Look, You Blind, and See!
A sermon based on Isaiah 42:14-21
Sunday, March 3, 2002 – Lent 3A
Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Helen Keller. When Helen was only a few months old a disease left her both blind and deaf. And isolated from everything that was going on around her, she became a little brat. She would eat food off of anyone's plate, she would scream and shout, smash dishes and lamps, and in short be a little terror. Relatives thought she was a monster and encouraged her parents to put her in an institution.
Can you imagine being both deaf and blind? Could you imagine being the parents of a kid both deaf and blind? After all, what could you do to discipline? Punish her and calmly explain what she'd done wrong? Yell at her at the top of your lungs? It wouldn't do any good, right? She couldn't hear? What would be the point?
In our sermon text for this morning, God speaks of his nation Israel, who was about to go into captivity in Babylon for their rebellion against God, as if they were just like Helen Keller. They too were blind and deaf. They were blind to all of God's loving acts he had done for them. They were deaf to hear his Word. And what could God do if they didn't listen?
Maybe the little monster should be locked away in a mental institution. But that's not what God did. He came up with another solution. And he pleaded with them not to be blind and deaf to his solution, but to hear his Word, to look and see what he would do!
Listen again to Isaiah 42:14-21 and be encouraged to look and see God's grace for you…
"For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. 17 But those who trust in idols, who say to images, 'You are our gods,' will be turned back in utter shame.
18 "Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD? 20 You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing." 21 It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious.
I. The Reason for Blindness
Just like Helen Keller: Blind and deaf. That's the way God described the Israelites in today's text by referring to them as "God's servant." "Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD?" "No one is as blind as the Israelites!" But what made them so blind and deaf? "You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing." It wasn't the fact that they couldn't hear or see, but that they wouldn't see or hear. They had selective hearing.
President Franklin Roosevelt, felt that many of his advisors had selective hearing. So one day he tested them. Whenever they asked how he was, he responded with a smile, "I'm great thanks! I just killed my grandmother this morning!" And wasn't that surprised when most responded with things like, "That's wonderful, Mr. President! Now if you could take a look at this…" or "Keep up the great work, Mr. President! Here's the report you asked for." If fact, all day, only one person actually listened. And he replied, "Mr. President, I'm sure she had it coming. Now, let's prep for your meeting…"
The truth is that none of us are as good at listening as we ought to be. We all have selective hearing. Just ask my wife. It's true not just of the kids when she says it's time for bed, or time to do their chores, but it's also true of me, when I'm reading the paper or watching TV. And we have selective seeing too! The boys can find anything in their "Eye Spy" books, but ask them to pick up the toys and they ask, "Where? What toys?" And when my wife asks me to fetch something from the pantry or fridge, it usually takes me fractions of a second to declare, "It's not in here. I can't find it," before she pulls it from the front shelf that's right at my eye-level.
But this selective hearing and seeing becomes a really serious problem when it's between us and God. The Israelites chose to ignore God.
They chose not to see his loving hand in rescuing them from Egypt, in providing for them in the wilderness, in bringing them safely to the Promised Land, in driving out their enemies, in blessing them in their new homes. Instead of thanking him, they grumbled and complained against him. They focused their sights on what they didn't have: "We had onions in Egypt!" they whined! "This water in the desert is too bitter!" they grumbled! "We're sick of this manna and quail, manna and quail!" they complained!
They choose not to hear God's law and to ignore his commands not to worship other so-called gods, and worshiped a cow made out of gold that they themselves formed! And instead of rejoicing in the blessings God had given—especially in the promise of the Savior—they chose to remain blind and deaf. Ah, those foolish Israelites!
But don't we often do the same?
We choose not to see the blessings God showers on us each day, the health, the wealth, the peace, the stuff, but instead we focus our sights on what he hasn't given. He didn't give me a spouse who does what I want. He didn't give me the job I wish I had. He didn't give me the health that ought to be mine.
And we choose not to hear his law when he tells us that drunkenness is a sin, that premarital sex is NOT okay, that lust and bitterness and little white lies are all sin and rebellion against him. I don't want to hear that. So I close my ears. I shut my eyes. And continue to do things my way instead of God's way. And I do just like the Israelites did and practice selective hearing and see only what I want to see. I choose to be blind and deaf.
And what do I deserve? What do we all deserve for too often choosing to be deaf and blind? "Those who trust in idols, who say to images, 'You are our gods,' will be turned back in utter shame." We deserve to be turned back away from God. We deserve to live in eternal shame for choosing to be deaf and blind. That's what we deserve. And what's God to do? Yell at us? It'll do no good if we choose to be deaf? But instead God chooses to cure us of our blindness and heal us of our deafness. Instead of punishing us he says, "Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see!"
II. The Cure for Blindness
For Helen Keller, the cure came in a peculiar way. For the first seven years of her life Helen continued in her blindness and refused to learn anything from anyone. But, when the patient young teacher, Anne Sullivan, led her to the water pump, all of that was about to change. While Ms. Sullivan pumped the water over Helen's one hand, she spelled out the word "water" in the other. For the first time, Helen understood that there were words that carried meaning. She later said:
"As the cool stream gushed over one hand [Ms. Sullivan] spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me."
Helen immediately asked Anne for the name of everything she touched. She asked for Anne's name and she spelled the name "Teacher" on Helen's hand. Within the next few hours Helen learned the spelling of thirty new words and from then on, her progress was astonishing. Soon Helen learned to read, first with raised letters and then with Braille. And though her sight could never be restored, Helen was given a different kind of sight and a new ability to hear what others wanted to say to her.
In a more miraculous way God gave the Israelites a different kind of sight—spiritual sight—and a new ability to hear him and listen to his voice. He wouldn't let them remain blind and deaf, so he let them suffer in captivity to turn them back to him. But God didn't want them to suffer long. It pained him to see them under his discipline and he was eager to deliver them from their suffering like a woman in labor is eager to deliver her child and deliver herself from the pain of childbirth. "For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant." It hurt God to see his people hurt—even if it was from the selective blindness and selective hearing they chose for themselves—and so, God would act:
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
God would not forsake his people. He would bring them back to the light by rekindling their faith in him and his promises and by leading a remnant back to the Promised Land. Why would God do this? Because "It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness…" It had nothing to do with the worthiness of the Israelites or because they were more righteous than the Babylonian. God did it for the sake of his righteousness—simply because he was and is a righteous and gracious God. That's just who he is.
And what comfort you and I find in this truth! No matter how much we've ignored God's Word in our past, he still begs us to come back. No matter where our eyes have strayed, he continues to make us see the cross and the forgiveness it brings! Because Jesus always listened to the Father and obeyed him, because Jesus always looked to him with a perfect trust and love… and because Jesus took our sin on himself and endured the hell it deserved in our place, our sins are forgiven.
And why? Because "It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness…" It has nothing to do with our worthiness or how righteous we are, but is simply because God was and is a righteous and gracious God. That's just who he is.
And now, deaf as we seem to be, as blind as we are by nature, God has given us new spiritual senses. He's given us a new way to see things: through the eyes of faith and with the perspective of sins forgiven and heaven given to us in spite of our sin. He gives us a new ability to hear and believe what he says when he says to you and me, "Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see!"
And enabled to hear God's Word, we no longer choose to ignore it. Enabled to see what he has done, we take our self-made blindfolds off! See clearly what he has done. And listen carefully to what he calls you to do. Don't ignore him anymore! But look for opportunities to serve him—at home, at work, and wherever you are! Listen to others to hear their cries for help. And serve them to serve God in thanks for the amazing grace he's given to you—that though you once were lost, you now are found; though blind, you now can see!
Rejoice, dear friends, that you can see with the eyes of faith! Rejoice that you can hear the Word of God! Now, hear, look, and see! In Jesus' name, amen.