Seeing is Believing
Bible Text: John 9:1 – 41 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: John – Encountering the Word | John 9:1 – 41
Seeing is Believing
Previously in John’s gospel…
If you’re watching a TV show, sometimes at the beginning of the episode, there’s a voice over, “Previously, on, whatever show you’re watching”, and they run through some clips from previous episodes, to remind you of what’s happened,
To fill in the blanks in case you missed some of it,
And to set the scene for what’s about to unfold.
Now I reckon less than 30% of us were here 2 years ago, when we started in John’s gospel,
So let me give you very quickly, the “previously, in John’s gospel”!
And when it comes to beginning with John, the place to start is actually the end, where John, an eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry, tells us his purpose in writing this account of Jesus’ life: Chapter 20 verses 30 & 31, Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John has recorded Jesus’ miraculous signs. In the other accounts of Jesus’ life, Matthew, Mark and Luke, these are called miracles. John calls them, signs.
He’s making a particular point about these miraculous things that Jesus does, isn’t he?
What does a sign do? It points to something else?
When I drove to Victor Harbor last week, when I got to Strath, there was a sign, saying “Victor Harbor”.
I didn’t park my car there and have my meetings, did I?
These miracles, they point to something else.
And in chapter 20, verses 30 and 31, John tells us, as his readers, what the signs point to, these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
These signs point to Jesus, as the Christ, the Messiah, God’s king.
John’s saying, Every time you see one of these signs, I want you to recognise that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
And once you come to Jesus on those terms, you’ll have life. Real life, eternal life.
That’s the underlying theme through all of John’s gospel.
The Light goes into the world
Then the immediate context is what’s happened just prior to chapter 9, where Jesus has been in the temple, and John goes to great lengths to let his readers know where Jesus is physically at different times, what religious festivals are going on, and so he tells us, it was the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles . And as part of the celebrations, the custom was that 4 enormous lanterns which stood in the temple courtyard were lit.
And the day after this festival has ended, when these enormous lampstands are standing there charred,
Jesus stands at the feet of them in the temple courtyard, and says, chapter 8 verse 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It sounds innocent enough to us, but to the people standing around Jesus, in the shadow of these lampstands that were thought to symbolise the light, and enlightenment that came from the Jewish temple, and the religion associated there, to those who heard, and saw, and understood, this was a huge claim.
A claim to be everything that the Jewish religious system centred on the temple was not, and could never be.
You know Mick Dundee, that’s not a knife, this is a knife!
Jesus is saying, that’s not the light, this is the light.
I am the light,
And then chapter 9 is about what happens when the light goes out into the world.
And Jesus and his friends encounter a man who was blind from birth.
He’s been in darkness, all his life.
A misunderstanding about sin and suffering
Let’s have a look, verse 1, As he that’s Jesus, went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
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. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
So although we know this is ultimately a story about seeing Jesus for who he is, both Jesus, and John use it to get us to think about sickness and suffering.
Basically the disciples want to know whose, fault is it that this man is blind?
And I reckon this is a question the blind man’s heard countless times, as every rabbi stops, and points, and rattles off the latest theories as to the causes of human suffering, and then moves on, object lesson complete.
Maybe you’ve been in hospital, and the doctor comes in with 12 students and junior doctors, and they proceed to discuss you and your body in great detail, and every now and then you want chime in and remind them that you’re in the room as well!
I reckon that’s been this guy’s experience.
But today is different.
Today Jesus says, “You misunderstand sin and suffering. This man’s situation isn’t a result of his sin, or his parents’ sin.”
That is, not all sickness and suffering is a direct result of sin.
All suffering is a result of our sinful, broken world. We read in places like Romans 8 that creation groans because of sin, but not all suffering is a direct result of particular sin.
But to say, not all suffering is a direct result of sin, is to say what? It’s to say that some suffering is.
Just a bit earlier, in John chapter 5, Jesus heals a paralysed man, and then says to him, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
When the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth he says that some people there are sick and some even have died because of their sinful behavior.
So some suffering may be a direct result of sin,
But most suffering, is not.
Now I know that sin doesn’t automatically result in suffering, because in my life I hardly suffer! If every sin led immediately to suffering, I’d comatose in the corner somewhere.
It’s irrelevant in this case anyway, because this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life
Jesus already knows, how this man’s life is going to demonstrate the work of God.
Jesus is going to heal him, and that miraculous healing will be a sign, that light has come into the world,
That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Now that doesn’t apply in the same way to our suffering, does it?
It’s not a universal principle that all suffering demonstrates that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
When we suffer,
We can submit to God,
And discover God’s strength in our weakness, as the Apostle Paul wrote about,
We may see dramatic healing, or an end to suffering,
But often we don’t see the reason, other than, we live in a broken world, and so we need to be careful not to generalise from this situation, into our own.
But in this case we’re told exactly the reason for the man’s situation,
God wants to draw him in his revelation of himself in Christ.
Jesus, spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.
If, because he’s blind, everyone thinks he’s a sinner, I imagine this was a sound the blind man had heard countless times before,
He braces himself for the, indignity,
But then Jesus reaches down and puts mud on his eyes.
Strange thing to do, isn’t it.
It’s the sort of thing my kids like to do.
Here, I’ll be Jesus, you be the blind man!
But Jesus is probably making a deliberate connection back to the creation of human beings from the dust of the earth, in Genesis 2.
In John chapter 1, who was, we’re told, created everything?
The Word, That is, Jesus, before he came to dwell among his people,
The one who created man from the soil, heals him with soil.
It’s a re-creation,
The beginning of a new creation, as the term that’s used elsewhere.
Also, we’re told in verse 14 it’s the Sabbath, again, John tells us the religious background to what’s happening, as he demonstrates that Jesus is the fulfilment of what God had put in place before.
In the Old Testament, God had said don’t work on the Sabbath.
And over the centuries, 39 separate categories of prohibitions were added to that command.
For example, you weren’t allowed to wear false teeth on the Sabbath, because if they fell out you’d want to pick them up and that would be considered work.
Now, you were allowed to spit on the Sabbath, but if you disturbed the dirt where you spat, that was considered cultivating the ground, and that was forbidden
It’s likely here that Jesus is making a deliberate challenge to the religious authorities.
Jesus says you have misunderstood these commands from God, and what they were supposed to point you towards.
And so he says to the man, go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.
Centuries earlier, a special tunnel had been built, leading to the pool of Siloam, so that when Jerusalem was besieged, there was still ready access to water.
This pool was considered the source of life, for the city.
How appropriate that this is where the man goes, in a sense, to claim his life back from the darkness engulfing him.
And notice, obedience, and faith, go hand in hand with the work of God.
The name means “sent”, it’s what the man has to do,
If the man had sat there still with mud covering his eyes, he would have been no better off than he was before, would he?
He needs to believe Jesus, and obey his words, in order to experience the work of God in his life.
Now having mud and spit put on his eyes, I don’t imagine he needed much encouragement to go and wash,
But off he goes, and he came home seeing.
This man who had only ever known darkness, is now bathed in light.
He goes home, and he has trouble convincing the people on his street that it is actually him!
Imagine him going to his mum and dad, “Look it’s me! No guide dog, no cane!”
Light has come into his world, and he has come into the light.
The blind man can see what’s important
Well it was such a life-changing experience, that it sets this man on a journey, to, not just seeing physically, but seeing spiritually.
And this man who once was blind, comes to see what is most important of all, the very thing that John wants us to see.
And we get this great comparison in the rest of the chapter, I say great, but it’s really a sad comparison, between this man who was blind, but who can see what really matters, and these people, the religious leaders particularly, who can see perfectly, but are blind to what’s really important.
The blind man comes to faith progressively
Did you notice the progression in the man’s understanding of who Jesus is?
Verse 10 How did this happen? He answers, the man they call Jesus.
Doesn’t know much, but knows his name.
Verse 17, when the Pharisees, the religious leaders are trying to work out,
Did Jesus break their Sabbath law?
How did he do it?
Is he from God, or is he a sinner?
By this stage the man has heard them arguing amongst themselves, how can a sinner do such miraculous signs?,
So now the man’s convinced, he is a prophet, sent by God to do God’s work and speak God’s Word.
Which is all true!
It’s not the full picture of Jesus as he’s presented to us by John, is it?
But it’s true, and it’s a good start
But as his understanding of who Jesus is grows,
And he hears the arguments about Jesus’ identity,
He comes to realise that if the religious establishment is opposed to Jesus, he knows which side of that equation he needs to be aligned with.
And so he gets a bit cheeky, see there in verse 27 when the authorities ask, “how did he do it?” 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?”
Which of course, sets them off again, we don’t want to be his disciples, we don’t even know where he comes from.
Which the man sees as another opportunity to show their utter foolishness of their position, verse 30, Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.
Here’s a man who can open the eyes of someone born blind, And you are the religious leaders of our nation, and you haven’t even figured out who he is yet?
You really are in the dark!
But keep coming down with me, see how the man’s understanding of who Jesus is reaches its climax,
Verse 35, Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Remember he’s never seen Jesus,
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
When this story opens this man is in physical darkness, and in spiritual darkness,
But because of the work of God in his life,
Because of his obedient response to Jesus,
By the time this episode draws to a close, he has physical light, and spiritual light.
The light has come into his world, and he worships Jesus as his Lord and God.
What did John say, these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
This man is held up for us as an example of what it is to come to faith in Jesus.
Coming to faith in Jesus is often a process
And for many of us, we’ll have seen bits of our experience of coming to faith reflected in this story,
And for others of us, who perhaps aren’t Christian, you might actually be able to see yourself somewhere along this man’s journey.
See if you’re not a Christian, this man’s experience tells you, it’s OK to come to faith in Jesus in a series of steps, in a process.
Sure, there are some people who open the Bible and read about Jesus dying to reconcile us to God, and they just get it.
But for most people, this is the kind of way they come to faith.
Bit by bit.
Maybe you’re thinking “there’s something about Jesus, but I don’t know what.”
Maybe you’re at the point where you’re saying, “the Christian worldview seems to make sense of things, but I don’t yet get the cross. Why does Jesus have to die, for me?
I’m a good person, how can my sin be so bad that the Son of God has to die?
This episode says, that’s OK!
If anything it says don’t stop there, but it says it’s OK to progressively make your way towards finding out who Jesus is,
Don’t be disheartened, if your journey of moving from darkness, into light isn’t instantaneous.
The claims of Christ are big claims,
The things that Jesus teaches will shape your entire identity,
But keep listening to Jesus’ words in the Bible.
And if you’re a Christian person, then I don’t want you to be disheartened, if people that you’re praying will come to faith, have a long, extended, drawn-out journey, progressive like this, but spread out over much longer,
When we gave out the Prayer Focus cards a few weeks ago, our daughter, Heidi wanted to write some friends’ names on one and pray that they would come along to church as a first step to coming to know Jesus.
And she said to me the following Sunday, “Such and such friend is coming to church today, because I prayed for her and I wrote her name on my card.”
And I thought, “How do I tell this 5 year old, that just because you write their name, and pray a few times, that doesn’t mean they automatically come to church the following week.”
Now as it turned out, that little friend did come to church that Sunday, O Father of little faith!
But it’s not always like that is, we need to be patient, and kind and gracious, and give people the time and opportunity they need to reflect on the claims of Christ.
The blind man comes to faith in the face of opposition
The blind man also gives us an insight into the life of someone coming to faith in the face of opposition.
You might say, “well, yes it’s easy for this guy to put his trust in Jesus, he’s had a miracle done to him.
Becoming a Christian for me would, well it would involve significant complications in my life, and my relationships, and my work.
But this man faced some pretty strong opposition, didn’t he?
Did you see in verse 13, his neighbours turned him over to the religious authorities for being healed on the Sabbath!
And the Pharisees interrogate him, verse 13 to 17,
And then they interrogate his parents, who, really dodge the important question!
“Is this your son?”
“Is this the one you say was born blind?
How is it that now he can see?
Ummmm, you’ll have to go and ask him,
I’d always thought that was pretty poor form.
But see there in verse 22, His parents ducked the question, 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 is, anyone who believed, what John wants us to believe as a result of this episode, will be excommunicated.
This kind of, kicking out of the synagogue, it was a, huge deal.
If you got put out of the synagogue, you couldn’t just go the synagogue down the road.
You were cut off completely from Jewish society.
You weren’t allowed contact with anyone, other than your spouse and your children.
The Jews around Jesus’ time considered this punishment, a worse punishment than public flogging.
So his parents’ response, is at least understandable. The stakes are high for them too,
But of course their cool response to the work of God is nothing compared to the response of the religious leaders.
Verse 28, they hurled insults at him
Verse 34, You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
I know lots of new Christians who have faced that kind of response from people who ought to know better.
I’ve met numbers of people who have come to faith in the university ministry, who have gone back to the churches they were raised in, and they’ve asked their church leaders, “How come in the 17 years I was in this church, I never heard of a God who loved me so much he would break into the world to rescue me from sin and death?
Why was I never taught about a God who suffers in my place,
Why is it, of all places, a university, a den of iniquity! where I first hear of grace?”
And all too often the response of those church leaders is “Don’t come here and tell us how to run our church,
You’ll grow out of it.
Your enthusiasm will wear off.
I can point to those churches on a map.
Or the mother whose favourite punishment for newly-Christian teenage daughter, was not to make her clean her room,
Or ground her from going out with her friends,
But to ban her from going to church.
She knew that was the punishment that would hurt most of all.
If you suffer for your faith in Christ,
If your family are less supportive than you’d like,
If it’s hard to live as a Christian, and to speak of the work of God in your life,
Don’t be surprised,
Don’t be discouraged.
Those who can see are blind to what’s important.
Now we’ve talked about the religious leaders all the way through, but let’s finish by putting the spotlight on them for a minute.
The contrast with the blind man couldn’t be more stark, could it?
Here was a man who was blind, but came to see what really matters.
And here are these religious leaders, who physically see perfectly, and who by nature of their position should be able to see spiritually more clearly than anyone, and yet the thing that is most important, that Jesus is the light of the world, verse 5, that he is God’s king, they just cannot see it.
They are in complete spiritual darkness, they are living in God’s world without knowledge of God.
They say in verse 29 We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, and yet when the God who spoke to Moses, comes and stands before their very eyes, they can’t see him.
One time I was walking down Rundle Mall, and someone came and stood right in front of me, you know, personal space issues, and they just kind of stared at me, and I thought “this is a little odd”, and then they spoke, and I realised it was my cousin.
What’s even more unusual is that I’ve only got 6 cousins, and this cousin, is the one that people used to say looked exactly like me.
So maybe there’s no explanation! but my excuse was that he’d been living overseas, I didn’t know he was in Australia, he was the last person I expected to see coming down Rundle Mall.
That was the problem of the Pharisees,
They didn’t recognise Jesus when he turned up.
They could have,
And they should have,
But they didn’t.
Out of all of Jesus’ miraculous signs, this one should have been the one that demonstrated his true identity.
The Scriptures were clear, when the Messiah, God’s king arrived, one of the most obvious signs of his coming, was that the blind would see.
Isaiah 29:18, In that day, the eyes of the blind will see.
Chapter 42:6 & 7 I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind,
Time and time again we hear the same words, but why don’t they see?
Why don’t these blind people get their eyes opened?
Well look at verse 40 with me, Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
If you were blind, like this guy.
If you wanted someone to help you, .
If you actually wanted the light of the world to flood into your life, you wouldn’t be guilty of sin.
You wouldn’t reject me, the God you claim to worship who stands before you.
But you don’t want that, do you, Jesus says.
You don’t long for the light,
You’re quite happy stumbling around in the darkness, thinking you’re in the light,
And so you reject the light of the world.
Some people recognise that they are blind, without Jesus,
That without Jesus they are in darkness, and to these blind people, Jesus brings light.
But for those who think they already have all the light they need, there is nothing that cane be done.
Charles Spurgeon, famous London preacher once observed, It is not our littleness that hinders Christ; but our bigness.
It is not our weakness that hinders Christ; it is our strength.
It is not our darkness that hinders Christ; it is our supposed light that holds back his hand.