Sunday, July 17, 2016

I AM the Good Shepherd, John 10:11-21

From the very earliest examples of literature, we find the use of anthropomorphic allegories or similitudes used to illustrate various types of human behavior.  Even today, much of our perceptions of human behavior is influenced by tales of animals who talk, and think as we do.  And so it is not surprising that  we find in the Bible uses such analogies from time to time as a means of teaching certain principles.  

Today we come to one such allegory, that of the church, or the people of God, presented as sheep, and Christ as the shepherd of the sheep.  Also in this allegory, Christ portrays false religious leaders as wolves who prey on the sheep.  Most of us can appreciate this type of teaching mechanism.  We understand, at least in some fashion, the picture of a shepherd and his sheep.

But I suppose that this allegory is not as clear to us in this modern industrialized world as it would have been to listeners in Jesus’ day.  Because even though we are familiar with the idea of shepherding, most of us probably have never spent much time around sheep.  The Israelites though were sheepherders by heritage, going back to the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  When the Israelites moved into Egypt during the time of Joseph they settled in the land of Goshen.  They lived separately from the Egyptians because they were shepherds, and that was a loathsome profession to the Egyptians.  So historically, the Israelites were shepherds, and as such the people listening in Jesus’ day would have been very familiar with this type of allegory.

However for us folks living today, we may have a vague picture of Jesus carrying a lamb on His shoulders tucked away somewhere in the photo bank of our memory, but that’s about the extent of our knowledge about the subject.  Such anthropomorphic  stories might be much more understandable for us if they were about dogs.  My kids grew up on Disney tales like 101 Dalmatians, or the Fox and the Hound.  We have had several dogs as pets at our house.  So most of us can relate to dogs.  We like to imagine that they have certain human attributes.  Some of us even treat our dogs like humans, sometimes we treat them better than humans.  

But Jesus in His wisdom did not use dogs in allegories as teaching entities.  To be frank, dogs are much more intelligent than sheep.  In fact, in some cases, dogs seem to be more intelligent than people sometimes.  But to illustrate humans, Jesus used sheep.  And before we can really appreciate this passage, I think we need to first of all recognize that Jesus is symbolizing His people as sheep.

Popular perceptions about sheep are actually not all that accurate. Sheep are often considered symbols of innocence, meekness, submission, and patience.  Or at least that’s the common perception.  But I read a number of articles written by experts on sheep and shepherding, and I have to say that those attributes were not really highlighted.  What we perceive to be innocence of meekness or patience they call just being dumb.  Sheep are actually very stupid creatures.  One writer listed 12 characteristics of sheep that I will just briefly run through, just so that we might get a more accurate picture of what the Bible says we are like. 

First of all, he said sheep are very foolish. Out of all animal IQ’s, sheep would have to be at the bottom of the list. 2. Sheep are slow to learn. You don’t see sheep performing tricks in a circus for good reason. 3. Contrary to idyllic pictures that we might have seen somewhere, sheep aren’t all that attractive.  They are dirty, smelly, actually kind of ugly up close.4. Sheep are demanding. They always want to eat, and will turn a grassy field into a mud patch in no time, eating the even the roots of the plants. They constantly need new pastures to satisfy their insatiable appetites. 5. They are extremely stubborn.  They are almost impossible to herd.  Perhaps that’s why shepherds are described as leading the sheep. Because if sheep don’t want to go somewhere, you can’t hardly make them. 6. Sheep are stronger than they look.  They are physically strong. 7. Sheep are prone to straying. They have little sense of direction.  They get lost easily.  Perhaps because they are always looking down. They will wander away without supervision. 8. Sheep are unpredictable. They do foolish things without any sense of reason. 9. Sheep are followers.  If one starts running, others will run as well.  If one wanders away, others will follow them. 10. Sheep are restless.  For sheep to lie down they need freedom from fear, freedom from friction with others, freedom from hunger, and freedom from pests and parasites.  That is a rare combination. 11.  Sheep are dependent.  Without a shepherd for protection, sheep would die from starvation, from thirst or from predators. 12. Though sheep may look differently in different countries, in nature all sheep are the same.  That’s an unflattering picture of sheep, and yet that is the picture of sheep that those Jews listening to Jesus would have had.

Now to be fair, the Bible does not paint quite such a dismal picture of sheep.  But it does emphasize their nature to stray as their primary characteristic.  One of the best known verses is Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  That verse emphasizes the nature of sheep to go astray, to wander from the fold, to become ensnared in trouble.  

You will remember the parable that Jesus told about a lost sheep who went astray in Matthew 18:12-14.   "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”  

So it’s important then that we understand what Jesus is talking about when He speaks in this passage to the religious leaders of the Jews and says that He is the Shepherd of the sheep.  We cannot understand this allegory while holding onto some idealistic picture of sheep, if we are to understand the simile correctly.  Sheep are a picture of people, of the human condition, and His sheep represents those sheep that belong to Christ.  That means they are the church.  They are followers of Christ.  As Jesus said in verse 9, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”  He said in vs.4, “the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  And in vs.10, He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  So to be the sheep of Christ is to be the church of Christ.  We are the ones who go astray, we’re the ones who are foolish, who follow our appetites to the point of ruining our life, who will perish at the hands of false teachers if not for our shepherd who defends us.  Our well being is completely dependent upon Him and His under shepherds. 

So that’s our characteristics as sheep.  Now let’s look at those of the good Shepherd for a moment.  Jesus said in vs.11, “I am the good Shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  Jesus describes first His nature, and then His purpose.  First let’s consider His nature.  The word Jesus uses for good is the Greek word “kalos”.  There is another Greek word commonly used for good.  That’s the word “agathos”.  That word means morally good.  But the word “kalos” is different.  It literally means beautiful.  But it’s not referring to physical beauty, but to being excellent, magnificent, admirable, noble, praiseworthy.  I would add to that desirable.  

Not only is He presenting the nobility of His character, but He is contrasting between Himself and the aforementioned thieves and robbers who enter into the fold to take advantage of the sheep.  He is the Shepherd of excellent character.  One who comes with a noble calling to take care of the sheep, to give the sheep abundant life, to lead them to pasture.  So He is making a contrast between the true shepherd and the hirelings of verse 12, who haven’t got the best interests of the sheep in mind, but are in it for money.  We can trust that the Lord is good, that His desire for us is for our best interests. This is the failure of our faith many times, that we doubt the Lord’s goodness.  We don’t surrender our will to Him because we doubt that His will is for our best.   We need to trust in the Lord’s goodness towards us and follow Him.

And then He presents His purpose as evidence of His goodness.  He said He gives His life for the sheep. Four times Jesus repeats this phrase that He lays down HIs life for the sheep.  This willingness to give His life for the sheep is the ultimate attestation of the nobility of His character.  It shows His love for the sheep.  Jesus said in John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  That’s the standard of love that God has given to us to emulate.  But I dare say Jesus went even beyond this exalted standard.  Because Jesus did not just die for those who were His friends, but for those who were HIs enemies.  Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Even when we were in rebellion against God, Christ laid down His life for us.

This is the reason that Christ came to earth; to give His life as a ransom for sinners.  He says in another place, that He came to seek and to save those that were lost.  And the only way that God could bring about the salvation of lost sheep, to save sinners, of which we all are partakers, is by dying in our place.  Because God’s law is unchangeable.  In the Garden of Eden God declared that if you eat of the tree you will die.  Death is the divine punishment for sin that passed from Adam to all men because all have sinned.  Romans 3:23 says, the wages of sin is death.  But God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son to be our substitute.  The Shepherd offers His life in exchange for the sheep.  This is the doctrine of atonement; that Jesus paid the penalty that we deserved, by offering Himself as our substitute.  

2 Cor.5:21 says that God made Jesus who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.  That is why Jesus came. Not just to be a great teacher about life, not just to be the supreme example of how we are to live.  Those things are true, but secondary to the primary reason which is to save us from the penalty of death by offering up Himself as our substitute.

Then in verses 12 and 13, Jesus further defines His ministry by contrasting that of the hirelings.  These are those false shepherds who are only doing it for the monetary or political gain or social gain that they might get from their position.  When trouble comes, when the wolf comes, they flee and leave the sheep to fend for themselves.  The point being that the distinguishing feature of a true shepherd as opposed to a false one is that he loves the sheep enough to lay down his life for them.  That’s a distinguishing feature of a true under shepherd as well.  He may not become a literal martyr for the sheep, but he will give up his life for the sake of the sheep.  A true pastor will give up his life for the sake of the church.  He will give up whatever career he might have, what riches he might enjoy, what benefits he might have in this world, for the sake of the church.  That’s why when I see these television evangelists sitting in lavish studios wearing $1000 dollar suits, and flying around the country in their private jets, I am skeptical of whether or not they are true shepherds.  A hireling is someone who assumes the position of a shepherd but is only interested in the financial rewards.

The next point that Jesus makes in this allegory is the relationship between the true Shepherd and His sheep. In vs.14-15 Jesus says,   "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,  even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Notice that Jesus says that the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is the same as the relationship between the Father and the Son. That is a tremendous statement.  The relationship between the church and Jesus, is the same as the relationship between the Father and Christ.  Now what kind of relationship is that?  Well, I would suggest that it’s a relationship of intimacy, of fellowship, of communion.  We could summarize it by saying it is a relationship based on love.

Now when you look at the text you don’t see the word love mentioned anywhere in it.  But love we have already determined was the reason that Christ gave HIs life for the church.  We know that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to save them, to become His church.  But the word that Jesus uses in the Greek is “ginōskō”, which is translated “know”.  But He isn’t talking about knowing as just knowing information.  He is using a term that indicated intimacy.  Sometimes it was used to indicate sexual intimacy.  In Jewish terminology, they spoke of sexual intimacy as to know one’s wife as in Genesis 4:1 when Adam knew Eve or Matthew 1:25 where Joseph did not know Mary when she was with child.

And notice that further proof of that is that the word “knows” of vs. 15 is explained in vs.17 as  “loves”. God loves Christ in vs.15, and that is explained in vs.17 as God loves Christ.  That same type of relationship between God and the Son is to also be between Christ and the church.  That love that we have with Christ is the love of intimacy pictured in Ephesians as the love of Christ for His church.  Listen to Ephesians 5:25, “ Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  Here it is again, this concept of love being that Christ gave Himself up, that is, He gave up His life for the church.  And that love consummated becomes the basis for a communion that can best be illustrated by the marriage of a husband and wife.  Ephesians 5:31-32 “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

This relationship between the church and Christ is based on the same love between the Father and the Son.  Jesus said in John 3:35 "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.”  And in John 5:20 “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing.”  So that intimate relationship between the Father and the Son is to be mirrored between Christ and His bride, that is the church. 

Then notice how that love is manifested between Christ and the Father.  Jesus said in vs. 18, "No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”  So that love between the Father and the Son is characterized by the Son’s obedience to the Father. He was obedient to the Father’s command.  Phil. 2:8 says concerning Christ, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  And also look at Heb. 5:8 “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”  So though Jesus was the Son of God, the very God in flesh, yet He humbled Himself to be obedient to the Father because He loved the Father.  

Now as Christ was obedient to the Father as evidence of His love, so also Jesus said we are to be to Him.  We are to know Him even as He knew the Father.  So our relationship to Christ then is based on love, which is based on obedience, even as was Christ to the Father.  Let’s look again at that reference which we quoted earlier,  John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  But what’s the next verse say?  “You are My friends if you do what I command you.”  There it is.  The correlation of love to obedience.  You cannot have one without the other.  

Jesus said in John 14:15 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  That is the way love is expressed.  That is the way love is expressed by Christ to God, and that is the way we as the church express our love to Christ. That’s the way the sheep show that they know the good Shepherd.  They follow Him.  They go where He tells them to go.  They answer Him when He calls.  In Luke 6:46 Jesus asked, Why do you say to Me “Lord, Lord,” and don’t do the things which I say?  But the one who hears HIs word and acts on His word will show that He knows the Lord.

And then that obedience brings about the next characteristic that Jesus teaches, and that is the unity of the church is mirrored by the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus says in John 10:16-18 "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Those other sheep that Jesus had which are not of this fold are none other than the Gentiles, that is you and I.  We were not a part of the fold of the Israelites.  But Jesus came to save the world, all nations, all tribes, of all tongues.  The fact that He is the Savior of the world means that He draws all men to Himself.  Where there was once division between the Jews and the Gentiles, He has made into one church, one kingdom, one people.  

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He prays for the unity of the church to be even as the unity that He had with the Father.  I’ll give you just a few verses from His prayer which illustrate that.  In John 17:11, 20-23  Jesus prayed, "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. ... 20 "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”  

Why is that unity so important?  So that the world might know who Jesus is. The church is to be unified by the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them, that they may do the works of Christ. We can know Him intimately because He is in us.  And because He is in us, we do HIs work.  So that the world might know Him as they see Him operating in us.  So then the gospel is not the exclusive domain of Christians in America.  The gospel is not the exclusive domain of the nation of Israel.  But it is the domain of Christ, the Savior of the world, who desires all men to be saved and to know the truth of salvation.  That can only be realized when the church goes into all the world and preaches the gospel to every living creature.  

Now there is a final aspect of that relationship with Christ to the world.  And that is found in the last three verses we are looking at this morning.  Vs.19-21 “A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?"  Others were saying, "These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”

So the relationship with the world will be characterized not only by unity with His church, but by division.  He came He said in Matt. 10:34  "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. He said in Luke 12:51 "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.”  Listen, the truth of God is dividing.  It causes division on purpose.  He came to divide between the sheep and the goats.  Between the light and the darkness.  Between truth and a lie.  Between life and death.  The gospel of Jesus Christ brings division.  Unity is to be unified to the truth.  We are not to be unified to the world.  James 4:4 You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

This division that Jesus brings causes people to have to make a decision.  Will they listen to the voice of Christ?  Will they recognize the truth of God?  And then what will be their response to it?  How about you?  You have heard the voice of the good Shepherd today.  Is there a response in your soul to the truth?  Do you recognize that you are a sheep that has gone astray, and you’re in need of the shepherd of your soul?  If the Holy Spirit has so convicted you and called you today, I pray that you will heed the voice of the Shepherd and answer Him, and follow Him.  He has paid the penalty for your sin and if you will but surrender to Him as Lord, He promises to be your Shepherd and to lead you into the path of  life.   I pray that today you will answer that call.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I AM the Door, John 10:1-10

As usual, today we are looking at the next passage in our ongoing verse by verse study in the book of John, particularly the teachings of Jesus.  I don’t preach topical messages.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or Mother’s Day, I’m going to preach the Word of God as we come to it.  But I will say this in light of the recent events in our country.  We live in a fallen world, we live in a broken world, a world broken by sin.  And the only hope for the world is not found in political parties, it is not found in social justice, the only hope for the world is found in Jesus Christ. And that hope is manifested in HIs church here on earth, it is manifested by His body.  His church manifests Jesus Christ to the world when we are conformed to the image of Christ.  So to that end, we are going to look today at a simple allegory which Jesus gave, which illustrates the true church of Christ, and their relationship to the Great Shepherd of the church.

This passage we are looking at today is the first part of a discourse that Jesus gave shortly after healing a blind man.  If you look back at chapters 8 and 9, you will remember that Jesus had been teaching in the temple and said some things regarding His deity to the Jewish religious leaders which infuriated them, and so they took up stones in order to stone Him to death.  But Jesus disappeared into the crowd and escaped.  Then on the way out of the temple, He and his disciples saw a man who John tells us who had been born blind.  And so Jesus spat on the ground, made clay and rubbed it on his eyes, and told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  The blind man believed Jesus, and obeyed by going and washing, and John says he came back to the temple seeing.  

He eventually finds himself in front of the Pharisees, the religious rulers of Israel, and they interrogate him, trying to find information that they can use to discredit this miracle of Jesus.  But they cannot.  They can’t dismiss the irrefutable fact that he who was born blind can now see.  But their anger so burns against Christ, that they take it out on this man, and so they excommunicate him from the temple. That meant that not only was he now a religious outcast, but a social outcast as well.  But Jesus comes later on that day and finds him, and reveals Himself fully to him as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord Jehovah.  And so it says that this formerly blind man worshipped Him.  Worship is reserved for God.  Not for prophets, not for great teachers.  But this man worshipped Him as Lord God, and Jesus accepted that worship.

Shortly after that, Jesus declares to the Pharisees in 9:39, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”  In other words, Jesus is saying that He came to separate those who are in the kingdom of Light, from those who in the kingdom of darkness.  That is the judgment that Jesus said He brought to the world.  Jesus said in  John 3:19, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”  So the judgment Jesus brings is to distinguish between light and darkness, truth and error, and life and death.  This is the judgment that comes through Christ on the world.

Now as we come to chapter 10, Jesus continues to teach that principle even further by use of an allegory.  The first part of this allegory which we read is that of sheep which belong to a shepherd, which are kept in a sheep fold, and the nature of true shepherds and false shepherds.  And this allegory is expanding upon and illustrating the nature of the people who belong to God, which Jesus likens to sheep belonging to a shepherd.  This is a recurring theme we see throughout the Old Testament, that of God as the Shepherd of His people. 

For instance, one of my favorite psalms is Psalm 23.  When we studied through the Psalms recently in our Wednesday night Bible studies, we memorized the 23rd Psalm.  I’m suffering a little jet lag this morning, so I don’t trust my memory. I am going  to read it for you, because I think it sets the stage for this allegory that Jesus was teaching.  Psalm 23 says, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Now that is a beautiful Psalm. And we hear it used to speak to lots of different situations or circumstances in our lives. But it’s important to realize that the primary interpretation of this Psalm is to paint a picture of salvation. And as we look at it through the template of salvation, we see first of all that the Shepherd satisfies our need for salvation, as He gives us rest from our attempts at our own works of righteousness, He saves our soul, He leads us into the path of righteousness which comes through His own righteousness, He delivers us from the penalty of death, He provides blessing for us even though we live in the midst of a perverse world, He leads us and corrects us through the Word, He anoints us with the Spirit of God, He gives us all things to enjoy, He will never leave us or forsake us, and we will live forever with the Lord.  That is the picture presented in Psalm 23, the picture of those in the church, who are saved, who are born again into the family of God, and are of the body of Christ.  

Psalm 23 shows the relationship between the Shepherd and his sheep when one is saved by repentance and faith in Christ. The natural state of all men is like that of a lost sheep.  Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him (that is upon Christ) the iniquity of us all.”  So those who hear the call of God and  turn to Jesus as their Shepherd, by repentance from their sins and faith in Him as Lord who is able to save them from their sins, God lays their iniquity on Christ, and as they follow Him as their Shepherd, they are made part of His flock.  That means that they become part of His church, His body.  

That method of salvation was true in the Old Testament times and it is true in the New Testament times.  That  principle of the church is important for us to understand.  Jesus was the Great Shepherd of the church of Israel, and He is the Great Shepherd of the New Testament church.  In the Old Testament, the church was limited to being or becoming an Israelite, either by birth or by becoming a proselyte. But in the New Testament church there is no more Jew and Gentile,  but we are all baptized into one faith, as one new race, a new people, the people of God. But God’s people were always His church.

So Jesus illustrates that relationship through a very familiar allegory in those days, that being the picture of a shepherd and his sheep.  Now that was a familiar subject to an agrarian community such as that of the Jews in Jesus day, but it is not so familiar to us today I suppose. And I won’t pretend to be an expert on sheep either.  But I have read many accounts from those who are.  So I think it’s helpful to our understanding if we explain what these experts have written concerning shepherds and their sheep.

In those days, there was usually a community sheepfold near a village or town which would have been used by several different shepherds.  This would be a large pen or fenced enclosure on the outskirts of the village.  And during the day each individual  shepherd would lead his flock out to pasture and watch over them and care for them.  But in the evening, all the shepherds would lead their flocks back to the sheepfold where they would be kept for the night.  The shepherd would turn over responsibility to a doorkeeper, or porter, who would guard the door of the fold all night.  And from what we are told, this door would be a narrow opening in the fence, which only one sheep at a time could pass in and out of.  And so once all the sheep were safely inside the fence, the doorkeeper would lie across the gate, or door so that none could enter or go out. There was no other door. 

In the morning, the shepherds would come back to the sheepfold to gather their sheep again in order to pasture them.  And the way this was done was each shepherd in turn would call his sheep.  In some cases he would call them by name.  Names that he had given them.  And as his sheep recognized his voice they would come to him and he would lead them out to pasture and tend to them all day, leading them to water, leading them to rest, leading them to green pastures.  Now that is a beautiful picture, not unlike that of Psalm 23, but note that  it is only true for those sheep that belong to that particular shepherd.  There are other sheep that belong to other shepherds, and they do not recognize the shepherd’s voice, and so they do not follow him.

Now that is a simple illustration which shows as I said the relationship of the Lord with His church.  And Jesus uses this not only to illustrate that, but to rebuke the Pharisees and expose them as false shepherds.  Look at vs.1, Jesus says that “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

So the contrast is very clear.  There are some who enter the sheepfold who are not the true shepherd.  They do not enter through the door but climb over some other way under cover of darkness, to steal and rob the sheep. Now this is a pointed reference to the Jewish religious leaders.  They attempt to rob from the church of God by climbing up some other way.  They do not come through the door, who is Christ.  They seek to defraud the church for their own advantage.  He explains further in vs.10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  False teachers, false shepherds have the same agenda as Satan.  Jesus said in chapter 8:44 to these false religious leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  

That’s why in this allegory they come under cover of darkness.  Jesus is called in chapter one the Word, and it says the Word was Light.  And the Light shines in darkness.  That is how we know the truth, because the truth is light. So the characteristic of false teachers is that they don’t come with the truth, they don’t teach the word of God, they come with lies, with half truths, with silly stories, with philosophy, with human reason, with entertainment, tickling the ears of their listeners to deceive them, to defraud them of the truth, which leaves them in darkness and ultimately destroys those who are deceived.  It destroys them because it blinds them to the truth, and Jesus said in 8:32 that only the truth can make you free.  Only the truth of God can make your free from the penalty of death.

And that is what the Pharisees, the priests, the scribes and lawyers, the religious teachers of the Jews were; false shepherds, defrauders of the church by their false teachings which leave people in darkness.  Jesus said in vs. 8, “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.”  He is speaking of the priesthood and the rabbis and Pharisees that had come to take advantage of the sheep.  They are thieves and robbers.  They are not serving the sheep, but serving themselves.  They do not come through Jesus Christ.

Here is the thing. Though God had appointed the Levitical priesthood to conduct the services in the temple, and to teach the word of God, they had become apostate.  They still conducted the services and ceremonies and rituals, but they had departed from the truth.  And the other religious leaders in Judaism were apostate as well.  They gave precedence to the traditions of their forefathers.  They observed their ordinances and traditions, but they had long since lost sight of any application to their hearts.  Furthermore, many of their offices were appointed by politics, not by God. Much of the leadership that was controlling and influencing the church of Israel such as the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees had never really been appointed by God.  And so they were in it for the political power that it gave them, and for the financial opportunity it provided as rulers of Israel.  Jesus says they were thieves and robbers. However, God did use men to be His spokesmen.  He appointed prophets such as John the Baptist or Elijah, who would faithfully call His people to repentance. But for the most part the religious leadership of Judaism was apostate.

I believe that has a lot of similarity with the situation in the church today.  I would dare say that a large percentage of pastors and priests in churches today are not really called by God to preach His word, but are nominated by men, by denominational boards, by countless human mechanisms, but they are not sent by God, and as such they are not true shepherds or doorkeepers.  They have climbed in some other way.  They did not come through Jesus Christ.  God didn’t call them or appoint them.  They are man appointed.  But just as in times past, God still speaks through His appointed prophets.  Not fortune tellers, not future tellers.  That’s not what it means to be a prophet of God.  But prophets who are forth tellers.  Men who will faithfully proclaim forth the truth of God’s word without adulteration or hesitation. 

By the way, let me make something clear that has been on my mind lately.  As the church, we need to understand that God has chosen men to be His instruments here on earth. To be His ambassadors, His ministers.  We are not all called to be pastor’s or preachers, but we are all called to be ministers, to be workers in the kingdom.  God has always chosen to use men to perform His works here on earth.  God divided the Red Sea, but He told Moses to strike it with His rod.  God raised the widow’s son, but He used Elijah to do it. God is the author of His word, but He used men to write it down as the scriptures.  Even when it came to providing salvation for the world, God did not act without incorporating man in that salvation.  Jesus not only was God, but He also became a man in order to effect our salvation.  

So I say that to emphasize that if there is a work here on earth that God has determined to do, then He will usually use the people of His church to do it.  That is the purpose of the body of Christ.  To be His hands and His feet.  This idea that all we can do is say a quick prayer and then go back to our regularly scheduled programming on television, believing that if it’s going to be done then God will have to do it, and that means we do nothing,  is bogus.  That isn’t taught in the Bible.  Jesus gave us the example of the good Samaritan so that we might learn that if we say we love God, then we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  And that means we don’t pass by a situation and say, “My, my.  God help that person.” But just keep on going on by.  No, Jesus said if you love your neighbor as yourself you will get down off your high horse and spend whatever time and resources necessary to help that person.  To be the hands and feet of God.  To display the mercy and love of God.  

James said the same thing in James 2:14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  

Now we do those things by the strength which God supplies, but we do them.  This idea that we need to just give everything up to God and leave the lost or hurting or destitute to somehow discover the love of God on their own is a travesty of what God has designed the church to do.  I’m not suggesting the church is about a social gospel either, where we just focus on meals and water and material things.  I’m talking primarily about providing for spiritual needs while not neglecting physical needs.  Usually both are needed, and God has designed the church to perform His will here on earth in both of those areas conjointly.  And there is a reward James said in chapter 5, to those that do so. James 5:19 says “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

All right, that was a freebie.  But I believe it needs to be made clear that God has not given us a commission to be passive, but to go into a hurting, dying world and share the gospel.  Well, in spite of His allegory, the Pharisees fail to understand what He is saying.  So Jesus expounds upon it starting in vs.7, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”  Jesus will say later, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by Me.”  So when Jesus says He is the door, He means He is the only door.  There is no other name given among men by which we may be saved.  John said in 1John 4:3, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” These cults that say that Jesus was not God in the flesh are antiChrist.  The new emergent churches that are espousing that all religions lead to God are antiChrist.  

So notice that Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but He is the Door.  By Him only is entrance gained into the church of God.  He lays down His life for the sheep. But He is not speaking of Himself in this allegory as the doorkeeper.  I would suggest that the doorkeepers are the men that Christ has called to be His pastors. The word pastor comes from the idea of a shepherd.  Peter tells the elders to shepherd the flock among you.  So a pastor is an under shepherd.  He is a doorkeeper.  When the Great Shepherd of our souls went back into heaven, Paul said in Eph. 4:11 that “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”  So the pastors/teachers are to shepherd the flock.  We are the doorkeepers.  We are guardians of the flock while living in this present darkness.  We don’t save people, God saves people. But we guard the flock, we guard His word, we guard the church and we guard the door.  

In vs.9, Jesus again reiterates that He is the door saying “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”  He will be saved.  What does that mean?  That word “saved” has fallen out of favor in many churches today, but to their own detriment.  Because the Bible speaks of those that believe in Christ unto salvation as being saved.  Saved from what, you might ask?  Saved from the penalty of death.  Saved from destruction.  Saved out of darkness into light.  And I will add, saved not only from the penalty of sin, but the power of sin.  Saved from enslavement to sin.  Jesus quoting from Isaiah 61 when He was in Galilee said that He came to proclaim liberty to the captives and set the prisoners free.  What He was talking about was setting them free from the enslavement to sin and the trap of Satan.  That’s what it means to be saved.  To be set free from sin and death.

And yet salvation doesn’t stop there.  Salvation is only the beginning of following Jesus. It is the first step. It is new birth. Jesus said in vs.9, not only will they be saved, but “they will go in and out and find pasture.”  Why does the shepherd take the sheep in and out to pasture?  Obviously, it is to feed the sheep.  This is the duty of the shepherd to feed the sheep.  And we too need to be fed spiritually through the word of God. This is how we grow and mature.   Hebrews 5:12 tells us, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  This is the job of the shepherd of the flock, to feed the sheep.  To grow them to maturity, to edify them, build them up, so that they can do the work of service that the church has been commissioned to do.  

Then the in the last verse that we will look at this morning, Jesus presents a final contrast between His ministry and the ministry of the false shepherds.  Vs.10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Now earlier I already talked about the characteristics of false teachers.  They share the same characteristics with their father the devil as we talked about earlier when I quoted John 8:44: Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”   

That’s the tragedy of false doctrine.  If we condemn false teachers we are told we need to be more loving, more tolerant of other viewpoints.  But the fact is that nothing short of the truth will save you.  Watered down or diluted truth cannot set you free.  It will not save.  Half of the gospel is not the full counsel of God.  So that’s why Jesus was so intolerant of false teachers.  That’s why He gives us this allegory, because it’s a rebuke to those false shepherds who continue to keep the people enslaved to their captivity even when faced with a true miracle of God as in the case of the blind man, and then have the audacity to excommunicate this man from the church because they hate the truth so much.  They end up killing and destroying with their lies those that Christ came to save with the truth.

But then Christ contrasts their ministry with His own saying “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  See, here is the truth of the gospel; it is not only what you are saved from something, but you are saved for something.  We are saved from condemnation.  We are saved from the wrath to come.  But Jesus says we are saved for an abundant life.  What that means literally is exceedingly abundant life.  Now that doesn’t mean what the prosperity preachers say it means.  Jesus isn’t promising you a Mercedes 500 if you follow Him.  But what He is offering is a surplus of life that will not fade away.  He is offering everlasting life that will never die.  He is offering a life that is filled with the source of all life bubbling up within us.  Remember what Jesus had just cried out in the temple a few days earlier?  In chapter 7 vs.38 Jesus cried out in the middle of this ceremony, ““He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.”  That is the promise to us, that we who believe in Him will have the Holy Spirit in us, like a spring of living water springing up from our soul that will never fail.  The promise is that God will lead us and guide us, not only in this life, but in the life to come, and in the ages of eternity to follow forever and ever.  As Psalm 23 said, God will anoint my head with the oil of the Holy Spirit until  my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

I hope that you will hear the voice of the Shepherd today and you recognize His voice as the word of God.  And you will believe in Him, and follow Him with all your heart.  Jesus said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” The invitation is extended to you today to enter through that door and be saved.  I pray that you will.  Let’s bow our heads in closing.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Salvation in slow motion, John 9:8-41

Salvation in slow motion, John 9:8-41

Today’s message is the continuation of a story that we began looking at last week.  I realize some of you weren’t here, but you should be able to catch up quickly - it’s a simple story of a man born blind, that Jesus healed.  We looked at the first seven verses last week.  Today we are going to try to finish this chapter which is basically a narrative of the people who are affected by this miracle.

And so I have titled today’s message, “Salvation in slow motion.” The idea behind that title is that this passage illustrates salvation in an expanded way.   What I mean to show in this message is the progression of faith as illustrated by this blind man.  I believe that is why we have this very long narrative in the scriptures.  I believe, as I said last week, that every miracle in the gospel is presented to teach spiritual principles by spiritual parable.  So to just focus on the historical narrative here and miss the spiritual implications that are being taught would be a mistake.  I think the spiritual principle being taught here is the progressive nature of saving faith.  

Jesus said in the last chapter, chapter 8 vs.31, that “if you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  So Jesus is saying that there is a necessity to continue in the truth, to continue to follow His word, and  when you do that, the truth will make you free.  

That truth finds support in Psalm 119:105  which says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  So to continue in the word indicates a desire to follow the truth as God reveals it, step by step, day by day.  When you do that, God will make you free.  It doesn’t say, set you free.  It says make you free.  It’s talking about not just being set free from the penalty of sin, but making you free from the power of sin.  That’s an important distinction.

In the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves to be free.  But the war was still going on between the North and the South.  And it did so for quite some time after that declaration.  Even after the cessation of hostilities, there were many slaves that continued to live as slaves.  They had been set free.  But though they might believe that fact,  they had not yet been made free.  Because they were still attached to the plantations, they had familiarity with that place.  To some extent, the plantation was all they knew.  They were made free when they acted on the declaration that set them free.  When they walked away from their home, walked away from their bondage, and started living as free men, then they were actually free.  

That’s the problem we still have today in the church.  Many people come to church and hear the good news that Jesus came to save them.  And so they believe in Jesus.  They believe that is true.  But effectively they are not made free.  They continue to live in enslavement to their sins.  They are comfortable in the world.  That is their home.  And as such, they are not made free.  The way that they will be made free will be the day that the power of sin is broken in their life and they can begin a new life being free from the power of sin.

So this blind man illustrates that continuance in the truth, and the freedom that comes through salvation.  And as we will see, there is a progression to his faith.  At the beginning, he doesn’t know very much.  But at each step of his journey, his faith grows, culminating in worshipping Jesus as Lord in vs.38.  So this man’s salvation was given to us as an example.  And John reveals that it is a sort of like slow motion, an expanded process for this guy.  We don’t know how long it took, but it likely took all day, maybe longer to come to the full realization of what happened in his life.

Well, let’s jump in.  There is a lot to cover in not a lot of time, so we won’t  exegete every word.  But I do want to highlight each step of his growing faith.  First by way of review, we see the beginning of his faith as the result of divine action by Christ who came to him and selected him, chose him to be the recipient of His grace.  This man wasn’t really seeking Christ.  He doesn’t even seem to be too familiar with who He was at first.  But one thing this man does know; he knows he was blind.  Nobody had to tell him he was blind.  And one thing we can be sure of as well; he didn’t want to be blind.  

Now that is the necessary precursor to salvation.  Blindness is analogous to being in darkness, spiritual darkness.  That is, you are dead in your trespasses and sins.  That is necessary to understand if you are going to receive salvation.  Salvation is not you’re a nice person, you are a good person, and if you believe in Jesus He is going to make your life really great.  That is no where taught in the Bible.  

Rather, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught that you had to come to God as a beggar, even as this blind man had been a beggar. Matt. 5:3 says "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Poor in spirit is to admit that you are a beggar spiritually.  You have no means to buy your way into the kingdom of God.  And then Jesus added in vs 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  That means that you must come to a place of mourning over your sin.  That’s repentance, and when you come to God in repentance you will be comforted.  And then Jesus said in vs 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  That’s the recognition that you need righteousness, and you desire to be made right with God.  You cannot supply that righteousness on your own.  That need is satisfied by Christ’s righteousness when He takes your sin upon Himself, and trades His righteousness to you.  

So Jesus made clay out of spittle and dirt and rubbed it in this man’s eyes, then telling him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  And in this we see symbolized the man’s faith and obedience, we see the application of the Savior, and we see the forgiveness of his sins illustrated in washing in the pool of Siloam. 

But that was just the beginning of this man’s progress of faith.  His eyes were opened to the truth, his sins were forgiven.  But he is still going to continue in the word of Christ and come to complete freedom.  Now in this process this man interacts with four groups of people.  We have the narrative before us, so I don’t need to belabor each part of the dialogue.  But each interaction brings this man further in his progression of faith.  

The first group he interacts with after having his eyes opened was his neighbors. Vs.8, “Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, ‘Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?’”  Listen, when you get saved, people are going to notice.  Your neighbors, your coworkers are going to notice that something about you has changed.  I remember when I got right with God 30 years ago, while living in California.  The next day I went by the restaurant where I worked to pick up my paycheck or something, and my coworkers thought I had been drinking.  I was sober.  I wasn’t acting strange.  But something about my demeanor was like a great burden that I had been under was taken away.  And so they noticed something different.  They didn’t know what it was, but it gave me the opportunity to tell them that I had gotten right with the Lord.

Well, that’s what we see happening here.  He has the opportunity right at the beginning to share what has happened to him.  And I will tell you an important principle here.  That is, the testimony of a changed life is the most effective testimony.  It’s not what you are like in church, it’s what you are like out of church that matters.  The testimony of a changed life is the most powerful sermon you will ever preach.

Now this is also the means of a step of faith for this man.  Jesus said, If you confess Me before men, I’ll confess you before My Father.  And when this man meets the skepticism, the questions of his neighbors, he confesses Jesus without wavering.  They could not help but notice that there was a tremendous change in him.  He had been blind, and now he could see.  So they ask him how were your eyes opened?  And his answer is “A man called Jesus anointed my eyes with clay and told me to go wash in the pool of Siloam, and I went and washed and received my sight.”  

Now that’s a good testimony.  Some of you say you don’t know how to witness for the Lord.  I would suggest starting by using this man’s testimony as a template.  You don’t have to know all scripture.  You can simply tell what Jesus did in your life.

Notice that at this point, this man only knows Jesus by name.  He doesn’t know all doctrine.  He does know more than a lot of people though as we will see from some of his other comments.  But at this point, his faith is elementary.  He knows Jesus gave him his sight.  Jesus was a popular name in that day to be sure.  But nevertheless, the meaning of that name was also well known.  Jesus means Jehovah is salvation.  So when this formerly blind man said Jesus was responsible for his healing, he is professing faith in the name of Jesus as the source of  salvation from Jehovah God. 

Well, his neighbors are not really sure what to make of his testimony, so they take him to their religious leaders, the Pharisees.  And of course, the Pharisees are very familiar with Jesus.  They have been plotting to kill Him for some time and in fact just that day they had picked up stones to stone Him to death but Jesus disappeared from their midst. This is the second group, the Pharisees.  And they are defiantly a hostile audience.  They see this as an opportunity to build a case against Jesus.

You know, if you were to try to condense all the error of Judaism in one practice or one tradition, then that error would be best illustrated by the Jew’s practice of keeping the Sabbath.  The Sabbath requirements were the best example of all that was wrong in Judaism.  And the greatest proponents of Judaism were the Pharisees.  I’m not going to give you a lesson concerning Pharisees this morning.  I’m going to assume you know all that means.  But perhaps what you haven’t thought of before is that the hypocrisy of the Pharisees was best illustrated in the observance of the Sabbath.  

So I think that is why Jesus deliberately healed on the Sabbath. There are seven miracles of healing recorded in the gospels that Jesus did on the Sabbath.  So I would say He did it deliberately.   This idea of a mild mannered, weak wristed Jesus is not Biblical.  I think Jesus was deliberately confrontational to those who taught a false doctrine.  And conversely, Jesus was deliberately sympathetic to those who were caught up in that false doctrine and as such were still trapped in their sin.  But He is deliberately offensive to those who heaped heavy loads on others, but figured out ways for themselves to wriggle out of any burden whatsoever.  That’s what false religions do.  That’s why the scriptures are so damning towards false teachers.  Because it keeps people in darkness, and it keeps people from being made free.  That’s why sometimes I name names, or call out certain false teachings.  I’m not trying to be mean spirited, but I hate to see people duped by self serving religious teachers. 

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the greatest opposition to true discipleship is often popular religion.  Because rather than continuing in the truth so that you become free, they teach traditions of men, which have no redemptive power, and those traditions end up enslaving people to repetitious ceremony that isn’t even founded on truth.

And that’s what the Pharisees did with the Sabbath.  Jesus said man wasn’t made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.  It was to symbolize rest from your works, rest in what God has done for us through Christ.  But instead, they added ordinance upon ordinance until the Sabbath law had become this yoke that kept them in servitude to their religion.  

According to rabbinical law, there was a specific ordinance that prohibited using saliva to administer to a sick person on the Sabbath.  They had so defined every possible thing that it was just insane.  For instance, they prohibited healing on the Sabbath unless it was a life or death situation.  So if you weren’t about to die, they could make you comfortable but not try to make you well.  This had evolved into something far removed from the original fourth commandment.  So anyhow, Jesus healed on the Sabbath in order to confront their hypocrisy, and to expose their false teaching.  

So they confront the man about his healing, but the miraculous part of it goes right over their heads.  They aren’t interested in a man suffering blindness being healed.  They are interested in finding some way to convict Christ. So their deduction is that ““This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” vs.16.  So their reasoning is that their Sabbath law was true, but God’s Word was not true.  Listen, that is the hallmark of false doctrine.  Regardless of what denomination it is, or what a religion’s name is, the hallmark of false religion is that they subject the word of God to the traditions of men.  You see that all the time with cults.  They will claim to believe the Bible, but then they say that their prophet had a dream and received new revelation.  And angels or someone told them to write it down.  And then eventually, you find that their revelation ends up being the means by which they interpret the Bible.  And then finally, they ignore what the Bible says if their prophet or priest says something that is not supported or even refuted by the Bible.  They basically say their prophet or priest is right and the Bible is wrong. Many times they end up changing the Bible to fit their revelation. Now that’s the progression of false religion.  And that’s exactly what these Pharisees were doing.  They had added to the law, until their law superseded the law of God.

But notice the progression of faith of the man who was formerly blind.  Vs.17 the Pharisees ask him, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”  Now I don’t know if he was being obtuse or that simply was the limit of his knowledge.  But I will say  that even in the language of the ordinary people, the word “prophet” did not mean simply a predictor of events in the future, but one who was as the representative of God. He was not only  a “fore-teller,” but a “forth-teller,” declaring God’s truth, revealing His will and character, bearing the witness of divine works.  

Now that was a major claim of Christ Himself, that He spoke the words of God.  That His word was the truth of God.  At the beginning of the feast He said in John 7:16-18 "My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”

And as I said a few weeks ago, that is the way you can tell a true prophet of God, or a true preacher of the gospel, or a false teacher.  A true prophet speaks God’s word.  It’s just that simple.  That is why I preach verse by verse here.  It’s not that I couldn’t buy sermons online like a lot of guys do, complete with sappy illustrations and funny jokes.  That’s easy.  Anyone can do that.  But to preach the word of God is not always easy. It’s certainly not always popular.  But it’s what we are commissioned to do.  Not to tickle people’s ears.  But to teach the truth.  That’s the primary purpose for our service.  It’s to meditate on the word, to be taught the word.  Everything else is just icing on the cake.  The music is icing on the cake.  Too many churches today only offer whipped cream icing, and there’s nothing substantial underneath.  So you get a sugar rush on Sunday morning, and then crash on Monday.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if this man didn’t know a fair bit of theology.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t thinking of Moses when he said Jesus was a prophet.  Moses said in Deut. 18:15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  Moses was talking about the Messiah.  So I wouldn’t be surprised if this former blind man realized at this point that Jesus was the Christ, that is the Messiah.

Now there is another group that we see in the text.  And that is his parents.  The Pharisees go after this man’s parents.  They probably were disgusted with the former blind man’s answers, so they go to his parents to try to discredit him somehow.  And this is where I get additional support for my idea that the blind man meant Messiah when he said prophet.  Because it says in vs.22, that they were aware that the Pharisees had stipulated that if anyone said Jesus was the Christ, they would be put out of the synagogue.  And so they avoid that question.  They answer in the affirmative the Pharisees first two questions concerning whether or not he was their son, and if he was indeed born blind.  But the third question, “How does he now see?”  They didn’t want to answer that question.  And the reason is there was a good possibility that the son had said that Jesus was the Christ.  They want to avoid having to confess that for fear of being kicked out of the synagogue.  So they say, “he is of age, ask him.”  So we can assume that this man’s faith is steadily progressing throughout the day.  He has grown from confessing the man Jesus, to the prophet, to the Christ, which is the Greek word for Messiah.  And all along he is steadfastly refusing to budge in his faith in Jesus regardless of the criticism and the mounting hostility. 

So having got nothing from his parents, the Pharisees call the man back in for questioning.  They are like a bull terrier, they won’t let go until they find something.  This time, they ratchet up the indictments from saying Jesus couldn’t be of God because He broke the Sabbath, to saying that He was a sinner.  

So the former blind man at this point turns the tables and starts to teach the teachers.  And he gives a really great rebuttal to these Pharisees.  His greatest point is made in vs 25, as he replies, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  This is the evidence that they were too blind to see.  This is the evidence that Jesus was who He said He was.  And this is the evidence that we need to show the world that does not know Christ.  Like the line of Amazing Grace, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”  

That is the testimony we need to tell the world.  The world can’t refute the testimony of a changed life.  When you were living in sin, when you were a drunkard, when you were a partier, an adulterer, a fornicator, a liar, a thief, whatever you were, by the grace of God you are not any more.  You are brand new.  You are remade.  You are different.  You were once blind, but now you can see.  That kind of testimony cannot be argued against.  We can have a debate until the cows come home about evolution versus creation.  We can argue about the existence of God, and the existence of evil.  And there may never be any agreement, and there will probably never be anyone saved as a result of your apologetics.  But the transformation of your life is indisputable.  That is the trophy of grace that God holds up to the world.  That is why sanctification is an essential part of your progression of faith.  That is why renunciation of sin is essential in the life of a believer.  That is why it’s essential that though you come to Christ as you are, you do not stay as you are.  If you are in Christ, you have become a new creature, you’ve been made free.  Act as free men and women.  Free from not only the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin.  Then you will be free indeed.  

So in vs. 33, this man makes yet another step in the progression of his faith, he says, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”  He’s teaching the teachers here.  And in the process, his own faith is growing exponentially.  That’s what happens when you start putting your faith in practice, by the way.  When you start teaching, or preaching, you start growing spiritually.  I don’t necessarily mean preaching professionally.  But when you start professing your faith to others, it serves to build your faith personally.  

Well, they kick this man out of the synagogue.  They excommunicate him. Listen, in that day that was a pretty serious deal.  That meant he might not be able to even find work in his community.  He was a social outcast.  His own family would not be able to communicate with him.  That was a very traumatic thing.  And I will just add that is something I see happen quite often.  Someone comes to Christ, and before the glow can start to fade off their face they end up getting sideswiped by someone.  They end up having to choose between a boyfriend or girlfriend or Christ.  They have to chose between family and Christ.  They have to choose between a career or following Christ.  And you know, we could blame that on the devil trying to trip them up.  But I think God wants us to make a decision for Him first, above everything else.  I think God may sometimes put a choice in front of you.  Are you going to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and will all your might?  Or are you going to love the world and the things of the world.  If you chose the world, the love of the Father is not in you.  Choose carefully ladies and gentlemen.  What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

Listen, sometimes getting kicked out of your community is the best thing that can happen to you.  Like the slaves on the plantations, they weren’t really free until they left the place of their bondage.  Sometimes going back to what is familiar is just going back into bondage.  Jesus came to make you free.  And that was the case with this man.  He was excommunicated, and that was a good thing.  Because Jesus came and found him in his solitude.  And Jesus revealed Himself to him in a way that completed this man’s faith like very few had found.  Jesus said in vs.35, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.”

This blind man saw, and kept on seeing, until he saw the reality of the Son of God.  He saw Jesus for who He really was.  Lot’s of people in that day saw Jesus with their natural eyes.  But God gave this man spiritual vision.  He gave him the privilege of seeing who Jesus really was.  The Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord.  

That aspect of Christ’s divinity is one that is sorely lacking today.  Some think that Lord is a proper name of Jesus.  But actually it’s a title.  It means ruler, master, owner of all.  I believe in the necessity of the lordship of Jesus Christ. Where we bow our will to HIs will.  Where we stop serving ourselves and start serving Him.  This is an essential part of the progression of your faith.  You cannot stop with just believing.  You can’t stop with just forgiveness.  But if you continue in His word, then you are truly disciples.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.  You cannot be truly a disciple, you cannot be truly free, until you bow to Jesus as Lord of your life.  All your life submitted and in subjection to the Lord of the Universe.  The Lord of Creation.  This man understood that.  And so he worshipped Jesus.  I believe that indicates that he bowed on his knees before Christ, maybe even prostrated himself on the ground in front of Christ.  And notice that Christ did not reject that worship.  Because He is God, and worthy of our worship.  

Listen, worship is not just singing or listening to music.  Worship is bowing before the Lord and doing His will, renouncing your will, renouncing everything and everyone for the surpassing value of knowing Jesus as Lord.  

Finally, notice Jesus last statement.  John 9:39-41  "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?"  Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.”

What judgment did Jesus render? I’ll let His words speak for themselves.  Jesus said in John 3:17-21  "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

Today enough light has been revealed through Jesus Christ to expose your sin.  To show you your need for spiritual healing, to show you your need to be made free.  If you will but confess your sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.  He is able to make you free.  If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.  What a great time to be made free.  We are celebrating our freedom as Americans this weekend.  But many of us are not really free. Many of us are still in bondage to our sin, still living under the power of sin. Today the invitation is given to be made free indeed.  Call upon Jesus today and He will make you free.