"Share Good News - by Testimony"
March 25, 2007 John 9:6-17,24-38
The Mystery of Darkness
When we can see the light, we know the truth. Darkness or blindness, on the other hand, lock us in mystery, puzzlement.
Pranksters use this to cause mischief on the unaware. A TV commercial features some people waiting at a crosswalk, including a blind man with a white cane and dark glasses. While they're standing there, a teenage boy pulls a prank on the blind man, jumping up and down and waving his arms in front of the sightless one in an uncaring practical joke. Then he turns back to wait for the light to change. However he doesn't get the last laugh: the blind man, who the youth has his back to, raises up his own arms and gestures wildly behind the young man. Then the announcer comes on to point out that many people who are legally blind DO actually have limited vision!
Our text today features a man born blind. Let's see if we can relate just a little bit to the mystery and limitation faced by those who have no sight at all. Here's a short demonstration. Close your eyes for a minute (I promise not to pull any rude tricks). Imagine you were totally blind. How many fingers am I holding up? You don't know, do you? Even if it were just one finger, I wouldn't make it a rude gesture - but you couldn't tell because you couldn't see. Can you tell who's sitting behind you? Can you trust them? What time is it? Ah, now I can preach as long as I want!
Now, eyes still closed, imagine you need to go to the bathroom. If that were really the case, you'd have to get up, fumble your way along the row of chairs, and find the door of the gym - hopefully without crashing into the audio or snack tables on the way and making a scene. Then you'd have to find your way along the hallway to the bathroom. You'd need to do all you normally do in the bathroom without being able to see a thing (except of course bother with the light switch). Don't forget to wash your hands - and how are you going to tell if you got them actually clean? Don't really know.
OK, you can open the eyes again. Maybe that exercise helps you appreciate a little more the challenges sight-impaired people face each day. Much of their experience is limited by darkness; so much they don't know, or have to guess at, or figure out by touch or sound or smell. Much of what we sighted folks know, without even thinking about it, we derive from our eyes. We rely on the light in order to know the truth, the facts of the situation.
All our talents and capabilities are gifts from God, to be used for His glory as we have opportunity. In John 9, coming upon a man born blind, Jesus saw not a curse but an opportunity for God's good deeds to be displayed in that life. He warned the disciples of the need to be actively pursuing God's will before the darkness closed in. V4, He said, "Night is coming, when no one can work"; and, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me." He wants us to be agents of His light; as Mt 5:16 says, "Le your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
That "close your eyes" exercise emphasizes the distinction between what we know, and what we DON'T know. This chapter is full of questions, interrogatives - trying to sort out what we know or don't know; what's going on with this mysterious miracle-worker? At the end, the Pharisees in v40 who think they know are pronounced blind - not really knowing at all. The language of the verbs is full of wonder, uncertainty, trying to sort out reality from un-truth. Here are some excerpts from 8 to 36: "Isn't this - how - where - I don't know - how - how - what - we know - I don't know - I do know - What - How - We know - We don't even know - you don't know - we know - Who is He, Sir?"
Life has many instances of circumstances seemingly sprung upon us that prompt even the most faithful to ask questions and wonder why. In this man's case, it was being born blind. What did he do to deserve that? Was it as the rabbis conjectured, that a child could sin in the womb or it soul have sinned in a pre-existent state? Or is that jumping to conclusions?
Some mysteries only God can shine light on. Jesus responded to the man's plight in v5 by saying, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." The definite article is lacking in the Greek (in contrast to 8:12), so a better reading here might be, "I am light to the world." Amidst all the unanswered mysteries of our lives, Jesus comes to shine light, display or reveal or 'make known' God's work in the midst of all the mystery and unknowns. Those definite good blessings are what we need to focus on, rather than the unanswered questions - else like the Pharisees we get wrapped up in the problem of the work of kneading the mud on the Sabbath, and lose sight of the tremendous miracle accomplished. Can you trust God with your 'don't knows'?
This week I was listening to a Ravi Zacharias podcast called "The Pursuit of Meaning: Regaining the Wonder". Ravi was saying how essential wonder is to having a sense of meaning in life. There is so much that we don't know, that we could never know even if we spent all our time in libraries or googling online. But encountering Jesus gives us one thing we CAN know in the depths of our being that no one can take away or undermine. This is what makes 'testimony' such a powerful form of witness: it's your experience, you own it, no one can refute what's actually happened to you. Ideas and theories and philosophies can be haggled over endlessly, but people stop and listen when you speak about what you know personally.
The man here in John 9 whose eyes Jesus opened shows an increasingly focused testimony, that he speaks on three occasions. First time is v11, when he explains what happened to the neighbours and those who'd formerly seen him begging, likely at a fixed spot, maybe with a little stall for shade. He says: "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." Second time occurs when the Pharisees ask him how he received his sight, in v15: "'He put mud on my eyes,' the man replied, 'and I washed, and now I see.'" A little more concise than the first time: the message is getting refined. Last time is in v25, when the authorities question him again: he says, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" There you have it in a nutshell, most simply put - "I was blind but now I see!" There's much that he doesn't know - he admits to that. But this is the one thing he DOES know. That's his story, and he's stickin' to it!
The Barrage that Backfired
There's a former newspaper tycoon making considerable press these days - but not for reasons you'd want. Conrad Black is under investigation in Chicago. But the waves made in the news this week weren't by Black, nor the prosecutors - but his wife, who let fly at some media people with derogatory names. That kind of backfired, it's not likely to help her husband's cause or to win him any sympathy.
The testimony about Jesus, by contrast, isn't harmful but helpful. As the man who was formerly blind comes under investigation by the authorities, it's not his testimony but theirs that backfires. If they set out to disqualify Jesus for the miracle He performed, they end up establishing its validity instead. The testimony comes through as simple but true.
It's a barrage of questions the man faces; a barrage that becomes increasingly hostile and vitriolic. The miracle itself is described by the gospel writer in a way that's beautifully understated if anything; v7, "the man went and washed, and came home seeing." Could you have put it in a manner that was any more straightforward?
First he's investigated by the neighbours and passersby in v8. He insists he's the former beggar. Then they take him to the authorities - maybe not meaning any harm; lepers were to show themselves to the priests to verify their healing (Lev 14:3; Lk 17:14). This is where the Grand Inquisition starts. What snags in the Pharisees' craw right away is that Jesus kneaded clay into mud and healed on the Sabbath - both of which activities contravened their traditional code. This is their blindness: they can't see the 'forest' (the wonderful healing) for the 'trees' (details which flew in the face of their picky Sabbath rules).
But whatever they do to try to question that a miracle happened winds up establishing it instead. They bring in the man's parents, who are terrified of saying too much lest they be excommunicated, thrown out of the synagogue. But they do confirm that the man is their son, and that he was born blind.
In v24 the Pharisees summon the man a second time. Imagine it's a witness stand; or maybe, the pressure would be more like a small dark room in the bowels of the police station. You're set upon a small wooden chair, the single light bulb with a circular reflector is swung toward you, and a figure steps forward to question you out of the shadows...
"Give glory to God!" they said; that's a very serious admonition to tell the truth; also a kind of hint that they don't believe he told the truth the first time, and things might go better for him if he changed his tune. But the man won't concede that his Healer is a sinner; he sticks by his initial story, that Jesus changed him from blind to seeing. Why did they want to hear the story again? He refuses to recant; with a touch of irony hinting perhaps they want to become Jesus disciples.
This is where the interrogators start to lose it. Blind rage clouds the clarity of their prosecution. V28 says "they hurled insults at him"; the original means "to revile, heap abuse upon". The volume and tempo of accusation are turned up; the subjects of the sentences receive special emphasis. "YOU are this fellow's disciple! WE are disciples of Moses! WE know that God spoke to Moses..." The tone is adversarial, harrassing...they try to sound imposing by association with the founder of the faith.
He may have been just a blind beggar before, but our hero mounts a simply splendid argument. He doesn't even break into a sweat. V30, he stands, takes a step toward the jury and exclaims [I just threw that in for effect], "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
See what he's doing here? Showing them up by their own words. That his eyes were opened is beyond question. The accusers contend they don't know where Jesus comes from, and the man agrees that God doesn't listen to sinners (akin to the logic the Pharisees maintained back in v16 - that a lawbreaker couldn't be from God). If they appeal to Moses, the man's point is also Scriptural: Isaiah states, "...even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.Your hands are full of blood;" and, "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." (Is 1:15; 59:2) IF therefore God listens to God-worshippers who obey His will, Jesus who healed the man must fit that class, rather than being a 'sinner'. IF Jesus opened the man's eyes, He MUST be from God; else He couldn't do it.
They're beat, and they know it. Their barrage has backfired; they sink into blustering and bullying. If logic won't work, pull rank and act pompous. Imagine the tone of v34 when they reply, "YOU were steeped in sin at birth; HOW DARE YOU LECTURE US!" And they "chucked him out" (as my Greek prof put it). He was impossible to confute, so they just erased him. Socially, anyway. The social life of the community was so wrapped up with the synagogue that excommunication amounted to making someone a social exile, an alien, outside the circles of care, consigned to the ranks of the Gentile heathen.
There was no denying the miracle; they'd tried. What had happened to the man posed a threat to the Pharisees' status and the whole religious system, which was propped up on man's tradition rather than God's word. They must have been infuriated at the man's untippable testimony. For all their effort and intimidation, they had only wound up corroborating what they had set out to confute. Unwittingly they had done Jesus the favour of establishing the healing was a bona fide miracle.
Jesus Cares for the Cast-offs
Our Lord keeps a low background profile through all this, but His caring is nonetheless evident. It had all begun when He healed the man back in v6, even though that hadn't been asked for. In v3 He had defended the man's integrity, saying you can't jump to the conclusion he's a sinner just because he suffers. Then in v35 Jesus hears the man had been thrown out of the synagogue by the authorities. He goes looking for the man and finds him. When all others are supposed to be staying away, Jesus draws close. Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, commented: "The one whom the Jews had cast out of the temple, the Lord of the temple found."
Are you feeling excluded, ridiculed or despised on account of your beliefs? Do others treat you rough because you're trying to please God and so don't fit their categories or expectations? Even though you may seem all alone, Jesus knows you're there. He knows where to find you. He can draw you into new circles, deeper and more fulfilling relationships as you walk with Him.
Jesus offers the new-sighted man a new security and relationship through an opportunity to affirm his faith. He asks (35), "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" That's the bottom line. Elsewhere Jesus has promised, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." (Mt 10:32) If we stand by Him, He'll stand by us - to all eternity. The man responds in v38, "Lord, I believe," and worships Him - which is befitting only if Jesus really is God, else it's blasphemy.
In John 6:29 the Lord had said, "The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent." Then here in chapter 9 v3 He'd maintained the man was born blind "so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." That work is manifest as the once-blind beggar man proclaims his faith and kneels before the Light of the world. There was more to the 'work' Jesus meant than just physical healing: spiritual awakening is even more important.
Tell It Testimonially
Last week we talked about one of the 6 styles of evangelism listed in Becoming a Contagious Christian, namely, Invitational. The man born blind in John 9 is a good example of the TESTIMONIAL style of evangelism. Mittelberg / Strobel / Hybels explain, "He did not respond [to those questioning] by confronting them or trying to reason with them. He just told his story. He said, 'All I know is this: I used to be blind, and now I can see.' We all have a story to tell about what God has done in our lives..." Those who are especially good at sharing Christ in a Testimonial style are clear communicators, interesting storytellers, and good listeners. They're open and honest about their personal ups and downs; another way to describe this would be to say they're 'transparent'. They tend to be amazed by how God has extended grace and forgiveness; and, they're able to see connections between their own experience and the experiences of others.
Here's a short video clip of one teen sharing with another about the changes that have been happening in her life...[VIDEO]
Did you notice how Lauren was able to connect her experience with her friend's situation? If the testimonial style of evangelism is the best 'fit' for you, here are some suggestions the authors have: Know your story so you'll be able to tell it without hesitating. Keep Christ at the centre of your story and stay focused on how he changed your life. (In the blind man's case - "He sent me to wash, and I came back seeing!") And keep your story fresh by adding new illustrations about how God is at work in your life.
Be sure to relate your story to your friend's life; to do that requires you to first be a good listener and get to know about them. Be careful not to just tell your story, breathe a sigh of relief, and leave it at that; challenge your friend to think about how your experiences might apply to their life. You saw how Lauren challenged her friend about her own life patterns. And don't downplay your story because you think it's too ordinary; the ordinary story is the kind that relates best to ordinary people.
Your story needn't be as remarkable as the healing of the man who was blind from birth; be assured that there are people around you who want and need to hear your story. To close, here's a poem that kind of puts it in perspective:
You are writing a Gospel, / A chapter each day,
By deeds that you do, / By words that you say.
Men read what you write, / Whether faithless or true,
Say! What is the gospel / According to YOU?
Think about that. What is the good news or gospel people hear as they consider what you express? You may be the only 'Bible' some people ever read! May the Holy Spirit supply us with the words that suit best people's hidden needs, and that bring amazing glory to God. Let's pray.