Jesus advised the Pharisees that although they tried to puff themselves up and justify their greed, God knows our motives. (Luke 16:14-15)
I heard a sermon recently that shed some wonderful new insight about a story in John 9, and I can’t wait to tell you about it. You may have heard the story before: the Pharisees berated Jesus for healing a blind man on the Sabbath. However, that’s not the part of the tale that we’re going to talk about today.
On two occasions in the story (three times if you count his parents’ account of his birth), the person healed by Jesus is simply referred to as “the man who had been blind” (John 9:13 & 24). We don’t know his name, but he was given an informal title of who he was before he encountered Jesus.
Do you have a title? I don’t mean Mrs., Mr., Dr., Esq., or some other courtesy title. I’m referring to the “title” of who you were before you met Jesus. I’ve been thinking of mine for days, and the one that keeps coming to mind is “the woman who had been afraid.” Fear (and the removal of it) is the essence of my testimony. I went through a period of time where I was afraid of things that now seem laughable, but at the time were crippling. I once cried in school because I had to give a presentation in front of my classmates. And look at me now: I’m a professor! I talk in front of people every day, and I love it.
Fear of being in the spotlight was only the tip of the iceberg; I was also very afraid of dying. By the time I finished middle school, I had attended more funerals than I can even recollect, and the number has at increased by at least 15-20 since then. It was actually the fear of dying that led me to the Lord. I was afraid of not knowing if I would go to heaven. I wanted to know for certain that I had eternal life with Jesus, and after I gave my life to him, I clung to verses like 1 John 5:13 for reassurance.
I love the title of “the woman who had been afraid,” because it reminds me of how good and faithful God has been to me during our journey together. Have there been times when I felt afraid even since I became a Christian? Absolutely, but those moments are fleeting and no longer debilitating. Fear doesn’t define me like it might have before.
The neat thing is, if you have a descriptive title of who you were before Christ, then you have the beginning of a faith-story to tell others. Like the man in John 9, you have a unique experience to share about what Jesus has done in your life.
Last semester, I was in my office a minimum of six hours each week outside of class time (though usually much more than that) for my designated office hours. Out of the dozens of students in my classes, only a handful ever came to see me during office hours. They were all invited, but very few ever showed.
A couple of those who came were my best students, and sometimes they popped in just to say hello, not because they needed anything. A few times, students would stop by with a question about an assignment. One student was at risk of failing my course and came by three times to talk to me about his challenges and progress, as the semester went on. Unfortunately, two other students who did end up failing never came to see me at all. They never answered emails or responded to my attempts to contact them.
I invited them, waited for them, reached out to them, and pursued them as best I could, but ultimately, the choice not to come was theirs.
At the risk of making students everywhere roll their eyes by comparing professors to God, doesn’t it sound a lot like the way he invites us to come to him … but we don’t?
On one occasion (among countless other times when the religious leaders of the day got their knickers in a wad over something Jesus said or did), the Pharisees and Sadducees started griping about Jesus sharing a meal with “notorious sinners” like a tax collector (Luke 5:30, TLB). He answered them bluntly by saying that sick people need a doctor, not those who are well. In the same way, sinners need a savior. He explained, “My purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think themselves already good enough” (v. 32).
Several English translations use the word “called” in this verse, but I like the way some other translations insert the word “invited.” When I hear or read the word “called,” it sounds obligatory – like when a parent calls a child, and they are expected to come immediately. “Invited,” on the other hand, is an offer – a gift, you might say. Jesus invites us to come to him. Have you RSVPed?