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24th June 2001
WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED FOR YOUR FAITH.
There are many kinds of persecution for faith. The worst must be the kind of persecution for the faith that we have witnessed in Ambon and Arche this past year when churches have been burned, houses, shops and schools destroyed, thousands of women and girls raped and thirty thousand people have been killed. The same kind of persecution has happened in East Timor and in the countries south of the Sahara in Africa and in many parts of the Middle East. I have met those who survived the torture of Mao Tse Dung and other dictators in China. In fifty countries of the world Christians have died for their faith, and last year about 200,000 perished.
Thankfully we do not have to die for our faith. But many people know the scorn of secular humanists in schools and universities and ignorant atheists in factories and market places. They make life difficult for us with their scoffing and sneering. Sometimes we suffer from discrimination at the hands of those who do not share our religious commitment. These issues are all found in John 9. It was one of his top ten encounters. Jesus healed a blind man. But his blindness was nothing to the blindness of those people who saw him healed but who attacked Jesus for healing Him. They chose not to see even though they could see. The issue of healing a blind man turned into a vicious attack upon all who believed. Consider the characters in this real life drama. They each represent differing attitudes found today among people in our community. Our response to the blind and the poor, the homeless and the mentally ill, the immigrant and the powerless may be like some of those in this true story of human response to people in need.
1. ONE COULD SEE WHAT OTHERS DID NOT SEE. V1-7
Many people walked by without seeing the blind man. He begged there every day quietly calling out "Help the blind" "Help the blind", the very same words of the blind man who begs in George Street, Sydney. We hurry on our way and do not see the people who wait for our coins. They wait at the top of the stairs from the underground, at the gangway on Circular Quay and by the bus stations. They are there every day, part of the scenery. The sleepy derelict, the dirty street kids, the lady with her plastic bags collecting aluminum cans and the young man sitting against the shop-front with his tattered cardboard sign requesting donations. They are there every day. We pass them without really seeing them. Seeing we do not see. But Jesus was different!
Jesus saw the needs of people. "As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind." His action of seeing the blind beggar caused the disciples to ask Him concerning the origin of blindness. It was not a question designed to embarrass the man or to help him. The beggar was just an example needed to raise a question for discussion. Just as we might pass by some person in the street and ask: "Why don't these kids go back to their homes?" Or "Why must people on adequate pensions stand in the streets begging?" The disciples wanted to know the origin of the suffering of the blind man on the Jerusalem street. Their guesses were wide of the mark. But Jesus replied: "His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents sins. He is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in Him. As long as it is day we must do the work of Him who sent me; night is coming when no man can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world."
Jesus met the needs of people. This summary of what He said indicated that He must complete God's work now. He was light in man's darkness. Jesus never only speaks. His words lead to deeds of kindness. With Him deeds and words were one. "After He said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with spittle; He rubbed the mud on the man's eyes and told him, "Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam". So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing."
As we instinctively put our finger in our mouths when we burn it or cut it or scratch it, so the people of the ancient world believed that saliva had curative properties. Saliva is the ointment favoured by animals and man for all abrasions that need healing. Jesus took the traditional means of healing and mixed it with the dust of the earth into clay and placed it on the man unseeing eyes, as if to say: "When God made you, He made you from the dust of the earth. From birth your sight was incomplete. I take some dust and with healing power place it on your eyes to complete your creation as a whole man. Go and cleanse yourself of all impurity and see what God in His glory has done for you." He meets our deepest need for cleansing, for wholeness, for healing, for being made new. God's power can be seen in our remaking.
Jesus heard the needs of people. Near the end of this story we read; "When Jesus heard what had happened, He found the man." v35 That is just as remarkable. He went to the man in his need when He heard of the man's plight. That is His answer to our prayers. He is responsive to our every need. Ask yourself: am I like Jesus who could see what the others did not see?
2. SOME COULD SEE BUT WOULD NOT SEE. v8?16
These were the Pharisees, some other people in the crowd who had seen what had happened, some of the blind man's neighbours who had known him for years, and some of the people who believed in Jesus and who respected Jesus as a great Rabbi. All of these people could see, but they would not see how this event could be an example of God's power. They could see but they would not see! Some argued there must be some mistaken identity: "His neighbours then, and the people who had seen him begging before this asked: Isn't this the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "He is the one.", but others said, "No he isn't; he just looks like him." "Some of the Pharisee said; "The man who did this cannot be from God, for He does not obey the Sabbath Law." Others however said, "How could a man who is a sinner perform such miracles as these?" And there was a division among them."
We need not spend time on their arguments, for each had a different motive and reasoning. Some were out of their depth because never had anyone born blind been healed to their knowledge. That went beyond the limits of their understanding. It was not acceptable to them. Typical reasoning of small minded people who think they have scientific objectivity today! Others were just protective of their position and status quo.
3. SOME COULD SEE BUT WOULD NOT LOOK. v18?23
Of all people the parents of the man who had been blind should have been the most glad. But when the heavies of the Synagogue leaned upon them, they were fearful of their own future well-being and overwhelmed by the weight of the authorities questioning them.
They could only tremble: "We know that he is our son and we know that he was born blind. But we do not know how it is that he is now able to see, nor do we know who cured him of his blindness. Ask him; he is old enough, and he can answer for himself!" John knew why: "His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities who had already agreed that anyone who said he believed that Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue." Many people cringe because of what might happen. Fear reduces them to trembling. Any weight of authority paralyses any good intentions they may have. They know the needs of the community. They know the power of God. But while they can see they will not look. Their eyes are averted both from the needs of people and from the source of all help. Their blindness is more real than their sons!
4. ONE COULD NOT SEE BUT SAW BEST OF ALL. v24?41
He was the one who had spent his lifetime in darkness. But a new light had come to him. His life was completely changed and no matter what the argument he was not going to be shaken from what he had experienced. He did not start believing but he came to faith in the One who had brought him from darkness to light. You cannot argue with that kind of experience. He told and retold his story. He saw what had happened and Who it was that healed him. He said: "The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see." "He put some mud on my eyes; I washed my face, and now I can see." "You say this man who cured me is a sinner. I do not know if he is a sinner or not. One thing I do know: once I was blind and now I see."
As he was placed under more pressure, he answered with greater strength. It is not easy to silence a man with a first hand experience of a changed life. Dictators in every generation discover when they hammer born?again Christians, they strike anvils that wear out hammers! "I have already told you and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe, you too, would like to be His disciples?" "What a strange things that is! You do not know where He comes from but He cured me of my blindness! We know that God does not listen to sinners; He does listen to people who respect him and does what He wants them to do. Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a blind person. Unless this man Jesus came from God he would not be able to do a thing!" v27?34
Cast out of the Synagogue, this man who could see more clearly than any of them. He became the first person to suffer persecution for his faith. Jesus found him and asked if He believed in the Son of Man. The man replied: "Tell me who He is, Sir, so that I can believe in Him." Jesus said to him; "You have already seen Him and He is the one who is talking with you now." "I believe, Lord", and the man knelt down before Jesus." v35?38 Then Jesus looked at the others: the neighbours, the passers by, the Pharisees, the parents ? all those who could see but who had chosen not to see, or who would not look. He spoke of the inevitable consequence of the presence of light among darkness: "I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see, and those who see should become blind. If you were blind then you would not be guilty, but since you claim you can see, this means that you are still guilty!" v39?41
Terrible words! Those who claim they know the most have the most to fear. Those who claim to see are the most in danger. They have no excuse. The person who has come to see that Jesus is the light of the world, has a personal experience that nothing can shake. We all live with vision dimmed by the glare of our electronic world, by the dazzle of wealth, and the sheen of things. We who can see are often blind to reality. Pray that by God's Spirit we may really see. That is what is meant by the old 8th century hymn which prays the Holy Spirit will "enable with perpetual light, the dullness of our blinded sight." AHB 308
When old Blanche Markey died, I did not know how Tom would survive. She had been his eyes for years. Blinded in an industrial accident, Tom had carried a chip on his shoulder for years. Poor Blanche bore the brunt of his frustrated anger. People even hoped he would die to spare Blanche any more suffering. But it was Blanche who died. I visited old Tom and prayed with him, then buried Blanche. I kept visiting Tom and eventually led him into faith. As I shared with him the scriptures he came to know Jesus Christ as his Saviour and friend. He loved the old Sankey's hymn, "Once I was blind but now I can see!" He used to ask me to sing it to him. That became his own word of testimony. Eventually Old Tom Markey died a believer. He was blind forty years. The day before he died, he said to me, "I want you to tell everyone at my funeral: "Once I was blind, but now I can see, the light of the world is Jesus." And I did! Nothing is more convincing than a person who is now able to truly see! Jesus still brings people to true sight today. Others may not make it easy for you, but you will never walk in the dark again! Jesus Christ is the light of the world!
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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