STUDY 13: JOHN 9 - THE BLIND MAN

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

 

A. THE HEALING – JOHN 9:1-12

A.1 Blind from birth – 9:1

The fact that this man was blind from birth is significant on two grounds:

      • It intensifies the power and amazement of the healing miracle. The fact that he was born blind is mentioned 5 times [verses 1,2,19,20,33]; the amazing power of the miracle is stated or inferred 5 times [verses 3,8-10,16,18-19,32]. This healing is so amazing, so impossible, that the people and the Pharisees found it incredible: some of his neighbours didn’t believe it was the same man [8-9], and the Pharisees did not want to believe he had actually been born blind [18-19].
      • It provides a physical symbol of the darkness to which Jesus has referred in John 3:19 and 8:12 . This darkness, this spiritual blindness, is ours from birth. We cannot see the kingdom of God [3:3]; we do not know God [ 8:19 ]. We need a miraculous divine intervention to reverse this blindness and release us from it. We need the Light of the world. Both the healed man [30-33] and Jesus [39-41] recognize this spiritual blindness in the Pharisees.

A.2 A common question – 9:2

When the disciples asked ‘who sinned … that he was born blind?’ they voiced a common and perennial question: ‘Why this suffering?” and expressed a common misconception: that suffering is a divine pay-back or punishment for specific sin or sins.

Our in-built legalistic mindset, our automatic tit-for-tat attitude, and our self-centred perception of God’s laws as a check-list that identifies our goodness and merit, lock us into this misunderstanding. Yes. Suffering is in the world because of sin [Genesis 3]. Yes, God does sometimes punish the wicked in this life as well as the next. But these basic facts do not automatically make each aspect of personal suffering God’s direct judgment on a specific personal sin.

      • The suffering of Christ is a clear demonstration of that. He had no sin, yet he suffered every form of pressure common to man [Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15 ].
      • It is also affirmed in the life of Job, whose remarkable godliness, twice affirmed by God, was the provocative cause of his extreme and extended suffering [Job 1 & 2].
      • This is also Paul’s point in his extended teaching on Christian suffering [Romans 8:17 -39]. In this passage Paul makes it clear that it is totally out of order for Christians to view their suffering as punishment for sin, or to permit others to impose such a view upon them. There is, he says, no one who can accuse or lay a charge against believers because Christ has already removed all accusations and punishment from them; he stands in the presence of God not accusing us but as our Mediator and Advocate. Suffering does not and cannot mean the removal of God’s love. It cannot and does not mean that God has put us back under condemnation and judgement. In fact, says Paul, we can actually rejoice in suffering [Romans 5:3].

A.3 The true purpose of this man’s suffering - 9:3

‘… this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’.

If we are honest we should probably admit that Jesus’ explanation of this man’s suffering disturbs us. While on the one hand we, as Christians, might be relieved to know that our suffering is not God punishing us, or our parents, for some sin, yet Jesus’ answer creates other problems: if our suffering happens so that God might be glorified [see also John 11:4] what does this say about God and his goodness? And what does it say about us … about who we are and where we fit in the whole scheme of things?

On the surface there seems to be something not right here. We can see justice in God making us suffer as punishment for our sin. We can even see a level of justice, even if unacceptable to us, in God making us suffer because of some sin of our parents, for our suffering can cause our parents to suffer and regret that sin.

But here in Jesus’ answer there seems to be no justice at all. In fact, there seems to be every reason to accuse God rather than to glorify God. Similar criticisms could be levelled at Jesus when he delayed his response to the message about Lazarus’ illness.

      • Why make this man suffer blindness from birth to adulthood just so the work of God can be displayed in his life?
      • Why put his parents through the agony of a having a disabled child?
      • Why put his parents through all those years of self-accusation and the accusations of others who attribute this blindness to their sin?
      • Why put Lazarus through the agony of dying?
      • Why put Mary and Martha through the anguish and the bereavement?

….. just so that God, and/or Christ, can be glorified?

      • Where is God’s love in this?
      • Where is God’s justice in this?
      • Where is God’s goodness in this?

….. his power we can still see, yes, but cut off from these other attributes it is a frightening power.

      • Does this not make us just pawns being arbitrarily moved and arbitrarily eliminated in a divine chess game?
      • Does this not render us insignificant and unloved?
      • Does this not wreck our faith in the divine goodness and love?
      • Does this not make our prayers pointless?

…. leaving us asking: ‘Are we nothing, after all? Does he not really love us, after all?’

We need to have an answer to these questions, or at least a basis from which to answer these and similar questions, or we will, sooner or later, find ourselves sinning because of them, standing not with God, but against God, because of them; and we will also find ourselves unable to cope with our suffering because of the fallacious perceptions which have generated these doubts. We will also find ourselves distanced from God, from the only one who can really support and strengthen us in our suffering.

A.4 The divine perspective – 9:4,5

We have seen repeatedly that we are earthbound – we see things from the perspective of the flesh. Jesus, on the other hand, sees things from the eternal, divine perspective.

‘As long as it is day …’

Here is the divine perspective of big picture. There is a time that is ‘day’, and there is a time that is ‘night’. As long as it is ‘day’ Christ and his followers [note the ‘we’ in verse 4] can do his saving work. As long as it is ‘day’, Christ can bring sight to the physically blind and light to the spiritually blind.

Everything is secondary to this divine objective of bringing people to spiritual light – to the point where they will see and acknowledge the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, and by that knowledge be transferred from death to life. [See 2Corinthians 4:4-6.]

So great is God’s love for us and his desire for us to have light and life, that he is willing to bear the accusations embedded in the questions listed above; so great is God’s love for us that he is willing to bear the misunderstandings, the misrepresentations and the ignominy of the incarnation; so great is God’s love for us that he discarded his heavenly glory, he put aside his divine majesty, and became one of us – weak, powerless, dependent, abused, despised, rejected, suffering.

He himself suffered, and made himself vulnerable to accusations, in order to bring us back to himself. The incarnation and the crucifixion are the measure of God’s yearning to bring us to light and life. God so loved us that he gave his Son … God so loved us that he sent his one and only Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins … [John 3:16; 1John 4:9-10].

That this blind man, and Lazarus, and we ourselves suffer, is nothing compared with the eternal suffering that would otherwise be theirs and ours apart from the suffering of Christ.

Our suffering, and God’s use of our suffering to bring us and others to the Light, is not a contradiction of his love; rather it is an incredible expression of the depth and the power of his love: he will do and use anything, even suffering, even pain, both ours and his, in order to bring us to our greatest good, in order to restore us and others to himself.

‘ … the night is coming when no one can work’

The era of grace is an era of physical suffering; it began in Genesis 3, when our sin initiated suffering and when God in his grace permitted us to continue to exist as sinners rather than terminate us, and will end in Revelation 21 when God will remove all sin and suffering for ever. As long as it lasts, as long as Christ delays his return, as long as the final judgment is deferred, there is the opportunity for us to repent and believe in Christ, and so to be saved [See 2Peter 3].

But the night is coming when this era of grace, repentance and salvation will be finished. Christ and his followers will no longer be able to do his saving work. That time, that ‘day’ will be a day of darkness, not light, of judgment, not salvation.

Note the prophets’ association of darkness with the coming judgment:

Isaiah 5:30

Amos 5:18,20

 

‘… this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life …’

This man, and his suffering, and we in our suffering, are not disposable pawns in an arbitrary cosmic chocolate chess game. Rather they are the colours carefully and deliberately chosen by God with which to paint the picture of his power and glory with the view to bringing us back to himself. It is one thing to heal a blind man: it is another thing to heal a man born blind. It is one thing to raise Jairus’ daughter from death just minutes after she has died: it is another thing to raise from death a man whose corpse is already putrefying. The more extreme the suffering and the pain the greater the miracle that reverses it; the greater the miracle the more God’s glory is displayed; the more God’s glory is displayed the more his Light shines into our darkness.

This perspective of suffering must be carried with us right through our lives, and particularly right through our lives as his children and his servants. Suffering must never be seen as God’s judgment or as evidence of some failure of our faith or our spirituality. Suffering is. It will be here till Revelation 21. How God uses it in displaying his glory through it for the eternal spiritual good of ourselves and others, and how we permit and trust him to use it … that is the open question.

What is the role or impact of suffering in the lives of Christ’s disciples/servants?

Romans 5:3-5

 

Romans 8:17

Romans 8:28

2Cor 1:3-7

 

2Cor 4:7-12,17

 

Ephesians 3:13

Philippians 3:10

Colossians 1:24

1Peter 4:13

‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ [9:5]

Jesus is the Light of the world. He has told us this in 8:12 ; he will tell us again in 12:46 .

Because in verse 4 Jesus said ‘as long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me’ we cannot limit the meaning of verse 5 to Jesus only. He includes his followers in this task. Because he indwells those who believe in him, he is still in the world, and his light is still in the world.

Thus the Scripture teaches that we also, who believe in him, are light, and we, when we are suffering and when we’re not, have the responsibility of shining that light in the world so that others will become convinced of the truth and glorify the Father:

Note the light-bearing responsibility of believers:

Matthew 5:13-16

 

John 17:18,20,23

 

Ephesians 3:10

 

1Peter 2:9-12

 

 

B. THE PHARISEES INVESTIGATE

When his neighbours took the blind man to the Pharisees we are made aware of another issue: Jesus has again healed on the Sabbath. And, just as in John 5 he intensified the Sabbath breaking by commanding the healed man to carry his mat on the Sabbath, so here in John 9 he has intensified the Sabbath breaking by making mud to heal the man’s eyes.

      • The Pharisees are divided: they don’t know how to reconcile Sabbath breaking and this obviously powerful miraculous sign [16].
      • In their dilemma they questioned the man, who proclaimed his belief that Jesus is a prophet [17], and then his parents, just to make sure he actually was born blind.
      • The parents however are wary; they refuse to give any opinion on the matter; they are afraid the Jews will excommunicate them from the synagogue if they say anything that looks like an acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ [18-23].

Ironically, in their second interview with the man they command him to ‘give glory to God’ [24], and when he does they excommunicate him [34].

From verses 24 to 41 contrast the understanding of the healed man and his questioners.

The man

The Jews