“The Light to the Nations” Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-9 Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 3:13-17
We have all been taught that “beauty is only skin deep,” but I say unto you, “real beauty is beyond the reach of the eyes.” But I wonder what it would be like to be able to perceive the REAL BEAUTY in every person I meet? Well, it’s Awards Season in Hollywood, and everyone is concerned with being “red-carpet ready.” The message we usually get from Hollywood is that the people who are attractive on the outside are the folks who are really worth knowing, but in 2001 they hit a surprising bulls-eye with a movie called Shallow Hal. Caution: there is some offensive language in this film, and there are a few scenes you don’t want the kids to see—but the message is wonderful! It’s all about a fellow who is extremely shallow (even by Hollywood standards), and he is only interested in women who are…nice to look at. Then he receives a wonderful gift—the ability to see the inner beauty of the people he encounters. He is amazed that these “knockouts” are willing to spend time with him, and he is even more perplexed when other people fail to see their beauty!
I thought about Shallow Hal as I focused on today’s Scriptures, and I began to see many things that I had not yet connected. What if a person had the ability to see inside others and perceive their REAL BEAUTY? What if you and I could see as God sees, and not be blinded by superficial appearances? When Samuel was looking for the next King of Israel, he saw one of the sons of Jesse and thought he looked very “kingly.” But God told Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
In our reading from Acts, Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” And, in Isaiah, we hear God’s promise of a servant who would be a light to the nations, one who would open the eyes that are blind, someone who could bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, those who sit in darkness.
Now, usually, we think of blindness in terms of those who have no use of their eyes. (And Jesus healed plenty of blind people.) We also think of prisoners as those who are literally in prison. But, Friends, what if Isaiah is talking about our blindness—the inability to see as God sees? What if you and I are the prisoners referred to in the text—people who are imprisoned by the darkness of our own mistaken perceptions, living in a dungeon that keeps us from enjoying the beauty in those with whom God has surrounded us? Is it possible that God intends for us to see as God sees?! And can you imagine how the world would be turned right-side-up for us IF we were able to do so? So, here’s our question for the day: “How might I be cured of my blindness?”
Jesus Saw as God Sees
When we carefully read the Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus saw as God sees. He was able to know people for who they truly were, despite any outward appearances. He knew the motives for the questions they asked him; he was able to read their life-situations. And, keep in mind, Jesus saw the Truth about people without condemnation. For example: when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, he asked her to call her husband. When she replied that she had no husband, he stated (matter-of-factly), “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” He was not judging her, because their conversation deepened, and Jesus revealed to her that he is the Messiah. Jesus saw the Truth without condemnation.
How? Well, we get some hints from our Scriptures. In Isaiah, God says, “I have put my Spirit upon him.” And in our reading from Matthew, we hear “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” Jesus walked in the Light, as John described in his first letter: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Some Choose the Darkness
Barbara Mouser says this: “Light obeyed brings more light. Light rejected brings the night.” The more we obey the light that we have, the more light we will be given! But if we ignore the light we have, then we are moving into darkness—and, sadly, some will choose the prison of darkness where they can maintain their cherished beliefs when the light feels too challenging. In Luke 11, we hear Jesus say, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.”
In John 3, Jesus is talking with Nicodemus, and tells him the familiar phrase, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” But just a few verses later, he says this: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Choosing the Light
John’s Gospel begins with this wonderful prose about light: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Hear again the words of Isaiah: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind.”
I want my eyes to be opened. But I have to make a choice between being my own master (living in darkness), or allowing the Light to illuminate my need for a Savior, and choosing to obey what the Light reveals. The Scriptures share the good news that God gives us the Spirit to help us choose the light, to empower us to leave the darkness, giving us eyes to see as God sees.
Prayer: God, you know about our prisons, our darkness, our blindness. By the power of your Holy Spirit, please shine your light on us. Fill us with your Spirit so that we might see as you see. In the name of Christ, amen.