Date: March 22, 2020
Festival: 4th Sunday in Lent
Text: Isaiah 42:14-21; John 9
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #720 We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight
Exegetical Statement: In Isaiah’s prophecy, Yahweh can no longer keep silent. Using vivid poetic imagery, He speaks of His violent will to destroy the enemies of His people Israel, to lead and guide the (spiritually) blind from darkness into light, and away from their idols. Israel His servant is blind and deaf, but Yahweh will magnify His Law. Christ fulfils this prophecy, such as in the day’s Gospel text. As God, Jesus literally heals an actual blind man for His greater purpose of leading the spiritually blind into His Light. After the blind man makes his confession of faith in the Son of Man, Jesus tells him He has come into the world to give sight to the spiritually blind and allow those who think they have spiritual sight to become spiritually blind.
The Pharisees who think they have spiritual sight are, in truth, spiritually blind and Christ leaves them in their blindness; those who realise their blindness and come to Christ, however, shall receive sight—they shall receive His Light. That is, the Light of His salvation. The blind man serves as the image of this will of Christ.
Focus Statement: The Light of Christ has given you spiritual sight and redemption.
Function Statement: That my hearers will have comfort in their redemption both now and the redemption that is to come upon Christ’s return.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: Sometimes God is Silent
Our God is a God who talks, and He chooses to talk to His human creatures. It might appear as if God is silent today, but He continues to speak to us in His Word as it is read and preached and as His grace is administered to us in the Sacraments. At the same time, however, there are times when God chooses to remain silent, which is when He allows a rebellious people to live in their sin.
For example, when Israel wanted a human king for themselves rather than having God as their King, God told Moses to warn them about the consequences of having a human king rule over them. After warning them, he then prophesies, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but Yahweh will not answer you in that day” [1 Samuel 8:18].
That’s quite a fearful thing—God not answering our cries and prayers. Yet it is not for reasons Satan would tell us. Satan would tell lies that it’s because God doesn’t care and is indifferent toward our situation—that it’s God’s fault and God is to blame. “It is God who has forsaken you,” he lies. Yet as the Scriptures portray Israel and us, it is not God who moves, but us. At times, God chooses to remain silent when we forsake Him and follow after other gods. “If that’s what you want, have it your way,” He says.
And Moses’ prophecy came true. God knew it would happen. Israel had many evil kings who led them toward forsaking Yahweh and worshiping false gods. God was silent during this time just as He had warned. Yet in Isaiah’s prophecy we read from today, God could no longer remain silent. He decided now was the time for Him to speak.
Yahweh’s War Cry
The Lord shouts a war cry. Using vivid poetic imagery, God’s war cry is violent. He cries out like the woman in child labour. And childbirth is painful! I mean, I wouldn’t personally know, but the Lord uses this stark image for a reason! The time is coming when the Lord’s justice will give birth to His wrath! And He cries out in pain for His people! The Lord may have been silent for their unfaithfulness, but it was a painful silence! Now He can stand it no longer! Now He must cry out like a woman in labour!
He will destroy mountains and hills and vegetation—metaphors for destroying Israel’s enemies. The Lord cries out because of their idolatry. He was silent because of their idolatry, but now He cries out because of it—not only to put them to shame, but also to lead and to guide those who are blind and deaf, bringing them from their world of darkness into His Light. He was silent for their condemnation. Now He speaks—He cries out—for their redemption!
Yet these are only birth pains. The time is not yet. Their redemption is coming. Israel will still suffer on account of their sins. Babylon will lay ruin to their land and bring them into exile as slaves. Yet, as the Lord says through Isaiah elsewhere, the people of Israel will return to their land and Babylon will be laid to waste [Isaiah 45-47], and the Messiah—the Suffering Servant—shall then come for their redemption [Isaiah 53].
Indeed, the people did return to their land, which Ezra and Nehemiah recount, and Babylon was destroyed through Cyprus. Now only ancient ruins remain of Babylon. God’s Light of bringing them out of darkness was a violent redemption. Then the Suffering Servant came.
Jesus, Healer of the Blind
We heard from our Suffering Servant in today’s Gospel reading, except we didn’t read about His suffering. Well, aside from the fact that He had to suffer the stupidity and blasphemy of the Pharisees! What we see specifically here is one of many recorded incidents when Jesus fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy. Through Isaiah, Yahweh said, “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know; in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light… These are things I do, and I do not forsake them” [v. 16]. In our Gospel reading, Jesus does this literally.
Jesus comes across a man who’s been blind since birth. In the way He saw fit, He healed the man of his blindness. Not only that, but Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath! You’re not supposed to do work on the Sabbath! The Pharisees are shocked, even offended! They were so shocked by this man’s sudden sight that they weren’t even sure this was the same beggar they’ve seen lots of times. Certainly, that’s understandable. When I’m wearing normal clothes instead of my collar, sometimes people don’t recognise me! Similarly, they could hardly tell this was the same man. Indeed, they did not want to believe it!
Certainly, this man who healed the beggar cannot be a man of God since He worked on the Sabbath! No man of God works on the Sabbath! Yet others among them were saying, “It’s obvious a man has healed his sight; we cannot deny this fact. Only a man of God can do such miracles. How, then, could he not be a man of God?” The Pharisees were divided on this matter.
So, they consult his parents to see if this is the same man. When they confirm he is their son, they are still in disbelief and ask the man to give testimony a second time. The man is clearly annoyed as he says, “I’ve already told you, and you wouldn’t listen! Why do you want to hear it again?” And he confirms what they already knew but were in denial of, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” [vv. 27, 33].
Offended, the Pharisees said, “You were born in sin. How dare you defy to teach us!” And they cast him out, beginning the stages of excommunicating him from the congregation—from the synagogue.
The Pharisees are somewhat right, of course. It is true that all physical ailments and weaknesses are the result of sin in us, the world, and the earth. It is true that these ailments—whether blindness, deafness, climate change, virus, or illness—are all precursors of death, which is the wages of sin [Romans 6:23]. It is also true that certain sins will bring direct punishment to the body, such as sexual immoralities with STDs and divorce, or lying with damaging your reputable character, and other things. Yet the Pharisees at this time believed that any suffering was always the direct result for punishment of sin—whether it’s your fault or your parents’ fault—but this is simply not true. We know this is not true.
This is why we say, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Well, first, there are no good people, for as the Lord says, no one is good, which Paul also repeats from the Psalms [Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-18; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3]. Bad things only happen to bad people, and we are all bad; we are all sinners. But also because we live in a world corrupt with sin that lives in darkness—because we live in a world that is messed up. Messed up things are always going to happen to people in this messed up world. Sometimes bad things just happen for no good reason! This was the case with Job, which, as God said to Satan, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to destroy him without reason” [2:3].
Such was the case with this blind man. For no good reason, other than living in a dark world corrupt with sin, this man was born blind. As Jesus says, it was not because this man or his parents had sinned, but that God’s power might be displayed in Him. And indeed, it was.
Yet what’s most important is not the miracle but what Jesus says and does next. Evidently, Jesus was in the know about this man’s case. When He heard this man was being excommunicated, He went to him and began to do His work of conversion, asking, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” We find out this Jewish man has always had faith in the Messiah, and he desires to know where this Messiah is so that he might know Him. Jesus then identifies Himself as the Son of Man, and the man makes his confession in his Saviour and begins to worship him.
Then Jesus says a pretty fearful yet wonderful thing, “For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Now, we saw Jesus do this in a literal way with this man blind from birth. Some would stop here and say, “Repent and believe in Jesus, and He will heal all your sickness!” In fact, people are doing just that right now in the midst of this pandemic. Can Jesus do that? Absolutely He can, but is that the point here?
As Jesus says, He came to make a clear separation between those who are blind and those who see—not physically, but spiritually. He came to give sight to the spiritually blind and blindness to those who think they have spiritual sight, like the Pharisees.
The Pharisees heard this, and curious, they ask Jesus if they are blind. He says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” In other words, “Yes. You think you see, but you are blind. You are guilty.” Why? Because they lacked the man’s confession: they did not believe Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, whom their prophet Moses prophesied about.
They claimed to be disciples of Moses [v. 28], but if they were, they would’ve recognised this Jesus as being the One whom Moses prophesied, “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen” [Deuteronomy 18:15]. Clearly, they failed to listen to Moses’ great successor.
From Darkness into Light
So, Jesus heals the blind literally, showing He is, in fact, the Creator who has authority and control over all creation and the one greater than Moses. Ultimately—and more importantly—He is the Healer of we who are spiritually blind. The man once blind can now see physically, yet more importantly he was able to see spiritually. He had this sight of faith before he even receive physical sight. He’s always believed in the Son of Man. Now he came to know that man as being Jesus.
By faith, he was able to see. It is no wonder, then, why Paul writes to be of courage in the midst of suffering, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]. And it is no wonder why we sang in our sermon hymn: “We walk by faith and not by sight, / No gracious words we hear / From Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, / But we believe Him near. / We may not touch His hands and side, / Nor follow where He trod; / But in His promise we rejoice / And cry, “My Lord and God!” [LSB 720:1-2].
Yet as Yahweh proclaimed through His prophet Isaiah, He cried out that He would come with violent activity to redeem His people. Indeed, He did so by destroying Babylon while using Cyprus and his Persian army as His instruments; and He would do this more fully in Christ. Yet both here and throughout all the Gospels, we see a gentle Jesus, not a violent one. Here, we see Him as Healer. Elsewhere, we see Him as the Good Shepherd who cares for His flock.
Yet we do see God’s violence in Christ. We see God’s violent wrath on the cross. You and I should be flogged, mocked, and spat upon with rust nails pinning us to crosses only to suffer even worse eternal torment in Hell. That is the wrath that is coming for all blind unbelievers who think they see.
Yet by the grace of God in Christ on the cross, you have been given His Light. By His grace, you see. The blood of Christ has run down over you, like oil down the priest’s beard from head to toe [Psalm 133:2], but His blood does not blind you, for you were already blind in the darkness of sin; instead, His blood has worked the Light of faith in you to make you see Him.
In the words of Paul from our epistle reading, “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the world” [Ephesians 5:8]. Because Christ has brought you into His marvellous Light, you now walk in His Light. This Light has utterly changed you. In spiritual blindness, you used to walk in the sinful ways of darkness like sexual immoralities, coveting, and other things. Now, however, you have been called to repentance in the Light of Christ, which has changed you into something new. This is God’s power displayed in you. It has changed you into God’s dear child.
There is no middle point between darkness and light—there is no grey. There is only darkness and light. Neither is darkness and light a duality as if they are two equal powers that oppose each other, contrary to how pop culture portrays it. No, Light is always the victor—always. Light exposes the darkness, Paul says—always. When you light a lamp in a room, the light doesn’t battle the darkness as if they’re equal powers battling it out to see which is stronger. No, the light always overcomes the darkness.
So it is with Christ. He has overcome the darkness. For a time, it seemed like the darkness had won in His violent death, but in His death He struck a great blow to darkness and overcame it in His resurrection.
So it is for you. With the spiritual sight of faith Christ’s Light has given you, you have been promised a resurrection like His. Yet these times are birth pains. The time is not yet. Our redemption is coming. These are times of the earth groaning in earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, and pestilence until the Lord cries out with His final war cry. This war cry of God will come with the blast of a holy trumpet where all will see Christ the King descending upon clouds on a white stallion with the Sword of God’s Word unsheathed to destroy our enemies and the enemy, the Devil.
The book of Revelation depicts this as a bloody, violent battle, and it also tells of the inevitable victory. It tells the certain victory of the Light of Christ to come and deliver you, once and for all, from darkness, which will violently rip you from Satan’s grasp as He beheads that 7-headed dragon to bring you into His eternal, marvellous Light of the new creation.
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the Light of Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.
©Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.