11 Jun 2011, Dr Alex Currie
(Alex is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
Seeing Clearly (another in a series on the Gospel of John) - Scripture Reading: John 9:1-41
A black and white drawing was beamed onto the screen which at first appeared dots and blobs. But after staring at it for 30 seconds and closing one's eyes many saw the face of Jesus. The mind took time to decipher what at first appeared random black marks on a white surface. Sometimes takes time for the brain to make sense out of something that at first appears as nonsense.
When I was a boy my grandmother was completely blind and lived in the Blind Institute in Auckland N.Z. Because we lived a long way from her we would visit only two or three times a year. Her nickname for me was Sandy. She would say "Sandy, come here, I want to see you." When I went close to her, with her soft delicate fingers she touched my head and shoulders and would invariably say "I see you are growing to be a big boy." The touch of her fingers enabled to see in her mind's eye what she couldn't see with her blind eyes.
Just as the words 'believe'(98 times) and 'life' (55 times) are themes in John, so is light. Notice some:
- 1:4 "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men."
- 1:5 "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
- 1:7 "This man (John the Baptist) came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe."
- 1:8 "He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of the Light."
- 1:9 "That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world."
- 3:19 "And this is the condemnation that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
- 3:30 "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."
- 3:21 "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been don in God.
- 5:35 "He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light."
- 8:12 "Then Jesus spoke to them again (at Feast of Tabernacles 7:2) saying, 'I am the light of the world, He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."
- 9:5 "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
John 9 is the only place in the gospels that we find the sufferer was afflicted from birth. Jews connected suffering with sin either of the person or the family. So the natural question was 'Is his blindness due to his own sin, or to his parent's sin? Some Jewish Rabbis taught that sin was possible while the embryo was in the womb. In a well documented conversation between Antioninus and Patriarch Rabbi Judah, Antoninus asked "From what time does the evil influence bear sway over a man, from the formation of the embryo in the womb or from the moment of birth?" Antonius convinced the Rabbi by argument from Gen. 4:7 "Sin is lurking at the door", that sin began when a child was born. (1)
The view that one's physical suffering was due to the individual's sin or the parents is woven into OT thought. Exodus 20:5 'I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation.' Isaiah 65:7 says 'their ancestor's sins' will be measured 'into their laps full payment for their actions.' When we sin there maybe consequences that continue for generations just as genetic faults such as heart disease are sometimes passed down through the generations, as illustrated in my own family.
Jewish leaders took exception to Christ's ministry. Note some references in John that begin to lead to the Cross. In John 7:46 there was controversy and the leaders wanted him arrested but the guards returned saying 'No one ever spoke the way this man does.' Then in John 8:48 & 52 '...you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed.' Again in John 8:58 when Jesus said 'before Abraham was born "I am!' They 'picked up stones to stone him...' In John 9:28 they accused the healed blind man of being 'this fellow's disciple!' But we are disciples of Moses". Jesus to them was nothing but Moses the lawgiver was everything. Today there are similar attitudes in Jerusalem. Pastor Alex told of when he visited the Jewish synagogue to worship that one man did not want to let him in because 'he is carrying a bag on Sabbath.'
Notice the contrast "For the first time the blind man looked upon the face of his Restorer. Before the council he had seen his parents troubled and perplexed; he had looked upon the frowning faces of the rabbis; now his eyes rested upon the loving, peaceful countenance of Jesus. Already, at great cost to himself, he had acknowledged Him as a delegate of divine power; now a higher revelation was granted him."(2)
1. Jesus did not explain the relationship between sin and suffering.
He simply said this man's affliction provides and opportunity for God's glory to be revealed. In other words, He did not wish to pre-empt another argument. In John, miracles are always a sign of the glory and power of God. The other gospel writers saw them as a sign of God's compassion or pity on humans. This miracle demonstrated what God can do. Affliction, sorrow, pain, disappointment and loss are always opportunities for displaying God's Grace. Dr. Currie's mother was given three weeks to live, but after anointing, lived almost three years, during which time she embedded in her children strong Christian values.
Suffering demonstrates God in action. People who pray and trust in God often demonstrate strength, beauty of character, endurance and nobility. An old person was dying and he sent for his family saying "Come and see how a Christian can die."
By helping people in pain, we model God's glory. American missionary, Frank Laubach declared that when Christ, who is the 'Way', lives in us, 'we become part of the Way. God's highway runs straight through us.' (3) When we people who are struggling health wise, God uses us as the highway by which He sends help. We demonstrate God's glory by ministering. Robert Browning wrote in Paracelsus "If I stoop into a dark tremendous sea of cloud, It is but for a time; I press God's lamp close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late, Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day."
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3 that God..."comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows...produces in you patient endurance..."
2. Christians do God's work while there is time to do it.
James Stewart from Invercargill, NZ, made more than 200 sundials before his death in 1933. In Glasgow one of his sundials reads 'Tak' tent of time ere time be tint.' Which translated means 'Take thought of time before it is ended." Never put off sharing God's love for another opportunity may not eventuate. Even with the SON of Righteousness, He recognised that a time of darkness, the Cross was coming, so He worked diligently while there was the opportunity. Jesus pressed on with God's work in the day, for He recognised the night of the cross lay just ahead. This is true for us all, we only have limited time. Hilaire Belloc penned "There falls no shadow where there shines no sun". God is often in the shadows. So seize every opportunity to share love. Jesus said "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." The opportunity of accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour is limited. E D Starbuck was possibly the first to point out that most conversions occur before the age of 30. (4)
3. Healing was a significant element of Christ's Ministry.
It ought to be part of the church's ministry today. Pagans feared the sick and dying but it was Christians that developed the Hospice. (5) My mother was helped significantly by ladies from the church who gave her 'home treatments.' Emerging from darkness to light is the greatest healing. Jesus coming was light to a dark world. To the darkness of falsehood Jesus is the light of truth. From the darkness of ignorance He brought the light of wisdom. From the darkness of impurity he brought the light of holiness. From the darkness of sorrow He brought the light of joy, and from death's darkness came Jesus the Light of Life.
4. Water was often used in scriptural healing.
Here in John 9: 6-12 Jesus used spit to form a clay poultice and then sent his patient to wash in the Pool of Siloam. In Mark 7:33 we discover the only other 'spittle' miracle recorded in the gospels. Pliny the ancient collector of scientific information has a whole chapter in his book on using spit therapeutically. (6) In 2008 the Science Daily reported how scientists in the Netherlands identified a compound in human saliva that speeds healing. (7) Jesus plugged into the ancient methods used in his time, adding value to them. The pool of Siloam was a significant landmark in Jerusalem that proclaimed a great engineering feat in Israel's history. Hezekiah's tunnel history was discovered in 1880 by two boys who were wading in the pool and found an ancient tablet. The tablet recorded how engineers commenced from two ends and although they zig zagged through the fissures in the rock they meet in middle, creating a tunnel 2 feet wide and 6 feet high that provided the city water. Jesus still does things which to unbelievers appear far too good and far too wonderful to be true.
5. Think of the prejudice and Conviction Jesus generated.
By making clay Jesus was guilty of working on Shabbat. (8) Jewish law said a person could not walk in sandals that contained nails, for the nails would be considered a burden. Their law said they could not cut fingernails or pull a hair out on Sabbath. Today Orthodox Jews cannot turn an electric switch on or off.
Healing was forbidden on the Sabbath. Medical treatment was only permitted if a life was in danger, and then treatment was given to keep them from deteriorating, not to make them better. According to their laws they couldn't suck vinegar through their teeth to ease the pain. They were forbidden to set a broken limb on Sabbath. (9) This blind man was not in danger of his life, so Jesus broke Jewish Sabbath law.
Jewish law stated: "As to...spittle, it is not lawful to put it so much as upon the eyelids." The Pharisees were typical of people in every generation who condemn anyone whose idea of religion is not in harmony with their own views. The healed blind man said of his healer "He is a prophet." In the Old Testament prophets were often tested by signs, such as Moses before Pharaoh (10) and Elijah on Carmel. (11) This blind man could declare "I believe in Him because of what He has done for me." Can we do the same?
6. Note the progression of Understanding.
In John 9:11 the blind man called his healer Jesus. Then in John 9:17 he called him a prophet but in John 9:38 he confessed belief in the Son of Man and 'he worshipped Him."
So what have we learned?
- The story as it evolved is of an ordinary blind man Jesus met possibly while walking down a road. To help this man Jesus breached Jewish Sabbath rules.
- Christianity is not about rules so much as a God-man relationship.
- The story illustrates the sight giving power of Jesus who is the light of a world that is in darkness. Christ alone shines the light of God into humans. "For God, who said," Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (12)
- Jesus searched for the man. (13) Jesus still seeks and saves the lost.
- The story encourages believers to witness, even under the threat of persecution or ex-communication.
There is an old hymn that says:
Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.
(1) William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol 2. St. Andrew Press, pp 43-4.
(2) White, Desire of Ages, Pacific Press, p 474
(3) Barclay, p 46
(4) Ibid, p 47
(5) Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. Zondervan. 2001. pp154-5.
(6) Barclay, pp 48-9.
(7) See Internet under Human Saliva Heals Wounds.
(8) Mishnah Shabbath 7:2
(9) Barclay, pp 51-53
(10) Exodus 4:1-17
(11) 1 Kings 18.
(12) 2 Corinthians 4:6.
(13) John 9:35
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