By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 27 2018 11:34AM
What's the darkest dark you've ever experienced? A couple of weeks ago my daughter Naomi went on a school trip to a coal mine as part of their studies on the Industrial Revolution. They experienced the journey down in the cage to the coal face, the cramped corridors of the mine workings and then, for added atmosphere, the lights were switched off. If you've done a similar trip you will know that the darkness is so dark that you can't see anything, not even your hand in front of your face. It's no wonder that some of the young people screamed and grabbed each other for comfort. Total darkness can be a very frightening thing. Chapter 9 of John is all about the contrast between darkness and light, both physical darkness and spiritual darkness which is by far the worse condition.
We ended chapter 8 last week with people clearly in spiritual darkness. Not only had they rejected Jesus' offer of living water and his claim to be the light of the world, but they showed the darkness of their own souls in their drastic actions 8:59 "At this they picked up stones to stone him [Jesus]." As chapter 9 begins, we meet a man who is also in darkness, but this time a physical one. v1 "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth." Here is someone who has never been able to see. The detail is added so that we understand just how dire this man's condition is. It's not a temporary blindness which someone with some skills with eyes can cure, it's not a psychological blindness brought on by a traumatic event. This is a complete and irretrievable blindness which prompts the reader to ask the question 'Can Jesus do anything about it? Can he heal this man's darkness? And if he can, does it mean he can do something about the other kind of darkness too?'
Before we find out, there is a misconception to clear up. v2 "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" The idea that suffering comes as a punishment is a very pervasive one. It was taught in Jesus' day and it is still very much around today. We see it in the popularity of the Buddhist and Hindu concept of karma: 'karma's gonna get you', and we also see it in the common response to misfortune 'Why me? What did I do to deserve this terrible thing to happen?' It may be a question you have asked yourself when something awful happened to you. But Jesus will not accept that suffering is delivered as a punishment for some sin that someone has done. In Luke's gospel, where the same issue is on everyone's news feeds, he says "those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no!’ (Luke 13:4-5). The whole of the book of Job tackles this very issue and the friends who tried to tell Job his misfortunes were all due to some unconfessed sin were criticised by God (Job 42:7-8). Nevertheless, suffering does come as a consequence of sin. Some can be causally linked, like falling and breaking your leg after drinking 10 cocktails, but most is just a consequence of living in a fallen world and being a part of fallen humanity. But this doesn't mean it is hopeless and meaningless. God can even turn around suffering and use it for his glory. We see a glimpse of this even in the secular world. I wonder if any of you watched our ice dance couple Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland? If you did I'm sure you were as awestruck as me at Penny's story. In 2016 she fell during training and shattered her kneecap in a career ending injury. But she was determined not to give up and after 2 operations, intensive physio and a lot of hard work she was able to skate in the Winter Olympics. Her story lifts the spirit and will no doubt inspire other people not to give up. That's the secular world. How inspiring again is seeing the faith of Christian believer remain strong through terrible suffering. I've been blessed to walk alongside many Christians in their last weeks and months, as they dealt with a variety of terminal conditions, and they've all been inspiring in their own way, but none more so than a young woman called Ngose. She was a 30 something mother of 4, her youngest child being only 2 when she was diagnosed with cancer. It was advanced and there was no cure. I used to visit her every week. And every week she would insist on praying for me. I'd object and tell her that I needed to pray for her and she'd say "I am happy, I'm going to the Lord. You need strength to go and tell others about him." The way she died was such a witness to Jesus' power over death. I'll never forget it. In his book 'The Problem of Pain" C S Lewis writes this about pain: "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God can even use pain and suffering to bring us back to him.
So what will Jesus do with this man's suffering v3 "this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him". In his case, healing is God's plan. v6-7 "After saying this he spat 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 means 'sent'). So the man went and washed and went home seeing." It was an amazing and complete miracle. We need to remember this in the midst of all the discussion which will follow. Jesus made a man who had never seen in his life, see again. It's something no doctor could do, no well meaning friend. It was a healing from God. And it had far reaching consequences. For as well as being a kindness towards this one individual, it is a sign of Jesus' mission v5 "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Jesus is the one who brings light into dark places. Nothing is too dark for Jesus, no problem too dire, no situation too intractable. Jesus is the light of the world. His light shines in the deepest darkness. He can even shine in yours.
The difference Jesus makes in this man's life is so striking that the man changes almost beyond recognition. From the beggar by the roadside to a confident member of society, walking with his head up, not afraid to express his opinion. His neighbours and those who walked past him every day are confused v8 "His neighbours 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'. He's been changed by Jesus. But the change has only just begun. When Jesus touches our lives, he doesn't do everything in one go. We're not suddenly zapped into perfect followers, much as society might assume that we are, and much as we would wish to be ourselves. Once Jesus opens our eyes to him, lifts us out of the darkness into his light, we have a lifetime of getting to know him and being shaped into his likeness, and the job will only be completed once we are actually in heaven. It's worth remembering that. It might help us to be kinder on one another and on ourselves, as well as turning our hearts back to Jesus in prayer.
As we finish our section of John this morning, we leave the man healed but not yet knowing really who Jesus is or where he has gone. That will change as we see what happens next. But for that you'll have to wait until next week!
So, we've seen today that Jesus not only claims to be the light of the world, he is really the one who can bring his light into the darkest places. Do you trust him enough to let him shine his light into yours?