Seeing Jesus: report on Barry’s talk on John 9

Barry Dennis

This morning, Barry Dennis was preaching on John chapter 9, where Jesus meets and heals a man who has been blind from birth.

When God speaks, things happen

Barry began by reminding us that when God speaks, things happen. Genesis 1 describes how each stage of creation, climaxing in the arrival of humankind, was called into being by a God who speaks.  ‘For he spoke, and it came to be.’ (Psalm 33:9) Throughout the whole Bible, God speaks – words of blessing, encouragement, rebuke, tenderness, invitation.

Barry quoted Tom Wright, who says ‘The Lord of language uses language not to Lord it over anyone, but to enter into relationships of love and grace, creating community and bringing it to maturity in prayer…..person to person conversations that include the praying presence of Jesus.’

Unlike the other Gospels, John’s Gospel contains no parables. It tells some of the same stories as the other Gospels, adding Jesus’ ‘I am’ statements, and showing Jesus’ words flourishing into conversations – there are, Barry told us, 27 dialogues in the Gospel.  The focus in John is on Jesus’ words, interacting with his followers, not so much on the ‘public ministry’ of Jesus.

There are parallels between Genesis 1 and John 1 – John discloses that Jesus is ‘the Word’ (v1) through whom Creation was summoned to existence; Jesus is God’s living communication to all who encounter him.

What can we learn from John’s Gospel?

At the end of the Gospel, John mentions that there were many other things Jesus did which were not ‘recorded in this book.’ (John 20:30)  On what basis, Barry wondered, did John choose the particular stories he included? There were two reasons, he thought. Firstly to address questions and issues which the early church had at the time John was writing. Secondly, to illustrate the truths about God and about the identity of Jesus which John wanted to highlight. As he said ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Isaiah the prophet had written that the promised Messiah would ‘open eyes that are blind’ (Isaiah 42:7)  By showing Jesus doing this very thing, John is saying ‘This is evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.’

Byzantine-Pool-of-Siloam-tb051905955-bibleplacesBlind since birth

Everyone knew the man in John 9. He had been blind since birth – the whole town could testify to the truth of this.  Jesus’ disciples saw the man, and asked Jesus why he’d been born blind. Was it because of something he had done (perhaps before birth in the womb, as the Jews believed was possible) or that his parents had done which had led to this calamity?

‘It doesn’t work like that!’ Jesus tells them. He says ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ (John 9:3)

It’s certainly true that bad results can come from bad actions, just as good things can come from good actions. It’s certainly true that our attitudes (good or bad) can affect us mentally and physically, and the way we treat our bodies can affect us mentally. It’s certainly true that Moses told the Jewish people  ‘Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.’ (Deuteronomy 5:31)

But, said Barry, none of these consquences is inevitable. Bad things happen to good people; good things happen to bad people.  It’s a fallen world, not fair world, and we all suffer to some extent.

The wonder of Jesus, seen in our lives

The key point Jesus is making is that while bad things are not always the result of choices we have made,  and definitely not caused by God, nevertheless God can use bad things so that something of the wonder of Jesus can be seen in our lives.

We may not be able to change our circumstances, Barry reminded us, but we can choose how we react to our circumstances. What matters is not the hand we are dealt in life, but how we deal with the hand. And when we react to adversity with peace, and trust, and joy, something of the loveliness of Jesus is evident in our lives.

Sight: physical and spiritual

The theme of the chapter is about seeing. A man who was blind physically sees physically – but sees also spiritually, as his heart is opened to recognise Jesus identity. The Pharisees have their physical sight, and believe they have an accurate vision of spiritual reality – and yet many of them are blind to the identity of Jesus.

Living the vision

How does ‘seeing Jesus’ in this way affect our lives? Barry challenged us – if we knew that this was the last week of our lives, what changes would we make?  How would we live the next few days differently?

Every day, he said, we should ‘carpe diem’, ‘seize the day’, live every day for God.  The Blue Planet series reveals the danger facing global wildlife. But the world is facing an even greater danger: without Christ there is no hope.

We are here, for God’s purpose. We do not have tomorrow, next week, next month. What we do have is today, and we can choose to live today, moment by moment, for God.

Jesus is the light of the world, Jesus, who opens the blinds and allows the light of his presence to flood into our hearts.

Jesus heals2A test of faith

Jesus spat on the earth, and dressed the man’s eyes with the resultant mud. (Barry suggested that practices like this were expected of a 1st century healer.) He then told the man to go and ‘wash in the pool of Siloam.’ (John 9:7)

This was a test of the man’s faith: would he go and wash as Jesus instructed. Would he dismiss this chance of healing?  Would he be afraid of breaking the Sabbath (see John 9:14) by doing this?

He went – and his eyes were opened.  The Pharisees were not impressed. Healing a man on the Sabbath? Surely this was Sabbath-breaking!  Surely anyone genuinely coming in the name of God would abide by all the rules?

Do our rules, Barry challenged us, prevent opportunities for good to be done, love to be shown? Do our rules make us self-righteous? Do they give us a sense of superiority and self-importance? Do we allow prejudice or pride overcome our concern for those in need? We need to be perpetually vigilant against hypocrisy.

We tend to view the world through the filter of our own preconceptions. The only filter we need in our eyes is Jesus revealing a God perspective through the Holy Spirit.

True and false prophets

Questioned by the Pharisees, the man who now can see said that Jesus must be a prophet. (John 9:17)

Jesus warned that ‘false prophets’ would come in his name, doing signs and wonders, and deceiving many people. (Matthew 24:11)

How sad, Barry said, if the man had only come to know Jesus as a prophet, but not as the Saviour.  And how discerning we need to be that we do not follow ‘false prophets’ who mislead us, and do not point to Jesus.

The sign of a true prophet, a true follower of Jesus is not necessarily miracles done by them, but a changed, transformed life. And the man who now could see was transformed when, sought out by Jesus, he said ‘Lord I believe!’ and worshipped him. (John 9:38)

Knowing the facts is not enough

The Pharisees were not content with the description of what had happened given to them by the man’s parents, and twice speak to the man himself. ‘We don’t know where this man (Jesus) comes from!’ they growl. (see John 9:29) ‘Now, how very strange!’ says the man who now can see sarcastically. ‘He has given me sight, and yet you don’t know where he’s come from? Surely there’s one possibility – a man who could do such a thing must be from God!’

The facts are not enough. Belief in Jesus Christ, and in what he has done for us is vital of we are to cross the bridge to the place of revelation and joy.  A greater than Moses has come, but these Pharisees (John 4:29) cannot recognise him because their minds (and their hearts) are closed.

Jesus heals3Transformation

‘One thing I know,’ says the man who now can see. ‘I was blind but now I see.’ (John 9:25)   Faith is not simply taking on board a new idea, but undergoing a transformation. Faith is not so much a set of beliefs, as  a relationship with Jesus – a constant, moment by moment partnership. If we lose consciousness of this relationship, then all we have is a tradition, a memory of past glory.

The man who now can see was ‘blind’ in more ways than one (John 9:27-28) but now he sees fully. But the Pharisees, thinking they can see, are in fact blind. (John 9:41)

Spiritual inventory

This passage, Barry said, invites us to take a spiritual inventory.  Have we crossed the bridge to the place of clarity? And if so, do we have a loving, open, gospel-sharing response to the world – or are we nitpicking, complaining about the piece of sawdust in other peoples’ eyes while we are unaware of the massive fence-post shoved into our own eye?

How many people are blessed through our lives? Is our faith not a barrier to others, but a bridge?

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