Lord, unveil my eyes

Perhaps more so than any of the other gospels, John’s gospel weaves together the record and interpretation of Jesus’ miracles which are ‘signs’ revealing who Jesus was and what He had come into the world to do.   Whilst each of the signs leads to a genuine response of faith, John is actually critical of a faith based solely on miracles…The real significance of the miracles of Jesus is that they point forward to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, to the transformation brought by the new age of the Spirit, and thus lead to a faith in Jesus the (crucified) Christ, the (risen) Son of God.  The signs then give us an insight into Jesus; his humanity and his deity.  It is often said if you want to know Jesus – God the Son, read the Gospels…if you want to know God the Father, get to know Jesus and do this in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The seven signs or miracles featured in John’s gospel are:

  1. The wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11)

  2. Jesus Heals an Official’s Son (John 4:46-54)

  3. Jesus Heals on the Sabbath (John 5:1-18)

  4. Feeding the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15)

  5. Jesus Walks on the Water (John 6:15-21)

  6. A Man Born Blind Receives Sight (John 9:1-41)

  7. The Death and Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44)

In our Gospel reading today we are presented with the sixth sign in which a man born blind receives sight.  We must view this sign in the context of how we learn in the previous chapter where Jesus had revealed himself as the Light of the World, and now brings both physical and spiritual sight to a blind man whereas in stark contrast the Pharisees remain blind.  The Light of the World can do two things:

  1. It can bring salvation to those who are blind

  2. It can bring the shadow of judgement to those who will not step into the light

It is a hard truth that we too can sometimes be like the Pharisees.  We can become more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, we can be the first to pick up stones to stone other people we pronounce judgement on because of sin rather than facing up to the sin in our own lives, and at times we can be so blind in our lack of faith and understanding.  It is perhaps surprising that the disciples fell into that pattern of behaviours too… when seeing the blind man, the very first thing they ask of Jesus is “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus reply is a gentle rebuke and challenge “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” 

and I want to shout from the rooftops that yes, in this broken world there are times that innocent people suffer and it is not God’s fault.  We live with the consequences of the fall, the consequences of our actions, and we live with the reality of “The god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)  The devil rejoices every time all that is good, all that is holy, is twisted, corrupted and perverted.  “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

But “Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.” “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:30-31)  We must remember that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”  (1 John 3:8)  And here Jesus does just that and reveals God’s work in the blind man.  In doing so he infringes Sabbath tradition on three occasions:

  1. He heals on the Sabbath

  2. In making the mud to apply to the man’s eyes he kneaded on the Sabbath

  3. He anointed the man’s eyes, also prohibited on the Sabbath

The thing is, Jesus steps into the brokenness of this world.  He steps into our own darkness, our own brokenness, our own blindness.  And in this time of Lent we are invited to journey with him through the wilderness to come to that place of understanding and belief, to the place where perhaps we come the closest to plumbing the mystery – the foot of the cross…and beyond.

The blind man went on such a journey too.  Yes, he received physical sight.  But in his journey into faith he also received spiritual sight. When asked who Jesus was, on each occasion his answer changed – ‘the man called Jesus’ (v11), ‘He is a prophet’ (v17), ‘the Son of Man’ – and finally ‘Lord I believe’ (v35-38).  Do we know Jesus as a man, a prophet, the Son of Man or are we in that place of faith – “Lord, I believe.”

The Pharisees were invited on that journey, and yet they chose not to see even when confronted with the Light of the World, the Light of Christ.  Their hearts were hardened and their position was that anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would be “put out of the synagogue.”

As Milne so aptly states “Whenever we find ourselves valuing the letter of God’s law above its spirit; whenever we find ourselves unable to rejoice in the saving and renewing of lives simply because the instrument used was not someone who dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s of our theological group; whenever we lose the daily, hourly sense of joy in the grace of God by which alone we know him and live before him, then we need to beware. ‘Lord, is it I?’ The only security against Pharisaism is grace, which is perhaps the reason the Lord may from time to time permit us to stumble in our Christian walk so that we may have opportunity to rediscover it.” (Milne, B. (1993). The message of John: here is your king!: with study guide (p. 142). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

And so my dear friends, one of my favourite choruses is called the “Power of your Love”.  One of the verses says:

Lord unveil my eyes

Let me see You face to face

The knowledge of Your love

As You live in me

And Lord renew my mind

As Your will unfolds in my life

In living every day

By the power of Your love


Isn’t that a great prayer?  Lord, unveil my eyes.  Let me see you face to face.

May that be our prayer as we continue our journey through Lent and may we capture the truth that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”  (1 John 3:8)



Journeying through the wilderness

I don’t know about you but when I picture the wilderness it brings to mind a place that is dry, barren, desolate, and hot – a place in which little if anything can survive, a place of isolation and solitude, and perhaps even a place of despair. Certainly when I have journeyed through the Holy Land some of the places I travelled through did nothing to change that picture – the reality if you like matched my imagination.
And of course in our life and faith there are times when in some way we go through wilderness experiences. We might feel far off and distant to God, we might feel deserted and isolated, we might feel dry, tired and weary, and yes we might even know despair.

It is interesting and in light of this actually quite incredible to consider that many of God’s people found themselves in the wilderness.

We know of Elijah who at first showed such incredible faith and boldness in God on Mount Carmel who subsequently in fear of his life had an absolute crisis of faith and fled into the wilderness in despair. Here he came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4) It was in the wilderness that God said to Elijah “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) It was in the wilderness that Elijah encountered transformation, renewal of faith and when everything was stripped away had that encounter with God – one of those ‘have I got your attention now’ moments – not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the gentle whisper. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13)

We know of Moses who spent 40 years in the Midianite wilderness before being called by God, Moses who it is said spent 40 years learning how to be a somebody, 40 years learning how to be a nobody and 40 years learning what God could do with somebody who knew he was a nobody. We know of how God’s people were subsequently led by Moses through the wilderness for 40 years before the Promised Land. For Moses and for God’s people, it was a place of transformation, a place of learning about God, a place of decluttering from all of the baggage that they had brought with them from Egypt, a place of renewal and restoration and a place of purpose and intention.

When David fled from Saul he stayed in the wilderness strongholds, and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. When David fled from his son Prince Absalom, he sought refuge in the wilderness of Judah. For David, the wilderness was a place of growth and learning. It was a place of solitude and quietness, free from distraction, in which he could come before God. It was a place of tremendous creativity in which David composed many of the Psalms. It was a place of character building where David developed skills and abilities as a leader and a shepherd of God’s people:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalm 63:1-4)

And when we come to our Gospel reading, and perhaps read it a little more slowly to give it chance to sink in…it is interesting to see that even though we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation” in the gospel reading we learn how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. We must remember that when Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was full of the Holy Spirit. And when Jesus came out of the wilderness to begin his earthly ministry he was also full of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus HAD to go into the wilderness so that his sovereignty might even be made known there. Only Jesus could resist temptation and conquer it. Only Jesus could conquer sin and death. Only Jesus could show us the way. He does the same by stepping in to our brokenness and bringing about transformation and he does that by sending the Holy Spirit. I think that how we respond to temptation is something that can reveal our true nature or character, and the extent of our reliance on God.

So let’s consider how Jesus responded to temptation:
Tell these stones to become bread.
The first temptation was the temptation of hunger – physical temptation. Jesus had nothing to eat, and quite naturally he hungered. Surely it is the right of God’s Son to have the provision of all his needs; he needs food, he has the power to make it—let him do so (4:3). There is a temptation here not to rely on the provision of his Father in heaven, not to trust, to be filled with pride.

Jesus’ response is that physical needs must be met in God’s way, not our own selfish, short-cut way. We’re tempted, of course, in so many ways to provide a quick fix for our hungers. We live in a society of instant gratification…instant on. I like making soup sometimes because it reminds me of the value of God’s provision. As I prepare all the ingredients it takes time and presents me with an opportunity to prayerfully thank God for that because he has supplied my needs.

They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone
The second temptation was the temptation of instant acclaim by putting God to the test. Surely as the Son of God it is his right to claim protection against all dangers; and his Father has actually promised it, so let him put that promise to the test (4:5–7). I think that at the heart of this was the devil’s desire to get Jesus to seek to manipulate his Father and to do what the devil himself wanted to do – to become more important even than God.
Jesus teaching to his disciples is: answer temptation with God’s Word, just as I have. We need to know Scripture well enough to answer our doubts and fears and temptations with it. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and as we learn to apply the Word to every circumstance of our lives, we are equipped to persevere

All this I will give you
The final temptation was the temptation of power and wealth. Surely it is Jesus’ right as the Son of God to receive power over all nations, and to become King of kings. The devil offers to give this to Jesus if Jesus is prepared to acknowledge him as his lord (4:8–10).

The thing is what the devil was offering was not his to offer in the first place! The world and everything in it are God’s and God’s alone.

Jesus knew that power was important to his mission as Messiah. But it had to be power bestowed by his Father in due time. Jesus laid aside his majesty and was utterly reliant on his Father. His was the hard way to glory…through the cross, the grave, and resurrection. But in due time the Father exalted him to the highest place, the place that he deserved as God’s equal (Philippians 2:6), and to the position in which he is publicly proclaimed before heaven and earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

Even though the wilderness can be a place of testing, a place of trial, and yes perhaps for us at first a place of failure as it was at times for Elijah, David and Moses – it is also a place of forgiveness, a place of transformation, and a place of hope. It is a place where God gets our attention. Sometimes in life we must journey through our wildernesses to get to the Promised Land. Sometimes in life we have to journey through our wildernesses to have those rough edges knocked off us. Sometimes in life we have to journey through the wilderness to become aware of our sin and brokenness.

But I have had encounters with so many people in life who get lost in the wilderness, people who never come to that place of forgiveness. I have been there myself too. We can struggle with forgiveness at so many different levels. If you did something wrong to me, I may well forgive you but unless you journey with me and accept that forgiveness it means nothing. And sometimes we may struggle to forgive ourselves. We become paralysed. But we must not forget that God is present in the wilderness too. Jesus journeyed there before us. He understands.

It is only through reconciliation and true forgiveness that the guilt is felt, faced and followed to mutual recognition that repentance is genuine and right relationships – with justice and reciprocity – are now achieved. We must acknowledge our sin and brokenness.

The psalmist said “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed are those whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. For the Lord will not reject forever.”
Forgiveness involves a creative work: “Create in me a pure heart.” This is not a creative work in the sense of creation-out-of-nothing, but a creative work in the sense of bringing order and peace where chaos and hopeless turbulence were before. It involves coming through the wilderness.

As we enter in to this season of Lent, as we are invited to journey through the wilderness with Christ, may we discover a place of transformation and find ourselves at the end at that place of forgiveness – at the foot of the cross. May we journey to Easter full of that hope of new life, full of resurrection hope and filled with the Holy Spirit. May you have the courage to forgive yourself and know the peace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ. Amen

The Transfiguration (2)

The young Churchill wrote:

“One of these days, perhaps, the cold bright light of science and reason will shine through the cathedral windows and we shall go out into the fields to seek God for ourselves. The great laws of nature will be understood—our destiny and our past will be clear. We shall then be able to dispense with the religious toys that have agreeably fostered the development of mankind. Until then, anyone who deprives us of our illusions—our pleasant, hopeful illusions—is a wicked man and should (I quote my Plato) ‘be refused a chorus’.”

The view of Churchill, and others, was that Christianity is nothing more than a pleasant but illusory tool for social control. Karl Marx said that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.” Churchill seemed willing to wait for Christianity to die when it was no longer needed; but others were, and are, keener to kill the illusion before it does greater damage.[1]

In the first session of a recent Alpha course, I said that with the recent rise of new atheism, the claims that Christianity is untrue have certainly been heard by a very wide audience.  We are living with a generation in society that has not been brought up within the culture of the church, which has a deep mistrust of authority and institutions.  The scepticism with which the church is viewed is not limited though to the church alone.  People don’t trust anything; not families, not employers, not governments.

What the New Atheists are against is very clear: God, religion and the supernatural. What is conspicuously absent is what they actually are for. Once you get beyond the furious barrage of attacks on any form of religion all you find are some rather sad statements to the effect that ‘we are alone in the universe’, ‘because there is no ultimate meaning we better make one up’ and when we die ‘all that happens is eternal darkness and silence’. These are not inspiring words and they are matched by a lack of inspiring deeds. There are no grand visionary atheist projects that I know of: no schools for the poor dedicated to unbelief, no humanistic hospitals, no atheistic cathedrals, no campaigns in the name of evolution to put social wrongs right.

I guess my response to the above is one tinged with sadness.  Sadness because, whether it was Churchill or the new atheists, none of them seem to have had a personal encounter with our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ.  None of them seem to have a heart and head knowledge of that personal relationship with Christ.

In our first reading, Peter goes to great lengths to emphasise the point that their faith in and relationship with Jesus was not a ‘flight of fancy’.  They “did not follow cleverly invented stories”…for they were “eye-witnesses of his majesty.”  Let’s be clear; people in that society and culture were not known to be superstitious – in fact they were pragmatic and somewhat sceptical.  That is one of the many reasons why people were so astonished by the miracles of Jesus and subsequently the miracles of the apostles themselves.  We must understand that context and if this were evidence we were considering in a court of law this context and the fact that the apostles were eye-witnesses would “hold water”.

As a nation and as a community the Jewish people had seen prophets come and ago over centuries.  They had had chance to learn of prophecies fulfilled, see prophecies being fulfilled and to hold hope that prophecies would be fulfilled.

The disciples Peter, James and John saw prophecy being fulfilled when they were eye-witnesses to the transfiguration of Christ.  There are many views about the transfiguration, but in my view the more plausible ones are that

  • the transfiguration is a prophetic view of both the future glory and the true nature of Jesus’ Messiahship
  • here Jesus’ glory is revealed not just through his deeds, but in a more personal way. The glory denotes the royal presence, for the kingdom of God is in the midst of his people

 This alone would have been in incredible sight and experience for those 3 disciples.  But then we are told that Moses and Elijah appeared before them too, and we must recognise that Matthew is not prone to hyperbole in his gospel narrative.  It is as if he is simply reporting facts or making a factual statement – Moses and Elijah appeared before them – not two people LIKE Moses and Elijah appeared before them.  There must have been something about these two people that made them recognisable.

Many authors concur that the significance of Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus is that they represented the Law and the Prophets respectively.  It is also important to bear in mind that both Moses and Elijah “had unusual departures from this world, and were both expected to reappear at the end of time.”  Their appearance with Jesus was a significant moment of proclamation that Jesus’ life and ministry was about to come into sharp focus and climax leading to his crucifixion and resurrection.

In all of this, we are drawn into the event.  We are invited to make this journey with the disciples.  We too are invited to be eye witnesses.  We are invited to journey through Lent with one eye on the transfiguration and one eye on the cross.  We too are invited to fall face down on the ground in adoration.  We too are invited to hear Jesus’ voice…“Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

[1] Lucas, R. C., & Green, C. (1995). The message of 2 Peter & Jude: the promise of His coming (p. 73). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

The Transfiguration

He often retreated from the crowds and found quiet places

Still places where he could be alone to pray

But this time he asked us to join him

And as we walked up the mountain

Our minds were filled with thoughts of all that had gone on before

At the top, he knelt down to pray and suddenly

Before our very eyes his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white

We were amazed and our amazement grew more when we saw two men with him

They appeared in glory and we were sure they were Moses and Elijah

A few days ago he had spoken of great suffering to come and death

I was overwhelmed.  How could this be?  He had called us; and we had left everything behind to follow him.

He sent us out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

He had even given us power and authority to drive out all demons and cure diseases.

Had he not cured the sick, raised the dead and fed more than 5,000 people?  He even forgave people of their sins.

And now the three of them were speaking of his departure again…but things had only just started.  We had been obedient to his call; surely it couldn’t end like this?  How could this be?  Why could we not see?

It was too much to take in and we all felt so tired….exhausted even.

But then we became fully awake as we encountered his glory.  He stood there full of splendour.

It was a moment I never wanted to end, and without thinking I offered to put up three shelters.

One for our teacher, one for Moses and one for Elijah.

But as I was speaking we were surrounded by a great cloud and in our terror we all heard a voice saying “This is my Son; listen to him.”  In my heart echoed a prayer, “Lord give me ears to hear, eyes to see and a mind to understand.”