Blind, Prison, Darkness and Covenant

I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as Covenant to the People, as a Light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.      Isaiah 42:6-7

In the Church, Christmas’ accent on the birth of Jesus, and Epiphany’s emphasis that the new-born Child has come for the sake of all humanity has now been celebrated.  Fast forward to about thirty years later, we find ourselves on the banks of the River Jordan, where a bewildered John the Baptist finds Jesus coming to be baptized by him.  It is now when God’s plan of salvation slips into high gear after a wait of thousands of years, in fact, since even before the creation of the world.

The Baptism of Jesus is no casual incidental affair – it marks the initiation of Jesus as the Sin-bearer, the Savior of the World.  It forms the groundwork for a plan so minutely designed that prophets could describe in detail its key aspects hundreds of years in advance.  Thus we have this passage from Isaiah this morning.

Having spent years studying Covenant in the Bible, I came to realize that contrary to what I had been taught, Covenant is not some sort of contract, but rather the binding of at least two persons down to the level of the soul, or if you will, to the very seat of one’s life.  This is emphasized when Jonathan cuts Covenant with David in I Samuel 18[:1-3], where “he loved him as his own soul” is repeated three times, describing a profound intimacy beyond any other relationship between humans, yet without the sexual overtones which our culture seems to demand of any close relationship.  As we observe God’s relationship with His chosen People being called a Covenant, we begin to realize the depth of the intimacy of this connection.

But Isaiah presents a stumbling block to us: a relationship is between people, but the prophecy curiously declares that the Messiah or Christ would Himself be Covenant.  He would not merely preach about a Covenant, He would not engineer God and humanity into intimate closeness, He would not merely officiate at bringing God and humanity into a Covenant oneness.  No, He Himself would be the Covenant relationship itself – everything it is and stands for.would be found in the Person of Jesus Himself. Outside of Jesus there is no human connection with God, no special, personal, loving relationship between God and man.

That’s like saying a person is not in a marriage, or has a marriage with someone, but rather is “marriage” itself.  At first that really sounds confusing, until you look at the Person of Jesus – He doesn’t “bring” God and human together, rather in His Person “is” God and human together as a single entity.  Baptism for us takes on a whole different depth because by it we are placed into the Body of Christ – not mere figurative language, mind you, but we are concretely a real part of Christ, part of this single entity of Covenant, this God and human in the same Person.  God doesn’t bother trying to explain it to us, as if we could understand it anyway – He simply declares that it is so.

“I have given you as Covenant to the People, a Light to the nations” – just think of the wisdom of God!  What greater assurance is there to know that this relationship exists, except to recognize it every time we see Christ!  And then to know that every time we share this Christ’s Body and Blood, we are plunged yet again into this special relationship of God and man in the oneness of the Person of Jesus!

These words increase in significance as Jesus opens His career as Sin-bearer and Savior – Isaiah reminds us that Jesus has a specific job to do: He must “open the eyes that are blind, bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  Three things Christ will deal with: blindness, prison, darkness.  That’s a good description of what we are like outside of Jesus.

First, there is blindness – spiritual blindness, a blindness toward God, a blindness in regard to what God is and how He works.  We are not able to recognize what God’s love is all about – so often we see Him as “not loving.”  How often have we reacted in anger and indignation when God doesn’t do things our way, or when we experience unpleasant circumstances?  when we perceive God as intent in making us miserable, or that He childishly penalizes us.  We cannot see God’s loving hand in discipline, we only see our inconvenience.  Where is He when there is death, suffering, scarcity of essentials?  We often cannot see beyond what is in front of our noses.

We are blind to how God means what He says.  When He is says that He must punish sin, it’s sin the way He defines it.  Sometimes people only see themselves as self-righteous, trotting out how they don’t rob banks, or murder.  One pastor cut to the heart of that blindness by turning to Matthew 22:37-38, asking his questioner what Jesus describes as the first and greatest commandment.  The reply is, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  There is nobody who can honestly claim to have fulfilled that command.  We can only repent and confess how far we have fallen short from what God requires of us.
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Too often we also are blind to the great desire of God to forgive and to give us newness of life.  The very Person of Jesus, as Sin-bearer, Savior, and Covenant stands before us right here – do you see Him?   After the Cross, He is not interested in punishing us for our sin – the payment has been even more than required.  His only concern now is to refine and to polish the gold which He has placed in our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our daily lives – the gold of how much He has loved us, along with “the riches of the Glory of His inheritance in the saints” [Ephesians 1:18], “the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” [Ephesians 2:7].  On the day of His Baptism, this is what Jesus began to open our eyes to and to heal the blindness which has refused to grasp such a heart of God.

In so doing, Jesus begins to free the prisoners – you and me.  Fear is the greatest prison there is.  How we’d love to grow, how we’d love to change, how we would love to be released from the lies which have convinced us that there are no other alternatives than that which locks us into the prisons of our past life.  But we are afraid to risk something different in our way of seeing ourselves and the world.  A comic strip once stated, “Psychologists say that New Year’s resolutions are bad for you, and I agree – because if you break them, you’re burdened with guilt, and if you don’t beak them, you’re burdened with you.”  How often do we fear what the Lord could do with us, acting as if we are almost obligated to be the same as we were yesterday?

Prison.  You want to change but you are afraid to.  Yes, it would be nice to be less selfish and more loving in your family, among your brothers and sisters, and parents, and kids.  Yes, it would be wonderful to break your bad habits, the destructive views of yourself, the addictions which we have convinced ourselves are required in order to cope, to survive, to handle life – to do without the alcohol, drugs, hatreds, selfishnesses, attitudes, and the rest which rule our lives.  Yes, it would be wonderful to be more open and friendly.

But it is hard to be free from these prisons – we would have to leave the security of the usual, to become vulnerable, to be more accountable, more responsible, more self-giving.  We are afraid of what would change, what would be the cost of such differences.  Fear is indeed our prison.

Yet Jesus reaches into our very being, changing our perspectives, our understandings, our hopes, our expectations, our perceived limitations.  He’s equipped to do it – He knows not just God’s side, God’s perspective on what we think hinders us, but also as Covenant His eyes are fully open to the power of God overcoming dismal human misgivings, revising our feeble assumptions of what we are able to do, surpassing the human limitations which we fear.

This then touches on this Covenant’s third task: to bring out those who are in darkness, those whose lives are shadowed by despair and gloom, those locked into a prison of hopelessness – and truly, we can too often and too easily submit to such discouragement.  We are overwhelmed when as an addict we face what seems to be the impossible task to become free, whether it be drug or alcohol free, or to break the bands of pornography, or to break free from the compulsions of anger, hatred, greed, or whatever else can assume power to rule our lives.  The frustration of minor things as trying to lose weight, or of major things like learning how to love as defined in the Bible can seem just so impossibly out of reach.

But now comes the Covenant with His light of hope shining into such darkness.  The dawn begins to reveal what it means to see Jesus as the God become one with humanity and its implication for every one of us.  We glimpse God reaching not with antiseptic hands, but touching our hearts with His love, bringing the fullness of forgiveness with its ability to be reborn each day, having the inexhaustible freedom to start over, and especially to discover what life can become as we observe how much of a partner God is in our lives.

Truly, we become able to see differently now, finding guarantees within His past activity and resources in His promises.  We even discover the ability to wait for him to accomplish surprises in our lives, revealing what our Covenant, Jesus, brings into our situations.  No longer are we sitting in the darkness of despair:  our souls become flooded with the presence of God Who shines the light of His power, steadfast love, mercy, grace, goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness into our every day life – as the darkness simply becomes destroyed by the brilliance of the Covenant’s presence in our lives..

So come to Him Who is the Covenant, the two-made-one-Person for your sake; come and be plunged by Holy Communion back again into this awesome relationship of God and man, renewed by the Word and promises of His forgiveness and new life.  Place before Him your blindness, your prisons, and your darkness, so that He may work His healing within you.  Discover the presence of  He Who bridges the distance between God and humans, between God and us (who are blind, who are prisoners afraid to change, who are unable to peer through the bleakness of our darknesses), so that we will discover what the Covenant can mean in our daily life.  Come.

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