A Blessing or a Curse

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Light can either be a blessing or a curse. The lamp beside your bed can help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it will also annoy your spouse who is trying to sleep. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting, but a fire in the kitchen is terrifying.

In John 8, Jesus introduces himself as “The Light of the world.” In the next chapter, we see what happens when Jesus shines his light in the world. His light divides the world into two groups. Those who see Jesus as a curse and those who see Jesus as a blessing.

The Apostle John tells the same story about from the viewpoint of these two groups. First,   he shares the story from the view of a hopeless man who was blind from birth. Next, John shares the story from the view of the conceited Pharisees who were blind to their spiritual need.

From the view of helpless beggar blind from birth (John 8:1-41)

“Something amazing happened to me right after the Feast of Tabernacles. I was sitting beside the road begging for money when Jesus walked by with his disciples. My eyes didn’t work, but my ears worked just fine and I overheard Jesus and his disciples talking about me. One of his disciples asked whose fault it was that I was blind: me or my parents. I was relieved to hear that neither one of us were to blame, but that God wanted to show His mighty work in me. At that point, I heard Jesus spit on the ground and then I felt him wipe clay on my eyes. He told me to wash my eyes out in the nearby pool of Siloam, and so I did. As I washed my eyes in the cool water the most amazing thing happened – my eyes worked for the first time and I could see!”

“I was so excited about what had happened, I told everyone around me, but they didn’t believe me. People that had walked past me for years didn’t recognize me. It was if I had become a different person.”

“Then, I was called before the Pharisee for an interview. I explained what had happened to me, but they were upset because Jesus had violated some of their restrictions on the Sabbath. The Pharisees began to argue among themselves about Jesus. Some were saying, He can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others were asking, ‘How could he heal people and do all the other miracle he has done if he wasn’t from God?'”

“The Pharisees didn’t believe that I used to be blind so interviewed by parents too. My parents were terrified they would be thrown out of the synagogue. The Pharisee can do that, you know. They can just kick you out of the synagogue and the temple and then you have no way to make things right with God.”

“After that, the Pharisees called me in for another interview which felt more like an interrogation. They kept asking me about Jesus and all I could do was tell them what I knew: ‘I once was blind, but now I see.’ It was obvious to me where Jesus was from. He healed me and gave me hope after a lifetime of hopeless. Miracles like that don’t happen, they come from God. It was clear that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say because they threw me out the synagogue.

“Jesus came and found me after that. He asked me if I believed in the Messiah and that he was him. I was so excited I put my trust in him and bowed low in worship. Some of the Pharisees overheard our conversation and they weren’t pleased, but I knew right then and there I had found the hope I had been looking for.”

From the view of one of the Pharisees who excommunicated a troublemaker. (John 9:13-41)

“I am one of the Pharisees and I’m also a scribe too. We help preserve God’s law and teach it to the people. God continues to bless us because we go above and beyond in obeying His law. God is lucky to have us around. Otherwise, it would be like the ‘wild west.’

For example, there was a blind man recently who claimed he was healed by Jesus, that troublemaker from Nazareth. His story didn’t add up, however, because the people who knew him from the road outside of town didn’t think he was the same guy. We talked to his parents too, but I don’t think we can trust them. Jesus has been a threat to the establishment for a long time. He’s a good preacher, but I think he’s a trickster with all of those so-called ‘miracles’ that he pulls off. He claims to speak for God, but he doesn’t have any formal training and he doesn’t follow the rules.

He supposedly healed the blind man by making clay out of his spit and anointing his eyes – on a Sabbath. Everybody knows that you can’t do that on a Sabbath! The beggar was so sure that Jesus was a messenger from God, we had to excommunicate him from the synagogue. He even suggested that the Pharisee wanted to be followers of Jesus – how ignorant! We had to get rid of him; we couldn’t afford to have a Jesus-supporter like that spreading lies in God’s house.

“I’m glad we excommunicate him because later on one of the other Pharisee’s overheard that beggar talking to Jesus near the temple. The beggar was worshiping Jesus like He was a ‘god’ or something. Then, Jesus said he came into the world so that those who do not see may not see and those who see may become blind. I have never heard of something so preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus had the nerve to tell my friend, another Pharisee, that he was a sinner when everyone knows we always obey God.”

From the perspectives of these two men, we learn that Jesus helps the hopeless and condemns the conceited. The helpless are drawn to Jesus. You may not think of yourself as helpless or hopeless, but spiritually, we all are. God. Isaiah 53:6 says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. Thankfully, the Lord has caused our iniquity to fall on Jesus. 1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a moth to a flame, the helpless are drawn to Jesus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the conceited are driven from Jesus. We prefer labels ourselves “well-prepared” or “confident.” the Prophet Jeremiah warns us, however, not to trust in the wisdom, or physical strength but to trust in the Lord “who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24a) Like a racoon running from the headlights, the conceited are driven from Jesus.

Are you more like the hopeless blind man or the Pharisee who was blind to his spiritual need? How you see yourself is an indication of how you see Jesus, “the Light of the world.” The choice is yours.

Uncommon Faith

What does it take to have uncommon faith?

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A man fell off a cliff but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued. “Is anyone up there?” he called out. “I am here,” the Lord replied, “Do you believe me?” “Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer,” the man exclaimed. “That’s all right” the Lord explained, “if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” After a long pause, the man called out again, “Is anyone else up there?

The story about a man hanging from a cliff highlights the importance of faith even though it might be extreme. John 4:46-54 contains another story about the importance of faith. A royal official came to Jesus and gave us an example of uncommon faith.

The response of the royal official to Jesus stands out in comparison to his fellow Galileans. The Galileans welcomed Jesus, but Jesus knew their response was superficial and fickle. In comparison, the royal official response to Jesus with thoughtfulness and obedience. The royal official and the Galileean approaches to faith can be summed up in two very different statements.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT” (4:43-48).

The Jews in Galilee had heard all about Jesus signs and wonders. They had heard how he turned water into wine (John 2:1-12). They saw the signs he did in Jerusalem during the Passover feast (John 4:45).

The royal official had also heard about Jesus and he was desperate. He probably served at the pleasure of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who married his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. As a representative of the state, he had a certain level of power and authority, but he was powerless to save his own son from death.

Jesus confronted the royal official and condemned this approach to faith. Jesus performed plenty of signs during his ministry, but for a specific purpose – that people would believe in him and experience eternal life (John 20:30-31). The Galileans saw Jesus as a wonder-worker, a cure-all magician who had to prove himself.

God doesn’t have to prove himself to any of us. He has chosen, in his grace, to reveal himself to us. When we demand a sign from God before we will believe, we place ourselves in authority over God.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT BECAUSE HE SAID IT” (4:49-54).

Jesus responded to the royal official with a command. Jesus ordered the official to go back home because his son had already been healed. The official believed Jesus and demonstrated his belief by leaving Jesus without any visible evidence of a miracle.

The royal official received confirmation before he ever saw his son. He came across some of his servants who were on their way to update him on his son’s condition. He knew that Jesus had healed his son because it happened just as Jesus gave the command.

The authenticity of the royal official’s faith in Christ can be seen in two ways. First, he cared enough to share with his family.  It was common in the first century for the family to take on the faith of the father, that doesn’t mean his family was just faking it. They experienced a miraculous healing in their home and they believed. Second, he continued to believe in Jesus even after his crisis was over.

The two approaches to faith on display in this story teach us one main truth: faith that demands a sign is not really faith at all. Faith is how we access eternal life. If we don’t have faith in Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God, we cannot share in the eternal life that he has to offer. The royal official is not lifted up as an exception, but the rule. His “uncommon faith is the kind of faith” we must all have to be saved from our sins.

This matches the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). It also helps to explain Thomas’ encounter with Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:24-29). Most people refer to him as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself. When Jesus finally appeared to Thomas he invited the skeptical disciple to touch his scars. Then, Jesus rebuked Thomas and blessed those who believe in him without seeing him: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe.” (v. 29).

Augustine once said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”

Click here if you want to listen to a message on this passage: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-03-11T10_17_13-07_00