Blinded by the Light

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John 9:1-12

After World War II, a general and his young lieutenant were on a train in England. When they got on, the only seats left were across from a beautiful young lady and her grandmother. They sat facing them. As the train pulled out it went through a long tunnel. For about ten seconds there was total darkness. In the silence of the moment those on the train heard two things – a kiss, and a slap. Everyone on the train had their own perceptions as to what happened. The young lady thought to herself, “I’m flattered that the lieutenant kissed me, but I’m terribly embarrassed that Grandmother hit him!” The grandmother thought, “I’m aggravated that he kissed my granddaughter, but I’m proud she had the courage to retaliate!” The general is sitting there, thinking to himself, “My lieutenant showed a lot of guts in kissing that girl, but why did she slap me by mistake?” The lieutenant is the only one on the train who really knew what happened. For you see, in that brief moment of darkness he had the opportunity to both kiss a pretty girl and slap his general at the same time.

A burly lineman for the University of Michigan checked into the hotel the day before the game of the year with Ohio State University. The Michigan coach had given explicit instructions that his players were to get a good night’s sleep and were not to leave their rooms. The wayward lineman, however, wanted to go out on the town and see the city of Columbus by night. So he put a floor lamp on the bed and put covers around it so it looked like he was already asleep in bed. It really did look convincing. The lineman left the room with confidence. At 1 a.m. the coach went around to all the rooms and did a bed check. He opened the door and turned on the light. The covers were still wrapped around the lamp, but one thing had now changed: the coach had now switched on the floor lamp. The bed lit up and betrayed the deceptive lineman’s darkness. The light does that. The light reveals our darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:5)A missionary once shared with me that Christians are their own greatest handicap for spreading Christianity. Japan, has a Christian population that is only about 1 percent of the total. The missionary was attempting to explain how it is that Jesus can change our lives to a college student who, though a nonbeliever, had some sketchy knowledge of the Bible. He asked him whether most American servicemen were Christians. He stated rather proudly that they were. Then he asked, “Why then do most all the Christian servicemen use the whorehouses around military bases?” The missionary responded, “And how do you explain Pearl Harbor?” Smiling, he replied, “But we Japanese do not pretend to be Christians.”

We live in a Christian nation and yet we struggle with those who claim to be Christian misreporting earnings on corporate business. Lining their pockets with millions of dollars while depriving thousands of a better retirement income. There is something wrong when we pay the average worker only a minimum wage and the one at the top a hundred million dollars.

Jesus heals us of our spiritual blindness. Sometimes his healing can be a threat, for we love darkness rather than light, yet by His grace, we may live in His light. In John, Jesus heals a man of blindness and causes a controversy among the religious authorities. 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. 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. Where did the healing come from? Jesus’ saliva? The mud? The pool? The act of faith? All four? His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. They can’t rejoice with the man for his healing!

When illuminated by the light of God, people react one of two ways. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. (John 8:7) None are able to cast the first stone at the woman, they all see their own sinfulness. The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. (John 4:15) “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14)

Others never want to see the light in their lives. 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.” 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. “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. 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.”

Baptism is the Christian’s contrasting of light and darkness, it is not too much to imagine the newly baptized Christian, baptized as the first light of Easter dawned, emerging from the waters of baptism as if moving from death to life, darkness to light. What is so striking in baptism, is that it says to the new Christians, “once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” One might have expected it to read “once you lived in darkness, now you live in light.” But no, the believer is being spoken of as light, reminiscent of the way Jesus called his followers “the light of the world”. To be in Christ is to be an enlightened person. The enlightened must live as children of light, new living proceeds from new being. Our lives ought to be transparent, showing forth the light of God, a public witness to God’s grace (rather than those sinister, dark deeds which can be done only in private).

I know someone who is suffering from a sad visual disorder. She has suffered some brain damage, due to a terrible illness. It has left her unable to see. The odd thing is that her particular kind of blindness does not mean that she cannot see anything. The problem is that she sees everything. She has lost that brain function which enables us to sort through the myriad images that our eyes give us and to focus on those images we want to see.

Our eyes are windows on the world. But like any window, they show us everything. It is up to the brain to enable us to see selectively. The brain must filter out all of the visual stimuli that we receive and enable us to focus. When everything rushes in upon us, we see everything and therefore we see nothing.

We have a vision problem. Our problem, though, is not that we see too much, but rather that we refuse to see. Jesus talked about people who had “hard hearts.” Their hearts were so hard that nothing could make an impact upon them.

Becoming Poor To Win

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Matthew 5:1-3

Pity the poor pastor who was delivering his sermon when a gentlemen in the back pew turned his head to one side, put his hand to his ear, and said, “Louder.” The preacher raised his voice somewhat and continued with his sermon, which was not too interesting. After a few minutes the man said again, “Louder!” The preacher strained even more and continued on, but by now the sermon had become quite boring. The man said again, “Louder!” At this point a man on the front row couldn’t stand it any longer and yelled back to the man in the rear. “What’s the matter, can’t you hear?” “No,” said the man in the back. “Well,” said the man down front, “move over, I’m coming back to join you.”

As the offering plate was passed, a little boy held tightly to the money in his hand. After the service he headed straight for the pastor and handed him the quarter. The minister asked, “Why didn’t you put this in the offering plate?”
The little boy said, “I wanted to make sure you got it because I know you really need it. My daddy said you’re the poorest preacher he’s ever heard.”

Louis the XIV was the king who said, “I am the State.” He was the king who built Versailles. Who was called “The Sun King” because of his glittering, lavish reign. Thousands of people came to his funeral service, filling the Cathedral and spilling out into the square beyond. When the Bishop of Paris mounted the pulpit to preach the eulogy for the Great “Sun King,” he spoke just four words: “Only God is great!” Then he left the pulpit to continue the service. This is exactly what Jesus is trying to tell us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” Blessed are those who live in unconditional, absolute dependence on the greatness of God.

Christ begins his sermon with blessings, for he came into the world to bless us, as the great High Priest of our profession; as the blessed Melchizedec; as He in whom all the families of the earth should be bless.

Luke, unlike Matthew, says simply, “Blessed are the poor.” It has been disputed whether Christ meant the poor in reference to the things of this life, or to the humble. The gospel is said to be preached to the poor. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) The Old Testament even predicted that the Messiah would preach to the poor, Isa 61:1. However, for Matthew to be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; To be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; To be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; To be willing to be where God places us, to bear what he lays on us, to go where he bids us, and to die when he commands;
To be willing to be in his hands, and to feel that we deserve no favor from him. It is opposed to pride, vanity, and ambition.

After the Civil War, much of the South lay in ruins. People who owned mansions in once proud cities found themselves unable to bear the cost of restoring their homes. They said they were too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash. Pride does often get in the way of what needs to be done. Sometimes, it even gets in the way of things we really want to do.

Any experienced minister or counselor will tell you that often the aggrieved partner in a marriage will say, “He (She) made a fool of me!” It tells you that someone’s pride has been wounded. There is a good kind of pride. We take pride in our work, in our character, in our service to humanity. That’s all right. But pride unchecked can handicap us in many ways. Most important of all, it gets in the way of our trusting God.

“In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.” (Ezekiel 28:2) Truly, “blessed are the poor in spirit.”

BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, is designed to rectify the ruinous mistakes of a blind and carnal world. Blessedness is the thing which people pretend to pursue; Who will make us able to see good? Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD. (Psalm 4:6) But most mistake the end and form a wrong notion of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way; they choose their own delusions, and court a shadow.

Blessed is the poor in spirit because it is a description of a believer’s inner condition. When describing a person in God’s will, it is virtually equivalent to “saved.” The Beatitudes, also, are not primarily promises to the individual but a description of him. They do not show a man how to be saved, but describe the characteristics manifested by one who is born again. Poor in spirit. Opposite of proud in spirit. Those who have recognized their poverty in spiritual things and have allowed Christ to meet their need have become heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

Laodicea was poor in spirituals, wretchedly and miserably poor, and yet rich in spirit, so well increased with goods, as to have need of nothing. On the other hand, Paul was rich in spirituals, excelling most in gifts and graces, and yet poor in spirit, the least of the apostles, less than the least of all saints, and nothing in his own account. It is to come off from all confidence in our own righteousness and strength, that we may depend only upon the merit of Christ for our justification, and the spirit and grace of Christ for our sanctification. That broken and contrite spirit with which the publican cried for mercy to a poor sinner, is that poverty of spirit.

The world’s values differ from God’s: “God says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ but we say ‘blessed are the achievers.’ God says, ‘Blessed are those who mourn,’ but we say ‘blessed are the self-fulfilled.’ Jesus says ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ but we say ‘blessed are the manipulators’… Jesus challenges the very selfishness that determines so much of our social behavior.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, they are gentle lambs among wolves. Blessed are all the un-proud; they already have what the prideful seek. Blessed are these who are both vulnerable and mighty, who live out the hope of peace among so many angers and discontentments. Blessed are these tender warriors the world doesn’t recognize.

A Vision Of Heaven

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Revelation 7:9-17

The extended index finger pointing toward heaven is a common expression of our heavenward pilgrimage. This symbol was used frequently by a Presbyterian pastor in Port Gibson, Mississippi. After his death, the worshippers at First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson erected a steeple in his honor. Instead of putting a cross atop the steeple, they placed a bronze cast of a hand with the index finger pointing upward toward heaven.

Psychologist William Marston asked three thousand people, “What have you to live for?” He was shocked to discover that ninety-four percent were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future. They waited for something to happen, waited for “next year,” waited for a “better time,” waited for “someone to die,” waited “for tomorrow,” unable to see that all anyone ever has is today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow exists only in hope.

Ultimately there comes to all Christians the awareness that this earth is the wrong place. Once there was an old man who everyday would take long walks with the Lord. On these walks, he and the Lord God would talk about all kinds of things. About the important times in the old man’s life: when he met his wife, the birth of his children, special Christmases, etc. And one day while they were out walking for an especially long time, the Lord looked at the old man and said: “We are closer to my house than we are to yours. Why don’t you just come home with me.” And that is what he did!

What is Heaven? We are told that Heaven was created by God for God. It is the place where God resides along with the heavenly host. Where the location of Heaven is, no one knows. The Apostle Paul tells a stirring story, I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. (2 Cor. 12:2) In scripture, Heaven is always UP.

Scripture makes it clear that Heaven is a PLACE and not just a state of mind.
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. (John 14:2) Death was feared in the Old Testament because everyone had to wait for the “Great Resurrection.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) Everyone (good and bad) had to wait in Hades, the in between place. That is why we have that little odd passage in Jude. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9)

Heaven is a place that has been undergoing change to prepare for the believer. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2) Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) When Jesus dies on the cross, the veil in the Temple is torn into, from top to bottom. Heaven the place for believers to live is now created and separated from those in Hell. The Temple takes its place in this new heaven, the earthly Temple is no longer important. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Rev. 21:1) Heaven itself has to be changed for the final place of all believers. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)

Job (14:14) asked a good question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out, and your dog would go in.–Mark Twain And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

What type of bodies will we have? “…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7) But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just the seed. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. (1 Cor 15:35) When Dad came home from work each day, he was nearly always greeted in the front yard by his only child, Mark. But on one particular day, it was different. Mark was nowhere to be seen as Dad drove up to the house. Expecting to find Mark just inside the front door, Dad hurried up the sidewalk. He only noticed Mark’s absence. He began calling Mark in several areas of the house, but each call was followed by silence. Then Dad noticed that Mom was in the back yard, chatting with one of the neighbors. In his anxiety, he rudely interrupted them with a “Where’s Mark?” She casually replied, “I don’t know where he is.” “What-do-you-mean-you-don’t-know-where-he-is?” he fired back. But before he got to questioning her fitness as a mother, she interrupted: “Honey, I don’t know where he is, but I know who he’s with. Your parents have taken him out for the afternoon.” Dad began to calm immediately when he knew with whom Mark was spending the afternoon.

Some mourners cry, “Where has my loved one gone?” May they be soothed to know what God has told us about the death of Christians. We do not know where they have gone, but we know whom they are with. To die is described in Philippians 1:23 as “. . . to depart and be with Christ.”

The Baptism of Jesus

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Matthew 3:13-17

The Hasidic Jews tell the story of a newcomer to America who took his pregnant wife to the hospital. In a short while the doctor came to the waiting room and announced to him that his wife had twins. The man was so surprised that he fainted. It was the custom of the man’s native country to name the newborn children immediately. Since he was unconscious, his brother was asked to give names to the babies. When the father woke up he was told that his brother had already named the twins. His reaction was one of shock: “My brother named the kids? My brother is an idiot, a numskull. What did he call the girl?” A friend answered: “He named the girl Denise.” The father looked somewhat relieved and said, “Denise? Well, that’s not such a bad name. I kind of like it. And what did he call the boy?” The friend replied: “He called the boy, ‘De Nephew’.”

When we were baptized we were given a name: Denise, Lisa, Paul, etc. We were all given different names. But we all received one name in common: Christian. We all became a follower of Christ.

Baptism is like a wedding ring: they both symbolize transactions. A wedding ring symbolizes marriage, just as baptism symbolizes salvation. Wearing a wedding ring does not make you married any more than being baptized makes you saved. To extend the parallel, if a person, especially a woman, does not wear a wedding ring you tend to assume the person is not married. If a person is not baptized, you could probably assume that he or she is not a believer. But, like a wedding ring, baptism is such an effective symbol that it should never be taken for granted.

The sign that you are Jewish is circumcision. The sign that you are Christian is that you were baptized.

A minister was seeking to explain the significance of baptism to a new convert. He was gesturing as he talked and noticed that as he was using his hand the shadow fell on the ground. So he said to the convert, “Do you see the shadow of my hand on the sand? Now this is just a shadow. The hand is the real thing. And when you came to Jesus, when you believed in Jesus, that was the real baptism. You were joined to him and what happened to him also happened to you. Jesus was alive, then he died and was buried, and then he rose from the dead. That is what happened to you when you believed in him.” He pointed to the shadow on the sand and said, “When you go down in the water and are raised up again, that is a picture of what has already happened.” Water baptism is a picture, a symbol to teach us what happened to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus.

On the Moscow radio, March 1963, Christian baptism was castigated as a “health menace” and “a senseless and dangerous rite.” In the weekly pro-atheist broadcast, the communist commentator said that “thousands” of babies died of pneumonia following christening ceremonies and that “weak hearts” and “weak lungs” in adults had been traced to baptism in their early years. In an all-out attack upon religious practices, the broadcast had it’s theme “religion’ s threat to health”. Life expectancy in the time of the Czars, it said, was only 32 years because religion was widespread and baptism was administered to almost all Russians. It added that during the communist regime, life expectancy has risen to 69 years, largely because of government health services and the fact that fewer baptisms take place.

A study of Christian archaeology reveals the interesting fact that the shape of classical Christian fonts and baptisteries bears a close resemblance to that of tombs and mausoleums. The womb from which Christians are born is the tomb of sin and death. The source of life with God is Satan’s grave. Dying to self is the price of eternal life. There is a healthy fear we have of going down into the waters of baptism. All human beings are attracted to large bodies of water. However, most of us have a healthy respect for those waters. We know and recognize that all life begins in water, but that water is also a place where we might drown. Christian life is not marked by tame symbols. Our symbols are often violent and troubling because they bear witness to a life which involves death, a receiving marked by giving up one’s very life, a richness born of poverty.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him….
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

When Jesus went down in the waters of the Jordan guided by John’s rough hands, he did so in solidarity with sinners. Jesus’ baptism was a demonstration of his obedience to God, a call he would soon be putting in the ear of all who wanted to follow Him. This is the way it goes, Jesus said: “Wash off the old dirt, shake the dust of sin from your feet. God has created a new day and a new way. Come walk with me out of darkness into the light of day.” As a company of sinners went into the water, they fell in line behind Jesus and together walked toward Jerusalem. God looked at them and was very pleased.

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with one who is already there, in our hearts. Take up a sponge and while it is in your hand squeeze it. In that condition, plunge it in water and submerge it, keeping it in there. It is now in the water and the water is in it. As you hold it in the water, open your hand, and as you do so the water fills all the pores when you release in this way. Is now filled with the water. When we receive Christ we are born anew and put into that sphere where the Holy Spirit is operating and the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us!