One of the overwhelming themes of the Bible is that the Lord wants us to tell other people about Him - we are called to be witnesses for God. A witness is someone who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced. When we think of what a witness is, we often think about witnesses in a legal matter. For example, I watch a lot of television shows and movies about lawyers. The lawyers are always calling witnesses to the stand to testify. This is very much what God has in mind when He wants us to be witnesses for Him. A lawyer calls a witness to describe what he or she saw happen when a crime was being committed. God calls all Christians as witnesses to describe how He affects our lives.
As Christians, one of our primary duties is to share God's love with those around us. This can be a difficult challenge for many of us. Perhaps we feel as though we are not smart enough to tell others about God. Maybe we feel as though we don't know the Bible well enough to be able to share it's good news with authority. Perhaps we are afraid that we won't be able to answer all of the questions people will ask us. Our challenge is to not allow these stumbling blocks to get in the way of sharing God's love. We can learn how to overcome these stumbling blocks by studying the story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind.
Today's Scripture lesson is delivered in two parts: the first part is an account of the healing and the second part is a description of the Pharisees' subsequent investigation of the healing. Let us examine each part in turn.
In the first part of our Scripture lesson, we read the account of Jesus healing the blind man. This is one of the many miraculous healings Jesus performed. In these few verses, as we see how Jesus related to the blind man, we learn how Jesus relates to us.
First, the man's life was changed. Where the man was once blind, he could now see. When Jesus affects your life, there is a change. In some cases, like this, it is a physical change - a physical healing. In other cases, the change might not be physical - it might be spiritual or emotional. Many people, when they come to know Jesus, describe feelings of calmness, peace, or comfort. Healing our spiritual problems is much more important than healing our physical ones. Jesus came to do both.
Some of you may be familiar with the change that happened in the life of a man named John Newton. All of the details of his story are somewhat lengthy, but I will share a brief version of it here. In eighteenth-century England, John began his adult life by being impressed into the British Navy. By all accounts, John was an undisciplined, impatient, and ungodly man. After his service in the British Navy, John fell into the African slave trade and, as he wrote in his own diary, he "sank to the depths of vice." It was during this period of his life when he was serving on a ship called the Greyhound, that God changed John. One night, John woke up to discover that his cabin was filled with sea water. The Greyhound's side had collapsed in high seas and she was sinking. Many of the crew had given up hope and admitted defeat. For the first time in John's life, he prayed. It was a simple prayer: "If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us!" As it turned out, the Greyhound did not sink. That night, John Newton had an encounter with God that changed his life spiritually. He felt God's love and grace. He went on to leave the profession of slave trading to become a minister and a songwriter. We are all familiar with the words to his most famous hymn, which we'll be singing later in the service:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
In this verse, John Newton describes the change that took place in his life when he opened his heart to God's love.
The blind man in today's Scripture had his physical blindness healed. John Newton had his spiritual blindness healed. When Jesus affects your life, there is a change.
The second thing to note about this healing is that both Jesus and the blind man took an active role in making the change happen. Jesus rubbed mud on the man's eyes and told him to wash himself in the pool. The man went and washed himself and came back seeing. When Jesus has an effect on a person's life, it is usually a "team effort." Jesus gives us the means to make a change in our lives, but if we don't accept the means, a change will not occur.
In John Newton's life, that precious gift of grace was always available to him. But he did not receive that grace until he actively chose to accept it. He was not able to accept that grace until he prayed for God's mercy. What is it that we need to do in order for God to make a change in our lives? Once we recognize that we need God to make a change in our lives, we must be willing to "do our part" to make the change happen. In John Newton's case, he prayed for mercy and received grace. In the case of the blind man from today's Scripture, he washed himself in the pool and received his sight.
The third - and perhaps most important - thing to note about this healing is that there was a visible difference in the man's life. In the verses of Scripture we passed over today, we see that that man's neighbors noticed the change in his life. It was an obvious change: the man was previously blind, now he can see. If our lives have been changed by Jesus, people should be able to notice it. I'm sure that after he gave up his career as a slave trader and became a minister, John Newton's friends were asking "Is this the same John Newton that used to sell people for money?" When Jesus changes our spirits or our hearts, our neighbors, our coworkers, our family members, and our friends should be asking "Is this the same person who used to do this, or used to do that?"
When Jesus affects our lives, there is a change that takes place. We often have to work with God in order for this change to occur. There should always be a visible difference in our lives after we've been changed.
By this point you may be asking yourselves why I'm spending so much time talking about Jesus making a change in our lives if this is supposed to be a sermon about witnessing. As we examine the second part of our Scripture lesson, we will look at the witnessing aspect of this story, but it is important to see that if God does not make a change in our lives, we cannot be reliable witnesses for Him. This is such an important point that I will say it again. If God does not make a change in our lives, we cannot be reliable witnesses for Him. It is only because Jesus made a change in the blind man's life that the man was able to go forward and be a witness.
When we focus our attention on the second part of our scripture lesson, we have the opportunity to examine the Pharisees' investigation of the healing. The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat and when they heard about this healing incident, they started an investigation to see if there was anything about it they could use to debunk Jesus' authority. Their agenda was to prove that by healing on the Sabbath, Jesus broke the commandment about working on the Sabbath and by breaking that commandment, He was a sinner. If the Pharisees were able to prove that Jesus was a sinner, it would also prove that He was not the Messiah. Since the Pharisees did not see the incident themselves, they gathered testimony from various witnesses. They verified from the man's parents that the man who was healed was, in fact, their son and that he had been blind from birth. They asked the man to explain how he received his sight.
When we examine the testimony of these witnesses, we learn lessons about how we can be better witnesses ourselves.
The first lesson we learn is to truthfully tell what we know and admit where our knowledge stops. In the case of both the man and his parents, they testified to what they knew to be true. When they were asked questions for which they didn't know the answer, they admitted they didn't know the answer. The man's response to the Pharisees' question is perfect: "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." With this response, even though he admits his lack of knowledge, the man is able to turn an accusation against Jesus into an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus!
Many people feel that they cannot be an effective witness for God because they don't know the Bible well enough. This is no excuse! Don't get me wrong - it is very important that we study the Bible and gain as deep an understanding as we can about it's meaning. Personal Bible study, Sunday School, and in-depth Bible study programs like Disciple are extremely important tools in the lives of Christians. All Christians should strive to know and understand the Bible as well as we are able. But it is impossible for us to know everything there is to know about the Bible and it's meaning. This does not give us an excuse to refrain from being a witness for God! Yes, we should back up or faith in Jesus by pointing to relevant Scripture passages. But when we have a hard time finding the Scripture passage, it is OK to be like the man in today's lesson and admit that we don't know the answer. But like the man in today's lesson, we should always follow that admission with a statement of what we do know. And what is it that we do know? We always know what we've experienced firsthand. The man in our lesson was able to say "I was blind, now I see." What can you say about how Jesus has changed your live?
As Christians, we often find ourselves in situations where people who know we are Christians will seek us out to ask us the "hard questions." You know the kind of question I'm talking about: "Why do good things happen to bad people?" "If God is so powerful, why do the innocent suffer?" Especially since the terror events of last fall, more and more people have been asking these, and other, tough questions. These questions have been around since long before any of us were born and will continue to be around long after all of us die. These are the same questions the disciples asked of Jesus when they wondered why the man was born blind - was it because of his sin or because of his parents' sin? If you're hoping that I'll be able to tell you an easy way you can definitively answer these tough questions, you are in for a disappointment. Because I don't know an easy answer to these questions. In our lesson, Jesus tells the disciples that the man was suffering so that a miracle could take place when Jesus healed him. Sometimes our suffering is so that God can make us stronger. Sometimes it is so that other people can see our tremendous faith in the midst of trials. I can't tell you a simple answer to give when you are faced with these tough questions. What I can advise you to do is to follow the example of the man in today's Scripture lesson and say "I don't know why bad things happen to good people, but what I do know is this is how God changed my life...."
God calls us to be a witness, not an expert witness. It is OK if we don't know all the answers. But it is vital that we share the answers that we do know.
The second lesson we learn about witnessing is to place the emphasis on God. The man in our Scripture lesson didn't reply with "I washed myself in the pool and and now I can see." Instead, he said that even though he doesn't know much about Jesus, he does know that - because of the way Jesus affected his life - where he was blind, now he can see.
The Bible is full of examples of people being a witness who follow this same pattern of putting the emphasis on God. One of the most prolific of the Bible writers, Paul, is a perfect example. Paul was probably the greatest and most famous preacher in his time. But prior to becoming a Christian, Paul was one of the most persistent persecutors of Christianity. In the book of Acts, we are presented with Paul's conversion experience - he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and his life was changed. He was even temporarily blinded by the experience. When the scales fell from his eyes a few days later and he received his sight back, Paul experienced both a physical and a spiritual healing. He was able to understand what the man in our Scripture lesson felt when he received his physical sight, and he was able to understand what John Newton felt when he proclaimed in "Amazing Grace" that his spiritual blindness was healed.
The most important thing about Paul's story to note is that after his conversion, he always attributed the change to Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, for example, Paul tells us that Christ sent him to preach. Paul doesn't tell us that he became a great and famous preacher because of anything that he had done himself. Instead, Paul focus the attention on the fact that the change in his life was because of Christ. There was an obvious radical difference in Paul's life - where he once dedicated his life to persecuting Christians, now Paul has become a Christian and great preacher himself.
When we are witnesses for God, we need to be attentive and do the same thing. When we think of our task in these terms, we will often be able to find more and more opportunities to tell people about how God affects our lives. How often do we see an awards show when the award recipient starts his or her acceptance speech by saying "I would like to thank God...."? Or an athlete who, after completing an amazing play, pauses and gives some visible sign of thanks to God. It is encouraging to see celebrities who are unashamed to be a witness for God. When ordinary people who have been changed by God - people like you and me - act in these ways, it honors the Lord in an extraordinary way. Other people will see the visible change God has made in our lives. They will see that we attribute the change in our lives to God. Most importantly, other people will want to get that change in their own lives and we will have an opportunity to be a witness for the Lord.
When we allow God to change our lives and give Him the credit for doing so, other people will be drawn to us to find out how they can receive that same kind of change. At this point, our job is to tell these people about Jesus. This is when we are able to be a witness for God. We don't need to try and create opportunities - if our lives are visibly changed by God, the opportunities to testify to those changes will occur naturally.
The final lesson we learn about witnessing by examining today's Scripture lesson is that we should not be concerned about the consequences of testifying to the truth. When we look at the man's parents' response to the questions, we see that they testified to what they knew to be true but stopped short of proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, because they knew that anyone who did so would be expelled from the synagogue. This was a serious threat - to be expelled from the synagogue affects not only one's religious standing, but also one's social standing in the community. A person who was expelled from the synagogue would find themselves a social outcast.
The man who was healed, however, did not concern himself with the potential consequences - he could not help but to be a witness to the amazing change that Jesus made in his life! When the Pharisees insisted that he agree with their conclusion that Jesus was a sinner, the man simply could not do it. He told the truth and proclaimed that he didn't know if Jesus was a sinner or not, but what he did know was that Jesus had the power to come into his life and change him.
If we read just beyond the text of today's Scripture lesson, we discover that the man was cast out of the synagogue because of his testimony. But later, when Jesus heard the man had ben cast out of the synagogue, He found the man and comforted him.
When we speak the truth about how God changes our lives, we will meet resistance, perhaps even persecution. This is an uncomfortable, and sometimes frightening, truth. But we can take courage from the example of the man who was born blind. Just as Jesus honored him when the man was a witness to Jesus' healing power, when we honor God with our words and our actions, God will honor us.
Sometimes we think that sharing God's message is difficult. But like the man in today's lesson, all we need to do is tell people what Jesus has done for us. God doesn't call us to be an expert witness. But He does call us to be a witness. When Jesus changes our lives, other people should be able to notice the change. And we should be excited to tell them about it.
As we sing our closing hymn, take an opportunity to talk to Jesus. You can come down to the alter if you want or you can talk to Him right from your pew. If Jesus is a part of your life, take this opportunity to reflect on the changes He has made in your life. Are they visible changes? If God called you to be a witness for Him today, what would you say? If you don't have an answer, spend some time in prayer right now and over the next few days to come up with your answer so that when you are called to be a witness, you'll be ready.
If you don't have Jesus in your life right now, I'm here to tell you that He can and will make a difference in your life - a change for good. Ask him to be a part of your life. You can say a simple prayer: "Jesus, I recognize that I am a sinner and need you to make a change in my life. Please come into my life and make that change." Jesus is here to make a change in your life if you'll let him.
Friends, at a time like this, I've got to pray. Some of you may want to join me at the alter. That's OK, come and join me. Some of you may want to join me in prayer from your pew. That's OK, too. The rest of you can turn to "Amazing Grace" in your hymnals and join the choir in singing. Let us all worship God together in song and prayer!
Ask me what great thing I know - I once was blind, but now I see. Jesus calls us to go into the world and preach the good news to all creation. He asks the question, "Can I get a witness?" Let's start today by being a good witness for Him to the people that we know.
as written and delivered by Greg Cohoon
Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church
June 9, 2002
Last update: January 4, 2003© 2002 Greg Cohoon