I was blind but now I see.

February 15, 2015

This is week three of Old School Sunday
School.  And we sometimes think of Sunday
School as a fairly recent phenomena, something that became a part of our
churches in the fifties, when the parents of the boomers were filling churches
with their growing families. 

But the first Sunday schools
were set up in the 1780s to provide education to working children on their one
day off from the factory.

The concept of a “Sunday” school was proposed by Robert Raikes,
who raised the possibility in the Gloucester Journal.  His idea was supported by many clergy of the
day, it aimed to teach the youngsters reading, writing and cyphering and a
knowledge of the Bible.

It was another 90 years before children would be able to attend school
during the week.  Within five years of
the birth of Sunday School we are told there were over a quarter of a million
English Children attending classes, that’s pretty impressive.

But most of us are more familiar with the
Sunday School of our childhood with opening sessions, games, contests, learning
memory verses, singing choruses and learning our bible stories via the ever
present Flannel Graph”

This morning’s story is one of those Jesus stories that kids learned back in
the day.  (Tell the flannelgraph story
about the blind man)

Message

This is another one of those stories that make you go hmmmm.  Not because Jesus healed a blind man, he
healed all kinds of blind people in the gospels and he healed them by
themselves, and in pairs and in groups. 
But this story was different, different in the way it was initiated,
different in the way that Jesus approached the blind man and different in the
way he healed the blind man. 

John
9:1
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man
who had been blind from birth.

The Meeting was Different  If you are familiar with most of the
healings that Jesus is credited with in the New Testament you know that they
were initiated by either the person who needed to be healed or by someone close
to them, a relative or a friend.  Either
someone came to Jesus themselves asking to be healed or approached him as he
passed by or they were brought to Jesus. 
But in most of these cases it was a conscious effort by someone.  The man with the demon possessed son, the
woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment when he was in the crowd, or blind
Bartimaeus who began crying out to Jesus when he heard he was near.   But
this isn’t what happened in this story.

We are told that Jesus and his disciples were walking along the street in
Jerusalem when they saw a blind man who we are told had been blind from
birth.  Now I don’t know what the blind
man was doing, but I would suspect that he was begging, because the reality of
the situation is that was all he would have been expected to do two thousand
years ago.  And before I began teaching
in West Africa I really didn’t grasp the enormity of what it is like to have a
major handicap in the developing world. 
We live in a society that is protected by a huge safety net and where
people are encouraged to move beyond whatever physical challenges might limit
them.  And so while there are certainly
some job opportunities that might be off limits for someone with no vision,
there are opportunities out there.  Not
so in Jesus day, if you could not see and if there was no one to support you,
then your only recourse would be to rely on the kindness of strangers. 

And so Jesus and his disciples
are walking along and see this blind man and it’s here the conversation gets a
little awkward.  Let’s pick up the story
in John 9:1-2 As
Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,”
his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his
own sins or his parents’ sins?”
A few years back when we were a
polling station for the federal election we had some volunteers from the high
school helping out.  One young lady was
assisting voters when they arrived, one elderly gentleman came in a wheelchair
pushed by his wife.  The gentleman was
very frail and hunched over in his chair and so the young lady leaned over and
very slowly and carefully asked if she could assist the gentleman.  To which he snidely replied “I’m a cripple,
I’m not stupid.”  The girl was
crushed. 
And I wonder if this blind man
wanted to say, “Hey guys, the sign says blind not deaf, I’m right here.”
I don’t know what prompted the
question from the disciples, perhaps they were picking up on a previous
conversation, maybe it was just a question one of them had and it seemed like
the opportune time to ask it.  And it’s
still a question that is asked today, “What did I do to deserve this?”  “Is my child sick because of something I
did?”  “What have I done wrong?”  In the Old Testament book of Job, Job’s
friends implied that all those nasty things that happened to Job had to be his
fault, obviously there were hidden sin in his life. 
It seems that we want to blame
someone, that it’s not enough that it just happened.  And yet that is what Jesus seems to imply
here when he responds in John 9:3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus
answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”  Does that imply that the man had been
born blind for this very moment, that he had lived a life devoid of sight as a
set up for Christ to heal him at this very point?  That seems pretty heartless.  Because I am a reader I can’t imagine life with
sight, it was Matthew Henry who wrote about
this man “If the light is sweet, how melancholy must
it needs be for a man, all his days, to eat in darkness!”   We know so little about the blind man,
perhaps he was a godly man with a super positive outlook on life who radiated
righteousness in spite of his circumstances, and that’s what Jesus meant by
God’s power been seen in him.
When I first became a Christ
follower my pastor was Jack MacKenzie. 
And Jack and his wife are the godliest people I have ever met.  I first met the Mackenzies not long after
they had buried their second child. 
Their teenage daughter Elaine had died of a lingering disease that
robbed her of movement and eventually robbed her of her breath.  And their college age son was killed in a
tragic accident.  And yet through it all
their love for God and trust in his purpose shone through.  And the power of God was seen in them.  There will be countless people in heaven
because of the witness of Jack and Charlene through those dark days.  Did God have a hand in the death of the
MacKenzie children?  I don’t think
so.  Was he able to use the tragedy for
good?  Most definitely.  And here a man who had been blind since birth
will used to reveal the power and grace of Jesus.  He wasn’t born blind because of his parent’s
sins or his own sins.  He was born blind
because he was born into a broken world where bad things happen, even to good
people.
And Jesus implies that this
man’s greatest need wasn’t that he needed to see light, but that he needed to
see the light of the world. 
And even though the man wasn’t
seeking a healing from Jesus, he receives an offer of healing from Jesus.  Let’s continue with the story
John
9:6
Then he (Jesus) spit on the ground, made
mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes.

The Healing was Different 

This isn’t the only time in the gospels that we see Jesus heal a person, and
it’s not the only time in the bible that we see Jesus heal a blind person.  But this particular story has the most detail
of any of the instances where someone was blind was given their sight.

And there are things about this story that make it different than the other
stories.  It’s the only time that we see
Jesus heal anyone using mud.  And
different people have different opinions about the method that was used
here.  Some tell us that spit was
considered to have healing power back then. 
I do know that mother’s spit is pretty powerful stuff from cleaning a
child’s face to flattening out a wayward cowlick. 

And this wasn’t the first time
that Jesus used his saliva in a healing, we see another example of a blind man
being healed by Jesus in Mark 8 using his spit, saliva sounds so much classier
but we read in Mark 8:23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the
village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked,
“Can you see anything now?”
And in Mark chapter 7 a man is
brought to Jesus with a speech impediment and Jesus spit on his finger and then
touched the man’s tongue and he was healed.

But this time he doesn’t just use his saliva he mixes it with dirt and makes
a mud poultice which he applies to the man’s eyes.  And at least one commentator makes a case
that the man had been blind since birth and Jesus is just going back to
creation where God created man from the dust of the ground.  And so Jesus is correcting his lack of vision
with the original building material.

But we don’t know, all we know is that in different cases Jesus used
different methods to heal people.  Sometimes
he touched them, sometimes they touched him. 
Sometimes he spoke to the person who needed to be healed and other times
he simply spoke to their loved ones. 
Sometimes it was close up and there were times that it was from a
distance.  And that is the reality today
as well.  God still heals in different
ways.  There are still people who are
healed by God in a miraculous manner without any physical intervention and then
there are times that people are healed through modern medicine, does that move
God out of the equation.  And this isn’t
a cop out but some folks are healed through death.  If we believe what we say we believe about
heaven and eternity it is the ultimate healing. 
We won’t live forever and often our later years aren’t always our
healthiest years, but God’s  promise
tells us in Revelation
21:4
He will wipe every tear from their
eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these
things are gone forever.”  

And it’s the same with our salvation, there are as many different salvation
stories as there are people telling them. 
You may have been saved at the end of the service when you were called
to the altar while the congregation sang “Come as you are”.  Or it may have been around a campfire at
youth camp, or maybe you were one of hundreds who responded at a Billy Graham
crusade. 

I came to know Jesus because my best friend kept talking about the
difference that Jesus had made in his life and then one night he dragged me out
to the Wesleyan Church in Saint John. 
They gave an altar call and I had no idea what they wanted me to do so
after the service I told my friend that I wanted to become a Christian and we
prayed together.

When Angela was in grade five the Gideon’s handed out New Testaments in her
school and she read the prayer at the end of the NT and signed the commitment
page, and then three years later strangers showed up at her door asking if her
parents would let her go on a bus to the Sunday School at Hillside Wesleyan
Church.  Your story is probably
completely different than ours but that doesn’t make yours or ours any less
valid.

It is interesting that the man
didn’t come to Jesus for healing, Jesus offered the healing to him but he had
to take steps as well.  John 9:7 He told him, “Go
wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and
washed and came back seeing!
In other cases Jesus just spoke and the healing happened, but those
folks had asked Jesus to heal them they wanted to be healed.  Jesus is offering this man the choice.  He could do as Jesus commanded and be healed,
or he could go home wash the mud off in the kitchen sink and not be healed, it
was his choice. 
God’s grace is available to
each of us, but it is up to us to take that which has been offered.  For example following the service Julie will
be taking pictures for the new photo directory. 
And so we are offering each person here the chance to be in the photo
directory, all you have to do to accept that offer is to go and have your
picture taken.  You may choose not to
accept the offer, in which case your picture won’t be in the photo directory,
but your decision to not accept the offer in no way negates the fact that the
offer was made.
In theology we call it Prevenient
Grace and that is simply the divine grace that precedes human decision. It
exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done
So what happened?  I’ll let the
blind man tell us in his own words.  John 9:11 He (the formerly
known as “The blind man”) told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and
spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash
yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”
The offer of a healing was
extended by Jesus and the man had the option of either accepting it or
rejecting it, and he accepted it.  The
result was that he could see.  Now
understand he did nothing to earn the gift of healing, and really did nothing,
other than obey Jesus, to facilitate the healing.  Paul would later write in Ephesians 2:8 God saved
you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a
gift from God.
And it would fit with this
story if we read it this way Ephesians 2:8-9 God healed you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t
take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
Whether you receive a physical
healing from God or a spiritual healing. 
It is a gift from God.  Not every
sick person that we pray for will be healed, that is God’s providence.  But every person who accepts the grace of God
for a spiritual healing will be saved.  

The Response was Different  One would think that everybody who heard
that the man had been healed would be excited and happy for him.  But that wasn’t what happened. 

There were those who didn’t believe it had happened, they stated that it
wasn’t really the blind man instead it was someone who looked like him.  But the man insisted that it was indeed him,
and you’d think he’d know.  But more than
the confusion was the fact that his healing enraged the religious leaders. 

There’s a whole section of the story that wasn’t read for us this morning
that tells how the Pharisees grilled this poor man about the facts of his
healing.  They accused Jesus of being a
sinner for healing on the Sabbath, and said that proved that he must be of the
devil.  They couldn’t get past the rules,
or at least their interpretation of the rules. 
This seems like as good of a place as any for a Mark
Twain quote, Twain said “Loyalty to a petrified
opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.”  For the religious leaders the fact
that every I was dotted and every t was crossed was much more important than
the fact a man had been given a brand new life. 

Jesus summed up his reasoning
another time he was accused of healing on the Sabbath when he said in Luke 14:5 Then he turned
to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or
your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?”

It is interesting to note that in some translations the word donkey is used
instead of son.  I’ve heard people use
this excuse for any manner of work they do on Sunday but years ago I heard
someone say “If your donkey falls in the ditch every Sunday you ought to fill
in the ditch or get another donkey.”  But
that is beyond the point.

The blind man wasn’t really all that interested in theological debates on
whether or not he should have been healed when he had been healed.  

For him it was a very simple
story he sums it up in John 9:25 . . . the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now
I can see!”
His life had been made
different, he could see what he had never been able to see before, and with
that came all kinds of changes.  He would
have to find work, he would have to get used to how the people he loved
looked.  As a matter of fact he would
have to get used to how everything looked, he had always been blind, he had no
idea what anything looked like.  He was
seeing life through brand new eyes.   In
another Jesus story a blind man had been healed and when Jesus asked him what
he saw he said that he saw people but they looked like trees.  I don’t think the people looked like trees
nearly as much as they didn’t look like what he thought people would look like.
When you become a Christ
follower your life should change, and not everybody will appreciate it.  Your habits should change, your priorities
should change.  When I became a Christian
I stopped hanging around some of my old friends because their behaviour made me
uncomfortable, and some old friends stopped hanging around with me, because me
behaviour made them uncomfortable.
But to the blind man all the
changes in his lifer were worth it, after all he was blind but now he could see.  And he wanted to share his experience with
everyone.  In this account he tells his
story four times and the even then the religious leaders don’t seem to get it,
we pick up the story in John 9:26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”   I’m sure he felt like saying “If I
told you once I’ve told you a dozen times, instead what he tells them is John
9:27
“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once.
Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his
disciples, too?”
And really, our story isn’t
complete until we ask others the question, “Do you want to become his disciples
too?”  Which is why we are told in Psalm 107:1-2 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is
good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak
out!
So where are you at today?  Maybe you’re like the blind man, unaware that
the one who can change your life is so close. 
But Jesus is just a prayer away. 
And he has already offered you his salvation and his grace, but like any
gift it needs to be received.  Are you
ready to wash the mud off your eyes and accept the new life he is offering you?
Of this I am certain, if you
accept his offer your life will never be the same.