Illustration by Henry Hofmann,
Key text: “As long as it is day, we must do the work 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” (John 9:4-5).
Main point: Jesus came into the world not only to open the eyes of those physically blind, but to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so they may believe in him and be saved.
Since ancient times, people around the world have understood the concept of opposite poles of struggle between the forces of light and darkness. In the first chapter of Genesis, we understand that God created matter and gave it form out of chaos and darkness. God brought physical light into being and separated it from darkness, and created life. The apostle John understood the cosmic and spiritual significance of the creation story, as is evident in his redemption story (John 1:1-14). Ancient civilizations at times distorted these themes and added a dualism to them, that is, a constant cosmic struggle between equally opposing forces.
When light and darkness are seen in an ethical dimension, they stand for the forces of understanding vs. ignorance, and good vs. evil, as well as life vs. death. However, the Bible does not portray light and darkness as having qualities of equal force where the slightest wind can sway the ultimate outcome. No, that can never be. Jesus is the spiritual “light” of salvation and eternal life, and there are no close competitors, only beaten foes!
The passage before us may begin with a man born blind from birth, but the truth lies in the “light” that enables people to see and believe. Jesus’ healing takes place on the Sabbath day, and as a result a controversy is stirred up with the Pharisees. The Pharisees are more interested in preserving the particulars of Moses’ day (Nehemiah 9:14) than acknowledging Jesus’ miraculous messianic sign (Luke 4:18). After all, the Pharisees by their own admission are Moses’ disciples, and not Jesus’ (John 9:28).
In the final analysis, it is the man born blind who now sees and becomes Jesus’ disciple, while the Pharisees who were born seeing are now made blind by their own legalism. How ironic that the tables have so easily turned! Jesus’ method was to cultivate the man born blind through a process of understanding and transformation. Even after the new disciple is healed of blindness, he does not see Jesus face to face until after he has given his testimony to his neighbors and his community leaders. The man is not even sure who Jesus is, other than he must be from God, perhaps a prophet (verse 17). After the new disciple is expelled from the synagogue, Jesus encounters him and reveals himself in a fuller way. The result is that the man born blind believes Jesus’ claims as the messianic “Son of Man” and worships the true light of the world as “Lord” (verses 35-38).
Jesus’ new disciple was persecuted for seeing and believing. The trials that he went through did not diminish the joy of recovering his sight. In fact, he grew bolder with every step. It is easy to take one’s sight for granted when one is born with it. It is even easier for people to think they see spiritually, too, when they have never seen what they are lacking. The gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ is the only “light” that can dispel the chaotic darkness of spiritual blindness and bring eternal joy no matter what the challenge.
Questions for Bible study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. John 9:1-12
a. Whom does Jesus see along the way? Verse 1. Describe the man’s condition and the length of time he has been this way.
b. What theologically loaded question do the disciples ask Jesus? Verse 2.
c. The disciples assume that infirmity is somehow related to God’s punishment of sin. The logic is that the man has an infirmity, infirmity is due to sin, God punishes sin; therefore, the man is being punished for sin that either he committed or his blindness is the result of the punishment his parents received for their sins. What do you think? Is infirmity or tragedy always the result of sin? What is Jesus’ response concerning this man? Verse 3. Explain.
d. When is it that Jesus and his disciples must work? Verse 4a, b. What does Jesus mean? When is it that no one can work? Verse 4c, d. Why?
e. What is Jesus claiming for himself? Verse 5. Explain the metaphor.
f. Explain in detail and step by step what is involved in this healing event – verses 6-7. On what day does this occur? See verse 14. If Jesus could heal with a spoken word, why go through this laborious process on the Sabbath day? What is Jesus showing?
g. When the man goes home, what controversy is stirred up by his neighbors? Verses 8-9. What do you think is the confusion, since all his neighbors knew him from birth? See verse 32.
h. What do his neighbors demand of him? Verses 10-12. Explain.
2. John 9:13-23
a. What do the man’s neighbors do with him? Verse 13. Why? Verse 14.
b. What do the Pharisees also inquire of him? Verse 15a. What reply does the man give? Verse 15b.
c. What conclusion do some of them jump to, and why are the Pharisees divided in their opinion? Verse 16.
d. In an attempt to further investigate the matter, what did they next ask the man? Verse 17. At this point, why does the man believe Jesus to be a prophet?
e. In the next step of their investigation, the Pharisees call for witnesses to confirm the man’s identity. Describe step by step the interrogation of the witnesses and their response. Verses 18-21.
f. Why do the man’s parents not give credit to the One who healed their son? Verses 22-23.
3. John 9:24-34
a. The frustrated Pharisees return to sum up their investigation of this case. What twofold conclusion have they reached? Verse 24. Explain how the man points out the contradiction in their conclusion. Verse 25.
b. What do they ask again in frustration, and what is the man’s bold reply? Verses 26-27. Why the violent reaction against him? Verse 28. What two types of disciples clash? Why? Verse 29.
c. What refutation does the man give them? Verses 30-33. How do the disciples of Moses respond? Verse 34. Explain.
4. John 9:35-41
a. In your own words, sum up the event of Jesus’ second encounter with the man. Verses 35-38. Consult the lesson Introduction. What lasting result is reaped? Consult John 20:31 and explain.
b. In your own words, explain the twofold judgment that is inherent to Jesus’ mission. Verse 39. Explain the results seen in verses 40-41.
1. Whenever you give your testimony (story of how you came to Christ) and a person responds with a blank stare of disbelief, what do you say? Briefly share your experience with the class.
2. Some people are spiritually blind. Are they blind because they have no choice in the matter, or because they refuse to see where the gospel will take them?
3. Have you ever encountered a violent reaction for what you believe? Should a disciple of Christ respond in like manner, that is, insult for insult? Why not?
4. Have you ever encountered a contemporary disciple of Moses (for example, a Sabbath keeper) and tried to share the light of the gospel of grace? With what results?
The man born blind from birth was chosen to give abundant witness and light to the most hardened unbelievers. Our task is to be witnesses of Jesus, the light of the world! Only the gospel of grace can open the eyes of the spiritually blind.