Monday, December 02, 2013

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. 

1 comment:

RETA said...

Wonderful BlogSpot and post! Thank you so much!