SESSION FIFTEEN: JESUS HEALS A BLIND MAN (JOHN 9)
INTRO: Who is someone you admire because they've overcome a disability?
- What idea lies behind the disciples' original question ("Who sinned? This man? Or his parents?")? Was it curiosity? Guilt-tripping? A trap? Compassion?
- What convinces some of the Pharisees to stand against Jesus (v. 16; see also 5:9-10,23)?What question bothers others? Why does Jesus keep healing on the Sabbath when upsets the Pharisees so much?
- In light of the divided opinion, why do the Pharisees question the man's parents (vv. 18-23)?
- In the course of this investigation what is the man able to see about Jesus (vv. 12, 17, 25, 27, 30-33, 35, 38)? About the Pharisees? How is his attitude changing?
- Why does Jesus wait until now to fully present himself? How is the man only now, able to affirm Jesus as Lord?
- What blindness is the result of sin (vv. 39-41)? Ho do such guilty people see again?
- What physical or emotional misfortune in your life has turned into an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power?
- Who has been the toughest person for you to explain your faith to? Why? What have found to be helpful in dealing with people who ridicule your faith?
- How has your faith in Jesus led to any exclusion from any group? How has this hurt or helped you?
- Describe your own spiritual sight: 20-20? Near-sighted? Far sighted? A few "blind spots?" Why? What could correct this?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this story? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: JESUS HEALS A BLIND MAN (JOHN 9)
Jesus is the master of metaphors. Water and wine. Physical verses spiritual birth. Living water. Bread of Life.Light and darkness. In John 9, Jesus used blindness--a disability from birth--to teach about innate spiritual blindness.
The story in itself is fascinating. It's the only miracle in the four gospels that notes the suffering person was disabled from birth. In Acts there are two similar stories (Acts 3:2; 14:8), but this is the only one in the gospels. Some argue the lame man Jesus healed earlier in John was disabled since birth but the text only states he was lame for 38 years. He could be much older than 38 when the miracle happened.
We do get the impression that the disciples knew this blind man. It's likely why they pointed him out to ask their question on sin and sinfulness. The Jews connected all suffering to sin. If a person caught leprosy or came up lame, it was due to sin in their life. Since this man was born blind, the disciples reasoned, perhaps the sin of his parents caused it. In Jesus' day, there were some who believed in prenatal sin (that is, the ability to commit sin while in the womb). In fact, it was a highly-debatable subject between philosophers and theologians (rabbis). Some even twisted the Scripture that "sin was crouching at the door" (Genesis 4:7) to be a sinful fetus kicking inside the womb wanting to be born. Most Jews also believed in the pre-existence of the soul, an idea they picked up from Plato and Greek philosophy. They believed all souls existed before the Creation of the world and the Garden of Eden. The Greek idea was these pre-existent souls were pure and good, but upon their entry into the human body (womb), they were contaminated. Essentially, a baby was born with some contamination (the Jews called it "sin").
Therefore, any defect or disability in a newborn was likely due to a person committing some form of sin in the womb. Of course, the alternative was the person was a "good soul" but was born to sinful parents. The mother was wicked. The father was evil. Consequently, the "pure and good" pre-existent soul inherited a toxic womb. David seems to allude to this idea in Psalm 51:5-6:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
But this cultural understanding was wrong. David was wrong. The disciples were wrong. Jesus is going to reveal that, at least in this blind man's case, neither he nor his parents sinned. Rather, his blindness was for a Divine Purpose. Jesus was going to use his disability "so that the works of God might be displayed." For John, miracles were a "sign" of the glory and power of God. The other gospel writers viewed miracles as an opportunity for Jesus to be compassionate (Mark 1:41), but John sees something bigger and better happening. This is an opportunity to show God's grace. Just like Jesus freed a woman trapped in a death sentence (due to her sin), now He is liberating a blind man from his disability as an act of GRACE.
Ultimately, Jesus doesn't try to explain, rationalize nor criticize this cultural understanding that connects sinfulness with disability. He does say that He and all his disciples must do God's work where there is time to do it. We are the "light" of the world too. We must work while it's daylight. A man's opportunity to be converted is limited by time. Multiple studies on the "age" when a person converts to Christianity show 80% of those who convert to Christianity do so prior to age 18. And 80% of that number, convert before age 12. In other words, the window for conversion closes rapidly once we reach adulthood. In fact, according to a Barna study on Christian conversions, only 6% of Christians convert as adults. Jesus' is teaching his disciples to labor when the "field is ready for harvest" because if they don't, then these temporarily "opened" eyes will eventually return to their blindness.
In this miracle, John shares how Jesus used his own spit to create a mud pack for this blind man's eyes. There's a similar story in Mark 7:31-37 when Jesus puts his fingers in a deaf man's ears and then spits on his tongue (because he's also mute). For us today, the use of spit seems odd, repulsive and unhygienic, but in the ancient world it was rather common. Spittle--particularly from a distinguished individual--was believed to possess special properties.
- The historian Tacitus records a story about Vespasian (later to become a Roman Caesar) was in Alexandria and met two men, one with diseased eyes and the other a disabled hand. The man with eye problems asked Vespasian "to moisten his eyeballs with spittle" while the man with the bad hand requested him to "trample on his hand with the sole of his foot." Vespasian was reluctant, but finally relented. He spit and stomped. And the blind man saw and the disabled man's hand was healed. Tacitus claimed "Both facts are attested to this day (Tacitus, Histories, 4:81)."
- Another Roman named Pliny penned an entire chapter in one of his works on the use of spittle. He claimed it could heal a serpent's poisonous bite or protect against epilepsy. Leprosy and warts could be helped by spitting on the spots. In fact, the spit of someone who had been fasting was even more potent. It could cure eye disease and ease pains in the neck. It's where we get the idiom "spit in his eye." Even today we unknowingly use spit to help ease a burn pain or a bleeding wound.
The fact that Jesus employed medicinal methods and customs of his time, showed some wisdom. It's why people came to him for healing. He was a "distinguished" person. He was known to fast. It wasn't that He believed in these things, but he stoked expectation by doing what the patient already expected the doctor to do.
After Jesus anointed the man's eyes with mud and spit, he told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. This huge pool was one of the great engineering feats of the ancient world. Until the day of Hezekiah, Jerusalem's water supply originated in a spring in the Kidron valley. To get water, people had to traverse steep steps and a deep descent into the spring to draw water. Hezekiah was deeply concerned that attacking forces could easily cut off the water to Jerusalem, so he cut a tunnel through solid rock (583 yards!) to create a water conduit from the spring into a collection pool inside Jerusalem. That collection pool was the Pool of Siloam. The name "Siloam" means "sent" because the water was "sent" via a tunnel into the city. The blind man went to this pool, washed off the mud in this eyes...and, for the first time in his life, saw the world. It had to have been an amazing moment for this man.
But now comes the trouble.
The Pharisees caught wind of the miracle. Just like the lame man, Jesus had healed this blind man on the Sabbath. Jesus had broke the Sabbath rules in three ways:
- By making clay, Jesus was guilty of working on the Sabbath. All work was prohibited. You could not fill a dish with oil. You could not extinguish a lamp. You couldn't even wear sandals "shod with nails" because the weight of those nails would constitute "carrying a burden" and that, too, was prohibited. You couldn't cut your fingernails or even pull out a single strand of hair from your head. Consequently, making clay with your own spit was a clear violation.
- Healing was forbidden on the Sabbath. Only if a life was in danger could any medical attention be given. And even then it was to stabilize the patient so he or she did not worsen. You could not make them better. You could not fix a toothache, a broken limb or even "pour cold water over" a dislocated appendage. This man was born blind. He was in no immediate danger. Consequently, healing him was a violation.
- Plus there was a clear law against the use of spittle on the Sabbath: "As to fasting spittle, it is not lawful to put it so much as upon the eyelids."
The Pharisees are not unlike a lot of religious legalists today, quick to condemn anyone who violate their rules and traditions. They believed that their was the only way to serve and love God. And yet, John notes, that some of these Pharisees (perhaps Nicodemus?) were struggling with Jesus. How could someone so "sinful" do such amazing deeds? And not just amazing deeds but unbelievable miracles? A sinner couldn't walk on water, heal the lame and blind, turn water into wine or any of the other great miracles being attached to Jesus.
So the Pharisees brought in the man. They asked who he thought Jesus was. The man said a "prophet." This makes sense. He'd been blind since birth. He hadn't seen any of Jesus' miracles himself. He probably didn't hear much of his teaching as the disabled were forbidden from entering the inner courts, even the Court of the Gentiles and Court of Women, where Jesus taught when he was in Jerusalem. All he knew was he was blind and now he could see. He also knew his Old Testament Scriptures, because the test of a prophet was his ability to do "signs and wonders" (Exodus 4:1-17; I Kings 18).
The blind man was also brave. He knew what the Pharisees thought about Jesus. He knew if he sided with Jesus that he'd be excommunicated from the synagogue and temple courts, both places he likely "looked" forward to now experiencing.
The Pharisees weren't satisfied with the man's answers. There was also some question as to whether he was truly blind since birth. Maybe this was a "faked" miracle. They also knew that false prophets could produce false miracle (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). The only ones who'd know the truth would be his parents and so they are called in. But that conversation proves unfruitful too. The blind man's parents say he's "of age" (age 20 was when a person was "countable" and accountable to the community). They were fearful of the Pharisees. They knew what power they held. The greatest, again, the expulsion from the synagogue and prohibition to enter the temple courts. This was nothing new. In the days of Ezra there was a decree that whoever failed to obey the authorities could have his or her "property...forfeited and be banned from the assembly" (Ezra 10:8). It was basically a first century Jewish version of "cancel culture."
This ban (cherem) was for life. It carried with it a public shaming. The person was cursed openly and then cut off from both God and man. Nobody was to have any fellowship with that person, from that day forward. Some of these "bans" were temporary (up to 30 days), to inflict the fear of God in the person. It's why the man's parents said their kid was old enough to answer the Pharisees. They didn't want to be associated with any "ban" the Pharisees might impose. It's not that they didn't love or care for their son, but it was a legal loophole. If their son was in danger of cherem (banning), they would lose him anyway. It was best (for their entire family) to not go down with him.
Eventually the Pharisees can't take it anymore. They move to "heaping abuse and insults" upon the man. They can't explain the situation. The man gives no quarter other than he thinks he's a "prophet" (false or true, he does not know). The parents are uncooperative. So they accused him of being born sinful (prenatal sin) and physically threw him out the doors. This is equally common today. Many people, when confronted with "truth" they cannot handle, resort to "abuse and insults." They openly mock, belittle, criticize and condemn. They often use social media to publicly shame, vilify and destroy a person. Some even move to the point that a person's job or career is endangered. We call it the new "cancel culture," but in Jesus' day it was par for the course.
After the man is tossed from the Pharisee's presence, Jesus finds him and asks a simple question: "Do you believe in the Son of God?" The man still waffles on that question, but then Jesus reveals himself fully. That's when the man converts: "Lord, I believe."
We see a couple grand spiritual truths at this point.
- First, Jesus looked for the man. Jesus went to him. Jesus pursued him. Similarly, in our persecutions, expulsions and bans, God draws near to us, too. Jesus will always be true to those who are true to Him.
- Second, to this former blind man Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God. Our loyalty to Christ brings revelation. The closer we walk with Jesus, even if it means being ostracized by man, we are given insight and inspiration.
To conclude, John returns to two of his favorite themes: 1) Jesus came into the world for judgment and 2) The wisest in the room are the ones most blind to the Truth. Essentially, when a man comes face to face with Jesus, we actually pass judgment on ourselves. We either awaken (lose our blindness) to our sinfulness and need for salvation, the desire to follow Jesus and live fully for Him OR we remain asleep (blind) in our sin, resist and deny salvation, and selfishly follow our own path. Ironically, a lot of these blind people are "church goers" and people who embrace Jesus as a good and moral teacher. They claim to "know Jesus" but still have not fully identified with Jesus. They think their "safe" from God's judgment but are playing with fire. They're actually "blind" and remain in their sin.
This story is very helpful on so many fronts. It shows the riskiness of following Christ.
- Jesus took the first risk in healing a blind man on the Sabbath. He could've waited one day but "today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2)." Jesus knows that tomorrow is never promised. It's why "wait" or "do it tomorrow" are the devil's favorite words.
- Sometimes our failures and faults, sinful past and present weaknesses are being used by God to show His Majesty. We're all blind in one way or another. Some of us are terribly blind with familiar sin that we cannot shake. Some of us, like Paul claimed in 2 Corinthians 12, have a "thorn" that keeps us humble and in continual need for grace.
- This story also shows how those we think are "wise" and "enlightened" are actually terribly "foolish" and "blind." It doesn't matter how many degrees you hold, how many people follow you on social media, how famous or accomplished or rich you are. None of those "distinguished" things mean spit, pun intended, if your eyes aren't wide open to your own sinfulness and need for healing (salvation). Finally it shows how bad things can happen to good (godly) people. The Pharisees took a wonderful and good miracle and turned it into heresy, bitterness, hate and, eventually, crucifixion. This blind man was considered sinful even before birth, but proved in the end to be good just by three words: "Lord, I believe."
"Lord, I believe."
Ah, the three words that make a Christian.
LORD: Who's the real Master of your life?
I: Nobody is accountable or responsible, in the end, for your blindness (and blind spots) but you.
BELIEVE: Faith is what heals us. Faith is what empowers us. Faith is what saves us. Faith is what keeps us
The real question for you and me, even to this very day, is "Do YOU believe?"
Yes, Lord, I believe!
Discipleship. Fellowship. Prayer. WORSHIP.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...
"A biblical community for the spiritually curious."
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.