July 16, 2006
Jesus performed many miracles—including healing a man blind from birth—which the Bible calls signs and wonders. Like the blind man, we are entirely dependent on God to open our spiritual eyes. In this message, Alistair Begg teaches us how sin has affected everything about us, including our ability to see our own predicament. Through receiving the clear teaching of Scripture, though, we can we behold our true spiritual condition, desire salvation, and be saved.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Some of you may be familiar with a rather cynical remark which goes as follows: “Most churches think they’re doing fine because they don’t know what they’re doing.” That is equally true of businesses, but it is certainly true of churches. And in order that we at Parkside try and safeguard against falling into such a category, we are spending a few weeks at the moment looking at what the Gospels have to say about the priority of evangelism. This is the thread that is running through these morning studies, which those of you who are alert have already identified and the rest of you are intrigued now to discover.
We’re really saying to ourselves, “What does it mean to be a gospel church? What will it mean for us to make sure that we’re not diverted from the calling which rests upon us, given to us by Christ himself?” You know, because it appears all over the place, that we have these ten words that we trot out and I think I want to hold very dearly to: that we plan, as a church under God, “to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ.” And to that end, in order that we might make sure of our calibration, that we began a few weeks ago, in Mark chapter 5, in the story of the man who was cleared of his demonic activities, and when he asked Jesus if he could stay with him and spend time with him, Jesus, you will remember, in Mark 5:19, said, “No, you can’t spend time with me. I want you to go home to your family and tell them all that the Lord has done for you.” The point there was just to remind us that God calls us to his Son, he calls us to be the followers of his Son, and he calls us then to go out and spread the news about his Son.
We went from there to Mark chapter 6 and the feeding of the five thousand, and we were confronted, as were the initial disciples, by the quite staggering statement of Jesus when they reminded Jesus, explained to Jesus, that there was no food available for the vast crowd present, and Jesus, you maybe remember, in Mark 6:37, said, “You give them something to eat.” And, of course, they couldn’t, but eventually they did. And they did because the same Jesus who gave them the exhortation provided them the wherewithal to share.
Then we looked at John chapter 4, the story of the woman at the well, and paid particular attention to the reminder that came to us—and I’ve already alluded to it in prayer this morning— where Jesus says to his disciples, “Open up your eyes and look at the fields. They’re white, already, for harvest. You don’t have to be sitting around having great committee meetings and great contemplations and strategizings and every other thing. If you want to go out there, there’s a terrific opportunity.”
And the same is true in the business world. This remains one of the great economies of the world. And every so often I read a business book—Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It, Under the Golden Arches, the stories of McDonalds and so on—and read those stories, and then observe many of you going out and seizing the opportunity of the moment, because of the nature of the world. And Jesus says the same thing: “There’s plenty of opportunity, plenty of people to meet, lots of people to greet, and a wonderful story to tell.”
Last time, we turned to John chapter 9 and to the story of the healing of this blind beggar. And we noted that Jesus says to his disciples, right in the middle of what’s going on, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” “We must do the work of him who sent me.” It’s interesting he puts it in the plural, isn’t it? He says in other places, “I must complete the work,” and eventually, on the cross, he says, “I have finished the work. It is a finished work”—the work of redemption. But he includes his followers, not in the work of redemption itself—that is all done by Christ—but in the getting out of the news of this amazing and wonderful story.
Now, compared to this task, compared to the task of taking the good news to the world—our little, immediate world or our great, huge world—compared to that task, everything else in the church is ultimately like rearranging furniture in a house that’s on fire. There is a place for the rearranging of furniture, but not on the day the building is burning. Someone says, “I’ve just called the fire brigade,” and someone says, “You know, I think this dresser would look much nicer in between those two windows.” You know on that occasion you have a significant problem.
And it is very, very possible—and listen to me clearly, Parkside members: it’s usually only when a church looks over its shoulder that it realizes that, either wittingly or unwittingly, it has completely lost its gospel focus. It has all of a sudden turned in upon itself, grown comfortable to sit in a congregation such as this this morning, and lost sight of the fact that every time these seats are empty, there is another opportunity to refill this place. Very possible to become smug, self-satisfied, to lose our way.
Now, that’s why we’re in John chapter 9, and I suppose you’re saying, “We better get to it.” Well, yes, but don’t get too encouraged, because I have a little bit more to go before we finally get back to the narrative in verse 8.
Last time, we finished by asking the question, “What possible relevance is there to those of us who are dwelling in the twenty-first century to consider the story of somebody who two thousand years ago was a blind beggar and was healed by Jesus?” And the answer that we gave to that was clear and, I hope, understood. We said that this was one of the signs of John’s Gospel which John tells us have been recorded as evidence that may be the basis of faith in the Lord Jesus, which may in turn produce life—spiritual life. “These things have been recorded,” he says in 20:31, “as signs so that men and women might come to understand who Jesus is and what he’s done, and in coming to believe in this Jesus that they might find life in his name.” So here in John chapter 9, we have one of those signs; I’ll let you go and find the others on your own. And this is a sign pointing to the fact that just as surely as he opened this man’s eyes physically, so Jesus opens the spiritual sight of men and women.
Well, why would Jesus have to open men and women’s eyes spiritually? Answer: because men and women are spiritually blind. And the Bible tells us in an uncompromising way —and, quite frankly, often in a very uncomfortable way, and maybe, some of us would want to say this morning, in an unpalatable way—that each of us is spiritually blind from birth, that sin has robbed us of spiritual vision, and not one of us is able to rectify our circumstances. Not one of us is able to make ourselves see spiritually any more than the man who was a beggar at the side of the road could alleviate the circumstances of the absence of his physical sight.
In chapter 8, Jesus—and I won’t go into this—but in chapter 8, Jesus has confronted the opponents of his gospel by pointing out that they are unable to hear his word. I want you to notice this, actually. If you turn back one page, John 8:42. Every so often, people say to me, “You know, you speak very straightforwardly, Alistair. I’m a little alarmed at just how direct you are.” That’s my wife, actually, who said that to me, I think it was. Well, how about this for some direct speech, from the loveliest man who ever lived? John 8:42:
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!”
Now, you don’t have to be brilliant to recognize the culpability that is attached to their unbelief, to their unwillingness to hear. John chapter 8, they come and oppose him, and Jesus says, “You cannot hear my word.” John chapter 9, he says to them, “You cannot see my work.” “Neither can you hear what I’m saying nor can you see what I’m doing.”
Now this, of course, is a quite dramatic statement, is it not? Let me pause here for a moment and underscore it—and very purposefully so. Unless from the Bible we are made aware of the true nature of our condition, then it may be possible for us to respond to a superficial presentation of the good news which addresses only our felt needs without ever tackling our real predicament.
So, for example, there is a song, and I know it’s quite a nice song, but I always cringe at one of the lines in it. It’s “People Need the Lord.” It’s a nice song; we haven’t sung it in forty years, but it’s a nice song. But it has the line, “At the end of broken dreams, he’s the open door.” Which is true! But it tends to the kind of notion… At least, if I was a sort of smug, self-satisfied, successful pagan—as many of you are this morning—sitting out there while this song was sung, I’d say to myself, “Well, that is wonderful, is it not? That when people are at the end of their dreams, there’s someone to whom they may go, something that they may discover. But, of course, not for me! I have my dreams, many of them fulfilled, and many more yet awaiting me. I have no need of anybody who comes to patch up some sorry little life once your dreams have not come to fruition, or come to give you an answer, the way you might take an aspirin or an anodyne, to try and deal with the superficial problem in your life.”
So then, how does the gospel impact that gentleman? You see, the gospel impacts us by first of all confronting us with the bad news of who and what we are. Until our blind eyes are opened to our predicament, until our deaf ears are unstopped to hear this story, then the proclamation of any antidote to the predicament is irrelevant. That’s why some as young people sit and listen to this story and they say, “Well, somehow or another my parents are into this, but I don’t need this.” Do you know why you say that? Because you’re blind!
Let me quote to you an Englishman and a Scotsman—first the Scotsman, a contemporary Scotsman—on the nature of what sins does. See, many of us have a view of sin which is simply, “Well, I lost my temper, I stubbed my toe and I said a bad word, I was jealous of Mrs. So-and-So,” or whatever it might be. And all of those things are evidence of a predicament that is far more endemic.
You see, what the Bible says when it says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, what it is saying is this: that there is no part of the nature, of the essential being of a man or a woman, that is unaffected by sin. It affects our emotions, it affects our affections, it affects our wills, it affects our understanding of things. There is no little citadel in our experience to which we may go to find refuge, whereby we say, “Well, I know that I’m not very good here, here, here, and here—but, of course, this little area of my life is in perfect condition.”
It affects our understanding, it affects our intellect, so that we can’t think straight nor make proper deductions or pursue proper arguments. “Oh,” you say, “wait a minute. You can’t possibly be serious? They’ve just undocked from the space station!” We put people up there! We left somebody from Europe up there. Some poor soul is up there with his two cronies for the next six months. That is not one of my aspirations, I can assure you, but… I’m afraid in an elevator, so what it would be like up there for six months… Anyway, that’s by the way. But someone says, “Well, we’ve done these remarkable things.” Yes, of course we have. We’re able to reason mathematically, but we think flawed about so many things. Our human thought processes, our presuppositions, our assumptions, our human logic, are all messed up. Why? Because they are hostile to God.
You see, this is where… The only place you’re ever going to get this is by reading your Bible. You’re never gonna come to this by yourself. You won’t be walking along the road one day and come to this. That’s why God has given us the Bible. Listen to what it says in Romans chapter 8: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” That’s the predicament! So when the Bible says we are blind, that blindness speaks to the amazing way in which sin has permeated our condition.
That’s why the idea of appealing to people on the basis of just how badly they’ve been feeling coming out of a week may appear on the one hand to be very sensitive and kindly, and to say what now we’re being confronted with in the Bible may seem to be the very reverse of that. Why would anybody ever come to Parkside Church and listen to this, that the distortion of sin is such that there is an anti-God bias in our lives? We think crookedly. We think in an ungodly way.
When Thomas Watson dealt with this on a Sunday afternoon for his congregation in the seventeenth century in London, this is what he says to them under the heading of “Man’s Misery as a Result of the Fall in Genesis 3”: he says, “The first misery is that by nature we are under the power of Satan. Before the fall man was free, now a slave; before, a king on the throne, now in fetters. And to whom is man enslaved? To one that hates him.” Enslaved to one who hates you, who is happy to continually feed the distortion of your thinking, to say to you, “Oh, I can see everything.” And you can’t! He is completely opposed to the possibility of you ever becoming like the individual in the hymn who says, “Once I was blind, but believed I knew everything, proud in my ways, yet a fool in my part.” Says Watson, “He rules the understanding, he blinds men with ignorance and then rules them. As the Philistines first put out Sampson’s eyes and then bound him, Satan can do what he will with an ignorant man, because he does not see the error of his way. The devil can lead him into any sin. You may lead a blind man anywhere.”
Does this affect the way in which we make decisions about the raising of our children? See, the real problems for our children is not “Oh, well, they’re not doing so very well,” or “They are doing exceptionally well,” or “They graduated magna cum laude, and they’re now holding down a significant position.” Loved ones, let’s just be straight-up honest: what the Bible says is that our children are spiritually blind and deaf and are absolutely unable to rectify their predicament.
The friends and neighbors to whom we go and tell the gospel are not people living in some middle territory between belief and unbelief, between sight and blindness. It is not that you can sit on a Sunday and listen to the story of the gospel and say, “Well, I know there is a possibility over here and over there, but I live in my own little world over here.” No you don’t! This is the judgment: that light has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil. And the wonder of it is that we who walk through life blinded and deaf, showing no interest in God, find ourselves to be on the receiving end of a seeking God—a God who, for reasons only in and of himself, sets out in the person of his Son to seek out those who are the wandering sheep, the lost and alone, and so on. It is a wonderful story! And the implication, of course, as we think about it as a church, is, Is God going to go—if we might put it reverently—to this extent to come down into our time-space capsule to redeem us so that we can all sit and sing songs to one another and be happy about the fact that we’re all okay, no matter what happens to anybody else?
I don’t think you think that for a moment. I think some of you—some of us—have been lulled into thinking that what the Bible says, it doesn’t really mean: that somehow or another, it is going to work out okay. Somehow or another, it’s not really as bad as it seems. Somehow or another, they’re not really totally blind, you know. They’re not really deaf. They’ll be okay.
No, they won’t. No, they won’t. “He who believes in the Son has life. He who does not believe in the Son does not have life, because the condemnation of God rests upon him.” This is no some superficial little story to be played with and plied to the masses in a way that disregards their intellect and doesn’t take seriously their sufferings and doesn’t enter into their lives.
So Jesus walks along the road, heals the man. The disciples say, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus said, “That’s not the issue.” He said, “This happened so that the works of God might be declared, so that I might give a sign to all who see that as surely as this man has been brought to physical sight, so too others will come,” like he does at the end of the chapter, to recognize that his real predicament is not whether he can see physically but whether he can understand the voice of this Jesus.
Now, Jesus was absolutely clear concerning these things. And if you read not only 9 but read around it, you will find that that is the case.
Let us go, though, to the reaction of the neighbors; otherwise you will be just saying, “What a waste of a good chapter that was, with him going on forever and ever and ever.” It’s like standing up on the tee and fiddling around, shaking the golf club in all directions, and never hitting the ball. Let’s get to verse 8, quickly: “His neighbors [said to] those who had formerly seen him begging…” “Formerly seen him begging.” Why would he beg anymore? He’s changed! There’s no reason to sit down there with that little bag, on the same corner, underneath that shady tree. No, he’s up and about! He’s up and about to such a dramatic effect that he’s caused confusion and division.
“Well, who is it?”
“I don’t think it is. I think it’s someone looks like him.”
“No, I think… No.”
And eventually, the man stands up and says, “I’m the man all right. It’s me. It’s me.”
The matter of his identity, though, is second only to the question of the activity that produced the dramatic change in him, is it not?
“I’m the man,” he says.
“Well, okay,” they said, “if you’re the man, let’s ask the $64,000 question: How then were your eyes opened?” And the man’s reply is clear and succinct, isn’t it? There in verse 11: “The man called Jesus made some clay, smeared it on my eyes, and then he said, ‘Go to Siloam and wash,’ so off I went and washed, and that’s how I got my sight.”
His response is not marked by theological precision. It’s certainly not marked by any kind of analytical, biological explanation, is it? But it doesn’t need to be, because the transformation is clear. The proof is in the pudding, if you like, or the proof is in the eating of the pudding—or actually, that’s not a good analogy; forget that entirely. The fact of the matter is that he is living proof standing in front of them. Right?
“Well, how did this happen?”
“I’m telling you how it happened: smeared on my eyes, washed it off, I came home seeing.”
Now, remember, keep reminding yourself of this: this sign is pointing to the wonder of what happens when God opens the eyes of the spiritually blind—when God does what Peter says: calls out of darkness into his marvelous light. And it also produces, or should produce, the same question. When a person who has lived his life, or lived her life, in one direction is suddenly found going in another direction, it’s almost inevitable that friends, family, and neighbors would say, “What happened to you?”—right?—and then, “How did it happen?” That’s supposed to be the question that our friends and neighbors ask. We’re supposed to live in such a way—not a posture—but our lives are supposed to be unfolding in such a way that people say, “What happened to you, and how did it happen?”
I mean, I know it’s a trivial analogy, but, you know, if you have a son whose car looks like a tip—which I don’t. This is no personal analogy. But if you have a son whose car looks like it’s very difficult to get your feet actually on the floor because of old McDonald’s wrappers and CD boxes and all manner of things all over the place, and all of a sudden, you go out, you’re in the driveway, and you happen just to look inside the car, and it’s immaculate—that’s a cause for concern! Because standard pattern, trashed! Beautiful. What do you suspect? A girl. A girl. Or, if he comes down looking like he came through a hedge, smelling like last week’s chicken curry, but comes down later on looking a little better and smelling like his father’s cologne.
“What happened to you?”
“What do you mean, what happened to me?”
“Come on. What’s her name?”
“Well, how did you know?”
I mean, did you ever have a son had to come down and say, “I met a girl”? No. We know you did. How did that happen?
Now, that’s what’s happening here. And there is a mystery about it. It’s as mysterious—even more mysterious—than the process that led to this man’s sight.
John chapter 3, go back and read it again for yourself: Nicodemus and Jesus having this interchange, and Jesus says, “Unless a man is born anew, or born from above, or born of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” And Nicodemus is intrigued by that. And as the dialogue ensues, Jesus says—perhaps there was a wind picked up at that point and just blew as they were talking with one another, and Jesus seizes on the moment and he says, “The wind blows where it likes. You can hear the sound of it, but you’ve no idea where it comes from or where it goes. Nor can you tell how a man is born by the word of the Spirit.” “How on earth can something like this happen?” says Nicodemus. And Jesus says, “It is mysterious.”
The hymn writer picks it up, doesn’t he?
I know not how the Spirit moves,
[Convicting] men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in him. 
And this man is unable to speak in clinical terms; he’s unable to speak in theological terms at this point. The journey has begun; there’s going to be more takes place before the end of the chapter. But he is at least able to stand up and say, “I once was blind, but now I can see.” Do you have a story like that? Do you have a volume 1, volume 2? You definitely have a volume 1. We all have volume 1. Volume 1 for this man was Blind Beggarville. Volume 2 was Sighted.
You see, our ability to describe the details of the gestation period through which we came, living in a watery sac inside our mother’s womb, or our inability to describe the exact process whereby we were born, does not call in question our existence, does it?
Someone says to you, “Well, then exactly how were the nine months of gestation for you?”
You say, “I… I don’t know. I don’t know anything about them.”
“Well, can you give us a detailed expliquer of your arrival into the world?”
“No, I can’t do that either.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, you’re probably dead.”
That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? And yet you take the average interview for church membership, and if people don’t speak down the right line, say the same things in the right way at the right time, then we’ve got to wonder whether they actually know what they’re talking about: “We need some theological precision here, you know.” We don’t want, “I just was blind, but now I can see.” Why not? That’s the story of the gospel, isn’t it?
The Lord’ll take care of filling in all the other stuff, but at the start…
“What can you see?”
“I see men as trees walking.”
“Let me try this again. What do you see now?”
“What’s your story?”
“I was blind. Now I can see.”
“What’s your story?”
I was with a man yesterday. I was with a lot of men yesterday, as it turns out. But there was one in particular, at one moment when I was speaking to him, and he said to me, “You know, my life used to be a complete royal mess.” And he says, “And what a change has come about.” And he says, “I can’t even fully explain how and what has happened to me, except I am no longer the man I once was.”
You know, I always think about this in relationship to the thief on the cross when he arrives at the portals of heaven. You imagine that interview process?
“What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, who sent you here?”
“What? No one sent me here. I… I… I’m here!”
“Well, are you… Have you been justified by faith? Do you have peace with God?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, do you know anything?”
“What do you know?”
“The man on the middle cross said I could come here.”
That’s all he needed to know. And in its essence, that’s all any of us need to know. But by our natures, the story is foolishness, we are deaf to its appeal, we are blind to its wonder. Only the God who opened the eyes of this blind man can open our eyes too. Did you ever ask him to open your eyes so that you might see? Or are you so convinced that you can see, that you have no interest?
We’ll come back to this next time. Let’s pray:
God our Father, thank you that the Bible shines like a lamp out before us. I pray that anything that’s unhelpful or unkind or unwise or untrue may be banished from our recollection and that we might become students of the Book, searching out the Scriptures to see if these things are so. Lord, I pray that you will open our eyes, unstop our ears, so that as gloriously transformed as was this man at the side of the road, so our lives might move into volume 2, when we can look back over our shoulders and say, “That’s what I once was: blind and indifferent and uncaring and unfeeling. And now I can hardly explain it, but I love Jesus, I love the Bible, and I actually like these people that I thought were completely nuts before.” Work this wonder in our congregation time and time again, we pray. And then stir the hearts of those who love Christ. Stir our hearts with this great gospel story. Be with us in the hours of this afternoon, and help us as we gather tonight, that we might sing and praise you and start the week off with a great, great beginning.
And may grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of each one who believes, now and forevermore. Amen.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Mark 5:19 (paraphrased).
 John 4:35 (paraphrased).
 John 9:4 (NIV 1984).
 John 19:30 (paraphrased).
 John 20:31 (paraphrased).
 See John 9:41.
 Greg Nelson and Phill McHugh, “People Need the Lord” (1983).
 See Romans 3:23.
 Romans 8:6–7 (NIV 1984).
 Thomas Watson, “Man’s Misery by the Fall,” in A Body of Practical Divinity (London, 1692), 86. Paraphrased.
 Stuart Townend, “I Will Sing of the Lamb” (1997). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Watson, Body, 86. Paraphrased.
 See John 3:19.
 John 3:36 (paraphrased).
 See John 9:1–3, 35–39.
 See 1 Peter 2:9.
 See John 3:1–10.
 Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883).
 See Mark 8:22–25.
 See Luke 23:32–43.
 See Psalm 119:105.
 See Acts 17:11.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.