Jesus Gives You The Sight of Faith
Third Sunday in Lent – Isaiah 42:14-21
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.
One of Jesus’ most harrowing days in his ministry found him against the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law in Jerusalem. These spiritual leaders of Israel were set on proving Jesus and his disciples wrong. And what was their evidence? What was the piece de resistance to their argument against Jesus? Washing hands.
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law had added laws to God’s law and now they were trying to show that Jesus and his disciples had fallen short of those laws. It was their moment to say to the crowd, “Look! These men aren’t as good as you think! They can’t even follow a simple command like washing!”
It was time to show the people of Jerusalem who the Pharisees and Teachers really were. And Jesus doesn’t hold back. “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” The crowd must have been silent. Word quickly spread throughout Jerusalem: “Did you hear what Jesus said to the Pharisees?”
The disciples certainly had. They had watched how the Pharisees reacted, and now they brought that information to Jesus. “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’”
Sure he did. But Jesus had a greater point to make. It was time to call Israel’s spiritual leaders what they really were. “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Is there anything more dangerous than a blind guide? We have heard the phrase so often we probably don’t always consider just how strange it is. Imagine visiting the Grand Canyon, and just before your group is led down into the canyon the tour guide calls back, “Alright, everyone, if you will just follow me. Be careful, this is, after all, the largest canyon in the world and people have died here. And I should be up front with you – I’m blind.” I doubt you would walk another step forward.
Israel had been using blind guides for centuries. And these blind guides weren’t leading people through mountain passes. They were taking people through the ever more harrowing lands of religion! “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me?” This was especially bad because these spiritual leaders of God’s Old Testament people were supposed to be the ones with the best spiritual sight.
The people trusted them to guide them through God’s Word and how to live for him. And these spiritual guides had failed miserably, because they were spiritually blind too!
The people were no better. Isaiah writes, “Those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame. Hear, you deaf; look, you blind.” What made the situation even more tragic was the fact that God’s people, leaders and followers, “[Had] seen many things, but have paid no attention.”
They sure had seen a lot: God’s power plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the earthquakes and thunder on Mount Sinai, the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, the conquering of the Promised Land, the defeat of their enemies, and countless miracles. They had seen it all – and yet they were still spiritually blind. Although they could see, they couldn’t see.
We were born like that. In fact, we confessed earlier in our worship “I am by nature spiritually blind and darkened by sin.” And we struggle with spiritual blindness every day. Like Israel, it is especially tragic when we close our eyes to God and his Word because we have seen so much! We see God’s power when we hear about the miracles in his Word. We see God’s comfort. We see God’s love. And yet we go out and act like blind people when we give in to the temptations of this blind world.
It was that blind world that surrounded Jesus. Those blind guides, the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law had finally had enough of what Jesus had to say. And so these blind guides continued to act like they didn’t have any spiritual sight. They convinced Judas to betray Jesus. They put Jesus on a show trial during the night, when no one else could see what was going on. And then they got Jesus, the Savior of the world, crucified.
On the cross Jesus could see everything, even when the rest of the world around him didn’t. He saw the anger of the Pharisees. He saw the weeping of the disciples who abandoned him. On that cross he saw sin. He saw punishment. He saw death. And he saw hell.
Then, at the end of his suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled another prophecy of Isaiah. “I will turn the darkness into light before them.” Jesus did that on Easter Sunday. He did all of that for you, so that Paul could write, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” And your all-seeing Savior isn’t done with you. “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.”
So what does Jesus use to lead us through this sin-darkened world? What can guide us through our every day problems, our crises of faith, our pain and suffering? His Word. The Bible calls God’s Word “a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” This Word of God is what enables us, formerly spiritually blind people, to “Live as children of light.”
Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus appeared to Saul, the persecutor of Christians, he blinded him? I suppose he didn’t have to do that. But that blindness was important for Paul to experience. He witnessed God’s power. And he realized that he had been spiritually blind. When it was time for Paul to be baptized “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.”
What happened to Paul, what happened to Jesus’ disciples, has happened to us. We who were spiritually blind now have been given the sight of faith. What else can we call it, but…
“Amazing grace — how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.” Amen.
Where One Son Failed, Another Son Prevailed
First Sunday in Lent – March 5
Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked; For they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.
“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest— I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city. Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it. Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets.
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.
Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave, for evil finds lodging among them. But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict them—men who never change their ways and have no fear of God. My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords. Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you. (Psalm 55)
“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.” Those are the words of a man who is in torment. They are the words of a man broken apart from within. They are the words of the mighty King David, yet they sound more like the words of man like Job – a man who has lost everything. And that may come as a surprise to us.
After all, it was David who showed great faith and trust when he boldly stepped out onto the battle field as a shepherd boy against the greatest warrior: Goliath. It was King David who patiently waited to become king while Saul hunted him down in order to kill him. And it was David who brought Israel back to the Lord, the true God as her greatest King.
So how can this be the same David who has written the words of our psalm for this morning? This indeed was the King of Israel, the husband to Bathsheba and the ancestor of the Savior himself. But he was also now changed. His bold courage failed in the wake of a personal betrayal. The unthinkable had happened. David’s very own son had turned against him.
David’s son was Absalom, and the Bible had a specific description for Absalom: “Now in all Israel was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him.” But Absalom also had a characteristic that no other man had: “When he cut the hair of his head, he weighed the hair of his head at 200 shekels by the king’s weight.” That weight was about 5 pounds of hair.
Not only was Absalom a handsome man. He was also an ambitious man. “In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him.” One might say that Absalom had the look of a man who was running for office. That would be fine today, but Israel was no democracy. It was God alone who selected her kings.
Absalom remained unfazed. “[He] would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate.” And then, from that spot, “Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.”
It seemed innocent enough, but Absalom was gaining quite a following. Then one day, David heard the dreaded news: “A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.”
And so David fled from the capital city of Jerusalem with his faithful soldiers by his side. And the kingdom was sent into civil war.
It is probably at this point when David writes the words of our psalm for this morning. David recounts the words of his son Absalom at the city gates that turned the people of Israel against David, “His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” And then comes the greatest burden of all. David reminds us why this enemy coming against him to kill him is like none other he had faced. “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you.”
It was the worst betrayal a father could face, because it came from his very own son. Now Absalom was by no means the first son to rise up against a ruling parent. In fact, throughout history the sons of kings have done atrocious acts in order to seize the crown from their parents. Two of Sennacherib’s sons killed their Assyrian King and father in order to gain his power. The son of the Chinese Emperor Wen of Sui killed his father to become emperor himself.
What despicable acts these sons were willing to commit all to inherit power that was coming their way anyway! Why would such spoiled children commit treasonous crimes against their own flesh and blood? And what about Absalom – he was the son of King David, a man after God’s own heart! Indeed as a son, Absalom failed, and failed miserably.
But in the midst of all of this, perhaps the greatest burden to David was that he saw some of himself in his son. A good looking man who was willing to kill in order to get what he wants. Such things David had done as well. David had killed Uriah the Hittite in order to cover up the sin of adultery he committed with his wife, Bathsheba.
And this account may strike us personally as well. By nature we are failures as sons and daughters, just as Absalom was. No, we haven’t tried to kill those we love or start civil war. But we have hurt those we love. And when there is something we want, we are willing to do whatever it takes to get it – even if that means speaking words that are “as smooth as butter.”
Absalom’s betrayal may remind us of the most famous, or most infamous, betrayal in Scripture. It was the betrayal of Jesus Christ himself, who was willingly handed over to be crucified for the sins of the world.
Jesus is the one who had the right to say, “They bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger.” And yet where one son failed, where we all failed as sons, it was God’s Son who prevailed. It was Jesus who suffered and died and rose again. It was Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death that has set us free from the punishment our sins deserved.
And now it is Jesus who enables us to overcome the tears and sadness in our own lives. When we, like David, feel like saying, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” it is the Lord who gives us the faith to look to our Father in heaven and say with David, “I call to God, and the Lord saves me.”
That is exactly what the Lord did for David. Absalom was put to death and David was given another son, Solomon, to take up the throne for the Lord. He would become the world’s wisest king. He would build the Lord’s temple. And through David’s and Solomon’s family line would come the King of kings: Jesus. That is why David could write, “He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.”
In the end, we can let our enemies come. We know that the world is against us. We know that Satan would love nothing more than to pull us away from our Father in heaven. And we know that there are struggles all around us in this world. The Lord has warned us of these enemies, but he also reminds us that we need not be afraid.
In the face of our enemies, in the midst of anguish and turmoil we stand with David, and confess as he did, “But as for me, I trust in you.” Amen.
The Mountain of the Lord
Transfiguration Sunday – February 26, 2017
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9)
In Biblical history, mountains have been the location of some of God’s most memorable accounts. There was Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark finally landed after floating on the flood waters for a year. We remember Moses climbing Mount Sinai as the mountain itself shook and thundered, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and all of the other laws and regulations for his people. There was Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, where all of the Israelites were divided – half on one mountain and half on the other – taking turns relating God’s blessings and curses. There was Mount Carmel, where the prophet Elijah faced off against the prophets of Baal, showing that God is the true God by dousing an altar in water and then watching God send fire from heaven to burn it all up.
Even today, mountains seem to capture our attention. They jut out of the earth at such phenomenal angles and rise to such amazing heights. Mountains offer us places of solitude. From below mountains can be seen for miles. From atop them you can see for miles.
This morning we see yet again how a mountain top plays a key role in Scripture. “Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James; and he led them up onto a high mountain by themselves.” Jesus took just three of his disciples to the remote location on top of the mountain. What he was about to show them was only for them to see on this occasion. “There he was transfigured in front of them. His face was shining like the sun. His clothing became as white as the light.”
Now, in the brilliance of Christ’s glory, the disciples realized they were no longer alone. “Just then, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus.” How fitting! Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, who climbed Mount Sinai, who wrote the very law Jesus came to fulfill was now standing on another mountain with the Lord himself! Then there was Elijah, the prophet who represented all prophets. He defended the Lord on Mount Carmel and also looked forward to the coming Savior. There they all were, speaking with Jesus.
Sadly, those words aren’t recorded for us. The only words we hear are those from Peter, and those were less than inspired. “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” Peter wanted to stay in the glory of the Lord forever. It must have been tempting. Had we been there, we too might have wished the same thing.
Then it was time for God himself to speak. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Understandably, the disciples were terrified. Lovingly, Jesus told them, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” It was time to come down from the mountain. It was time to get back to the sinful reality of this world.
On this Transfiguration Sunday we always focus on what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. But to be honest, it isn’t the most important mountain recorded in Scripture. In fact, we don’t even know which mountain it was!
Jesus purposefully came down from this mountain because a far more important mountain loomed in the distance. It wasn’t Mount Sinai or Mount Carmel. This mountain was far older, with far greater significance.
This mountain was Mount Moriah. Let me share the history of this mountain with you – because in many ways the history of Mount Moriah is the history of God’s people, it is the history of all of us, and you could even say, it summarizes the history of the entire world. To put it simply, Mount Moriah is the most important mountain in the history of the world.
Here’s why: In 2000 BC, God came to Abraham with a frightening command none of us would ever want to hear from the Lord. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Abraham was to sacrifice his only-begotten son, the very son through whom the Savior of the world would come, in the name of the Lord? By the grace of God, Abraham was willing, because he knew God couldn’t go back on his promises. On Mount Moriah Abraham raised the knife and was about to slay his son when the Angel of the Lord came and stopped him. God instead gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice in Isaac’s place.
Years passed. The region of Mount Moriah became a city called Jerusalem. Within the walls of that city King David built an important altar for the Lord. His son, “Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.”
As Abraham had done on that same location a thousand years earlier, now countless sacrifices were made on Mount Moriah, pointing ahead to the Lamb of God, who would come to take away the sins of the world.
We watched that Lamb of God, Jesus, come down from the unknown mountain of Transfiguration this morning. He did that so he could approach the mountain that loomed in the distance – the mountain destined to be the place of his death and our life. Jesus entered Jerusalem, was betrayed, captured, beaten, accused, and made to carry his own cross. And wouldn’t you know it, at the base of the very mountain Abraham once sacrificed the ram instead of his son, at the base of the very mountain Solomon built the temple, Jesus was crucified. On Mount Moriah, your sins and mine were washed away by the blood of the Lamb.
Indeed, in Biblical history, mountains have been the location of some of God’s most memorable accounts. The landing of Noah’s ark, the giving of the ten commandments, the defiances of the prophets of Baal, the transfiguration of our Lord all took place on memorable mountains. Today we remember the most important mountain in the history of the world. It has been called many different names over the centuries – Moriah, Golgotha, Calvary.
But something else happened at the base of the mountain even more important. Not far from the place of Jesus’ death was the tomb where he was laid. Three days later it became the location of Jesus’ resurrection – all at that same mountain.
One mountain gives way to another. Jesus’ resurrection means your resurrection. Jesus’ fulfillment on Mount Moriah points you to another mountain – an eternal mountain. It is called Mount Zion, and it is found in heaven itself. What Jesus showed his disciples with his transfiguration you will see for all eternity on that mountain.
“Sure as your truth shall last, To Zion shall be giv’n
The brightest glories earth can yield And brighter bliss of heav’n.”