10 -September, 2023 - ISN'T THIS THE SAME MAN? - OPENING OURSELVES TO TRANSFORMATION -John 9
MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM
BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.
Several years ago, I stood at Israel’s Western wall. During the trip I had visited this place on two previous occasions, each time, different; each time, rich. But this time was very different as two limousines pulled onto this sacred site where vehicles aren’t normally seen, stopping only a metre or two from where I stood. At first, there was no movement from the vehicles and then the exit of a few men – dark suits and ever watching eyes. And after a few moments, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now I admit, he didn’t greet me by name, no ‘Hi Rob, great to see you!’, no warm Israeli embrace. To be honest, there wasn’t even the slightest acknowledgment of my presence. In truth it was a moment of proximity but an encounter? Not so much.
Two people – one esteemed and well known; the other, nameless and of small regard. I’ll let you determine which one was which.
Okay, I admit, for those of you wondering, Netanyahu the person of importance. He had the position. He had the power. He had the prestige. Even though I had the good looks.
Kidding!! But the truth is, all of us make assessments as to who merits our attention based on qualities that attract; characteristics admired; and interests shared.
When answers are positive, we draw close. When absent – we ignore and walk by. And walking by is exactly what the disciples were doing when Jesus came to a sudden stop. John 9:1 tells us, Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.
Our image of this almost seems like one of those comedic pictures where everyone is walking in formation when one person suddenly stops and the rest crash into each other. In this case the disciples seeing this man as a no stop, ‘walk by’ object-lesson at the side of the road. In their cause and effect world that they’d grown up in, this blind man was a sinner which meant their math was simple – bad eyes, bad fate, bad person – meaning this man was no more than someone to observe and move on. He fitting a category far different from theirs.
To be fair, it’s not a lot different from the categorizing we do with those different from us, as we steer clear of the street people on Vancouver’s east side. Or those working the massage parlours in Richmond. Or those doing the dumpster dive or those with lifestyles and life views different from us. ‘Walk by’ people.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jn 9:2
As far as the disciples could see, he was a condition and so they affixed their label not much different than the Pharisees whose idea of righteousness was right look no matter how much wrong heart. Their look evaluative instead of redemptive forgetting, that when we lose sight of Jesus’ command for us to be redeemers not judgers, we too easily default to judgment, forgetting what God tells us, People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart 1 Sam 16:7.
This isn’t to say that God doesn’t judge. He does. He judges religiosity that keeps people from God and He judges rebellion, pride and hypocrisy that in effect try to convince us to live without God. In short, God does judge and must judge sin and yet the greater truth is that on the Cross, God placed His judgment of sin upon Jesus who, in His love, paid the penalty for all our sin which means, when we place our faith in Him, we are forgiven, our sin is gone.
Jesus taking upon Himself all our sin so we can have life. But when we forget that it was because of our sin that Jesus had to die, we too easily see the sin in others not ourselves. And in that place we judge, which seems in some measure, to be behind the disciples’ question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
This ‘us and them’ is often what has Christians huddling around small fires, protectively warming ourselves, when we are actually called to be heat and light that penetrates the darkness. Our light not to be warmth for the gathered few but a spotlight and refuge to bring hope to the many. Our light, not primarily to expose darkness but shining light directing to rescue and deliverance. This light often first needed to be seen in practical ways speaking into the needs of the world as we were reminded last week. James 2:15-17 tells us, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action is dead.”
Our actions - to meet need but our primary mission - to reveal the light and hope of Jesus.
With this eye opening answer to the disciples’ question about who sinned?, Jesus answers Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jn 9:3
In His response, Jesus making it clear, your focus is off. Part of what you see is correct – this man is imprisoned by darkness but your conclusions are wrong causing you to evaluate and condemn. You express what the religious do – his life is as it is because he is a sinner and as such, he possesses what he so rightly deserves.
But would your conclusions be so harsh if you saw yourself in that man? Would you so quickly label and in your labelling, dismiss? Yet because you see someone different from you, you categorize rather than care. You stand apart rather than beside. But understand, the man who believes himself well, fails to recognize the darkness in which he lives. He sees but is blind while those who admit to Jesus they are blind, will see.
In the context of what the disciples ask and knowing what He is about to do, Jesus clarifies what His mission is and with this making clear, what is at stake, There is coming a time of darkness when no man can work Jn 9:4. In other words, there is coming a time of forever darkness where light will never enter. This isn’t the dark of eyes that can’t see, this is the darkness of eternal separation from God in Hell, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is not, as some would have us believe, ‘a never ending’ party of ‘rebels and misfits.’ Nor is Hell some metaphorical construct, that some ‘God is love – God won’t judge’ theologians would like to think. No, Scripture is clear, Hell is a place of eternal torment. Against this backdrop of darkness, Jesus pierces light into religious practices that keep us from God.
When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing :6.
In this, we see Jesus’ first penetration of His light into darkness – by His ACT of healing on the Sabbath. Time and again, Jesus will choose the Sabbath to tear down mindsets that keep people from God. He overturning their expected so they could experience His transformational. In the same way, He wants to do that with us, moving us from proximity to encounter where we truly meet Him. Where we go deeper and step closer - where we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit coming to us, perhaps in ways we hadn’t thought possible but coming to God with the spirit of Jacob, who in wrestling with God said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ Gen 32:26 Stepping out with an open heart of discovery that worships as a seeker, a responder, a lover of Jesus.
Jesus’ second penetration of His light into darkness is HOW He healed on the Sabbath that got their attention. The Pharisees compiled a list of what was and what wasn’t acceptable to do on the Sabbath. For example, you couldn’t look in a mirror on Sabbath because you might be tempted to pluck out a grey hair which would be reaping (which wouldn’t be a problem for me because I want to hang onto to the little I’ve got) or you could lead a donkey on Sabbath but the harness and saddle had to be placed on him the day before (those just a few of the absurd). But on this occasion, even a greater absurd – you see, the Pharisees had determined that it was permissible to spit on a rock, but spitting on the earth? – not allowed - because spit and earth made mud which was considered mortar. And that meant work. Adding to that, when Jesus took up clay, working and molding it, He left no doubt - His actions deliberately violating what the religious had made to be legalistically sacred. Yet in this act, Jesus was in some ways, repeating what He done at Creation when He as a member of the Triune God, formed Adam from the dust of the ground. All things were made through him and without him was not anything made Jn 1:3
Giving sight to a man blind from birth isn’t adjusting something gone wrong, it’s not repairing a heart valve or fixing a torn leg muscle. Nor is it re-attaching a detached retina or replacing a glazed over cornea. This is laying down visual pathways where none have been and placing images onto receptors that never learned to ‘recept’. It’s taking what didn’t exist and speaking it into existence.
In the same way, that truth is important for us. That while God does restore and God does rebuild, what God primarily does is make new, which is why we are to boldly pray for God to do the new • to pray boldly for revival in and through this church for His power to be so evident many are brought to Christ • to pray boldly for the broken, the hurting, the lost to be made miraculously new • to pray boldly for young people and young families, committed to live all in for Christ, passionately and courageously to fill, then spill out from this place.
All possible when we truly lay hold of Who it is we worship, Who it is we follow. Interestingly though, in this encounter, Jesus doesn’t begin by addressing Who He is rather He begins by putting the spotlight on What He does – the focus on the miracle not on Him. In this way, He puts before them evidence of which they are very familiar. The challenge before them is what will they do with that evidence?
Because in making blind eyes see, Jesus was fulfilling what Isaiah prophesied would be the sign of God’s coming Messiah, Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer Is 35:5,6. No prophet had ever made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. Moses hadn't done it. Elijah hadn’t done it. Jeremiah hadn’t done it. Don’t for a moment think that the religious leaders were unfamiliar with what was written, The Lord said to Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Ex 4:11 And soon Jesus is going to put compelling evidence of who He is on public display.
I think it’s important to pause here to consider that in some ways, we aren’t much different than the Pharisees. It’s not that we have denied the evidence we’ve been given, it’s just that we haven’t fully entered into the power of what the evidence tells us. We settle for proximity when He offers us encounter.
His power far stronger. His reach far longer. His glory far greater. His love far deeper. Meaning what? That in everything we face, He surpasses it all. The problems that we face. The prisons that close us in. The friends that push us down. The impossibles we encounter. Over them all, the God who makes blind eyes see, who makes deaf ears hear, who makes lame legs walk. Not, ‘the’ God but your God, to whom He says, Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38,39
Which is what this blind man will soon discover as he sets off, likely a few others with him, guiding him on his way. Along the way, the curious. At the Pool, the already gathered. The numbers that began with the few, now the many. All trying to make sense of a blind beggar, eyes caked with mud, as he walks to Siloam. This man arriving with anticipation, his intention far greater than being washed clean. And as water splashed on eyes an explosion of jubilation not just from him but from those looking on.
And around all of this, Jesus nowhere to be found. But front and center of all those gathered, evidence of the impossible and upon hearing his story, their how’s? turning to their ‘WHO?’
In truth Siloam was a crossroads event for those who watched the blind man in the street, who saw him at the Pool, who knew him as a neighbour, they having to decide what to do with what they’d seen. They certainly couldn’t ignore and there was no way they could deny. Which is exactly what Jesus intended, bringing people face to face with the question, ‘Hadn’t their Scriptures said that giving sight to the blind was something only Messiah would do?
And if that were true, what had they just seen?
Therefore the neighbours and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?” Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.” He said, “I am he.” Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” :8
In the presence of neighbours and family, the eyes of curiosity gets wider and the cries of how is this possible, get louder. And as they do, explanations must have seemed strange, which shouldn’t surprise us. Paul tells us, The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God 1 Cor 1:18
He answered and said, “A man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” Then they said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.” :11,12
Answering that Who? question was risky. For those coming to the most obvious conclusion, would make them enemies of the Pharisees and that was no small thing – meaning no synagogue; no social network in the community; no place to buy and sell. And with too much to lose, the man’s parents when asked, copped out, We don’t know, he’s of age, ask him. With that decision, they let the Pharisees decide. Their fear causing them to step back from what they knew to be true. Their fear allowing the voices of unbelief to cast the determining vote.
Isn’t it true we often do the same? Where we remain silent, afraid to step out. Where we allow decisions to be determined by others because of our silence. Where we choose to temper down our excitement of following Jesus because doing something different would have us standing alone, at odds with what others think. Because taking a stand is risky. And so, we cop out and miss what God wants to do in us and through us. In part because we hear people more and Jesus less. Listen to how it plays out in the scene we are looking at:
13: So they brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. :13-16
Don’t miss the incredible scene this really is. All the evidence needed is standing right in front of them – he, with eyes wide open; they, with hearts closed shut. He, with eyes indisputably changed; they, their judgment already made. He, a recipient of transformation; they, determiners of violation.
They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore, his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.” :17-24
The contrast is stark: on one hand • a resourceless man who had no reason to think life would ever be different but because he obeyed Jesus, he was given a life he never thought possible. Don’t think for a moment that doing what Jesus asked would have been easy. First there was much about Jesus He didn’t know. We can surmise this from the blind man’s response, a man called Jesus :11, suggesting that Jesus and any acts He has done are mostly unknown to him. Which tells us that Jesus’ call to follow Him isn’t based on having every question answered, every doubt settled. Instead, faith calling us to decide on what we do know.
Then there is the obvious of his condition - after a lifetime of being blind, what hope was there that things could be different? That his world would be changed by a face-wash of some mud? Nothing about this was logical. Humbling? Absolutely - walking the streets, eyes caked in mud was hardly what he would have chosen. But logical? – yet in faith of what he was told to do, he went.
In a counter image to him, there was • the group who majored in the logical. They had the rule book of what they ‘knew’ must be true. Things they had known, things they had seen, things they’d determined. As far as they were concerned, they weren’t needy, weren’t blind, weren’t deficient. They had every resource required to navigate life, every resource except the One Resource truly needed. So, as ‘evidence gatherers’ substantiating what they wanted to believe, they scurried back to their rule book that defined how God was to be known.
And with that in hand, the Pharisees had no intention of being changed, no matter what evidence was before them. They had already determined what they were prepared to see.
I wonder to what degree that is true for some here today, you like they, with no intention of being changed, not unless you are presented with one more convincing argument, one more compelling truth. Perhaps if you were given that, then you’d get serious about following Jesus
But take a lesson from the Pharisees who everywhere they looked, had ‘one more’ evidence. One more crippled made to walk, one more blind made to see, one more deaf made to hear and one more dead raised to life. And it made no difference because they didn’t like where those ‘one mores’ pointed. Because their one more wasn’t about evidence, it was about pride that refused to move beyond what they were willing to believe. Pride that kept them from stepping out from the surround of what others thought, what others said.
And then there’s the blind man, who when asked about the man who’d given him sight answered, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” :25 He, not having the education of those who asked. Not having the life experience or the intellectual debates simply knowing this, a man called Jesus came to him as the miracle worker. He was the One who makes the blind to see. Jesus, the AUTHOR and SUSTAINER of all life - the earth on which we stand, the galaxies upon which we gaze, the Heaven upon which we wait. Jesus, God - the Mighty One. The Saving One. The Redeeming One. The Shepherd, the Rock; the Fortress, the King, the Lamb that was slain and the Lion who will rule.
This Jesus who invites you and I to see Him with new eyes this morning. Not settling for proximity but accepting His invitation to come into close encounter
with Him - Intimately. Boldly. Adventurously. Worshipping Him, to be stretched by the miraculous of Who He is.