In our troubled world many long for the days of the great revivals – perhaps the days of the Wesleys and George Whitfield in England and in the US, or the years of Billy Graham, or the days of great revival in East Africa.
Let me suggest we shouldn’t be discouraged. Jesus himself began with a small group of men and women and look what happened: by the 4th century AD the influence of God’s gospel had had spread throughout the Roman Empire. This hadn’t happened through armed conflict but through the work of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
Come with me to the events that unfold in John chapter 9 – a chapter that reads like a drama in three Acts.
Act 1. As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me’ (9:1-4a).
A blind man begging on the side of the road was a familiar sight. But this man hadn’t contracted blindness through the dusty, disease laden air of those roads. He had been born blind, and the question Jesus’ close followers asked reflected Jewish theology: ‘Who sinned? This man or his parents?’ they asked. People often ask a similar question today when things go awry: ‘What have I done to deserve this?’
Jesus’ response was unexpected: ‘Sin hadn’t led to this man’s blindness. Rather, it was to reveal God’s power’. Consider the simplicity of the drama that followed. Jesus doesn’t look for any expression of faith, he simply acts. And like all the gospel miracles, he wields the creative power of God. It’s a miracle which speaks of the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus is a unique man doing unique things.
He spat on the ground, made clay and anointed the man’s eyes. ‘Go and wash…’ he commanded. The man obeyed and returned seeing.
Just think how this simply stated drama would be written up today. There’d be a detailed description of what Jesus said and did. There’d be interviews with people who witnessed it, together with the inevitable question: ‘How did you feel?’ The gospel record almost seems flat and disappointing. But what mattered was what was done, not what was felt.
A marvellous miracle had occurred. Now what?
In Act 2 five very different conversations unfold, revealing that the man had not only been physically blind but also spiritually blind. The first conversation was with confused neighbors. ‘I am the man,’ he said. ‘The man Jesus healed me’ (9:8-12).
But signs of tension emerge with a second conversation. The Pharisees disputed the credentials of someone who had healed him on the Sabbath (9:13-17). No one from God would heal on the Sabbath; how could a sinner do such signs? ‘What do you think?’, they ask the man. ‘I think he’s the prophet,’ he responded.
In a third conversation the Pharisees spoke with the healed man’s parents. In response to their questioning, they insisted their son was born blind but could now see. Anyone who said the man who had healed him is the Christ, would be excommunicated, the Pharisees warned. ‘Don’t involve us,’ the parents said. ‘Ask our son. He is of age.’
And when the Pharisees spoke with the healed man, they aggressively observed that he had been born ‘in utter sin’. ‘Keep quiet and all will be well,’ they said. But the man wasn’t shaken. He knew that he was born blind and that now he can see. He was also beginning to see that these revered leaders were blind to the truth.
‘We know that God has spoken to Moses,’ they said, ‘but as for this man, we don’t know where he is from’. ‘You call Jesus a sinner,’ the man responded. ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’
The fifth conversation is one of the most beautiful found in the Bible (9:35-37). The man has just been rejected by the religious leaders, but Jesus seeks him out. ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’, Jesus asks. And the man’s response is honest and open: ‘I would believe if…’ Jesus’ response is stunning: ‘You have seen him. With your own eyes you have seen me, the Son of Man, And now I am speaking to your mind and heart, reaching the depths of your soul with who I am.
‘Lord I believe,’ he responded. And he worshipped Jesus as though he were God.
There are few mountain peaks higher in John’s gospel. The man began by calling Jesus a man (9:11); then a prophet (9:17); and then, ‘this man must be from God’. Now he worships Jesus as Lord.
It’s a road that many people travel as they awaken to their understanding of Jesus: he did live; he is a prophet; he must be from God; He is God – He is my Lord.
But there is a Third Act as Jesus draws out the meaning (9:39-41). “For judgment I came into this world,” Jesus said, “so that those who do not see may see, and so that those who see may become blind”.
Whenever Jesus spoke, he created tension within people. This continues today, for every time we talk about Jesus, people will react in one of two ways. Some will want to find out more and in time, come into the light of faith. Others will choose to be drawn into the darkness of unbelief – a terrifying thought.
But there is a very positive side to the healing of the formerly blind man. Through the miracle Jesus performed, through his own testimony, and through the testimony of the healed man, John reveals that Jesus is truly the man from heaven.
Furthermore, the miracle is a parable. In the healing of the man born blind, God shows us his greater purpose: to give us spiritual sight – something he alone can do. We can’t get it by our own efforts. God opens eyes, drawing us to the truth and a living faith in the Lord Jesus.
A prayer. Almighty God, grant that we, who justly deserve to be punished for our sinful deeds, may in your mercy and kindness be pardoned and restored; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.