Dark Passages to Marvelous Light, Isaiah 42:14–21, Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020
A man was driving through a mining region one bright and sunny Sunday afternoon when he noticed a large number of mules in an open field. When he inquired about this unusual sight, he was told that the work animals had been brought up from the dark passages below to preserve their eyesight. Unless they were regularly exposed to the sunlight, they would eventually go blind. We Christians need similar experiences to keep us from losing our spiritual vision.
It is becoming apparent that we are experiencing some pretty dark passages right now ourselves. There are many things in this world that we have absolutely no control over. Two weeks ago life was somewhat normal. We met for our Sunday and midweek services with no clue that within a few days we would be faced with a decision whether or not to cancel church services indefinitely.
There are some particularly dark passages that we face with this global chaos due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Fear has gripped our land, many businesses have closed their doors, the stock market is unstable, and the economy may be headed for another recession. Even before the current situation we had numerous problems: Social security is going bankrupt, wages are stagnant, and healthcare is unaffordable. Our national debt is still over 23 trillion dollars.
There are wars and rumors of more wars. Mass shootings are commonplace; our country is becoming increasingly dark and divided. And to top it off our service men and women are in harms way all over the world. We live in a world filled with trouble, turmoil, difficulty and uncertainty.
Things are dark, and seem to be getting darker and darker.
Many of you are dealing with your own personal issues. Maybe you have marital troubles, rebellious children, bills that you can’t pay, problems at work, health issues, and many other situations that consume your lives. Often we are blinded by our circumstances and we forget who is really in control. When this happens, along the path of such dark passages, doubt enters our minds and fear begins to consume our lives.
On the one hand, sometimes I wonder about those who are physically completely blind, and about the utter inability to see common and everyday things. Wishing to empathize, I wonder what it’s like to not see the physical things of this world and to not see the beauty of God’s creation. What would a world be like that was totally and completely dark?
Then there’s the other way to talk about darkness, and lack of vision, as it relates the things of God. What’s it like to be totally without God, a future and hope without a destiny beyond the grave? That is the ultimate blindness, the deepest darkest passages, right? Living in a dark world is a blindness that complicates and makes life miserable.
What causes these dark passages? Idolatry, for one thing, the sin of idolatry brings on the wrath, the hot lava, of God’s judgment. He will be replaced by no idol, no person, and no other god. There’s a reason the First Commandment is the First Commandment. All love or hatred of God stands or falls at the feet of God’s first rule.
Now you would think that God’s people, of all people, would know that, see it, and get it right.
Welcome to the sinful human race. Sin, our blindness to God, always drags us down and away from God into the abyss of the deepest, darkest of dark passages. You know firsthand how easily, how quickly the power and persuasion of our own idolatry, our resident evil; our sin draws our vision and attention from God to “gods” more convenient, more conventional, and more comfortable. What happened to Israel, we today, right now, need to hear: Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (1 Cor 10:6–7)
Our Old Testament reminds us, God waits no more. The time is now. Now, right now, is the time for action. In swift words of judgment, the God of heaven and earth, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob says, “I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. (v 15).
Amazingly, in the same prophetic breath, Isaiah also speaks promises: “And 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, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (v 16). That’s judgment followed by grace. It is heavy Law, yes, but also the hope of the Gospel. Israel will be laid waste and shackled off into captivity. Yet, a remnant will return.
Couldn’t God’s people of old, see this coming? If any people could have walked by sight, enjoying the presence of God, living in His seeable, touchable blessings, would it not have been Israel, coming out of Egypt? Water parted, manna carpeted the wilderness floor, walls fell, pagan knees knocked, nations melted at the mere mention of God’s name. But therein lies the problem doesn’t it? Are we really any different from Israel?
We, the people of God, don’t walk by sight. We walk by faith. To walk by sight is to walk right into those dark passages. There, there’s nothing to guide us except “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16).
Doubt that reality? 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 for His name’s sake.
Israel, the chosen people of God were to be His banner flying high over the entire world. Instead, they chose to follow their eyes, usually to the tune of “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” The cycle of Israel’s idolatry, foreign occupation, repentance, and deliverance gets repetitious. Through history, there is a common, human thread: Slaves to sin, even when God was right there in their face.
What can God do to convince people? What sign should He do for them to see? What evidence could Jesus produce or perform for people with hearts that do not know God, that are set against God? There is no convincing. Mere sight will never change that. Hard hearts will simply follow into their dark passages.
Faith must precede sight. Only then can one see His marvelous light, truly see, the world through the eyes of God. And faith comes from that same source: Jesus Christ!
The prophet in our text said of that servant of Israel of old: “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 where this servant of the Lord failed, one was raised up who did not. In fact, He would come as one of us to take up our fallen state, our miserable failures, all our blindness, and our total darkness. This Servant would take upon Himself all the dark passages and their cause, sin itself.
This blindest of all the blind, and deafest of all the deaf, would tack another word onto the title Servant: The Suffering Servant. 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 will bear our dark passages, our griefs and all the sorrow that sin and its blinding consequences have inflicted on each and every one of us. This Servant agreed with God the Father’s plan that the punishment our sins righteously deserve, become His punishment. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
In a moment of our time on His cross, God is satisfied. He looks upon the Servant, His Son, and sees Him in our place. He’s guilty. We walk away free, justified.
It’s a scene the people of God return to daily for life and hope and help and our source of supply. For in that Servant of God, Jesus Christ, we have our justification, our righteousness, forgiveness, life, and salvation. 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 hidden in the bread and wine of a meal that He gave to feed His people during their earthly pilgrimage. He comes to us in words, simple words, but still His Word.
It may even come from the Bible itself in a quiet moment, from a friend during a time of sadness or sorrow. His Word may fill the space between the pew and the pulpit at a critical time of choices or decisions that must be made. The eye of faith sees, perceives, the goodness of God in circumstances that would to the eye of this body seem hopeless, impossible, or in utterly godless surroundings.
We are living through a situation that we could have never expected. We don’t know what the future holds. Our lives have been turned upside down. But God has a plan for His people. And God can use us to reach a lost and dying world. Right now people are searching for answers, and we know the answer, His name is Jesus. Let us point them to Him.
As you navigate these troublesome times never forget that you are Children of Almighty God. 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 them from the dark passage of sin, death and hell and set them in the marvelous light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s people see, you see! “Walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Amen.