Seeing God for the Very First Time

Healing of the Man Born Blind

A sermon idea based on John 9:1-41.

The Big Idea

As long as we believe our understanding of God is already sufficient, we will be limited in our experience of his presence and power, but greater revelation always lies on the other side of our willingness to admit the limitations of our thinking.

John 9:1-41 NRSV

[1] As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. [2] His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. [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] When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, [7] saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. [8] The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” [9] Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” [10] But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” [11] He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” [12] They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

[13] They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. [14] Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. [15] Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” [16] Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. [17] So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

[18] 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 [19] and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” [20] His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; [21] but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” [22] His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. [23] Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

[24] So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” [25] He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” [26] They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” [27] 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?” [28] Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” [34] They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

[35] Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [36] He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” [37] Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” [38] He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. [39] Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” [40] Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” [41] Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

In the ninth chapter of his gospel, John gives us a progressively enlarged vision of God in Christ. The story begins with the disciples having a theological discussion rooted more in their traditional understanding of God than in the reality of God. It involves a man with nothing to offer but his own humility receiving his sight and becoming the center of a controversy he couldn’t fully understand. The story includes Pharisees who teach us by their negative example the limitations of binary thinking in which everyone is either in or out and everything must fit within our religious boundaries. And the story revolves around Jesus, who is revealed progressively as a healer, a prophet, and finally the Son of God.

Messages could be presented from any of these angles, but it may be best to point out the common threads between the disciples, the blind man and his family, and the Pharisees. All of them were limited in their vision of God. And all of them were given the opportunity to see more of God than they had before.

The man born blind was limited to focusing primarily on his physical needs without realizing how God could meet his deepest spiritual needs.

The man’s parents were limited by their fear of the religious leaders, believing that the pathway to their own significance would be the approval of the Pharisees.

And the Pharisees were limited by their man-made religious constraints and boundaries. Rather than celebrating the life-giving gifts of Jesus, they condemned him.

So for all of us, religious and non-religious, the lesson is the same.

As long as we believe our understanding of God is already sufficient, we will be limited in our experience of his presence and power, but greater revelation always lies on the other side of our willingness to admit the limitations of our thinking.

So the question is, how do we arrive at the place where we can finally admit how desperately we need our eyes to be opened?

From the characters in this story, we learn…

1. Step beyond the limits of conventional wisdom.

The disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was the result of either 1.) his personal sins, or 2.) the sins his parents had committed. This was in keeping with a primitive understanding of God as being the cold-hearted punisher. If you’re hurting, you must have done something wrong.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that it’s the collective thought of humans throughout history thus far, and as humans, we’re incredibly limited in our understanding of the way God works. There is more to know about God than what people collectively say about him.

2. Be open to God as he reveals himself.

The man born blind experiences God in a progressive way, which is unveiled as you see his understanding of Jesus expanding throughout the story.

  • In verse 11, he says, “the man called Jesus made mud…”
  • In verse 17, he says, “He is a prophet.”
  • In verse 32, he says that Jesus must be “from God.”
  • In verse 38 he confesses his faith in Jesus as the Son of man, the Messiah.

Spiritual growth happens progressively and incrementally. We come to faith like newborn (born again) babies. We mature as we receive more revelation from God about himself through his Word, other people, our circumstances, and his Spirit enlightening us.

3. Die to the fear of other people.

I wonder what the parents of the blind man may have experienced had they been willing to learn from their son. But they chose to remain buried beneath their fear that they would lose the approval of the religious leaders.

Everyone has a plan for your life, and everyone has an opinion about what you should believe. But what does God have to say? And is what God shows you about himself more important than the approval of people who merely position themselves as authorities on God’s identity?

4. Shatter the chains of black-and-white thinking.

It is a modern, western philosophy that makes us believe we must be certain about everything. That we must have all the answers. But throughout the Bible itself we see the witness of a culture that was often comfortable with the seemingly paradoxical.

We tend to be black-and-white, in-or-out, ditch-to-ditch in our thinking. People are saved or unsaved, good or bad, right or wrong.

The Pharisees practiced a religion with very clear boundaries and a lot of exclamation points, so much so that they became afraid when they encountered legitimate question marks. And their fear usually manifested as anger and hate.

Jesus closes the passage by addressing the Pharisees, pointing out that it is their pride in what they believe they get right that prevents them from seeing how wrong they’ve gotten their very concept of God. And the pathway to really seeing starts with admitting our lack of vision.

About the Cover Art: Gerung, Matthias, approximately 1500-approximately 1570. Healing of the Man Born Blind, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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