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Bible reading: The Gospel according to John, Chapter 9.

Recovering from Spiritual Blindness People of good discernment There are people of whom you can say: “They have a good discernment”. Discernment is the ability to see, to recognize or distinguish the true nature of someone or something. Discernment and wisdom are close cousins. Discernment means that I can "see through" a situation or a person and decide whether that situation or person is good or bad. I use discretion with a person that I have discerned to be bad for me. I have discerned, or deducted, through watchful eyes, that not everything is what it seems to be. Discernment, in general, is also a result of having lived through different situations and learning the outcomes. In most cases, the older you are the better you can discern a good person from a bad person. Discernment is skill in perceiving, discriminating, or judging, clear-sightedness, nose, penetration, perceptiveness, perspicacity, sagacity. Lack of discernment is a malaise with affects many people and that could be compared to blindness. People that lack discernment can be easily manipulated and led astray. They can be prey of salespeople who, through skilful advertising, lead them to buy products they do not need, products of questionable quality or even harmful ones. People who lack discernment can be easily manipulated by politicians to support doubtful causes and personal interests. People who lack discernment can be easily lead astray by questionable religious movements and cults. Often this is accomplished by the power of the media whose tricks, often, we are not aware of. Jesus of Nazareth has come to heal our blindness so that we see and become people of good discernment. He is proclaimed by the New Testament as the light of the world and He is the same today as he was long time ago, as “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38).

Healing from different kind of blindness The story we have heard, from the Gospel of John, Chapter 9, “Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind” is an illustration not only of the power of Jesus to heal physical blindness, but of how people may be, in many instances, spiritually blind and how they need Him to restore them. It is so much so that we could say that recovering from spiritual blindness is often much more important than recovering from physical blindness. Recovering from Spiritual Blindness, p. 1 of 6

This is a very lively story indeed. This story is all centred on the theme of seeing and not seeing, discerning and not discerning. There are many instances of blindness here. Let’s examine this story and ask ourselves which is the blindness in which we could better identify ourselves? As you examine this, be of good cheer: Jesus can heal you. 1. The blindness of selfishness The story begins by telling us that Jesus, as He passed by, saw a man blind from birth and stopped by him. Jesus sees people and their needs and He cares for them. Often we walk along our streets quickly, “minding our own business”, determined to get to where we want to go and do not see those around us. We have only one objective in mind and we think that everything else is a distraction. We could also say that often we pretend not to see. We have no time for people. We do not want to be involved with them because it could become “rather inconvenient” for us. In other instances, we walk “with our heads in the clouds”: we are so intent with our own thoughts that we do not notice, do not perceive people. We are absorbed in ourselves. We are blind to people, particularly blind to people in need. 2. The blindness of inconvenience When Jesus and the company of His disciples stopped in front of this man who was well known by people as he was a beggar who used to sit by the Temple asking for money (8), it is interesting to note that they treat him not as a person in need, but as an object, the specimen of what they perceive as “a sinner”. Jesus’ disciples seem completely unaware of the needs and feelings of this person in front of them and interested only in a rather theoretical discussion on guilt and punishment: “And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’" (2). Jesus’ disciples do not seem able to discern how inappropriate their question and proposed discussion is. It’s like being in a hospital by a patient apparently unconscious and, completely unaware of his or her feelings, discussing theoretically about their condition and possibility of death... or even worse talking about our own things, as those who, while being at a funeral, discuss among ourselves our own business, without respect for the one who died and not caring for those grieving. 3. The blindness to right timing The Bible says: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven ...” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There’s a time for talking and one to be silent, a time for action and a time to be still. Do we discern what the best time for something is? In our story, that was a time for action not for discussion. Jesus says: “We must work”! In fact, “Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of Recovering from Spiritual Blindness, p. 1 of 6

God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (3, 4). The presence of Jesus was a time of opportunities, a time for action. It is as if He said to them: “You do not discern that this is a time for action, not of theoretical and academical questions... We must work, not talk!” So you see how this whole incident becomes, in some other way, after having healed the man from his physical blindness, an object lesson about our ingrained spiritual blindness, our inability to see people’s needs, our inability to determine the appropriate time to speak and to act, and, most important of all, our inability to see that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, the light of the world, the only one who can heal us from our blindness. There are in this story more examples of blindness. We have also: 4. The blindness of unbelief The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar seemed not to be able any more to recognize him. In fact, they were saying, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" (8). We are accustomed to a certain state of affairs that we soon become confused and disorientated when the reality we know and which seems to us unchangeable, suddenly is altered. It does not seem possible to us. “Certainly there must be a trick...” We can’t believe it! We become sceptical and mistrustful. We ask for explanations about what has happened. “There must be a reason other than a miracle”. Change seems impossible to us. Often this happens when we hear a story about someone who was thoroughly changed by Jesus Christ, like the Christians of Damascus, who could not believe that Paul, the arch-enemy of the Christian faith, had been converted to Christ. It did not seem possible to them. Our unbelief makes us blind to the new creation Jesus can bring about. 5. The blindness of prejudice Often, we have our own ideas of how things should be, so much that every departure from the rules we ourselves have made becomes a matter of life and death. Prejudice is represented in this story by the reaction of the Pharisees (a very strict religious Jewish group) to Jesus healing the blind man. They were so fanatical about observing their minute rules concerning the keeping of the Sabbath (the weekly day of rest), that for them this became the touchstone for determining true religion. Concerning Jesus they were sure of one thing: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." (16) Why? Jesus cared for the rule of the weekly rest, but even more, He cared for

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people, because "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The Pharisees did not seem to care about love and compassion, they did not seem to care if a person was suffering and needed help; they did not even care about being in the presence of the Messiah himself. What they cared about was the compliance to their own rules, which they absolutised, forgetting that the summary of God’s law, the most important commandment, has to do with love. Their persistence in wanting to know exactly how the healing happened, what exactly Jesus did in order to heal the blind man, if and how far His actions could have been considered “unlawful work”. They were trying “to demonstrate” that Jesus could not possibly have come from God, that He was a sinner. They even shut their eyes in front of the testimony of the man who had been born blind. “The man answered, "Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." (John 9:30-33) When they understood that they could not deny the miracle, they even consulted the man’s parents, but to no avail. Their stubbornness had become utterly comical and pathetic.

The blindness to Jesus identity The most serious blindness in this story is a blindness that concerns many people in our generation too and to their perdition. They do not see who Jesus is and how important He is for their lives. The Pharisees were blinded by their own religion concerning the identity of Jesus. In fact, religion is often more blinding than atheism itself! In fact, like it or not, the most important question we have to answer in our own lives is: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” On the answer we give to this question and how we take action upon it, hangs our own eternal destiny. Is this an overstatement, an exaggeration? No, it is not. Jesus of Nazareth, in fact, was fully conscious that He had come into this world with a mission to accomplish, a mission that concerns people all over the world, all kinds of people, from every place ad time. Jesus often said: “I came into this world for...”

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His statements were so amazing that, after having heard them, often people went away shaking their heads and saying: “That man is a lunatic”. Others were so outraged at His words that they thought of ways to have Him killed. What would you say of a person coming to you today and saying...? “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John 6:51) "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) "... I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:37) Probably, many of you one might have reacted not differently from most people of His time: dismissing these words as those of a madman, a self-conceited man. Some, nevertheless, saw and understood. They could “see through”, they had discernment; they could distinguish the true nature of the Man who stood in front of them saying these words and had the courage to respond: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16); or: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Among those who saw, understood who Jesus is, was the man whom Jesus healed from his physical blindness.” He said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him.” (John 9:38)

The ultimate discernment This is why the ultimate act of discernment, in the sense of separation, discrimination, and judgement is accomplished by the presence itself of Jesus in this world and by the preaching of the Biblical Gospel. In front of Jesus, nobody can be neutral. Jesus used to say: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23) In fact, the very presence of Jesus in the world represents a separation, a judgement, between

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those who believe on Him and those who reject Him, and this is going to have for everyone a crucial significance: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) Jesus said: “And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19).

A special insight is needed In order to understand who Jesus of Nazareth is, and how relevant He is for our lives, we need a special discernment, a special insight, a God-given discernment, a revelation. In order to understand who Jesus of Nazareth is, and how relevant He is for our lives, we need to be healed from what sadly could be understood as the condition of those who are born blind. This is something which not everybody is ready to admit. Many, in fact, would rather say: “I have a perfect 10/10 sight, I can discern and evaluate perfectly: Jesus’ claims cannot possibly be accepted”. This is like what those Pharisees did: they saw Jesus with their own eyes but they did not see, perceive, understand, that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh, that He is God appearing in human form. There are in this world, this way, two categories of people: Those who admit, freely acknowledge being spiritually blind and call upon God to give them sight, the light they need, and those who claim to see and are persuaded they have come already to the final and definitive conclusion about Jesus: he is a liar, an impostor, a lunatic and ...I do not care about Him. There is good news for the first kind of people and bad news for the second. Jesus restores not only his physical sight, but also his spiritual one: he understands and welcomes Jesus as his Saviour and Lord. On the other hand, we see in this episode people who proudly claim to see and discern how things really are... They, in fact, seem to be sure who Jesus is and yet remain condemned and lost. This story reaches its height with the following astonishing and seemingly paradoxical statement: Jesus said, "For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, "Are we also blind?" Jesus said to them, "If

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you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains. (John 9:39-41) Some, in fact, presume to be able to see, to discern how things are and obstinately stick to this idea. But Jesus’ coming, for them, is the seal of their damnation, because they are made inexcusable. They will never be able to justify themselves claiming not to have had the opportunity to be confronted with the Lord Jesus Christ. Those, nevertheless, who freely and humbly admit that sin blinded their spiritual perception and call upon the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to restore their spiritual sight, receive from Jesus the gift of the Holy Spirit, regenerating them to spiritual life. Consequently they will see, understand who Jesus is, they will be led to repentance and faith in Him and will be eternally saved by God’s mercy. As the Apostle Paul said: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:1214). Thanks be to God, that as we come to Jesus like trusting little children, acknowledging our blindness and need, and asking Him to heal us, His mercy gives us the sight we need. This is why Jesus could rejoice in the Holy Spirit and say: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)

Conclusion Do you aspire to be someone of “good discernment”? Jesus of Nazareth has come to heal our blindness to make us that if we will come to Him. Let us pray as the Psalmist did when He said: “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments” (Psalm 119:66 NASB). Let us say to God in prayer:

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Lord, heal me from the blindness of selfishness so that I see and care for people in need. Heal me from the blindness of inconvenience so as to be tactful and considerate, respecting people’s feelings. Heal me from the blindness to right timing, so that I clearly perceive when it is time to talk and the time to be silent, the time to be still and the time of action. Heal me from the blindness of unbelief, so that I see and believe in the power of the Gospel to change lives. Heal me from the blindness of prejudice so that I might be open to have the mind of Jesus in everything. Humble, O Lord, my presumption so that we can come to Jesus and be healed. Le us also continue to pray also for those we know, who are still not completely aware of whom Jesus is and who are still in a doubt about Him. Lord, open, o Lord, the eyes of their minds and hearts, so that they come to Jesus with repentance and faith and do like the man who was healed from his blindness. As they are asked: "Do you believe in Jesus, the Son of Man?” may they also reply: “I believe” and worship Him as their Saviour and Lord. Amen.

[Paolo Castellina, August 15, 2009]

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Order of the Worship Service Organ prelude Greeting May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:13) It is a pleasure for me to be here today and worship God with you, and especially to have the privilege and responsibility to lead you into this service, bringing to you and expounding God's Word. We cannot do this by ourselves: together we need the Holy Spirit of God leading our hearts closer to Him, inspiring reverent worship, making us receptive to His voice, understand it and be willing and able to apply it to our own lives, faithfully and obediently.

Call to worship May the words of Psalm 95, which I am going now to read, be today for us God's call to worship:

Psalm 95 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

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Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Let's pray. All glorious God, we give you thanks in your Son Jesus Christ. You have given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. You chose us, before the world was made, to be Your holy people without faults in your sight. You adopted us as Your children in Christ. You have set us free by His blood, you have forgiven our sins. You have made known to us Your secret purpose, to bring heaven and heart into unity in Christ. You have given us the Holy Spirit, the seal and pledge of our inheritance. All praise and glory be yours, oh God, for the richness of your grace, for the splendour of your gifts, for the wonders of your love. Guide us, oh God, by Your Word and Spirit, that in Your light we may see light, in Your truth find freedom, and in Your will discover Your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Let's now respond all together by singing hymn no. 8: “All People that on Earth Do Dwell.

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Bible reading Our Bible reading today is chapter 9 of John's Gospel. Let's read it and then we'll spend some time in free prayer. Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said this, he spit 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 word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 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." "How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." "Where is this man?" they asked him. "I don't know," he said. They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet." Recovering from Spiritual Blindness, p. 1 of 6

The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?" "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man is a sinner." He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from." The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him. Jesus said, "For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

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Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.�

Prayer of Confession and Intercession

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Recovering from Spiritual Blindness  

Sermon on John 9, by Rev. Paolo E. Castellina

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