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"All I Know Is I Was Blind" -- a powerful testimony in John 9:24-38

There are two kinds of people in the world...


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for John 9:24-38

This favorite story of Jesus healing the man born blind gives us lessons not only about faith but also about prayer, hope, and humility. We are confronted with two groups -- a man born blind who has keen spiritual sight, and the men born seeing who are convinced of their own spiritual sight. Jesus makes it very clear which group is blessed by God.

One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see! (9:25)


The "Why?" Questions You Want to Ask God

There's a lot in the news cycle right now. One story that has rightfully gotten our attention is the series of earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria. The death toll has already crossed 11,000, and they believe it will continue to climb. It's a terrible disaster that demands our prayers and responsible support for the disaster relief workers.


It also makes some of us want to ask "why?".


If we're being honest with ourselves, it's a simple answer. The earth is a living planet. As the tectonic plates shift, there are earthquakes. The region around Turkey is prone to these events because of the location of plate boundaries.


But that's not a very satisfying answer. We want to know "why here?" and "why now?". This region is filled with people at their most vulnerable. They don't have the money to construct earthquake-proof buildings. It seems to be the worst place at the worst time.


And that reminds us of the terrible earthquake in Afghanistan last year. The catastrophic floods in India and Pakistan. The drought and wildfires all over the world. "Why did You let these things happen, God?"


My guess is that a lot of us have "why?" questions we would like to ask God. If you think you can moderate this topic without letting your group get overwhelmed by it, this is one of those topics that helps us all remember that it's okay to have hard questions.


[Spoiler: I'll summarize some of my points from below. We're not always going to get clean answers from God. One, we're not entitled to them. And two, we wouldn't understand them anyway. And when we stand in the presence of God at the end of all things, I don't think we're going to be as worried about our questions as we are now. But here's my "answer" to the question -- without God's merciful intervention, every tragic event we observe would have been so much worse. I doubt we could ever understand His intervention into the consequences we bring on ourselves and rightly deserve, all without violating our free choices.


But before you go using that on a friend who has endured a tragedy and is asking "why?", please don't say, "It could have been worse." Instead, say that God is with them, bearing their sorrow with them, and working through this terrible event to bring about His plan for human history. Okay? But more on this below.]


Stigmas

In our passage this week, we are going to learn that people with physical disabilities were largely stigmatized in Jesus' day -- that they had somehow brought this upon themselves through their own sin or that they "deserved" it.


If that doesn't horrify you, we need to talk.


But there are a lot of groups of people who are stigmatized today. (And they've all been given labels by elite, white liberals (someone to debate about rather than someone to care for), but the disingenuity of that is a topic for another day.) What are the groups you see stigmatized in your sphere of society? And more importantly, how does that stigma affect the way people look at those groups?


Jesus had a beautiful way of looking past stigmas and labels -- He saw people in need of salvation. Even calling them "lost sinners" can be stigmatic if we have forgotten that we are also a sinner in constant need of God's grace. Jesus saw people, and He reached out to them in His love and compassion. Some accepted Him, and some rejected Him. But He left that choice to them. We should see people as He did.

 

Where We Are in John

This Week's Visual Bible Video

Even with the dramatization, this chapter is only 7:30. I strongly recommend watching (and/or reading☺) the entire chapter. I've already tapped into the verses that precede this week's focal passage, and I'll do a lot more of the same. Our passage makes a lot more sense when we understand the full setting.


Last week, we skimmed over parts of Jesus' intensifying disagreement with the Pharisees. I think that this exchange aptly summarizes where things have gone:

John 8:37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill me because my word has no place among you. 38 I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father; so then, you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Our father is Abraham,” they replied.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” Jesus told them, “you would do what Abraham did. 40 But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41 You’re doing what your father does.”
“We weren’t born of sexual immorality,” they said. “We have one Father—God.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I came from God and I am here. For I didn’t come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why don’t you understand what I say? Because you cannot listen to my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Who among you can convict me of sin?"

Yeah, getting testy.


The main point of this exchange will preach, if you know what I mean. Being a descendant of Abraham and being a child of Abraham aren't always the same. How many ways and in how many places do we see that to be true today?


But the second point is probably more important (and more difficult): if God is not your Father, then the devil is. There is no third side. This makes me think about a similar encounter with Pharisees:

Matt 12:22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak was brought to him. He healed him, so that the man could both speak and see. 23 All the crowds were astounded and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24 When the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”
25 Knowing their thoughts, he told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. ... 28 If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 How can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 30 Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.

Likewise, this encounter makes me think about the passage we will study this week. Why do you think the Pharisees are so desperate to make Jesus out to be the bad guy?


According to the common "harmonies of the Gospels", the event in Matthew 12 took place well before our event in John 9, but there are important parallels. In this week's passage, the Pharisees flatly call Jesus a "sinner". What sin do they accuse Jesus of committing? Well, breaking the Sabbath laws that earlier Jews had invented, no sin against God (cf. 8:46).


That's it. That's His "sin".


Anyway, we're reminded of the "there are two groups of people in the world" motif. There are people who are blind, and there are people who can see. But not in way you might think. And my challenge to you is to listen to the argument the disciples and later the Pharisees have about blindness, and then listen to what Jesus means when He talks about blindness. What is the real point Jesus is making about "blindness"?


There's one other parallel I want to point out -- another Sabbath healing in John 5. Jesus healed him, and then that man ratted Jesus out to the Pharisees. This man is put in a similar situation, but he handles it very differently. To me, this is an illustration of being "for Jesus" or being "against Jesus". The man born blind in this week's passage is a beautiful and clear picture of the sort of person we should want to be.


And then there's one cool image that I want to point out. Remember how with last week's story, I said that the detail of Jesus drawing in the dirt with His finger was intended to make us think of God writing on the stone tablets? This week's story has the strange detail of Jesus spitting in the dirt and rubbing the mud on the man's eyes. That's strange! He certainly didn't need to do that, as other examples of Jesus healing a blind person prove. This image is supposed to make us think of God creating Adam from the dirt. (Another reason why the scribe put last week's passage where he did.) Not "necessary", but very symbolic.

 

This Week's Big Idea: When You Don't Like God's Answer

John 9 opens with this truly profound exchange:

9 As he was passing by, 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,” Jesus answered. “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him."

This answer has caused no shortage of debate among Christians. On the one hand, it has been rightly used to demonstrate that a birth defect is not necessarily the result of a parent's sin (i.e., in this case, sin was not the cause of the man's blindness).


But if you put yourself into this story, think about what this sounds like -- this man lived as a blind beggar for decades for why? So he could be an object lesson for Jesus? That's tough to swallow.


As Christians on this side of cross, we have the joy of realizing that salvation is worth any price. The man's response to Jesus is exactly what ours should be -- no animosity about the past, just gratitude for Jesus' intervention in his life with the realization that God has been with him through every moment of his sorrow, putting him in the right place and the right time for Jesus to bring him healing and salvation.


But let's think about that other man Jesus healed in John 5 -- he had a very different response to his healing. He acted resentful of God. He illustrates to me that sometimes, people don't like God's answer for why. (Of course, I hope that he later saw the error of his perspective and became a grateful follower of Jesus.)


(Aside: the Pharisees also didn't like Jesus' answer, but they had very different reasons.)


So, does that mean that when we don't like God's answer, our only option is to be resentful?


Of course not. Remember that we recently studied the book of Job! Job spends much of the book asking, "Why have these things happened to me?" And at the end of the book, we don't get the clean answers we wanted.

But we do learn three very important things:

  1. God had never abandoned Job but was with him, watching over him every moment.

  2. God wanted Job to trust Him, remembering all the times God had demonstrated Himself trustworthy.

  3. This life is not the end; the decisions we make here echo through eternity.


So -- when you get an answer from God that you don't like, are you willing to trust Him?

Rom 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

God has set a glorious eternity before us, one that will redeem the broken world we live in. Will we trust Him with the circumstances and choose to serve Him while we live here?


The man in our passage this week chose worship and faith. Let us be challenged to do the same.

 

Part 1: I Can See (John 9:24-25)

24 So a second time they summoned the man who had been blind and told him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether or not he’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!”

The Pharisees' behavior in this chapter is petty and desperate. In response to this amazing miracle, they attempt to prove that the man was lying about his blindness! They drag his parents in under threats. (Note: there seem to be two options here. Either the Pharisees made this threat to the parents, or some time has passed between chapters 8 and 9. I lean toward the former.) They rudely insult the man and his parents. Just a really bad look.


(Aside: John the author has focused on the Pharisees as his "big bad". For the reasons we have seen, this is valid. But let's not think that Pharisees are the only opponents, even in John's Gospel.)


So, having acknowledged that the man really had been blind, they result to name-calling. (Another ad hominem attack.) Classy.


Above, I talked about the importance of labelling Jesus a sinner. If He's a sinner, He can't be a Messiah. But as Jesus revealed in 8:46, their accusations were ridiculous. In this case, their accusation actually fell back on them! Jesus' "sin" was doing this healing on the Sabbath.

It's the same thing that happened in chapter 5, and we covered the Pharisees' approach to the Sabbath and Jesus' response to them in detail when we studied that passage.

17 Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.”

The real blasphemers were the Pharisees, who modified God's law and expected God to fall in line with them.


But the man born blind in our passage gives a truly brilliant response, and we would all do well to learn from him. When confronted with difficult questions related to Christianity, this man responded with something that could not be disputed -- his personal experience. He said something that was objectively true: he was once blind, and now he could see.


Your Personal Testimony

We've talked about the importance of knowing how to share your testimony:

I won't cover those details again; you can skim through those posts if you want to.


This man had a very simple testimony. If anything, that made it even more powerful. Depending on his audience, I'm sure he stretched it out at times (like Paul did when he had a captive audience). But in a pinch, he could always just say, "I was once blind, and then Jesus made me see."


We're going to realize that Jesus was drawing a parallel between the man's physical blindness and the Pharisees' spiritual blindness, but I'll save that for the end.


For now, rehash these things from our study of Acts: what are those events in your life that you share in your personal testimony? Or if you want to go another direction with it, what are those events in your life that you share when someone asks you a hard question about faith?

 

Part 2: How? (John 9:26-34)

26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 “I already told you,” he said, “and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples too, do you?” 28 They ridiculed him: “You’re that man’s disciple, but we’re Moses’s disciples. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses. But this man—we don’t know where he’s from.” 30 “This is an amazing thing!” the man told them. “You don’t know where he is from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he listens to him. 32 Throughout history no one has ever heard of someone opening the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.” 34 “You were born entirely in sin,” they replied, “and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.

This is tough to read. I can't imagine how I would have crumpled under this mortifying cross-examination.


This man has the insight to realize that there's something else behind the Pharisees' questions, and the has the boldness to goad them on it. And they prove themselves to be self-serving hypocrites in how they treat him in response.


The desperation of the Pharisees is seen in their repetition. As we read, this is the second time they summoned him. The first time, they asked this:

17 Again they asked the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he opened your eyes?”

They're the spiritual experts, but they're asking qualitative questions to a formerly blind beggar.


And then they bring him back and do it again.


This isn't the "evil interrogator" treatment, where they will do anything to get the answer they want. They are confused and desperate. All they know is that Jesus does not fit the profile they have created of the "acceptable Messiah". And yet here's a blind beggar standing up for Jesus against a withering examination. It doesn't make sense.


(Note: the words the man uses implies that he counts himself as a disciple.)


If Moses were made aware, I'm sure he would be wondering, "Why did I do to be dragged into this?"


Jesus has already revealed the hypocrisy of their appeal to Moses, and we've studied the contexts of these passages already:

  • 5:45 "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me."

  • 6:32 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven."

  • 7:19 "Didn’t Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

Conspiring to put someone to death was never in Moses' playbook.


But on top of that, they lie to the man, saying they don't know where Jesus is from. That was one of their primary arguments against Jesus! (See 7:52, etc., remembering that they were wrong.)


The man responds with his longest speech, and it is truly profound. The only thing the Pharisees can do is throw a tantrum.


Verse 30 has some great thoughts to chew on. The lengths to which the Pharisees would go to deny that a miracle took place was a miracle to this man. This very much makes me think about people today who will believe the most absurd things in order to reject the Bible.


The other thing to soak in is the "You don't know" line. "Know/don't know" is a key repeating concept in this exchange, and it helps us see that Jesus (and John the author) is intentionally highlighting the parallel between physical blindness and spiritual blindness -- here, all of these people are suddenly very interested in debating someone else's blindness, when all the while they are ignoring their own "blindness" (lack of right knowledge).


This man's argument is compelling to me -- how could a miracle like this (a kind of "creation") come from anyone other than God?


(Aside: I can imagine a group where someone tries to say that doctors can do this today. Okay -- (1) those same doctors will acknowledge strict limitations as to what they can do, and (2) isn't the bigger miracle the way God immediately enabled the man's brain to process all of the sights he had never seen before?)


I think it would be fruitful to camp out on verse 31:

31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he listens to him.

So, what do you think about that claim? Is it true? Why or why not?


This claim seemingly foreshadows something Jesus will say in chapter 14:

12 Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

We've talked about this at length in our discussions of prayer. (For example,

There is no "magic formula" for prayer (like the strange idea that we have to close with "in Jesus' name" for our prayer to become official). If anything, what the man says in verse 31 is the easiest way to understand this -- a person who is attuned to the will of God will pray according to the will of God. God listens to that prayer because that pray-er has listened to God.


John the author clearly reflected on this topic for many years, and in his first letter, he chose to explain it like this:

1 Jn 5:14 This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of him.

In other words, all of this is simply clarifying that God will never act contrary to His will or character. When you boil it down like that, it's really basic stuff.


And the Pharisees go apoplectic.


If a screenwriter were to put this in a modern movie, the other people in the room would be snickering in derision. This is an embarrassing display. And what's their mature capstone to the debate they had with a formerly blind beggar? They throw him out.

(By this, in addition to physically throwing him out of their location (possibly a synagogue), they disowned him from organized Judaism. That would have been a very big deal had not the church been on the horizon.)


If the prayer topic isn't enough for you, you could go with guilt by association. This man got in big trouble with the Pharisees because he was willing to be clearly associated with Jesus. What associations are you known for?

 

Part 3: True Sight (John 9:35-38)

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown the man out, and when he found him, he asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, Sir, that I may believe in him?” he asked. 37 Jesus answered, “You have seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 “I believe, Lord!” he said, and he worshiped him.

Just like Jesus found the man in chapter 5, He found this man as well. That's no small feat.


We've already guessed that this man bore no animus toward God for his years of begging -- he was quick to defend Jesus (even if he didn't really know anything about him) and Jesus connection with God. Why? Because his past did not matter to him as much as his future.


And now, Jesus gives him a direction for his future.


John the author uses this verb for "believe" 1/4 of the time is appears in the entire Bible. (That's astonishing, considering how foundational it is to our faith.) And when he uses it, it's loaded (think John 3:16). This is no idle question from Jesus. This is a faith-forming, eternity-guiding "invitation".


And let's go a step further. As one born blind, this man would have had a very keen sense of hearing. I'm certain he knew that Jesus was the same man who had healed him. But of course he didn't know that Jesus was the Messiah. Note that he called Jesus a "prophet" when the Pharisees grilled him the first time. So when Jesus asks him about the Son of Man, this man is truly willing to believe, and maybe he even hops that Jesus will take him to the Son of Man. I would go so far as to say that this man believes Jesus is talking about the Messiah. So when the man says, "I believe," this is the fullest sense of the word that we would have today. This is the whole kit and caboodle.


It's a beautiful story.

 

Epilogue: We're Not Really Talking about Blindness

The real power of this story comes in the next few verses, where we transition from an uplifting story about the power of God to a confrontation with the sinful rebellion of humanity. (Much like how people like the baby Jesus story, but they don't like adult Jesus stories.)

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things and asked him, “We aren’t blind too, are we?” 41 “If you were blind,” Jesus told them, “you wouldn’t have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

We're supposed to recognize the irony of all of this arguing about blindness. Even Jesus' disciples have started this ordeal with their own ignorant argument about blindness!


God has a special place in His heart for the blind, the deaf, and others who bear the physical cost of sin in a more direct way than an "able-bodied" person. When John the Baptist asked about Jesus, Jesus replied thus:

Matt 11:2 Now when John heard in prison what the Christ was doing, he sent a message through his disciples 3 and asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, 6 and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.”

There will be no blindness in heaven, no physical limitations of any kind. Blindness is a temporary condition that will be removed at the resurrection. (Aside: this makes the lostness of blind populations in the US very upsetting; we've missed that boat.)


This is the "Great Reverse" -- the first will become last in God's kingdom.


But spiritual blindness is the kind of condition that will last for eternity. And the Pharisees were, in fact, blind.


And this is the point I would want us to leave all of our groups with: we are all blind. This story gives us two groups -- a man who was a blind beggar that Jesus sought out and healed, and a group of seeing men who rejected Jesus. Being "seeing" and "knowledgeable" and "respected" means nothing if in the need we still reject Jesus.


That's why we love these songs --

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I'm found, Was blind but now I see.

Or

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind; Yes, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

This story should keep us humble and grateful. Who do we know who needs to come to Jesus? What part of our life story can we share to help them take another step?

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