This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 9:1-41
Sermon prepared by Rev. Dr. William T. Koopmans, Peterborough, Ont.
Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The Bible passage that we have just read should cause us to pause and ask, "Who is Jesus?". No question is more important, no answer more significant! That query, in one form or another, has preoccupied people for centuries. That question has challenged and often bewildered people from prior to the Savior's birth right up to today.
Who is Jesus? The puzzled inquiry can be posed in many different forms!
How could the Christ-child be born of a virgin?
Who is this Son of God and Son of Man?
How could Jesus be both truly God and truly human?
What does it mean that Jesus is a member of the Trinity?
At this time of the year, his names and titles are heralded in hallowed Christmas carols. Jesus is celebrated with a long, long list of names and titles. Joyfully we sing of the Saviour, Baby, King, Immanuel, Lord, Servant, Door, Gate, Shepherd, Vine, Son, Friend, Bread, Redeemer, Light, Way, Truth, Life, along with many more names and titles. And after all that singing, we still need to pause to reflect and ask, "But who is this Jesus?"
Artists try to imagine the setting of his birth, and they display their vision on colourful Christmas cards. With Mary and Joseph, with the shepherds, or with the wise men, they picture Jesus in context. But who is this One whom we adore as the Lord of Life? Who is this Jesus whom we worship as our Saviour?
Piece by piece, the Bible provides many details that make up the complete answer of who Jesus is. God's Word helps to identify the Lord Jesus from many different angles. And John chapter 9 provides one such approach, one way to help us to see clearly the one who was born to be the Saviour of the world.
Many books have been written on the topic of who Jesus is. Today we do not need to try to formulate a complete answer. We need not cover every detail, every name or each title. For our worship today, we do not need to try to echo everything that the Bible says. In a marvelous and comforting way, John 9 leads us to an answer that reassures us that Jesus is the one who takes away our sin and our blindness so that we may worship him as the Lord of life. In a beautiful way, John 9 takes us straight to the heart of the question of who he is! In this powerful and gripping story, John 9 takes us past the details of his birth to a deeper realization of his purpose on earth.
To be sure, our first reading of John 9 might leave us with the impression that this is primarily the story of the healing of a man born blind. And what a fascinating story of healing it is! The gift of eyesight is performed miraculously, and it is described in such graphic terms. Imagine Jesus spitting on the ground, making a plaster of dust and saliva, and smearing that mud on the man's eyes! We see there a hint of the Son sharing the power of the Father who originally shaped mankind from the dust of the earth!
Not only is this healing story presented in graphic terms. There is also an element of mystery and suspense. What will happen to this man after his healing? Will he still be accepted by the Jewish leaders who interrogate him? What will be the lasting repercussions of the kindness and friendship that Jesus shows to this man? This account of the healing of the blind man quickly grabs and holds our interest.
But when we pay careful attention to all the details of this story, it is clear that it is not so much about the man who was blind. The focus and emphasis is more upon the identity of Jesus. Who is this Healer? The real issue has to do with the ability of Jesus to bring God's blessing to the blind, and God's forgiveness to the sinners, of this world! To read this story correctly, we must ask, "Who is this Jesus, that he can bring both physical and spiritual healing to the blind of this world? Who is this Saviour who has both the ability and the right to bring God's healing power into the life of sinners?"
We must not miss this important detail! The story of this man's healing is loaded with references to sin In fact, eight times in this one chapter the conversation revolves around the question of sin. The topic of sin is the framework across which the embroidery of this whole passage is stretched.
Listen carefully to the way the issue of sin forms the outline for the entire story!
It all starts in vs. 2 with the curiosity of the disciples. They see a man born blind, and they press Jesus: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents...."
The answer of Jesus in vs. 3 is so telling. The Lord says, "Neither this man or his parents." And then Jesus adds, "But this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life." No, Jesus is not denying that both the man and his parents were sinners. Jesus knew of course that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As Proverbs 20:9 expresses it so pointedly, "Who can say, 'I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin'?" No, Jesus does not deny this man's sinfulness. What he does exclude is the conclusion that the man's blindness was an affliction sent by God to punish either him or his parents. God's purpose was not to single them out as more wicked or more guilty than others. Rather, Jesus suggests that God would use this occasion to display his power!
This purpose and power of God is alluded to by the Pharisees in verse 16. They know that only God can provide such healing. Only God has the ability to miraculously remove the man's affliction and make him well. Such healing lies outside the realm of human power. After the obvious healing, the leaders therefore ask, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" They are not yet ready to accept the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. But the evidence that they see God's power at work certainly has them questioning. How could a sinner have such power? Was Jesus an instrument of God's action? Had God given him a divine power to heal? Verse 16 informs us that the Jews were divided on this matter.
The evidence seemed to point clearly to the unique nature of Jesus. But that was a conclusion so hard for them to accept! And so, in verse 24, the Pharisees insist to the man who had been healed, "Give glory to God... we know this man is a sinner." The healing power of God they could accept. But not the conclusion that Jesus was God's sinless Son!
What was that poor man to think? He had been blind, and now he could see. These Pharisees confronting him ought to help him to make sense of his situation. Those teachers of the synagogue, could they not help him to see the truth about this man who had opened his eyes? Could they not clarify the identity of this healer?
The man who had been blind finds no enlightenment from his teachers. So he answers the Pharisees, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see."
With that confession, the story goes one step further. And the blind man advances closer to the true acceptance of who Jesus is. The Pharisees remained trapped in their own theological spider web. They are so convinced that Jesus is a sinner that they cannot accept him as the Healer. They are so entangled by their views of Jesus that they cannot break free. By God's grace, that man who was blind was able to accept the gift of sight.
And so, even before all the answers are clear to him, he puts his trust in Jesus. Not only have his eyes been opened, but his heart too! He is ready to accept the truth.
And here John 9 begins to draw to a close this discussion about the nature of Jesus and the presence of sin. Listen for a moment to the last three of the eight references to sin in this chapter. Follow for a moment these three concluding references to sin, one by the man who was blind, one by the Pharisees, and finally one by Jesus.
First, in vs. 31 the man who was healed confesses his confidence in Jesus. He says, "We know that God does not listen to sinners." But that conclusion does not cause him to reject Jesus. Just the opposite is true! And he concludes, "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." With that marvelous confession he comes so close to truly recognizing Jesus for who he really is!
Second, in vs. 34 the Pharisees stubbornly refuse to accept what should have been the obvious conclusion. Sadly, they haven't learned a thing from what they have seen. Their hearts are hard, their eyes are blind to the miracle that was performed. To the man who was healed they foolishly and stubbornly mumble, "You were steeped in sin from birth." With that they think to have had the last word. They try to dodge the identity of Jesus. But in reality the last word belongs to Jesus.
Third, in vs. 41 Jesus says to the Pharisees, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin." Jesus says this to expose the irony of their self-righteous position. If they were blind, they might claim that as an excuse. If they would only admit their blindness, Jesus might heal them too! However, since they have assumed the position which says, "There is nothing wrong with us" they are fully accountable for their failure to recognize the Saviour. It is their own pride, their self-righteousness, that stands in the way of their recognition of Jesus. Because they had their minds made up, Jesus remains unrecognizable to them and they remain in their sins. How different is the outcome for the man who was blind but now sees compared to the Pharisees who thought they saw but were really blind!
Now, through the light of the Holy Spirit, we may follow the details of this story to the joyful confession of who Jesus is! Listening carefully to this chapter of the Bible, we are reminded of the marvelous nature of Jesus, of the sinless Son of God sent to be the Healer of the world. But that Son of God must always be accepted in faith!
Centuries later as God's children we continue to make the same joyful confession that was expressed by the man who received the gift of sight from Jesus. Healing comes from the righteous, sinless Son of God. As Lord's Day 6 of our Catechism expresses it so clearly, "a sinner could never pay for others". So we celebrate a Saviour who was truly human and also truly righteous!
Jesus removes the blindness of our eyes and our hearts. He takes away that darkness that afflicted us from the time that we were conceived and born in sin. Then we too may recognize the uniqueness of our perfect Saviour. With that recognition and confession of Jesus as our Saviour, together we celebrate our oneness in the family of God.
How different this acceptance of each other is from the policy of the Pharisees. Their decision, we are told in verse 22, was that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. Anyone who accepted Jesus as the promised Saviour was to be excommunicated from their fellowship. That is what they did to the man who had been blind. He was expelled. But Jesus went looking for him. Vs. 35 says that Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and he went to find him. That, too, is so characteristic of the Saviour. He goes out of his way to seek his own.
When all was said and done, there was one, and only one, burning question that really mattered. Jesus says to him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he?" the man wonders. Gently Jesus takes away not only the blindness of his eyes but also the darkness of his heart! This man, while he was a member of the synagogue, was not only physically but also spiritually blind.
Miraculously, Jesus had taken away the blindness of his eyes. But Jesus did not stop there.
"Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Jesus asked. And when the man questions, "Who is he?", Jesus says openly, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him. (vs. 38)
He had previously exclaimed, "I can see....!" Now, with even greater jubilation he can cry out, "I believe...!" And with his new sight and new faith he worshipped Jesus. And in that marvelous moment, when the gifts of sight and faith lead to the fuller joy of worship, we see the purpose of Christmas fulfilled. The one who was blind has come to recognize who Jesus really is!
And what is your response this Christmas season? Through the story of John 9 you have now seen him too; in fact, he is the one who is speaking to you right now! Jesus meets you in the words of the Bible. Today Jesus is the one who comes to you and asks you, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
How will you answer that question? There are many who become indignant at the thought of it. "Why are you asking me?" they think. "Do you think that I too am blind? Are you suggesting that I am a sinner?" Yes, there are many people who react as if they have been insulted by the question, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
But at this point the question is not addressed to someone else. Jesus directs the question to you. And in your heart you will have to answer. Do you really believe in Jesus? No, it is not enough to point out that you belong to a church. That detail by itself has no more merit than the Pharisees' membership in the synagogue. It is not enough to say that from the time of your youth you went to catechism and to Bible study groups. It is not adequate to reply that you have memorized the doctrines, or read the Bible from cover to cover, or that you know the hymns by heart.
Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Have you let him take away your blindness, so that you may acknowledge Him as Saviour? Do you believe that He is the only Saviour, the mediator whom God sent, truly human and truly righteous? Do you believe that Jesus is your Saviour too? That he died for your sins, and that he alone was qualified to pay for your guilt? Have you asked Jesus to rule in your heart?
Then you are truly ready to rejoice in the message of Christmas! Then, for you too, the marvelous gift of new sight and new faith leads this day to the most joyful expressions of worship!
Seeing Jesus through eyes that were blind,
all of his goodness now comes to mind!
Dear Son of God, righteous and true,
our only Saviour, we recognize and worship you!
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship: Isaiah 42:1-4 (may be read responsively)
Invocation and prayer: Our helper is the Lord God Almighty who created heaven and earth and who calls us into a living relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ our Saviour. We pray that the love of God the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit will be with us all. Amen
Song of Praise: 329 - Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Lighting of Advent Candle (if applicable)
Confession: God's law (PH page 1013) or Apostles' Creed (PH page 813)
Song selection: 481 - Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies
We hear the Good News
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: John 9
Text: John 9:25
(optional additional reading: Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 6 - PH page 866)
Sermon: "Seeing Jesus through Eyes that Were Blind"
We respond with Gratitude
Song of Response: 488 - I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Song of Dedication: 328:1,2 - O Come, O Come, Immanuel
We leave for Service
Closing Song: 328:6,7