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5. Jesus heals the man born blind

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 8: Episode 5
John 9:1-41

Following his statement 'I am the Light of the World', he proves his identity as Messiah by bringing light to the blind man. This is a public event and causes more controversy.

Following his statement 'I am the Light of the World', he proves his identity as Messiah by bringing light to the blind man. This is a public event and causes more controversy.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Series 8 and Episode 5, where 'Jesus heals the man born blind'. We're in John 9, and we're going to discuss this remarkable miracle and the wider context in which it took place.

Introduction and Recap

As we've been in Series 8: the location has been in Jerusalem; our source has been John's gospel; and we've seen a series of events that have taken place surrounding the visit Jesus made to Jerusalem during one of the major Jewish feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles. As mentioned in earlier episodes, there are three major festivals or religious feasts amongst the Jews that were celebrated in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus: the Feast of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. They each celebrated different aspects of the history of Israel in its early formation. Passover celebrated the Jews leaving Egypt miraculously through the Red Sea, as the waters parted; Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Law of God to Moses on Mount Sinai and subsequently; and the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated God's faithfulness to the Jewish people as they spent 40 years in tents in the wilderness. John particularly focuses on what happens in Jerusalem and he gives information to us about a number of visits that Jesus makes to Jerusalem during his public ministry that are not recorded in the other three gospels.

Before we come back to that, let's just make a quick comment about where the other Gospels left the story before we focus on this particular aspect of this Jerusalem visit. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke described very clearly the end of Jesus's Galilee ministry which came to an end in what we call Series 6 in the life of Jesus. In series 7, we saw some transitional moments where Jesus took his disciples aside to a town called Caesarea Philippi and the nearby locations, and to a mountain nearby where he revealed to them that they were going to be leaving Galilee and heading south to Jerusalem. Luke is clearest in explaining what was happening as he describes Jesus as setting his face resolutely to go to Jerusalem.

John takes up the story, and this is the story we're following in the last few episodes, by describing a visit to one of these religious festivals during this period when Jesus is not returning to Galilee; he's actually positioning himself in different parts of the country as he's gradually heading south - in Samaria, the central part of the country and then later on in Judea, the southern part of the country, much nearer Jerusalem, the capital city which is in Judea. John describes a number of visits to Jerusalem. As mentioned in recent episodes, this is the third visit. The first one is described in John 2, when Jesus particularly went to the Temple and confronted the traders there, overturned their tables and commanded them to stop their trading because they were making money out of other people's religious duties - selling them animals for sacrifice and exchanging coinage in the Temple compound. That created a real stir in the city. At the same time Jesus performed many miracles, which caused a sensation as well. One of the religious leaders, Nicodemus, came to see Jesus privately and that's recorded in John 3. That was quite an eventful visit to Jerusalem right at the very beginning of his ministry. Then the second visit is described in John 5, where Jesus performed a particular miracle, healing an invalid of 38 years. He had been disabled and was sitting by a pool called the Pool of Bethesda, which was alleged to have certain healing properties. Jesus suddenly came to him and healed him. His story became famous all over the city but the fact he was healed on the Sabbath caused a controversy with the authorities. We'll come back to that point in our episode today.

In the third visit to Jerusalem, which is the one that we are in the midst of here, Jesus comes to the Feast of Tabernacles. We've seen a number of things happen already described in John 7 and 8. In particular, we should note that Jesus spoke about the coming Holy Spirit in a statement he made in the Temple compound during the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and he stated in John 7: 37,

‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow out from within them’.

John 7:37, NIV

John goes on to explain that this is a reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit which would take place after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension - on the day of Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. That's one thing that Jesus said. That was particularly significant because there was a ceremony in the Feast of Tabernacles of gathering water from the Pool of Siloam, which we're going to refer to in our episode as well. It was a pool within the city where water came up through springs and gave water to the city, which had no rivers or other obvious source of water because it was high up on the hillside. This water was taken from the Pool of Siloam in big containers, and poured out ceremonially in the Temple, signifying the Jewish expectation of the coming of the Holy Spirit. That's important but it's also important to remember that  in John 8: 12 Jesus made another very significant statement. He said,

‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

John 8:12, NIV

This is again in the context of this particular feast, where not only was there a symbolic use of water but there was a symbolic use of light. The Feast of Tabernacles was well-known for the fact that people got their torches together which they lit - which would have been saturated in oil with fabric around them - and placed these torches all around the Temple compound and in other parts of the city, creating a blaze of light, which was a unique feature of the Feast of Tabernacles. This itself drew many pilgrims to come to this feast, which was alleged to be the most popular religious feast in the Jewish religious year. The crowds were very large. With all this light in the Temple, more than usual, much more than you'd find at other times of the year, Jesus makes this dramatic statement in John 8: 12 , ‘I am the light of the world.’ This particular statement becomes very significant when we read the story that we're going to discuss in this episode, and the miracle that takes place during the course of this reading.

There's one other thing to say by way of introduction, and if you've been following these episodes, this is something that you'll be familiar with. The actual atmosphere in the city of Jerusalem was very tense whenever Jesus came there, and that tension seems to accelerate during the course of his life. Each visit he made to the city seems to be more tense and complex. The reason for that is that this is the home of the religious establishment: the priests; the High Priest who lives in the city, who at this time was man called Caiaphas; and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, which Caiaphas as High Priest, chaired - 70 men who had the final legal jurisdiction over the conduct of the Jewish religion. They made decisions about how religion should be conducted in this role and particularly how the worship in the Temple should be conducted. There were lots of different types of people in the Sanhedrin, which included a number of Pharisees; this is a sect which we've come across regularly, who were particularly opposed to Jesus. It's not surprising with this authority structure in Jerusalem that tension arises when Jesus comes because they've already given a lot of consideration to who Jesus is and what they think about him. They've sent groups out from Jerusalem to watch what Jesus does, to interrogate him with questions, to report back to them with information when he is operating in Galilee and they've come to the conclusion that he is a false messiah, a false prophet. They're against him. No wonder when Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he's not in a friendly environment. The crowds are divided; they're pretty uncertain in their opinion. We see all sorts of different opinions expressed by people in the crowds, which is not surprising when you consider that the crowds came from all sorts of different countries and all sorts of different places, and not many of them had that much personal contact with Jesus, who hadn't operated in the area of Jerusalem very much. He'd spent all his time in the north of the country where many of them hadn't been. Of course, rumours of what Jesus had done had spread far and wide, and his miracles caused a sensation across the whole country. There would be people in every community, including many residents of Jerusalem who would have experienced miraculous healing from Jesus when they travelled to meet him in the north of the country.

It was a tense environment, and this tense environment had become a dangerous environment because not only was Jesus opposed by the religious leaders but his very personal security was at stake as well. For example, during this very Feast of Tabernacles, just a few days before the event occurred that we are looking at here, we read these statements. John 7: 30, speaking of the crowd,

‘At this time, they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come.’

John 7:30, NIV

Jesus at this point is in the Temple compound. He's teaching and some in the crowd want to make a citizen's arrest, which is what we would call it today, to actually get hold of him, to bind him and take him to the religious authorities. Somehow or other, they were unable to do it. Then in verse 32 it says,

‘The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.’

John 7:30, NIV

The Temple had its own militia, its own police guard, that was responsible for keeping order in the Temple. Where thousands of people came, there were a number of risks to public order that were fairly obvious: crowd control; thefts; and violent incidents between different groups; attacks on priests; and all that sort of thing. The Temple guards had their hands full with those kinds of issues. They were dispatched by the Pharisees and the other chief priests to arrest Jesus. We find a few verses later that they failed to do that. 7: 45

‘Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees who asked them, “Why didn't bring him in?” “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” the guards replied.’

John 7:45-46, NIV

So, no citizen's arrest, no arrest by the Temple guards but both of those things could have happened in the events that just took place before what we are going to be looking at. In the verse before our passage, 8: 59, after a further intense and difficult conversation between Jesus and some of the religious leaders, when he made a proclamation, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’ which was a statement of divine identity, by the way, and that was the subject of our last episode. It says in verse 59,

‘At this they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.’

John 8:59, NIV

There's a third occasion when his life is genuinely at risk.

Messaianic Healing

This is the context of the events that happen in the episode that we are going to discuss now. John 9, 1 -12, which tell us the remarkable story of this healing,

‘As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva and put it on the man's eyes. “Go”, he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed and came home seeing. His neighbours and those who'd formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked him. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash, so I went and washed and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “ I don't know,” he said.’

John 9:1-12, NIV

Here's the story of this miracle. Jesus has literally just slipped out of the Temple compound, with people picking up stones to try and stone him to death. Then he encounters this man and the miracle unfolds in Jerusalem. Jesus had healed many blind people before. The Gospels tell us that this was a miracle he performed regularly. It's interesting to note that this healing of the blind was associated, amongst Jews generally at this time, with the coming of the Messiah. It was considered to be a messianic miracle. We come across this fact in some earlier consideration in different episodes. Let's quickly refer back to one very clear example of this. Matthew 12: 22 - 23 says this,

‘Then they bought him a demon possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”’

Matthew 12:22-23, NIV

The Son of David, as I discussed on several occasions already, is a title for the Messiah because the Messiah was considered by prophecy to be necessarily a descendant of King David. If we go to Isaiah 35, a well-known messianic prophecy, Isaiah 35: 1 - 10, but if we go to verse 5, we see Isaiah prophesying some results of the messianic coming,

‘Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.’

Isaiah 35:5-6, NIV

This verse in Isaiah was considered to represent some of the things that the Messiah would do by many Jews at the time. It is therefore significant that Jesus heals the blind man, which is making a statement about messianic identity and authority, at the very time that this has been contested most strongly by the religious establishment in Jerusalem, and many people in the crowd that gathered in the Temple. The crowd was divided but the religious establishment was virtually united against Jesus. If we go back into John 8: 12 onwards, we see a very intense debate about Jesus' identity. That reflects another debate that goes back into John 7, and that goes back into previous conflict as well. At this particular point, it had reached a very intense moment, and the very next thing that Jesus does when other people are saying he's a false messiah, saying, ‘you're not even a Jew, you're a Samaritan, you're operating under the power of demonic forces’. Those two accusations are made in John 8. At that very time he heals a blind man - remarkable.

Jesus Brings Light to the Blind

He demonstrates his statement, ‘I am the light of the world’, by creating literal light in the darkness for someone who had not ever seen before; he'd been blind from birth. Jesus demonstrated what it meant to be the light of the world: bringing hope, and healing, and salvation to the darkness of the blind man's life. His method of healing is very interesting. You'll probably have noticed; it wasn't an instantaneous miracle. Most of Jesus' miracles are instantaneous but sometimes there is a process involved. Here, Jesus makes this mud out of his saliva and the soil on the ground and puts it on the man's eyes. There is no immediate miracle at this point but he gives him the command, ‘Go to the Pool of Siloam and wash’. As he washes his eyes, so immediately his sight is restored. The significance of this is probably that this creates a very public event because people will see him walking through the streets of Jerusalem to the Pool of Siloam, and he probably needs some help to do that, as he was still blind. They very quickly see him walking around the streets of Jerusalem with his eyes open and his sight perfectly restored. The Pool of Siloam was the place where the water was taken for the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the coming of the Holy Spirit, which was enacted regularly during the Feast of Tabernacles every year. That water is symbolically connected to the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit is on Jesus to heal the blind - indicating his divine authority, being able to use the power of the Holy Spirit; and his messianic identity, being able to restore sight to the blind, according to the prophecy of Isaiah 35, and the expectations of Jews is that this is what the Messiah would do. This is a really profound event that takes place here.

More Controversy

It provokes a further debate and it's a prophetic indication that what Jesus had just said, as recorded in John 8 about his identity, is actually true. Let's now read on John 9: 13 - 34,

‘They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore, the Pharisees also asked how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath. But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man. “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. “Is this your son?” they asked, “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that he can now see?” “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes we don't know. Ask him. He is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That is why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” A second time they summoned the man who had been born blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see.” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, he listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of the man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing!” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.”

John 9:13-34, NIV

There's a tense discussion if ever there was one. The trustworthiness of what the man says is being debated. Some people at that time believed that sickness was caused either by the sin of the individual person, or possibly family sin - of their parents or others in their family. That was alluded to earlier on and so everything this man said would be disqualified if you actually believe he is steeped in sin. Jesus didn't agree with that view, as you will have noticed in the first passage that we read. The other contentious issue is that Jesus heals on the Sabbath, like he did when he healed the man from the Pool of Bethesda - the man who was an invalid 38 years. That caused a controversy.

Persecution of Jesus' Followers

There's a division of opinion and interestingly enough, this passage reveals that persecution is beginning to start for those who follow Jesus. The religious leaders said that they'd throw out of the synagogue, in the Jerusalem area at least, any people who chose to follow Jesus, and acknowledge him as the Messiah. That's a real threat because if you throw them out of the synagogue, then you throw them out of the centre of society because the synagogue was the place that society met and people built relationships and friendships, and were respected in society. This was a tough and difficult conversation, but the man himself could see that something profound had happened, not just to him but it represented a profound reality. Jesus must have prophetic power. He must indeed be the Messiah. The final few verses, verses 35 to 41,

‘Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he sir?” asked the man, “ Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you”. Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him. Jesus said, “For judgement I have come into this world so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind. Some Pharisees were with him, heard him say this, and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin, but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

John 9:35-41, NIV

Jesus graciously reveals his full identity to this man; notice his response - he immediately believes in Jesus and worships him as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man. Jesus makes a prophetic prediction here: that people who claim they've got clear understanding are going to turn out to be spiritually blind, and people who have a deficiency of understanding, are going to have clarity of understanding of who Jesus is. This miracle is a symbol of the division between those who follow Jesus and acknowledge him, and those who resist him.

Reflections

Our final reflection here is to emphasise the grace to a needy man. Isn't it wonderful? He had been in need all his life. This man was a beggar. We come across other beggars on the journey of Jesus's life, and in the early church quite often. The blind often had to beg. They have no means of earning their own income, and they would gravitate towards Jerusalem because of the volume of people. They would be in Jerusalem during the feast because there were most people there. This man was seeking to get his material needs met. He had been in need all his life, and yet suddenly he was set free. It turns out here that religion often suppresses the true identity of Jesus; religious structures can oppose the true identity of Jesus. Spiritual blindness is the worst type of blindness. Let's follow the example of the man born blind. Let's openly acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah; let's follow him when he says, “Lord, I believe,” and let's follow him when he worshipped Jesus on that amazing day, when he was suddenly and surprisingly healed.

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