April 1, 2001
THE STAGES OF BECOMING A DISCIPLE
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
Jesus talked to the crowds who were in Jerusalem for one of the important Jewish feasts. He told them that He was the light of the world. And then, as if all Jesus life were an analogy, He comes upon a blind man sitting by the side of the road. Now this is just like God. God is not going to make grand philosophical statements about the betterment of people and ignore individuals. God is interested in individual people.
Jesus was walking along, having just escaped from a crowd trying to stone Him - He always led an exciting life - and He sees this man. Now Hed been talking to a group of men walking along with Him, concentrating on them, but He sees this one man.
There were lots of beggars in those days. This was in the days before Starbucks coffee shops where people sat outside and talked. There was this one man sitting beside the dusty road.
He was blind. There must be a great story here. Jesus the light of the world is walking down this dirt road and He spies a blind man who has no light in his world. So heres the question: is Jesus really the light of the world, or is it all just talk?
The men following Jesus, and listening to Him were a lot like the little clatch of followers around Plato, asking questions and hearing his insights. They pose what was the common theological question about blind people in that time. Sin lies behind blindness. A man is not blind for no reason. So, rabbi, whose sin is it, this mans or his parents?
Now we know that sin has produced suffering in the world, but suffering in any given individual is not always connected to his own personal story. Sometimes it is, but we cant universalize that. A man may suffer from emphysema because of the pollution pouring forth from a factory near him, or he may suffer from lung cancer because he has smoked all his life.
The Hindu idea of Karma is that the soul must work out in a series of lives the consequences of its actions. Of course if people are sinful as the Bible teaches, they can never improve no matter how many lives they have. But for Christians the whole burden of healing does not fall on us.
Id like to go with you through this true story in John 9 and observe the stages a person goes through to become a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus heals this blind man. He doesnt always heal in the same way. In this case He puts a paste of mud on the mans eyes and sends him to the pool of Siloam - a word that means sent - to wash the mud off. The blind man needed to do one small act of obedience to be healed. He needed to actually go to that pool and wash. Verse 7 says, he came home seeing. Now he had never seen Jesus, though he had heard who it was who had told him to wash the mud off and when he returns home, he is no longer blind..
Imagine some neighbor of yours who is blind. One day you see him working out in the yard and he can see and you ask, did you go to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and they transplanted some eyes for you?
Now suffering can do a number of things to people. 1. It can make them bitter and discouraged. Why me? 2. It can test our faith, like in the case of Job. 3. It can teach us to be different people, like Hebrews 12:5-8 says about Jesus that he learned obedience in what he suffered. 4. It can be a punishment for sin. 5. It can demonstrate Gods glory in the healing, as here and when Lazarus is raised from the dead. 6. Sometimes Christians suffer for their faith, as also happens to this man in John 9.
There is often a long process in becoming a new person in Jesus and it may involve suffering as some sort of trigger.
Well this man comes home and youd think people would jump for joy and throw a party for him, but that isnt what happens. Four times he is asked with growing incredulity what happened to him. (verses 10, 15, 19, 26) Something has happened and it cant be explained in a normal way. Do you know becoming a Christian is often like that.
Healing was a thing the Jewish religious leaders were involved with, so the man is taken to the Pharisees who were Jewish theologians. Their assumption is that the law was broken when the man was healed since it was on a Sabbath when you couldnt do work, and they think this cant be from God so they conclude he really hadnt been blind and they call in the mans parents to verify it.
Now how would your parents feel if you had been blind and you were healed? They be glad, right? But these parents werent glad. They had a problem. They could affirm that their son had indeed been born blind - so, remember that meant either they or the son was a sinner - but since Jesus had done the healing, they didnt want to be thrown out of the synagogue, so they disassociate themselves from the question how he was healed. Not very supportive parents.
But Jesus accepts sinful people. The Pharisees did not. Ive known certain churches who did not, but our church accepts sinful people. What we say is, come and join the crowd. Christians accept sinful people a lot better than newspaper reporters give us credit for.
The Pharisees had a presupposition about Jesus - the same as some people today do. They said - you can see it in verse 22 - that anyone who admitted that Jesus was the Messiah would be thrown out of the synagogue. It may be hard to imagine the affect of that. We occasionally discipline people for immorality or some other problem. But they just leave the church and go to another church. In the first century, if you were thrown out of the synagogue, you were socially ostracized and would have trouble finding a job. At this time Jesus was beginning the process of founding a new community, which would become the church. For years Jews persecuted Christians. If you have ever been persecuted for your faith, you can identify with this newly seeing man.
But what are the Pharisees going to do with the fact that in verse 25 this man had once been blind, but now he can see?
In the mid-19th century there was a young man from Clearfield County in Pennsylvania, up near State College, named Philip Bliss. Dwight Moody, the Billy Graham of that century, encouraged him to write music and use it to evangelize. Bliss wrote a hymn based on this verse, 25, Once I was blind, but now I can see, the light of the world is Jesus. He also wrote Man of Sorrows What a Name, Wonderful Words of Life and Almost Persuaded and died when he was 38 in a train wreck. But Bliss understood this mans excitement in verse 25, once I was blind, but now I can see. Thats my bottom line, the man said
Jesus had already chided the Pharisees that they werent listening to what He said in 8:43 and 8:47. They claim that they are disciples of Moses in verse 28, forgetting what Jesus had said to them in 5:46, If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
There is a real tragedy in the Pharisees. They revered the Scriptures; they had pious behavior; they prayed and fasted; they worshiped regularly; they gave sacrificially - the sort of people any church would be glad to have as members. And, lets be sure to add about them, they murdered Jesus.
Martin Luther once said, there is no cure for spiritual pride like a little over-eating, over-sleeping or over-drinking. Because when we recognize that we are inclined to do those things, it can kill our spiritual pride.
Did you remember that Paul had been a Pharisee, like one of these men who throw the baggage out of the synagogue in verse 34? And Jesus struck Paul blind in a reversal of what happens in this passage. For Paul the Pharisee to accept Jesus would require a complete re-thinking of what the law and everything else in his life meant.
To show you how prevalent this attitude of the Pharisees is, let me tell you about one of the most respected rabbinic scholars of our day. His name is Jacob Neusner. In 1992 and 1993 Neusner put himself back in Jesus day and listened to what Matthew was saying about Jesus. He wrote a book about this examination in 1993, called A Rabbi Talks With Jesus. Neusner concluded that he could not be a follower of Jesus. Here is his reason: Jesus did not follow the Torah of Moses, which are the first five books of the Old Testament. That was the Pharisees criticism of Jesus. And Jesus answered their questions, but Neusner doesnt see that.
The next thing that happens in John 9 is one of the most wonderful events in the Gospel. Verse 35. Jesus hears about this man being thrown out and seeks him out. For the first time this man is going to see Jesus.
In the 1940s Dorothy L. Sayers, the mystery story writer, wrote a play cycle of 12 plays on the life of Christ, The Man Born To Be King. In the seventh play she gives us this scene.
JACOB: Well! ... Funny world, ain't it? Turned out of 'ouse and 'ome at this time o'night .... All very well to talk about gettin' a job, but 'oos goin' to employ a bloke what's been kicked out o' the synagogue? ... Still, no use grousin'. I got my sight and I got my strength, and you never know your luck.... Lord! what a lovely thing the moon is! To think I never seen it till last night.... Beg your pardon, sir - I didn't 'ear you comin'. . . . Now, that's queer. If I'd been blind, same as I used to be, I'd a-heard you right enough. Excuse me, but 'ave you ever looked at the moon? Really to look at it, I mean? You wouldn't think anything could be as pretty as that, if you wasn't 'ardened to it, in a manner of speaking. Think what you'd feel if it come all fresh to you, like it does to me--fresh as the day it was created.
JESUS: "And God looked at everything He had made, and behold! it was very good."
JACOB: Here, I say! I ought to know that voice.... Sir, speak again. For God's sake, speak again.... I never set eyes on your face before--faces mean nothing to me--but you look the way you ought to look if you're the man I take you for.
JESUS: Jacob ben-Issachar-- are you glad of the gift that you found in the Pool of Siloam?
JACOB: That's it! that's the voice that brought the light to me that sat in darkness. I couldn't be mistaken. You are Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, sir -
JESUS: Not so loud, Jacob.
JACOB (in a lower tone): That's right. You're in danger in Jerusalem. Why did you come?
JESUS: To look for you. They said that for my sake you had been cast out of the synagogue.
JACOB: And out of my father's 'ouse. But never you fret for that, sir. I'll make shift somehow....
JESUS: The foxes have holes and the birds have nests--but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.--Tell me, Jacob, do you believe in the Son of Man?
JACOB: Do you mean the Messiah? Of course, I believe in his coming.
JESUS: Are you ready to trust him?
JACOB: Why yes, sir, if I knew who he was.... You speak as though he was here. Tell me where to find him and I'll trust him right enough.
JESUS: You have seen him already, and he is speaking to you now.
JACOB: You, sir? Indeed, I might a-known it. If ever a man came straight from God, sir it's you. Say no more, Rabbi, I trust you. I'd follow you to the world's end. You won't send me away?
JESUS: If anyone comes to me, I will never cast him out.
So let me summarize the progress of this man in his faith. He is caught in a very human, situation be fore he meets Jesus. He is blind. Whether your blindness is physical or spiritual, you are part of a fallen world where peoples minds are dark and their acts are evil. John 9 gives us a model for how to be saved from this world.
The man called Jesus heals him, in verse 11. Thats all he knows.
But in verse 17, he is forced to reflect further on what has happened to him - and sometimes you must be forced to this. Dont criticize people who make you think about whats going on, they may be helping you. In verse 17 the man decides Jesus is a prophet. In verse 30 he characterizes Jesus as one who opens eyes. And in verse 33 he, again being forced to it by people criticizing what has happened to him, says this man is from God. Look at what He has done.
When Jesus finds him just after this, the man meets Jesus a second time, and not everyone gets a second chance. The man believes in Jesus and worships him. Faith is a journey toward Jesus.
When I became a Christian I got asked questions by the guys in the fraternity house I was in. I learned there that faith is a journey toward Jesus.
Where are you on that road? Have you just begun? Are you somewhere along the road? Or have you not met Jesus at all? This morning may be your opportunity to meet Jesus.