The Strongest Sign Yet

Morning Message – John Cline

John 9:1-41 and 10:19-42

Reader:  Henry Aidoo

In English literature, the works of William Shakespeare are, rightfully so, often quoted. But, for a tally of recognizable quotes from a single book, there is no book that surpasses the Gospel of John. It is simply unparalleled in English literature for well-known statements. Consider these phrases found only in the Gospel of John: “You must be born again”; “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son”; “The truth shall set you free”; “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”; “In my Father’s house are many mansions”, and so on and so on. Today we will see another famous phrase that is found only in the Gospel of John: “I once was blind but now I see”.

The theme of John’s Gospel I have mentioned several times in this sermon series through the Gospel book but because next week we will be finishing off our study on John and moving on to a different sermon series preaching through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah’s book, I really want to drill deep into your knowledge base the purpose of John’s Gospel. It is not about the Kingdom of Heaven, neither is it about the parables of Jesus, nor is it a straight-forward travelogue, recording the experiences of Jesus as he was in the north, in Galilee and its vicinities before setting his face southward towards Jerusalem, the place where he knew he would be persecuted, arrested, tried, crucified, and resurrected. The three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) follow all those themes (and, praise God for them), but John’s Gospel is a different animal. It is a slower-moving book recalling various one-on-one interactions Jesus had with individuals such as the Pharisee Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman accused of adultery who was brought to him for condemnation (which he didn’t do, though he did tell her to leave her life of sin), Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus (whom Jesus would raise from the dead), as well as numerous interactions with his chosen 12 apostles, including the one where he washed their feet at the Last Supper and then told them to go and serve and love others in a like manner. Each of those interactions are found only in John’s Gospel. But the purpose for John in recalling those specific interactions and then putting them into print was not to replicate a narration of the life of Jesus but for a very different, a distinctly theological, reason only:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

So, to set up today’s passage, Jesus had been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, making bold claims such as: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

This bold claim was an affront to the religious leaders. “Who are you?” they asked in response. So, Jesus told them about his Father, whom he identified as Almighty God, explaining that His heavenly Father had sent him, God’s son, from heaven to earth, for the purpose of bringing salvation to the world. The religious leaders had a fit. Jesus responded strongly, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31,32,36)

The religious leaders were incensed, but instead of allaying their anger, Jesus shocked them with his most outlandish statement, yet.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:58,59)

Jesus was claiming pre-existence. At the start of his gospel, John states that “through Jesus all things were made” and that “in him was life, and that life was the light of humanity”. So, if he was the Creator, Jesus was being accurate and honest in saying that he had been alive before Abrahm lived. In saying, “Before Abraham was, I am”, Jesus was using the sacred name of God, as found in God’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am”, which is spelled out as “Yahweh”. Jesus was claiming to be God on earth, a claim he makes other times in John. Chapter 8 ended with that bombshell claim and Jesus hiding himself from the religious leaders who wanted to stone him. The background is set for dramatic events to come. We will now watch a 7-minute clip from a film based, word for word, on the Gospel of John. In it, we will hear John 9 read or acted through in its entirety.

Show video…

Jesus and his 12 apostles had been walking along when they encountered a man born blind. The disciples asked a question reflecting the belief that if a person is suffering, it was because of some sin having been committed. The Bible does teach about original sin by Adam and Eve which broke the wholeness in which humans had lived. Brokenness and suffering were the result, but that was not what the apostles were referring to in their question. They wanted to know if the blindman or his parents had sinned. Jesus doesn’t address the of doctrine of original sin and suffering but instead tells his 12 apostles:

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the

light of the world.” (John 9:3-5)

For Jesus, the issue with the man’s blindness was not the what the cause of it was, but rather its purpose, for he knew it would be about God’s glory. Neither the blindman nor his parents or their sin had anything to do with his blindness, but it would be used to glorify God. Jesus then spit into the dirt, made mud, spread it on the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam (oh, by the way, the ancient Pool of Siloam was dismissed by critics of the Bible as being a non-existent imagining by John, a fake place that proved that John was making up stories as he wrote his Gospel, but guess what? Archaeologists discovered the Pool of Siloam in 2004 and officially verified that discovered spot only last month, as being the actual Pool of Siloam, thus dealing yet another blow to those who want to question the accuracy of the Bible). So, Jesus spit into dirt, made mud, and put it on the blindman’s eyes, and told him to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash it off, in effect, promising sight for him if he did so.

For centuries, scholars have debated what the significance of Jesus mixing his saliva with dirt and turning it into mud might have been. Couldn’t Jesus have just said the words, “Be healed” as he did with other people and that would have been enough? Though we don’t know exactly why Jesus did as he did we can speculate that in keeping with the theme of John’s Gospel that the things he wrote down were for his readers to read and thus realize who Jesus was, we also know that the teaching of Jewish rabbis at the time was that the spit of a “holy” person, could cause healing and blessing on the recipient of a touch of that holy person’s hands and spit. So, this action by Jesus was a subtle statement about Jesus’ uniqueness, that he was a “holy” person, sent from God.

Ok, going on: Jesus then brings back his earlier statement that he is the light of the world, tying in physical blindness or darkness with spiritual blindness and darkness. Jesus, the light of the world, casts away all kinds of darkness. The religious leaders were not happy with any of this. Jesus had just performed the strongest sign yet that he was the holy one, the great “I Am”, the Son of God, and the prophesied-about Son of Man who was the Messiah. Restoring a person’s sight after going blind later in life – that would be spectacular – but giving sight to a person who had never seen before? As the healed man asked, “Who had ever heard of such a thing?” It was unprecedented! It was the strongest sign yet as to who Jesus was. The religious leaders claimed that Jesus was a sinner because he had performed this healing miracle on a Sabbath day, but in pressing the healed man to agree with their assessment, he responded that he didn’t know if Jesus was a sinner or not. However, he did know one thing: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25)

Jesus then pressed the envelope even harder by making two other bold claims about himself, both using the telling “I AM” statement:

Therefore, Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14)

Jesus is “the gate” and “the good shepherd” who will keep safe all his sheep from evildoers and thieves. Ele Bender and Jerry Clark gave excellent Lenten devotionals on those two declarations earlier this spring, so I have no need to revisit what they said. However, the response of the religious leaders to Jesus’ words was predictable: The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21)

Ok, where we are picking up in chapter 10 of John is that three months had passed from the time and events at the Feast of Tabernacles. In our passage, the time has now moved to winter in Jerusalem, specifically the last week of December when the “Feast of Dedication” was taking place, a minor feast in the Jewish calendar celebrating the rededication of the temple c. 164 B.C., an event that occurred after the Maccabee family had set Israel free from foreign rulers. However, one century later, now foreign rulers, the Romans, had moved into the land and taken over. The Feast of Dedication was a joyous event in its nature in that it was tied to the hope of the Messiah coming, whom the Jewish people believed would be the one to complete what the Maccabees had started, reigning over Israel, smashing their enemies with a rod of iron, establishing an eternal kingdom of peace and righteousness, and freeing the land of foreign domination. In many ways, it made sense that people were wondering if Jesus was the Messiah. So, the scene was this: Jesus was walking through one of the covered court areas called Solomon’s porch when the Jewish religious leaders spotted him and began to harangue him.

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:22-24)

To be honest, Jesus did speak in code a lot. Those who knew him understood his claims but others, including many of the Jewish religious leaders who really didn’t want to know the answer to Jesus’ identity, to be honest, were pressing Jesus to make a forthright, plain statement concerning whether or not he was the Messiah. Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

Jesus met with widespread unbelief in his own day just like he does today. And the reason was the same then as it is today: it was and is not primarily due to a lack of a clear and worthy testimony (“I have told you the works bear witness of me”, Jesus said), but rather a deeply rooted spiritual unwillingness to love what Jesus loves. The chief hindrance to faith is not that Jesus’ claims were or are obscure or insufficient, but that people (I am quoting Jesus’ words found in John 12:43), “love the glory of other humans more than the glory of God”. Unbelief is primarily about not giving into social pressure. It is not a problem of knowledge but of pride. To believe in Christ, something very deep and life-shaking must happen in a person’s heart, like a resurrection or a re-creation or being “born again”. Something has to emerge which wasn’t there before, a spiritual transformation. This is implied in Jesus’ statement: “You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.” For those of you listening today, you are able to know if God is at work in you by how you respond to what Jesus said next: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Do you hear his voice? Through belief, you can. That is an alluring fact. But so is the fact that Jesus grants eternal life to all who believe in him. “I and the Father are one”. Those who hear the voice of Jesus and follow him are gripped by the hand of the Son and the hand of the Father, which are one mighty, divine hand, for Jesus and the Father are one. Again, his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:31-33)

Here the religious leaders got it right. They may not have liked what Jesus was saying but they understood his words accurately. They had accurately heard Jesus claim to be equal to God, God on earth, in fact. And so, when they picked up stones with which to stone him, we can see that the charge of “blasphemy” was based on something Jesus had said, that he was equal with God. So, they pressed in to kill him. But that was not his hour to die, so he did a diversionary tactic to buy him more time so that God’s timeline and not the Pharisees timeline could be followed as to when he would die, and so Jesus answered their charges with a complicated, exegetical review of what the Bible had to say. Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came — and Scripture cannot be set aside — what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:34-37)

If God used the term “gods” for something less than God, might it not be feasible that he would use the term “Son of God” for the one whom he had sent into the world to save it? Again, they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. (John 10:39)

John could have logically stopped at this point, with the religious leaders in Jerusalem once again trying to seize or kill Jesus, before proceeding straight to chapter 11. That would have made some sense in that the narrative would have had Jesus staying in the vicinity of Jerusalem, before going on to Lazarus’ resurrection, and none of us would been the wiser for it, but John didn’t stop there. Why not? It had to do with John the Baptist.

You see, Jesus, right near the end of his ministry, went back to the spot where his ministry had all begun for him three years earlier, to the spot where John had baptized him. Reaching the end of his ministry time on earth, Jesus went back to where his ministry had begun. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place, many believed in Jesus. (John 10:40-42)

Just as the healed man who had been born blind came to believe that Jesus was the Son of Man, in other words, the Messiah, so did others on the far side of the Jordan River. I think that the point the Gospel writer John was making was that simply hearing the facts about Jesus is actually enough for saving faith. One doesn’t haven’t see a miraculous sign to put their faith in Jesus. John hadn’t and yet he was saved. One can simply hear the truth about him – or, in the case of John’s stated purpose in writing his book, read about the miraculous signs Jesus did, and that should be enough evidence to decide to believe. Remember, the Jewish religious leaders had pretended to have a desire to know the truth when they demanded, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus had previously told them plainly in both words and works. Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah had predicted several hundred years earlier that when the Messiah came, people would know it was him because he would open the eyes of the blind, heal the lame, give hearing to the deaf, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and preach good news to the poor. Jesus did all of those. That he was and is the Messiah is plain for anyone who truly studies the signs and hears the truth about Jesus.

Are Christians just supposed to have faith? If “faith” is belief without evidence, no, that is not what the Bible teaches. That is not the real definition of faith. The real definition of faith is trusting in what you have good evidence to believe. Some non-Christians ridicule Christians by claiming that Christians have a “blind faith”, believing in a thing while having no clear reason to. But they have mischaracterized what Christian faith is. It is not a “blind faith”, groping about while wandering in the darkness. But Jesus says that he is “the light of the world”. Nowhere in the Bible is “blind faith” taught or commended.

What is taught is that people should look at the evidence. When they do, they may come to believe, but it will be based on the evidence a person is seeing or reading about – or experiencing personally at that moment of decision. Belief in Jesus is of the head, certainly, but it is also of the heart. As you come to know that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, you will trust in him. That is what having faith is all about. Belief based upon nothing is ridiculous, but that is not Christian or biblical faith. Ours is not a “blind faith” but an evidentiary, experiential faith based upon knowledge of Jesus and meeting him one-on-one. A person’s belief in Jesus makes sense and the many benefits that come with it include those mentioned by Jesus in today’s passage: being able to recognize and hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and being saved for all of eternity. Jesus gave the strongest sign so far in John’s Gospel book as to who he is: the holy one, the Messiah, the Son of Man, and the Son of God. When we truly see and believe that, then faith comes into play, and we are blessed. Amen!

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