Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? A BLIND MAN SEES

John 9:1-9

The third in a series of four.

This is the third in our series on miracles.  We’ve been looking at some of the miracles Jesus did.  So far, we’ve seen him turn water into wine and feed a crowd as big as the packed house at the IdahoCenter last Tuesday night for Marie Osmond.  Today he heals a blind man.

I read an article on how modern people have a hard time believing in miracles.  That’s nothing new, but what was new and somewhat shocking about this particular article was that it was talking about American evangelical Christians.  The author said they are the ones who have a hard time believing in miracles.  They may believe what the Bible says about the miracles that happened back then but they start waffling when it comes to the miracles God is doing right now.

This is obvious in how we react to illness among ourselves.  We pray for the sick — that God will comfort them and “be with them” in their misery.  We pray that God will give their doctors skill as they treat them.  But we avoid asking God to heal them.  We have gradually adopted the idea that “prayer doesn’t change things; it changes me” and we regard petitionary prayer as something for children.  (Roger Olson, Embarrassed by the Supernatural, “Good News”, July / August 2015.)

He mentions in this article how out of step we are with Christians in much of the rest of the world, especially the southern hemisphere.  It reminded me of a trip I took to Africa in 2001.  The church is growing in Africa at a phenomenal rate.  They are not afraid to talk about miracles.  That’s pretty much all they talk about.  Not analyzing the Bible’s miracle stories and trying to explain them in ways that will be acceptable to modern people, but celebrating the miracles God has done right before their very eyes and trusting that God will do still more.

We see skepticism in the story we read today.  A man who was born blind is healed by Jesus.  Or is he?  Is Jesus just pulling a fast one?  The healing and the drama that follows take up a whole chapter.

It begins with the age-old question:  Why do things like this happen?  Why would God allow an innocent baby to come into this world blind?  There must be a reason.  The disciples of Jesus assume the reason is sin.  “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2)  Jesus sets them straight before the miracle even begins.  “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be revealed in him” (9:3).

This brings us back to what we’ve been talking about all through this series.  Miracles aren’t just miracles.  Miracles are signs.  Signs pointing to Jesus.  This may be a new concept for some of us, but John is real clear and consistent about this.  So I’m trying to be clear and consistent about this, too.  Maybe after four weeks we’ll have it down.  Miracles aren’t done to benefit us.  Miracles aren’t done to point to us and how wonderful we are.   Or how deserving.  Or how faithful.  Miracles point to Jesus.  And through Jesus they point to God.  Jesus is about to heal this man so “that the works of God might be revealed in him.”

In other words, it’s not just so this blind man can see.  It’s so we can see.  Miracles help us see God.  If we can’t see miracles, we’re blind even though we can see.

Then Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (9:5).  It’s the second of his seven “I Am” statements.  He’s actually repeating himself.  He said, “I am the light of the world” in the previous chapter first (8:12).  But it fits better here.  There is darkness in this world.  Physical darkness for those who are blind.  Spiritual darkness for those who aren’t blind but still cannot see.  Jesus is light shining in our darkness.  That’s the message here.  It’s for the benefit of all of us, not just for the man born blind.

Jesus does something a little gross to perform the miracle.  He uses spit.  It brings back memories of driving to church when I was small.  We were always in a hurry because we were always running late.  My dad would be driving and my mom would turn around and notice that some of my breakfast was still on my face.  So what could she use to wash it off?  You guessed it.  Spit has many uses.

One use is found right here in the Bible.

As [Jesus] said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”.  So he went and washed and came back seeing (John 9:6-7).

What follows is all the skepticism, all the confusion, all the controversy over whether the miracle is for real.  Some say yes.  Some say no.  Some say the sighted man just resembles the man who was blind.  It’s a case of mistaken identify.  The Pharisees get involved.  They want to twist this miracle that points to Jesus and makes him look good and turn it into a fraud that exposes him as a shyster.  But the man who was healed is the best witness of all.  With all the confusion over whether this man who now can see is really the same man who used to be blind, he speaks for himself:  “I am the man” (9:9).  And so we have yet another “I Am” statement!

There’s much more that follows.  The Pharisees dominate the rest of the chapter.  They still doubt that the miracle is real and they are also bothered that, real or not, it was done on the Sabbath.  Jesus never should have been working on the Sabbath.  He should have known better.  We’ll just jump to the end of the chapter.  “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41).  An interesting twist.  It’s the ones who can see who still are blind and it’s the one who was blind who now can see!

So back to what we said at the beginning.  Miracles are hard for the modern mind to accept.  Even the evangelical Christian modern mind.  We may believe what the Bible says happened back then.  But we have our doubts about miracles today.  We have doubts at least that the miracles we are so confident God should do are the miracles God will do, if we just pray fervently enough.

Let’s talk about this.  The first thing that needs to be said is what we said two weeks ago.  Miracles are not for us to demand or to control.  Miracles come from God.  They come on God’s terms, not ours.  They come for God’s purposes, not our own.  And the primary purpose of miracles as we’ve seen in John’s Gospel is to point to Jesus and to give glory to God.

God answers prayer.  Prayer does change things.  Prayer changes the one who prays and prayer also changes the world.   But prayer does not work like a vending machine.  It’s not a matter of putting in our request and out comes whatever we asked for.  It’s not like Aladdin’s lamp that we rub and our wish is granted.  It’s a good thing prayer doesn’t work that way, because if it did it would mean we were in control, not God.  I think I’d rather have God in control.  How about you?

God answers our prayers for healing but not necessarily in the way we would like those prayers to be answered.  A wise retired pastor named Jim Hunter told me this over 20 years ago.  I jotted down the notes back then that I still have.  He told me that God heals us in one of five ways.

(1) One way is suddenly and completely.  We call this kind of healing a miracle.  It happens.  It’s happened to some of you.  I know.  You’ve told me.  We should pray for miracles like these.  They do happen.  But they happen rarely.  So we need to accept when our prayer for healing is answered in some other way.

(2) Another way is gradually.  That’s the way God is healing my ribs right now.  It takes time.  Always more time than we want it to take.  We prefer sudden miracles.  But what a blessing it is that God has given us bodies with built-in mechanisms for gradual self-healing when we get sick or injured!

(3) And God heals through doctors.  God uses doctors as agents of healing.  There are churches that encourage people not to go to doctors.  We are not one of those churches.  It’s no accident that most major hospitals, St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s among them, had their origins with churches and people of faith.

(4) There are times when the physical healing does not come, but the inner healing does.  It’s kind of like a calm in the eye of a storm.  It’s a peace, very real and very deep.  Horatio Spafford wrote a hymn about this kind of peace when he was in the depths of despair over the death of his four little girls at sea.  “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

(5) And finally comes the way God will one day heal us all.  The only possible way we can be healed in the long run is by being set free from these bodies we have been living in, some of us for a long time.  Because wonderful as these bodies are, eventually they are going to wear out and we’re going to have to move out.  The Bible speaks of new bodies, spiritual bodies, bodies that will not wear out, that God has prepared for us.

On the little piece of paper on which I have written these

five ways God heals I have also written in the corner, “Jim Hunter,

9-21-93”.  He gave me these on September 21, 1993.  I took out my pastoral record book this week and I learned that on November 30, 1993, Jim Hunter was healed in this very way.  Just over two months after he shared with me this wisdom.

It was a miracle of healing.  Not the kind of healing we were all praying for and hoping for back in 1993 during his battle with cancer, but a miracle nonetheless.  Because through his life and through his death the works of God have been revealed in him.  Even today.

Even when the healing miracle we want God to do is not to be, God is still at work.  I am reminded of that every Sunday evening as I spend time with some amazing people whose bodies or minds or both are such that they cannot live independently, but whose spirits radiate the love of God in such an amazing way.  If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, come to Simply Worship.  You’ll get a lift.  I promise.  The joy in these dear friends of ours is contagious.

Last Thursday Nick Vujicic was in Boise to give a talk for Free Wheelchair Mission.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  That’s always a hard thing to understand.  Most babies come into this world absolutely perfect in every way.  But some do not.  Nick did not.  Why would God have allowed that to happen?  I don’t think we’ll ever get the full answer to that question this side of heaven.  But take a look at this video and you’ll see at least a partial answer.

(Video:  “Miracle of Mobility Special Guest Speaker”)       

I’d say the works of God have been revealed in Nick Vujicic.  In fact, I’d go further than that.  I’d say that we see a greater miracle in Nick Vujicic without arms or legs than we would see in Nick Vujicic if God chose to suddenly give him a full body.

Let’s stay with that thought for a moment as we bring today’s message to a close.  What if God did one of those sudden, complete miraculous healings that Jim Hunter spoke of with Nick Vujicic?  How many people would come to faith as result on that miracle?  A few.  Maybe quite a few.  But 500,000?

So what does that tell us?  Miracles don’t create faith so much as faith creates miracles.

Back to the man born blind.  In this case someone who is born with a serious handicap is healed, suddenly and completely.  Does everyone believe as a result?  Some do.  Many don’t.  The Pharisees don’t.  There is skepticism running throughout this chapter as to the authenticity of this miracle.  It’s not really him.  He wasn’t really blind in the first place.  He can’t really see now.  They do their best to discredit this miracle and they fail.  It is a genuine miracle.  It is one of those rare sudden, complete healing miracles.  Eventually they can’t help but admit that, but they remain enemies of Jesus.  The miracle did not create faith.

But faith does create miracles.  When we have faith in God, that’s when the miracles start happening.   We are told that when Jesus went back to his hometown, Nazareth, the miracles were few and far between.  Why?  “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their disbelief” (Matthew 13:58).

I think of the testimony we heard from Nick Vujicic.  He could have been angry with God for the way he was born.  He could have rejected God.  He could have given up on life.  He could have been miserable every day of his life.  But he chose another way.  He chose God.  He chose faith.  And because of that faith, we see in his life a miracle.  We see the works of God revealed in his life.

Since faith creates miracles and not the other way around, let’s do more than just believe in miracles.  I realize just believing in miracles is a stretch for some.  But believing in miracles is kind of like believing in God.  It’s a good thing, but even the devil believes in God.  We don’t just believe in God, we trust God.  In the same way, we don’t just believe in miracles, we expect miracles.  We don’t just believe they can happen.  We look for them to happen.  They happen more than we know, and it’s through the eyes of faith that we see the miracles that so many miss.

So expect a miracle!   Faith comes first.  First, God prepares our hearts and opens our eyes. Then the miracle.  And finally, the greatness and goodness of God is revealed to all who will see.

 

Give us that faith dear God, without which we cannot see you and the amazing things that you do.  Open our eyes.   Not just our physical eyes, but our spiritual eyes.  And open also our hearts to what you have for us.  It’s not always what we want.  It is always what we need.  Work a miracle in our lives, and through our lives, may you be glorified.  Through Christ Jesus our Lord,  Amen.