Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Blind Man Meets the Light

Life of Christ 104

          We find ourselves today sometime in October or November of the last year of Jesus' life. He will die the following April. He is still at Jerusalem, having remained for some time after His recent dustups with the Pharisees during and immediately after the Feast of Tabernacles.
          Today is the Sabbath, and as Jesus and His Apostles are walking through Jerusalem they see a blind man, begging. It wasn't permissible to give to a beggar on the Sabbath, but if this story (John 9.1-41) took place in the vicinity of the Temple people would likely remember his presence on the Sabbath, and be more inclined to give to him on another day.
          One of the Apostles, seeing the blind man, is driven to ask a question he had always wondered about: 'Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?' (John 9.2). In so speaking, he reveals himself to be a partaker of the common superstition that such terrible handicaps were the direct result of sin. This, of course, enables the onlooker to feel superior, for he himself was not handicapped.
          Certainly the Old Testament taught that God punished sin, but nowhere does it even hint that physical handicaps are the direct result of personal or parental sin. In fact, the Old Testament specifically says that God will not punish a child for a parent's sins (Jeremiah 31.29-30). Since this blind man was born that way, he obviously had not committed some grievous sin while still in the womb which would cause God to punish him with blindness. Ergo, the answer to the apostles' question was rightly neither.
          Jesus, though, as He often did, uses the opportunity presented to Him as a springboard for some larger lesson. He informs the Apostles that this blind man has lived in this condition all of his life so that he could glorify God (John 9.3). He then proceeds to heal him in an exceedingly unusual way. He spits on the ground and forms mud or clay, and then plasters that into the blind man's eyes. He then sends him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, and in this way brings the blind man sight.
          I must confess, as a bit of germaphobe, that I find this scene fairly grotesque, but Jesus had specific reasons for doing the healing this way instead of the 'normal' way. 'As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world' (John 9.5). Jesus had just recently stood in the light of the 75 foot high menorah in the Court of the Women in the Temple, and proclaimed Himself to be the light of the world. The Pharisees, of course, completely disagreed. Jesus, knowing that word of the blind man's healing would spread, was using this miracle to send a message to Israel's religious leadership about Himself.
          The blind man washed in the Pool of Siloam, which literally means 'sent'. The One sent from Heaven, Whom the Jews refused to recognize, is the One Who told him to do so. The blind man's sight was restored by mud, made from dirt and the saliva of Him who had first breathed life into dirt when forming Adam. The mud was then washed off in the Pool of Siloam from which the water had been drawn for the closing ceremony of the recent Feast of Tabernacles. This water symbolized the Holy Spirit, Who, rather than the devil, empowered Jesus with the ability to do miracles, and Whom Jesus would freely give to whomever believed on Him. Not only this, but the blind man, who previously walked in a darkness deemed by all to come from sin, now walked freely in the light of Earth's sun because he had met the Light of the World. Truly, this man's life of blindness followed by a sudden healing on the Sabbath manifested God, revealing Jesus to be Who He said He was, and thus brought God great glory.
          As the story progresses through John 9 we find that the Pharisees struggle greatly with how to deal with it. Their first attempt is to insist that the blind man was never really blind at all so no genuine miracle was done. This is quickly put to rest by the testimony of many witnesses who have known the blind man for years. Their next attempt is to assert that the miracle worker, whom all but the blind man knew to be Jesus, was not of God since He did such a work on the Sabbath. But this old saw has been so thoroughly discredited so often it doesn't hold an ounce of water.
         They aren't done, though. Their whole goal is to make Jesus look bad (John 9.24) so they drag the blind man's parents into it. The parents beg off, afraid of being excommunicated, and leave their son to fend for himself. The son, formerly blind, hasn't actually seen Jesus yet, but he is incredulous that Israel's religious leadership should be giving the healer such a hard time. 'As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes' (John 9.29-30). This formerly blind man flat out tells Israel religious leadership that, since no one else in history had ever done what this healer just did, he, for one, believes Him to be sent straight from God. In response, they excommunicate him, but somehow, I think, he wasn't too upset by it all. After all, today, for the first time in his life, he could see.
          Later in the day, Jesus makes it a point to find him, and to explain to the formerly blind man that it was He Himself who had healed him. The formerly blind man immediately places his faith in the claims of Jesus Christ.
          With this by way of explanation let me give you two lessons I draw from this story. First, sometimes you must live a long time with an awful circumstance in order to greatly glorify God. 'Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him' (John 9.3).
          I can only imagine the physical cost of being blind all your life. It is certainly dangerous, since you cannot see an approaching threat, and even common, ordinary tasks such as crossing the street become a risk to your life. Just the everyday job of living would be incredibly complicated and time consuming. Not only that, but blind people aren't known for their great wealth. Almost all of them live in poverty.
          Not only are there physical costs to blindness there are also emotional costs. This man had not once, in his entire life, been able to see the face of his loved ones. He hadn't been able to work, and without work there is no sense of purpose and fulfillment in your life. As a child he would have missed much of the fun of playing with other children. And we could go on and on and on enumerating the costs of being a blind man in that day.
          God purposely put this man through decades of difficulty in order to give Jesus the opportunity on that Sabbath day to display just exactly Who He really was to His rebellious people. Our life is His to spend how He will, for His own purposes. I'm a Baptist but I agree with the Presbyterians that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. George Mueller said once, 'My life is a platform on which I want God to display Himself', and if God chooses to do that via my suffering then that is His business.
          I sometimes joke with my people and say that discouragement is one of my spiritual gifts. I seem to have an uncanny ability to notice all the things that are going or have gone or might go wrong in my life. But when I stack up all of those things against the life of a man who spent the entirety of his days blind just so that Jesus could heal him on that Sabbath day I suddenly discover I have nothing to complain about.
          I know so many good people who are enduring awful circumstances, not as a consequence or a punishment, but simply because God has brought it to them at this stage of their life. Sometimes they ask me, 'But when will God fix this? I've been asking Him to for years!' Maybe, just maybe, He gets greater glory by leaving it the way it is. Beloved, we must never forget that the Christian life is lived how it is birthed – in faith.
          Secondly, sometimes you have to be willing to no longer be accepted in order to follow Him. 'These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue' (John 9.22). The blind man's parents were not willing to undergo this, but the blind man was, and did.
          To put that into perspective, we must understand that, to the Jew of Jesus' day, the synagogue was everything. It was the center of their educational, social, cultural, and religious life. Excommunication, while rare, and exercised for different lengths for different crimes, was always harsh. Edersheim reveals it this way:

"It seems to me that thy companions are separating themselves from thee." He who was so, or similarly addressed, would only too well understand its meaning. Henceforth he would sit on the ground. He would allow his beard and hair to grow wild and shaggy; he would not bathe, nor anoint himself; he would not be admitted to any assembly of ten men, neither to public prayer, nor to the Academy; though he might either teach, or be taught by, single individuals. Nay, as if he were a leper, people would keep at a distance of four cubits from him. If he died, stones were cast on his coffin, nor was he allowed the honour of the ordinary funeral, nor were they to mourn for him. Still more terrible was the final excommunication, or Cherem, when a ban of indefinite duration was laid on a man. Henceforth he was like one dead. He was not allowed to study with others, no intercourse was to be held with him, he was not even to be shown the road. He might, indeed, buy the necessaries of life, but it was forbidden to eat or drink with such an one.

          In our day, we don't face excommunication for following Christ, at least not in America. Some of our Christian brethren in Muslim countries do, but we don't. We do, however, face the fact that the crowd that we used to run with, or that we often want to run with, the 'in' crowd, will no longer accept us if we choose to follow Him. Such peer pressure often traps the spiritually immature young person, lancing their passion to follow Christ, and draining the spiritual strength right out of them. This blind man is a wonderful example of someone who stood up fearlessly for God in the face of mass disapproval.
          Beloved, the day may come, and sooner than we think, when we here in America will have to be willing to pay a price to follow Christ. Our venerated Constitution is only a piece of paper, and one that is easily and radically reinterpreted by the God haters of our day. As time marches on our American society, which has already moved from being a Christian one to a post-Christian one, will increasingly move to a pagan one. When this happens, the beliefs that are important to us, and that we are now free to hold will become, not just unpopular, but illegal. I say again, when, not if, this comes, we must be ready, like the blind man, to be 'cast out' for following Christ. And then what a privilege shall be ours! 'When they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name' (Acts 5.40-41).
          May God grant us the strength to follow Him, no matter the cost. May God grant us the grace to trust Him, no matter how long and how awful the circumstance. And may we rejoice, as now we can see, and may He be manifested and glorified in how He chooses to spend our lives.

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