The Light - John 9:1-41

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 4th November 2007.

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For 51 years Bob Edens was blind. He couldn’t see a thing. His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. But then, everything changed. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob Edens had sight. He found it overwhelming. “I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow,” he exclaimed. “I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favourite colour. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon—and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapour trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is.” Well I guess for the vast majority of us, such an amazing transformation from blindness to sight is totally beyond our experience and comprehension. We take our sight for granted. We simply cannot understand what a difference it would make to move from blindness to sight. But at the very least we can perhaps grasp that to receive sight when you are blind is a life transforming event.

            And that is exactly what we find when we come to John 9. We find a man who was blind from birth receiving his sight. And it is an incredible story. It’s amazing in a number of different ways, not just in the miracle itself but also as we meet one of the greatness minor characters in the NT. This once blind man is witty, sharp, stubborn and faithful, all rolled into one. You cannot but love him. But actually as we read deeper into this chapter, we discover that it’s not really about the once blind man at all. It’s actually about Jesus. And nor is it a chapter which simply teaches us about Jesus’ amazing power, remarkable though it is that Jesus should heal in an instant a man born blind. It’s deeper still. The healing is a sign pointing to something about Jesus. 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 it’s that truth, illustrated by this remarkable healing, that is the heart of the chapter.

            Now the story itself is fairly long and it divides into six scenes, five of which are interviews between different people trying to establish what has actually happened. Because no-one it seems is willing to believe the plain fact in front of them that a blind man has been healed by Jesus. And such scepticism reveals a great deal about what each of the parties in the story believe about Jesus. Now before we get into the details, it’s worth us getting a bird’s eye view of the story so we are clear where we are heading. So scene 1 sees Jesus heal the man in question. And it begins with the disciples asking a question about this blind man in verse 2: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Now it’s worth us spend a moment or two here, because Jesus is dealing with something very important in what follows. The assumption was that because this man is blind at birth, he must have done something wrong to deserve it, or maybe his parents did. It was a common view at the time. And so it is today. If someone suffers, then we want instant answers. It must be because they’ve done something to deserve it. But such answers to the deep question of suffering have little to do with the Bible. Yes suffering can be the result of wrongdoing. If you sleep around, then don’t be surprised if you contract a sexual disease. If you drink and drive, don’t be surprised if you have an accident. But those are the exceptions. The Bible makes it clear suffering does not usually work in that way. Rather it is part of the sad fact of living in a world out of kilter with its creator. Sin has entered the world, and the whole thing is broken. So suffering is a fact of living in a sinful world, but it is not necessarily tied to any particular thing we have done. But notice what Jesus says in verse 3: “Neither this man sinned nor his parents, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” In other words we can’t always see what is the cause of suffering, but consider the purpose. That God’s power, his work may be seen in this man’s life. Jesus will use this tragic event to show God’s power. And again and again that is how God works through human suffering. We’re not often given the answers as to why something happens. But if we are humble and trusting to allow him, God can use our suffering for good. His work may be displayed in our lives. Maybe to strengthen our faith, maybe to use us to be a witness to him in our pain. Whatever it is, the question to ask is not so much the why, but the how? How will God use this sadness for his glory in my life? And what does Jesus do in this case? He heals the man and the debate that follows springs from that healing.

            So scene 2 sees the neighbours quizzing the man as to what has happened. Scene 3 sees the man being brought before the local clergy, the Pharisees, to find out what happened. They quiz him, but don’t get very far. So scene 4, the man’s parents are wheeled in. Yes, it’s him they say and he’s been blind from birth. But the Pharisees still aren’t satisfied. So scene 5, they quiz the man again this time with unfortunate results, as they get angry at his answers and the man is chucked out of their presence. And so finally scene 6, the man meets Jesus who healed him and his transformation is complete. So that’s the story. But what then are the lessons? Well let’s look at three of the central characters, and as we do so we’ll see differing responses to Jesus, which is really what the chapter is all about. And we’ll see many challenges for us as we come face to face with Jesus in this chapter:

1) The Parents: Put fear before faith

2) The Pharisees: Put self before the Saviour

3) The Blind man: Puts Jesus before everything

1) The Parents: Put fear before faith

So first of all let’s look at the parents. And their problem was that they put fear before faith. Let’s read from verse 18: “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?’” Now the Pharisees had already interviewed the blind man once. But they felt they had not got anywhere and they wanted more information. They did not quite believe that this man really was blind from birth. Maybe the whole thing was a trick. Maybe he was just an actor. So they wheel in the parents. If it wasn’t such a sad tale of rejection and hardheartedness it would almost be comical. This man’s probably elderly parents brought in before the clergy to answer their questions. It would have the feel of a semi formal trial. So verse 19 they ask if this man really is their son, if he is the one who was born blind. And in verse 20 we get their answer: “‘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.” So what does their answer reveal? Well we don’t know whether these people had met Jesus or heard about him, but what they do say shows who they really fear. 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. Now there is no doubt that to be booted out the synagogue was a social disaster. Life revolved around the synagogue. If you were put out of the synagogue it would mean social ostracism. So they don’t want to say too much that will antagonise the authorities. They are afraid. 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. Can you see? So they pass the buck and tell the Pharisees to speak to their son. Don’t involve us they say. We just want an easy life.

Now sadly that is a very common reaction when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. We see all the way through the gospel of John. People are unwilling to side with Jesus not because they think he’s untrue, but because they are afraid. The cost is too high. And again and again today, that is why many reject Christ. Some years ago, I took one of my best friends to hear a talk about Jesus Christ. It was the culmination of months of trying and chatting and prayer. He’d heard about Jesus many times and was actually open to the message. It was a great talk, and it was geared to exactly where my friend was at. So what happened? Well I thought he must become a Christian. It’s obvious! But he didn’t. Why not? Intellectual doubts? The person of Christ not who he said he was? The NT as myth and full of contradictions? None of that. He knew Jesus was true and the NT accurate. He said to me later on: “The reason I won’t become a Christian is because I’m worried about what my Dad will think.” And to this day, he still has not professed Christ many years later. Fear, you see. He couldn’t handle the cost. Now there is no doubting that following Christ is tough, and for some very hard with great cost. But to say no to Christ is an infinitely greater cost than to accept him. If you are afraid of coming to Christ, then I tell you there is something far greater to fear. Meeting Jesus on judgement day and still being his enemy, which is what we all are by nature. Don’t let fear get in the way of coming to Jesus and accepting him as your Lord and Saviour. It’s simply too important a matter to let fear grip your life.

And fear can play a part too in the Christian’s life. We’re more afraid of what people think than what God thinks. More afraid of losing our reputations, than standing up for Jesus’ name. More afraid of being the odd one out at school or work or uni, than of faithfully standing for Jesus honour and glory. Is that what we are doing at the moment? Unwilling to be seen to be a Christian. No-one in the office knows what you do at the weekend. You’re reluctant to act as a Christian out of fear, to take a stand on certain issues like petty theft or gossip or dirty jokes or whatever it is. Maybe tonight we need to repent of fear in our Christian lives. Yes, it’s hard, and for some very hard. But don’t let fear get in the way of serving Jesus. For he will honour us as we honour him. And he will give us the strength to stand, as the blind man found to his great delight. So don’t be like the parents who put fear before faith.

2) The Pharisees: Put self before the Saviour

Well what about the Pharisees? Did their do any better? Well no, because they put self before the Saviour. And throughout the story, the Pharisees move from scepticism to rejection to hostility. It begins with scepticism in verse 16: “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’” Jesus doesn’t fit the type of Messiah they are expecting. He doesn’t do the things we want him to do. He can’t be of God. He breaks the Sabbath. Now in fact Jesus was doing no such thing. The Sabbath law did not prevent healing on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. And in any case, Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath. He invented the Sabbath. But it’s possible Jesus deliberately provoked the Pharisees by making a mud pack for the blind man to put on his eyes, because in Pharisaic law the making of such mud packs on the Sabbath constituted work and was wrong. But in God’s eyes, no such law existed. Jesus was showing what was more important. He was showing that he answers to God alone, that such extra Sabbath laws are simply man made. But the Pharisees are more worried about their laws being broken than whether or not Jesus’ claims are true. Their scepticism actually reveals a deeper problem- their hard hearts.

            And that’s revealed by what happens next- rejection of Jesus as no-one more than a sinner who clearly is not from God. 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.’” He heals on the Sabbath, he breaks our laws, therefore he cannot possibly be from God. And again in 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.’” They’ve made up their mind. This Jesus doesn’t fit their mould, so he cannot be from God. Therefore he must be evil.

            And that leads to open hostility. Verse 34: “To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.” Hostility to Jesus almost always takes the form of hostility to his servants. As his representatives, they receive the brunt of the hostility that is in reality directed to Jesus himself. So the man is thrown out of the synagogue, paying the price for his allegiance to Jesus. But it says a great deal about what the Pharisees think of Jesus. They’re not really rejecting the man- that’s just a symptom of the much deeper disease of the heart. They are actually rejecting Jesus.

            Now why are they so openly hostile to Jesus? Why can’t they see that actually Jesus is not here to fight them, but to save them? That was why Jesus came into the world. He came to save us, to rescue us from our hearts of sin and opposition to God. So why the hostility? Well very simply because they put self before the Saviour. Jesus rattles their cages. He makes demands of them that no-one else does. He shakes them out of their religious complacency. So instead of talking with Jesus with an open and humble heart, they reject him straight out. Instead of pausing to think whether Jesus might actually be true and who he said he is, they turn a blind eye to him.

            You see the big problem is we human beings are so proud. We wrongly think that we are the masters of our own destiny. Just listen to these words of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher of the 18th century. “My situation is unique, unheard of since the beginning of time. The person who can love me as I can love is still to be born. No one has ever had more talent for loving. I was born to be the best friend that ever existed. I would leave this life with apprehension if I knew a better man than me. Show me a better man than me, a heart more loving, more tender, more sensitive. Posterity will honour me because that is my due. I rejoice in myself. My consolation lies in my self esteem. If there were a single enlightened government in Europe, it would have erected statues to me.”

            Now I doubt any of us would be so crass as to say such things. But pride lurks in the heart of every one of us. And it’s most fully seen in our attitudes to God and his Son Jesus. And when face to face with Jesus, our natural instinct is to put self before the Saviour. Because 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. So before it is too late please acknowledge your pride and come to the Saviour. And don’t make the mistake of the Pharisees, who to their eternal cost put self before the Saviour.

3) The Blind man: Puts Jesus before everything

But there’s one final character we have not seen yet. And that is the blind man who puts Jesus before everything. And whereas the Pharisees slowly slide into rejecting Jesus. The blind man, whose eyes are physically opened at the start of the story, by the end of the story has had his eyes opened spiritually, which is actually far more important. He begins by trusting Jesus in difficulty. And we see this as he simply takes Jesus at his word with the healing. This man has been blind since birth, according to verse 1. But when Jesus comes along his life is about to be changed. Now we can’t be sure of the man’s thought processes when Jesus tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam with the mud pack applied to his eyes. But there is something about Jesus which makes the man trust him. 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. But at this stage, Jesus is just “a man” in the blind man’s understanding. So verse 11, he is amazed at what has happened, but he hasn’t grasped who Jesus is yet. But the wonderful thing is he takes Jesus at his word. He trusts Jesus in difficulty.

            But as the story moves on, we find the blind man’s understanding of Jesus develop as well. So next we find him standing for Jesus in adversity. So in the first grilling by the Pharisees we find that man is now calling Jesus a prophet in verse 17. He’s moved on in his thinking from Jesus just being “the man” to 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. As we saw with the parents, 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. He’s stood for Jesus in adversity. He’s made his choice and stuck by it.

            And that leads to the final characteristic that this man displayed. He worships Jesus in humility. 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.

            Can you see what has happened to this man? He began the day a blind beggar, who could not see. Now he’s been given sight, but far more significantly he has been given spiritual sight. His spiritual eyes have been healed and he sees Jesus as his Lord and King. Now I doubt he fully understood everything about Jesus, but he knew enough to realise that Jesus was worthy of his adoration and commitment. And as such he stands as a great encouragement and challenge to you and me this evening. Because if we are men and women who profess to follow this Lord Jesus, then do we display these marks of the person in the light. Trusting Jesus in difficulty, standing for Jesus in adversity, and worshipping Jesus in humility? It was something the parents could not do because of fear, and it was something the Pharisees could not do because of pride. The thought they could see, but in fact they blind.

            So as we finish, let me tell you about one girl who definitely stood where the blind man stood. A while ago, 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. You see here is someone who does trust Jesus in difficulty, who stands for Jesus in adversity, who worships Jesus in humility. Because at the end of the day, you and I have far more to lose if we persist in fear, like the parents, and pride like the Pharisees. If we do that we really are blind. And God’s judgement remains on us. Rather like the blind man we must humbly accept our need, trusting Jesus in difficulty. We must stand for Jesus even in adversity, even if it costs us. And we must worship Jesus in humility as the only Saviour and only Lord. For those are the marks of those who can really see. 

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