"The Lamp of the Body"#87-08
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 20, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 16
How do your eyes work? Do they give or do they only take? In a physical sense, it seems that all your eyes do is take. They take in light, light waves and photons from light sources, and that's how you see. Your eyes don't give off energy beams like Superman's, your eyes just take in.
Modern physics has given us some experimental proof of this. However, as recently as 2002, a survey showed that around 50 percent of college students when asked to explain how their eyes worked, believed that their eyes give off some sort of energy beam, or light ray and that's how we see. It's called the emission theory of vision, and to be fair, it's an old theory. It's been around a long time. It was the dominant understanding of how the eye worked for about a thousand years. There's still something compelling about the idea that your eyes were made for more than just taking. Your eyes are powerful.
You felt that, when someone's looking at you, you felt the glance of someone. You know what that's like to have someone dignify you with the way they look at you. Make you stand a little taller. You know the power of the eye. Jesus of Nazareth once said, "That the eye is the lamp of the body." He's speaking of a spiritual reality, a fully human reality. Which is to say that if your heart is full of light, then your eyes shine with generosity, and grace, and your body follows the light.
If your heart is full of darkness, then your eyes are obscured with fear and greed, and the rest of you follows suit. So, how do your eyes work? You remember what the serpent said to Eve in the garden of Eden? In a roundabout way, he implied that her eyes didn't work right. And that if she did what he was suggesting, and her husband did what he was suggesting, then their eyes would be fixed. They would be opened. They would be able to see what was good, and what was evil on their own, without the light of God's Word.
It didn't quite work out like that. Their eyes were opened in a sense, and they saw each other in a different light. They saw the ways that they could harm each other and be harmed. And they were ashamed. And in some ways, you could say that the rest of the Bible is the account of what God is doing to fix the sight of humankind.
So how does He do it? He starts with one man and his family, Abram and Sarai. And He starts to heal their eyes. You remember He said to Abram, "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and number the stars. If you are able to number them, so shall your offspring be. So shall your descendants be."
And I think there is a double meaning there. It's not just that the stars are innumerable, but the stars shine the light. And that's what Abram's descendants would be, shining like stars in the heavens, like a lamp for the body. And Abram trusted God, even though he was roughly 85 years old, and his wife was in her 70s, and they had no children. Even though that there was nothing that they could see by the natural light of the world that would prove that God's promise was anything but ridiculous.
Abram trusted, and God said, "You're in the right," and God declared Abram righteous, which is to say Abram sees rightly. Abram sees by faith. We walk by faith, not by sight. One of Abram's innumerable offspring wrote those words. The apostle Paul wrote those words. The apostle Paul believed, as I believe, that Jesus of Nazareth is the heir of Abram, the One who has come to restore the sight of humankind. He came to restore the sight by giving God's Spirit through His death and His resurrection, through His present reign over all things, and His promised return. Jesus has come to restore our sight.
In another letter that Paul wrote, he said that the Holy Spirit would enlighten the eyes of your heart. Now this is a process. It takes time for our vision to be healed. For example, a friend of mine had LASIK surgery to correct her vision. The surgery was immediate, but the healing took some time. It took about a week. Her eyes were irritated, and vision was blurry. It felt like she had a grain of sand in her eyes. And then even after that, it took several weeks before her vision was fully restored. For some, it takes up to six months after LASIK surgery to have fully restored vision. And it's something like that for learning to walk by faith. It takes a lifetime for our vision to be fully restored. None of us will see clearly until the day that Jesus comes again. Paul wrote in another letter. "Now we see dimly. Now we see indirectly, as in a mirror, but then we shall see face-to-face." It takes time to see. It took time for Abram. Abram was declared right in the sight of God. And then in the very next chapter, you see Abram's blind spots. You can see Abram's blind spots all throughout Genesis, and the short sightedness of his family.
Listen to this account from Genesis 16, and notice the difference between how the human characters eyes work, and how God's eyes work. So this is Genesis 16.
"Now, Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children. But Sarai did have an Egyptian maid servant named Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, 'Look, the Lord has prevented me from having children. Go into my maidservant, maybe I can build a family through her.' And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai took her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, and after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan for 10 years, she, Abram's wife, gave her to be his wife. And Abram went into Hagar and she conceived.
"When Hagar saw that she was pregnant, she despised Sarai with her eyes. And Sarai said to Abraham, 'This is your fault. Look, I gave my maid servant into your arms and now I am despised in her eyes.' And Abram said to Sarai, 'Your maid servant is in your hands. You do with her what seems good in your eyes.' And Sarai mistreated her. She humiliated her. And Hagar, she ran away. The angel of the Lord, the messenger of the Lord, found Hagar in the wilderness, near a spring of water, on the way to Shur, that is on the way to Egypt.
"And he said to her, 'Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?' And she said, 'From my mistress I am running away.' And the angel of the Lord said to her, 'Return to your mistress and humble yourself under her hand.' And the angel of the Lord also said to her, 'I will so multiply your descendants that they will not be able to be numbered.' And the angel of the Lord said to her, 'Look, you are with child and you will give birth to a son and you are to call his name Ishmael. (Ishmael, which means God hears.) You are to call him Ishmael because the Lord has heard your misery. And he will be a wild man, an untamable, free man. And his hand will be against everyone in everyone's hand against him, and he will live over against all his brothers.'
"And Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her. 'You are the God who sees me,' because she said, 'I've seen the One who sees me.' That's why the well is called the Beer Lahai Roi, which means 'the well of the living one who sees me.' It's still there between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son. And Abram called the name of the son whom Hagar had bore to him, Ishmael. And Abraham was 86 years old when Hagar bore him, Ishmael."
This is the Word of the Lord: Genesis 16.
Years back, when I was serving in the military, I had the opportunity to meet the president of the United States. Which president? I'm not going to tell you, because if you don't like this particular president, it'll ruin my illustration. So just imagine it's the president that you respected the most. Besides in the military, we are taught to honor the office, and then respect the man who holds it. So I'm there, in my military dress uniform, waiting in line to meet him. And I am noticing how carefully he's attending to each person he meets. He looks at them, he shakes their hand, he directs his full attention on them. And then it's my turn. We shake hands, and he looks at me. And maybe it's just the training of a skilled politician, but his eyes literally shined on me, and he made me feel like I was the most intriguing, the most important person that he'd ever met.
For just that moment, my commander-in-chief made me stand up a little taller. And I think something similar was happening with Hagar when she said, "I have seen the One who sees me." The vision of God, the eyes of God. They don't just take, they give. They give honor. They give dignity. They give love.
Let's look back through Genesis 16 and compare. Let's compare God's vision with the vision of the human characters in this account. Let's start with Sarai. How do Sarai's eyes work? How does Sarai see herself? She sees herself in danger of being left out of God's promise. Do you ever see yourself in that kind of light? You see yourself outside of God's concern. You're too small for God to notice, too minor of a character for God to care about? How you view the way God sees you, shapes the way you see other people. Sarah's dim view of herself and her place in God's promised future distorted the way she saw the people around her.
How does she see Hagar? She sees her as a human resource—an object that she can use to build something for herself. In contrast, how does God see Sarai? God doesn't see a barren, bitter, old woman. He sees Sarah: the future matriarch of the family that God would use to bring blessing to all the families of the earth. See you and I, we see what we are now, and we see what we have available to us now, and we try to dimly project that into the future. But God sees the future He has promised for us, and He brings that into the present.
What about Abram? How to his eyes work? Well, in this scene, Abram turns his eyes to avoid responsibility. Oh yeah, he used his eyes to find his way in and out of Hagar's tent, but that's as far as he's willing to get involved. When things go bad between the two women, what does he do? "You do with her what is good in your eyes," he says to Sarai. And then when Sarai, mistreats the woman who's going to be the mother of his first-born son, what does Abram do? He turns his eyes away. What problems are you choosing to ignore? What people are you choosing not to see?
That's how we use our eyes sometimes, but how does God use His? How does God look at Abram? He looks at Abram, and He already sees Abraham. God looks at this short-sighted little man, and He sees the person who over the next 90 years is going to become "the lifelong friend of God", as he says in Isaiah 41:8. You and I see what we are now, but God looks and sees the person that He's making us in Christ to become, and the process that will get you there. Look when my eyes see a problem that they don't know how to handle, they turn away. But God's eyes see His friends through every problem.
Now let's look at Hagar. How do her eyes work? She looks at Sarai and she sees a rival, a competitor for the attention that she craves for herself. And Hagar knows that all she needs to win this fight is a look. You know that look. You've probably given that look to someone. You know that you have made people feel uncomfortable. You have made people feel uninvited. You have made people feel worthless just by the way that you looked at them? Why do we do this? Why does Hagar despise Sarai with her eyes? Well, maybe it's because Sarai only saw her as a slave. And now Hagar wants revenge. Or maybe it's because the guy who got her pregnant doesn't see her as someone worth fighting for.
And in the midst of all this distorted, broken, human vision, how do God's eyes work? God sees Hagar; she's got a name; she's a person. He says, "Hagar, from where have you come and where are you going?" He sees her as a person with a story, and a hope, and a future. He doesn't see a problem to avoid. He doesn't see a human resource. He sees a person. And He looks at her and He sees unborn people that He loves, in spite of their problems. He looks at this dysfunction, and He sees the blessed creation that He once declared good. God's eyes shine out on all those descendants that He will bless through His promised Christ.
Even from there, God's eyes lit upon you and me. That's why He sent His Son Jesus to be the Christ for us, to restore our vision. In Jesus, you and I get to say with Hagar, "I have seen the One who sees me."
Recently, I was talking to a friend. "We're going through these classes," she told me, "classes to be certified to become foster parents." "What are those like?" I asked. She said, "They give you these awful scenarios." She said, "These are real cases that they've seen, and it made me wonder what would that be like if I had grown up seeing the things that those children have seen." What would it be like to be seen only as an object to use? Or as a problem to avoid? Or as a rival to destroy? What would it feel like not to know what it's like to have someone use their eyes to dignify you? value you? love you?
Maybe you know what that's like, or maybe you can imagine. Whatever you've seen, please know that, that is not how your God sees you. In Jesus, His Son, He looks at you and He sees a friend. In Jesus, He sees a person who is filled with the potential, and the possibility, and the promise of His Spirit. He looks at you, and He sees Jesus, His beloved child, the most important person to Him in the whole world. He sees you.
Jesus has come to restore our vision so that your eyes, and my eyes, they would shine like stars in the heavens. Your eyes were made for so much more than collecting photons. You can do a lot with your eyes, the lamp of your body. How will you use them?
We pray, dear Father, by the Spirit of Your Son, enlighten the eyes of our heart. That we might know the hope to which we've been called. That we might know the riches of the glorious inheritance You have prepared for us. That we might know Your immeasurable power toward us who believe, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Reflections for October 20, 2019
Title: The Lamp of the Body
Mark Eischer: Now back to Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. So this week, many Christians are going to be celebrating the 502nd anniversary of the Reformation, and Martin Luther was a prominent figure in this. And again, I have joining me in the studio Dr. Erik Herrmann. Thank you for being here.
Erik Herrmann: Thanks for having me.
Mike Zeigler: You have immersed yourself in the study of this time period, the people involved, and its impact on, really, on world history since. Thinking back, what got you interested in Luther?
Erik Herrmann: When I was a student studying at the seminary, of course, we're all introduced to Luther and his thought. I had a good vicarage, but I also had some time on vicarage to do some extra reading and studying. I read a book that specifically focused on Luther's theology and had a lot of good quotes from him in it. I started finding him as a teacher, someone that he expressed himself in a way that I had never heard anyone else express, and had a deep love for God's Word that was clear. And so it just raised all sorts of questions for me again, and he continues to be my teacher in many ways.
Mike Zeigler: He gave some lectures on Genesis. When he talks about the part of Genesis that we're in now, the life of Abram and Sarai and Hagar that we talked about today. Does he have any interesting perspectives on this part of the story of Abraham?
Erik Herrmann: He recognizes that Abraham is a great example in the Old Testament of what it means to be someone who believes in God and believes in His promises. He spends an enormous amount of time with those stories. His reflections are deeply personal and devotional.
I have a Ph.D. student now that I'm working with, and he is working on a project on Genesis lectures of Luther. He's focusing on all of the people in the story that are the outsider, the unchosen person—not Abel but Cain, not Sarah but Hagar, not Rachel but Leah. And Luther actually has very interesting things to say about the unchosen—generous things to say—he recognizes that God still gives promises to them and that God's love is not so narrow, but it's this generous, spilling over.
Hagar is a good example, because Hagar and Ishmael, her son, are specifically not to be designated as the inheritors of the promise, in a narrow sense. He even allows them to be driven out of the family. Twice the Lord appears to Hagar and promises to protect her. He keeps her alive in the desert and promises that her family will be a great family as well. This really prepares you to see that God's love is going to spill over to all nations already there.
Mike Zeigler: That was a huge concept for me. I was reading through that section in Luther's lectures, and how being unchosen doesn't mean you're outside of God's salvation.
Erik Herrmann: Right.
Mike Zeigler: So he talks about Hagar, when the messenger, the angel of the Lord, speaks to her, Luther says that Hagar is brought to faith; she is justified by faith just like Abram was. And so even though she's not part of the promised line, salvation is for her, too.
Erik Herrmann: Right, right. From the moment that God brings His promise to one nation and to create one nation, it's spilling over into others. And you're already seeing the future of the Gospel. But I think it also is to recognize that it's God that's really in charge. It gives us a witness into His character, and His character is one of surprising love and generosity.
Mike Zeigler: The promise is not in the sense of excluding these people, that these are going to be God's people and no one else will be God's people. But it's almost like they're chosen for this special mission that's going to bring salvation through faith to everyone.
Erik Herrmann: Yeah. He chooses special instruments. You'll see this in the New Testament when God chooses Saul—Paul—he's My special vessel. But that doesn't mean those who aren't doing that aren't also the recipients of God's grace, that He doesn't use them in their own ways.
Mike Zeigler: He uses the vessel to bless the others.
Erik Herrmann: Right. No, that's right.
Mike Zeigler: As you were saying earlier, that God's in control or God's in charge of this. And when all His vessels break and prove unfit, He sends His Son to be the vessel who will do it finally in the end.
Erik Herrmann: Right, and always with that intention. That through the brokenness, He's going to bring about something beautiful. And of course, there's nothing more broken and tragic than the cross itself. But it's through that that the life of the world is given. So this is leading us right there to Calvary.
Mike Zeigler: All right. Thank you for joining me, Erik.
Erik Herrmann: Glad to be here.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"I Trust, O Lord, Your Holy Name" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)