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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

March 26, 2017

 On Hearing and Seeing God

1 Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:13-41

            The question is painful to hear, and you cannot help but to imagine a long line of ignorance linking human suffering to sin, that likely stretches back to the dim recesses of human history.  That the question is posed to Jesus by His disciples makes it a little easier to bear; perhaps they were seeking to grow (I want to believe the blind man was out of earshot when they asked it!): “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Like Job does long before Him, Jesus rejects this whole line of argument that assigns some sin to each human tragedy, in order to find some comfort in a “reason” that can be understood: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  Let me add quickly that in the other three Gospels, healings always result from Jesus’ compassion for those who suffer.  But for John, each miracle is a “sign” which reflects God’s glory.  But what is God’s glory if not the tender compassion of Jesus?  Is God’s glory ever more fully revealed to us than in Jesus’ mercy and tenderness toward the sick and the suffering?

            So Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud with His saliva, spreading it on the man’s eyes – a method employed by many so-called faith healers in Jesus’ day.  (Pliny, the Roman chronicler, writes a whole chapter on the uses of spittle as an agent of healing!)  If this passage were only about healing, we might spend more time pondering the variety of ways Jesus heals in the Gospels.

            But this healing passage is in fact not so much about healing, as it is about seeing Jesus for who He really is, or being blind to God while God is right in front of you.  We catch a hint of this when Jesus repeats what He first said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.”  John loves to talk about light and darkness in his Gospel.  Remember what he says in his prologue?  “In Him was life, and this life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  But apparently, even when the light shines, not everyone is able to see it.  Lots of folks remain blind, even when they have sight.

            We are caught up again in March Madness with the NCAA basketball tournament.  People love watching because each game matters so much to the team and their fans.  One loss and it is over; your dreams are dashed, your season done.  Probably due in part to our former President, more and more Americans fill out brackets each year for the sixty-eight team tournament.  My bracket proves again how blind, deaf, dumb and stupid I am about a sport I follow and love!  (My six-year-old granddaughter is currently doing better on her brackets than her grandfather!)  I may have sight, but I clearly did not see once again what was going to happen.

            This account in John is filled with all kinds of people who have sight, but fail to see.  Some of the man’s neighbors refuse to believe that he could ever see again.  (“It is someone like him.”)  The Pharisees were aghast that all this was done on the sabbath, and they argue over whether Jesus is from God or from some darker, sinful force, or simply a huckster who is trying to deceive everyone.  Even the man-born-blind’s parents do not want to see Jesus.  They are afraid of what the Pharisees might say or think about them, so they say, “Ask him; he is of age.  He will speak for himself.”

            The only one who is for this man whom Jesus enabled to see, is Jesus.  Notice that when the Pharisees question and ridicule the man and his parents distance themselves from him, Jesus comes back to find him.  What John wants us to see is that if our witness to truth separates us from others, it also brings us nearer to Jesus.  If you are true to Jesus, then He is even truer to you.  “I will not leave or forsake you, but I will come to you,” Jesus said elsewhere in the Gospels.

                       But this man who is blind learns to see who Jesus is, though slowly and over time.  Of course, at first, he does not see anything.  From birth he has been blind.  He hears Jesus before he ever sees Him, which you get the sense is a point John is trying to make.  That makes him like us, who never see Jesus, but hear Him as He speaks through the New Testament.  David never saw the God who called him as a boy.  But through listening to Samuel, Jesse’s youngest son hears and “sees” that God has anointed him to be king.

            The blind-man-from-birth, who is never given a name by John, does not see all at once who it is that has enabled him to see.  Note the progression of understanding about Jesus that grows in the man as the story progresses.  When at first the man washes his eyes and “came back able to see,” they asked him, calling him a “beggar,” “Then how were your eyes opened?”

            In verse ten he says, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said, “Go to Siloam and wash.”  He begins rightly by seeing Jesus as a man.  The church never has let go of that confession, that Jesus was, in fact, a man, rooted in human history.  This is at the heart of John’s own Gospel, that Jesus was fully human, “the Word made flesh.”  In the early church, there was a heresy called “Docetism,” from the Greek word “docer,” which means “to appear.”  It said Jesus merely appeared to be human, but all along was God.  The church decided that Jesus did not merely appear to be human; Jesus was truly, fully human.  Jesus was a man.

            But the Pharisees cannot stop there.  They keep pushing this man, either to discredit the man’s testimony or to discredit Jesus, whose “sign” is a threat to them.  The man holds to his convictions that what he is telling is the truth.  When they push, “What do you say about him?”, he goes a step further.  In verse seventeen he says, “He is a prophet.”  A prophet was one sent by God to speak God’s word.  Moses was a prophet; so were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah and Micah prophets.  By saying that Jesus “is a prophet,” the blind beggar is saying clearly that Jesus came from God, sent by God to do God’s work.

            As they, in their blindness (and all of us are blinded more by our fears and prejudices than by anything else), push the man even harder, cutting him off from his parents, he finally says, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”  Earlier he has said, “I do not know whether He is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

            The Pharisees are not only blind to who Jesus is, they are also deaf to the man.  They keep asking him to repeat his story.  His story does not change, but his view of Jesus grows as he tells the same account over and again.  They drive the man out of their community, which is what they threatened to do to his parents. 

            “Jesus found him,” we are told.  Jesus always finds us, especially when we are alone and in need, hurting and longing for God.  Steve Brown said something once I have never forgotten: “You’ll never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you’ve got.”  I have been in places so dark and lonely that Jesus was all I had.  If you have Jesus, I am here to say, you have all you need.

            So Jesus asked the man-born-blind, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  “And who is He, sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in Him.”  Jesus said, “You have seen Him, and the one speaking with you is He.”  “Lord, I believe,” he said.  And the man born blind, the one Jesus healed, worshipped the Lord.

            So the blind man sees, not just light, but he sees Jesus.  He sees Jesus as the man who touched him and told him to wash in the pool.  He sees Jesus as a prophet, as one who was sent from God.  Finally, he confesses Jesus as Lord, and worships Him.

            How do you see Jesus?  Lord, open our eyes, that we may truly see!



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