I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas where I had the twin delights of presiding at a wedding involving a family I’ve known during my entire tenure at Good Shepherd AND staying with my mother, 103-year-old Betty Davis.
So Wayne Hobson started the new series off for us with a story from John 9 that strikes very close to HIS heart. Called Trading Places, Wayne’s message has a memorable bottom line: Your failures STOP defining you when Jesus STARTS delivering you.
Welcome to week 1 of our new series, “The Jesus Effect.” We are so glad that you’re with us and many of you will be “Grabbing, gathering, and Going” with your small groups and we invite you to have those conversations that will come from the G3 guide and videos. Today’s message is entitled “Trading Places.”
Well, if you are a driver, you already know the place that every driver LOVES to visit – the DMV. (AV -)
Because you can imagine that the worst day of all is a day at the DMV. Whether you were trying to renew your license or just trying to get your new tags, you know that you’ll either have to go on your day off or call out sick because it’s going to be the day from “you know where” for you – ALL DAY! And you know that that all day visit to the DMV will consist of at least two parts –
- Explaining what you are there for
- Proving WHO YOU ARE so that you CAN get what you came there for!
And being legally blind complicates that all the more! So Dorothy and I moved just a few miles away from Steelecreek to Lake Wylie, we had to go to exchange our NC licenses for SC licenses and it was the most agonizing experience of our adult lives. And I had to explain that the car was in my name, but that Dorothy was the driver and you would have thought that we were Bonnie and Clyde! I had to give them everything except a blood sample just to prove who I was.
That’s what it was like for the blind man in chapter 9 of the Gospel of John,. He had his day at the religious DMV. I love this story because it is so masterfully told and it is unique to the Gospels because it takes up an entire chapter to tell. Now, we won’t read the whole chapter, just so that you know; I will just point out some highlights and give you a little background. Look at what happens to this poor guy-
Joh 9:1 And passing by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.
Joh 9:2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Joh 9:3 Jesus answered, Neither has this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be revealed in him.
Joh 9:5 As long as I Am in the world, I Am the Light of the world.
Joh 9:6 And when He had spoken these things, He spat on the ground and made clay from the spittle. And He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.
Joh 9:7 And He said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which translated is Sent). Therefore he went and washed and came seeing.
We aren’t told why Jesus sends him to the pool of Siloam alone to wash and come back. WHO DOES THAT? Send a blind man to a pool by himself? Jesus does! Though we don’t know why Jesus sends him alone, I can’t help but wonder if it was so that that man could see his success after following Jesus’ instruction. He stumbles blindly along to the water and comes back seeing – then look what happens…
Joh 9:8 Then the neighbors and those who had seen him before, that he was blind, said, Is this not he who was sitting and begging?
Joh 9:9 Some said, This is he. Others said, He is like him. He said, I am he.
Joh 9:13 They brought him who once was blind to the Pharisees.
Joh 9:14 And it was a sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.
(My commentary – “UH OH, you’ve done it now Jesus… how dare you do good deeds on the Sabbath! He’s really racking up points on His license.”)
Joh 9:18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.
Joh 9:19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
Joh 9:20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind.
Joh 9:21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”
Talk about a bad day at the religious DMV! They keep saying that it’s not him, the man keeps saying it’s me! They demand proof of his ID – let’s see your SS card, passport, and utility bills. Then when that’s still not enough, they want his parents to verify who he is. And all of this was because he suddenly moved from blindness to seeing. As if being blind from birth wasn’t bad enough, now his parents are kinda deserting him too because they were afraid of getting kicked out of the synagogue. Hes just telling his story, which nobody wantd to believe….
But there’s a reasonable explanation for WHY they don’t believe him. Its not because of the man, but because of WHO healed him! Heres where I need to give you a little background – you don’t need to turn to it, but their problem with Jesus started back at verses 56-59 of chapter 8. Jesus had gotten into a heated discussion with the religious folks in which, He told them that Abraham longed to see Jesus’ time and he saw Jesus and rejoiced. They told Him, you aren’t 50 yrs old yet, how could You have known Abraham? Jesus’ response almost got Him killed right then because He used an ancient Name and phrase that only belonged to GOD – “Before Abraham was, (here’s the phrase) I AM! How dare you Jesus! Any religious Jew knows that I AM was the Name that GOD gave for Himself to Moses – I AM that I AM.
Now Jesus was using that Name in conjunction with Himself and they were going to stone Him to death for using it for Himself. But…He escapes them, He seems to vanish from them and passes by… the continuation from verse 59 of chapter 8 is verse 1 of chapter 9 – “And as He was passing by, He sees…
This man who was born blind, has the best thing possible happen when Jesus encounters him…and now he’s about to have the worst thing happen to him. Look at verses 24-34:
Joh 9:24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man (JESUS) is a sinner.”
Joh 9:25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Joh 9:26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
Joh 9:27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Joh 9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
Joh 9:34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
They take him through the ringer, they tell him that he can’t be who he says he is, and he insists that he is the formerly blind man, they then tell him, “Well you may be the blind guy, but you weren’t healed by this Jesus, cause this Jesus is bad news – he’s a bad driver. He’s already got warrants out for Him.”
Maybe some of you here today know what this man felt like. You’ve tried to tell family or friends about Jesus and maybe you’re just tired – every time you try to talk about Jesus you feel like you’ve been beaten up verbally, just like this guy.
Maybe folks keep giving you their version of Jesus like these people did to this man and all you wanted to do was to tell them what a wonderful thing Jesus did for you and BAM! You got hit with them telling you about your past sins and how they remember the time that you did this or said that, just like in verse 34, when they let this guy know what they really thought of him. Or they hit you with “The GOD I know or the Jesus I know is like this.” And they proceed to tell you who Jesus is to them and it almost never matches what the Scripture says or even what you wanted to share, so you walk away feeling like a FAILURE.
Wanna know what I discovered as I read this story over and over? That what this whole story is really about,… is failure. I kept seeing failure all in these verses, starting with this man who was born blind – he fails to see from birth, he fails his parents because in those days, he was responsible for providing the family and this man couldn’t do that. The best that he could do was to beg for money and he couldn’t support himself. He had to feel like a failure in life.
Then there’s the failure of the Pharisees to believe and failure to see Who Jesus was. They fail to believe the man and they fail to believe in Jesus. Then the guy’s parents fail to answer on behalf of their son. The only One who doesn’t fail, is Jesus.
And this man is the only one listening to Jesus, because he blindly followed Jesus. Now this man is now a former failure…because here’s what I want you to know –
(AV – Bottom-line) “Your failures STOP defining you when Jesus STARTS delivering you.”
Sometimes our failures and faults blind us and we see no hope beyond your failures. Someone greater than you must release you from those failures – a judge mercifully drops that DUI, or reduces that sentence to “time served”, or that AA sponsor who helps you get back on the wagon. There’s someone greater than you, stronger than you, who has to be a part of your process in moving from failure to faithfulness.
Jesus always invites us to take part in our own process – maybe that’s part of the reason why He sends this man to the pool alone. Maybe the best way to overcome failure is to take part in your success…
Failure – I know a whole lot about what THAT feels like – because I was just like this man. I was born blind and for much of my life, I felt like a failure. When you were born Black and blind in the 1960’s, you didn’t have much hope of being anything more. I spent much of my life identifying with failure.
Even though I gained some of my sight through eye surgeries, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to make people see me as a valued member of society, it wasn’t enough to make me equal to others around me. I remember when I turned 16, that I tried to feel like other kids, so I tried to do what most 16 year olds did – I tried to get my learners permit. I thought that by getting a driver’s license, my grandfather would be proud of me like he was of his other grandchildren. But, I failed the eye test – another failure. I remember the nurse, who happened to be Caucasian, looking at me struggling to see the eye chart and she irately said “You need to learn how to read!” I was so hurt, I didn’t know whether to yell or cry. I finally said “it’s not that I can’t read, I just can’t see.” She thought that I was illiterate because I was Black. That experience became a constant reminder of my failures.
And I know some of you here today know exactly what I’m talking about. I just want to talk to you. Maybe you feel like a failure because you’ve had failed relationships, failed marriages, failed careers. Maybe for others of you, you’ve been made to feel like you’ve failed your parents or your children. Or maybe you feel like a failure because you’ve failed time and time again in recovery from addiction or alcoholism. Whatever has made you feel like a failure, I want you to cling to every word that I’m saying. Because look what happens next to this man:
Joh 9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and finding him, He said to him, Do you believe on the Son of God?
Joh 9:36 And he answered and said, Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him?
Joh 9:37 And Jesus said to him, You have both seen Him, and it is He who is speaking with you.
Joh 9:38 And he said, Lord, I believe! And he worshiped Him.
John 9:39Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see, will become blind.”
So the religious folks kick the man out and Jesus goes and finds him. Thank God for Jesus being Who He is! Because when we deal with our own failure, Jesus wants to find us – especially when we feel like we’ve failed Him. What I love about Jesus is that He keeps coming towards us, ever looking for us, even when we run from Him, He keeps
And again, we see more failure – its in these verses that John tells us why he spend so much time telling us this story. Now the failures here, had nothing to do with the man who was born blind. The failure is on the part of all those religious folks that didn’t want to hear about Jesus healing this man. These same folks wanted to hear about the man’s failure and sin, but they wanted no part of hearing Who brought success into his life.
That’s the effect that Jesus has on us – He not only transforms us, but He transforms our dark past, like this man in the story, and He gives us a marvelously bright future. Because Jesus causes our failures to fade and our faith to flourish.
And John is a master story teller! He carefully weaves in esch specific detail so that we understand his point. I love the way John tells this particular story because he always refers to this man as the “man who was born blind” or the “man that was blind from birth.” John NEVER calls him ‘the blind man.”
I researched the different versions of verse 1 and all of them used similar language –a man who was blind. No version I saw called him “a blind man”. And Jesus never regards this man as a blind man. That lets us know that Jesus didn’t see the man’s problems and failures first. Jesus saw the MAN FIRST. Jesus does the same thing with us today – He doesn’t see your failures or your problems first; He sees YOU. He knows your problems and your failures, but He’s looking for YOU, not your failure.
What a Wonderful Savior we have – He looks at us, He looks for US, and directs us to look past our failures and what others have said about us, so that we can see Him. You can see Jesus clearly when you know that He sees you! Because –
(AV – Bottom-line) “Your failures STOP defining you when Jesus STARTS delivering you.”
You see, only One greater than you, can release you from yourself.…And your past that others keep reminding you about. The great effect that Jesus has on us, is to change the direction of our future.
Ending: A long time ago, there was a blind boy born in Michigan. His name was Steve Judkins and he was among a large family of sisters and brothers. His family was desperately poor and he didn’t truly know who his father was. He had no hope of being productive in life. He went to a school for the blind and he was made to believe that he would be a failure. When he asked his teacher what kind of work he could do for the rest of his life, she told him the best that he could hope for was to weave baskets. Thank goodness he didn’t follow her advice and adopt her prognosis of his future. Instead, he changed his name and followed his true passion in life. Almost all of you have heard of him – but you know him as Stevie Wonder. (AV – picture of Stevie Wonder when I say his name)