Restoring sight to the blind | Isaiah 61

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The coming of the Messiah was associated with renewal and redemption. Though this was to be understood primarily in spiritual terms, it would also be manifested in the physical world. Jesus began his ministry with the announcement that the long awaited messianic age had dawned. Reading from the scroll of Isaiah, he announced that this prophecy was now being fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18). From that time on he went about performing miracles attesting to his messianic calling – restoring sight to the blind, opening the ears of the deaf, casting out demons and healing the lame – but these miraculous healings merely illustrated the pitiful spiritual condition and blindness of humanity as a whole and of our need of spiritual healing. The mission of the Messiah was to bring healing and restoration for all men who were stumbling in darkness, blinded by the god of this age and held captive by sin.

The Cause of Spiritual Blindness

Before Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, they enjoyed unrestricted fellowship with the Lord, untainted by a guilty conscience. Though warned by God that disobedience would result in death, they were enticed by the serpent’s promise that their eyes would be opened and they would be like God, knowing good and evil. The immediate consequence of their transgression was that their innocence, which had allowed them to enjoy free and blissful fellowship with God, was replaced with a consciousness of sin and the devastating awareness that their relation to God was irrevocably altered. Their disobedience opened their eyes to sin and rebellion and separated them from God. The sin which they allowed to take root in them would develop into full-grown rebellion and depravity, infecting every branch of the human family. The process of degeneration brought mankind to a state of utter corruption until it was spiritually blinded and no longer able to see the glory of its creator. Paradise became a dim memory as mankind forgot the high estate from which it had fallen and became engrossed in the carnal world, coveting the things that satisfy the flesh, through which sin finds expression. The apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

The irony, then, is that having our eyes opened to good and evil resulted in us becoming increasingly blinded to the glory of God and to the spiritual world which is unseen. The more carnal minded we become, the more blinded we are to spiritual realities, which leads to idolatry – the worship of created things instead of the Creator. As sin spread like a cancer through the human race so the separation from God increased to the point where man had turned to the worship of dumb idols and sunk into every kind of depravity. Paul, writing to the Romans, describes this process:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. (Rom. 1:21-25)

The apostle Paul describes how sin corrupts utterly and taints our view of everything: To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15).

Israel called to be a light to the nations

God called Abraham to leave his people, who were idol worshippers, and to go to the place where he would lead him. God’s purpose was to establish one nation to be the vehicle through whom the Messiah would come to restore man to right standing with God, enabling him to once again enjoy fellowship with God untainted by the guilt of sin. Israel was entrusted with the revelation of God so that they would be a light to the Gentiles, to bring back the knowledge of God to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6). This word revealed God’s plan of redemption through the Messiah, i.e. the revelation of Jesus Christ. Anything which detracts from the revelation of Jesus Christ is a distortion which obscures the purpose of God.

If we lose sight of the true purpose and calling of Israel, we place all the focus on temporal blessings and completely miss the point of our redemption. The writer to the Hebrews informs us that Abraham and all the true men and women of faith had their hopes set on the heavenly city which God has prepared for them: All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

God’s dealings with Israel typified his eternal plan of redemption, but many of the people became blinded to the spiritual realities, perceiving their redemption to the land of Canaan as an end in itself. If we become engrossed in temporal things, we lose sight of the goal of our redemption – the heavenly reward which Abraham was looking for. The tangible things of the law of Moses, including all the external rules, regulations and temple rituals, were given to Israel to illustrate heavenly things through shadows and types. However, many people began to trust in the shadows and types as if they represented the reality in themselves, and became increasingly blinded to the spiritual things that they were intended to illustrate. In the modern context a comparison can be made with those who think of church as a building possessing some peculiar sanctity as opposed to the living stones, the members.

Spiritual Blindness – a consequence of Pride

The nations walked in darkness, spiritually blinded, having been given over to the worship of dumb idols. Israel, having received the revelation of the only true God, was spiritually more enlightened than the surrounding pagan nations. However, the Lord warned the people not to become proud or they would forget the Lord and would then be no different to the pagans:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deut. 8:10-14).

Those who fail to perceive that they are fallen and separated from the life of God do not recognise their need of redemption, and will therefore also fail to recognise the Redeemer. When the Redeemer finally came in absolute humility those who had become proud and confident of their position as the chosen people despised him (Isa. 53:3). They had no perception that they were enslaved to sin, being confident that their relationship to Abraham assured them of a place in God’s family (Jn. 8:31-47). The more people flatter themselves, the more blind they become to their own sinful, fallen condition (Ps. 36:2). The law was not given through Moses as a means by which we may attain righteousness, it was given so that we would become conscious of our sinful nature (Romans 3:20), so that we would recognise our need of redemption: I would not have known what sin was except through the law (Romans 7:7).

The apostle Paul warned of those who become too confident that they are able to see:

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written (Ez.36:22): “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:17-24).

The prerequisite for healing and restoration is that we acknowledge our condition. That is why so many of those who came to Jesus were the outcasts of society, those whose pride had already been broken and who had no illusions about themselves.

The gospel of John records an incident where Jesus healed a man blind from birth. Jesus made some mud with saliva and put it on the man’s eyes, telling him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. He did as he was instructed and the man’s sight was restored. Instead of rejoicing over this happy turn of events the Pharisees reacted with suspicion and hostility. There is a deliberate play on words in this account — Siloam means “sent”, and only those who will be washed and cleansed in the one whom God has sent will receive healing. Those who are confident that they can see remain blind. The account ends with Jesus saying to the Pharisees: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:39-41).

Spiritual blindness is God’s judgment on the proud. Just as the Gentiles, in their ignorance and conceit, had been given over to spiritual blindness now many of the Israelites came under the same judgment. The apostle John quotes directly from the prophet Isaiah to explain the unbelief of the people of Israel:

Then Jesus told them, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them .Though he had done so many signs before them, they still would not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (John 12:35 43).

They refused to believe in the one who was sent and therefore God hardened their hearts so that they could not see. The Soncino commentary on Isaiah 6:9 succinctly describes the hardness of heart and the resulting spiritual blindness of unbelieving Israel:

“The people’s insensibility to all that is Divine and indifference to the prophet’s exhortation result in a lack of understanding and absence of perception. This inevitable result is viewed by the prophet, perhaps ironically, as if that had been its purpose.”

The Soncino then comments on how long this blindness will continue:

“Only desolation, destruction and exile of the sinful majority will bring to an end the deplorable conditions.”

For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me. (Hosea 5:14).

The first step to healing is to acknowledge our guilt. There are many who offer a false worldly comfort to unbelieving Israel, assuring them of God’s favour despite the condition of sin and unbelief. Their hope has become a carnal hope, but no flesh will inherit the kingdom of God. The realm of the flesh, in which the deceiver gained a stronghold, has been condemned and defeated.

The Lord is not a respecter of persons. The knowledge of his past dealings with Israel should fill us with fear and reverence. To those who have received mercy there is no ground for arrogance or conceit for the same warning of judgment for unbelief and pride is given to them: Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again (Romans 11:22).

The Blindness of unbelief

While the spiritual blindness of Israel to the glory of their Messiah may seem to be highlighted in the Scriptures – doubtless due to the greater revelation they had previously received – this is in fact the condition of all unbelievers. Just as a person who is physically blind cannot appreciate the splendour of a sunset a person who is spiritually blind cannot perceive the glory of the gospel without the Spirit of God: “. . . even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

Light itself is completely invisible, yet it is light which makes things visible (Eph. 5:13). We only “see” light when it illuminates an object. Just as we have natural eyes by which we are able to see God’s creation, so too we have spiritual eyes that need to be opened to the glory of God which is revealed in the face of Christ: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Eph. 1:18, cf. 2 Cor. 4:6).

The Messiah opens the eyes of those who come to him for healing: We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).

Just as the serpent deceived Eve with the promise of forbidden knowledge by appealing to her senses (the woman “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom”), the evil one continues to seduce people through the desires of the flesh, the things that can be seen and touched, so as to distract and eventually blind them from God’s eternal promises and invisible glory.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Eph. 4:17-19).

Adam and Eve were immediately stricken with guilt for having disobeyed the word of God, but modern psychology admonishes us to suppress any feelings of guilt as the product of a repressive upbringing which is counter productive to a healthy self image. Although we may try to suppress our guilty conscience this is the very thing that should lead us to Christ to find mercy and forgiveness. This was why God gave the Law of Moses – that sin might be seen as utterly sinful (Rom. 7:13). Only through the forgiveness obtained through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ are we cleansed from a guilty conscience so that we can draw near to God once more: Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).

Many people are being deceived into exchanging their everlasting inheritance for the shallow promise of a temporal earthly shadow. Though they may not realise it they are idolaters, worshipping created things before the creator. The devil tried to tempt Jesus himself with promises of worldly power and splendour: Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:8-11).

As Jesus said, those who find their lives in this world, (in their exile from the Garden of Eden), will lose their lives in God’s eternal resting place in the world to come (Matt. 10:39):

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Those who see only through carnal eyes have no perception of how pitiful their condition is from God’s perspective. The rebuke to the church of Laodicea shows that even believers can be blind to spiritual truths when they become carnal minded and engrossed in worldly comforts: You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:17-18).

God’s mercy and judgment go hand in hand. In the gospel of Jesus Christ the words of the psalmist are fulfilled: Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Ps. 85:10). If we recognise that we are blind and wretched sinners, deserving of judgment, we can appeal to His mercy and He will restore us, but if we stubbornly refuse to heed His warnings and come to Him in self-righteousness, He hardens us all the more until we are handed over to the deceiver.

There is an old adage, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” The final judgment on spiritual blindness is when the Lord himself hands those who have resisted the truth over to a delusion: They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Humanity as a whole is being tested. Will we worship the Creator or the creation? The god of this world desired to exalt himself above God and to receive the worship due to God alone. He continues to make his appeal through man’s carnal desires. True worshippers must flee from idolatry, which includes greed, and worship the only true God in spirit and in truth: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5).

Jesus is the one who restores sight to the blind. He is the one from whom we may obtain salve for our eyes so that we can see. But there is no time to procrastinate because the more we resist God and harden our hearts, the more He hands us over to our delusions – the judicial consequence of our pride. Therefore, as Scripture warns us repeatedly, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:8).