Seeing People the Way Jesus Does
Scripture—John 9:1-3; Acts 3:1-16
Perspective is an amazing thing, isn’t it? You and another person see exactly the same thing happen, but later find out you somehow saw two completely different things! Scientists have even studied this phenomenon and discovered that what we expect to see has a powerful impact on what our brains comprehend.
In one study, a group of subjects (not realizing they were part of a study) went out on a boat on Loch Ness, the supposed home of the famous Loch Ness Monster.
The subjects were told that there had been several sightings by locals, and that there was a good chance that they would see something that morning. As part of the test, a diver had been submerged out in the lake with a plain 4X4 piece of lumber. At a particular point in the voyage, the diver slowly raised the 4X4 board out of the water, held it for a few seconds, then took it back below the surface.
The people on the boat responded excitedly. When they returned to shore, they were asked to draw what they had seen. The subjects drew a long thin neck—with a head! What they saw was completely different from reality—because they weren’t primed to see reality. They were primed to see what they imagined, what they hoped was true. The same thing happens in the way we view our lives and our relationships.
There’s an interesting anecdote from the life of Jesus that illustrates the way He sees, and how it can be so different from what we see. Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
Do you notice the difference between Jesus and His disciples here? The disciples saw this guy as a potential for a theological argument. “Hey, guys, here’s a hurting person—let’s have a fuss about whose fault it is!” But Jesus saw a chance to glorify God. He saw with clearer eyes what was really going on in this man’s life.
This kind of thing happens over and over again in the life of Jesus. After a while, the disciples start getting the hang of it. They follow and imitate their Rabbi long enough that it starts to sink in! We jump into their story in Acts 3 after the Resurrection of Jesus:
Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple;
who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.
And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” (Acts 3:1-4, NKJV)
The Greek word that is translated “fixing his eyes” is not the regular word for “look” or “see.” This is a heightened word that only occurs a few times in the New Testament. It’s like “rivet your eyes on,” “look intensely,” or “do a double take.” He didn’t just look, he “LOOK-looked.” He really saw.
This is interesting because Peter and John were devout men. They had been to the temple to pray many times. This man had been sitting there for years! The Scripture even says they laid him “daily” at the gate of the temple. This was almost certainly not the first time they had seen him, but it was the first time Peter did a Holy Spirit-inspired “double-take.”
Ever have one of those moments? I’m terrible about not seeing things. Have you ever been looking for something, only to discover you’re already holding it? I have. Sometimes when I am looking for an item I’ve lost, I go ahead and check my hands first!
The problem is, sometimes we do this with—(wait for it)—PEOPLE! We can walk right past a person over and over again without ever noticing him or her. I am quite certain that if Jesus were with us, He would often see the people in our lives differently than we do.
If we’re going to follow our Rabbi, we will need to notice how He lives, what He notices, how He sees…and let that transform the way we see as well. After three years of watching and following Jesus, Peter and John had changed how they saw lost people.
Following Jesus will help you…
1. To see people for their needs, not your inconvenience (Acts 3:3-5).
Oh, brother. Another panhandler. “Get a job, buddy! I’m in a hurry…look the other way…lock the doors…we can’t stop, we’re on the way to church.” But that’s not the attitude Peter and John took. They’d been around Jesus too long for that.
Do you see broken people as an annoyance… or an opportunity to be a blessing?
2. To see people for their potential, not their problems (Acts 3:6).
It wouldn’t have been hard to see only the problems for this guy—a lifetime hopeless case, a man to pity. But when Peter really sees him, really does this Holy-Spirit-inspired “double take,” he sees more than the weak ankles, more than useless limbs, more than a chance to argue with John about whose fault his condition was.
Are you ever tempted to define people by their brokenness?
Some religious people have raised this to an art form.
The Pharisees did it often:
- “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
- “I thank you that I am not like this tax collector.”
- “If he were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman this is.”
In our culture, we have plenty of radio and TV commentators, talking heads, and politicians who make their livelihood debating who should take the blame for the brokenness in our world. (These folks come in Democrat, Republican, and Independent versions!)
But if we are to follow Jesus in all our values, we’re going to have to choose a different attitude. Don’t define people by their brokenness, sin, and past—define them by their Savior! As the old saying goes,
“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
3. To see that every broken person has the potential for healing (Acts 3:7-8).
Gut check: Do you believe God can heal (either physically—or emotionally or spiritually!) that person you have passed by a thousand times? It’s of no use for the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to notice broken people if deep inside we are unconvinced that grace can transform them!
4. To see that every broken person has the potential for influence (Acts 3:9-10).
Have you heard the phrase “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”? I’d like to propose a different version:
“The worse they are, the more glory God receives when they are transformed.”
5. To see that every broken person has the potential for impact (Acts 3:11-16).
You know the story…. Peter preaches, and the crowd of men who were Christians in Jerusalem “came to be about 5,000.” The church has now nearly doubled since Pentecost, just one chapter ago. This miracle on the way to prayer meeting results in a huge number of new people coming to trust in Christ! What an impact!
A few years ago, a family with several boys lived down the street from me. They would often come down to visit and play in the church parking lot. At times, they’d even come inside without knocking and help themselves to things inside the refrigerator!
One particular evening I was hard at work on my laptop when the sounds filtering in from outside told me the boys were playing in the church parking lot. A knock came at the door.
Feeling rather annoyed at the interruption, I opened the door, and seeing the youngest of the brothers outside, I positioned myself in the door in such a way as to block any attempt at entrance for another refrigerator pilfering run. I’m pretty sure my body language communicated “not now.”
The young boy looked up at me. “Pastor Darrell, I fell and skinned my elbow.” He showed his wound, which was quite small. “Do you have any Band-Aids?” “Well… sure. Wait right there,” I said reluctantly.
I started to close the door. Let’s not prolong this by handing out drinks and snacks, too. “Oh, yeah, and…” he said as I almost got the door closed. “Yes?” I cracked the door a few inches. “And…if you’re not too busy…could we ask Jesus into my heart?” I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
“Uh…sure, come on in. You can sit here while I get the Band-Aid,” I mumbled. I walked into the bathroom and stopped, leaning my head against the medicine cabinet. I had looked at him out my door…but I had failed to “LOOK-look.” I needed to spend some time talking with my Rabbi about how He saw people.
Darrell Stetler II (HS ’98, BA ’03) preaches weekly in Oklahoma City and around the country via SermonSubscribe.
A free digital copy of this sermon for you to edit and personalize (complete with a handout) can be downloaded at sermonsubscribe.com/revivalist.