A sermon by
To Celebrate Vacation Bible School and its them “Really Weird Animals” – July 22, 2014
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.” They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Silo’am and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.” – John 9:8-11
Sometimes not believing is more difficult than believing. Such is the case with the religious leaders in John’s account of the healing of the man who was born blind. Jesus’ teaching and supernatural authority challenged their theology and threatened their hold on power, so they simply rejected Jesus. In fact, the gospels tell us that they sought to destroy him. Their strong stand made Jesus’ miraculous signs a problem for them – how could he perform such powerful signs if he did not have divine authority? They had no answer, so they responded by denying that the miraculous signs ever happened. Of course they were joined by others who likewise doubted, and the remainder of chapter 9 centers on the struggles that come with disbelief in the presence of an “eye witness.”
John tells us that when people saw the man who had been healed, they marveled and asked, “Isn’t this the person who has been a blind beggar all his life?” The gospel records that some people stated the obvious, “It is he,” while others followed the lead of the religious leaders by denying the miracle, “No, it is not the same man, but they do look alike, now that you mention it.” It didn’t take much research to get to the truth. The people simply asked the man, and he testified that he indeed was the man, that he had been blind until Jesus healed him. With an “eye witness” – the testimony of the person who was not only there but whose life was transformed by the event – what more evidence would anyone need to believe?
As the chapter unfolds, the leaders continue to deny that the miracle took place, doubting first that this was the same man as the beggar, then doubting that the man was actually blind, then denouncing anyone who could believe that the miracle was an act of God, and finally dismissing Jesus as a sinner and casting the healed man out. It was an inconvenient truth that confronted these leaders. God was at work in the world in ways they could neither explain nor control, and they simply could not believe it. Sometimes not believing is more difficult than believing.
Lord Jesus, open my eyes to the expressions of God’s grace and truth all about me that I may see clearly and believe fully. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston
As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Silo’am” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. – John 9:6-7
The actual healing of the blind man, which is the centerpiece of chapter 9 in John’s Gospel, is almost overshadowed both by the theological discussion that preceded it and by the controversy with the religious leaders which followed it. However, the healing itself is worthy of note – a man born blind received his sight. This is not the only account in the Gospels of Jesus healing a blind person, yet the descriptions of the healings vary significantly. Sometimes we read that Jesus simply pronounced the healing, as in Mark 10, when Bartimaeus was healed. Other times we read that Jesus asked about faith and touched the eyes to bring healing, as in Matthew 9, when he healed two blind men. Still other times we find that Jesus spat on the eyes to bring healing, as in Mark 8. Here John tells us that Jesus made a salve of clay and spittle and put the mud pack on the eyes of the blind man with a prescription to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. In this account the supernatural life-giving spittle of Jesus combined with both the natural element of clay and the obedience of the man bring healing.
The healing process, including washing or bathing in the pool of Siloam, is significant for several reasons. First, the pool of Siloam may have been used as a mikyah, or a ritual bath for cleansing in Jesus’ day to purify the body ceremonially. Its location just outside the city walls may have offered pilgrims and others a place to cleanse themselves of the “sin which clings so closely” as a ritual prior to entering the Holy City. Jesus often accompanied spiritual cleansing with physical healing, and his instruction to the blind man may have been akin to offering forgiveness of sins.
The pool of Siloam also offers insight because of its mention in Isaiah, chapter 8, (Shiloah) in which the people of God received judgment for their disobedience. Here, the one who is healed is obedient to the one who brings healing and salvation in dramatic contrast to the religious leaders whose disobedience causes them to refuse to acknowledge both the healing and the healer in the controversy which follows. By the end of the chapter, we are left wondering who is truly blind.
Lord Jesus, open my eyes to your truth that I may live in obedience to your word and way. Amen.
A Bible Study devotional by Gorman Houston
a sermon preached by Gorman Houston
First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa
June 15, 2014
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” – John 9:1-3
John tells us that Jesus and his disciples passed by a man who was born blind. As they encountered him, perhaps the disciples felt that awkwardness that often accompanies seeing a person whose life has been reduced to begging. Maybe they felt around in their pockets for loose change, perhaps they stepped away from the beggar as if they did not see him, perhaps they simply wished he were not there. On the other hand, they may have seen the man as a person of worth; they may have recognized the inherent unfairness of life; they may have genuinely empathized for the man who never had a chance.
They asked Jesus, “Who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind?” The most natural thing in the world is blame the victim. It’s an easy answer to think the poor are just lazy, the victimized were just being foolish, or the sick should have taken better care of themselves. Those are the easy answers to life’s tough questions, and they are almost always wrong. Such was the case in the scripture lesson today. The disciples, reflecting the general mood in society about the poor and sick, assumed the man’s station in life was a result of sin. The only question they had was, whose sin – his or his parents?
Jesus never fell for the trap of easy answers, and he wasted no time in correcting his disciples. “It was not that this man sinned, nor was it that his parents sinned. He was simply born blind. It’s unfair and wrong. But the good news is that the good works of God are as available to him as they are to anyone, and because of his situation those works may be revealed even more powerfully in this man than in others.”
Jesus’ saying can be taken in a number of different ways. We can understand his words to mean that it was not sin that caused the man’s blindness, but it is sin that causes his loneliness and alienation. He may have been saying that it is downright sinful how people treat people with limitations. We could also understand Jesus’ words to mean that God can work through the wounded and broken in beautiful ways. He may even have been saying that the world is unfair – the burdens and blessings are unevenly distributed, but God’s people extend God’s grace to even out the unevenness of life.
Regardless of exactly how we understand all of what Jesus was saying, we can surely understand that he was telling us that the easy answers lead us in the wrong direction. Easy answers lead to prejudice, harmful attitudes, hateful actions, intolerance, bitterness, division, and mean-spiritedness. We do well to reject the easy answers and follow the one who offers truth and grace to all the world.
Good Father, forgive me for settling so quickly for the easy answers which lead me in all the wrong directions. Make my life a living testimony of your truth and grace. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. - John 8:31-36
Does faith bind us or set us free? That’s the unasked question which Jesus addresses at the end of the Festival of Tabernacles, when he says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Jesus’ talk of freedom is actually perfectly consistent with the setting. The Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot) observes the journey of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt to freedom in Canaan. As the festival comes to a close, Jesus speaks of freedom and differentiates the freedom God offers from the bondage of institutionalized Judaism in his day with its emphasis on excessive regulations and rituals.
Jesus’ teaching expresses the important paradox of faith – faith both binds and sets free. God’s offer of true freedom may be claimed only as we bind ourselves to the one he has sent to set us free. “Make me a captive, Lord,” the old hymn begins, “And then I shall be free.” Bondage to rules and rites only serves to bind, not to set free. On the other hand, attempts to find freedom apart from any boundaries only lead to bondage to sin, addiction, fear, and pain.
Jesus’ offer of freedom is conditional, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth; and the truth will make you free.” The teaching is that freedom is the necessary consequent of the sufficient condition of knowing truth. That is, anyone whose life is aligned with truth – not merely dogma or ritual or regulation – will experience true freedom. Those who either do not know the truth or do not accept the truth find themselves in bondage.
Of course many people who are in bondage are also in denial. Even at the Festival, the people told Jesus that as Jews they had never been in bondage to anyone. In this expression, the “descendants of Abraham” indicted that they were refusing to accept the truth both of their history as slaves in Egypt and of their current state of bondage to sin. Jesus completes this festival by simply offering them his truth – a truth that both binds and sets free.
Make me a captive of your love and truth, Lord, for only then shall I be free from all that would bind me. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12
During the Festival of Tabernacles four oversized golden candelabra were placed in the Temple courtyard, in the Court of Women. This is where Jesus would have been teaching, when the Pharisees came to him. As the day stretched on and evening approached the young priests would have climbed a ladder, filled the bowls on the lampstands with oil, and lighted them. These lampstands would have served as floodlights in the Temple courtyard, and the glow from them would have been visible across the city. The burning lamps were a visible reminder of the pillar of fire, which led God’s people in their journey from Egypt to Palestine, as recorded in Exodus. That pillar of fire not only offered light and warmth, it also assured the Hebrew people that throughout their journey God was with them, God was protecting them, God was leading them.
It was against this backdrop on the last day of the festival, John tells us, that Jesus offered the second “I am” saying. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus proclaimed, his face aglow, reflecting the light of the lampstands. “Whoever follows me,” he continued, “will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
The Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is a seven-day festival, and when the Sabbath Day passed, the pilgrims to Jerusalem would begin their journey home. Jesus words as they prepared to leave the bright light of the Temple was an eternal reminder that with allegiance to Christ Jesus and the indwelling of the Spirit he would give them, they would not walk in darkness, not stumble in sin, not live in error. They would be aglow, reflecting not just the light of the Temple, but the light of the world – the light of life.
“In him was life, and the light was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
Lord Jesus, shine your light on me and in me that I may not stumble in the darkness but find life in your light. Amen.
A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. – John 8:6b
In John’s account of Jesus and the sinful woman who was brought to him in the Temple courtyard, he records that on two occasions Jesus stooped down and “wrote with his finger on the ground.” It is a strange detail, not something we see Jesus doing anywhere else in the Gospels. It makes us wonder both why Jesus would write in the dirt and what it was that he was writing.
It could just be that Jesus was seeking to take the attention off the woman. How desperate she must have felt having been brought to the Temple and publicly accused of committing adultery! Her shame must have been obvious. Perhaps Jesus’ doodle in the dirt was simply designed to redirect the attention from this woman to his finger.
However, since this strange action of writing on the ground brackets his response to the Pharisees and the Scribes, we can’t help wondering if the action was more than just a diversion. The confrontation was initiated by these religious leaders, who reminded Jesus that the Law of Moses prescribed that adulterers were to be stoned. The men were testing Jesus to see if he would adhere to the law and validate their plan to stone the woman or if he would break the law of Moses in order to save the woman. Instead, John tells us that Jesus stooped down and wrote in the sand. After writing for a bit, he stood up and gave his answer. “You are correct. The woman is a sinner who deserves to die. Go ahead and stone her, only be sure that the first stone is thrown by the man who is without sin.” Then Jesus stooped down again to continue playing in the dirt. Since no one was without sin, the woman was not condemned.
Did Jesus’ words have anything to do with what he was writing on the ground? We don’t know. I can’t help believing that Jesus may have written down various sins – sins of the woman, sins of the religious leaders, perhaps sins of which you and I are guilty. Then, perhaps, he stood up and said, “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.”
If that is the case, we may wonder why Jesus stooped down a second time. Once again we do not know. But again, I can’t help wondering if since Jesus was the only one in a position to condemn and since he had recorded the sins, not in stone, but just in sand, perhaps he stooped down that second time to wipe away every sin and remember them no more. We don’t know, but it would be just like Jesus to stoop to something like that.
“…they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” – Jeremiah 31:34b
Lord Jesus, thank you for recording my sin only in sand, for paying my debt for me, and for wiping my sins away to remember them no more. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston
…he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”– John 8:7-11
The woman was without defense. She did not deny the charges against her. The Pharisees and Scribes had rounded her up in their morality crusade, and by all accounts she was a true sinner. They brought her to Jesus and gave him his choices – either obey the law of Moses and release the woman to be stoned, or break the law of Moses and let the woman go. Jesus responded by doing neither. He told the men to go ahead and stone the woman. She clearly deserved the punishment. Then, he offered them one instruction: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” With no one qualified to cast the first stone, the second and third stones were never thrown, and the men went away, leaving the woman alone with Jesus.
“Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asked. “No one, Lord,” she replied. Then Jesus responded, “Neither do I condemn you.” This little line is rich with significance. To begin with only Jesus was in a position to cast the first stone, and that he did not do. Secondly, he did not say the law didn’t matter or that the law was no longer valid. He simply said, he did not condemn her.
Was the law broken? Yes, indeed! Was there no judgment or penalty paid for sin? Indeed there was! There was judgment and a penalty which had to be paid. It was just no longer up to the woman to pay it. Someone else had intervened to pay her debt for her. She was free to go, now free from debt to live free of sin. It’s a great story.
Of course it is an unfinished story… at least until the 19th chapter of John’s Gospel, when the debt is finally paid in full, and Jesus proclaims, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Paul would later write, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Lord Jesus, forgive me for acting as if my sin does not matter. I thank you for finishing that which I could not, for paying the price and settling my debt. Send me out to sin no more. Amen.
A Bible Study devotional blog by Gorman Houston
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:4-7
When the Pharisees and Scribes approached Jesus with a sinful woman in tow, they had no problem passing judgment on her. Their loyalty was to the law of Moses, and they were ready to stone the woman to uphold the law. They brought the woman to Jesus to test his loyalty to the law and to see if they could bring a charge against him. But Jesus would not play their game.
Jesus knew the law had been given to give life, not to take it. Jesus knew that the woman’s sin was neither better nor worse than the sins of the Pharisees and the Scribes who were accusing her. Her sin reflected weakness, poor judgment, moral ambiguity. Their sins reflected arrogance, intolerance, and cruelty. Neither they nor the woman was righteous. They all were guilty of sin.
I don’t know of any vice more tempting than to claim righteousness for ourselves while we denounce the sins of others. In so doing, our actions reveal a heart of sin.
The religious leaders narrowed the situation to two choices: stone the woman or break the law of Moses. Jesus refused to be trapped in their narrow thinking. So John writes that Jesus “bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” We don’t know what he wrote on the ground. Perhaps it was other parts of the law of Moses which were being violated by the woman’s accusers. We don’t know what it was, but when Jesus stood up, he glanced down at his scribbling and said, “Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone at her.” Jesus did not deny the validity of the law of Moses. He just questioned whether the men were truly fit to serve as the enforcers of the law. So he told them to follow the law, to throw stones at the sinful woman, but before they did to make certain that they were absolutely righteousness, above reproach, sinless and able to make such judgment. Otherwise, they would simply be hypocrites - sinners condemning a sinner for sinning.
Good Father, it is easy for us to deceive ourselves by minimizing our sinfulness and maximizing the sinfulness of others. Forgive us, for our self-deceit and for our cruelty to others. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston