Sunday, May 24, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "Blind Men" John 9:1-41

“Blind Men”
May 24, 2009
John 9:1-41

I’d like to take you to a delightful and revealing story in the gospel of John.

It’s kind of like a play.

Heather and I love to go to the theater. One of our favorites is the Sawmill Theater at Cook Forest State Park. Every weekend over the summer, local community theater groups come in and do plays. We love to go.

The theater there is really neat. It's enclosed, but the walls are on hanging tracks so that they can open and you really feel like you're outdoors. The breeze comes in. We've been there on nights when bats come in! The stage juts out into the middle of the floor so that you have “theater in the round.” No seat is more than, say, 25 feet from the stage, so there are no bad seats.

And when there is a good play, we love it! We like to watch the characters interact with one another, unfold a plot, tell a funny story or a sad story. We also like to grade the actors afterwards. Do you do that when you watch a play?

Who was the funniest, or who was the best at keeping a straight face? Who had us eating out of his hand? Who was the best actress? Who could really sing? Which one stole the show? We love to replay the action in our minds as we travel home.

Another thing that we often do on the car ride back is ask each other this question: “Which character did you identify with the most?”

Sometimes we watch a really meaningful play and one of the characters is struggling with something that we are going through. It might be grief or it might be joy. It might be a character trait that we have recently recognized in ourselves. It might be an aspect of our personality. Or it might be a situation that a character has gotten himself into that rings true in our experience. You know what I’m talking about?

This morning, I want us to think about John 9 as a play. It’s a great true story with lots of little twists and turns. It’s one of my favorites.

There are several characters: Jesus, the disciples, a man born blind, the man’s neighbors, the man’s parents, and the Pharisees.

This morning, as we walk through each scene, I want you to ask yourself: “Which character do I most identify with?” Which character sounds like you or describes you? Which character looks like you, acts like you? Which one are you like? Which character (or set of characters) are you acting like in your life right now?

The curtain opens on Act 1, Scene 1. Verses 1-7 Let's read them.

“As he went along [Jesus], he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

The first scene is the story of the miracle itself. A man who had the congenital birth defect of blindness is healed by Jesus.

This man is never named in this chapter but almost all the action revolves around him.

He has never seen anything. Think about that!

Life has always been dark for him. He's never seen a person or a tree or a building or the sea or the sun. He was born that way. He has never seen anything.

And his condition raises a theological question for the disciples. They ask Jesus in v.2, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

Rightfully they make a connection between disease and sin. Disease comes from sin. But not all disease and sickness is the result of specific sin. You see, Adam and Eve and our rebellion as humanity introduced all the pain and suffering that we experience in life, but it is not always a one for one occurrence. His parents didn't sin so that he was blind. And he certainly did not sin in the womb so that God punished him with blindness–that's not how it works. Ask Job. Jesus explains it in v.3.

“‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned.’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’”

Jesus says that the disease that this man has did not come from anybody's direct sin. Don't let people put guilt trips on you by telling you that your illness or handicap is because of some unconfessed sin in your life. That is not always true. This man had a whole other reason for being blind. Specifically, that God's glory, God's activity would be displayed in his life. Sin wasn't even part of the picture here.

Now, because Jesus responds this way to his disciples here, I think that the best word to summarize the disciples in this story is foggy.

They were asking all the wrong questions. They were misdirected. Their focus was off. They wanted to get their theological questions all answered (their i's dotted and t's crossed) when God wanted to do something miraculous. They were focusing on the problem and not on Jesus’ intentions and solutions. They were foggy.

Jesus says in vv. 4 and 5 that what they’re thinking about really isn’t the issue. Instead, the issue is doing God’s work while Jesus is still on Earth. He reminds them, “Remember, I am the light of the world. I have a specific task, bringing the light that gives life to those who will receive me. That's what we are about.”

And at the end of scene 1, Jesus demonstrates in a physical way, that spiritual truth–that He is the light of the world.

Jesus approaches the man (can you see it?). He hocks up a big loogey, He spits on the ground. He grabs the dirt and rubs His hands in it. He makes a mud pie with His saliva. And then He sticks it on the man’s eyes. Dirties them all up. Eeyh!

Many people have wondered why he did this. He uses mud-salve a couple of other places in the Gospels for healing miracles, too. I don’t know. I suspect that it had something to do with showing himself to be God because of what kind of life he can bring from the dirt. Remember, what we saw last month–we all come from the dirt. And breath from God's mouth and dirt from the Earth formed our bodies. Maybe Jesus is making some kind of a statement with that. I’m not sure. It doesn't seem to matter much here except that it makes the man need to wash it off and leave Jesus to do it.

So the man has this mud on his face (can you see it?), and Jesus sends him to a place named the Pool of Sent where he washes the mud and spit off of his face. And then, he can see...for the first time.

Suddenly, this man knows what people really look like. What water looks like. Can you imagine? As he’s brushing the water from the pool of Siloam from his eyes, he catches his own reflection in the pool. He feels his face and watches his fingers touch what he sees. He can see for the first time!

He lifts his head and can see Jerusalem–people bustling by on their business. He can see.

And He makes his way home. End of Scene 1.

This man’s old home is the setting for scene number 2.

When the curtain opens on scene 2, Jesus is no longer on stage. In fact, Jesus disappears from the action until the last scene of this story when He comes from offstage to deliver the most important concluding lines. But the dialogue through these scenes have everything to do with Him.

In scene #2, the man interacts with his neighbors. vv.8-12

“His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, ‘Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?’ Some claimed that he was. Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ But he himself insisted, ‘I am the man.’ ‘How then were your eyes opened?’ they demanded. He replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’ ‘Where is this man?’ they asked him. ‘I don't know,’ he said.”

OK. The dialogue in scene #2 is very short, simple, and to the point. Basically, they just figure out that this man was indeed the man who was a blind beggar and establish the simple facts of how Jesus healed him.

The reason the neighbors didn't believe that he was the same man is because of his eyesight. For all of his adult life, he had made his money as a beggar. What else could he have done in that culture? They couldn't believe their eyes! This couldn't be the same guy, could it? And he says simply, “Yep, I'm that guy! Jesus healed me.”

Well, that calls for some attention.

The curtain closes and then opens right again as the man's neighbors bring him to the Pharisees. This healing deserved some attention and some comment by the religious authorities.

In scene 3, the Pharisees interrogate the man who was healed. vv.13-17

“They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. [Oh, a Sabbath. Hmmm.] Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. ‘He put mud on my eyes,’ the man replied, ‘and I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man [meaning Jesus!] is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others asked, ‘How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?’ So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, ‘What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ The man replied, ‘He is a prophet.’”
Now this story is starting to get sadly funny. It’s funny, but it’s sad.

In this interrogation, the Pharisees assume that Jesus must have been up to no good. They do not believe what they hear.

Now, it appears that their opinions were not universally held, there is some division going on among the Pharisees. Some were amazed at the miracle and began to wonder if, in fact, Jesus was the Messiah.

But for the most part, it’s the same old story with the Pharisees. Here before them, is a man who never could ever see and now is blinking at them with wonder in his eyes that “that is what a Pharisee looks like? Wow!” He's overbrimming with joy in his new-found ability to perceive the world and is sure that anyone who did this to him must be a prophet from God, but they are stuck on the fact that Jesus did this miracle on the Sabbath.

Work on the Sabbath was forbidden. You were not to allowed to be kneading in the mud, You were not allowed to apply a healing salve. You were not to heal something not life-threatening on the Sabbath. That was against their customs (the additions to added to the Law).

So, they reasoned, there's something fishy about this story. There's something we're not hearing. We need to investigate this further.

Notice, they have no regard for the truth. They are only seeing things through their pre-conceived notions about Jesus. And, in fact, no proof will change their minds!

Scene 3 ends with them shaking their heads in disbelief.

The Pharisees didn't like what the man told them, so they went looking for another story. The curtain opens on scene 4 with the Pharisees' interrogation of the man's parents. Vv. 18-23

“The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. ‘Is this your son?’ they asked. ‘Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?’ ‘We know he is our son,’ the parents answered, and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’”

If the word that describes the disciples was Foggy, the word that best describes the man's parents is Fearful.

Pharisees had begun to spread a fear in Jerusalem among those who might believe in Jesus. And that fear had reached this man’s parents.

They had heard that if you acknowledge Jesus as Christ, you would be forced out of the synagogue–basically excommunicated from their religion.

They probably knew that Jesus had healed him. They were probably among the first who had been told. But they weren't going to stick their necks out for Jesus. They told the truth that couldn't be denied and nothing more. “Yes. He is our son. Yes. He was born blind. Yes. He is healed.” And then, they shifted the attention away from themselves as fast as they could. “Ask him who healed him. Don't ask us. We don't want any trouble.”

They were fearful of persecution for Jesus' sake. Fearful.

And scene 4 ends with them pointing a quaking finger back at their son.

The curtain opens on scene 5 where the Pharisees have decided to summon back the man and get him to tell them what they want to hear. vv.24-34

“A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God,’ they said. ‘We know this man is a sinner.’ He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’ Then they asked him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered, ‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?’ [I love that!] Then they hurled insults at him and said, ‘You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ To this they replied, ‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.”

First they drag him, then they throw him out!

They're not happy with how this conversation goes. When they say “Give glory to God” (v.24). They mean "Come on. Tell us the truth, what really happened? Give us the dirt!” (Of course, they didn't know that there really was dirt involved! “We know that you can't be telling the whole story. This guy Jesus is a real trouble-maker. He's not from God. We know that. So ‘fess up.”

Do you see how twisted they are?

I think that the man by this time, is catching on that they're not quite searching for truth. So he gives one of the simplest and most profound testimonies of all time: “One thing I know. I was blind but now I see!”

This is a great way to witness. You can’t hardly argue with a personal testimony like this. If you're trying to communicate your faith to someone who isn't really searching for truth, use your personal story–how Christ opened your eyes.

These are the words that found their way into the song Amazing Grace. “I was blind but now I see.”

So they press him on this issue. I can almost see them inching closer. Hoping to catch an inconsistency in his story. Hoping that he trips up so that they can pounce on him. Verse 25, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

By this time, the man is tired of the questions. He has a pretty good idea that they aren't looking for real answers. So he answers straightforwardly and with dripping irony: “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

I love that answer. He's got them. Their only response is to insult him. If you can’t beat ‘em, call them names! They say,”You're this fellow's disciple. We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from.”

They're disgusted and disbelieving. They can't believe that they have to put up with this.

Remember. This man has been healed of blindness. Blindness from birth. And instead of recognizing God's activity, they are doing everything they can to discredit Jesus and His followers!

Right here, this man lays it on the line for Jesus. He doesn't know much about Jesus yet, but he knows one thing. He was blind and God has been doing stuff through Jesus. v.30

“The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ To this they replied, ‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.”

The man (we don’t even know his name!) puts it on the line for Jesus. He tells it like it is. Unlike his parents who were paralyzed by their fear, he boldly says that he believes that Jesus is from God. He counts himself as one of Jesus' disciples.

And he gets insulted and thrown out on his ear for it. He will not be welcome in the synagogue again. He is an outsider now with Jesus.

On the first day he can see, one of the first things he sees with his new eyes, is angry faces and the shut door of excommunication. Scene 5 ends with the man seeing--but seeing himself thrown out and all alone.

And that’s when Jesus comes back on stage.

The curtain opens on the last scene, scene 6, with Jesus finding the man and making him his follower. vv.35-41

“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him. Jesus said, ‘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.”

In scene 6, Jesus finds the man and makes him His follower.

This guy finally sees the Man who healed him. He looks into His eyes. And Jesus introduces himself as the Son of Man, the Messiah, the one sent from God to bring sight–the Light of the World!

And the man believes!

The disciples, in this story, are characterized by fogginess, the parents by fearfulness, but the man by Faith-filledness.

This man believes, and he worships Jesus!

He believes! And he kneels down right there and worships him.

Faith leads to worship. This man had put his neck on the line for and now he fully believes and worships Jesus. He was filled with Faith!

All of this has been leading up to something. Sometimes at the end of the play, you get the moral of the story. Well, our main character, the hero Jesus, gets the honor of delivering that line of bringing the point–in one last speech.

All of this healing from physical blindness was to prove a point about spiritual blindness!

Spiritual blindness is the inability to recognize truth–specifically the truth of who Jesus is. Truth with a capital T. When you are spiritually blind, you are lost. You don't know the way. You may think you are groping in the right direction, but you are in fact, lost and without hope.

Jesus is the light of the world. “Whoever follows [him] will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

But. But what if you don't follow him by faith. What if, after listening to His message and checking out His claims, you don't believe? Jesus says that then you will walk in darkness. Then you will remain in your guilt. Then you will stay spiritually blind.

And that's what Pharisees did and that's what the Pharisees were. They are the “Blind Men” I am referring to in the title of this message.

The disciples were Foggy. The parents were Fearful. The formerly blind man was filled with Faith. The Pharisees, however, were Stubbornly Blind (I'll bet you thought it was going to start with an F!) Stubbornly Blind.

They chose not to believe. They chose blindness over the light.

Here's what Jesus said. V.39

“For judgment I have come into this world...” In other words, everyone takes a side and is found to be on one side or the other.

“ that the blind will see...” In other words, those who admit their blindness and come to Jesus by faith will be given spiritual sight. They will be able to recognize the truth.

“...and those who see...” (that is those who claim to see) “will become blind.”

Jesus sounds a little paradoxical. And a couple of wise-cracking Pharisees within earshot what to know if he’s picking on them. Sarcastically they ask “What? Are we blind to?”

And what does Jesus say?

And Jesus basically answers, “Yes!” v.41

“If you were blind (that is--if you admitted your blindness) “you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

The Pharisees were stubbornly, resistantly blind. They chose blindness. They wouldn't admit to their need for light and for healing. And Jesus left them in their blindness and their guilt.

Stubbornly blind. Refusing to ask for healing and help. And the curtain falls.

The End.

Now. We’ve watched the play–all 6 scenes. It’s very dramatic. Amazing and surprising and funny and sad all at the same time.

The audience applauds. You put your snack in the trash on the way out. You file out of the theater, get into your car and head home. It’s time to talk about the characters.

First, Jesus. Wow. So powerful. So wise. So mysterious. He healed a man who had been blind since birth–where else have you heard of anything happening like that? What an amazing character! He is voted best actor. Best character.

The neighbors didn't say enough to really comment on. They were just one-sided characters to get across some of the facts.

But of the other characters. Which ones did you identify with most?

The disciples? Foggy, misdirected? Are you stuck on some theological point or question and you're missing the power and reality of Jesus' activity in your life? Is your focus kind of foggy? Maybe you’re focused on your problems–and not on doing God's work while it is still day-light? Does that sound like you? I've been there. I've been foggy. I’ve struggled with it this week!

We need to ask Jesus to clear away our fog. We need to not see all sickness as the result of some specific sin and not get caught up in theological questions with no purpose. Jesus wants us to concentrate on His reality and activity in our lives through a love relationship with him.

And He wants us to be busy doing His work.

How about the parents? Fearful. Does that describe you? You don't lie about Jesus. You just don't say anything about him. You're concerned about appearing cool and normal. You're afraid of what your friends will think of you if you come out strong for Christ. I've been there. I've been fearful. In fact, I'm afraid that the parents are the characters that I most readily identify with in this story.

Last week on vacation, we were at a gift shop, and I saw that the man behind the counter, who was very nice and sociable was reading Christopher Hitchen’s book, “God is NOT Great.” Which is a book stridently arguing for atheism.

Well, what do you think I did?

I got scared! I knew that I should say SOMETHING to this man. He was definitely loving the book. And it will mean his damnation if he doesn’t turn and come to the Truth–the Light of the world.

But I was sure tempted to be like the parents in this story.

I kept running various sentences over in my mind of how I could bring up the subject of Jesus, but I also kept fighting inside myself–fear.

At the end, I swallowed a gulp and shot up a prayer, and suggested another book for this guy to read that gave the other side of the story. That was it. But I did it. I overcame my fear enough to speak up at least a little.

Fear is not from God. We have not inherited from him a spirit of fear but of power, and of love, and of discipline. We need to ask God for boldness. He loves to give it.
How about those Pharisees? Stubborn spiritual blindness. I hope that this one doesn't describe you by the time that we leave this morning. Stubborn blindness. Refusing to admit that you are lost and need Jesus. This is very prevalent in our culture. “I'll do things on my own, thank-you-very-much. I'm okay. I'll get to heaven on my own. I don't believe in Jesus and all that stuff.”

But refusing to ask for help means remaining in your guilt.

Don't stay there. You'll end up like the Pharisees. Blindly walking into a hellish eternity. Because you didn't admit your blindness. Jesus said, ‘If you come to me and admit you are blind–ask me to save you by my grace through your asking in faith, then you would be healed of your sin, just like the physically blind man, but if you don't you won't.”

God wants to give you spiritual sight. To give you the new ability to recognize truth.

Specifically recognizing the truth of your lostness and how to become found. Specifically recognizing the truth of who Jesus is–the Savior and Son of God.

But if you don't, you won't. He allows you to wander blindly over the waiting cliff.

I've been there, too. I was blind spiritually. But I don't want to go back. Jesus has healed my spiritual eyes. I now have the ability to recognize truth. I can see the Way now. Don't stay there. Don't be a blind man. Come with those of us who know Jesus and know what He can do. You could say this phrase, too “I was blind, but now I see.” Don't stay at stubborn blindness. Turn from your sin today and trust in Jesus for salvation. He will heal your blind eyes.

I hope that some of you chose the man who was blind, this morning, as the character you most identify with.

He was filled with faith. He wasn't fearful in the face of persecution. He stood up for what he knew about Jesus. He told his neighbors and the Pharisees “I was blind but now I see. And Jesus is the reason.”

He worshiped Jesus in the presence of Pharisees. He counted the cost and became a disciple of the one who healed his eyes. Is your life characterized by faith and worship? That's what we need.

“Lord, I believe, and I worship you!”