A lot of Police work revolves around incidents, interviews, and verdicts. I’ll give you an example. It was a dark and stormy night in Mounty County, and my partner and I were parked under a tree in this street in Tregear, just up the road from where a heroin dealer lived. We didn’t have much on, so we thought we’d just sit there for a while and see if anyone came by. We were only there for about five minutes and this car pulled up across the road. There were two blokes in the car, and one of them got out and walked across the road. My mate started rolling down the hill toward this fellas house with no lights on.
The bloke who got out was at the door of the house, but there was no answer, so he walked back to the car. He saw us coming down the road and bolted to his car, jumped in, and took off down the street. Game on!
Lights and sirens on, adrenaline pumping, around the corner onto Aurora Drive we went off in pursuit. They turned left into another street and lost control of the car in the rain and slammed into a power pole. They both got out and ran up the street. Alan and I jumped out of the truck and chased them. He got his fella pretty quickly, mainly because he been in the job for ages and knew more than I did, so he loudly threatened to shoot this bloke if he didn’t stop!
I kept going up the road and tackled my fella on someone’s front lawn. We were both covered in mud and grass and he started swinging punches, so it was on! A short while later he was unconscious, handcuffed, and in the back of the truck. Good times!
Neither of them had been wearing seatbelts, so when they crashed into the pole, they both slammed into the windscreen. We got an ambulance to take them to the hospital. We left another officer at the hospital while we went back to the police station to start the paperwork.
About ten minutes later we heard this over the police radio: “All cars keep a look out for two men in their 20s who have escaped from Emu Plains Detention Centre.” Their description followed. Alan and I looked at each other and realised that the two blokes we’d just arrested were these fellas who’d escaped! So we howled back up to the hospital and mercifully they were still there, handcuffed to their hospital beds in emergency. That was the incident.
After they were treated, we took them back to the police station and interviewed them for about half an hour or so. We asked them all sorts of questions about how they escaped, where they stole the car from, and all that sort of thing. Then they were charged with a heap of different offences. That’s the interview.
Because they’d escaped from gaol, they went to court the next day, and the magistrate heard all the evidence, and read through the interview. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to an extra six months in gaol. That’s the verdict.
Incident, interview, verdict: John 9 is exactly like this. There’s an incident: Jesus meets this blind man and heals him. Then there’s an interview where questions are asked and answered. Then there’s a verdict.
This blind bloke is a dead-set legend! Here’s the incident, verse 1-7:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “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.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (NIV)
Jesus meets this bloke. He’s been blind since he was born. I know a fair few people who have impaired vision or are totally blind. Nonie used to lead on a music camp for blind people. It’s a tough life for heaps of reasons. But back then it was way worse. There was no social welfare and no job opportunities. From a young age he would have been sitting at the temple begging for food because he couldn’t work. As he got older there was no chance he could get married and have kids. This man is a social outcast in every sense of the word. By the time Jesus meets him, he’s an adult, so he’s been like this for at least 20 years, maybe more.
Now, don’t miss what the Disciples say: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
These blokes have all the pastoral sensitivity of Genghis Khan and all the theological insight of Richard Dawkins. Muppets! The bloke is right there in front of them and he’s blind, but he’s not deaf! So he’s probably thinking, “Again with the sin thing! As if I don’t feel bad enough already!”
If the disciples had read Job—and it’d be almost impossible they hadn’t they—they certainly didn’t understand what God is saying in that part of his word. Job tells us lots of things, but one of the most obvious is that there is such a thing as innocent suffering. Simply because something terrible happens to you does not mean that you have done some equally terrible sin. Sadly, some religions still teach this sort of thing and even worse, lots of people believe it. But this is not how God works in his world.
So if you’re going through some terrible suffering, please don’t assume God is punishing you. Sin came into God’s good world in Genesis 3, and since then, nothing has worked the way God intended. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the whole world is groaning as if it’s in the pains of childbirth under the weight of sin. Sometimes we can do things that cause us to suffer: of course that’s true. But often times suffering is just a part of life. No one lives without it. All of us live with some measure of it. God isn’t punishing you. That’s not his character. You and I live in a world that’s groaning under the weight of sin and we are all caught up in it in some way or other.
So Jesus rebukes his disciples for their pastoral insensitivity and theological stupidity. Then he bends down and shows them one of the reasons he was sent by God into this broken world. He makes some mud with his spit, puts it on the man’s eyes, and sends him to the Pool of Siloam to wash it off.
Off he goes. It would have taken him ages to get to the Pool. He washes his eyes and boom, he can see! Awesome! So for the rest of the chapter, he’s the man who used to be blind but can now see. But that’s too hard to say another 50 times, so we’ll call him Geoff.
That’s the incident: now for the interview. The questions come thick and fast, which is perfectly understandable because miracles don’t happen every day. If they did, we’d call them ‘normals’, but they’re not normal, they’re miracles. His neighbours are the first to ask questions, verses 8-12:
His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “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.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.
You can imagine how this would go, can’t you? They’ve all known Geoff since he was born. They’ve all seen him begging every day for 20 or 30 years or whatever it was. Yet now he can see, and he’s got a cracking smile on his face! Some think it’s Geoff, some think he just looks like Geoff, which is weird because if it’s not Geoff, why is he wearing Geoff’s clothes?
As for Geoff, he does his best Muhammad Ali impersonation in verse 9: “I am the man!”.
Geoff knows it was Jesus who healed him in verse 11, and the crowd want to know where Jesus is, but Geoff doesn’t know. The last time he was with Jesus, he was still blind, so didn’t see which way he went!
Then the Pharisees get involved. Why? Because Jesus did what he nearly always did, and made sure it was a Sabbath when he healed Geoff. Verse 14 tells us that. Don’t miss this: Jesus almost always heals people on the Sabbath, because he’s intentionally picking a fight with the religious leaders. They think their standing before God is all about keeping a long list of religious rules. Jesus is saying, “No. That’s not how this works. It’s not religion. It’s love.”
This investigation is all about spiritual sight and spiritual blindness, not just physical sight or physical blindness. As the Pharisees question Geoff and his folks, it starts to dawn on us that the religious leaders are spiritually blind. At the same time, not only can Geoff now see physically, but spiritually the eyes of his heart have been opened. It also turns out that Geoff is one massively courageous bloke! This guy has no fear. The religious leaders have all the authority and power. Geoff has none of either but he just doesn’t care.
So here we go, and if you remember the dimmer switch thing from the other week, watch how the dimmer switch goes up, and light increases for Geoff. And the dimmer switch goes down and light decreases for the religious leaders.
The Pharisees ask Geoff how he received his sight. Geoff says, “He put mud on my eyes.” Weirdly, back then the spit of famous people was thought to have healing powers, and Jesus does this three times in the Gospels I’ve always thought it was a bit grotty, but there you go. Anyway, Geoff says, “I washed it off and now I can see! Woo Hoo!”
It’s always about rules for religious people. In verse 16, some of the Pharisees say, “It was a Sabbath. Jesus isn’t from God because if he was, he’d keep the Sabbath.” But there’s dissention in the ranks. Others figure that Jesus can’t be a sinner, since he’s clearly done a miracle!
So they ask Geoff what he thinks of Jesus. “He is a prophet.” There’s a bit of spiritual light creeping in, isn’t there? The Pharisees aren’t satisfied, so they send for Geoff’s parents, verse 19:
“Is this your son? Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that he can now see?”
I don’t want to be harsh to Geoff’s, folks but they’re gutless. They know he’s their son. They know full well he was born blind. Their whole life turned upside down the day he was born. A blind son changes everything. How many times did he hurt himself or burn himself when he was growing up? How many bones did he break because he couldn’t see? How often did he cry himself to sleep because he wasn’t able to play with his mates? He had to be fed, washed, and dressed by his mum or dad for so long. Geoff had an unimaginably hard life.
Yet there he is standing in front of them, his eyes healed. He can see what his mum and dad look like now. He can see them looking at him. Can you imagine the emotions running through their hearts? Just let that sit with you for a moment. This should be so joyful, but instead of joy in Geoff’s folks’ hearts, there’s fear.
The religious leaders had the power to put people out of the synagogue to excommunicate them. That meant they would be cut off from all the religious festivals from their community of faith, from their friends and neighbours. It was a massive punishment, and the parents feared it. So sadly, they left their son high and dry, verse 20:
“We know he is our son and we know he was born blind. But how he can see or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”
They feared being kicked out of the synagogue more than they wanted to stand with their son. That’s heavy stuff. I wonder if Geoff understood his parents here? He’s an adult and he’s obviously used to hardship. His whole life has been hard. Maybe he cut them some slack and forgave them. Either way, he isn’t about to back down!
The Pharisees get stuck into Geoff again with more questions. In verse 21, when they say, “Give glory to God by telling the truth. We know this man is a sinner!” That’s the equivalent of one of us standing in a court with our hand on the Bible and being charged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So this is a serious thing.
Geoff is just getting warmed up. “Whether he’s a sinner or not, I don’t know, but one thing I do know, I was blind and now I can see!” “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” I love this: “I’ve already told you and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you blokes want to become his disciples as well?” Classic! These religious leaders think they hold Geoff’s immediate future in their hands, and he simply doesn’t care! Don’t miss what he just said: “This Jesus can do miracles. He did one for me! I reckon I want to follow this Jesus if He can do stuff like that. Do you guys want to follow him as well?”
Can you see how Geoff’s spiritual eyes are opening wider and wider, and how at the same time the spiritual eyes of the religious leaders are almost closed shut?
“You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from!”
“No’, he says, “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 person 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.”
For a bloke who was physically and spiritually blind that morning, he’s doing a cracking job at being an evangelist in what’s got to be the hardest place on earth to be one! Geoff’s a verbal processor. He’s figuring out what he really thinks of Jesus as he speaks, and there’s no doubt in his mind at all that Jesus is from God. It’s the only logical conclusion, and the Pharisees should see it as well. But like anyone losing an argument, they just start with the insults: “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
The interview is over. The Pharisees think they are the judges, and they’ve passed their verdict down. But in a classic twist, it turns out that Jesus is the judge, and it wasn’t Geoff who was on trial: it was the Pharisees. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
You and I need to be careful here. There are plenty of times when we don’t realise we’re exactly like these Pharisees. We have certain expectations of what church should be like, or what preachers should sound like, or how young people should dress for church, or what you should do when you sing in church, and we often try to force those expectations onto other people. Those expectations then become rules, and we get angry when they’re broken. Let’s make sure we don’t turn our personal preferences into religious rules.
Now, here’s the real verdict given by the real judge, the Lord Jesus. And this is beautiful.
Jesus hears that Geoff has been thrown out of the synagogue. He looks for him and finds him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
Remember that Geoff hasn’t seen Jesus yet. He’s heard his voice but not seen him. I wonder if you can sense the excitement in Geoff’s voice here?
“Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in Him?”
My guess is that Geoff is about 95% certain that the man speaking to him is Jesus, but wants to be sure.
Jesus graciously and kindly says, “You have now seen him with eyes that see physically and a heart that sees spiritually. In fact, he is the one speaking with you!”
Geoff says, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus as Lord. That’s the moment Geoff became a follower of Jesus. Beautiful. Don’t miss this. Who is the only one who’s supposed to be worshipped in the Bible? God. Here’s Jesus being worshipped and he doesn’t try to stop Geoff from worshipping. This is a big moment. Jesus is being worshipped as God. Those of us who also worship Jesus will get to meet Geoff one day, and we’ll find out his real name, which I think will be a more Jewish name. But he’s a bloke I am busting to meet!
The Pharisees, well, we’re probably not going to meet heaps of them. Here’s Jesus’ verdict on them, verse 39:
“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
Spiritual sight hinges on one thing and one thing only: do you believe Jesus is sent from God as the Saviour of the world? Geoff believes that, so the verdict for him is that he can see spiritually and his sin is forgiven. The Pharisees do not believe that the verdict for them is that they are spiritually blind, so the guilt of their sin remains.
I think there’s heaps we can take out of John 9 but I’m just going with one: courage.
When I became a Pastor about 20 years ago, the world was quite different to what it is now. So much has changed in these past 20 years. I remember preaching on Burwood Road in the late 80s. A bunch of people from our church used to go down there and preach on the street back then.
But over the past couple of years several street preachers have been arrested and detained by police in London, in Canada, in the USA. And on the Gold Coast here in Australia a few street preachers have been arrested for preaching on the street. This is going to happen more and more over the next few years I would imagine.
It has always taken courage to follow Jesus. Sure enough, there have been times and places where it’s not taken much courage to follow Jesus and speak about him openly, but unfortunately, history shows us that when it’s easy to call yourself a Christian, churches shrink and make less impact on their communities. When it takes more courage, when it’s harder to openly confess your faith in Jesus in places where Christians are persecuted, churches grow and make a massive impact on their community.
I think it’s easy to get fearful about where we are going with all this as a nation. But I’m excited. I look at John 9 and see an uneducated bloke who’s eyes have only been working for a few hours, stand up to the authorities with incredible courage, fearlessly talk about Jesus and boldly invite those who oppose him to follow Jesus.
You and I are going to need much more courage over the next few years. Freedoms and protection for Christians and pastors are going to decline. It’s going to get harder and harder to speak about Jesus publically. But with persecution comes growth. People aren’t attracted to Jesus when it costs nothing to call yourself a Christian. But my goodness, when being a Christian is hard, when Christians hold the line and persevere in their faith, that attracts people to Jesus more than anything.
Mao-Tse-Tung kicked all the Western Christian missionaries out of China in the early 60s. There were less than a million Chinese Christians. His intention was to entirely eradicate Christianity from China, like a good Communist would. Mao died in 1976. The West didn’t really know much about Christianity in China for a long time. It took more and more courage to follow Jesus. Regular Christians were persecuted. Pastors and preachers were gaoled, tortured, and often murdered. And the result: there are now roughly 130 million Christians in China. Chairman Mao failed spectacularly! Why? Chinese Christians were courageous and the gospel just kept spreading.
You and I will need more courage to keep following Jesus as the years go by. When that happens, let’s read John 9 often and be inspired by a man who had only known Jesus for a few hours, yet with immense courage stood fearlessly against strong opposition.