bethel for the people to worship (2Kings 10:29). This rejection of the God who called them to be His holy people would lead to their punishment in the exile to Babylon. For those seventy years, the Lord would not intervene while the punishment for the people’s spiritual blindness and sin was carried out.

          But then something shocking! Isaiah announced that the Lord would lay waste mountains and hills, drying up all the grass. He would turn rivers into islands and dry up pools. Then the Lord would lead His blind people in a way they didn’t know. He would turn their darkness into light. God would lead the exiles in Babylon home again. By the unbelievable means of Cyrus the Persian, the Lord would advance “like a hot knife through butter, and creation [would] be undone” for the benefit and blessing of His people Israel.[2] The mercy of God adopts the blind, lights up the darkness, and clears every obstacle away so that He might bring salvation to the nations.

          It was Israel, God’s set-apart people, whom He had appointed to be His servant to bring the Lord’s mercy, righteousness, and justice to the nations. But in this task, His covenant people failed. “O deaf ones, listen! O blind ones, look and see! Who is blind but my servant and deaf like my messenger whom I sent? Who is blind like my one in covenant peace and blind like the servant of Yahweh?” Spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. So were the Israelites by nature, so they became as they went after false gods and trusted in the idols, having lost the fear, love, and trust in the only true God. Indeed, Israel had become like the idols they worshipped. Its gods had eyes but couldn’t see. They were only man-made fabrications, statues, images. Because of their sins and unfaithfulness, Israel was reduced to blindness. The people’s idolatry made them unable to see the Lord, unable to be His servant.

          Does not our idolatry cause us to be blind to the Lord and His Word? Certainly, it does. “But we don’t worship molten images and carved idols?” you say. Perhaps not, but whatever we put our fear, love, and trust in becomes our god. If our fear, love, and trust is not in the one, Triune God, then we have an idol—popularity, money, pornography, possessions, the self. Whatever takes priority in our lives, no matter how “good” it might seem our eyes or in the eyes of the society, if it takes precedence over the Lord our God, it is an idol, and we fall into the blindness of sin and darkness of idolatry. We think we see, but we fall into idolatry. We fall into the sin of placing self, things, and attitudes ahead of our fear, love, and trust in God. So, like blind Israel, we needed rescue from the dark blindness of our sin and idolatry.

          Into the darkness of a fallen creation, into the blindness of humanity’s sin, steps a new Servant of the Lord. Before the words of our Old Testament Reading today at the beginning of chapter 42, God says to Israel and to us through Isaiah, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. . . . Thus says God, [Yahweh], . . . : ‘I am [Yahweh]; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols’” (Is. 42:1–8 ESV).

          God Himself would give this Servant to open the eyes of the spiritually bind, to release the prisoners jailed by Satan, setting free those in the darkness of sin and idolatry. And this Servant is none other than God the Son Himself, Jesus Christ, who became flesh and dwelt among us in the darkness of our sins. As St. John wrote in the opening of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God.All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.In him was life, and the life was the light of [people].The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5 ESV).

          It is Jesus, true God and true Man, who gave sight to the physically blind. He gave the gift of seeing to the man born blind. And that gift of vision and sight was to point others to their need, not for physical sight, but for the spiritual vision of faith—to see Jesus as the Savior, the Servant of the Lord, who has come into the world to save spiritually blind sinners. From John 9, “Jesus heard that they had cast [the man He had healed] out [of the synagogue], and having found him [Jesus] said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (John 9:35–38 ESV). The gift of physical sight leads to the gift of spiritual sight—faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—who gives sight to the spiritually blind and rescuing them from the darkness of their sins. As the hymnwriter prays, “Lord, who once came to bring, On Your redeeming wing, Healing and sight, Health to the sick in mind, Sight to the inly blind: Oh, now to humankind Let there be light!”[3]

          And when God speaks, it is done. His Word does it. His Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, brings sight to our blind, deaf, and dead bodies and souls and revives us with the forgiveness of all our sins and the new life of faith. These gifts Jesus won for us with His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. In the cosmic darkness of Good Friday, Jesus bore the blindness of our sins, shed His holy, precious blood and gave up His life into death for them so that you and I might see and live anew by faith in Him. To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no blindness to be blind for us so that we who are blind might see.”[4] And the darkness and blindness of our sins for which Christ died did not overcome Him. In victory, the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day, defeating Satan, sin, and death, vanquishing the darkness by granting to all who would believe in Him the light of everlasting life. These gifts of forgiveness and life Jesus pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who creates faith in us through the Gospel Word and the spiritually eye-opening waters of Holy Baptism.

          The Light of Christ received through this gift of faith gives us the vision to see who Jesus truly is, our Savior, Lord, and King. The Light, who is Christ, enables us to see the grace and truth of God and no longer be bound to idols. Jesus, the Light of the world, empowers us through His Spirit to see and to know God our heavenly Father by faith through His Word. He shows the way to God by His light, even as He has said through Isaiah, “And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know; I will guide them in paths they do not know. I will turn darkness before them into light, rough places into level ground. These are the words I will do for them and I will not forsake them.”

          You are not forsaken. You are not abandoned in the spiritual blindness with which you were born. You have been gifted saving faith in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. And so, you now see and confess as did the once blind man, “I believe.” By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, walk through this life with your eyes of faith wide open and continue to look upon Jesus Christ, your Savior, as He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament, until that day we shall see Him face to face. Amen.

     [1] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 491-492.

     [2] Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 283.

     [3] Lutheran Service Book, 979:2.

     [4] Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles: Old Testament Lessons (St. Louis: Concordia, 2014), 126.

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