During this season of Lent, these weeks leading up to Easter, we are looking at the forgiveness of Jesus and what it meant for people in Jesus’ day, and what it means for us today. In Jesus’ day, sin and sickness often went hand in hand, so stories of Jesus healing people would often have been seen as stories of forgiveness as well. While Jesus worked to separate the idea that sickness was caused by sin, and we will see that again today, Jesus never tried to separate how forgiveness and healing were tied together. Today we are going to look at another story that on the surface, looks like it is just a story about Jesus healing a blind man, but it is also a story that has a lot to say to us about forgiveness and a new vision that comes to us when we are forgiven.
To really understand this story, we need to understand the context in which it takes place. In the Jewish calendar, there were specific festivals, or religious celebrations, that took place during different seasons of the year. In the early spring, about this time of year actually, there was the Feast of Tabernacles. This was a time to celebrate and remember how God used a pillar of fire to lead his people through the wilderness for 40 years.
To commemorate this light, they set up 75 foot golden candelabras that held 4 – 10 gallon bowls of oil. A wick, made from the old garments of the priests, would then be lit for 7 days. Picture something similar to the Olympic flame, only 12 or maybe 16 of them, in the Temple courts. The fire from these flames would have lit up the Temple courtyards and much of Jerusalem. The light helped people see all through the night and it reminded them that it was God who helped them see their way in the wilderness. The light was a symbol of God’s presence with them and it told them that God was still a light to help them see, both physically and spiritually.
On the 8th day of the festival, the flames were extinguished and that was the day Jesus encountered a man born blind. John 9:1-5.
We see two things happening here. First, we hear once again the idea that sin caused sickness. This was just how the people understood their world. Sin, our failure and disobedience, was the cause of everything bad, especially blindness, so when people encountered this man born blind they didn’t see someone who needed to be healed as much as someone who needed to be forgiven. Jesus made clear that the man’s blindness was not caused by sin but that it was going to be an event that would help people see, pun intended, the glory of God. The forgiveness of Jesus was going to open eyes, bring light into darkness, and help people see.
To drive this point home, Jesus talked about all this in the context of the Feast of the Tabernacles and even said, I am the light of the world. Since the light everyone had just experienced and celebrated for the past 7 days had been the light of God, it was clear that Jesus was saying, once again, that he was God, and to prove the point he opened the eyes of a man born blind. John 9:6-7.
Jesus restored his sight. No ordinary miracle worker was able to do this kind of healing. No one was able to open the eyes of a man who had been born blind, so this was a powerful act that pointed to Jesus as one who not only had the ability to heal but the ability to forgive, to bring light into darkness. Opening the eyes of this blind man was a symbolic act that told people that whoever came to Jesus, listened to him, and obeyed him would be able to see.
For this man the sight was physical, but for the rest of us the sight is spiritual. Coming to Jesus, the light of the world, means being forgiven and with the forgiveness of Jesus comes the opening of our eyes, and the eyes of our heart so that we have the light to see. Forgiveness not only leads to healing, it leads to seeing.
Forgiveness helps us see ourselves more honestly,
it helps us see Jesus more fully,
and it helps us see our world more clearly.
God’s forgiveness helps us see ourselves more honestly. As we read the rest of this story, we find that the man who was healed and forgiven slowly saw himself more clearly. When he was questioned about his healing, each time he gave people more information about his own situation. It’s as if he was able to see more and more of himself. At one point, when he was asked what happened, he said, One thing I know, I was blind but now I see. John 9:25. He was able to see his own blindness and how it was Jesus who opened his eyes.
Forgiveness helps us see ourselves more clearly and be honest about our own blindness, our own darkness, and sin. Forgiveness helps us see more clearly the sin of our past and it gives us the courage to confess it in ways that set us free. Knowing that God’s forgiveness is available helps us look deeper into the darkness of our own past and confess the sin that has long been hidden. God’s forgiveness opens the floodgates of sin and shame that we had tried to hide or push down, and it allows it to come pouring out – which is good. We need to unburden ourselves and allow God’s grace to set us free. We need to confess our sin and allow God to forgive us. As long as we allow sin, shame, and the darkness and failure of our past to remain in our lives, we will never be free – but if we can confess it – God has promised to remove it.
Look at 1 John 4:5-9.It is as we walk in the light of God’s forgiveness that we are able to see and confess more sin and experience more forgiveness. As we experience God’s light and grace, as it touches our lives in some new way, it opens our eyes so that we can be more honest about ourselves, which leads too deeper confession, and greater forgiveness. Once this man’s eyes were opened, he could see the grace of God, the forgiveness of Jesus, and then testify, I was blind – but now I see.
Knowing that we are forgiven means that we can more freely confess our sin to God. With eyes wide open, we can search our hearts, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds, and share it all with God because we see the light of grace and forgiveness.
Forgiveness helps us see ourselves more honestly but it also helps us see Jesus more fully. When the blind man could first see, he saw Jesus as a prophet. Later on he called Jesus a godly man who is able to do things no one else is able to do. In other words, he was more than a prophet. Finally, Jesus came and talked with the man and asked him if he believed that he, Jesus, was the son of Man, and the man replied, Lord, I believe. And then he worshipped Jesus.
Slowly this man’s eyes were opened so that he could see more fully who Jesus was. First a prophet, then more than a prophet, then the Messiah and Lord, and then he worships him because he is the light of the world, God. This is what the forgiveness of Jesus does in our lives, it helps us see more fully who Jesus is. Forgiveness slowly opens our eyes, and the eyes of our heart, so that we can see more of Jesus. This was what happened to the Apostle Paul.
Early in his life, Paul saw Jesus as nothing more than a blasphemous teacher whose followers needed to be killed, but then Paul was forgiven. Now here is what is ironic, in the process of being forgiven Paul was first struck blind and then had his sight restored. God is once again saying that forgiveness opens our eyes, and Paul’s eyes were finally opened, physically and spiritually. First Paul was baptized, he confessed Jesus as his Savior and Lord, and then Paul went away for several years to be able to see more of who Jesus was. Forgiveness slowly opened Paul’s eyes and helped Paul see Jesus more fully. A few years later Paul returned and was a powerful preacher and teacher who showed the world who Jesus is. Forgiveness helped him see more of Jesus, and it helps us see more of Jesus.
I shared last week about the moment the forgiveness of Jesus touched my life. I thought I knew who Jesus was at that moment, but I have come to see Jesus so much more fully in the years since. Through years of study, service, fellowship, prayer, worship, and mediation, I have come to see Jesus more fully and understand more clearly why he came to this world, and what he wants from us. In fact, my eyes continue to be opened to the fullness of Jesus.
We need to understand that forgiveness is not the end of our spiritual journey – it is just the beginning. Forgiveness helps us see more clearly who God is, who Jesus was sent to be, and how God’s grace works in our lives, and in our world. Knowing that we are forgiven, and feeling God’s grace touch and heal our lives, is just the first step in developing a deeper relationship with God. Forgiveness just opens our eyes, it is then up to us to use this new vision to look around and see more fully who God is and how God wants us to live. It is with new eyes that we should seek a deeper relationship with God, stronger relationships with one another, and more vital relationships with the world. It is up to us to look with new eyes to see God’s truth and understand God’s movement both in our lives and in our world.
Forgiveness helps us see ourselves more honestly, it helps us see Jesus more fully, and it helps us see our world more clearly. For the blind man, he slowly began to see the world around him more clearly. While at first he saw the religious leaders as being interested in what happened to him, he slowly saw that all they really wanted was to denounce Jesus. While at first they asked the man what happened, and how he was healed, and who healed him, in time they simply grew angry with his answers because they weren’t willing to see Jesus as a prophet, miracle worker, or savior. Slowly the man began to see that the religious were so against Jesus that they would kick him out of the temple because of his steadfast testimony that it was Jesus who opened his eyes, and it was Jesus who was the light of the world.
Forgiveness helps us see the world more clearly. Forgiveness helps us identify the darkness, and the brokenness that permeates our world and with new eyes we begin to see that Jesus is the only answer. It is in experiencing the power of God’s grace, and feeling the healing that comes to our own broken lives, that helps us see God’s forgiveness and grace as the only real solution for the darkness in the world. Forgiveness opens our eyes, it helps us see, but sometimes the new vision comes slowly.
The testimony of this blind man was used by another man who had his eyes opened when he was forgiven. John Newton used the line, I was blind, but now I see, in the classic hymn Amazing Grace. As you may know, John Newton was a wild and rebellious young man who worked on a slave ship, and then a slave plantation, for three years. In 1747 he was transferred to a ship called The Greyhound and sent to England, and it was during that trip that a fierce storm threatened to destroy the ship and all on board. During that storm, John Newton gave his life to Jesus. That was the first time the forgiveness of Jesus touched his life, and it opened his eyes. John Newton slowly had a new vision that helped him see the world more clearly, but that new vision came slowly.
For 7 more years, Newton worked on slave ships trying to bring more Christian values to how slaves were treated, but he slowly began to realize that the practice of slavery was wrong, so he left the slave trade completely in 1754. It was then that Newton became an Anglican priest and spoke out more clearly against slavery, but it wasn’t until 1787, a full 40 years after his eyes had been opened, that Newton wrote his essay, Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade, which was instrumental in William Wilberforce’s work to abolish slavery. Newton lived to see the abolition of slavery in 1807, 60 years after forgiveness had touched his life and opened his eyes. It is said that Newton rejoiced at the news, and I have to wonder if he sang, I was once lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
Newton’s story, and the song we sing, reminds us that the forgiveness of Jesus does open our eyes. We may not see everything clearly in that moment, but we will begin to see ourselves more honestly, Jesus more fully, and the world more clearly in days to come. For today, let us allow the forgiveness of Jesus to once again touch our heart, open our eyes, and forever change our lives, and may the one who is the light of the world, truly bring light to our world.
A Forgiveness that Opens our Eyes
Connect with God
- What does it mean for Jesus to be the light of the world?
- What does it mean for Jesus to be the light of your world? Ask God to help you see with His eyes as you look at your own heart and life.
- Identify one way your eyes have been opened?
- Thank God for this forgiveness and grace.
Connect with the Church
- Ask God to open your eyes as you look at people around you in the church. Identify the needs you see that you can meet.
- How can you allow the light of Jesus to shine through you in the life of the church? Find one way to connect and serve others.
- Identify a need in the church that you can fill, and fill it.
Connect with the World
- Ask God to open your eyes as you look at the world.
- Identify one place where the light of Jesus is needed at your place of work.
- Identify one place where the light of Jesus is needed in our community.
- Identify one place where the light of Jesus is needed in our world.
- Find one way to allow God’s light to shine in one of these three places this week.