Monday, December 02, 2013

The Christmas Commission (John 20:21)


Today marks the beginning of Advent, the season of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Traditionally, Christmas marks the beginning of the Christian year, and the season of Advent marks its end. Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ into the world; Advent originally was a time of preparation and expectation of His promised second coming. In recent generations, the two ideas have blended together with Advent and Christmas being seen as one season, and with the emphasis being on the birth of Christ. In Southern Baptist Churches, December also signifies something else. It is during this season that we place special emphasis on International Missions through the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. There are a lot of ideas going on here – Christ’s first coming (Christmas), His second coming, and missions. But these ideas are not unrelated. The purpose of Christ’s coming in the world is the basis of our commission in the world – a commission that we are to be fully devoted to until He returns. Our text today encapsulates these ideas in a concise way. “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Many of you are new to Southern Baptist life, and may not be familiar with this person, “Lottie Moon” that we speak so much about during the Christmas season. Charlotte Digges Moon, better known to us as “Lottie,” was small in stature – 4’2” – but made a giant impact for Christ. In 1873, at 33 years old, she became one of the first single women appointed by our Mission Board and set sail for China where she would invest the next 39 years of her life. The Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions says of her, “Personal discipline, institutional loyalty, and generous hospitality characterized her relatively stable missionary career. Competent in Chinese and sensitive to the Chinese cultural restraints on women’s roles, she made friendship a means to evangelism.” Her work in the town of Pingtu led to the establishment of over 30 congregations. Today Lottie Moon is known for her stirring letters which sent back to the American Christians encouraging selfless devotion to Christ and sacrificial support of world missions. Her letters have been published in a book edited by my Baptist History professor, Keith Harper, called Send the Light. Her life story was written by Catherine Allen, entitled The New Lottie Moon Story.

In 1912, Lottie’s colleagues discovered that she had been giving away her food and her money to help those around her, and they found her in poor condition, suffering from a severe case of malnutrition. What little she had left to her name was loaded into an old steamer trunk, and the frail Lottie Moon boarded a ship to return to America for much needed medical treatment. However, on Christmas Eve, 1912, Lottie Moon died on board that ship in Kobe Harbor, Japan, and went to be with her Master, who greeted her undoubtedly with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The Christmas Offering for International Missions bears her name today because she compelled Southern Baptists to begin the practice of sacrificial giving for global missions during this season. She wrote: “Need it be said why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season, when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”
Lottie Moon understood why the God of the Universe clothed Himself in humanity in His incarnation, and sacrificed Himself for the salvation of the world. And Lottie Moon followed her Lord to her very own death. She understood the commission Christ gave us when He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

This single verse teaches us some very important lessons concerning the person and the purposes of Christ.

I. The Person of Christ
“The Father Sent Me”

No fewer than 33 times in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Himself as being sent by the Father. What does this mean? It says something about His incarnation. On that first Christmas, something very significant took place. Galatians 4:4 says it this way: “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son.” That baby in the manger was not just any baby. That baby was God’s Son. What does this mean? There are many ways to misunderstand the phrase “Son of God.” Some understand it to mean that He was something other than, something less than, God. But that is not the way Jesus intends us to understand His relationship as the Son to His Father. When He speaks of Himself as the Son, and of God as His Father, He is speaking of the fact that He is of the same nature and substance as God. In the words of the Nicene Creed, Jesus is “true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” In speaking of His relationship with God as Father and Son, Jesus is saying that He is God in the flesh. In Jesus Christ, God became a man.

 There are many religions which claim that men can become gods, but only in Christ does God become a man. This is the incarnation: God taking upon Himself human flesh. In Colossians 2:9, Paul says, “In Christ the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD consolidated all the Scripture teaches of His divine nature by describing Jesus Christ as “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, … of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; … one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”

Charles Wesley attempted to capture the splendor of the incarnation in Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, as he wrote in the second stanza, “Veiled in flesh the God-head see; hail th’ incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” In the third, he wrote, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.” This is what He did in His incarnation. He laid the glory of heaven aside, and veiled Himself in human flesh to dwell among us and to die for us.

In the words, “the Father sent Me,” we find a great depiction of the Person of Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, whose coming into the world we celebrate at Christmas.

II. The Purpose of Christ – As the Father has sent Me, I also send you

Now, seeing as how the manner of the Father’s sending Christ has a direct bearing on the followers of Christ, the question is begged: How has the Father sent Him? I want to know this, because this is the way in which Christ has sent me.

            A. The Purpose of His coming

Jesus Christ was sent with a purpose. In Luke 19:10, Jesus said that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” In Matthew 9:13, He said that He had come to call sinners to repentance. In Matthew 1:21, the angel who announced His birth said that He would “save His people from their sins.” In Mark 10:45, Jesus said that He had come to serve, and to give His life as “a ransom for many.”  Seven centuries at least before His coming, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the one whom God would send, saying:

He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. … But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering … He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:5-12 (NASB)

He came to save the world. He came knowing that this would mean suffering and death that He did not deserve for sins He did not commit. He knew He was born to die, and to die for us and our salvation, to deliver us from sin. He came, compelled by the love of the Father, because a lost world was destined to perish eternally. He came so that all nations might have the opportunity to repent and receive God’s forgiveness and be saved.

That is how the Father sent Him. As the Father has sent Me, Jesus said, I also send you. And this brings us to …

            B. The Purpose of Our Commission.

In Luke 24, following His resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” He is saying that everything that happened to Him was in accordance with the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. It had been written in advance by the prophets of God. It happened on purpose. It was why He had come. It was His mission to come and die for the sins of humanity. That was a mission that only He could carry out. But, then He relates His mission to our commission. He says that, because these things happened just as was written, now “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.” But who would proclaim these things? He says to His followers, “You are witnesses of these things.” This is our commission. As the Father sent the Son into the world to accomplish the salvation of humanity from the bondage of sin, so the Son has sent His followers – including you and me – into the world to announce that this salvation has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. We are the witnesses who are sent to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sin in His name to all nations. “As the Father sent Me,” Jesus says, “So send I you.”

He wasn’t calling us to a soft and easy pathway. It wasn’t easy for Him; it will not be for us. It required His suffering and death. It may require the same of us. It required Him to leave the comforts and familiar surroundings of His eternal home in heaven. It will require us to leave our comfort zones as well. Our commission is to take this good news to all nations. As John Piper has said so well, “to follow Jesus is to embrace the nations.” I like to say it this way: If you follow Jesus you will go where He is going. He is going outside your comfort zones, to the nations, to the hard places, to the unreached and unengaged peoples of the world, and to the unlovable and untouchable ones. If your path isn't taking you to those places, you might want to check and see if there really are sandaled footprints on your trail. Can you truly be following Jesus if you are not going where He went? Can you truly be following Him if you are not going where He has sent you? 

In every Gospel and the book of Acts, we have Christ’s final words to His followers – a commission to win the world and make disciples for Him. He has called each and every one of us to continue His mission. For this reason, He was born. For this reason, we have been born-again in Him. His mission is our mission. God did not save us so that we could sit back and sing about how good it feels to be saved. He saved us to serve Him and to continue His mission to reach every tongue and nation with the gospel. As the Father sent Him, Christ has sent us, commissioning us to take the gospel to every lost person, starting in our communities and extending to the ends of the earth.

David Livingstone, that great missionary pioneer in Africa, understood this commission. He said, “Forbid it that we should ever consider the holding of a commission from the King of Kings a sacrifice. … God had an only Son, and he was a missionary …. A poor imitation of him I am … In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die.” And that he did.

Lottie Moon understood this commission. She said, “How many there are … who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God.” She said, “I would I had a thousand lives that I might give them to … China.” She had but one. And she gave it away for Christ in China.

We too must understand this commission. As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you. Christ did not leave the portals of glory to journey to that Bethlehem stable, and subject Himself to the brutal agony of the cross, so that you and I can eat turkey and trim trees and give each other more and more stuff. He did it to save the world. Christmas means that God loves us too much to let us go to hell. He loves us so much that He came to dwell among us and save us by taking our sins upon Himself. And now He gives us this commission – As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.

The greatest Christmas gift ever given is Christ Himself, given for you to save you from your sins. The greatest Christmas gift you can give to someone else is the eternally and infinitely good news of His gospel message. Each day, around the world, somewhere in the range of 150,000 people die in their sins. Some have heard and rejected the offer of Christ. But, most have never even heard. How then shall we respond to the commission that has been given to us?
·         Will you pray that the lost will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and that their hearts will be open to receive Jesus? Will you pray for God to send forth laborers into His harvest field?
·         Will you share Christ with someone who is lost – a friend, a family member, a coworker, a neighbor, a stranger that God providentially places in your life?
·         Will you go to the nations? Perhaps you are sensing God’s call to go for the rest of your life. Maybe you are sensing God’s call to go for a short term assignment – a summer, a semester, two weeks. Or maybe you are unable to go abroad, but there are internationals here in the Triad that you can reach out to even more easily and effectively than you could by going abroad. Are you willing to simply surrender to the Lord Jesus and say, “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go – even if it is here in Greensboro, even if it is Nepal, Dubai, South Africa, Netherlands, China, Ethiopia, or anywhere else in the world – and I will tell them about you!”?
·         Will you give generously and even sacrificially so that those who have said, “Yes, I will go in Christ’s name and take the gospel to the ends of the earth,” may do so? The Lottie Moon Offering supports over 4,800 missionaries serving around the world. Last year, they saw over 266,000 people baptized as new believers in Jesus Christ. There were over 24,000 new churches started through their work. Yet, according to the Joshua Project, of the 16,801 distinct ethnolinguistic people groups in the world, nearly 7,300 of them do not have a substantial gospel witness among them. Over 40% of the world’s population lives among these unreached peoples. God loves these people. Jesus died for them. They just don’t know it yet, and they won’t know unless someone goes to tell them. The Lottie Moon Offering helps us send those people there to reach them. Our goal this year is to raise $10,000. That may sound like a lot of money, but consider this:
o        It is about $2.50 per missionary. It is about $1.64 per unreached people group in the world. And it is only a tiny fraction of a percent of the 175 million dollar goal that the International Mission Board hopes to receive.
o        If there were five individuals or families who gave $1,000 each to the LMCO, that would be half of our goal. If another five gave $500 each, that would be 75% of our goal – met by just 10 individuals or families.

Jesus said, “As the Father sent Me, I also send you.” This statement applies to every one of His followers. So, if you are a follower of Jesus, He is sending you. You are part of His plan to extend the good news of His glory and grace to the ends of the earth. So, what part will you play in that mission? But perhaps today, you might be wondering if you really are His follower … you might even know for sure that you are not. If that is so, then even this day, you can turn to Him in repentance and faith, have your sins forgiven, and be saved. You can receive the ultimate gift of Christmas – the gift of God’s only begotten Son. And as your turn to follow Him, you can begin to give that gift away to others as well.

Blind to the Blindness (John 9:39-41)

If you travel west of here along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just before you get to the town of Little Switzerland, you will pass a little sign by the side of the road that says, “Eastern Continental Divide.” This divide runs from the St. Lawrence River to the southern tip of Florida. Every raindrop that falls along this divide goes in one of two directions. Imagine a rock that sits on the very apex of a hill along the divide. One drop of rain hits it and bounces to the west. That drop of rain will eventually make its way into a little creek that will flow into a little stream, that will empty into a river somewhere, and meander its way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Another drop of rain hits the rock and bounces to the east. It will make its way into a little creek, and then into a little stream, and then into a river somewhere that will ultimately deposit that little raindrop into the Atlantic Ocean. Two raindrops, falling at the exact same time and landing on the exact same rock, but they end up flowing down in two entirely different directions and have two greatly different final destinations.

Friends, Jesus Christ is the Continental Divide of humanity. We are all like those drops of rain, with nothing to differentiate us from one another. And yet when we come to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ, some respond one way, leading to one destiny, while others respond another way, leading to a different destiny. Those who believe upon Him have their sins forgiven through His life, death, and resurrection, and enter into eternal life in the glorious joy of God’s presence in heaven. Those who reject Him have no other hope for the remission of their sins, and they end up eternally separated from Him in that place that the Bible calls “Hell.” He is the great divide of human beings. In the end, it will not matter what differences there are between us except for this one – how have we responded to Jesus Christ.

You will notice in verse 39 of our text that Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world.” If you have been paying good attention to the Gospel of John, this statement might come as a surprise to you. In John 3:17, Jesus said, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Later, in John 12:47, He will say, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” These seem like contradictory statements, do they not? However, we affirm that the Bible nowhere contradicts itself, and in those places where it seems to, it is because we have not gained a full understanding of either or both passages. Such is the case here. For, although Jesus says in John 3:17 that God did not send Him to judge the world but to save it, He immediately says in John 3:18-19 that “he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” So, although judgment was not the primary purpose of His coming, it is a necessary consequence of His coming into the world. He came for the primary purpose of saving sinners. But, many have rejected Him, with the resulting consequence that they are indeed under the condemnation of God. In fact, Jesus says they are “judged” or “condemned” already because they have not believed in His name. So there is no contradiction here. Jesus did not come for the purpose of judgment, but rather for the purpose of salvation. Judgment, however, is the immediate consequence and result of His coming because so many refuse to heed His call to salvation.

Why do they do that? Imagine if someone was drowning in a river, and you offered to rescue them. Can you imagine them saying, “No thanks! That’s okay! I’ve got this!”? And yet this is exactly what multitudes who are drowning in their sin have said to the One who has come to be their Savior. Jesus uses the analogy of blindness here. It is an appropriate analogy, given that the entire context of Chapter 9 surrounds a miracle that was performed in giving sight to a man who was born blind (9:1-12). Because of his lifelong blindness, the man had become a beggar, sitting outside the Temple gates with his empty hands outstretched to receive the gracious kindness of strangers passing by. And on the day that is recorded for us here in the early part of this Chapter, he received the greatest and most gracious kindness from a stranger that anyone could ever imagine. Jesus came to him, and healed him of his blindness, which ultimately led this man to faith in Christ and eternal life. The healing of this man is significant, because what he was physically, we all are spiritually. Because we were all born in a state of sinful corruption, we are born spiritually blind. We cannot see the light of the glory of God. We are cut off from him. And like this man born blind, we are also spiritual beggars. There is nothing we can do for ourselves to improve our spiritual condition. Our hands are empty before God, and we are desperately dependent on His gracious kindness to save us from our sins.

The good news is that Jesus says that He has come so that “those who do not see may see” (v39). Just as God flooded the darkness of the universe He created, so He is able to dispel the spiritual darkness of our sinful condition. As stated in 2 Cor 4:6, “God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” A person who is blind, and recognizes themselves as such and cries out for help, can be helped. When a spiritually blind person comes to the point of understanding their isolation from the God who made them and will judge them, they reach out their empty hands to receive from His the saving grace that is available through Jesus Christ. What happened to the man born blind in this Chapter of God’s Word happens over and over again every time a sinner comes to know Jesus Christ and surrenders to Him as Lord. Our spiritual blindness is healed, and our darkness is flooded with light. Being cleansed of our sin by the blood He shed for us in His sacrificial death, we are enabled to behold and enjoy His glory, here and now, and exponentially more so in heaven as we spend eternity in His presence.

But then there are others whose situation is infinitely more tragic. Physically, they may seem to have a better lot than a blind beggar. They don’t even need corrective lenses to improve their physical eyesight. They do not have their hands outstretched asking for the kindness of others because they are financially and materially prosperous. But what they fail to realize is that their spiritual condition is no better than that of a blind beggar. Before God, they are in the same sinking boat. They are just as blind spiritually, and just as much spiritual beggars. But what makes the situation of these more tragic is that they are unaware and unconcerned about their true condition before God. Like those whom C. S. Lewis describes in The Weight of Glory, they are “half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”[1] Because all that they can see is their own darkness, they mistakenly believe that darkness is all there is to see. So, when an offer to be healed and saved comes by, they do not receive it.

They are blind, but they are blind to their own blindness. For these, no help or hope is available. As a consequence of Jesus’ mission to save the world, those who do not receive his salvation are under condemnation, and thus, thinking that they can see, are left in their blindness. Jesus says in verse 39 that He has come into the world so that “those who can see” (that is, “those who think they can see,” or “those who claim to be able to see”) “may become blind.” They will remain in their blindness, and if they continue in unbelief, they will reach a point where the door of opportunity has closed for them and their spiritual blindness will be terminal. Just as Pharaoh hardened his heart, and God set the condition in permanently, so it will be for those who are blind to their own blindness and never come to see their need to turn to God in repentance and faith. Jesus’ terrifying warning to the Pharisees here could be applied to any number of others who are blind to their own blindness. As we look at the text, let’s see the three characteristics of those who are blind to their own blindness.

I. Those who are blind to their own blindness are unaware of their true condition (v40).

Throughout John’s Gospel, we’ve seen numerous confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees. Those confrontations have been escalating up to this point, and they will continue to intensify moving forward from this point in the narrative. But what is becoming more and more clear through these interactions is that the spiritual leaders of Israel lack the spiritual wisdom and sensibility that they should possess. Their devotion is not supremely to the Lord God they claim to serve, but rather to their own man-made religious system of rules, regulations and traditions. In His teaching and in the works that He has done, Jesus has challenged that system and those who cling to it by pointing them back to the revealed Word of God, and the God who revealed the Word. This has, predictably, offended those leaders and added fuel to the fire of their murderous hatred of Him. Here in the preceding verses of John 9, we have seen their animosity directed not only at Jesus but also to those who follow Him. They could not rejoice in the unprecedented healing of a man born blind; instead, they fixated on the fact that it was done on the Sabbath. They blasphemed the Lord Jesus and castigated one with newfound faith in Him. And that is what has prompted Jesus’ words here in verse 39.

But when the Pharisees heard Him, the words bounced off of their hardened hearts. Rather than seeing themselves as spiritually blind people who needed the grace of the Lord Jesus to open their eyes, they retorted, “We are not blind too, are we?” It was said as a kind of a dare. “Do you dare to stand here and say that WE, the religious authorities of Israel, are BLIND?” Of course, that is exactly what the Lord Jesus dared to do. In fact, on other occasions, He said it even more directly. Three times in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides.” In Matthew 15:14 he called them “blind guides of the blind,” saying that “if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” The pit that Jesus warned that the Pharisees would fall into and lead others into was the pit of hell. In Matthew 23:15, He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” In the same context, He said with even more alarming frankness,

24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matt 23:24-28 (NASB)

He did not mix any words when it came to the Pharisees. He was not afraid to call out their blindness. But the tragedy was not in their blindness. It was in their blindness to their own blindness. For even upon hearing these words of condemnation, they never considered for a moment that there might be some truth in what was being said. Arrogantly, they just reassured themselves of their own well-being. They were unaware of their true condition. And today, there are many in the world just like them. Perhaps they are wealthy, and think that because they have the means to buy whatever it is that they need, that they lack nothing. Perhaps they are in perfect health, and think that because they are not battling disease or illness that their lives are perfectly secure. Perhaps they are well-educated and successful, and think that because they have achieved such greatness in the world, that they will achieve a noble standing before God on their own merits. Perhaps they are even very religious – as surely the Pharisees were. They may call themselves Christians, and church activities may be a great priority for them in their lives. And they may be deceived into thinking that they are earning favor with God by their perfect Sunday School attendance, their service on church committees, or their morally upstanding reputations. But, like the Pharisees, though they may appear righteous to men externally, inwardly they are full of hypocrisy and sin. The tragedy is not being full of hypocrisy and sin. This is something that is true of all of us to some degree. The tragedy is they don’t recognize this about themselves. They are arrogantly, and falsely, self-assured. Not only is that tragic, it is terrifyingly dangerous.

II. Those who are blind to their own blindness are unwilling to recognize their greatest need (v41a).

Abraham Maslow was a very influential psychologist during the middle of the 20th Century, most well-known for his famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” Maslow theorized that people are most strongly motivated by the desire to satisfy their most basic needs. So, Maslow developed a hierarchy that begins with the physiological needs, such as the need to breathe, to eat, to sleep, etc., followed by the need for safety, the need for love or belonging, the need for esteem, and ultimately by the need for self-actualization, or the reaching of one’s full potential as a person. But what Maslow and so many others failed to recognize is that one can climb that hierarchy and reach the pinnacle of their full potential and find that it has all been in vain. More basic than any need that Maslow identified in his hierarchy is the need for sinful human beings to be reconciled to a holy God who created them, who loves them, and who in the end will demand accountability from the entire human race as He sits in judgment over us. More fundamental and basic even than the air you breathe or the food you eat, is the need to be saved! Better to enter heaven with none of these other needs met, than to have them all met and enter hell to be separated from God for eternity.

Your greatest need, when all is said and done, is to have your sins forgiven so that you can be reconciled to God forever. If you are blind, and you know you are blind, when someone offers you the opportunity to see, you recognize that this is something you need. But when you are blind to your own blindness, and someone offers you the opportunity to see, you ignore the offer because you think you don’t need it. You see, what the Pharisees didn’t realize was that when Jesus said that He had come to seek and save sinners, they were included. When Jesus said that it was not the healthy but the sick who needed a physician, and that He had not come for the righteous but sinners, He was talking about them too. When Jesus said that He had come so that those who do not see may see, the offer was as good for the Pharisees as it was for blind beggars on the street. But because they were blind to their own blindness, they were unwilling to recognize their greatest need.

In verse 41, Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would have no sin.” What He is saying here is that if you were blind, and you knew you were blind, you would recognize that your greatest need could be met in Me. And your greatest need is not to have your eyes opened but to have your soul saved from sin. So, if you know that is your greatest need, you turn to the only one who can meet that need. I have no doubt that there are innumerable philosophies, religious ideas, and ways of thinking that can bring some measure of improvement to one’s lot in life. But I am even more fully assured that there is absolutely no hope for a sinner to have his or her sins forgiven except through Jesus Christ. That is because only Jesus Christ has lived the life that none of us can live – a life of perfect sinlessness and perfect righteousness. And only Jesus Christ has offered to die for us in the death that we all deserve – bearing the wrath of God poured out upon our sins. And only Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death through His resurrection from the dead. And only Jesus Christ offers to give us His righteousness before God in exchange for our sins if we come to Him by faith and repentance. And so He says to the Pharisees, “If you were blind,” that is, if you were blind and you knew you were blind, “you would have no sin,” because you would have turned to Me and received the cleansing and forgiveness that takes our sins away. But when you are blind to your own blindness, you are unwilling to recognize your greatest need.

I hope that doesn’t describe you! I know it describes many that we know. They think they have everything they need. The Lord Jesus said that there may even be people in Christian churches like this. In Revelation 3, Jesus sent a message to the Church at Laodicea in which He said, Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see” (Rev 3:17-18). His message to that church was, “You think you have everything you need, but you do not seem to have ME!” And friends, if you don’t have Jesus, it matters precious little what you do have! Church cannot meet your greatest need! Neither can wealth, health, education, success, or anything else to which our world attaches inflated values. Our greatest need is to be made right before God. Only Jesus Christ can meet that need. In short, our greatest need is HIM! If you are blind and you know you are blind, there is help and hope for you in Him. But if you are blind to your own blindness, there is no help or no hope, because you are unwilling to recognize your greatest need.

III. Those who are blind to their own blindness are unable to receive the ultimate gift of God (v41b)

If God were to ask you, “What is the greatest gift that I could give you?”, what would your answer be? A better marriage? A better job? More money? Better health? Maybe you are not so self-centered, and would say something perhaps a shade more noble, like “world peace,” or “an end to innocent suffering in the world.” Friends, I do not intend to say that some of those are not good gifts. But none of them are the ultimate gift. The ultimate gift of God is the gift of Himself. For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. He gave Himself. He became one of us to live for us, to die for us, to rise for us, and to save us. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). This is the ultimate gift because, through it, our greatest need is met. Through it, our most unimaginable joys are found. Through it, our most infinite and eternal satisfaction is realized. Through it, we find, not just heaven, not just happiness, but God Himself. If God is truly the greatest possible being, then there could be no greater gift than the gift of Himself.

We are coming up fast (maybe too fast!) upon the holiday season when gifts will be given and received. And there are really not many earthly joys that a parent can experience that are anything like seeing the face of a child opening a present that they have longed for – maybe that they have given up all hope of ever receiving. But here that gift is, in their hands. I like to imagine that this may be the closest we can ever come to the joy of the Lord in seeing a sinner come to Christ and be saved. Jesus said there will be incomparable joy in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:7, 10). The greatest joy in salvation is not the joy of the one who receives the gift – though that is surely a great joy. The greatest joy in salvation is the joy of the One who gives the gift! When the Lord Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), He surely knew firsthand the joy of which He spoke. The man who was born blind in this text participated in that joy. It was not the joy that he found by having his eyes opened. It was the joy he found in calling Christ His Lord and worshiping at His feet. And there was even greater joy in heaven at that moment. He had received the ultimate gift.

But notice, those who are blind to their own blindness are unable to receive the ultimate gift of God. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” Since they did not realize their own spiritual blindness, they could never receive the ultimate gift – the gift that is God Himself. That gift can be had only by having our sins that separate us from God taken away. And they can only be taken away through the blood Jesus shed on His cross. But since they reject the Giver, they cannot receive the gift. And there are only these horrifying words. “Your sin remains.” Those three words are perhaps the most terrifying words ever uttered. “Your sin remains.” That means that joy has been forfeited. “You sin remains.” That means that hope has evaporated. “Your sin remains.” That means that the door of heaven is barred shut against you.

You can pretend that you’ve got it all together. You can refuse to admit that you need Him. You can even say that He is not there. But none of those utterances change reality. The reality is that He is there; and you desperately need Him. If you are spiritually blind, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Friends, all of us were born in that condition. Spiritually, before God, we are nothing more than blind beggars. But Jesus has come so that those who do not see may see. Those who are aware of their spiritual blindness can be changed by His saving grace, and hear those words of comfort: “You have no sin.” He has died to take them away. You sin has been removed “as far as the east is from the west. It is blotted out with a thick cloud. It is buried in the depths of the sea. It is forgiven, forgotten, and gone.”[2] And in exchange for your sin, you have been covered in the righteousness of Christ. This does not evoke arrogance or pride in us. It humbles us to recognize that when we least deserved it, when all we had to offer to God were empty hands and blind eyes, He gave to us the ultimate gift – Himself.

But if you are blind to your own blindness, there are only these horrifying words: “Your sin remains.” My friend, I pray that this will not be said of you when your life is over. You can turn to Christ today and be saved. But if you are blind to your own blindness, you will be unaware of your true condition, unwilling to recognize your greatest need, and unable to receive the ultimate gift of God – the gift of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He has come to so those who do not see may see. Do not let it be said of you that you thought you were able to see, and as a result have remained in blindness, and worse, your sin remains.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 26.
[2] James Montgomery Boice, John (An Expositional Commentary; Volume 3; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 733. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Responding to Christ's Critics (John 9:13-18)

Those of us who grew up in what we might call “the Bible Belt” of the United States have had a truly unique experience compared to Christians in the rest of the world. Until very recently, at least, if you were a Christian in the Southeastern United States, you were part of the cultural “norm.” You would not likely be ostracized or persecuted for your faith. In fact, the opposite may have been true. It is not that a majority of people in this region were truly born again. That may or may not be true. It is, however, a result of a lingering cultural climate, what we might call “a hangover,” from generations of Christian influence. Over the last few decades, we have seen a cultural shift. Increasingly, being a truly devoted follower of Christ is becoming a countercultural thing. While we might bemoan these changes in our society, the fact is that we have yet to experience the harsh realities of the cost of Christian discipleship that Christians all over the world throughout history have experienced. In fact, when we look at the teachings of Scripture, we find that there is an expectation that the true followers of Jesus will experience hardship, ostracism, oppression, and even persecution in the world. The fact that we have not endured it to such a degree as the rest of our brothers and sisters in the world throughout history makes us an exception, not the norm. But if current trends continue, as we have reason to expect them to, then we should be well warned to prepare for coming days when following Jesus, even here in the Bible Belt, will be increasingly costly.

In Philippians 1:29, Paul said, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” We see that opposition to our faith is not only a possibility, but a promise – even a gift. Why is it a gift? At least two reasons are given in Scripture. First, it is a gift because there are certain blessings that are attached to suffering hardship for the sake of the Lord Jesus. Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:10-13). Second, it is a gift because it gives us the opportunity to bear a clear and confident witness to the saving truth of Jesus Christ. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:13-15, if you suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed, and you should not be fearful or troubled, but rather, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” The hope we have in Christ becomes more evident to the world when adversity threatens us, and the world will want to know how we can hold onto our faith in the face of hardship. This opens a wide door for a confident Christian witness.

In our study of the Gospel According to John, we have seen an increasing amount of hostility directed at the Lord Jesus Himself. Now, in this passage, we begin to see that the followers of Jesus are targeted as well. The antagonists here are the religious leaders of Israel – the Pharisees. They were the religious elite of their day. In verses 28-29, they avow that they are disciples of Moses, and that they know that God has spoken to Moses. They were not godless pagans. But they were so entrenched in their own traditions that they could not detect a work of God, even if it happened in front of their own eyes. They had accepted the revealed Word of God (what we refer to as the Old Testament) as authoritative, but they made no distinction between the revealed Word of God and the man-made religious traditions that were developed apart from the Word of God. We see that on display here in this text. Remember that we are talking about a healing that takes place in verses 1-12. Jesus has healed a man who was born blind. In v14, where it says, “Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes,” I have written in the margin of my Bible this comment: “Uh-oh!” You have come to understand from the Gospels that anything that happens on a Sabbath is bound to cause a problem!

It is really interesting to read the opinions of the scholars on this passage and the lengths they often go to explain why Jesus had the authority to violate the Sabbath. This is entirely wrong-headed. Jesus never violated any Sabbath law that God Himself had revealed. He did, however, violate man-made traditions about the Sabbath, and He seemed to do so with reckless abandon! In the religious traditions of Judaism, the scribes had taken a very simple law – the Sabbath is to be a day of rest and worship, on which to abstain from one’s regular work – and made a labyrinth of rules and regulations which they considered to be equally or more binding on people than the law itself. There were 39 specific categories of work which were claimed to be forbidden on the Sabbath according to these traditions. Things that Jesus did here in healing the man born blind could be considered a violation of at least four of them: from spitting in the dirt, to making a paste of mud, to anointing the eyes, and healing a man who was not in a life or death situation.[1]

Now, because of the remarkable nature of this miracle – no one had ever before been completely healed of congenital blindness (v32) – the people who knew this man sought out a religious explanation of it. Their effort to involve the Pharisees in the situation in v13 is not unlike situations in our day when a plane crash happens and the National Transportation Safety Board is called in. The Pharisees were considered the religious experts, and it was only natural that they be consulted for an opinion on the situation. But what is remarkable is that, rather than giving glory to God for the miracle that occurred, they began to focus on the fact that it took place on the Sabbath. They sought to use this as an occasion to further discredit Jesus and to apply pressure to those who may be persuaded to follow Him.

The situation unfolds here in a series of interrogations by the Pharisees: first, the interrogation of the man, then of his parents, and then back to the man himself. These interrogations provide an excellent opportunity for a bold and clear witness to the person and power of Jesus Christ. In the same way, you and I are faced with these opportunities on a regular basis as we live for Jesus. Like this man who was healed, you and I will face oppression and opposition from a variety of sources. Christians in the first century faced it from pagan Rome and from the religious traditionalists of Israel. So you and I might face opposition from secularists, atheists, and other so-called “non-religious” people; but we will also face opposition from some who are very religious and would even call themselves Christians. Like the Pharisees of Israel, here in the American South, there are people who have a somewhat Christianized vocabulary – they may even be church leaders – but who cannot distinguish between man-made traditions and the word and work of God Himself. In some cases, though they may call themselves Christians and be involved in church, they are not true followers of Jesus. They are preservers of a tradition. And if God moves in some way that is counter to their traditions, like the Pharisees, they will object and protest. But whatever the source of oppression, it is in encounters like this, where our faith and personal experience with Jesus Christ is challenged, that we have a great opportunity to bear witness for Him and to give a reason for the hope that is in us. So, how do we respond to the critics of Christ, whoever they may be? In our text we see two examples of response: a negative example seen in the parents, and a positive example seen in the man who has been healed. So let’s examine these responses here in the text.

I. The Cowardly Response (vv18-22)
We do not know how much time elaspses over the course of this narrative, and to some degree it is irrelevant. But whether hours or days, we know that there has been sufficient time for the news of this man’s healing to circulate. People have been talking, and certainly the man himself has been talking. And it is not hard to imagine that after a lifetime of blindness, he would want to quickly share the news with his parents. They had along side of him from the time of his birth. We do not know how old he was at this point in his life. His parents’ statement, “he is of age,” indicates that he was at least 13 years old, for this was a legal age to give testimony for oneself. It is likely that he was much older, but the point is that this hardship has been a shared experience for many years. It is quite possible that he still lived with them. Certainly they were not far away when the Pharisees decided to summon them here in verse 18. And it is not hard to imagine that when he told them what had happened, he might have rehearsed the story the same way he did in verse 11. “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” The parents surely knew that their son had undergone a radical transformation, and they surely knew that Jesus was the One who made it happen.

The Pharisees were beginning to believe that the whole crowd had been hoodwinked. Verse 18 says that they “did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight.” It was, after all, unprecedented. Perhaps the man had been faking blindness before; or maybe it was as some of the neighbors had suggested in verse 9. Maybe it was just someone who looked like the man born blind trying to pass off a fake miracle. So, to get down to the bottom of it, they summon the parents to ask them three questions, in verse 19. First question, “Is this your son?” Second question, “Was he really born blind?” Third question, “How does he now see?”

They begin to respond in verse 20. Notice that they give a good answer to the first question: “We know that this is our son.” No doubt about it, he is the one. And they give a good answer to the second question: “We know … that he was born blind.” OK, so far, so good. But, now notice how they answer the third question: “How he sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” Now, let’s acknowledge for a moment that they may not have known exactly “how he sees.” There’s a lot going on here. There’s divine power at work, there’s spit and mud, and a fountain of water – I mean, who can explain all of that? But come on, now! When they say, “We do not know who opened his eyes,” can that really be possible? Everyone in town knew that Jesus was the One who did it! Surely they knew too.

So why did they answer this question this way? Verse 22 gives us the reason, and it wasn’t because they didn’t know. “His parents said this because they were afraid.” What were they afraid of? John says, “The Jews.” He doesn’t mean “all the Jews,” but “the Jewish leaders,” the religious authorities (the Pharisees). Why were they afraid of them? “For the Jews (that is, the Pharisees and other religious authorities) had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him (Jesus) to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” The fear is that if they give credit to Jesus, they will be considered to be one of His followers, and that will result in them being ostracized from the synagogue. The synagogue was not only the place for local people to gather for worship and the study of the Torah. It was also the center of community life. To be removed from the synagogue was to become a social outcast.[2] So, the answer they gave was more of an attempt to save face and preserve their communal relations than anything else.

In essence, what we have here is nothing more than a case of spiritual bullying. If they tell what they know, they will lose their friends, their comforts and their security. So, what did they do? They cowered. They failed to take advantage of this grand opportunity to present a bold and courageous witness for Christ. Their own sense of security was more important to them than being faithful to Jesus. I wonder how often we are like them? An opportunity arises for us to present a bold and clear witness for Christ – someone asks us point blank about our faith – and we cower in fear and self-preservation? We dodge the question. We change the subject. We answer with vague and nebulous spiritual platitudes guaranteed to not offend. And the opportunity is lost. All because we were too cowardly to tell the truth about Christ. We valued our the preservation of our own comforts and earthly securities more than we valued either the soul of the person asking or the glory of the Lord Jesus. We are like the Samaritan lepers in 2 Kings 7 who had failed to bring the report of the enemies’ desertion to the King. They said, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent” (2 Kings 7:9). 

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ came first to this nation from England. Today, the spiritual landscape of England is a virtual evangelical ghost-town. But it did not happen suddenly. In 1945, an Anglican report was published that mentioned that a contributing factor to the spiritual decline of England was a growing “shyness in speaking about the things of God.” As one British clergyman said, “I have got the biggest job I have ever tackled in my life. I am trying to open the mouths of the people in the pews.” The late Dr. John Stott reflected on this worsening condition and said, “If the gospel is the ‘good news’ it claims to be, and if it has been entrusted to us, we incur guilt if we do not pass it on.”[3] If present trends continue, what England is today, America will be tomorrow. If we care about that, if we are disturbed by it, if we long to do something to stem the tide, then we must overcome our guilty silence and repent of our cowardice and begin to give a courageous testimony for the Lord Jesus to the critics of the faith. To whom shall we look for an example? Not to this man’s parents! We have followed their example for far too long. Rather, we must follow the example of the man born blind whom Jesus healed.

II. The Courageous Response (vv15-17; 24-38)
When the Pharisees interrogated the healed man, he made no bones about the source of his healing. He had already identified the healer to the multitude in verse 11 as “the man who is called Jesus.” Here in verse 15, he merely reaffirms it when he is asked by the Pharisees. He gives the credit to Jesus. Of course, this doesn’t satisfy the Pharisees, and they begin to rail against Jesus. It is not that they can deny the power He displayed in healing the blind man; instead they focus on the fact that He did it on the Sabbath in violation of their man-made traditions. But notice the effect of this man’s simple testimony for Jesus in the face of oppression: In verse 16, we see a division of opinion developing even among the oppressors. Some of the Pharisees begin to say that Jesus must be a sinner because He has violated their regulations. Other Pharisees are saying that He can’t merely be a sinner, because He has done such a powerful thing. It is not like the man launched into a full scale philosophical debate with them. He simply opened his mouth and spoke a simple word for Christ. And as a result the opposition begins to be divided amongst themselves. Sometimes it takes nothing more than the simplest of testimonies pointing to Jesus Christ for the critics of the faith to begin to argue amongst themselves, exposing the weakness of their own positions.

In verse 17, they turn back to the man and ask him directly, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” What a great opportunity! They asked him point-blank to give his opinion on the Lord Jesus! I pray that these kinds of questions come our way every day! And notice his response: “He is a prophet.” Now, we might want to criticize the man here and say that he has stopped short of the full truth. Surely Jesus is a prophet – He is the ultimate Prophet of all prophets! Even Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet. But we know that He is much more than this! He is God-in-the-flesh! But let us not criticize this man for not going beyond identifying Jesus as a prophet. At this point in his new found knowledge of Christ, he is not yet aware of Christ’s full identity. In calling Him a “prophet,” the man is ascribing to Jesus the highest honor he could envision.[4] He spoke of Jesus with as bold a claim as he knew how to make. When we are faced with the question of who Jesus is, we must not short-sell Him! We must give a clear word about Jesus and ascribe to Him the highest and greatest glory that our tongues can employ! It is impossible to overstate the greatness of the Lord Jesus! This man did his best. We can do better. He had the revelation of a brief personal encounter; we have the revelation of the entire Word of God. We are able to say that He is a prophet, but more than a prophet: He is God incarnate!

Now, when they came back to the man in v24 after the interrogation of his parents, they begin to implore him more severely. “Give glory to God,” they say. This phrase was a Hebrew expression that means something like, “It’s time for you to come clean and tell the truth!”[5] But here, it could also be understood to mean something like, “Stop giving glory to Jesus and start giving glory to God instead!” After all, they say, “We know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner!” But the man will not fall into their trap. He says these wonderful words that became the basis of a line in one of the greatest hymns of our faith: “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Rather than getting drawn into a discussion about matters he knows not of, the man simply sticks to the story he knows. Jesus has changed his life. He used to be blind. Then he met Jesus. Now he can see. End of story. Sometimes we hold our tongues instead of witnessing for Christ out of fear that we will not know how to answer some person may ask us. But this man encourages us that we need not know all of the answers. Sometimes all we can do is tell the story of how Jesus has changed our lives! But let’s not fail to do it when we have the opportunity!
Now, as the conversation progresses and they ask him AGAIN to tell the story, notice his response. He says, “I told you already and you did not listen.” He is not afraid to be direct. That’s not to say that we should ever be rude or obnoxious, but we do need to realize when we are not being given a fair hearing. This man may not know much yet, but he already knows that it is futile to cast your pearls to swine (Matt 7:6). He isn’t going to engage in an endless debate just for debate’s sake. And that is a wise pointer for us as well. But notice that he is not willing to end the discussion without a direct challenge to his critics. He says, “Why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” Now he has become the challenger. He is confronting them on their need to turn from their ways and follow Christ. So, we too need to be prepared to ask hard questions of those who challenge our faith. And the most important question we need to ask them is, “Are you willing to turn from sin and put your faith in Christ as your Lord and Savior?” Sometimes it takes a while to work our way to that question – notice it wasn’t the first line of response that this man gave. It may take a while – even weeks, months, perhaps years of encounters. But we must get to the point where we put the challenge to the other person and ask if they are willing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

And the man here is willing to go even further than this, and sometimes we must as well. In verses 30-33, he begins to expose the flaws in their reasoning and provide an apologetic argumentation for the claims of Christ. He begins to use sound logic and scriptural principles to present a well reasoned defense of Christ. He shows them how, logically, Jesus cannot be who they say He is and still do the things that He has undeniably done. Even though they claim to be the experts on matters of religion, he says, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.” See, he is exposing the holes in their own worldview, and sometimes we have the opportunity to do this with others. But then he begins to demonstrate the folly of suggesting that Jesus could be a sinner and do what He did. He concludes in verse 33 by saying, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”  One of the biggest criticisms leveled at Christians is that we are ignorant people who follow a myth by blind faith. This man demonstrates that faith in Jesus Christ is a reasonable, rational thing. And there will be opportunities for us to do the same with critics that we encounter. We never need to fear that the logic of unbelieving critics is more sound than that of the Christian faith. We need to be mentally and spiritually prepared to defend the faith when necessary, because the opportunities will only become more frequent in the days to come.

Now, at this point in the text, I am convinced that the man had done all he could do, and had in fact, succeeded in presenting a courageous witness. You might not think so to look at the text. After all, the Pharisees did not repent and turn to Christ. He succeeded because he did his part. None of us have the power to make someone else believe. That is not our job. Our job is to tell the good news of Jesus, regardless of the response it produces. We can rest in the sovereignty of God for the outcome. Notice that they resorted to simply belittling the man and taking extreme measures against him. They said, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” Now, this is not a statement about his being born in a fallen, sinful state. That is true of everyone, according to God’s Word. But the Pharisees didn’t actually believe this.[6] Rather, they are talking about the fact that he was born blind. They believed that he was under God’s condemnation for some sin that he or his parents had committed. That was the prevailing view of suffering people. That is why the disciples asked Jesus in verse 2, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” But Jesus had already explained that his condition was not the direct or immediate result of a particular sin. Essentially, the Pharisees are here just resorting to belittling the man with verbal insults in order to escape the conversation. They realize that they are defeated in the battle of wits. And the last ditch effort is just to curse the man and walk away. But then they do something more. They did to him what his parents had feared they would do to them. They kicked him out of the community of the synagogue. That is what is meant by the words in v34, “So they put him out.” But this man’s confidence in Christ never wavered. He was already aware of the truth of words that Jesus spoke elsewhere – words he had never heard, but would readily affirm: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).

Now here the man is left alone. His parents have abandoned him. His religious leaders have abandoned him. He is cut off from his community. When you stand strong for Christ and give a bold witness for Him the same may happen to you. But notice that he is not alone for long. In verse 35, Jesus draws near. Having heard that the man had been put out of the synagogue, Jesus found him. The Psalmist said, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psa 27:10, NIV).

As the Lord draws near to him, He takes those seeds of embryonic faith already evident in the man and nurtures them to full blossom. He says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man responds, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” This is not a question about the meaning of the phrase “Son of Man.” He knew what that meant. The Old Testament prophet Daniel had used this phrase to refer to a coming one who was fully man, and yet fully God, and who would be Lord of all nations (Dan 7:13-14).” He just didn’t know who the Son of Man was. And Jesus says to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” Don’t miss the amazing revelation here: to this man who not long ago had been completely blind had seen the Son of Man, and was seeing Him now standing right in front of his freshly opened eyes. And the man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped the Lord Jesus Christ.

I hope you notice how this man’s knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ progresses in this story. It begins back in verse 11, when he calls Him, “the man who is called Jesus.” Then in verse 17, he calls Him “a prophet.” Then in verse 27, he refers to Him as One who is worthy to have disciples, and he considers himself to be one of those disciples. Then in verse 33, he says that Jesus is one who has come “from God.” And now here in verse 38, he calls Him “Lord” and bows before Him in worship. With every telling of the story of his encounter with Jesus, his understanding of Jesus grew. And so it is for us. The more we contemplate and communicate the truth of Jesus Christ, the more we grow in our understanding of Him and our relationship with Him.

The world around you wants to know who this Jesus is. Some of them will be very antagonistic toward you. You can expect that. Others are just curious. Who do you say that He is? Have you come to know Him and worship Him as Lord? If you have, then how will you respond when your faith is challenged? Will you respond in a cowardly way, as this man’s parents did? Or will you respond in a courageous way, giving a reason for the hope that is in you, pointing to Jesus as the One who has changed your life, and the One who can change their lives as well? Do not fear what you might lose in standing strong for Jesus. He has promised us, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). He has said, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:32-33). So let us be not cowards. Let us be courageous and unashamed of the Gospel and say with the Apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).

[1] See Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 1052; et al.
[2] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 288.
[3] John R. W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 9.
[4] Robert Mounce, John (Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Revised Edition], Volume 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 498.
[5] Joshua 7:19; Jeremiah 13:16
[6] See Kostenberger, 293. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Carrying Holy Things (Numbers 7:1-9)

Below is the manuscript of a message I preached earlier today in the Chapel Service for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in Cary, NC.

Numbers 7:1-9
Carrying Holy Things
A Chapel Message for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
October 30, 2013

It is a joy to be with you all today, and I bring you greetings from all of your friends at Immanuel Baptist Church in Greensboro, where I have been privileged to serve for the last 8 years as pastor. I am grateful for the invitation from Dr. Hollifield to bring this message to you here in this service. Over the last year, it was a great privilege to serve on the Board of Directors, as I filled out an unexpired term for our region. The greatest blessing of that period of service was meeting many of you and coming to a better understanding of the important work that so many of you do here in the service of our Lord through the Convention.

As I prayed about what I might share with you today, I kept thinking about the awesome responsibility that all of us who are engaged in the work of the Lord have. Some of you are handling matters of eternal importance every day, and for many of you, that work is done behind the scenes. Folks around this state don’t know your names or faces, but your work impacts them. In fact, the impact of your work goes beyond this state and touches portions of our nation and our world where the needs are incalculable. I know first hand how easy it is to become discouraged in ministry, and to feel insignificant; or to feel frustrated and even overwhelmed by the needs and demands of ministry. We are working with broken people in a broken world. It gets messy sometimes. You’ve probably heard that old, tired adage that ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people. But it is people who make ministry necessary. It is when we are dealing with people that real ministry is taking place. The temptation is to see the needs of people around us as a distraction to our work. But the great reality that we have to keep in front of us is that meeting those needs is our work, and it is a holy work that God has called us to by His grace.

As I thought about these things, I felt the Lord leading me to this passage here in Numbers 7. I recently led a Bible Conference at Friendship Southern Baptist Church in Concord, and I asked the folks to raise their hands if they had ever started to read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation. Everyone raised their hands. I asked, “How many of you gave up before you got to the end?” And again, everyone raised their hands. So I asked them to tell me how far they got before they gave up, and invariably they all said that they never made it past Leviticus or Numbers. Sometimes, we get lost in all the details of these passages and we begin to think that there is nothing of value for us in these texts. I can relate to that feeling, and I have tried to battle through it many times myself. One exercise I have tried to implement to get me through passages that seem, on the surface, to be very mundane, is a little game I learned as a child watching Sesame Street called “One of Things Is Not Like the Other.” In that segment of Sesame Street, several items or objects would be displayed and you have to decide which one is different from the others. So, for example, in one episode, there was a hammer, a pair of pliers, a saw, and a shoe. So, when I come to a passage like this one in Numbers, I play that old Sesame Street game to look for clues that help me unlock the significance of the passage.

As I read this passage, I find that the heads of the households brought offerings before the Lord upon the completion of the tabernacle: six covered carts and twelve oxen to be divided up among the Levites for use in their service. So, according to the Lord’s command, Moses began to distribute them in verse 6. In verse 7, we find that he gave two carts and four oxen to the sons of Gershon, “according to their service.” In Numbers 4, we find that they were responsible for the curtains, the coverings, the hangings, and the cords of the tabernacle. So, now they have two fancy carts, each one with a two ox-power engine to transport those things from place to place. Then, in verse 8, Moses gave four carts and eight oxen to the sons of Merari, “according to their service.” In Numbers 4, the duties of the sons of Merari included the care of the tabernacle’s boards, bars, pillars and sockets along with their respective pegs and cords.  They now have four carts, each one with its own two ox-power engine under the hood, to transport those items.

But now in verse 9, we find one of these things that is not like the other. We come to the sons of Kohath. In Numbers 3:31, we read, “Now their duties involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all the service concerning them.” In Numbers 4:4, these things are described as “the most holy things.” These are the things that stand as symbols and reminders of God’s covenant with His people; these are the things by which people are permitted to approach God through their sacrifices and offerings. These are the things that represent God’s presence among His people; His faithful provision to them; His light that shines in their darkness; His mercy and grace to forgive them of their sins when blood is shed.

Now, on the day that Moses was giving out carts and oxen, he did something different for the sons of Kohath. Unlike the sons of Gershon and Merari, the sons of Kohath did not receive carts or oxen. Verse 9 says that Moses “did not give any to the sons of Kohath.” Why was this? Did he just not like them as much as he liked the others? Was it because the offerings were not sufficient? Did they simply run out before the Kohathites turn came up in the distribution? No, the answer is given to us here in the text: “He did not give any to the sons of Kohath because theirs was the service of the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder.” It was the nature of their ministry that made the difference.

You see, sometimes we can get caught up in our boards, curtains, and poles of ministry. But notice that it was not the curtains, the poles, or the boards of the tabernacle that were considered “holy things” by the Lord. It was these objects that the Kohathites were responsible for – the things that represented God’s gracious actions toward His people; the things that represented God’s desire for the people to draw near to Him; the things that made the approach of sinful men to a holy God possible. The holy things that we deal with are not our buildings, our furnishings, or any of the material and external objects that we often associate with the church. Our holy things are the ministries by which we engage broken people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, the sons of Kohath were people just like us. Don’t you think that there was a moment there when they thought to themselves, “Wait a second! This isn’t fair! How come they get carts and oxen and we don’t!” I imagine there were times during their wilderness wanderings that the Kohathites were struggling under the burden of their loads, when some of those sons of Gershon and Merari came whizzing past them with their carts and oxen. They might have thought, “Oh, I tell you, I’d like to give them a piece of my mind about their fancy carts!” It is not unthinkable that they might have been jealous of them, and wished for a moment that they could trade places with them or have the luxuries that they had. I didn’t read that in a commentary or a Bible Dictionary. I read it in my own heart. I know how I would feel if I were them. And I imagine they were not immune to the same thoughts.

What we need is a reminder. We carry holy things. What a privilege of grace, that God would choose the likes of us to carry His holy Gospel into this broken world and present it before broken people! What have we done to deserve this? Absolutely nothing! Why do we do what we are doing? Because the Lord chose us and called us to do it. Some days, that may be the only reason we have to get out bed and do it. I tell young men who are going into the ministry to be very sure of their calling, because some days, it will be the only thing they have to motivate them. Let’s face it: Ministry is hard, messy work. It can be a great burden. There is never a time when we can stand back and say we’ve finished the task. There is always something else that needs to be done. There is another lost soul that needs to hear the gospel. There is another broken person that needs to hear godly counsel about how the gospel can be applied to their situation. There is another soul facing the valley of the shadow of death that needs to be ushered through it with gospel promises. We just want a decent night’s sleep and a real day off and a real vacation! We just want to throw our cell phones and laptops into the ocean for a week and take it easy. But the needs never go away, do they?

Such is the nature of working with holy things. And we need to be reminded – holy things cannot be put on a cart. They have to be carried on the shoulder. There aren’t any shortcuts or easy ways out. Those holy things are not going to move themselves. So, we’ve just got to get up under it and carry it. And all the while, let us be thankful that God has called us to do this. Sure it’s hard. Sure we want to rest. But it might be that we have to wait until heaven to enter that great Sabbath rest for which we so desperately long. Meanwhile, it is just more heavy lifting – carrying the holy things of Gospel ministry on our shoulders.

Let us not look for carts to make the carrying of holy things easier. That was done once. In 2 Samuel 6, David gave the order to transport the Ark of the Covenant on a new cart. It sure did make transportation easier! Instead of buckling under the load, the people had their hands free to play all manner of musical instruments and have a great and joyous celebration. But, let’s not forget, the oxen pulling that cart stumbled and nearly knocked the ark off the cart. And there was a well-intentioned, otherwise innocent man there named Uzzah who reached out his hand to steady it and God struck him down. You see, when we look for shortcuts in ministry, we may rejoice in the freedoms and luxuries we find. But the people to whom we are called to minister are the ones who suffer. David’s idea for a new cart didn’t hurt David. It killed Uzzah. David’s plan to take a shortcut cost the life of one of the men for whom he was responsible as a leader. If God wanted the Gospel to be conveyed to broken people in a broken world by shortcuts, He could have come up with any number of them. But God seems to consider our shoulders the most reliable means to carry the burdens of holy things.

Maybe you are discouraged, frustrated, or just plain tired today. Maybe you are on the verge of throwing in the towel, or worse, you are looking for a shortcut. Friends, let us be encouraged. It is a great and gracious thing that the Lord has done for us. He has given us charge of holy things. Carry them on your shoulders. You might be laboring day in and day out in the work of the Lord here in this Convention and wonder if any fruit will ever come from it. Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Let’s continue carrying these holy things on our shoulders until Jesus comes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Opening Blinded Eyes (John 9:1-12)

She was born in 1820, and died in 1915. She lived all but six weeks of her 95 years of life completely blind. When she was just six weeks old, she lost her eyesight due to a combination of a bad infection and a botched treatment by a pretend doctor. But, Fanny Crosby lived her life for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom she met at the age of 30. She was at a camp meeting, and while singing the final stanza of Isaac Watt’s hymn, “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed,” she said, “I surrendered myself to the Savior, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light.”[1] She went on to write over 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, fifteen of which are in the hymnals there in the back of your pew. Some of them are your favorites. Someone once remarked to Fanny Crosby, “Miss Crosby, I think it is a great pity that the good Master, when He showered so many gifts upon you, did not give you sight.” She answered: “Do you know that, if at my birth, I had been able to have made one petition to my Creator, it would have been that I should be made blind. … Because, when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”[2]

In our text today, we meet a man who was born blind. We might say that he was double-blind, for he was physically and spiritually blind. We know this because all human beings are born spiritually blind. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, unbelieving people are blinded “so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In 1 Corinthians 2:14, we read that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We were born in this state, blind to our true sinful condition, blind to our need to be saved, blind to God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Word of God. What this man in our text is physically, all of us are spiritually. Not only was he born blind, but we discover in verse 8 that he was a beggar. Because of his lifelong blindness, he was unable to support himself by any other means other than reaching out his empty hands to receive the gracious gifts of others. And spiritually, this is what we all are. We are blind beggars, capable of doing nothing to better ourselves before God or to earn His favor. We are only capable of reaching out our empty hands to receive the saving grace that He extends to us in His infinite kindness.

When we look at this born-blind-beggar in our text, we see a picture of ourselves in our true condition. It is a picture of hopeless desperation. But thankfully, this is not all that we see in this passage. For here we also see the Lord Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). He alone could meet the deep need of this man, and heal him, not only physically, but spiritually as well. And as the Lord Jesus opened the blinded eyes of this man, so He is able to heal us of our spiritual blindness as well. What He did for him, He does for us. We see in Jesus here a compassionate divine initiative; powerful divine action; and a miraculous divine outcome.

I. Jesus takes compassionate divine initiative (v1).

Our text begins with these words: “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.” These words set the stage for what follows, but they also depict for us how Jesus Christ takes the initiative to intervene in our lives. He is sovereign; He always makes the first move toward us. In our spiritual blindness we do not see Him and we do not seek Him. But He is the One who said of Himself that He had come to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10). This is but one of many examples we find in the Scriptures of Him doing just this.

Notice how Jesus takes the initiative in going to this man. Let’s remember what just happened prior to this. In the last verse of Chapter 8, after a time of teaching and interaction at the Temple following the Feast of Tabernacles, the crowd has become so riled up against Him that they pick up stones to kill Him. This was the prescribed penalty for blasphemy, which they are accusing Him of because He is making obvious and direct claims to be God in the flesh. So, when they picked up the stones, somehow (we are not told), Jesus “hid Himself and went out of the temple.” So, Jesus is now a wanted man, and a vigilante mob is out to kill Him. What would you do if you were Him? You might high-tail it as far away from the area as possible. But Jesus hadn’t even left the Temple area yet. We know this because this blind beggar would likely be somewhere near the entrance to the Temple, where a steady stream of travelers would see him and give alms to him. Jesus stayed in the danger zone in order that He might show compassion to this man. Notice that Jesus didn’t just hurry by the man, preoccupied with His own concerns. We would understand if He had. He’s in a potential deadly set of circumstances here. You and I might say, “No time to chat, got a mob chasing me!” But Jesus sees the man and takes the time and the intiative to intervene in his life. I wonder how often we fail to do this? So wrapped up in our issues, we do not take the time to notice the hurting people around us. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t do that? I pray God would develop this more in my life as well.

The man didn’t see Jesus – he was blind. But Jesus saw him. And not only did He see him, but He also knew him. He knew that this was a man who was not just a beggar, but was blind, and had been that way from birth. The man didn’t know anything about Jesus, but Jesus knew everything about Him. And you know, the same thing is true for all of us spiritually in our natural condition. We are situated in our places in life, spiritually blind, spiritually impoverished. We can’t see Jesus; we aren’t even looking for Him. We certainly don’t know Him. But in His compassion and by His sovereign and divine initiative, Jesus sees us. He’s never lost sight of you. You might be sitting in darkness and despair today, saying to yourself, “I don’t see the Lord.” Your hope is not found in your ability to see Him. Your hope is in His ability to see you. And not only does He see you; He knows you. He knows the shape you are in; He knows the concerns, the fears, the frustrations of your heart. Not only this, but He also knows your sin. You’ve never talked about it with anyone because you are ashamed of it. But you don’t have to tell Him about it. He already knows.

You see, Jesus knew more about this blind man than his physical condition. He also knew that, just like every other human being, this man has a sinful heart. He’s had thoughts and desires that are offensive to a holy God; He’s said things with his mouth that are an affront to God’s holiness. He’s done things that God has forbidden, and not done things that God has commanded. You might say, “How do you know all of that about him?” It is true of all of us. Romans 3:10-18 describes the state of the entire human race: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In other words, from head to toe, we are all radically corrupted by our sinfulness. It is summed up for us in Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  

But notice that Jesus is not sitting back saying, “If you ever need Me, just let me know.” He isn’t saying, “Once you take care of your sin problem, come and find Me and then I will help you.” There’s no way you can take care of your sin problem without Him. He is the one who has taken care of it for you. He is taking the initiative, coming to you, seeing you, knowing you, and wanting to show His compassion to you. He loves you. He wants to take action in your circumstances. You might say, “Why should I believe that? I don’t know Him; I can’t see Him; I’m not even looking for Him.” But the fact remains that He knows you; He sees you; and He is seeking you. He has come to seek and to save that which is lost.

II. Jesus performs powerful divine action (vv2-7).

There are some people who, whenever some kind of crisis erupts, immediately begin to look for someone to blame. Rather than making sure everyone is okay, or even looking into what exactly took place or how to fix it, they begin trying to find who is at fault. The disciples of Christ in this passage are somewhat like this. When Jesus encounters this born-blind-beggar, they say, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” That’s a good question, isn’t it? It is part of a bigger question – one that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with for centuries. If God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then why do so many bad things happen to seemingly “good” people? We call that question “the problem of evil.” And for many, the answer is to always assume that suffering is the direct result of someone’s sin. If someone is experiencing a hardship, it is assumed by some that they must be experiencing some kind of judgment from God against their sin. Now, make no mistake about it, there are some immoral actions that do result directly in suffering, either for the perpetrator or the victim, or both. For example, if a person makes the sinful decision to drive their vehicle while they are intoxicated, they could kill or seriously injure themselves or others. Who’s fault was it? The person who was driving drunk. That is one of many examples where we can clearly connect the dots between the sin and the suffering.
That’s what the disciples are trying to do here. Did this man sin in some way to deserve his physical condition of blindness? I have no doubt that there are sins that one could commit that would result in blindness. But this man has been blind since birth. Jesus says, in fact, it was not his sin that caused this. So, the other idea that the disciples put forth is that maybe his parents sinned, and their son’s blindness was a judgment against them. Now, there are sins committed by parents that can result in children being born with affliction. A mother who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol while pregnant can be the cause of a child being born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Some sexually transmitted diseases can actually cause children to be born blind. But this is not the case for every person who is born blind. In this particular case, Jesus says plainly that this man’s blindness was neither caused by his sin or that of his parents. Though he and his parents had undoubtedly sinned, their specific sins are not the direct cause of his specific condition.
Now, there is an underlying truth here that we do not want to overlook. The fact is that all human suffering is in some way related to human sinfulness. When there is a direct connection between a sinful act and its consequences, it is easy to see. But moreover, we have to remember that death entered the human race because of Adam’s sin. And therefore, death is at work within all of us from the time of conception. It is because of sin that we all experience sickness, disease and ultimately death. But, though this is generally true for all human beings, we cannot say in all cases that a specific person is suffering in a specific way as a direct result of some specific sin. That is what the disciples are trying to say, but it isn’t true.
We’ve already given this difficult question about human suffering more attention here than Jesus did when He met the blind man. It is not as though Jesus deems the question unimportant. It is important, but the debating the theoretical issue of evil and suffering in the world can be a distraction that prevents us from actually doing something to come to the aid of suffering people. Jesus is not distracted by theoretical issues here. Does it really matter who is to blame for this man’s blindness? Is it not more important to act in a way to help him? The Lord Jesus never lets theoretical arguments distract Him from His business of transforming lives.  Rather than pointing blame or arguing about cause and effect, Jesus moves the focus to something more important. He says that this man’s condition provides an opportunity for the glory of God to be manifested in his life. He says, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in Him.”
Not only is the Lord Jesus is not distracted by theoretical issues; neither is He deterred from His redemptive mission. Notice in vv4-5 that He says, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” Notice the imperative: We must work. This man’s blindness is an occasion for displaying the works of God, and it is those very works for which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father into the world. This man suffers in the darkness of human blindness, and Christ has come to be the Light of the world. His time for ministry on earth is drawing to a close. Within 6 months, He will die on the cross. There is urgency here. “We must do this now,” He says. There is no time for meaningless debates. There is only time for powerful divine action.

And so, undistracted by theoretical issues, and undeterred from His redemptive mission, the Lord Jesus is also undaunted by desperate circumstances. There is no situation which is so bleak that He cannot intervene. This man was BORN blind! Notice the severity of his circumstances, revealed in the man’s own comment later in verse 32. “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” If there was ever a picture of human hopelessness, surely this man is a good candidate. Imprisoned by the darkness of his physical and spiritual condition, all he can do is sit and beg, hoping for the kindness of others to help him along in life. But He has just met Jesus, who will do more for him than sparing him a dime. The light of Christ’s mercy and grace will shine upon him in his darkness.

I don’t know what you were born with. I don’t know what darkness you find yourself in today. I do know this – we were all born in the blindness of sin. We are all desperate beggars before God. And I also know this – the Lord Jesus is undaunted by desperate circumstances. Whatever it is that you are facing today, you do not have a greater crisis than this: you were born in a state of sin, separated from the God who made you and loves you. You may feel hopeless; but He is not powerless. He is mighty to save! And if He can save your soul from hell and reconcile you to God, then certainly you do not possess any other hardship that is too difficult for Him. In this life, He may not choose to heal you of your affliction or take you out of your hardship, but it is not because He cannot. In fact, ultimately He will in the most glorious way possible, by taking you to be with Him in transformed glory in heaven. And if He doesn’t alleviate the temporal physical suffering you are enduring here and now, it can only be because He intends for those things to be opportunities for His grace and glory to shine through you as they usher your heart and your hope to Him and to your eternal home with Him. If He has not acted toward you or your circumstances in any other way, you need look no further than the cross to see how He has acted with compassionate divine initiative and powerful divine action to meet your greatest need!

III. Jesus Produces a Miraculous Divine Outcome (vv8-12)

Sometimes, God uses people like us to do the things that we know how to do, things we’ve been trained to do, things we are good at, to produce His desired effects. Those are fun things to be a part of. But in my experience, it is far more wonderful to be part of God doing something that only God could do, not because of our abilities, but in spite of our inabilities. There are some moments in which God providentially choreographs our circumstances in such a way that He alone can get the glory out of it. The account in our text is one of those situations. We have a man born blind. In the history of the world to that time, no one had been able to do anything to cure anyone in that predicament. Technology has come along now, where maybe his chances would be better today. But not back then. For congenital blindness, at least in that day, there was no ointment, no drugs, no lasers, no surgical procedure, that could offer him any hope of seeing. But there was Jesus.

Jesus does something unusual and inexplicable here. He spits on the ground and makes a paste of spit and mud and begins to rub it into this man’s eyes. Why on earth would He do such a thing? There are certain things you just don’t want in your eyes, and I would think that someone else’s fingers, mud and spit would be near the top of the list. I imagine this man might instinctively pull away as he feels the wet cold grime being massaged into his eyes, but he cannot. It is not for us to know why, in this circumstance, Jesus chose to use spit-mud to heal this man. On other occasions, He merely spoke and His will was done. At other times, it was a simple touch of His hand. Why is the spit-mud necessary? Maybe He is at work in your life in ways that are not enjoyable or pleasant at the moment. You might be enduring spit and mud right now. You might be thinking, “Why is that necessary?” But we have to trust that when the Lord Jesus hurts us, it is so as to heal us. We may never know why He has chosen to work in the varied ways that He does in our lives. As the great hymn writer William Cowper said, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform … Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.” It is not that spit plus dirt equals a wonder working cure for congenital blindness. It is that this is the Lord Jesus at work. If His methods here do not show us anything else, at least we are able to see that He is never without the resources and power that He needs to intervene and act on our behalf.

But there is something more that we see here. Not only did Jesus put spit-mud in this man’s eyes, but He also told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Now, John inserts a phrase here in the dialog, telling us that Siloam means “Sent.” It was so called because the waters were “sent” into that pool from the Springs of Gihon through Hezekiah’s tunnel. Why would John tell us that? Whenever we see something like this, we have to use the context of the passage to determine why this detail is important. What else is “sent” in this passage? Look at verse 4: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” The Lord Jesus is the “Sent One” of God. This pool is a symbol of Christ. Just as this man must go to the waters that have been “sent” to cleanse himself of the mud and be made whole again, so must you and I flee to the One who has been sent to cleanse us and save us.

The word “Siloam” is derived from the Hebrew word “Shiloh.” Here in this text is the answer to a great riddle of the Old Testament. In Genesis 49:10, it is prophesied of Judah that “the scepter shall not depart from” him, “nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes.” Your English versions may be more interpretive there and replace the word “Shiloh.” They assume you won’t understand “Shiloh,” so they don’t use it. But it is best to just leave it as it is. Judah will carry the rod of authority until Shiloh comes, “and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Shiloh is a person. So who is Shiloh? He is the Sent One, who comes from God as the Lord of all nations. The prophecy in Genesis says of Him, “He ties his foal to the vine, and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine,” indicating His humility. He does not come on a warhorse; he comes on a donkey, just as the Lord Jesus would enter Jerusalem for the final time. “He washes His garments in wine, and His robes in the blood of grapes.” You see, the Lord Jesus did not go to a fountain of cleansing water to wash Himself; rather, He washed Himself in the blood red stains of our sins, and carried them all the way to the cross where He suffered and died for us. And as a result of that, we can go the fountain of Siloam, the Sent One, and be cleansed of our stains and made whole by His saving power and grace. He is the long-awaited Shiloh, who has come as Lord of all nations, to save us from our sins. This blind man’s trip to the pool of Siloam is a picture of what we all must do to be saved. We must go to the One who has been sent for us, that by Him we might be saved and cleansed before God. This blind man came back from the pool “seeing.” He had been changed by the power of Jesus in a miraculous way. And the Sent One is still opening blinded eyes today. Our spiritual eyes that were blinded in sin have been opened and we see Him now as Lord and Savior, healing us of our iniquity through His life, death, and resurrection.

It was a miraculous divine outcome. You see in verses 8-9 here that there was really no other explanation. People were saying, “Is this the same guy that we used to see out here begging?” And people were saying, “No, it is just someone who looks like him.” And while they were saying all these things, the man was saying over and over again, “It really is me!” So they had to ask him, “How then were your eyes opened?” And in his answer, he gives credit where it is due: He says, “The man who is called Jesus did it.”  And he told them about the spit and the mud and the pool, and all that. But they didn’t say, “Give us some spit-mud too.” They knew that it wasn’t the spit or the mud or the pool. They knew that the effect had been produced by the man who is called Jesus. They said, “Where is He?” They want to find Him for themselves. But he said, “I do not know.” You realize, he had never seen Jesus. Jesus might have been standing right in front of him and he wouldn’t have known it. He did not know how to direct them to Jesus. But that did not change the fact that he had indeed met Jesus for himself and been transformed in a miraculous way. There was no other explanation and no other factor involved. Simply the miraculous and wonderful grace and mercy of “the man who is called Jesus.”

You know, some of you are like this man. You’ve been radically changed by an encounter with Jesus. People you have known all your life don’t know what to make of it. They wonder, “Is this the same guy we used to know?” And you are saying, “It is me!” And they are saying, “Then how did this change happen in your life?” And how shall you answer? You can answer the same way he did: “The man who is called Jesus.” But, should they ask you how they might find Him for themselves, do you know how to point them to Him? I want to say this both as a comfort and as an admonition. First, if you don’t know how to direct them to Jesus, don’t be dismayed. It doesn’t diminish the reality of what He has done for you. After all, this man had only encountered Jesus moments before. He hadn’t enrolled in Sunday School or Bible studies yet! So, sometimes, when people are young and immature in their faith, they may not be able to explain to someone else exactly what happened in their lives, or how someone else can experience it. I have no doubt that some of you have had a profound, saving experience with Christ, but you don’t have the foggiest notion of how to explain that to someone else. There is a point in which that is perfectly understandable. There is comfort in knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers, and sometimes you can say, “I don’t know,” when people ask you questions about your faith.

But take this also as a loving admonition. Just because you might be too young or too immature in your faith to point someone else to Jesus, you do not have to stay that way. In fact, if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for years and years, and you still don’t know how to point someone else to Jesus, then you are stuck in a prolonged spiritual infancy.  You need to be growing in your faith, and as you do, you will discover the simplicity of sharing with others how they too can find Him. You see, back in verse 4, Jesus did not say, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me.” He said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” The Lord Jesus intends to use His followers in His mission. He said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” God had come to dwell among His people. But He also said that a dark night was coming. He was taken out of the world, and for a brief period, the Light did not shine in the darkness. But shortly after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon His followers. God came to dwell within His people. And Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses.” And it was for this reason that the Lord Jesus, who said, “I am the Light of the world,” also said to His followers, “You are the light of the world.” While He is in the world, He is the Light of the world. Now that He has been taken out of the world through His death, resurrection, and ascension, you are the light of the world. You shine forth His light, and the light of Christ that they see in you points them to Him.

All of us were at one time just like this born-blind-beggar. We couldn’t see Jesus, but He saw us, and He acted toward us in compassion and power through His cross. He died for our sins so that we might be saved. He has opened our eyes by the Light of His glory and grace. He has done all that was necessary to save us! Ours is but to recognize our true condition, and go to the fountain of the Sent One, where we can be cleansed and made whole: the man who is called Jesus. He is more than a man, He is God in the flesh. And nothing is too difficult for Him. He can open the eyes of the blind. He did it for this man. He did it for many of you. He will do it for others as we point them to Him.

[1] Robert Cottrill, “Today in 1850 – Fanny Crosby Converted
[2] The Sunday School World, Volume 40, Issue 8. Online at PqLNAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA302#v=onepage&q&f=false. Accessed October 16, 2013.