The Opposition - John 9:1-41

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 13th June 2004.

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One of the films that is getting a lot of publicity at the moment is the film "The Day After Tomorrow". It tells the story of a climatologist who whilst doing some survey work in the Antarctic discovers that the Polar Ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, far quicker than anyone had ever predicted. It means that the world is facing catastrophic climate change and the dawning of a new Ice Age in the northern hemisphere. The trouble is no-one believes him, at least not those in power. And their unbelief is all the more extraordinary in the face of the staggering evidence. There are huge storms in South East Asia, tornados in down town Los Angeles, massive rises in sea temperature in the North Atlantic, all pointing to massive global climate change. But still no-one believes the climatologist. In one scene where the climatologist comes face to face with the Vice President of the United States, the Vice President says that there are more important things to worry about than weather reports, things like the economy. Of course what he doesn't realise is that the one thing he needs to be concerned about is the weather. Sometimes it seems people deliberately close their minds to the truth. They are blind and they refuse to see.

And sight and blindness are the issues at stake in John chapter 9 which we are looking at this morning. And on first reading it appears that John 9 is simply about another amazing healing by Jesus- a man blind from birth is healed. And of course that would be staggering in itself and it would point to Jesus' amazing authority and power. But there is more going on in this chapter than a simple healing miracle. Because Jesus himself makes it clear at the end of the chapter that this miracle is an acted parable. It's a real historical event but it's teaching us a very important spiritual truth. 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.'" All throughout John's gospel so far, issues of darkness and light, blindness and sight have been raised. Back in chapter 1 John said that Jesus was "life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it." And in chapter 8, Jesus said: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Jesus is saying that there is a great division in humanity between those who walk in the light, who can see spiritually speaking, who follow Jesus; and those on the other hand who are in the dark, who are blind, spiritually speaking, and who do not follow Jesus. And Jesus is the key on which our spiritual status turns.

And John chapter 9 is a working illustration of that important spiritual truth. The healing of the blind man turns out to be an acted parable of what happens to someone when they come to Jesus and are healed of their spiritual blindness. And as we come to this chapter this morning, John is asking us some very important questions. He's asking us which side we are on. Are we in darkness or are we in the light. Are we blind or can we see? And he's also asking us if we claim to be in the light, then do we display the qualities of someone who is in the light, who follows Jesus, the light of the world. Because it is possible, as we will see, to claim to be in the light, but actually to be in the darkness, and blind. But it's also possible to move from darkness to light, something the blind man discovered both literally and spiritually. So let's turn to John 9 and we'll look at those two categories of people who are described in the story.

1) Those in the Light

2) Those in the Dark

1) Those in the Light

So first then those in the light. And the story begins in verse 1 with Jesus coming across a man born blind. It must have been a very sad sight for Jesus and his disciples as they come across this poor man begging by the side of the road. We discover in verse 8 that that was how the man used to earn his living. There was no social services in those days, no NHS, no-one to help a man who was blind from birth. He'd be the sort of person who everyone would have written off. But not Jesus. And once this man had met Jesus then his life was never the same again. He moved from darkness to light, both physically and spiritually. And there are three characteristics that this man displays in this story which are qualities of those in the light.

a) Trust in Jesus in Difficulty- First he trusts in Jesus in difficulty. Now there was no doubt of course that he was in difficulty. But it was all the more terrible for this man, given what public opinion was of people in his position. The common assumption in the ancient world was that if you had a disability from birth, then you must have done something to deserve it. Either your parents had sinned or you had sinned in the womb. That's what many people thought. And it's what the disciples thought as well in verse 2: "His disciples asked [Jesus], 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'" The disciples want to know the reason for the suffering. Why is this happening? There must be some explanation. But what is interesting here is that Jesus doesn't ask the 'why' question. He asks the 'how' question. Jesus asks 'How can good come out of this bad situation?' Verse 3: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." So often we understandably want the answer to the 'why' question. We want to know why such and such has happened, why we are suffering the way we are. But the answers rarely come. The Bible just doesn't tell us why certain things happen to certain people. And certainly it does not talk about God punishing people for specific sins with specific punishment, apart from in exceptional circumstances. The fact is that we do live in a world blighted by decay, disease and death, a world which God made perfect but which we ruined by our rebellion against him. But that does not mean the situation is hopeless. Because the Bible encourages us to see the greater good that can come from periods of difficulty and suffering. The Christian is urged to trust God and to see that in everything God is able to make us more like Jesus, even in the most trying of circumstances. Through the fires of difficulty and suffering, our faith can be refined. And the question for us is will we trust Christ in that situation? Will we be obedient to him, even though we don't understand what is happening?

It's a question a friend of mine is having to face at the moment. This friend is suffering from cancer of the bone. He's a young man with a young family, and the prospects are pretty grim. He's already undergone months of medical assessment and treatment to stop the cancer and now he faces a major operation which could leave him with little or no mobility below the waist. And yet in what seems humanly speaking like a hopeless situation, his emails are always full of the knowledge of God's peace and strength. And above he all knows that God is working for his good to make him more like Christ. His question isn't so much why, though of course he asks it sometimes. Rather he's asking 'how can God use this for my good?' And God is keeping his promise. And the challenge for my friend is to trust God in that situation and remain obedient to him.

And that is what happened that day with this blind man. Jesus tells him to go to the pool of Siloam to wash his eyes having applied a mud pack to them; and sure enough he comes back seeing. It must have been an amazing moment for him as he saw the water for the first time, as he saw things he'd only smelt and touched before hand. And it's because he trusted the word of Jesus and was obedient to him that his sight was restored. Truly that day the work of God was displayed in his life. And when times of difficulty afflict us we need to be willing to trust Christ even when answers are not forthcoming. No, it will not be easy, but God will keep his promise to make us more like Jesus in difficult times. Because that is our greater good.

b) Stand for Jesus in Adversity- Trust in Jesus in difficulty, but also stand for Jesus in adversity, the second mark of someone in the light. Because that is exactly what the man did in the rest of the chapter. And what becomes clear as we read on is that the opening of the man's eyes physically was just the start of the best day of his life. For gradually his spiritual eyes were opened as well as he began to see who Jesus was. He moves from being a grateful patient to a devoted follower. But the trouble is no sooner are his eyes opened than he is thrust right into the middle of a huge controversy centring on Jesus. And you would have thought that he would do anything just to get out of it. Surely in his position you would have run a mile, denied you'd ever met Jesus and start a new life in the Opticians' business. I'm sure he could have made a stack of cash as a live advertisement. But notice as we look through the passage how he stands up for Jesus.

Have a look at verse 8: "His neighbours 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.'" At this point all he can do is talk about Jesus as a man he met. But the controversy continues and he is questioned this time by the local religious leaders, the Pharisees. They would often by wheeled in to tackle serious problems and questions facing the society. The same happens today, except it's on national TV. If there is a major crisis, then you wheel in a panel of experts, sometimes with a bishop on the panel for good measure. Well the Pharisees were the clergy, and they are asked to give their tuppence worth on this crisis. And where they are sceptical, this man is a defender of Jesus. He's willing to put his neck on the line, verse 17: "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.'" So he's getting more confident. He's moved on from saying that Jesus is just "the man they call Jesus". Now he's a prophet. But still the controversy continues, and he again responds to questioning. The clergy say Jesus is a sinner, a Sabbath breaker. How does our man respond? Verse 25: "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" It's a brilliant response isn't it? You just can't argue with it! "I don't care about your silly theological arguments, he says. I was blind and now I can see; and Jesus did it!" And that brings him to his final conclusion in verse 33: "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing!" "He must be someone special, says the once blind man. No-one can perform tricks like that!" And it's not as if he's got anything to lose. He's actually got everything to lose, because he's bringing down the wrath of the synagogue on him, something which would have devastating effects on his life. In those days to be booted out the synagogue meant being shunned by the whole of society, and being out on a limb. And it's exactly what happens in verse 34: "To this they replied, 'You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!' And they threw him out." He's paid the ultimate cost for his stand for Jesus, a man he has only met once but who has changed his life. He's put his neck on the line for Jesus and borne the cost. And that is a true mark of someone who is in the light, someone whose spiritual blindness has been healed so that they are forgiven by God and long to serve him. They are willing to stand for Jesus in adversity.

And once again by implication John is asking us if we will do the same. Will we stand for Jesus in adversity? Will we stand for him when the going gets tough? Will we stand for him when the snide comments start flowing about Christians in the office, or in the staff room? Will we put our necks on the line for him when religion comes up in the conversation over tea break? It's a familiar scene: Everyone's having their say about the latest thing, the Christian in Big Brother, the bishop who has actually said something controversially orthodox on the ITV news, the cousin who's gone religious. And we're tempted to keep quiet. Jesus' name is being dishonoured and we dare not say anything. But this blind man who met Jesus was willing to put neck on the block for his Saviour. I wonder if we have the courage to do the same? Or are we more likely to feel too ashamed to say anything, perhaps wondering what others will think? But when like this man you know what you have been saved from, then surely you cannot hold your tongue can you? We must stand for Jesus in adversity, when we are so grateful to him for healing us of our spiritual blindness, for giving us sight, for forgiving us and washing us clean? What price could be too high to pay for him who died for us?

I was deeply challenged on this very topic a few weeks ago as I read an email from some friends who are missionaries in a country in Asia. It's a country where it is illegal to be a Christian missionary, and very dangerous to be an overt Christian. It can mean interrogation by authorities and your civil liberties taken away. Well these friends saw one of their friends become a Christian after a very long time. It was thrilling news to hear about. But almost immediately this girl was persecuted by her room mates at university. They found out about her conversion and hounded her day and night. They got her to answer trick questions in her classes so her faith would be found out. And eventually they informed the authorities who told her to stop practising her faith. They even pestered her with text messages on her mobile phone and for several weeks she suffered serious persecution. It will probably have implications for any future career she may want to follow. But she refused to waver, and said that through that difficult time her faith grew and God was faithful. She was a very young Christian, but she stood for Jesus in adversity. I wonder if you or I would have the courage to do that in that situation. To stand for Jesus in adversity. Well if we don't stand in the small things, we will never have the courage to stand in the big things. So like this man who was blind, stand for Jesus in adversity.

c) Worship Jesus in Humility- But the third mark of the person in the light is that they worship Jesus in humility. And that was what this blind man did at the end of the story. And it becomes quite clear that the most significant thing that happened that day was not the blind man receiving his physical sight, but the blind man receiving spiritual sight to see who Jesus is and to bow before him in worship. Look at 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?' '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 worshipped him." This man came to see that Jesus was the one who had come to rescue him, the Son of Man, the promised rescuer king of the OT. And in humility he bowed before Jesus and worshipped him. And that is where each one of us needs to bow if we are to receive that sight we so desperately need. For the Bible makes it clear we are all blind, blind to the truth about God, blinded by our own sinfulness and rebellion, unable to know God personally unless he makes the first move. Well he has in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. He came to give us sight, to open our eyes so we can know God personally. And until we acknowledge our sinfulness and accept his rescue of us achieved for us on the cross we will be forever blind, unable to see and know God. And once again, John's question is have we done what that blind man did? Have we bowed the knee before Jesus? Because that is the mark of someone who is in the light. Someone who trusts Jesus in difficulty, stands for Jesus in adversity and worships Jesus in humility.

2) Those in the Dark

And it would be wonderful if that were all this passage talks about, the positive response to Jesus, the response of those in the light. But sadly that is not the case, because secondly, and more briefly, John shows us the response of those in the dark. Because throughout this chapter there is an obvious opposition to Jesus. And as Jesus will make clear, such opposition is the mark of those still in the dark. And there are three characteristics of those in the dark which come out in this story, three characteristics which are very much around today.

a) Scepticism- First there is scepticism, and we see that in the response of the man's neighbours. Verse 8: "His neighbours 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.'" Even when they had the evidence right in front of them, they were deeply sceptical. They just couldn't believe that this was the same man. And in fact, in the end they choose the easy option and just hand him over to the clergy to sort out. Not only are they sceptical, they are also totally apathetic at really getting to the bottom of the claim the man was making.

And still today there are people who refuse to investigate the Christian faith simply because they are sceptical about the whole thing. They just cannot entertain the thought that it might be true, and so they hold Jesus at arms' length with no real reason for doing so. And perhaps at the heart is an apathy which says I really cannot be bothered to investigate it. "Besides, they say, religion isn't for me anyway! It's something for the wife and kids, but not me. It's just too much to ask. I don't want to change my life anyway." It was the author G K Chesterton who said: "It's not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. It is that it has been found demanding and therefore not tried." But that scepticism leaves aside the only one who can give us spiritual sight and the only one who can bring us to God. Because like it or not we will all one day stand before our maker and without Jesus Christ we won't have a leg to stand on judgement day. So don't be like the sceptical neighbours. Have the courage to at least investigate the evidence with an open mind and check out this Jesus Christ. There are plenty of groups we run here at St. John's to help you do that. But don't let scepticism get in the way. Because it'll be no excuse on judgement day.

b) Fear- But there was a second characteristic of those who opposed Jesus that day and it was fear. Fear shown by the man's parents. The Pharisees are carrying out their investigation and they feel they are getting nowhere, so they call in the man's parents. Verse 19: "'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." Apart from the fact that it appears almost comical as Mum and Dad are wheeled in to testify, actually it is very sad state of affairs. Because where the man himself had the courage to stand up for Jesus, his parents don't. They are more afraid of men than God. They are afraid of losing their social status, they are afraid of what the neighbours will think; Dad's afraid of what the lads at the pub will think; he's worried about what the boys at work will say; Mum's worried about what the ladies at the school gate will say; she's worried about her reputation at the health club. Isn't that how many of us think about following Christ. We're put off from following him because of the cost. In short, we fear men rather than God. Now there's no doubt, as we have seen, that following Christ can be costly. But the cost of not following him, the cost of not receiving his rescue, of not receiving his healing for our spiritual blindness will be infinitely more terrible. We will have to spend eternity separated from God because we were worried about what our mates thought. That is a price too high to pay. So if you are wavering over whether to put your life in Jesus;' hands, then waver no longer. Don't let fear of what others' will think stop you, because that too will not wash on judgement day.

c) Prejudice- Scepticism, fear and finally prejudice. And it was prejudice against Jesus that many of the religious leaders had in abundance. See how they refuse to admit that Jesus might indeed be the very Saviour they claim to be looking forward to. Verse 16: "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.'" Verse 24: "A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. 'Give glory to God,' they said. 'We know this man is a sinner.'" Verse 28: "Then they hurled insults at [the blind man] 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.'" "Jesus doesn't fit our mould, they said. He doesn't tick the right boxes. He doesn't say what we think he should say." And again those same excuses are still around today, especially from people with religious backgrounds. They can't cope with a Jesus who might be bigger than they think, who challenges their preconceptions and rattles their cage. It's a very humbling experience to come face to face with Jesus and have him challenge everything we stand for and live for. But that is what he does. For he is the King of kings and Lord of lords and he brooks no rivals. And do you know the most tragic thing? There is none so blind as those who think they see. And that is exactly Jesus' point at the very end of the story. 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.'" For those who think they can see, those who seek to live life their way on their terms, they are actually the ones who are blind. And if we stubbornly refuse to submit to Jesus Lordship and receive his wonderful gift of sight and forgiveness and a fresh start, then we remain blind and under his judgement. And what happens to such people. Verse 41, your guilt remains says Jesus and you will have to face God on your own. And before the judgement seat of God, all human pride and prejudice will be seen for the folly that it is.

Do you remember the poem Ozymandias? "I met a traveller from an antique land who said: 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desertNear them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage liesThe traveller had come across a statue whose body had been broken off. The traveller goes on.. "And on the pedestal these words appear: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sand stretches far away." The point of the poem is that this once mighty warrior king Ozymandias whose works the traveller is urged to see, is nothing now. His statue is broken and his works are nowhere to be seen. And when human beings fail to see themselves in relation to the God who made them, then their lives and deeds are as worthless as this old broken statue of Ozymandias. So don't let scepticism or pride or prejudice come in the way of getting your relationship with God sorted out. Rather come to Jesus, admit your need and receive his gift of sight. And like the blind man, bow before Jesus in worship.

So what happened the Day After Tomorrow? Well the Vice President eventually admitted he was wrong and the scientist was right. But by then it was too late. Billions of people had been killed. His blindness had kept him from responding at the right time. But today it is not too late to receive the sight that Jesus offers. It is still possible to move from being in the dark to being in the light. And then you can trust Jesus in difficulty, you can stand for Jesus in adversity and you can worship Jesus in humility.

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