With Jesus the blind shall see (John 9.13-41)
Thus far John 9 has concentrated on the actual miracle of Jesus giving sight to the blind man, and ordinary people’s response. John shows how some accepted the miracle while others doubted the veracity of it (9.8/9). So now they seek to settle the matter by bringing the blind man to the religious authorities, the Pharisees (9.13). With all their training in rabbinic studies and their knowledge of the Bible the Pharisees would surely know the truth!
Before the introduction of the Pharisees into the story no mention had been made that Jesus had worked his miraculous sign on the Sabbath. But with the Pharisees this immediately becomes the central issue (9.14). They did ask the formerly blind man how he had regained his sight, but then quickly came back to what was for them the key question, the Sabbath. They were not at all interested in the amazing life-giving and enlightening ministry of Jesus. They also failed to rejoice with the man born blind. What a life-transforming thrill that suddenly he could see!
Of course they were absolutely right to teach and observe the Sabbath. Throughout Israel’s history the Sabbath had been the touch-stone of obedience to the revealed Word of the Lord and his commandments. True faith and holiness went together with observation of Sabbath. With the Oral Torah the Pharisees had however added various legalistic out-workings to the biblical command.
They were also entirely correct to live as Moses’ disciples (9.28/29), but sadly for them this went together with rejection of Jesus. They wanted to follow the Torah/Law as given through Moses, but did not believe in Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promise to Moses to send another prophet like Moses with ‘God’s words in his mouth’ (Deuteronomy 18.15-19). They therefore failed to follow God’s command, “You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18.15).
So the Pharisees had a good foundation, but remained blind to anything beyond it. They were like someone who has learned their tables, but fails to see that mathematics has anything more to learn. They possessed a true and good foundation, but were blind to any possibility of building further on it.
Actually, like the ordinary people in 9.8/9, division ruled the day. Some reacted positively to Jesus’ miraculous sign, while others rejected it. Likewise some of the Pharisees rejected Jesus because he did the miracle on the Sabbath, while others saw that someone doing such miraculous signs could not possibly be just a sinner (9.16). The good news of Jesus as Lord demands a choice either of commitment to him or rejection.
For further evidence concerning whether the man had really been born blind they now call his parents (9.18). With the parents a new element comes into the story – fear! The parents evidently understood the danger. Should they publicly declared that their son had indeed been born blind and had been given sight by Jesus? Is he therefore at least a prophet or even the long-awaited Messiah? Such a confession of faith in Jesus would lead to excommunication with all its fearful social and economic consequences. To save their own skin, they stuck to the basic facts and refused to say anything about their own reactions. Yes, they say, ‘this is our son, he was born blind and he can now see’. But they carefully hide any knowledge they may have gained about how their son could now see and who opened his eyes (9.20/21). Their son already stands in the firing line, so they pass the buck – “he is of age; he will speak for himself”. They were wise in the face of the danger of persecution, but they failed miserably to confess faith in Jesus. Those of us who live comfortably in countries with religious freedom must ask ourselves how we would react if faced with suffering for our faith. Even in Britain today we face the challenge of cynical hostility if we stand openly for commitment to Jesus and biblical truth. Are we willing for such rejection or do we follow the example of the blind man’s parents?
The blind man
From time to time in these blogs John’s emphasis on gradual growth into faith and discipleship comes clearly into view. For example, Nicodemus moves from coming to Jesus secretly at night (3.2) to a somewhat hesitant questioning of the Pharisees’ hatred of Jesus (7.50/51). Then finally Nicodemus comes out definitely for Jesus as he publicly accompanies Joseph of Aramathea in Jesus’ burial (19.38-40). So likewise the blind man comes step by step into faith in Jesus. At first he knows he has been given sight, but he seems to know nothing about who it was who worked the miracle for him. John 9.1-12 concludes with the devastating words, “I don’t know”. Later he confesses that Jesus is a prophet (9.17) and opposes the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus is a sinner. He bravely adds that Jesus has been sent by God (9.30-33). Finally his eyes are opened to Jesus’ messianic claims and he declares, “Lord, I believe” and he fell on his knees before Jesus (9.35-38). In the process of his coming to definite faith, the formerly blind man suffers the Pharisees’ declaration of excommunication, but this does not deter him from confessing Jesus and worshiping him.
The blind and the seeing (9.40/41)
In our multi-cultural and multi-faith society Jesus’ words can easily be misunderstood. He is not attacking people who have a sure faith in him as the Son of God and Messiah, for he readily accepts the faith confession of the formerly blind man (9.38). His purpose in coming into this world is that the blind may begin to see (9.39). Jesus continually encourages people to believe in him with a sure faith. But as believers in Jesus we should never allow ourselves to sink into the stagnant rut where we proudly think we see and therefore no longer grow in our faith. The all-glorious God is far greater than anything we may already have apprehended. And the Word of God in the Scriptures contains riches and depths we have not yet fathomed. Our understanding of the Lord must always lack perfection, for as human-beings we inherit the corruption and inadequacies of all humanity. We also see the truth of the Lord through the eyes of our particular ethnic background and culture – and even British culture might just contain a modicum of sin and corruption!
Nevertheless we rejoice in the truth of what the Lord has revealed to us, while we still acknowledge our blindness. We desperately need Jesus’ Holy Spirit to grant true sight to our blind eyes, to correct us in our faith and to lead us forward in spiritual growth. So Jesus states that, “if you say that ‘we are seeing’, your sin remains.” But in contrast, Jesus says, ‘if you were blind, you would not have sin’.” What then should be our attitude in our multi-faith context? We should be characterised by assurance of truth, openness to correction and hunger for growth in faith and understanding.
P.S. Christmas is coming! How about giving some of our books as presents this year? Do get hold of Elizabeth’s life story “God can be Trusted” and my most recent book “Storytelling”.