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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Open Eyes, Open Hearts
Text:John 9:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Miracles
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-05-02
Updated:2021-05-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 146:1,4                                                                                          

Ps 119:6,7      

Reading – John 8:1-12; John 9:13-41

Ps 107:1,2,6,8

Sermon – John 9:1-7

Hy 5:1,2,3,4

Hy 19:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ the Lord, some of you may have enjoyed the benefits of cataract surgery. With this simple operation, one usually done in less than fifteen minutes, doctors remove the clouded lens of the eye and they replace it with a clear, artificial lens. Most people go home the same day with vision that is dramatically improved. What is free and accessible for us is a distant dream for many. In Africa, for example, untreated cataracts are responsible for millions of people losing their vision each year. It’s the number one cause of blindness in the world—sad, because it is such a curable condition.

In a way, that’s a powerful image of what the gospel of Christ is able to do. In ourselves, we and all people lack the vision to see the truth; as Scripture says somewhere, the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbeliever” (2 Cor 4:4).

The gospel is veiled to sinners, the eye of our heart is closed—which means that we are bound for blackest darkness forever. Yet God has devised a free and accessible solution in Christ Jesus. By him, God shines his Word into the darkness of our hearts, so that we may see him truly, and walk in the light of life. The results are instantaneous and life changing.

This is the privilege granted to us by the grace of God. And we see this effect of the gospel in the story of Jesus’s healing of the man born blind. I preach God’s Word to you from John 9:1-7 on this theme,

            Jesus gives sight to a man born blind:

                        1) the opening of eyes

                        2) the opening of hearts

 

1) the opening of eyes: Where do the events in our text happen? Look at verse 1: “Now as Jesus passed by.” On its own, that tells us very little. But whenever we read a piece of Scripture, we know to cast our eyes up and down and all around, to take in the context. And in the verse just before, at the end of chapter 8, we read, “Then they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (8:59).

Notice the last phrase, “and so passed by”—the same words that begin our text. Jesus has just left the temple courts, where He has been teaching for the last two chapters. He’s also been interacting with the Jewish leaders, who are none too happy with him. Why not? Jesus has had the gall to defend an immoral woman, He has rebuked the leaders’ unbelief, even called them children of the devil. For their part, the leaders have mocked him, called him a Samaritan and demon possessed, and accused him of blasphemy. This is why they’ve just picked up stones to kill him, and why Jesus has slipped away.  

Keep all that hostility in the back of your mind as we watch Jesus leaving the temple grounds. Going through one of the gateways leading to the temple, He sees “a man who was blind from birth” (v 1). This was actually a likely spot for Jesus to encounter someone in need of help. From other stories in the Bible, we know that sick people often came to the area around the temple in order to beg. The temple, with its many gates and covered areas, provided a natural space for people to gather. Here they could be out of the heat of the sun, and here they could seek charity from the people coming and going in God’s house.

Near the temple, Jesus sees this blind man, and He takes action. Unlike for some of the other signs in John, Jesus needs no invitation to perform this work—which really underlines the nature of God’s grace, doesn’t it? People who are blind can’t even see the One who might be able to help them. Those who are lost in darkness have no idea where they’re going, and maybe they don’t even know they’re lost. We depend entirely on the grace of God.

Jesus sees this man, and he’s a man with great trouble, for he is blind. This is a struggle with which we’re hardly familiar. Maybe you’ve gone to a camp before, where you had to wear a blindfold and then grope and stumble your way through an obstacle course. After half an hour of wandering in the dark and scraping your shins, you’re truly grateful to see the light and have the use of your two eyes again!

But permanent blindness was—and in some places, still is—a handicap known to many, especially the poor. Because of bad hygiene and untreated infections, it wasn’t unusual for people to have eyes that were covered over with pus, blind or half-way there.

Such a condition would totally dominate a person’s life. Someone blind couldn’t work, so most of them were beggars. What’s more, they were often dependent on other people to lead them around. So a blind person’s world was very small. Like having leprosy, being blind was a state that was often compared to death—it was a life hardly worth living.

And this poor man, John tells us, has been blind “from birth.” That’s an added element to his tribulation. Not only is he living in the dark, this is where he’s always been. Sometimes those who had their vision, and then lost it, could regain it—maybe if the infection cleared up, or some remedy was found. But ‘blind from birth’ means it’s permanent and incurable.

So the question that the disciples ask sounds harsh, but it’s not unexpected, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v 2). For a person to suffer so long, and so badly, there must be a reason. This was a common view at the time: severe suffering was the evidence of God’s judgment on sin.

For example, remember the book of Job. His friends came and tried help him grapple with what has happened—losing his riches, his children, his health. And this is the answer that they keep coming back to: Job must have done something really terrible to deserve this fate.

Or during Jesus’s ministry, people once told him about the Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pontius Pilate—a horrific tragedy. To that calamity Jesus adds the example of the tower of Siloam which had collapsed and killed eighteen people. Jesus knew how people looked at events like this, that these things were a simple case of God’s judgment against the ungodly. But He disagrees, and says, “Do you suppose that these were worst sinners than all others, because they suffered such things?” (Luke 13:2). His answer was no—only repent from your sins, unless you perish and really lose your life!

But it’s a stubborn way of thinking. If you’ve had it tough, you’ve probably done something to deserve it! Yes, maybe this blind man was an especially sinful person, and he’d somehow committed a sin before he was born. Later on, the leaders are getting frustrated with this man’s testimony to Jesus, and they pin the blame on this man for how he’d suffered: “You were completely born in sins!” (9:34). Or perhaps his parents had sinned, and he was being visited with the sins of his fathers, like the law said. Someone had to be to blame!        

When we suffer, we too, tend to look for explanations. Maybe I sinned—and yes, I did do some terrible things years ago—is this finally payback? Or maybe I’m suffering because I don’t live close enough to God? Maybe I need to have more faith or patience. Especially when God gives us a burden that is really heavy and it doesn’t go away, a straightforward explanation can make it more bearable. As long as I know why, I can carry on.

And maybe we are able to see sometimes what is God’s purpose in our trials. Maybe sometimes He is teaching us something specific, something we need to learn. But we don’t always have the wisdom or perspective to see God’s reasons. And why should we expect to? Remember that our spiritual vision is naturally clouded and dull. Our perspective on God’s ways is always going to be limited, and we will always have blindspots.

Instead, we should pay attention to how Jesus answers the disciples’ question: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (v 3). Jesus doesn’t attempt to give a tidy answer. You can’t explain away the misery of a man who has spent his entire life locked in the darkness, just as you can’t make sense of why someone has to spend years dealing with mental anguish, physical pain, or living in some other tortured state.  

Really, there’s only one thing that gives the right perspective, and that is the certainty that God is still at work. This happened, says Jesus, so “the works of God should be revealed.” How will the LORD show his glory in the lives of his people? Through God’s faithfulness, there is some good purpose.

Beloved, this is the reassurance that is always ours: God is busy with us. He’s got his eyes on us, always. He knew this poor man’s condition, even before he was born, and God knew everything that would happen to him—just as He knows the same for us. The LORD’s works will be revealed in us (whether in adversity or prosperity), and because our God is wise and good and faithful, we know that his works will be right. Like the Psalmist says of the LORD, “You are good, and what you do is good” (Ps 119:68).

And in verse 4, Jesus reveals how God’s great works are going to get done: Jesus will do them! “I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” Now, you and I are able to work long into the evening if we want, hunched over our computer or stuck in the workshop. But back in Jesus’s time—indeed, for most of world history—nighttime was when you rested. Without electric lighting, labour can only take place in the day. This is what Jesus says, “I must work while it is day, for night is coming.”

You can tell that Jesus is thinking about his impending death. Soon Satan’s attack will come, because the more plainly Jesus reveals the Father’s glory, the harsher the opposition will be. Notice also his words about day and night, darkness and light: there is a sharp divide between those who see clearly and those who are still blind.

And the difference, the life-altering difference for all people, is Christ: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v 5). We heard Jesus say that before, back in chapter 8. He says it because only through faith in Christ can sinners come into the warm glow of God’s presence. Only those who know Christ can walk in the light!

Well, everything so far has been preparatory for the main event: “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” (v 6). The unusual thing about this is how Jesus uses something physical to restore the man’s sight. Of course He could simply say the words—as He’s done before—but now there’s a technique to it. This happens in the Gospel of Mark as well, where a couple of times Jesus uses his spit to heal people.

Commentators say that this was more common in the first century world. Back then, there were many ‘healers’ and ‘doctors,’ people who tried to relieve suffering. And one of the tricks in their bag was the healing power of saliva: a bit of spit was part of the cure. Sounds odd, but it’s not so strange when you think of our first instinct after burning our finger on the kettle—we put it in our mouths, to ease the pain. Saliva can soothe.

But does Jesus need to do this, use his spit to make some mud for the man’s eyes? No, and we don’t know why He does this. It could show compassion for the blind man, that Jesus wants to reassure him during an anxious few moments. Without sight, the man has no idea what this stranger is doing. So when he hears Jesus spit on his fingers, and make some mud, and touch his eyes, he could know that he was about to be cured.

It’s interesting too, to think about how this resembles what God did in the beginning. In Genesis 2, the LORD creates the first man. And God forms the man out of clay and breathes into him the breath of life. And now here is Christ, renewing a man’s eyes—recreating them!—with clay. The Son of God is restoring a small piece of the broken world, like He does for us and in us. Like it says in 2 Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).

With his eyes covered in clay, his eyes literally ‘anointed,’ Jesus sends him to “wash in the pool of Siloam” (v 7). We mentioned the ruinous tower of Siloam earlier; there was a pool there too, like the one at Bethesda. Siloam was near the temple, and its pool was a place for purifying before you went into God’s house. So what better place for this man to go? He goes to Siloam, and he washes away the clay; at the same time, he washes the thick film from his eyes. And he comes back seeing!

We cannot imagine what a dramatic change this was. Never to have laid eyes on his family, and then to see their faces, to put faces to names at last. Never to have seen the brilliant blue sky above Jerusalem, or the twinkling waters of the Mediterranean, or any piece of God’s creation, great or small—and then to start taking it all in. And there to see Jesus, the man who healed him in power and grace! In a moment, his life is changed. Just like Jesus said, the works of the LORD have been revealed in this man, blind from birth. Now it’s time to take a closer look.

 

2) the opening of hearts: The miracles recorded for us in the Gospel of John are not just special effects, but they are signs. Like signs are always meant to do, they point away from themselves, toward what’s important. Think of an exit sign, how we’re not meant to focus on the bold colour and the interesting font. It’s not about the sign, it’s about what the sign indicates, where it wants us to go.

Listen to what John says near the end of his gospel: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (20:30-31). Jesus did many signs, and this is their point, where they want us to go: to bring you to faith in the Son of God.

So relieving a blind man isn’t the main point of our text, but something else is going on. It’s what the prophets had said, like in Isaiah 35, that one day, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (v 5). That was Jesus’ ministry, but not simply to take away our illnesses and other problems. He came to get at the root cause. He treats more than the symptoms, for He deals with sin and puts people right with God.

Because in a real sense, we’re all blind from birth. Notice that the blind man isn’t the only one without sight in these chapters. In fact, there’s a pandemic of blindness! But it’s blindness of a different kind.

There’s the leaders. They’ve been skeptical about Jesus, though they know the old prophecies better than anyone. Remember how they ridicule him, dismiss him—soon they’ll even try to kill him. Then there’s the crowds. They’re impressed by his miracles, and some put faith in him, but others are quick to walk away. Even Jesus’s disciples have eyes that are barely opened, sometimes seeing the truth, other times showing a total lack of insight.

Ironically, one of the only people who sees things clearly is the man who was blind from birth. You can notice how he is slowly growing in awareness about who Jesus is. When he is first asked how he can see, he simply refers to Jesus as “a man” (9:11). A handful of verses later, he tells the Pharisees that Jesus is “a prophet” (9:17). A bit later, he insists, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (9:33). Finally, in 9:36, listen to the all-important question that he asks, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in him?” The light switch has been turned on!

When the blind man went to Siloam, “and came back seeing,” there was a truer and deeper change than anyone realized. Jesus, the light of the world shone upon him, so he could begin to see clearly. The opening of his eyes is really about the opening of his heart.

Later Jesus makes crystal clear that physical healing stands for spiritual healing, the curing of the cataracts of spiritual blindness. He says in 9:39, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Sometimes the people who are most confident in their insights and knowledge are really the ones who are blind, while those who quietly and humbly accept the work of Christ can actually see.

Beloved, even if we’ve grown up going to church, we need to have our eyes opened to Christ. To see him, we need our spiritual vision restored, recreated. It’s possible to know a lot about Jesus and about his Word. Yet we can be so far from really knowing Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. He can be right in front of us, but we don’t see him truly.

And that’s the real blindness, the truest misery. You agree with all that the Bible says about Jesus: He’s God, the Christ, the mediator of the covenant, and so on. Yet these can remain religious facts, dry concepts in our mind, merely topics of conversation at Bible study. Because maybe this Jesus is still distant from us. He’s a stranger that we know by name, but not by personal acquaintance. We can’t imagine spending time with him, loving him, walking with him.

But do we see who Christ is? Do you see what Jesus did for you at the cross, and why you need that gift more than anything else? Do you see your utter depravity, your total weakness, your absolute dependence on the free gift of God? And then do you understand what Jesus calls you to do with your life? Do you see it clearly, that He calls you to deny yourself, to say ‘no’ to this world’s temptations, and to follow Christ daily? For this we need a new vision, a new understanding of who we are and why we are here.

Think of how Paul prays for believers that the “eyes of our heart” would be enlightened (1:18). Each of us needs enlightened eyes, because we’re naturally in the dark about what’s important. Our perception of what is really true is clouded by our sin, fogged over by our desires. We’re blind to what is real until God opens our eyes.

So we should make this our prayer, even a regular prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes. By your Word and Spirit help me to see things as they really are. Help me to see my failings and my need, and to see Christ as the great Saviour, that I may know him truly, that I may trust him deeply, and love him more.” Pray that God would drive away the darkness that blinds you. Pray that Christ would keep removing the scales from your eyes.

And if we’re looking for assurance, remember how God has given us a confirmation of his faithfulness in baptism. Notice again how the man has to wash in the pool of Siloam. Through the washing, his eyes are opened. This is what God has given us in baptism: a washing in Christ’s blood. It’s a sign, something we’re allowed to see, that through Christ’s cleansing in his blood and Spirit, He promises to make us a new creation.

How much is that promise worth to you? Do you ask God for open eyes to see it clearly, so you can embrace it fully? And then let us thank God for his amazing grace, for we were blind, but now we see.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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