I Once Was Blind But Now I See

Published: Monday, 27 March 2017

This sermon was presented at the Ashburton Baptist Church by Geoff Pound on 26 March 2017.

Scripture Reading: John 9:1 - 41  260317 jesus anoints a man born blind

Bob Edens had been blind for all his 51 years. He couldn't see a thing. His world was only a black hall of sounds and smells. He literally felt his way through five decades of darkness. But then, a skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob Edens could see.

He found it so overwhelming. He said:

"I never would have dreamed that yellow is so...yellow. I don't have the words. I’m amazed by yellow. But red is my favourite colour. I just can't believe red.”

“I can see the shape of the moon--and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapour trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is."[1]

The beggar outside the temple of Jerusalem must have felt like this when Jesus put mud on his eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. What an experience, to see the sun glistening in the water and then to look into the pool for the first time and see his reflection.

Then to see others around the pool with their coloured garments and to be able to walk so easily without his stick and stride back to the temple without bumping into anyone.

Yes, he wanted to go back to his usual begging place so he could tell his mates and then go to his home to show his family and neighbours, because when something wonderful happens we want to share it. But today we see how this sense of wonder can so easily be throttled and how it can so quickly evaporate.

Before his healing, the disciples said to Jesus:

2. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 

It was the thinking then but still a prevalent view today, that suffering is linked to sin. When babies are born with some defect or deformity, when young people spiral down into addiction, parents can ask, ‘What did we do that caused this? Where did we go wrong?’ Like the disciples, we try and establish the cause and apportion the blame between the parents, the individual and other factors.

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” 

Jesus torpedoes the blame game in the problem of suffering and shifts their attention to purpose. It’s difficult to swallow the idea that all human suffering exists to create an opportunity for God’s work to be revealed, because not all blind people are healed, and the tourists mown down and the policeman stabbed at Westminster this week are not raised to life.[2]

But in this beggar’s case Jesus plans to heal. He wants to open his eyes and the eyes of others to who He is, as the transformer, the Light giver and the One who brings so much colour to our lives.

John in his Gospel records this miracle of healing the blind man as one of the seven signs that Jesus worked (starting with turning water into wine and including the feeding of the 5000 and the raising of Lazarus)[3]. It’s as if John is opening seven windows into Jesus’ divine work. At the outset of this sign Jesus says to his disciples:

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

We need to hear this statement as one of the seven ‘I Am’ statements in John’s Gospel:

I am the bread of life (John 6: 48),

I am the light of the world (John 9: 5)

I am the door (John 10:9),

I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:10),

I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), 

I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6),

I am the true vine (John 15:1)

Jesus takes for himself the name for God, ‘I am’ [Yahweh) which appears in the book of Exodus (3:14). So when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” he’s saying that the same God who was revealed to the Israelites in the Exodus is now again at work in me.

Back to our blind man healed. Did his neighbours rejoice? Did they throw a party and revel in his amazement? No! The Gospel writer says:

The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 

Poor guy. Such a case of mistaken identity! Now we’re asking, not, “Who is the one that was blind?” but, “who are the ones who are truly blind?”

10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Good question: ‘Where is he?

After applying the spit and mud, Jesus disappears. He’s not even around to rejoice with the man when he receives his sight. Only at the end of the day when the man’s been put through the ringer and tossed out of the synagogue does Jesus reappear. Why is he absent?

If we read the verses just prior to today’s story, we learn why:

 

58 Jesus said to them [the Jews], “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

The tension towards Jesus in Jerusalem was on high alert. No wonder Jesus wanted to be compassionate but not in a showy way.

Take a minute to recognise the personal, unique way that Jesus ministered because this challenges our tendency to say: ‘This is the way Jesus works and this is the programme we should follow in our ministry and in the church.’

For instance, compare the healing of blind Bartimaeus in Jericho (Mark 10: 46-52) with the healing of this blind man in Jerusalem.

Christ’s disciples at Jericho could have said: “If you want Jesus to help you, to save you, you’ve got to shout out persistently like Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

But Christ’s disciples at Jerusalem could have replied, “You don’t have to be loud and obsessive. Jesus took the initiative as he simply and quietly saw the blind man at the temple and he healed him.’ But if you want to heal you’ve got to get some mud and spit and put it on a blind person’s eyes then they’ve got to go and wash to get their sight.”

Christ’s disciples at Jericho could say, “No Jesus doesn’t use spit and mud and we don’t either. He just simply says, ‘Go your way, your faith has made you well.’ Jesus is a faith healer and if you’ve got enough faith you will be healed. Hallelujah! Praise God!”

This blinkered, dogmatic thinking is how denominations arise. Like:

The Shouting Baptist Church or

The Spit and Mud and Washing in the Pool Baptist Church

Next the blind man’s neighbours brought him to the Pharisees. John makes the point that all of this had happened on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees asked the man to share his story and he tells of the healer and his mud and pool testimony. This interrogation ends in an uproar because some Pharisees said:

 

16 Some of the Pharisees said of Jesus, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” [Good Jews don’t do work like picking up mud, making a spit poultice and performing a healing] But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

Yes, who are the ones who are truly blind?

This goes from bad to worse. They call in his parents who’d probably been so amazed and thrilled at their son’s healing but now they’re hauled in front of the religious authorities:

 

19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.

 

What a wise thing to say. They’re absolutely scared stiff about being thrown out of the Jewish community.

They call the man who’d been blind for a second round of interrogation, asking him to ‘Give glory to God’ (v24) which is a technical term meaning, ‘tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. They said: ‘We know that your healer is a sinner’.

25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 

What a great response. He was truthful about what he didn’t know and he was truthful about what he did know and what he had experienced.

It’s astonishing to read:

26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 

It’s great how this former beggar shows his exasperation:

27 He answered them, “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?” 

He shows his disdain for his interrogators. They now judge him to be getting sarcastic. They hit back angrily:

28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 

This man’s a fighter. He’d learn to be tough as a beggar. He’d suffered abuse.

30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 

He’s putting the religious elite in their places when he says:

31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 

These religious leaders turned on him:

34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Yes, so who are the ones who are truly blind?

A man was walking across a bridge one day, and he saw a woman standing on the edge, about to jump. He ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."

The woman said: "Why shouldn't I?"

The man said: "Well, there's so much to live for!"

The woman said: "Like what?"

The man said: "Are you religious?"

She said: "Yes."

The man said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"

The woman said: "Christian."

"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

"Protestant."

"Me too. Are you Anglican or Baptist?"

"Baptist."

"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, according to the Reformation of 1879, or

Reformed Baptist Church of God, according to the Reformation of 1915?"

She said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."

The man said: "Die, you heretic," and pushed her off the bridge.[4]

We’re thinking about the blindness that comes when fixed theological positions become so important that we lose our sense of wonder when a person’s life is changed.

The blindness when a person’s experience doesn’t tick our boxes that we become so threatened and defensive that compassion goes out the window.

The blindness when parents are too scared and fearful to share their difficulties and their joys.

The good news for people who have been excommunicated or burned off by a religious community is that Jesus comes to this man who’d just been driven out. Jesus leads him into a greater awareness of who he is. Jesus asks:

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 

To this man who’s just been rejected, Jesus comes with acceptance and understanding that leads to this man believing and worshipping Jesus.

Our reading concludes:

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

As I finish let me remind you of the story of John Newton. Born into a family of faith in England, he lost his mother when he was seven and he went to sea when he was eleven.

He tells us: “I went to Africa that I might be free to sin to my heart’s content.” So he did. He became involved in the barbaric atrocities of the slave trade.

Some years later and on one night, the 10th March to be precise, he was on a ship in a storm. The ship plunged into a trough, and few on board expected her to come up again. Down in the ship’s hold that was filling with water Newton cried out: “The Lord have mercy upon us! Mercy. Mercy. Mercy!

Later the hold became free of water. There came a gleam of hope. He saw God’s hand in this rescue. He began to pray. On the 10th of March, he sought mercy and found it.”[5]

Years later he became a pastor and a song writer. As we finish our service we’re going to sing his story which has down through the years meant so much to so many people:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see. 

 


[1] Max Lucado, God Came Near Multnomah Press, 1987, 13.

[2] ‘London Attack: Four Dead in Westminster Terror Attack’, BBC News, 23 March 2017.

[3] The seven signs are: 1. Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 - "the first of the signs", 2. Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54, 3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15, 4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14, 5. Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24, 6. Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7, 7. The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45

[4] This story has been told and recorded many times but The Guardian covers it in Patrick Barkham, ‘Bigot on a Bridge Wins Poll for Funniest Religious Joke’, The Guardian, 26 September 2003.

[5] The story is told in many places including, F W Boreham, ‘John Newton’s Text’, A Bunch of Everlastings, (London: The Epworth Press, 1920), 220-232.