Student guest service - Living in the Matrix - John 9:1-41

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 21st September 2003.

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At the time of the Great Depression in the 1930's a family of hillbillies was crossing America looking for work. One day they drove their battered car through a city in the mid west. It was the first time any of them had ever seen a major city, and Dad was keen to investigate. He really wanted to see inside a posh expensive modern hotel. So he parked the car outside the biggest and best hotel in town and took his son with him inside. As they entered the foyer they were staggered at the splendour of it all. They had never seen anything like this. Then the father spotted a strange cubicle at the far end of the foyer. It's doors opened automatically and in walked an old lady with a stick. Somehow the doors mysteriously closed again automatically. Shortly afterwards the doors glided open again and out came a stunningly beautiful young woman with high heels and long blond hair. Well Dad's eyes were popping out at this stage. He seized his son's arm and without taking his eyes away from the lift, he said: 'Son, go and get your mother.'

Sometimes our eyes can deceive us. We don't always see what is really there. And that's one of the themes behind the major blockbuster The Matrix which has been hitting our cinema screens over the last few years. As things stand we're two thirds of the way through the trilogy but the themes are clear for all to see. At the beginning of The Matrix, a black-clad computer hacker known as Neo falls asleep in front of his computer. A mysterious message appears on the screen: 'Wake up, Neo.' This succinct phrase encapsulates the plot of the film, as Neo struggles with the problem of being imprisoned in a 'material' world that is actually a computer simulation program created in the distant future by Artificial Intelligence. These machines have enslaved humanity, by perpetuating ignorance in the form of an illusory world called 'the Matrix.' To these human beings the Matrix is reality, but for some lucky ones, they have been given the opportunity to be freed from the Matrix into the real world, where they are battling against the machines. Now the Directors, the Wachowski brothers, admit that the films owe more to Buddhist thinking than Christian. But there are certain things which overlap into Christian thinking as well. And one is the fact that this world is not all that it seems. There is more to life than the physical world. It's not that this world is an illusion, as Buddhists would have us believe. Sadly this world is all too painful and real. Rather, the Bible teaches us that we are made for a relationship with the One who created us and that he designed us as spiritual beings and not just physical. And we need to have our eyes opened to see the spiritual reality beyond.

And that is precisely what Jesus is claiming to do in our passage in John's gospel chapter 9. Jesus here heals a man born blind. That in itself is remarkable. But it points us to an even more staggering healing that Dr. Jesus can perform. And that is to heal the spiritually blind, people like you and me. He can bring you and me back to the God who made us. And it's not that Jesus is just one of a number of options in this world of many religious alternatives. Rather he's the only option, the only one to teach us the truth about God. Interestingly, the Wachowski brothers say that their own thoughts are a mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, New Age, Greek mythology and even Arthurian legend! They have a pick and mix approach to religion. But Jesus will not allow that. Because his claims are exclusive. Whilst Gotama the Buddha claimed to be a way to the truth, Jesus claimed to be The Way, The Truth and The Life. Whilst, Gotama the Buddha claimed to point people to the light, Jesus claimed to be The Light of the World. Yes, it's a staggering claim. But Jesus leaves you no other option. Can you truly know what is real? Jesus says you can. And it all centres on him, the doctor whom not even death could defeat. So let's turn to John 9 to learn three things about this Dr. Jesus.

1) The Doctor's Diagnosis

2) The Doctor's Cure

3) The Doctor's Prescription

1) The Doctor's Diagnosis

So first of all we see the Doctor's Diagnosis. Let's look at the first two verses of our passage. 'As Jesus went along, 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.'' Jesus is walking along with his disciples and they come across a man born blind. And his disciples use it to ask Jesus a theological question. 'Was this man's blindness the result of some sin he or his parents have committed?' They want to talk about suffering in the world and ask the cause. What's gone wrong with the world, they're asking? Why is this man like this? Maybe he did something wrong or perhaps his parents sinned and he was the one who was punished.

If you were to ask that question of some of the major religions in the world, you'd get some surprising answers. In Buddhism, Gotama the Buddha taught that suffering is actually an illusion. He said that if we desire or like certain things, then to be deprived of them will lead to suffering. To desire intimate relationships will lead to pain when they are gone. To desire health will lead to pain when health is taken away. So he tried to train himself to not desire those things, to seek freedom. But the reality is that pain is very much a part of our world. There's no point trying to kid ourselves it doesn't exists when it patently does. In Islam suffering is simply the will of Allah. All things are determined and if they happen, then they were meant to happen and there is nothing we can do about it, or that God can do. A third way is atheism, but here we fare no better. This is what Richard Dawkins has said on the topic of suffering: 'In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky and we won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good; nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows, nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.' It's hardly the sort of belief to get you out of bed in the morning. According to Dawkins, life is simply about blind chance. But try saying that to a man born blind. Try saying that to a recently bereaved widow or terminally ill young person. And moreover as we discover more and more about how ordered and crafted the universe is, then you have to have a great deal of faith to believe in a universe without a divine creator, a belief that many scientists themselves are turning to. So what's the Bible's diagnosis of the problem? An illusion, the unbending will of God, the fickle hand of fate?

Well the Bible's answer is that the world is not in the hands of a vindictive deity or blind chance, but in the hands of an all loving and all powerful creator, who made the world a beautiful and perfect place, but who has been rejected by the very beings he made in his image. Whilst we are never given the full answer to the question of human suffering, yet we are told that suffering is one of the results of human willingness to run the world our way, to reject our creator. We wanted the reigns of power, we wanted to run God's world our way. And the result? Chaos instead of order, ruin instead of beauty, rebellion against God instead of friendship with God. And we reap the results every day in death, disease and destruction of lives. It's like putting toddlers in charge of air traffic control. They have no idea, they do everything their own little way, and the results are tragic. And of course the one truth you can be guaranteed to be certain of with toddlers is that they will do the opposite of what you tell them. And it's a little picture of humanity in the world today. We've given God the boot, put the crown on our own heads, and we've destroyed the world in which we live by our selfishness and sin. Whether we admit it or not, we're in open rebellion against our creator.

And to put it in the language of John 9, we're blind. We blindly run our own little lives without reference to him, ignoring the very One whom we were designed to worship and lovingly serve. Do you see what Jesus says in verse 39: 'Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.'' Jesus' diagnosis is that we are blind, and unless we admit it, unless we admit that we are rebels against God, then we will have to face the consequences for all eternity. For although we have put ourselves on the throne, yet God is not powerless nor will he let us run riot for ever. He will hold us to account and he will judge us for our crimes against him and against one another. And the punishment is a fate far worse than death. Separation from God and all that is good for eternity. For that is how much we have deeply offended our creator's dignity and justice. That's the Bible's verdict on humanity, on you and me, whether we like it or not. Now if think that's harsh, then consider a world with no moral accountability. Consider a rapist who can do what he wants at will, with no fear of punishment. Consider a dictator who can murder at will, knowing he'll never have to stand trial. If there was no justice then we'd live in a far worse world than we do. We actually long for accountability, we long for justice and punishment. But the hard thing for us to swallow is that there is moral accountability for each of us at the end of our lives. We can't bear the thought that we're going to be in the dock. That we could possibly be charged with wrong-doing. Oh yes, there are the little peccadilloes. But judgement and punishment. Surely not me, we think. But when you see things from God's perspective, when you realise how appallingly you have treated God and his laws, even though we don't consider ourselves bad compared to a rapist or dictator, then we are guilty as charged. We're as guilty as anyone else in this world. But often we're just too proud to admit it.

One of the things I hate doing is going to the doctor's. I will do anything to avoid going to the doctors. It's partly my fear of the waiting room, since my theory is that I will go with one thing wrong with me, and come back with numerous things wrong, having picked up about fifteen different diseases in the waiting room with all the coughing and spluttering that goes on. But the fact is, if I am ill, I must go. If there is something seriously wrong, I need to visit the doctor. There's no point sitting in bed taking aspirin when I'm actually coughing blood and having breathing difficulties. I need to swallow my pride and go and receive his diagnosis. And the difficulty for many of us is that we can't admit there is a problem spiritually speaking. We refuse to admit our need. We try to convince ourselves everything is fine, that our lives are fine without God, that our world is fine without God. But the fact is, whether we feel bad or absolutely fine, we are blind and lost without God. And we're facing God's bar of justice where the judge's decision is not in doubt. Guilty as charged. That's the doctor's diagnosis.

2) The Doctor's Cure

But thankfully that is not where God leaves us, because secondly we see the doctor's cure. And this is what sets the Christian faith apart from all other religions. Because the claim of the Bible is that God did not let us stew in our own mess. He didn't sit serenely on his throne and let the world descend further into chaos. He can't stand the thought of his creation spiralling for judgement with hope and without rescue. So he has come to do something about it. He's got his hands dirty. Because whilst the patient is very sick and facing death, yet the doctor has come to give us a cure. Now of course, with any problem it is always important to find the right solution.

This week I discovered that London has a new hero to turn to. His name is Angle Grinder Man. Now for those who don't know, an angle grinder is a circular saw which is used for cutting through metal. Angle Grinder Man is a caped crusader who runs through the streets of London dressed in a blue jump suit, gold boots, and a mask to hide his identity, carrying a huge circular saw. His mission is to destroy the driver's worst nightmare. The wheel clamp. He says that he has liberated more than 20 cars in the last few weeks, and he can be seen speeding through the streets of the West End to answer the calls of distressed drivers. Angle Grinder Man's website explains his ethos which is to beat the scourge of the wheel clamp. Angle grinder Man also has a hotline which you can phone when in trouble. He also seems to be above the law. A police spokesman said this week: 'Both Angle Grinder Man and the owner of the vehicles could be charged with criminal damage if the drivers admitted they consented to the act.' Somehow I cannot see that happening. Well it's an ingenious solution, but actually the solution wouldn't be needed if the drivers simply parked legally. And in any case, it's probably more law abiding to pay the fine!

But with Jesus, the solution to the problem is just what the doctor ordered. The cure exactly fits the disease we all suffer from. And it's illustrated for us in the healing of the blind man. Now, we remember that this man was born blind. He had never seen a thing. Let's pick up the story at verse 6: 'Having said this, Jesus spat 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.' Something staggering has just taken place. A man born blind who had never seen a thing before, goes home seeing after meeting Jesus. All he did was trust and obey Jesus and his life was transformed. Now, as we'll see, this healing causes chaos in the local community, but let's not miss the astonishing event that has taken place here. This is no trick by a David Blaine, no publicity stunt to attract attention to himself. And even if God gives doctors in the future the ability to give sight to the blind, no-one can heal like this in one moment without medical equipment. Only divine power can heal like this. It's the same divine power that brings the dead to life, the diseased to full health again, the storms to calm. Only God can do those sorts of things. And that is John's point throughout his book. His point is that this Jesus is actually God in the flesh. Right from the start of the book, John has made this claim about Jesus. 'In the beginning was the word, we hear at Christmas time, and the word was with God and the word was God.' And a little bit later Jesus says that 'the word became flesh and dwelt among us.' God came as a man to save rebels like you and me. And this healing points us to that amazing fact. Jesus came to give sight to the blind. What does Jesus say in verse 5? 'I am the light of the world.'

So how does Jesus heal us? If we have dethroned God and abused him so horribly, how can he ever forgive us? Is there any way we can avoid the just penalty for our rebellion against him? Well there is, but it's certainly not by our own effort. Just as it would be daft for me to try and cure TB with aspirin, so it would be just as daft for us to think we can cure our spiritual blindness on our own. We're not good enough for God. We cannot earn our sight back. No it's him who must take the initiative and restore the friendship. He's the wronged party. And so he does. But at a huge cost.

Because the way Jesus heals us is by himself taking the penalty we deserve. And Jesus' rescue, his cure is for himself to die in our place on a lonely and excruciating cross, taking the full punishment for our desperate rejection of our creator. It was there that Jesus took the penalty for our wrongdoing. He took our guilt and shame and dealt with it once for all. One of the problems that the American pioneers faced as they sought new lands in America was bush fires. The prairie grass could grow so high that it would be higher than a man, and during the summer the grass was very dry. Another problem was dry storms, when there would be no rain, but plenty of thunder and lightening. And all it would take to set those prairies alight was one strike of lightening from one of the dry storms. The fires would streak across the prairies faster than a man could run and much faster than the heavy wagons of the pioneers. And yet the pioneers faced this danger with confidence. For when a fire was spotted they would stand with their backs to the wind and light a series of smaller fires which would take off in front of them. In a few minutes they had burnt an area big enough to put all their wagons and people into, and they would confidently await the oncoming fire. For the place where the fire had already burnt could not be burnt again. Our problem is that God's judgment is coming, and none of us can outpace it by the goodness of our lives. We cannot save ourselves. And yet when Jesus died on the cross, he took the judgement we deserve so that we need not face it ourselves. He bore God's judgement on himself so that we need not have to. We can be cured. We can be healed. We can see again. The Doctor's Cure.

3) The Doctor's Prescription

So we've seen the doctor's diagnosis, that we're all rebels against God facing his punishment. We've see the doctor's cure, that he died on the cross to give us spiritual sight, to free us from the just penalty of God's judgement. But now we see the doctor's prescription. And it would be daft beyond words if having recognised our need and that there is a cure, for us not to take the prescription. You cannot imagine a man who knows he's dying receiving the medication and then not taking it. No he takes it because he realises it's his only hope. And Jesus is our only hope, so we'd better make sure we take the prescription. So how do we do that? We need to accept that he is our God as he says he is and we need to accept his forgiveness that he offers to us through his death on the cross. It's the choice between remaining in fantasy land, thinking we're OK, when in reality we know we're heading for judgement without hope, or accepting the truth as Jesus has shown us and receiving his rescue, to give us that true spiritual sight and new life with God. It's the difference between death and life, blindness and sight, slavery and freedom. Illustration- Matrix video clip.

Neo realised that he had in reality only one choice to make. But the trouble is when it comes to Jesus' offer, some are too proud to receive it. And that is what happens in the rest of our story. Because there are two different types of people in the story, which categorise the human race. And everyone in this building falls into one of these two different categories. First there's the negative response, the response which will not accept Jesus, even though the evidence is as plain as the nose on your face. The crowd won't believe the man in verse 9. They think he's just a look-a-like. The religious officials certainly won't believe him, even though the question him twice. And when they ask the man a second time, he simply replies in verse 25: 'I was blind but now I see!' That's his testimony. And his parents won't believe the truth about Jesus. They're too afraid in verse 22. And some here tonight will be in that category. You just refuse to believe, even though there's so much evidence stacked up for Jesus. But if that is you, then just look again at Jesus' verdict on you in verse 39: 'For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.' Jesus came for those who are blind. He came to give sight. But if claim you can see without Jesus, if you think you're OK, then you're only confirming your own blindness. And that's a terrible state to be in.

But there is a second response, and that's the positive response of the man at the end of the story. Because at the end Jesus returns. And he asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man in verse 35. It's one of Jesus' titles for himself as God in the flesh. The man wants to but is not sure who he is, until Jesus confesses that he himself is the one. And what does the man do? Verse 38: 'Then the man said, 'Lord, I believe,' and he worshiped him.' He gets on his knees and worships him. And that is what God longs for each and everyone of us here to do. To admit that we are blind and need rescuing. To accept that Jesus is our rescuer come to give us sight. And to bow before Jesus as Saviour and King and to begin to live life with him as your Lord, just as you were designed to do. Have you done that yet? If not, what stops you? What prevents you from tonight giving your life to the God who made you, and starting to live life and as God intended. Maybe you're not ready. If not, then keep thinking, keep investigating, but don't give up until you've come to Christ. Maybe you're scared of following Christ holds. Well I'm scared of the doctor and yet if I'm sick I've got to go to him. And for our spiritual sickness, there is no other cure. So come to Dr. Jesus. For with Jesus your life is in the best hands. John Newton did that in a storm in the mid Atlantic on 10th March 1748. He was a slave trader in the seventeenth who hated God and everything in the Bible. He was and vile and evil man. Yet God dramatically brought him to see that God was God and Newton must repent and come back to him. Newton realised suddenly in that storm that Jesus died for him on that cross. And a few months later he penned possibly the most famous hymn ever written. 'Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.' Do you want to see? Do you want to know real life as God intended? Well if so, then why not pray with me now as we finish.

Dear heavenly Father, I admit that I have lived my life as if you were not there, and that I am blind and need you to heal me. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross for me. Please forgive me and help me to change. Please help me to begin living life your way, with you as my Saviour and King. Amen.

Well if you have prayed that prayer and meant it, then tonight is a great night for you. We'd love to give you some help in beginning the Christian life, so do chat with one of us afterwards and there are booklets which explain the Christian faith at the back.

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