Archive for December, 2009

So the Blind will See…

December 31, 2009

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said,  “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is He, sir?”  the man asked.  “Tell me so that I may believe in Him.”

Jesus said,  “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said,  “Lord, I believe,” and worshiped Him.  John 9:35-38.

The blind man didn’t need to actually see Jesus to know who He was, that it was He who healed him because he could identify Him by His voice, but he couldn’t have known He was the Son of Man without confirmation.  And who would he be able to trust more than the One who gave him back his sight?

Jesus sought the man out this time, however, for a different kind of healing.  The former blind man had been an outcast all his life, and just when things were looking up (literally), he got placed on the “do not associate” list again.  Our Master wouldn’t leave him drifting and alone so He went looking for him.

What is greater:  physical or spiritual healing?

Jesus said in this gospel (chapter 6),  “…the flesh counts for nothing,”  not meaning at all that our physical reality doesn’t matter to God but rather our spiritual well-being is the priority.  If the spiritual man is not whole, the physical won’t matter at all.  So the true miracle here is that Jesus met the man’s heart with acceptance and love when all his world rejected him.  Even his parents were more concerned for their standing in the community than their spiritual standing before God, for they left their son to the wolves rather than stand for what they knew to be truth:  their son had been born blind and someone had defied all current logic to the contrary to restore their lives.

Make no mistake, Jesus by healing the man born blind restored not only the man himself but his whole family as well.  By dealing with what was considered “punishment for sin” He effectively destroyed the argument and set the people straight about the consequences of sin.  Sin affects the innocent and destroys much good just by merely being in existence.  We don’t have to actively sin for us to be affected, living in a world riddled with it ensures we will be touched by its evil.  The blind man’s parents were so blind themselves they couldn’t see the blessing staring them in the face in the form of their son.

I’m not being harsh about them, however, because they were conditioned by those who were supposed to be guides and teachers of the light.  No, the fault rested mainly with those in charge of the rightly dividing the Word of truth.  They abused their authority, misinterpreted the message and misused it to further their own ends.

One last thought for the day.  When this man found out it was the very One who healed him who was the Son of Man, he worshiped Him.

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Worshiping the Wrong Prophet

December 30, 2009

Then they hurled insults at him and said,  “You are this fellow’s disciple!  we are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.”  John 9:28, 29.

Odd retort.  I guess it follows hard on their complaint to Jesus that they don’t know where He came from, not at all saying they didn’t know His parents or city.  The fact that they “hurled insults at him” tells me they were threatened by his answers, frustrated in their attempts to discredit Jesus and angry because they couldn’t find anything else to say.

As if being a disciple of Jesus were something bad or foolish, the Jews were almost thumping their chests in superiority.  They followed Moses, a man proven by miracles and writings to be approved by God.

Wait a minute!

Did they just ignore some vital evidence standing right in front of them?

I think they did.  Here’s a man who was born blind now able to see and all they can do is insult the very one God displayed His power through in an unprecedented way.  They were being quite childish, stubborn and slow of heart to believe all that the law and prophets had written.  In fact, like most of us, they used the power of their vehemence to shut him up and shut out the call on their own hearts.

The man answered,  “Now that is remarkable!  You don’t know where He comes from, yet He opened my eyes.  We know God does not listen to sinners.  He listens to the godly man who does his will.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

At this point their pride took over and they threw him out for presuming he could question their conclusions.  Those who listen to the gospel will fall into one of three major categories:  1) acceptance  2)  apathy  3)  outright rejection.  There are, of course, mixtures of these which we won’t go into right now except to say sometimes people accept Jesus on certain levels but not on others.  The man healed gave the best argument he could ever give by being a miracle himself.  His ability to see was beyond question, his past blindness an obvious fact testified by his parents and friends, and his healer was the only one in history who had ever done this type of thing.

What’s the best way to kill a truth?  Shut it out?  Silence the messenger?  Deny it?  Spread rumors about those who support it?

We were all blind in our sins.  If we now see it is only because the Savior put eyesalve on our useless spiritual eyes and showed us the light.  Whatever the Word of God says, we adhere to.  Our study should include the whole of the Bible so that we get a balance between what is required of man in his sinful state and what God’s grace has delivered us from in order that we might become the righteousness of God.

Traditional views said God could not work through sinners.  This is accurate only in so far as it means those who are unrepentant sinners for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God except One.  Since we know that Jesus never sinned, His ability outstrips ours as the Sun outshines the moon.  Yet in Christ we take on His power, His ability, His character and His mind.  We do not become Him but like Him.  Only through Him can we “do greater things than these” for the kingdom of God.  Yet our motivation must never be the need to display “our” power through Christ but to serve the world for Him.

Ignoring his healing the Jews called on their traditional view of disease and misfortune by reminding the man he had been “steeped in sin at birth” or, in other words, completely outside the mercies of God in their opinion.  The fact that he stood there whole as a testimony of God’s grace and mercy failed to move them at all.  They didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus and nothing, not even a miracle could make them question their position.  So they did the only thing left for them to do:  insulted his background and made him an outcast.

It wouldn’t work for them because the power of a testimony that says,  “I was once blind but now I see” is far too effective and powerful to keep quiet by social pressure; especially when God determines it otherwise.  What does Proverbs say?  There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”  Proverbs 21:30.  It’s complete madness to think we can silence God’s voice just by social pressure.  If God wants something done, it will be done.

Asking the Wrong Question

December 29, 2009

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind.  “Give glory to God,”  they said.  “We know this man is a sinner.”

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!”

Then they asked him,  “What did He do to you?  How did He open your eyes?”

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?”  John 9:26, 27.

The Jews’ assertion that Jesus was a sinner was an assumption not something they could prove.  In fact, if you look just a few verses before this in John 8:46, you’ll read Jesus challenging them on this very subject.  They couldn’t but they stubbornly refused to acknowledge that may be, just may be, they were wrong.

The former blind man blew their argument out of the water by just simply stating the facts:  I was blind but now I see!  A truth this obvious is not something you can argue effectively against without firm proof to the contrary.  Yet they persisted in their quest to discredit Jesus—or may be it was something more rudimentary like fixating on the discussion rather than the reality.  Intellectuals play this game of hypothesis all the time which keeps the  practical application at bay.

Since the Jews couldn’t dissuade him about Jesus’ ability, they used another tact by rephrasing the questions.  The former blind man must have realized their disinterest and challenged them on it.  He accused them of not listening, although I’m sure they remembered every word he said, but it was their inability to take what he said to heart is the real point he was making here.  They heard and understood his words but refused to let them change anything about their grasp of truth.

I can’t decide whether his question about their desire to be Christ’s disciples too was said in sarcasm or sincerity.  The contentious nature of the discussion so far would lead me to think the former—the man wasn’t stupid by any means.  A person who lives their life blind learns to hear exceptionally well to the point they recognize nuances many of us miss.  The life of beggers depended on the ability to quickly recognize the mood of those coming past for not only their livelihood but sometimes their lives.  Growing up in the Jewish community, even though he was considered an outcast because of his condition, he understood how things worked, since no one paid any attention to him as a person (to most he would be nearly invisible or non-existent) he would have heard many a conversation informing him of how things were.  His understanding would have extended to knowing the priests, Levites and various sects pretty well; which ones gave the most or least.  So I don’t think he was fooled by the sophisticated methods of the Jews questioning him.  He knew they weren’t willing to believe by the tone of their interrogation.

Neither do I think any amount of pressure could have persuaded this man to give up Jesus.  His heart was fixed on His healer, Savior and Master—He wouldn’t have known Jesus was God just yet.  His arguments were simply put yet completely effective to the point that those trying to dissuade him couldn’t counter them and so resorted to insults and social pressure.  Yet the Pharisees, having never been disabled, could not have understood the power a miracle of this magnitude would have over someone in his condition.

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  Ecclesiastes 9:17.

This, then, is the lesson we can draw from the story at this point:  we don’t have to be theologians or highly educated to be effective in our testimony; all we need to say is  “I once was blind but now I see!”

From the Mouth of Simplicity

December 28, 2009

Finally they turned again to the blind man,  “What have you to say about Him?  It was your eyes He opened.”

The man replied,  “He is a prophet.”  John 9:17.

Those of us used to sophisticated argument or exegesis can probably relate to the Pharisees reaction to the blind man’s confident assertion about Jesus’ identity.  John doesn’t record an exclamation point here from the translation I have so we can assume the man’s statement was said matter of fact.

Yet with all of this evidence staring them in the face, the Jews desperately chose what was behind door #2. 

The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.  “Is this your son?”  they asked.  “Is this the one you say was born blind?  How is it that now he can see?”

The trap set for the parents here is diabolical in its intent and method for they had already declared anyone who confessed Jesus as the Christ (or something even close from the sound of it) would be thrown out of the synagogue.  Yet the parents said enough to corner the Pharisees into acknowledging the miracle by stating two very vital pieces of evidence:  1)  this is our son  2)  he was born blind.  The fact that they denied knowing how he could now see was only a half truth—or half lie—because they hadn’t seen how it happened they only heard about it.  So their denial was technically true.

This story informs me the leaders of the Jews didn’t care about truth as much as they did their traditions and identity as a nation.  They were so obsessed over their own story they went out of their way to keep from even acknowledge the truth God put in front of their faces.  Yet before we begin condemning them we must look at out own behavior.  Many of us come from staunch religious backgrounds and teachings which we never even consider challenging.  We hold to traditional viewpoints even when there’s massive evidence to the contrary.  When power becomes the main focus, it defeats truth since power is only a part of the bigger picture.  When traditional viewpoints don’t match up with clear truth staring us in the face, we must adjust our thinking to what we know to be fact—or as near as we can identify fact.

Still we need to take warning from the testimony of history.  What facts signify can be distorted through sophistry and smoke screens.  Those in power will always use facts to manipulate the truth found in them to their own benefit.  This is why we must study to show ourselves approved by God, a people who rightly divide the Word of truth and keep our candle burning in every dark place we encounter.

These leaders knew they had the parents by the short-hairs and pressed their advantage.  To be kicked out of the synagogue meant losing one’s identity as a Jew, being shunned by those still accepted and cut off from family or friends; a person put out of the synagogue was as good as dead to his or her previous world, and their relatives, friends and countrymen considered them as such.  This was a death sentence in those days because a person’s identity and self-worth came as much from their national heritage and religious community as it did from their personal accomplishments.  To be outside the corporate family meant being adrift and alone financially, collectively and spiritually, vulnerable to all the jackals of society’s underbelly.

Due to the gross abuses of the powerful, individuality has been trumpeted over the last 50 years or so as the answer.  The ability to be autonomous and singular seemed to be a healthy counterpoint to the tribal/national identity dominating the last several thousand years.  Humanity in the form of youthful energy claimed the adult population had led us astray in order to keep power and the poor under their thumbs.  They rebelled against the argument “because I said so!” and stood against the tyranny of popular pressure.

Since then we haven’t seen the utopia they touted as a natural consequence of their proposed “freedom” and individuality.  Like the noted philosopher Sting sang “There is no miracle of science that hasn’t gone from a blessing to a curse.”  Nothing we humans do outside of our design will be anything but destructive to our world and by consequence to us.  We cannot work outside the design of nature’s structure then expect to escape unscathed.  Our little experiment in social restructuring has ended up with a more fractured society than ever.  Order was never very good before but now it’s nearly on the verge of being none existent.

I am not condemning the Jews by calling the leaders of Jesus’ timeframe on the carpet for their foolishness, rather I’m attempting to illustrate that anyone who steps outside of God as their King, Master, God and Savior will be left with a husk of traditions that mean nothing to their eternal connection with Him.  These people desired a Messiah after their own likeness and goals.  After years of theory and discussion, they set up an understanding of Scripture which fit their own personality ticks.  This isn’t to say they agreed on what on the details, far from it, in point of fact they fought each other constantly.  Yet in the person of Christ they found a common enemy and joined forces.

 The Jews next move proved what their hearts were about more than almost anything else.

God on Trial

December 23, 2009

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.  Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight.  “He put mud on my eyes,”  the man replied,  “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said,  “This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked,  “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?”  So they were divided.  John 9:13-16.

Oddly, this very conversation is still going on amongst believers in the Name of Jesus.  If we look at the bare essence of both arguments, we cut to the chase of the disagreement between the two major camps of doctrinal division within the Christian church.  On the one hand we have the staunch literalists who take the Scriptures verbatim, while at the same time their perspective is intractable and hardened to their own interpretations.  On the other, we see the experiential-ists (new word) pointing to miracles and the supernatural evidence calling for our loyalty.

Neither is conclusive without the other but we humans don’t know how to balance our hearts with our heads very well.

The Pharisees were in doubt about Jesus’ connection with God over the healing of a man born blind.  Their very own doctrinal statement on the subject of deformity or disability should have informed them that here was One who could correct that which was broken in mankind, but they missed.  Even those who agreed were more informed by the miracle concerning Jesus’ power than they were about His truth.  If they were really seeking truth, they would have seen in Christ’s actions that which they sought and left their own opinions behind.  Instead they fought over the details and believed themselves to be doing the work of God by this very act.

Hair splitting.

It goes on all the time, causing divisions in the church and twisting the Word of God into some kind of weapon or exclusion device.  We’ve all seen it in some form or another.  A new believer comes in and someone thinks this person isn’t growing fast enough in the right things so they begin to probe and push them in the “right” direction—or what we can call their bias of choice.  For some reason we think Jesus is only interested in our little segment of believers or preferred doctrinal studies, forgetting the lessons we should glean from Jonah’s fiasco with Nineveh and God gently rebuking Elijah when he complained he was alone in his belief and service.

Somehow Jesus divides by being in existence.  It shouldn’t surprise us, however, because He warned His disciples about this.  What were His words?  Oh yes,  “I have come to bring a sword” one which divides a family down the middle because of His name.

Here’s my conclusion:  Whatever God does about His laws and the practices surrounding them must be right.  The only way to interpret the how, what, where and when of God’s commands is to watch Jesus’ life through the gospels.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath, therefore God must approve of this kind of “work” on that day or Christ would never have done so. 

If God is on trial for doing what man doesn’t approve of and generally operating outside the artificial constructs of human doctrine, His interpretation must correct my understanding not the other way around.  The Jews were missing the point, losing freedom for the sake of chains they made themselves and generally splitting hairs over something so obvious that only hair-splitting would avoid admitting it.

A New Identity

December 18, 2009

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked,  “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”  Some claimed that he was.

Others said,  “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted,  “I am the man.”  John 9:6-9.

There is a subtle difference in the face of a person who can see and one who cannot.  The expressions of a blind person are completely different, for one thing, because the face takes on the communication role of saying what the eyes see and the words cannot express.  This isn’t to say a blind person doesn’t have facial expression but that the eyes being able to see change how those expressions are in reaction to the world they know.  Now a person who grew up seeing then loses their sight remains somewhat engaged with the world around them and reacts to other people with some sense of sight awareness.  The expressions on a person’s face in this case might not be so drastically affected as for one who was born blind with no reference points for what expressions mean. 

The man born blind came home with this problem.  For the first time in his life he was able to respond to the sight of what sounds meant and that changed everything in the way he acted.  The very stance of his body language would be different, not to mention the wonder of seeing colors for the first time, shapes in all their array and host of shades unavailable to him before.  I can only imagine what this revelation must have been like for him because I’ve never really experienced blindness besides putting a blindfold on for fun.  Yet what I’ve seen of blind people’s body language and facial expressions versus those who have their sight restored tells me enough to know this was a completely new man.

It’s no wonder his neighbors were stunned and confused by his appearance.  If we take in all we’ve discussed on the opinions of the day about disease and misfortune then roll it into one situation, we have the makings of a first-rate rock-your-world local story.  These people were amazed not just by the miracle itself but that it would happen to one deemed unworthy by God according all the religious teachers they knew.  Here was not only a miracle but hope that God wasn’t as hard-hearted as they had been taught.  At the same time, some of these must have resented the healing and feared the foundation of all they believed was being threatened.

The mystery deepened and the dichotomy grew more pronounced when his neighbors heard that Jesus was his benefactor.  What?!!  Wasn’t this the man the priests and Pharisees were fighting against and plotting to kill?  Here He was healing a man born blind and basically sticking it to their leadership.

“How then were your eyes opened?”  they demanded.

They were understandably stressed now because the evidence standing before them was someone they knew to be a great sinner…or else he was the product of great sin.  His healing suggested some pleasant thoughts of grace, for sure, but we humans hate it when our pet opinions get challenged.  At the same his healing offered hope for all.

Here is an example of being light in a dark place.  The man born blind didn’t need to perform miracles or challenge the authorities because he was a walking miracle.  There is nothing more pronounced a witness for God than a life radically changed for the better.  A person given over to wholeness who has been trapped by addictions and bad habits in the past offers hope for the world around him or her.  That is light, folks, pure and simple.

We don’t need great shows or programs to be powerful for our Master.  All we need to do is belong to Him and allow that miracle to shine.  The witness will take care of itself.

It’s Not the Method

December 17, 2009

Having said this, He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,”  He told him,  “wash in the Pool of Siloam”  (this word means Sent).  So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.  John 9:6, 7.

I heard a pastor once almost sheepishly admit that he and a couple elders had tried putting mud on someone’s eyes in order to heal them.  It didn’t work, even though they were in Israel at the time as well as near the reputed Pool of Siloam.  They tried it different ways, combining it with prayer and fasting and generally experimenting with the Jesus’ method.  Every time it failed to produce.  His conclusion (and mine as well) is that it wasn’t the method, instead it somehow spoke to those present as a metaphor of God’s power.

In other words the method itself held no power whatsoever only Jesus word.  The man born blind needed something to do, an action to show his faith.  It could be that Jesus used the dust as a sign of the man’s condition in Israel and the healing became a rebuke of the common misconception about disease and congenital problems being the direct result of sin rather than merely a byproduct.  Although I wouldn’t put it past our Master’s sense of humor, I don’t think Jesus was necessarily being funny at this point.  I do, however, believe the mud mixed with His saliva has symbolism for us if we want to take it that way.

“Dust you are, and to the dust you will return” is what God told man after he sinned.  God used the dust from the ground to make humans; Jesus used the dust from which the man born blind was made to restore his sight, thus bringing the story of wholeness full circle.

As you probably know by now, I don’t believe these things are done by accident.  Even the name “Siloam” (meaning Sent) is by no means a coincidence.  The name given this particular pool probably happened many years before in order that God might use it in this man’s healing.  John records it so it must be significant to his mind as well.  He must have felt God purposed this pool for Jesus to work this miracle, giving Him a road sign with the name “Sent” on it to show Him the way.  The man needed a reason to wash in the pool so Jesus created mud from His own body, His saliva, which He smeared on the man’s dead eyes as a sign nothing could be outside God’s ability to reach except a heart hardened to His presence.

Without heavy theatrics or magical incantations an impossibility was overcome.  Jesus almost casually healed a man without any pronouncements or flair.  The only thing we could even get a dramatic feel for is the mud on the eyes, but I think this was to show those who would question the man afterward that Jesus’ power was absolute and beyond question (recall the public arguments of chapters past).  Jesus didn’t need special oils or formulaic words to make things happen—in point of fact, He used words simply for those within earshot to understand who it was doing the miracle.  I wouldn’t put it past Him to almost be amused by the use of mud as a means of healing, and it wouldn’t surprise me that He gave the Father an inner wink while He made the mud itself.

Jesus is the light of the world while He is in the world—whether bodily or through His disciples it makes no difference.  As long as He is in those who believe on His name, the world will have light.

Methodology holds no meaning for God except where He establishes a ritual for the purpose of we forgetful humans remembering a spiritual truth.  Rituals are reminders of greater things nothing more.  There is no salvation in these things in and of themselves; it’s what they point to that brings light and life to all who follow after God.

And for those who questioned Jesus’ power or connection to the Father, here was irrefutable evidence of a man born blind, condemned in person and family as a great sinner by the religiosity of the day and considered beyond help or the notice of God, made whole.

It didn’t, of course, shut His detractors up, but it did send a message to those who were looking for God:  Here is your messiah!  Pay attention!

The Work of God

December 15, 2009

“As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  John 9:4, 5.

What is the work of God?

Jesus demonstrates the meaning of this by healing a man born blind.

Why is this significant?  Mostly due to what we already discussed in my previous entry, but His mission is to reconcile man to God and and God to man.  What did the angels sing on the night of His birth?  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men!”  The purpose of Christ’s birth is to bring reconiliation between God and mankind—peace on earth, goodwill to men.

So how does Jesus’ miracle demonstrate this principle?

Bringing peace to one person by healing him or her accomplishes the mission just as much as each step forward brings us closer to our destination.  Unlike us, Jesus doesn’t look at numbers as a way of keeping score since each heart is of infinite value to Him.  Every person on earth is worth His life, which means the smallest of gains is worth the life of the universe.  I don’t believe Jesus ever thought everyone on earth would accept Him, so though He intended to give peace to all people on earth, only a certain segment are willing to accept it from Him.  Those who reject His offer don’t object to being at peace necessarily but take issue with either the source or the conditions required to receive it.

Jesus’ point here, however, needs to be taken in context of the disciples’ question and His initial answer.  The man in question became a living definition of God’s work to save and heal mankind in general.  In a way, his healing and what follows gives a live example of what each follower of Jesus can expect from both the world and the religious establishment.  In a way, I believe God sees every human life, damaged and ravaged by sin’s toll on the heart and mind, as an opportunity to display God’s power to not only save but glorify.  I don’t believe God orchestrated this man’s blindness specifically in order for Jesus to perform this miracle, instead He used the circumstances brought on by the natural order—or disorder—of life on this planet to circumnavigate sin’s consequences.

The statement,  “Night is coming, when no one can work”  puzzles me even now.  It’s not so much the statement itself, but the timing of it.  When does Jesus’ statement come true?  If we exegete the text, the only thing I can conclude is that the moment He leaves not only in bodily form but in the Spirit as well brings on a darkness in which all of God’s work ceases.  The reason I can come to that conclusion is because Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as His replacement in the world and that the disciples would “do greater things than these” in the future.  So the only definition I can come to is that He didn’t mean once He left earth physically we would be unable to do the work of God, rather that when the Spirit leaves the world, no one would be able to perform the work of God.

Another interpretation could be that as long as there are people who give Jesus a place in their hearts and conversation, His light is able to shine.  Yet the moment He becomes obsolete in the hearts and minds of humanity the darkness rules.  Notice Jesus also said the all-inclusive “we” when mentioning the accomplishing the work of God.  We have a part to play in this for we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world and part of a city on a hill which cannot be hidden.  As long as we are in the world, we are creating an aroma of praise, honor and righteousness for the Lord’s Spirit.

But just as in the days of Noah and Sodom, when the salt flavor grows too feeble for it to affect the taste of the world, there will be a time of darkness such as the world has never witnessed.  Christ in us brings light to the world—by default we flavor the sour taste of the world and preserve it from destruction.  He tells us He won’t leave us orphans and therefore sent the Holy Spirit to be our comforter until this age is over.  Once the salt loses its saltness, it is no longer any good for food but must be thrown out and will be trampled by the world of men.  Those who believe who lose the pure flavor of Christ in their lives will be trampled by the world, walked on and used as a way to harden the road to destruction.  The evidence of their apostacy will be used as proof for the falseness of their belief and claims.

For this reason it is vital we remain salty; full of Christ’s presence and immersed in His Word.  Salt does three things among many that are significant to us:  1) flavors food  2) preserves anything stored in it  3) purifies, which means it stings the wound while cleaning it.  The latter is what offends the world about us.  Jesus warned us not to be surprised if the world hates us because we testify that what it does is evil.

While Jesus is in us, we are light and must do the work of the Father who sent Him.

Who’s To Blame?

December 11, 2009

As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him,  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  John 9:1, 2.

Jesus must have been amused by the disciples’ assumption about how this man could have sinned before he was born to be punished with blindness.  I’m missing something here, I know, because the context of John’s teaching wouldn’t be stated in such a way as to indicate a cultural understanding.  It could have been a general consensus that God punished people for the sin He knew they were about to commit in their lifetimes, or it could have been assumed the parents were to blame.  In any case, the disciples thought they were being spiritually wise in asking such a question, obviously, or they wouldn’t have posed it to Him in the first place.

As usual, Jesus’ answer complete baffles us in its profound simplicity.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,”  said Jesus,  “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

What?!!?

So this  guy was born blind just so God could display His own power?  That sounds heartless…create the problem so He can be the “solution” to it.  I mean wouldn’t it make you angry to be used this way?  And does this mean every sick, damaged or underprivileged person is an excuse for God to work in their lives?

Well, at least Jesus answered the question of guilt in a way.  We know it wasn’t any specific sin which caused the man’s blindness, so what caused it then?

Sin.  Not the activity of a person but the condition of the human race separated from their sustaining force, God.  We unplugged ourselves from our power source and paid the price of death, bringing all the different ways a body can die along with it.  As I’ve said before, God is the master chess player and uses all the circumstances to win the day.  This man was born underprivileged, outcast and considered unclean because of his condition—even if his parents were rich and affluent.  God saw his condition long before they happened and determined to use his situation to win the day.

Curing blindness brought on by life was one thing in the Jews’ thinking; curing a birth related condition turned their religious conclusions on their proverbial ears.  Jesus took the source of their “truth” and showed nothing was beyond redemption, no one beyond God’s mighty hand to rescue.  In the views of the day, a man or woman born blind were cursed by God and not allowed in the temple.  The reason for this stems from their misunderstanding of clean and unclean per the law.  The law forbids anyone who is lame from entering the temple proper, though they could be in the outer courts because they are unclean.   (See Leviticus 21:16-24.)  Plus, if we read Exodus 20 where God gives the 10 commandments, we see not far down the list a curse on anyone who disrespects their parents and another one on those who takes the name of God in vain (not as just a cuss word but misrepresents God’s name by wearing it falsely) to the third and fourth generations.

I need to pause here in order to troubleshoot something I believe is a misunderstanding on this subject of cursing.

Paul claims that Jesus became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) so that we might be the righteousness of God.  Some people in the church of Christ believe, however, that generational curses take certain rituals in order to deliver a person from bondage.  If Christ became a curse for us, we don’t need any other formula.  I believe there are children who have been hurt by the sins of the parents as well as bondage to evil spirits, sickness and the like, but accepting Christ takes away the curse immediately.  The only thing that remains is submitting our lives and understandings to Him.  Going through big exorcisms and pronouncing Christian incantations are Satan’s way of combining mythic magic with Christian truth.

Those who get sidetracked by rituals have missed the point of the cross.  The cross, and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection, delivered us from the rituals of the law as well as that of the world’s various methods and placed all solutions for sin in one place and act.  Say, for instance, I find out my ancestors were into witchcraft, do I search my life to look for curses or turn to the Lord and reject my heritage?  Repentance is an easy thing, deliverance from certain sins might, however, take a lifetime of fasting and prayer.  Jesus told the disciples after the night on the Mount where He met Moses and Elijah that some people cannot be freed except by fasting and prayer…as in the case of the demon possessed boy they couldn’t cure (see Matthew 17, Luke 9).  But these interventions don’t take incantations or special rituals, instead it means time with God so that He supplants that which occupied that space with Himself.

Deliverance isn’t an issue of saying the right words as in magic formulas or powerful spells but surrendering those places we’ve held onto sin for such a long time to God.  Where the presence of God is sin can’t live and visa versa.  One replaces the other.  The curse of sin is death, the remedy is Christ who is our life.

 Jesus moves to touch the man no rabbi would for fear of becoming unclean by association.  Then He does something odd.

“I Am!”

December 9, 2009

“I tell you the truth,”  Jesus answered,  “before Abraham was born, I am!”  John 8:58.

Did Jesus just say what I think He said?   Did He just declare His identity clearly and succinctly?  I think He so.  The significance of this cannot be lost on anyone who knows Jewish history or the Law, for it is the name God gave Himself:  “I Am”.  His reference couldn’t be lost on those listening for sure, because immediately they picked up stones to kill Him, yet somehow He pulled a Houdini and hid from them, walking away unscathed.

They had asked,  “Who are you?  Tell us plainly…” and when He did, they decided they didn’t like the answer and would stone Him instead.  To me this is the paradox of fallen human nature:  one moment we want a rescuer to save us from the bad guys, the next we decide we don’t like how our Knight in shining white armor plans to do it and go looking for someone else—or something else. 

Simply saying “I am” isn’t earth shattering in and of itself because we say this all the time in reply to questions about our daily lives.  You know “I am coming over…”  “I am ready” “I am…etc.” rolls off our tongues without a second thought.  Jesus’ use, however, is in the continuous present tense.  Even without knowing Greek we can see by the phrasing He was saying something quite profound (and for further proof just look at the reaction of the Jews again). 

“Before Abraham was born, I am!”

By stating He  is, not was, before Abraham was born, He declared Himself to exist in the eternal now where all times are the present for Him through the Father.  Though He gave up omnipresence and had no more power than humans have at their disposal, His connection to the Father shined through and affected everyone in His path.  I Am is the name God gave Himself.  The Eternal One; the only self-existent being in the universe and beyond.

Jesus, without question, establishes both His connection with the Father and identity.  His statement declared His mission; His mission declared God’s intent.

On the other hand, the Jews reaction declared both their hopes for themselves and intent.  By picking up stones to kill Jesus they displayed their hearts for all people then and throughout history to see.  They didn’t want a messiah like Jesus, for some reason…which is the same reason many don’t want Him now.