Could a parable about a colony of blind people teach us something about the gospel? And if so, what would we do with it?
Nestled just beyond the edge of a city, a colony of blind people had long ago abandoned any hope of ever seeing a bird soar through the air or watching the colors of the sunset shift toward violet red before descending into darkness.
One day a man entered their colony distributing a pamphlet in braille. Its message was simple. A wealthy benefactor possessed the technology to grant everyone sight. Furthermore, the pamphlet announced that this philanthropist wished to provide this technological solution as a gift. Near the bottom of the paper was a date, time and address.
Some of the colonists immediately dismissed the pamphlet as a cruel joke or too-good-to-be true. Others were unsure. Perhaps the benefactor had anticipated such responses. Why might we think this? Typed in braille across the center of the sheet were the words, “If you believe you will see. But if do not believe, you will remain blind.”
A strange thing happened as the date drew near. The colony divided into three groups. Some did not believe. They had no intention of being disappointed nor allowing anyone to make a fool of them. Others made plans to travel to the designated location.
While neither of these responses were surprising, an unanticipated third group also existed. They also believed. However, they claimed that since the flyer stated, “If you believe you will see,” this meant as long as they believed, this was sufficient. They thought that if they remained in their homes they would receive the generous gift.
Furthermore, they defended their viewpoint by pointing out that nowhere did the pamphlet state that a person had to believe and travel in order to receive sight. And so they repeated over and over, “It just says, ‘If you believe you will see.’”
Of course we realize the pamphlet was not telling the people to sit in their homes believing the benefactor would give them sight. Rather, knowing that the colonists would face a very important decision the pamphlet called them to trust in the philanthropist that he could indeed give them sight. Its message was clear. On the designated date and time be at the specified location.
John’s Gospel has sometimes been called the Gospel of Belief, and rightly so. In a world where skepticism and discipleship collide, this Gospel called and continues to invite people to believe in Jesus in order that they might have life. This central theme is highlighted in such statements as, “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. And of course how could we not include, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” John 3:16-17.
Is John telling us that we only need to believe in Jesus, just as some of the colonists thought that they only needed to believe in the philanthropist’s capability? Or is this Gospel calling us to receive Jesus instead of rejecting him? Can we know which it is?
In the latter part of the first century as opinions clashed about Jesus and as the early church baptized those converting to Christ, John told Jesus’ story. He began by declaring that Jesus brings life and allows people to become God’s children, born of God (John 1:4,12,13). Accordingly, becoming a disciple of Jesus is everything.
And so John wrote that it is to those who receive Jesus, that is believe in him, whom Jesus enables to become God’s children, born of God. Furthermore, this birth from above requires water and Spirit (John 3:3,5). To make this salvation possible God gave his Son so that those who believe in him might live.
The early church understood, as should we, that to believe in Jesus involves receiving Jesus with baptism. This portrayal of conversion to Christ agrees with what other New Testament’s writers wrote (Galatians 3:26-27; Acts 8:12; 2:38-39,41; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 3:21).