Sunday, March 26, 2017

Knowing Jesus

John 9:1-41
In last Sunday’s gospel lesson, a Samaritan came to have life with God when, to her surprise, Jesus told her every sin she’d ever done while still reaching out to her with love and respect. In today’s lesson, a blind man comes to see that Jesus was “the Son of Man,” a phrase from the Old Testament book of Daniel for God Himself on the earth that He created.

Jesus promises that all who see Him for Who He is in this way and trust Him as their God and Savior will have life with God for eternity.

But as our gospel lesson shows us today, seeing Who Jesus is and trusting faith in Him are two different things. The gap between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus can only be measured in eternity.

It isn’t easy to believe. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian, says: “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.”

The blind man in today’s lesson learned this truth the hard way, deserted and rejected by his family, his neighbors, and religious leaders. But at the end of the lesson, you realize that he became a true disciple, willing to give up on everything the world in which he lived held dear for the privilege of being Jesus’ disciple today and in eternity.

Let’s take a look at John 9:1-41.

In verses 1-7, at the beginning, Jesus and His disciples encounter a blind man. The disciples want to know whose sin was at fault for his blindness.

We human beings love to believe in neat explanations for the messiness that exists in our world. It helps us feel that we’ve got a handle on things we can’t explain. But this world is messy because the condition of sin has imprisoned the entire universe.

This means that bad things, hard things, and sad things happen even to faithful people.

So, Jesus says that it was neither the man’s parents or the man himself who caused the his blindness. But there was a purpose for Jesus encountering the man that day, Jesus says: “...this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus then creates a bit of mud, smears it on the man’s eyes, and tells the man to wash himself in a nearby pool. He does so and, as John puts it understatedly, “[he]...came home seeing” (John 9:7).

When the once-blind man’s neighbors find out, they want to learn how it happened. They smell a conspiracy. “This isn’t really the blind man who used to beg,” some of them say. “Yeah,” others say, “he’s an impostor who just looks like the guy.”

The neighbors don’t like that this guy is healed. It upsets the status quo. It makes them envious that a miracle has happened to him. It introduces mystery into a world they thought they’d figured out. They don’t like it that something so good happened to a man who they, like the disciples, thought deserved his blindness. Most conspiracy theories start in this way, folks. But, in verse 9, the formerly blind man tells them: “I am the man.”

The neighbors still aren’t sold on the truth. Or, at least, they don’t want to see the truth that stands before them. So, in verses 10-12, they start to grill the healed man. “How did this happen?” they ask skeptically. The man replies: “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see” (John 9:11).

I love his simple testimony: He met Jesus. Jesus told him what to do. He did it. Now, he could see.

Such simplicity in this circumstance is noteworthy. This man isn’t stupid. He can tell, as surely as you and I can tell when we read John’s account of this “conversation,” that the neighbors are getting hostile. Who is this uppity man to claim that a miracle was done for him?

Instead of talking about some miracle wrought by the preacher they’d been hearing about, it would have been more acceptable to them for him to say, “I was never really blind. I only pretended to be blind so that I could spend my days begging.”

Or, he could have left Jesus out of it altogether: “I washed in the pool of Siloam and it cured me.”

But, instead, he attributes the miracle to Jesus.

The crowd doesn’t like this. Some of you know that an atheist once told me after I’d shared some of my story of coming to faith in Christ after years of atheism that I never could have been an atheist. “If you were an atheist,” he told me, “you still would be.” But God can break through the sin, pride, and pain of this fallen world and bring good.

That’s what Jesus did for the blind man.

It’s what He did when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, offering new, eternal life to all who trust in Him.

It’s what He did when He gave me faith in Him to replace my atheism.

In verses 13-16, the neighbors take the man to the Pharisees, the experts in God’s Law. When the situation is laid before them, they’re scandalized to learn that Jesus performed this miracle on the sabbath.

This proved, some of them say, that Jesus couldn’t be from God. Others disagree. The Pharisees are in gridlock.

They turn to the blind man and ask who he thinks Jesus is. The Pharisees don’t want the man’s real opinion. They’re pressuring him to turn on Jesus, to renounce the whole thing, to say that his blindness AND Jesus are frauds.

Once more, the man doesn’t buckle under pressure. Jesus, he says in verse 17, “is a prophet.” A prophet, of course, is a person called by God to speak God’s Word to the world. Now, you and I know that Jesus actually is the Word of God. Jesus is way more than just a prophet; but He is that too. The man says of Jesus what he so far knows of Him. He tells the simple truth. His honesty is moving.

After their pressure fails to cause the man to renounce Jesus, they enlist his parents’ help. “Yes,” they say in verses 18-19, showing the spines of jellyfish, “that’s our son. But we don’t know anything about his story. He’s old enough to fend for himself. Bye!”

In Matthew 10:36, Jesus warns those who would follow Him that “a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.” When we follow Jesus, we can’t expect that all of our family and friends will be happy about it. Being a Christian who seeks to humbly follow Jesus is not making a popular choice.

The formerly blind man is so innocent about the ways of power and going-along-to-get-along, that when the Pharisees ask him to tell them again how he’d come to be sighted, he doesn’t take the hint. He was supposed to admit that he was part of a hoax. Instead, he asks: “Do you want to become his disciples too?” (John 9:27).

At this, the Pharisees tell the man that he must be Jesus’ disciple and that there’s no way of knowing whether Jesus is from God or not.

Now the once blind man says what was becoming obvious to him: “If this man [Jesus] were not from God, he could do nothing” [John 9:33].

At this, the once-blind man, alone among his neighbors and people, abandoned by his parents, condemned by the religious leaders of his country, was thrown out...excommunicated (John 9:34). The good religious leaders rejected him as one unworthy of God.

In the very next verse, we read about this exchange between Jesus and the formerly blind man: “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 worshiped him.’”

The blind man saw Who Jesus was--God in the flesh--and so believed in Him and worshiped Him. This is the second miracle in our lesson.

The first was the miracle of restored sight.

The second was the gift of everlasting life when the man who had received his sight believed in Jesus.

This is the miracle that belongs to all who believe in Jesus. May we never lose our sense of awe and wonder at this miracle. The God Who made everything, Whose holiness we have repeatedly violated, became one of us, led a life free of sin despite temptation, and gave Himself on a cross we earned. Now He offers us life with God for eternity when we turn for sin and, like the once-blind man, believe in Him.

Jesus wasn’t done teaching others the way to life through this blind man, though.

In verse 39, Jesus says, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

The Pharisees were offended. “Are we blind too?” they ask Jesus (John 9:40).

Jesus’ response: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41).

In other words, the Pharisees could see that Jesus was the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Christ, the King of kings, the Lord, God.

But if they admitted to knowing all of that, they would be compelled by faith to let go of the stranglehold they had on power, position, and the lives and consciences of the people they bullied.

The Pharisees who rejected Jesus knew about God, but they refused to know God when He stood in front of them.

They recognized that Jesus is God’s Son. But they were comfortable in living apart from the living God. (And do you know what you call living apart from God? Death.)

The Pharisees chose blindness and so, Jesus says, they were condemned.

But the blind man focused on Jesus.

In ancient days, the rabbis said that Adam and Eve were created blind. They said that the two were totally dependent on God to lead them and that He only led them to places of freedom and peace, places where they were set free to be all that God had made them to be.

But, when they caved into the temptations of the serpent, eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “...the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked...” (Genesis 3:7).

Now, the rabbis said, having fallen into sin, the two were cursed with sightedness. They experienced more than just the good in which God had led them; they now could also see the evil ways they could use their lives.

Sin ensnared them.

Sin fooled them (and has fooled every generation of human beings since) into thinking that it’s possible to live apart from God.

The vision of the entire human race has been clouded by a universe full of idols vying for our trust and our worship, leading us to selfishness, self-promotion, self-loathing, darkness, and death. Now, of course, the rabbis' teaching about this is a bit fanciful. But it does make an important point: When we take our eyes off of the God we know in Jesus Christ, making Him our True North, we lose sight of the only One Who can give us life. We go off course.

When the once blind man came to believe in Jesus, he was set free from his sin and from death. He didn’t just know about God; through Jesus, He came to know God Himself. He saw Jesus as His God and King.

That’s what Jesus makes possible for us see and experience too. May we follow Jesus and never lose sight of Him as “the [only] way, and the [only] truth, and the [only] life” (John 14:6). Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the message prepared for worship this morning.]

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