Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sermon: John 9: 1-41 Was blind, but now I see

I wonder if you’ve ever heard yourself saying this: ‘I couldn’t see it for looking at it.’ You go into a room, you’re looking for something and you can’t see it. It mustn’t be there. It’s lost. And then someone else comes into the room and it’s right in front of you. You couldn’t see it for looking at it - you saw it, but you didn’t really see it. It’s as if you were blind, you just couldn’t see it.

That experience is a bit like what’s happening in our Bible reading this morning. Now, perhaps, you’re slightly puzzled, because you’re thinking, Gary, you’ve got it all wrong. John 9 is all about the healing of this man blind from birth; it’s all about someone who couldn’t see, and then he’s able to see - and he’s so excited about it, he tells just about everyone he meets. You’re right. The man’s journey from being blind to seeing is there. It shows the power and glory of Jesus, but at the same time, in the same events, there are people who can see yet are becoming blind. They can’t see Jesus for looking at him. They can’t see who he is, even though they can see what he has done.

Look with me at verse 39. You see, this verse is the key to the chapter, this is the point of it, this is what it’s all about. When we get this, then we can see how the story unfolds. ‘Jesus said, ‘For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’

This morning is going to be like a sight test. It’s like the man who was asked had his eyes ever been checked, and he replied no, they’ve always been blue. Whether you should have gone to Specsavers or some other optician, they test your eyesight, and record if your eyesight is getting worse or better. Here in John 9, as you seeing Jesus more clearly, or are you becoming blind?

In verse 1, there’s no doubt where the man fits in. He is a man blind from birth. I’ve had two family members who lost their sight, both in their elderly years, but this man has never seen anything. Doesn’t know what his parents look like. Has never seen the sky, or trees, or flowers. His is a sad case, but the disciples aren’t interested in pity. Rather, they start the blame game. Whose fault is this? Some people reckon that health and wealth follows goodness, and that sickness is therefore punishment for some terrible disease. That’s what Job’s comforters are known for - they blamed Job for all his suffering. The disciples were of the same mould. ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Perhaps you find yourself asking the same question when something bad happens to you, or someone you love. What have I done, to deserve this? Why me? But the disciples are asking the wrong question, and seeing the situation in the wrong way. Look at Jesus’ answer: ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’

This man has endured so many years of blindness so that the works of God might be displayed in him. The disciples saw blame, but Jesus sees the opportunity to work, to show his glory. Jesus says that he is the light of the world, and proves it by shining in this man’s life. In verses 6-7 the miracle is described - the spit, the mud, the sending, the washing, and the seeing.

Those who do not see may see. The man born blind can now see, and what he sees is a crowd of inquisitive people. They recognise him, or at least they think they do. They’ve seen him begging, that poor man, born blind, but this man sees. ‘I am the man’ he says. How? He tells the story of how he came to see. Jesus, mud, sent, wash, sight. Amazing, wonderful, so the crowd take him to the Pharisees.

Now when we hear of the Pharisees, we almost want to boo them, like the pantomime villain. But these guys took religion very seriously. They were the people who were supposed to know all about God, the people who saw things clearly. And they saw how the Sabbath law had been broken. You see, they were good at observing the law, and good at spotting when others broke it. They heard the story - mud, washed, see. And they’re not convinced. How could he be from God if he breaks the Sabbath by producing something, by working to make mud? Others seem to be more open, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such things?’

The Pharisees are divided, so they ask the blind man (!) what he thinks about Jesus: ‘He is a prophet.’ For being blind (or at least used to be blind), he’s doing a good job of seeing. Better than the people who can see, anyway. The Pharisees don’t believe that he really was blind from birth, so they question his parents. They know he was born blind, but they’re afraid of answering any more questions - they fear the Jews. They don’t want to see the truth before them.

Whenever we were growing up and suspected of doing something wrong, my granny had a phrase at the ready: ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil.’ The Pharisees have a similar phrase, which we see in verse 24. A second time they interview him and they say, ‘Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.’ And the man gives glory to God as he gives his simple testimony, a line that John Newton put in his hymn Amazing Grace: ‘One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.’

Again they ask how, and he’s getting annoyed, getting sarky, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ They’ve heard the testimony. They’ve seen the evidence of God’s work, power and glory, but they refuse to see. They can’t see it for looking at it. They revile him, they abuse him, they lecture him. But look at the man’s simple faith: ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ (33)

And that’s the final straw. They cast him out, with those stinging words: ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ They see, but they are becoming blind. At the same time, the one who started blind is seeing more clearly. Jesus finds him, and asks ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ Who’s that, the man replies. ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ Do you see his response? ‘Lord, I believe’ and he worshipped him.

This is why Jesus came into the world ‘that those who do not see may see’ - this man was blind, but by the end of the day he could see. Imagine looking into his parents’ faces for the very first time. But he was also brought from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight - he saw Jesus for who he was, not just this miracle worker, not just this prophet, but the Son of Man, his Lord, who he believed and worshipped. John gives us this sight test today - have you noticed any improvement from earlier on? Are you seeing Jesus more clearly? His power, his glory, his grace? Are you moving from not seeing him at all to seeing and delighting in him? Are you better able to focus on him? Is your vision of him a bit less fuzzy than it used to be? Praise God - and keep looking at the light of the world.

But sometimes people get bad news when they have their eyes tested. Stronger glasses are needed as their sight worsens; macular degeneration is detected and blindness is approaching. Could that be some of us today? That’s like the Pharisees - they thought they could see so clearly, yet they were becoming blind. They couldn’t see Jesus for looking at him; they wouldn’t recognise him as Lord. They thought that his light was darkness. And they didn’t even realise. That’s where the passage ends. ‘Are we also blind?’ they ask. They thought they had 20-20 vision, but instead they are guilty, unable to see their sin; unable to recognise the Saviour right in front of their face.

The famous hymnwriter Fanny Crosby was only able to see for the first six weeks of her life. Despite being blind, she wrote many of the hymns we sing today - To God be the glory; Blessed assurance; and Safe in the arms of Jesus. A preacher once said to her, ‘I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you.’ She replied. ‘"Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour."

She who was blind had the gift of sight - to see Jesus for who he was, her Saviour. And when she died and went to heaven, his would be the first face she ever saw. May we also be brought to see the Saviour, with our spiritual eyes, so that we too can share that same testimony: ‘Was blind, but now I see.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 22nd November 2015.

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