“I See What You Mean” – John 9
Lent 4 – March 26, 2017
Introduction: John’s Gospel
John’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus is different from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Their accounts often string together a bunch of short stories of Jesus’ teaching and healings and miracles. They are fast moving, feature quite a bit of narrative, and approach Jesus’ ministry with a similar view. John’s Gospel includes several longer human interest stories, often featuring honest seekers with tough questions.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus’ dialog with the Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus, in John 3. It featured that question, “How can a man be born again when he is old?”
In John 4, Jesus has an encounter with a Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well outside the town of Sychar. She questions Jesus about living water and about the proper place to worship.
In John 11, in a chapter-long account of raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is faced with one challenge about delaying his visit to Bethany after hearing that Lazarus was deathly sick, and another question about going back to the Jerusalem area where the Jews had previously tried to stone him.
- John 9: Blind man & tough questions
The human interest story we’ll deal with today is from John 9 – the amazing story of the healing of a man born blind. It begins with the probing philosophical question of the disciples: “Who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind?” It continues with several other tough questions not directed to Jesus, and ends with the question of the former blind man about Jesus’ own identity.
So, if you’ve got some tough questions, if you’re honestly seeking the truth about Jesus, if you’re considering following Him with your whole life, Jesus welcomes you. He wants you to be able to conclude, as did the blind man, “I see what you mean… I believe,” and to worship Him.
Let’s review the substance of the story.
The miracle was simple: Upon meeting the man born blind, Jesus spat on the ground, made some mud, put it on the man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. He did and came back seeing. That’s it!
Then came some discussion about whether this was really the man who used to sit and beg. He affirmed that he was, indeed, the guy. The questions were: “Are you the guy?” “How did He heal you?” and “Where is He?”
Then the religious leaders investigated because, well, Jesus really stirred the pot by healing the man on the Sabbath Day, and that was a no-no. More tough questions ensued:
A rhetorical question – “How can a sinner do such miracles?”
Questions to the man’s parents – “Was he born blind? How can he now see?”
Questions to the blind man – “What did He do?” and “How did He heal you?”
The final interaction between the religious leaders and the blind man was to throw him out. This may mean a literal tossing him out of their assembly, out of the synagogue, or a more permanent expulsion – excommunication!
At the end of the story, Jesus finds the blind man again and leads him to spiritual sight – seeing Jesus for who He really is – the Messiah, the Saviour. That’s the story.
- What can we learn?
What can we learn about asking tough questions and seeking Jesus?
a. Get the facts about Jesus
First, it’s important to get the facts about Jesus. That’s what was happening in all those human interest stories in John’s account of Jesus’ life. Nicodemus came to Jesus to get the facts. He understood that Jesus was a God-sent teacher. He understood that it was with God-given power that Jesus performed miracles. But he had some lingering questions about the kingdom of God, and he wanted to get things straight from Jesus. What he heard was that a person needs to be born of water and the Spirit – Baptism – to enter the kingdom of God. What he heard was that Jesus would be lifted up – on the cross – so that everyone who believes in Him would have eternal life. Later in John’s Gospel, Nicodemus had obviously become a follower of Jesus – maybe even if only at arm’s length – for he was present at the cross, and he participated in the preparation of Jesus’ body and His burial. He might finally have said, “I see what you mean.”
The Samaritan woman was also getting the facts, even though she wasn’t the one who started the conversation. What she heard was that Jesus had a spiritual thirst quenching living water to offer her. What she heard was that God wanted people who would worship Him in spirit and in truth. What she heard was that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Her inner thirst was quenched as she affirmed “I see what you mean.”
Dead Lazarus’ sister Martha was getting some facts about end of life issues. What she heard was that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. What she heard is that whoever believes in Him will live even though he dies. What she saw was Jesus proving it all by raising Lazarus from a four-day death. She could say, “I see what you mean.”
The facts that the man born blind uncovered were essentially about the identity of Jesus. He learned first of all that this man called Jesus could heal in a way that no one else ever could. He came to believe Jesus to be a prophet, and then a man sent from God. Finally, he learned that Jesus was the Son of Man, and he claimed to believe in Him as Lord, his Lord. He really could say, “I SEE what you mean.”
The disciples asked an important question, too. In fact, that’s how the whole episode began: “Whose sin caused this man’s blindness?” In Jesus’ day, sicknesses were understood to be punishment for a particular sin in a person’s life. The rabbis had developed the principle that “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.” Jesus plainly contradicted this belief by saying that this happened so that the miraculous work of God might be displayed in the blind man’s life. Even the disciples learned something about Jesus. By the end of the day, they could say, along with the blind man, “I see what you mean.
b. Understand the nuances of those facts
But there was more to Jesus than just the discoveries of this day. There is the need to understand the nuances, the meaning of those facts about Jesus.
Two weeks ago, I went to visit my curling friend, Curt, in a hospice in Abbotsford. I read the story that we heard a couple of Sundays ago about Jesus walking on water and the disciples exclaiming that Jesus was truly the Son of God. Curt asked me to explain that thing about Jesus being the Son of God. He wasn’t satisfied to hear the facts, he wanted to understand the nuance. So, I told him how, when Jesus was born, Mary was still a virgin. That means that while Mary was Jesus’ mother, God was His father – He was true man and true God.
Some of the New Testament letters reveal more about Jesus. Hebrews 1 says He is “the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being.” Colossians 1 says that He is “the image of the invisible God, the one by whom all things were created, the one who holds everything – EVERYTHING – together.” Reflecting on this Colossians passage, Joni Eareckson Tada writes: “In Him all the universe holds together. How much more so the details of our lives. He’s the glue that binds the stars and planets in their orbits and bonds the very atoms and molecules. How much more the fragmented pieces of my life.”
In other words, if you want to see God, look at Jesus. Jesus said that to His disciple Philip: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” If you want to understand the nuances of God, you need to start with Jesus. Again, Joni wrote: “Begin with the Gospels. Learn what He thinks about your sin. Observe His love. Study His conversations. Memorize His words. Learn how He went to the cross and died for you. Rejoice in the resurrection.”
In the other three accounts of Jesus’ ministry – in Matthew, Mark and Luke – we hear the story of Jesus conducting a religious poll among His disciples – “Who do the people say that I am?” But what was more important was their own answer, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter came to the same conclusion as the Samaritan woman: “You are the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of God.” This was a God-revealed answer that was explained more fully by Jesus in words reminiscent of those spoken to Nicodemus: “I must suffer many things, be killed and on the third day rise again.” Jesus didn’t come just to be a good guy, He came to be the God-guy… for us! He came to fulfill the promises of God. He came to bring spiritual sight and insight to those who are born spiritually blind to the reality and the truths of God. He came to bear the burden of our sin, and to forgive it. He came to blaze the path to heaven for us.
c.Count the cost of following Jesus
Finally, it’s important to count the cost of following Jesus. Jesus once told two stories about this cost of discipleship. One was about a man who wanted to build a tower and how foolish it would be to start if he didn’t have enough money to complete the tower. The second story was about a king who, with his army of 10,000 was considering battle against another king with his army of 20,000. In this case, Jesus said, it might be wise to seek terms of peace.
Becoming and being a follower of Jesus may involve serious opposition. For the blind man in John 9, the opposition was from the religious leaders who ridiculed him for even wanting to be a follower of this unknown sinner, and who then threw him out of their presence. For you the opposition may be in your own mind, honestly asking those tough questions, not understanding everything about Jesus, and wondering if it’s all really true. Or maybe your co-workers vehemently verbalize their belief that you are foolish for swallowing and following this God and Jesus stuff. Or the opposition may be from family members who are from a different religious background and who threaten to exclude you from things just like the religious leaders excluded the blind man
Then there is the “all in” aspect of following Jesus, truly counting the cost. Jesus isn’t just asking for an hour a week discipleship. He’s asking for total, unashamed belief. He’s asking for Godly attitudes to others. He’s asking for loving words to encourage and bless your family members, your friends – even your enemies. He’s asking for a servant’s heart to get involved with those who are poor and discouraged and hurting, adding our spit – our blood, sweat and tears – to the mud and messiness of someone’s life to bring a miracle of healing and wholeness and spiritual sight… so that they can say, “I see what you mean.” He’s asking for devoted hearts that pray daily and worship weekly and dig into God’s word regularly. He’s asking for sacrificial giving to support God’s kingdom and a bold and courageous witness to reach a spiritually blind world with God’s love and grace in Christ. He’s asking us to see and believe and worship.
In curling sometimes we talk about risk vs. reward. You might be considering a hard shot that, if missed, would give the other team 1 point, but, if made, would give your team 5 points. The other option is to take a safer shot for 1 point yourself. It’s risk vs. reward. If the risk isn’t beyond your comfort level, the reward is worth it.
Following Jesus can be personally risky, challenging, maybe even uncomfortable at times, but the reward is… well… out of this world!! It was just a few verses later, in John 10, that Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters [the sheep pen] through me will be saved.” That’s the reward – salvation, heaven, an out of this world insurance policy… in Jesus! The “how” follows immediately when Jesus described Himself as the Good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. He would lay down His life willingly, sacrificially, on the cross for our forgiveness and for our salvation. In Jesus, all who are born spiritually blind can see and believe and worship, and live… eternally. Let’s live out that “I see what you mean” revelation in an “all in” discipleship for the same purpose as Jesus’ healing miracle: “that the work of God might be displayed.” Amen.