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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Man Born Blind

John 9

Often we learn the most by example and incident. Today’s lesson begins with doctrine, proceeds to example, and ends with warning.

Doctrine

(John 9:1-5 NIV) As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. {2} His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" {3} "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. {4} As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. {5} While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Who sinned?

There was an interesting theory going around at the time. The Jews were being pressed, intellectually, by the Hellenists with regard to the idea that a soul was eternal – that is to say, pre-existent. As a part of this debate (on which the Scripture sheds little light) some Jewish thinkers put forward the idea of “prenatal sin.”

The theory is relatively simple. The reason you suffer is because of sin. That sin could be yours, or someone else’s – for example, your parents. Recall the baby conceived by David and Bathsheba who died as a result of David’s sin? But what about the child who is afflicted from birth, yet born to righteous parents?

The temptation, of course, is to say, “it must have been the parents.” Indeed, one striking aspect of the book of Job is that his first three “friends” consistently accuse him of some hidden sin. God must be punishing him for it (though we see that the situation is different). This is a very strong aspect of human behavior. A friend of mine, a former minister, was accused by his daughter-in-law of sexually molesting his grandchildren. The man suffered unspeakable inquisition for six years until it was finally shown that this was her ploy to get the divorce terms she wanted. During that time, many of his friends were quick to believe that he indeed did molest the children. We are quick to suspect sin in others, if for no other reason than we know it in ourselves.

Rationalism

Modern thinkers, on the other hand, hold forth “random chance.” No one is being punished; it can be explained scientifically why he was born blind.

It can indeed. But let’s understand the question. The human mind does not so much ask, “Why did this happen?” The rationalist can explain that. The human mind asks, “Why did this happen to me?” For that answer we must look to God, for he controls all that he wills to control. And hence we think that God must be punishing the sinful when these things occur.

Another answer

Jesus provides us with another answer, “that the work of God might be displayed.” Taken at its true value, this is a stunning remark.

·         First, the “work of God” is a phrase of power in the Old Testament. It is used seldom, but its first use is to describe the tablets which contained the Ten Commandments.

·         It is taught that the work of God cannot be understood by mortal man; it is too high above him.[1]

·         But in the New Testament the work of God is unveiled: it is to believe in Jesus Christ.[2]

The idea that a person might suffer so the he or she (or others) might come to believe is one which is not taught very much today. Indeed, the concept of suffering for the glory of God (of which this is but an instance) is neglected almost completely. But it is still true, and there are lessons we can learn from it:

·         Jesus never explains “why.” Job was never given an explanation of his suffering either (though we were.) He expects us to accept it without receiving the explanation.

·         This is another reason to “judge not.” We cannot look at another person’s life and always be able to say, “He’s suffering because….”

·         Suffering for others is a way for us to bring glory to God.

The Worker’s Attitude

If you want to know someone’s true character, watch them work. Especially at some mundane task, their character will come out. Jesus, being God, is light, and the light must shine. He “cannot help himself;” he must do the work of the Father.

Interestingly, there is a sense of urgency here which is lacking in the church today. The time is coming when such healing will not occur, for Jesus will have completed his mission. Often today we act as if the Lord will never come; as if we have all the time in the world to tell others of our Lord (tomorrow is just as good as today.) Do we indeed have tomorrow? Or are we a vapor for a little while, a vapor which needs to redeem the time available?

The Reaction

We now need to hear the story of the healing. It is one of the lengthiest in the New Testament, and it is full of human drama and wickedness.

(John 9:6-38 NIV) Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. {7} "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. {8} His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" {9} Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man." {10} "How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. {11} He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." {12} "Where is this man?" they asked him. "I don't know," he said. {13} They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. {14} Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. {15} 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." {16} Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. {17} Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet." {18} The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. {19} "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?" {20} "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. {21} But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." {22} His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. {23} That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." {24} A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God, " they said. "We know this man is a sinner." {25} He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" {26} Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" {27} He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" {28} Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! {29} We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from." {30} The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. {31} We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. {32} Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. {33} If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." {34} To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out. {35} Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" {36} "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." {37} Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." {38} Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

Investigation

It starts innocently enough. There’s a fellow walking around, obviously seeing quite well, who looks just like the blind beggar. What happened here? Some people say it must be the beggar (two fellows so alike could not happen in a village); others say no, that’s impossible – it must be a long lost twin or something. We see in here two attitudes:

·         there are those who ask, “what happened?” and are inclined to see the miracle, for such things are not forbidden - just rare.

·         there are those who cannot see the miracle, and for these any explanation, no matter how strange (it must be a clone), is best.

Often our willingness to believe is greatly affected by this. But the man himself clears it up; he tells them that he is indeed the former beggar.

Inquisition

The investigation becomes the Inquisition when the Pharisees are involved. They have a preconceived notion: it must be false, because

·         the healing was done on the Sabbath. The man’s life was not threatened, hence this is forbidden.

·         spittle was applied to the eyes; this too was forbidden in rabbinical tradition.

·         clay was made; this too is working on the Sabbath.

There is only one problem with this neat little theory. Pesky things, facts. So they turn their attack on the blind man.

“Give glory to God”

The phrase they use is one designed to provoke the sinner to repentance, to admitting the lie. Joshua used it in discovering Achan’s sin.[3] It carries a severe warning, for Achan and all his family were destroyed. The parents collapse before the implied threat, but the man himself is more determined.

His argument is a classic, and should be studied by every Christian who has ever suffered in intellectual debate. He is not smarter than the Inquisition; he is not the debater. So he frames his reply in the manner of a simple man:

·         He does not understand the theory or the doctrine (that’s a matter for experts) but there is one fact he is sure of: he was blind, but now he sees.

·         He knows enough of the Old Testament to be sure of one thing: the man who did this must be on good terms with God, for God never lets such power be shown without His consent.

·         And to cap it off, Pharisees, if you’re such experts, you figure it out.

The Pharisees respond with what today is the common attack. They cannot attack the facts; they cannot attack the doctrine the man expounds; they cannot deny that they should be able to explain it – so they attack the man. We see that today in the “debate” over homosexuality. Christians (code word: “right wing fundamentalists”) are “homophobic” – afraid of homosexuals. The truth is that Christians are not afraid – just righteous enough to condemn sin for what it is. The attack is not on the facts; the attack is not on the morality; the attack is on the Christian personally.

Turning to Jesus

It is an act of courage for this man to turn to Jesus, for he will be excommunicated for it. But please note something: as he was turning to Jesus, Jesus was also seeking him out. There is a truth in this: if we will truly seek Him, He will always seek us – and reveal himself to us.

On Judgment

Jesus now gives the warning:

(John 9:39-41 NIV) Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." {40} Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" {41} Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

As often as Jesus said that he was not in the world to judge it, there remains the fact that light scatters cockroaches. You cannot have light without judgment; God is light and therefore judgment proceeds from him wherever he appears. It is not an active judgment on his part. It is a passive one which comes from our reaction to the light. Active judgment is yet to come.

Spiritual blindness – that which is judged – is contracted by a simple method: refusing to see. If I close my eyes, no matter how good my glasses, I am blind.

Progressive Revelation

In this passage the man born blind comes to know him by stages.

·         In verse 11, he is a man called Jesus. That Jesus is man is undeniable.

·         In verse 17, the appreciation has risen. Examining what has been done for him, and how, the man determines that this Jesus is a prophet, for he passes the Old Testament criteria for such. Jesus is indeed a prophet.

·         In verse 38 he is Lord. This is the high point of knowledge and faith.

Conclusion

In each lesson we must ferret out that which should be applied to our lives. There is a clue here; it is in the name “Siloam.”

·         The word itself means “sent.” The original meaning comes from the fact that the pool is at the end of a tunnel under the walls of Jerusalem, providing water during siege. The One who was Sent sends us.

·         The act itself is a form of baptism. We must not only have the clay on our eyes (the preaching of the Gospel) but we must wash in repentance.

·         We too were once blind – but now we see. And we too are SENT.

When we are sent, and in obedience go, we shall suffer. And not only for our sins. We are sent to suffer for the glory of God; we are sent to do the work of God. We shall suffer inquisition, for we are the light. But the fact of our salvation still stands tall; the Savior still foremost. The real question is, will we be willing to be sent?


[1] Ecclesiastes 11:5

[2] John 6:29

[3] Joshua 7:19

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