April 10, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Last week we saw Jesus come upon a man who was born blind, and Jesus explained to the disciples that the man had been born blind -- not as a result of anyone's sin -- but God caused him to be born blind that God would be glorified -- that Jesus would be revealed as God the Son and Savior -- in the healing of the man of his blindness.
So Jesus healed the man -- He spit in the dirt and spread the mud on the man's eyes and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam, and the man did, and he was healed, and he returned to thank Jesus.
We continue this history by looking at how the Pharisees reacted to this man being healed, and we see, first, the man testified that Jesus healed him.
"The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, 'Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?' Some said, 'It is he.' Others said, 'No, but he is like him.' He kept saying, 'I am the man.' So they said to him, 'Then how were your eyes opened?' He answered, 'The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash." So I went and washed and received my sight.' They said to him, 'Where is he?' He said, 'I do not know.'”
This man who had been born blind was well-known as a begger that sat along the road and begged for alms. But now, he was walking among all his neighbors that he had never seen with his eyes, telling them that he had been healed, and the neighbors were confused:
"Is this the man who used to sit and beg? It looks like him, but that man had been born blind, is it possible that he could have been healed? Is it possible that his sight could have been given to him? This has never happened, is it him?"
"Yes, it is him. I recognize his clothes and his smell. I reognize his face -- not that I looked at him that closly, he was a begger, but still, I know this is the same man."
"You're crazy. People born blind don't get healed. This is not the same man; it is someone who looks just like him. You know, everyone has a double somewhere on earth. Well, sometimes they cross paths. This cannot be the same man."
And the man kept telling them, "Yes, it is I; I am the man who sat for years begging by the side of the road. I am the man that you know was born blind."
And then they ask the important question: "Then how were your eyes opened?"
"Jesus did it! Jesus made mud and spread it on my eyes and told me to wash in the pool of Siloam and He gave me sight."
The man boldly testified Who the Healer was. Though it was general knowledge that people who supported Jesus would be in trouble with the Pharisees, he could not help but testify to Jesus' miraculous healing work.
We need to be that bold. Not obnoxious, but bold. We need to take every opportunity to tell people about Jesus and what He has done.
What holds you back? It can be nerve-wracking. People could be offened. Is it worth telling them how great our God is and the salvation He has made?
"Where is He? We want to ask Him some questions. We want to know more about how He did this."
But we see throughtout the Gospels that Jesus worked on the time schedule the Trinity planned before the foundation of the world -- and Jesus was nowhere to be found. The man did not know where Jesus was. The questions of the neighbors would have to wait.
What would not wait was bringing the man to the Pharisees.
And we see, second, the man testified that Jesus is a prophet.
"They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, 'He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.' Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.' But others said, 'How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?' And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, 'What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?' He said, 'He is a prophet.'”
We're not told why the neighbors brought the man to the Pharisees. It coud have been because the man had been healed and the neighbors thought the Pharisees should know. It could have been because Jesus healed the man and the Pharisees were seeking a way to kill Jesus. It could have been because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath -- which is an issue we have looked at before. But we're not told.
For the first time, the text tells us that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, and from past experience in reading the Gospels, we do well to groan. The Pharisees believed that any work -- even doing good -- was forbidden on the Sabbath.
But Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," (Mark 2:27b, ESV).
In other words, the Sabbath law was not given for humans to have one more list of does and don'ts, but to free us from our regular work, our striving and seeking to earn a living, and, instead, have one day in seven for worship and doing good to the Glory of God.
So, the Pharisees asked the man how he had been healed, and the man told him that Jesus had made mud, spread it on his eyes, told him to wash in the pool of Siloam, and the man came back to Jesus sighted.
And some of the Pharisees argued:
Anyone who is from God will keep God's Law.
The Sabbath law requires that we do no work.
Jesus worked on the Sabbath by making mud and healing this man.
Therefore, Jesus is not from God.
But other Pharisees argued:
If Jesus is not from God, how was He able to heal a man born blind?
The Pharisees were divided. It made no sense to them: someone who broke their interpretation of the Law was a sinner, he could not be from God. But Jesus broke their interpretation of the Law and He was able to heal a man born blind. How can this be understood?
The problem is when we add to God's Law -- when we add restrictions to God's Law or add a false interpretation of God's Law -- and this can be done with all good intentions, but it doesn't mean it is right. In fact, it perverts the Gospel.
The church I was at in high school and college had a group in it that worked with the young people, and as I grew my hair long, I was told that having long hair would send me to Hell. And when I started listening to rock music, I was told that listening to rock music would send me to Hell. And when I declared my major in Philosophy, I was told that studying philosophy would send me to Hell. And when I got my ears pierced, I was told that getting my ears pierced would send me to Hell.
Even if any of those things are sins -- and I don't believe they are -- they would not send me to Hell. Jesus said there is only one unforgiveable sin -- there is only one way to guarentee you will go to Hell:
"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:31-32, ESV).
The only sin that will never, never, never be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What's that? It is denying the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else can be forgiven, but if you persist in your unbelief until death, you will go to Hell.
So, the Pharisees turned to the man: "You're the one who was born blind and now sees -- what do you conclude about this Man, Jesus?"
"He is a prophet."
In other words, Jesus is a Man from God -- a Man with a divine mission from God.
The man answered the Pharisees directly and truthfully -- faithfully -- with the only answer that they found absolutely unacceptable, so they decided to confirm his blindness from birth with his parents.
And we see, third, the man's parents confirmed that he was born blind.
"The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, 'Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?' His parents answered, 'We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.' (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, 'He is of age; ask him.'”
The Pharisees concluded that this was a hoax to gain publicity for Jesus: this man was never blind in the first place -- it was a con job.
So, the Pharisees asked the man's parents two questions:
Is this your son who was born blind?
How is he able to see?
To the first question, they had no problem: Yes, this is our son, and he was born blind.
The second question, they decided they could not answer. Not that they didn't know they answer -- the text is clear that they did know that Jesus healed the man -- and they believed with him that Jesus must be the Christ -- the Savior. But if they answered that the man was healed by Jesus, and Jesus is the One Sent by God, they knew the Pharisees said they would excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ.
And out of fear, the man's parents said, "We don't know how he was healed or who healed him -- ask him, he's an adult -- he can tell you better than we can."
We can understand their fear: to be excommunicated from the Temple would separate them from the community, it could make dealing in the market difficult, and -- most importantly -- they would be cut off from the worship of God.
Whether they believed in Jesus as the Christ or not, they didn't dare say that He was or anything like it for fear of being banned from the Temple.
In the early Church and around the world today, Christians meet in secret, because we are not called to seek out martyrdom. Yet, as we have seen frequently in the past weeks and months, when these Christians are threatened with death if they don't recant -- at least some -- dozens -- hundreds -- have said they would not, and were decapitated or blown up.
Do you know what the most persecuted religious group across history is -- far and away in numbers of martyrs? Christianity. A 2013 study showed that ten per cent of Christians world-wide are being slaughtered for their faith each year (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-james-clark/christianity-most-persecuted-religion_b_2402644.html).
Are you willing to be put to death for your faith? Or will you lie with the man's parents?
Fourth, the man testified that he glorified God.
"So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, 'Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.' He answered, 'Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.' They said to him, 'What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?' He answered them, 'I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?'”
So the Pharisees turned to the man again and commanded him to give glory to God for his healing -- which was appropriate -- not to Jesus for healing him, because Jesus is a sinner -- that is, a man Who is against God.
And the man answered, "I don't know Jesus' heart; I don't know if He is against God or not. All I can tell you is that I was blind and now I can see." In other words, "Of course Jesus is not against God; how could anyone do this miracle if He were not from God?"
So the Pharisees tried to make him slip up -- "What did He do to heal you?" "There must be something He did that will make us understand how you got your eyesight and also show us that Jesus is against God."
The man wasn't taking the bait: "I told you already. Didn't you listen? Do you want me to tell you again? I know you listened by the way you interrogated my parents. Why do you want to hear the story again? Do you want to join me in becoming a disciple of Jesus?"
Notice: "Do you also want to become his disciples." The man believed enough about Jesus to know that He was a prophet and Someone that he wanted to follow and learn from.
In all this, the man was telling the Pharisees that he did glorify God -- he glorified God by giving thanks to God Who sent Jesus -- Who is from God -- to heal him. And now, it seemed only right that he follow Jesus as his rabbi and prophet.
Do we glorify God? Do we give Him thanks for all the things He does for us and with us? Even so many things that we don't think to remember, because they always seem to be there and it always seems like we deserve them to be there?
We live in a very unthankful culture.
Jesus said, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10, ESV).
The best we do is only what is expected of us. Doesn't that show how great and loving and generous God is? How worthy of all thanks He is?
The Pharisees were furious at the man's response.
And we see, finally, the man testified that Jesus is from God.
"And they reviled him, saying, 'You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.' The man answered, 'Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.' They answered him, 'You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?' And they cast him out."
The Pharisees spat and degraded the man, arguing that he may be a disciple of Jesus, but they are disciples of Moses. They argued it this way:
God spoke to Moses.
We ought to be disciples of people from God -- that God has spoken to.
Therefore, we are disciples of Moses.
On the other hand, Jesus is not from God. We don't know where He is from, so we will not be His disciples.
And the man responded with incredulity:
"Why, this is an amazing thing!" "Are you really going to take that position? Have you listened to everything that has been said? Are you considering the facts before you? Do you really have no idea Who Jesus is from? Do you really have no understanding of Who sent Him?"
"Just think for a moment:
"God does not listen to sinners -- He will not grant people who are against Him what they ask of Him.
"God does answer those who worship Him and do His Will.
"Jesus asked God to cure my blindness -- blindness from birth -- which no one has ever been cured of before -- and God heard Him and healed me.
"If that doesn't scream out to you that Jesus is from God, I don't know that you would hear anything.
"Hello? Could it be any more obvious? What's wrong with you?"
We know what was wrong, don't we? These Pharisees were dead in their sin and unbelief, so they could not see what was clear to the formerly blind man -- they could not receive Jesus as the One Sent by God.
This is how we understand that salvation is a gift from God. We are born unable to choose to believe. It is not until God enlivens us to receive Jesus as our God and Savior that we can and do receive Him.
So, it is not merely a matter of our making a good argument for the Gospel, but of God being willing to open the hearts and minds of those we speak with about the Gospel. So, let us spend more time in prayer, for those we know we will meet and those we may meet, and let us also pray that God would be pleased to cause people to receive the Gospel.
John wrote, "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15, ESV).
If we ask God that God will do His Will, He will do it. Every request we make which is according to God's Will, God will grant. God has chosen a people to save, and if we pray that our presentation of the Gospel would be used by God in bringing the people He has chosen to faith, He will do it.
These Pharisees dug into the depths and they rebuked the man some more: We will not listen to you -- we are the Pharisees. We are better eductaed and more holy than you by far. In fact, we pass this judgment on you: your words prove that you were born blind because of sin you committed in the womb -- which you have not repented of -- so we excommunicate you from the Temple.
And so we leave the man -- cut off from the Temple -- condemned by the Pharisees -- until next week.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, in this world, as disciples of Jesus, we will be condemned by the world. People will talk down about us, and some of us my be called to die for our faith. Help us to be bold and to pray for each other as we speak the Gospel. Uphold us in prayer to You -- in thanksgiving to You -- pleading for the world and that God the Holy Spirit would use our words to change the hearts and minds of all those You have willed to believe. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.