Transformation and Renewal. The Man Born Blind
08 October 2017
Preacher | Rt Rev David Atkinson
Transformation and Renewal. The Man Born Blind
John 9. 1-41: The man born blind.
In this series about the transformation which the Christian Gospel brings in peoples’ lives, we are today looking at the story in John Chapter 9, which begins with ‘a man blind from his birth’ (v.1), and comes to its climax with this man saying: ‘One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ (v.25).
This is really the central chapter of John’s Gospel - the whole Gospel was written that people should come to believe that Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth is God’s Messiah - that is the one whom God promised ages ago would come to make things new. For generations, God’s people had longed for God himself to come and show himself as King. When Messiah comes, they told themselves, he will bring in a Kingdom of justice and goodness and peace; when Messiah comes, he will bring good news to the oppressed, he will bind up the broken-hearted, he will bring release to captives.(Is 61); when Messiah comes - the prophets said - the deaf will hear, and the eyes of the blind will see (Isa.29.18). Isaiah says: ‘say to those who are fearful: Be strong, do not fear – here is your God! then the eyes of the blind shall be opened. (Isa 35.4f.).
So when Messiah comes, God will do something new. And John’s Gospel is a long story of God doing new things. He talks to Nicodemus about new birth; he demonstrates the rich new wine of God’s kingdom replacing the insipid water in the waters jars at Cana; he cleans out the merchants from God’s house of prayer; he breaks through all the taboo barriers by talking to a woman - a Samaritan woman! He heals the sick and feeds the hungry crowds.
In picture after picture, by sign after sign, Jesus is doing the things that Messiah is going to do when God comes among us. And here in chapter 9, as Jesus walks along he saw a man blind from birth, he takes mud from the ground and puts it on his eyes, and tells him to go and wash it off. When he does so he comes back seeing.
And throughout all this there is opposition from the religious leaders, from the Pharisees, from the temple staff, from the representatives of all the old tired religion that has become legalistic and spiritually dead, spiritually blind.
So the Gospel writer is using this wonderful story to say very loudly to a world which is spiritually dead and spiritually blind: God is doing a new thing right here; these are the signs of Messiah among you; these are the signs of a new creation. The blind man in our story is – like Nicodemus earlier - a representative - a sign or symbol of what Jesus the Messiah is doing in the world.
We need to read John’s Gospel at two different levels: first, the narrative of Jesus’s actions to give sight to this blind man. Second, why the writer of the Gospel chose this incident and told it in this way, to illustrate his main theme: that you may believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah and may have live in his name.
There are so many things in this long chapter that we can only glance at three of them.
First: think of the people who were watching: they are in the dark.
The disciples were puzzled as to how the man became blind - but Jesus says they are missing the point. They have not discerned God’s purposes in the world. The Pharisees are cross that Jesus broke the law by healing someone on the Sabbath Day. They have lost sight of grace and live only by law. Some of the people were very afraid of admitting that Jesus was the Messiah because they knew that if they did, they would be thrown out of the synagogue. Quite a lot of those who heard the story thought it was made up – and even ejected the healed man from their company. The Gospel writer is very aware that Jesus stirs up trouble, and often shines uncomfortable light into the dark.
Second: think of Jesus himself: He is the light.
Jesus says: ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (9.5). It is Jesus who shines God’s light into the darkness of the world. And for this man, this was the transforming moment. As he hears Jesus’ words, and does what Jesus asks of him (Go and wash), the blindness is washed away; suddenly he can see.
So this story stands for the transforming power of God’s Messiah in this dark world. Jesus speaks God’s word: I am the light of the world. Jesus commands - and obedience to Jesus’ word leads to transformation.
And thirdly, think about the man born blind: notice what happens to him in his story of journey into the light:
1. He knows that he is in the dark.
2. He hears Jesus’ word “I am the light of the world”, and he does what Jesus asks of him. He takes the risk of making a commitment to go and wash.
3. Over time, he gradually recognizes who Jesus is and his faith grows: ‘the man they call Jesus (v.11)’; ‘He is a prophet’ (v. 17); he opened my eyes (v.30); he is from God (v. 33); ‘Lord, I believe’; he worshipped him (v.38).
This is the journey of faith: gradual discovery of who Jesus is, doing what he says, recognizing that he is from God, leading to a commitment of faith and worship. And all this adds up to one transforming process.
This is what happens in our journey of faith – usually small things, only very occasionally really big things: we become aware of Jesus. We hear his word about this or that in our lives, and we come to recognize that he is asking us to do this or that. And then as we allow Jesus’ words to shape what we do, we gradually move along the journey of faith that ends up with the risk of commitment ‘Lord, I believe’. At some stage on that journey as the light of Jesus, the light of the world, dawns on us - something changes in us, and we say ‘Oh. I see!’ ‘Now I see!’
And we see everything in a new light.