C.S. Lewis famously declared that, when it comes to the identity of Jesus Christ, we have three options. He was either a liar or a lunatic or he's Lord.
Some have criticized Lewis' for this formulation, saying that, among other issues, there are more options to explore. This is certainly true; even the New Testament mentions others, at least two offered by some of Jesus' contemporaries. The gospel writers tell us that some were prepared to call him a prophet (cf. Matthew 16:14). Others said that he was demon-possessed (cf. John 10:20). Today, New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, gives us one more option. He suggests that Jesus is merely a legend - and one whose gospel accounts never portray him claiming to be God in the first place.
Perhaps surprisingly, Christopher Hitchins, himself an atheist, defends the simplicity of Lewis' statement.
I am bound to say that Lewis is more honest here. Absent a direct line to the Almighty and a conviction that the last days are upon us, how is it “moral” to teach people to abandon their families, give up on thrift and husbandry and take to the stony roads? How is it moral to claim a monopoly on access to heaven, or to threaten waverers with everlasting fire, let alone to condemn fig trees and persuade devils to infest the bodies of pigs? Such a person if not divine would be a sorcerer and a fanatic.
I think Hitchins is correct. Jesus is the most attested person of history. Dismissing him as a mere legend is to, in my estimation, dismiss the claims to and evidence substantiating his divinity found throughout the gospels. Moreover, these claims were far too radical and, unless true, too dishonest to regard him as a prophet. Further, there is no evidence of demon possession, even if one's worldview grants the possibility. We're left, as Hitchens points out, with Jesus as a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
This is one reason we're studying the seven "I am" statements of Jesus Christ found in the gospel of John. We want to look at what Jesus said concerning himself, his identity. We want to see how Jesus' words and works establish his divinity, as well as his role and sufficiency as our redeemer.
This morning, as we begin, I want to ask you a simple question: Who is Jesus to you?
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out on us the spirit of
wisdom and understanding that our hearts and minds may be opened. Amen.
WHO IS JESUS TO YOU?
An acquaintance of mine once remarked, "If you think it's hard to lead someone to Jesus Christ in New England or the Pacific Northwest, you should try doing it in the Deep South." Candidly, I didn't know what he meant at first. You see, to me growing up as a Yankee, the Deep South was like the New Jerusalem for Christians, right? Ministry there would be easy, or so I thought.
Early evidence confirmed that. When we moved here, our very Southern neighbor came across the street to introduce herself. One of her first questions was, "Where do ya'll go to church?" She outright assumed we went to church; it was just a question of where.
Now, maybe she knew that I'm a pastor, but I don't think so. After driving a moving truck 20 hours straight, I sure wasn't giving off the distinguished Presbyterian minister vibe. Even so, do you see what I'm saying? For a long, long time, to be a Southerner was - at least in the collective imagination - to be a church-goer or to at least feel strong social pressure to be one and therefore a "God-fearing Christian." It's a common trope in literature and movies. Just think of Will Ferrell's NASCAR-themed moved, Talladega Nights.
Now, what's wrong with going to church and perhaps even expecting your neighbors to do so? Not necessarily anything. However, it is a potentially perilous assumption. That was my friend's point, that it's easier to profess Christ in some parts of the country without really becoming a true follower of Jesus Christ. It's easy to think that we're more secure in God's affections than we actually are. And when most everyone thinks they're right with God because they're part of a large cultural phenomenon that talks about God openly and often, it's hard for them to conceive the thought that they might be anything less than favored by him. They don't know they need Jesus because they think they already have him. They're blind to their blindness.
WE ARE OFTEN BLIND TO OUR OWN BLINDNESS (vv. 1-2)
Why do I say this? Well, let's look at these disciples. They're walking with Jesus, and verse 1 tell us that they pass a man blind from birth.
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.
How did they know he was blind from infancy? The text doesn't say. Perhaps it was part of their larger conversation.
Now, let's stop here just for a second, and acknowledge something illustrated by this omission. The Scriptures never purport to tell us everything we might want to know; they tell us what we need to know for our salvation and for our life in Christ. Our Confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith, touches upon this in its first chapter, section six:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.
In other words, it tells us what we need to know, not all we might want to know.
The Bible contains history, but isn't first and foremost a book of history. It describes natural phenomena, but isn't first and foremost a book of science. For understanding in areas beyond the scope of God's written revelation, we are encouraged in our use of reason. The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that creation reveals the glory of God; it is a secondary, more general form of revelation (cf. Romans 1). Thankfully, since all truth is God's truth, these truths harmonize with one another, even if we cannot yet discern how.
One reason to take time to stress this understanding is that we must acknowledge, humbly, that many things are simply beyond our understanding. We see this in our passage. Let's now continue by looking at verse 2.
2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Notice the hidden assumptions in their question. First, and a little more obviously, they assume that the man's condition must be someone's particular fault. Someone sinned, otherwise this wouldn't have happened. It was either him, his mom, or his dad. We'll deal with that in just a moment, when we consider Jesus' response to their question.
However, for now, let's look for a second at a second assumption. They assume that sin is a much less pervasive and powerful force than it is. Since this kind of bad thing doesn't happen to others (i.e. them), they either don't see themselves as sinners - or at least as bad as other sinners. They think they're good, and this gent or his associates are bad. That's why he's suffering and they're not, at least in such a profound way.
This is the great irony of this passage. In front of a man blind from birth, Jesus reveals that the disciples have been the same: blind to their sin from birth; they're blind to their own blindness. The same is often all too true of us, isn't it?
Have you ever delighted in someone reaping the whirlwind, so to speak? Has someone else's success filled you with jealousy and envy, even indignation, because you considered yourself more worthy and were passed over? Have you ever consoled yourself that, while you're bad, at least you're not that bad - like him or her or them? If so, you know the temptation to minimize your sin.
There's a reason that first dates and romantic dinners happen over dim lighting. We call it mood lighting, but let's face facts: it's more like partial truth lighting. We all look better under a 40 watt.
The way we make ourselves look better is by hiding from the brighter lights. That's what the disciples are doing. They see themselves in light of the blind man, not in the light of Jesus. However, until they see themselves as great sinners, they will never see and receive Jesus as an even greater Savior.
We are often blind to God’s purposes in our lives (v. 3).
Now, listen to Jesus' surprising response to their question:
3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Clearly, Jesus isn't saying that the man or his parents are sinless. He's saying that there isn't a direct cause-effect relationship here, that the man's suffering isn't the direct result of his or another's sin. This is Jesus' way of saying, as bumper stickers suggest a bit more crassly, stuff happens. It's a fallen world, and its fallenness affects us all - sometimes in seemingly random ways. Don't always look for a chain of sinful causation; you won't necessarily find one.
Sure, sometimes there is a direct cause. If you drive drunk and kill someone, the State of Florida will probably find that it's your fault and send you to prison. If you cheat on your spouse, don't be surprised by marital trouble. If you forget to pay your electric bill for a couple months, don't be surprised if your summer is really hot and dark. There are even medical conditions that do result directly from our sin.
So, I want to be fair to these disciples. They weren't entirely off base. Additionally, there were even some teachings of Scripture that seemed to lend credence to their line of questioning. Consider just these two examples:
5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. - Exodus 20:5
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation. - Exodus 34:5-7
However, a key to rightly understanding these passages is to take them in their broader Scriptural context, as well as to realize that they're invariably spoken of those who hate God (cf. Exodus 20:5). These were not promises to everyone, but to those who remained hardened in their sin generation after generation.
The same Old Testament revelation that spoke these words also spoke these:
Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin. - Deuteronomy 24:16
The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. - Ezekiel 18:20
Ultimately though, we must remember that the promise of the gospel foreshadowed in the Old Testament but fully revealed in the New Testament:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. - 2 Corinthians 5:17
Here, in our passage this morning, Jesus makes it clear that this is not redistributive karma, nor the generational effects of ongoing iniquity. Neither the man nor his parents did anything particularly wrong that would result in this blindness. It's a general effect of living in our fallen world, but one with an ultimately redemptive purpose.
Into this man's darkness, Jesus will reveal himself the light of the world. He will not only restore his physical sight, but also improve the eyes of the disciples' hearts.
Sometimes, bad things happen to us and to those we love. Often, we can draw straight lines of cause-effect. We understand how our sinful affections, attitudes, and actions led to an undesirable outcome. Armed with that wisdom, we can learn from it, growth through it, and ultimately move beyond it. We can repent, and enjoy the fruits of renewed repentance.
Other times, we can't draw those lines. We don't know why we're suffering, or at least suffering to a particular extent. It can all seem so arbitrary, destructive, and pointless.
While Jesus certainly did not tell the disciples all that they wanted to know, he told them what they needed to know. This malady would become a canvas for a beautiful portrait of God's mercy. The same is true of our maladies and misfortunes. God promises to shine light into our darkness, to accomplish healing in and through our hurts (Romans 8).
A life free of suffering is a life free of the "suffering servant," Jesus. Why? Because we don't know our need of Jesus Christ until we're brought to the end of ourselves. Our sufferings expose us for the fallen, finite, and frail creatures we are. Suffering calls our bluff. This is one reason that material prosperity is often such an enemy to an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. We're tempted toward self-sufficiency. However, there is no true and lasting life apart from him. "In him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). It is far more cruel to let us die in the delusion of self-sufficiency than suffer unto the realization of absolute dependence.
The light of Christ exposes and then empowers us (vv. 4-7).
Let's finish our sermon this Lord's Day by considering verses 4-7:
4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
There is a lot of interesting material here. First, Jesus tells the disciples that it is day, later referring to himself as the light of the world. In this, he's referring to the temporary nature of the ministry of his first advent. Jesus knows that there will come a time for his arrest, trial, torture, and atoning death. His light will be extinguished from the world, but only for a time. For now then, it is time to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4).
Second, Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud with his saliva, and then anoints the man's eyes with the mud. Now the rather obvious question is why? Why go through these steps when, in other cases, Jesus simply heals by the power of his Word?
We're not given a clear answer in Scripture. However, we should note at least two things. First, Jesus didn't really heal people the same way twice all that often, if at all. This prevents us from seeing the method as more powerful than the One employing it. Healing was not a matter of technique. Jesus isn't teaching incantations and rites.
Second, this scene is at least somewhat reminiscent of Adam's creation by God. Do you remember this? God created Adam from the dust of the earth; he formed him into a man, and breathed life into him (cf. Genesis 1-2). Perhaps by harkening back to creation, Jesus intends to show his miracles not so much as deviations from the natural order, but as the first expressions of its restoration? Remember also that this is a motif in John's gospel. It begins with Christ the light of the world, just as the Genesis account begins with "Let there be light." Jesus is bringing the new heavens and new earth into being.
Finally, Jesus sends the man to the pool of Siloam, meaning sent. The One sent from God sends the man to a pool named sent. This is an intentional play on words that makes some degree of sense when we understand the importance of this pool.
It was originally created during the reign of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC, and served as the only source of fresh water within the walls of ancient Jerusalem. Later rebuilt and expanded by Herod the Great, the pool's waters served the temple, and its waters were used for a special ceremony during the Feast of Tabernacles. Every morning of the feast, as the crowd chanted the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), a priest would take water from the pool and pour it out from the east side of the altar. Another priest would pour an offering of wine from the east side of the altar. This illustrated Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
However, on the last day of the feast this observance increased:
On the last or “great” day of the feast, the water libation rite reached its climax. The priests circled the altar seven times and then poured out the water with great pomp and ceremony. This was Hoshana Rabbah, the great “HOSHIANA,” (which translated is “save now”).
Amazingly, it was on this precise day that Jesus spoke of himself as the living water before the people:
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”
Can you imagine how scandalous this was? Jesus offered himself as the source of living water and our hearts as its pools, the fulfillment of what the priests' waters and the pool of Siloam symbolized?
Jesus fulfilled the expectancy of the waters of the pool of Siloam, demonstrating himself to be God incarnate in this miracle. His own saliva became a wellspring of healing, a New Testament event signifying his fulfillment of an Old Testament promise.
So, you see, Jesus wasn't merely healing the eyes of this man. He was healing the eyes of the disciples' hearts. As his light grew brighter and brighter, it not only exposed them as great sinners in need of a greater Savior. It empowered them to seek the One who came to seek and save the lost. Lord, let it do the same for us.
Let us pray.
Hitchens, Christopher (9 July 2010). "In the Name of the Father, the Sons..." The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
https://jewsforjesus.org/issues-v06-n07/issues-v06-n07/issues-v06-n07/sukkot-a-promise-of-living-water/. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis%27s_trilemma. Retrieved May 9, 2018.