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Sunday, April 2, 2017
The 7 Signs of Jesus Sermon Series
Scripture: Psalm 146 & John 9:1-7
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Psalm 146 & Signs of the Messiah
I love making connections. And there are many connections to make in the Bible – some of them obvious and some of them that take time, creativity, and the Holy Spirit’s influence to make. As we journey through Lent together, we’ve been looking at the seven signs in John’s gospel, and I have sought to find connections between the signs in John and writings in the Old Testament. Why? Because John is making the claim that the God of the Old Testament is inaugurating God’s reign on earth through Jesus. And if that truly is the case, we’re going to see Jesus doing things that we see God doing as well. That’s where the connections come in.
We are on sign six of seven today – the healing of the blind man – and in today’s psalm we can see glimpses of five of the first six signs in John. The only one not included is Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana, where he turns water into wine. Since this is communion Sunday, we’re catching yet another glimpse of God’s work in Christ through the way God transforms these ordinary elements on this Table into something extraordinary. Our participation in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper touches on Jesus’ first sign. Let’s briefly look at the connections to Jesus’ signs and Psalm 146.
Beginning in verse 5 we read, “Happy are those whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” What do we see in these words? The God who created all things, including the sea, is the one who is able to walk on water and who is able to use words to calm the raging sea, which is precisely what our youth preached about last week from John 6.
Psalm 146 continues, “Who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” The connection continues, this time with Jesus multiplying food for the crowds following him, so they might know who the Bread of Life is.
Continuing further the psalm reads, “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” Three of the remaining signs are about healing. There are two signs in John 4 and 5 where Jesus heals the official’s son and the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. Certainly this sounds an awful lot like the Lord lifting up people who have been bowed down by life! Today, in our sixth sign, we see Jesus opening the eyes of a man born blind, and doing so within sight of the Temple in Jerusalem, that place where people gathered to give glory to the God whose praises are sung in Psalm 146.
In order to have a fuller understanding of this healing, we need to put ourselves back into the time of Jesus. While still imperfect, our attitudes towards blindness are significantly different than they were in Jesus’ day. Just as this story occurs under the shadow of the Temple, so too the theology of the Old Testament looms large over how they understood blindness. First of all, we know that blindness was a common ailment in the area, especially due to the bright sun and the dusty conditions. We are also aware that people understood that some are born blind, as the man in our text is, and that others have gradations of vision impairment. Like today, blindness would have been physically and socially limiting.
What is more, the Bible talks a lot about blindness. There is the occasional protection offered, as in Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind,” but there more often was exclusion due to their understanding that the holiness of God made it impossible for someone in such a condition to go to the Temple. According to Leviticus 21:18, a blind person could not serve as a priest. There is also some evidence that the blind and the lame were completely excluded from the temple, as in 2 Samuel 5:8.
All this to say that these actions of Jesus towards the blind man, or in most of the other healing stories for that matter, bring about a physical, social, and spiritual restoration.
We know that Jesus has just left the Temple at the end of chapter 8, and now Jesus encounters this blind man. He has just left a scene of controversy, and it doesn’t appear that he’s seeking more controversy at the moment, since this is a matter shared with this blind man and his disciples. But I think John is telling us something in both the proximity of this healing to the Temple – as you can see on the screen with the Temple Mount and the Pool of Siloam so close – and in Jesus’ persistent welcome of those who have found themselves on the outside looking in.
This passage challenges another assumption, too, and this is one that Jesus’ own disciples carry. They ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Their assumption is that his blindness is rooted in sin – either his own or his parents’. And what is fascinating here is that Jesus’ answer is, “Neither!” This man’s blindness had nothing to do with sin and everything to do with God’s purposes for him and for the world.
So Jesus spits on the ground and makes some mud to place on the man’s eyes. (This, by the way, was a conventional healing action in the Greco-Roman world, and even the Talmud refers to spittle being commonly used for eye trouble.) The man then goes down the mountain to the Pool of Siloam to wash, as Jesus commanded him, and he is able to see.
What does this healing do for this man? First and positively, it brings him restoration physically, socially, and spiritually. He is now able to engage in worship not only at the Temple but his eyes have both literally and figuratively been opened to the identity of Jesus. But second and negatively, the rest of the chapter leads to all sorts of controversy for the man and his parents because people are astonished at his healing but also curious about how Jesus could do such a thing, particularly because Jesus had previously healed on the Sabbath Day, creating a reputation for himself especially among the more religious folk.
While this sign is about Jesus’ healing of actual blindness, the Bible also likes to talk about blindness figuratively. This is where things should hit home for all of us, for we all have experienced spiritual blindness. As people questioned this man about his healing, he finally answers, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (9:25). His healing has led to faith in Jesus, and he is able to see clearly the connection between Jesus and God.
In our world, it is often hard to make those connections between visible reality and spiritual reality. Sometimes it’s easy to affirm that Jesus is Savior and that we trust in God, but so often our faith gets overshadowed by our doubts or by the cares of this world. Jesus claims, “I am the light of the world” right in the heart of this passage. My encouragement to us today is simple. Just as this blind man was given eyes to see by Jesus, the light of the world, so too may our eyes be opened by Jesus to see things as he sees them.
Through these signs, John is telling us that the world is not as it seems, that there is far more going on than meets the eye. Jesus brought sight to this blind man, and he was restored both physically and spiritually. So, too, may Jesus give us eyes to see the world the way he sees it and to live in it the way he would have us live in it. That, like this blind man, we too can affirm, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
 Everyman’s Talmud, p. 253, and New Interpreter’s Bible notes for Mark 7:33 and 8:23.