Tomorrow’s Sermon: Causes And Cures Of Spiritual Blindness
At ninety-one, Ron was distraught when he had to stop driving. The rest of us
at church thought he had been a marvel, continuing behind the wheel to such an
age. But he was suffering from age-related macular degeneration, the most
common cause of sight loss in our country, a currently incurable condition.
The Emmaus Road is a story about blindness and sight, but it
is about curable blindness. When Jesus joins the two disciples on the road, we
read that ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (verse 16). Their
physical inability to recognise Jesus is connected with a spiritual blindness.
Easter is about blindness and sight: all are blind to the Risen Christ, but who
is willing to be healed, and who will choose to remain blind to him? Hence,
this morning, I want us to think about the causes of spiritual blindness, and
the ways in which the Risen Christ heals us and enables us to see him.
1. Causes of
Spiritual blindness is a common malady. John Newton captured it in the hymn
‘Amazing Grace’ when he wrote, ‘I once was blind, but now I see’. Finding God’s
grace in Christ is like our eyes opening.
However, blindness of spirit is not limited to those outside
the community of faith. It occurs inside. That’s what happens in our story, and
in other places in the Gospels. The disciples just don’t seem to understand
what Jesus is driving at. Many preachers will know about this phenomenon. We
preach our hearts out, trying to communicate something of the Gospel, but
somebody comments afterwards how they liked a story or a joke, but never
engages with what we were trying to say through that story. They are like the
people who enjoyed Jesus’ parables, but never found the kingdom of God that was
So to our story. Luke doesn’t say how ‘[the disciples’] eyes
were kept from recognising [Jesus]’. A popular suggestion in church history has
been to say that God kept them from seeing that the stranger was his Son.
However, there is a similarly worded event in Luke 18:34, where the disciples
don’t take in Jesus’ prophecy of his then-forthcoming betrayal, suffering and
death. The idea that God wouldn’t want them to understand that seems strange.
There are probably other reasons for their blindness.
If it wasn’t God, then might this be a satanic blinding?
That’s a tricky thing to say. Many Christians find it difficult to believe in
the existence of Satan and the Satanic. That isn’t surprising given the extreme
and irresponsible ways in which some other Christians speak about the devil.
But denying the devil’s existence runs into the buffers,
too. For Jesus clearly believed in his existence. Then we have to face our
Christian confession of Jesus as Lord. It’s inadequate to say that Jesus was a
child of his time, as if he were constrained only to believe the same as his
contemporaries. He’s not much of a Saviour and Lord on that account. Whatever the
behaviour of the Christian lunatic fringe on this issue, we are bound to accept
Jesus’ view of the demonic. As C S Lewis
famously wrote in The
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race
can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other
is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They
themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a
magician with the same delight.
It is perfectly likely that if we have an enemy of our
souls, he will want to blind us to the truth of God in Christ. He will distract
us, or get us to focus on the trivial instead of the profound – anything to
prevent us from engaging with all that the truth of Christ crucified and risen
means for us and for creation.
However, none of this is to take away personal
responsibility for spiritual blindness. ‘The devil made me do it’ just won’t do
as an excuse. If we were only talking about demonically caused spiritual
blindness, Jesus would not have rebuked the two disciples with the words, ‘Oh,
how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets
have declared!’ (Verse 25). Like Cleopas and his companion on the road, we are
foolish and slow of heart.
On the one hand, it is not that obvious if you just read the
Old Testament that the Messiah would suffer, die and be raised, and so you
might feel some sympathy for the disciples. On the other hand, Jesus had explained
this several times to them. Part of our spiritual blindness is similar: Jesus
has told us certain things repeatedly, yet either we don’t believe them or we
don’t put them into practice. If that were the case, then it would hardly be
surprising if we made little progress in our spiritual growth and witness.
So when we read that Jesus interprets the Scriptures
concerning himself, beginning with Moses and the prophets (verse 27), he is
surely telling them little new. Rather, he is recapping what he had previously
taught them. It’s like the story of the preacher who kept preaching the same
sermon every week. ‘When are you going to preach a different sermon?’
complained his congregation. ‘When you start obeying this one,’ the minister
Spiritual blindness, then, has at least two causes. One is
that of our spiritual enemy, who will do all he can to distract us from the
promises of the Gospel and the power of God. We need to be alert to his
tactics, so that we focus on Christ. The other cause is our own slowness to
believe and act upon what we have learned of the Gospel over the years.
Christian truth is not simply something to accumulate in our brains: it is
something we live out each day. If we don’t, then the muscles in our spiritual
eyes become lazy.
2. Cures for
Two causes – and two cures. Jesus’ first treatment for spiritual blindness is
his exposition of the Scriptures. Not just the Scriptures themselves, but also Jesus’ exposition of them. The
Scriptures are God’s Word written, but without Jesus speaking their meaning to
the two companions on the Emmaus Road, they never would have grasped the
meaning, and their hearts would never have burned within them at the thrill of
prophecy fulfilled (verse 32).
It is similar for us. The Scriptures faithfully relay the
message of God’s kingdom, but despite containing their world-changing message,
it’s possible to read them and find no life or inspiration. We too need Jesus
to interpret the Scriptures to us. We need the help of the Holy Spirit for them
to come alive and for us to see Jesus at the centre of their message. It makes
sense to seek the Holy Spirit’s help. Since the Spirit supervised the human
authors of the Bible, and since the Spirit’s work is also to point to Jesus, it
all fits with the Scriptures coming alive for us, and pointing to Christ.
How, then, might we seek the Holy Spirit’s help, so that as
we read the Scriptures, the scales fall from our eyes and we meet Jesus through
I believe it is about seeking the Holy Spirit within us and
among us. We seek the Holy Spirit’s work within our own lives, as we pray. In humble
dependence, we ask for the Spirit’s illuminating work as we read, reflect and
meditate upon the written Word. We seek the Holy Spirit among us, as we expect
the Spirit to be in the midst of God’s family. To that end, we ask the Spirit not
only to illuminate us privately, but also as we discuss the Scriptures in
fellowship, and as we seek wisdom from wider circles than our own church family
when reading books or listening to sermons or podcasts.
So this is the first cure for spiritual blindness. We seek
the empowering of the Holy Spirit as we read the Scriptures, that Jesus may be
revealed to us.
The second cure comes at the meal. If Cleopas and his
companion looked back and realised that their hearts were burning as Jesus
opened the Scriptures to them, the other eye-opening moment is at the meal
table. They invite Jesus in, rather like the ways in which Abraham and Lot
unwittingly offered hospitality to angelic visitors (Genesis 18:3; 19:2). It’s
also rather similar to the feeding of the five thousand, where the pivotal
point was that ‘the day was drawing to a close’ (Luke 9:12). This was, after
all, the customary time for the main meal of the day,
and the two disciples belonged to a culture that valued hospitality.
Jesus, then, is invited in as an honoured guest. But that
isn’t how he behaves. As he takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and shares
it, he is the host of the meal. His actions echo both the feeding of the five
thousand and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the penny drops. It’s
Jesus! He is alive, as the women had
said! He has made himself known to them in breaking bread.
So where do the scales fall from the eyes this time? At Holy
Communion? I would hope so. The sacrament is certainly a place where Jesus
makes himself known: it’s more than a memorial service. However, Jesus will not
be limited to ‘churchy’ environments, and at Emmaus, he doesn’t celebrate an
early version of the sacrament. What he does is what any Jewish host would have
done at any meal in those days. Thus, he reveals himself to the two disciples
at a regular meal. It is here, in the stuff of ordinary life, that he makes
This is why our Salvation Army friends don’t celebrate the
sacrament. While I believe they’re wrong to do that, they remind us of an
important point, that Jesus is there to be encountered at any meal, and – I would
suggest – in any part of life. The universe is his parish.
In our house, if Rebekah wakes up before me, she likes to
creep in and tickle my feet to wake me up. I hate having my feet tickled! She attempts
to surprise me with her presence. On the road and at Emmaus, we see Jesus
surprising two of his friends with his presence. Be prepared for Jesus to
surprise you! Nowhere is off limits to Jesus. Like an itinerant doctor, he
travels everywhere, curing people of spiritual blindness to him.
However, just because he turns up unexpected and surprises
us, it does not follow that we should leave it to him. If we know that
everywhere in creation is his domain (because his death redeems all creation),
then we have a challenge to look out for him. It’s not exactly a ‘Where’s
Wally?’ cartoon, but if we are in the dark, we can be encouraged with the
expectation that wherever we go, Jesus is not far away to lighten our darkness.
Unlike Wally, he isn’t hiding from us. Rather, he’s actively seeking us out. As
he looks for us, we can look for him.
The Resurrection, then, is God’s cure for spiritual blindness. We may have
become blind through our own negligence, or by not being wise to the
diversionary tactics of the enemy. But the light of the Risen Christ is
brighter than the darkness. His Spirit makes the Scriptures come alive for us,
and Christ himself is looking to meet us here, there and everywhere. He makes
all of life a sacred journey where we may meet him travel with him and eat with
him. Let us invite the Risen Lord to open our eyes to his presence, so that we
may walk with him in his ways.