John 9—Believing is Seeing
The fourth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-10 says on the seventh day of the week “you shall not do any work”. The religious leaders of Israel in Jesus’ day had gone to great lengths to define what “work” means. They developed volumes of legalism about what the people could and couldn’t do. Keeping the Sabbath had become the core issue of the institutionalized legalism system that developed in Israel as a way of salvation. They believed that they were saved by keeping their law and traditions. Jesus was bound to expose their error and assault their self-righteousness. Repeatedly Jesus butted heads with the religious leaders over the Sabbath traditions. In Mark 2:23-3:6, Jesus was passing through a grain field with His disciples on the Sabbath. They were hungry so they picked some heads of grain to eat, but they were accused by the Pharisees of breaking the law of the Sabbath. Jesus replied with a fourfold defense, which revealed their error. First He cited an Old Testament precedent of David, which proved that human need is a higher moral obligation. Secondly, God created the Sabbath for the well being of humans as a gracious gift. Thirdly, their traditions are superseded by the Messiah who is the Lord of the Sabbath. Lastly, Jesus healed a guy (also illegal) in the synagogue to prove that the Sabbath is a time to do good, and mercy supersedes the Sabbath laws.
John 9—Opening the Eyes of the Blind
The timing of the events of John 9 were linked to Jesus’ argument with the religious leaders in John 7-8 during the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus was still in Jerusalem, and He purposefully confronted the religious leaders by healing a blind guy on the Sabbath. As Jesus and His disciples passed a blind beggar, they asked Jesus a profound theological dilemma, “who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” The popular Jewish doctrine of the time was to link suffering and misfortune to personal sins, but being born this way prevents that premise. Was it his parents fault? They would have been aware of Exodus 20:5 which stated that God is “a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children”. Yet Deut. 24:16, 2 Chron.25:4, and Ezek.18:20 all say that children are not responsible for the sins of their parents, and everyone will be punished for their own sins. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus said clearly that they don’t necessarily have bad things happen because of specific sin. Therefore, we know from the examples of Old Testament stories that Exodus 20 was saying that the consequences of previous generations’ idolatry and disobedience affect the children, but the children were not held responsible. For instance, the Hebrew children of the Exodus suffered 40 years of wilderness wandering because of their parents disobedience (Nu.14:28-33), but the children got to go into the land, not the parents.
The common religious reasoning of the time was built on a false premise designed to support salvation by works and the self-righteousness of the leaders. Jesus gave the short answer to why the man was born blind in Jn.9:3—to glorify God. This doesn’t mean God deliberately blinded the child, but it does mean that God overruled the man’s misfortune so that by recovering his sight, he would see the glory of God in the person of Jesus, and in seeing he would be saved. Many others seeing this miracle as well as we who now read about it, would also be blessed. The concern of the disciples of Jesus was looking back for the cause, but Jesus was looking forward by putting God’s power on display for the man’s benefit and ours. POINT—Being born blind was the best thing that could have happened for that man (and for us who read about it) because it resulted in his eternal salvation.
The Living Parable
Jesus is the spiritual light of the world who provided physical light for this man who had lived his entire life in darkness. Thus the newly sighted man became a living parable, which illustrated John 1:4-5, 9 “In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…there was the true Light which coming into the world enlightens every man”. Jesus Christ literally was the life eternal and shined the light of absolute truth in an unbelieving world of spiritual darkness. In the case of the physically blind man of John 9, Jesus would give both physical light and when he believed in the Son of God as his Savior, the spiritual light of eternal life. But in the case of the unbelieving Pharisees, their unbelief became to them spiritual blindness/darkness. The healing of the man born blind illustrates the salvation process. We are all blinded by sin and lost with no capacity to find a Savior on our own. The blind guy would not have been healed unless Jesus sought him out and graciously revealed Himself. In the same way, if God had not intervened and sent Jesus into the world to atone for our sins, none of us would see the light and be saved.
Jesus’ method of operation was unique in this case as only here did he make clay out of spittle and rub it on someone to be healed. Then He told the guy to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash it off. When the guy somehow walked the distance to the pool and washed, he could see for the first time in his life. Naturally theologians speculate on why Jesus did it that way. The Pool of Siloam was a considerable distance away at the far south end of Jerusalem so it was quite a task for the blind guy. Interestingly, the name Siloam given 700 years before to the Pool of Siloam means “sent”. Why did Jesus “send” this poor guy on such a trek? I can think of two possibilities. First, it was illegal to make clay on the Sabbath so Jesus was purposefully breaking the absurd Sabbath traditions. Secondly, if Jesus “sent” the guy away blind he would not be able to identify Jesus when he could see. Sure enough the guy came back sighted, which blew away all the friends and family so everyone was asking him what happened.
Celebration or Inquisition?
Many times during His earthly ministry Jesus had purposefully healed people on the Sabbath knowing that it was against Jewish laws. About six months before this Jesus had healed the lame guy at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath in order to have a confrontation with the Pharisees. Now in John 9:13-14, we see the same issue raise its ugly legalistic head again. If you are a religious leader, you can’t just let people run around breaking your traditions. Seeking to gain control of the situation, they brought the now sighted man in for interrogation. Instead of a celebration of the poor guy being healed, they hold a threatening inquisition. Their tactics were fear and intimidation. In that culture where there was no separation of church and state, being “put out” of the synagogue was a serious threat. He and his parents would become social and religious pariahs, and would lose their jobs. The interrogation of first the healed man, and then the parents in John 9:15-34 reveals interesting contrasts. The blind man was progressively understanding who Jesus is while the religious leaders were getting further away from the truth. The blind man was beginning to see, but the leaders were getting blinder. Meanwhile, the cautious parents, fearful of excommunication, were trying to “sit on the fence” and not take a stand. The point for us now is that as the man began believing, he was able to see more and more spiritual truth, but as the Pharisees became more and more hardened against Jesus, their spiritual blindness increased. The parents were like many people today who claim to be religious but have no commitment to the truth.
We can track the healed man’s progression of belief beginning in v.17, Jesus is a prophet, then v.33 Jesus is sent by God, v.36 he is seeking to believe, then he says Jesus has the truth, and finally in v.38 he believed in Jesus as his Lord and Savior and he worshipped Jesus as the Son of God. All of our lives we have heard the proverb that “Seeing is believing”, but in a spiritual sense the opposite is true that “Believing is seeing”. As the man believed, the truth was opened up to him and he was saved. Therefore, we see the principle that when you admit your sin and believe in Jesus, you will become spiritually sighted.
Why did Jesus Deliberately Break the Sabbath?
Throughout the stories in the four Gospels, Jesus went out of His way to provoke and confront the Pharisees, scribes, and priests. They were locked into the Old Covenant of law and legalism, but Jesus came to inaugurate the New Covenant of God’s grace. Many of His miracles were done right in front of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath knowing it was against their traditions to do medical work or even heal on the Sabbath. Then Jesus addressed the Pharisees at the synagogue directly saying, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm? Jesus proceeded to heal a man’s hand right in front of them, and their anger was such that they planned to kill Him. In John 9, I think Jesus also healed on the Sabbath for at least five reasons:
- To reveal His divine authority 2. To prove the error of their traditions 3. To reveal their hypocrisy 4. It was an assault on religious legalism, which taught that you were saved by keeping their law and traditions 5. Jesus came to die on the cross, therefore this event moved the leaders further along in their plans to kill Him.
The Riddle of John 9:39-41
It was Jesus’ habit to teach in parables and proverbial expressions, and it is no surprise that this story ends with Jesus baffling the Pharisees with a great riddle about sin, seeing and blindness. Jesus came into the world to give light to the blind, but only people who loved the light that Jesus gave would become spiritually sighted. Those self-righteous hypocrites believed they had no sin and needed no Savior, so they would remain blind. The Pharisees were outraged at Jesus saying that and asked, “Surely you’re not saying that we are blind?” Cryptically, Jesus told them that if they were blind (admitted their sin) then by believing in Christ as the healed guy had, they would see spiritually and be saved. But since they said “We see”, they were in effect saying our traditions and laws will save us—then their sin was not forgiven. The problem is that those who willfully reject the light God gives them, remain blind to the truth. By refusing to admit their blindness, they revealed the darkness of their hearts, and increased in their rejection for the only Savior who could free them from their sin.
May we all draw near to Christ admitting our imperfection and need for Him, and in so doing have Jesus progressively open our eyes to the grace He is offering.