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Aug 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 7, 2010

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:1-3  

INTRO: I received an email this morning from a pastor who told me, “A heart attack took me out of ministry two years ago”
He went on to describe
– a security job he recently lost through no fault of his own
– his wife’s extremely painful and debilitating illness

When we hear stories like his, they raise those most difficult of all questions:  

Why would an all good, all wise, all powerful God allow instances of suffering and evil?
Why do people who are innocent or good have to suffer?  

In the cultures where the Bible was written, people did not have to deal with these questions
– Quite simply, suffering was a punishment for sin
– the disciples give us a perfect illustration of this mind-set
So people living at that time did not need to ask the Why? questions–that is, until suffering entered their door (e.g., Job)  

We will spend a few weeks in the ninth chapter of John
– we are going to get acquainted with this blind man, the way we feel we know other characters in John’s gospel
– try to find time to read this chapter through at least once a week–maybe even do your own study of it

This story is meant to be placed side by side with the previous healing in chapter 5  

  • in both stories, a man is healed (and both were healed in Jerusalem, which is rare)
  • both are healed on the Sabbath
  • in both instances, Jesus got in trouble for healing on the Sabbath
  • neither man knew Jesus when he received his healing
  • both men were interrogated by “torah police”
  • Jesus later “found” both men

Question: Why do these two stories share so many of the same details?
Answer: To highlight the differences 

  • the first man could not walk – the man second could not see
  • the first man turned on Jesus – the second man turned to Jesus
  • the first ends with the man leaving Jesus with a warning – the second, with the man believing Jesus and worshiping him

So first, we have a story in which Jesus achieved his objective–he won someone to himself 

A look at the structure of this chapter 

(to see an outline of the structure of John 9, click on : 

  1. John likes to arrange his material in patterns of sevens and threes
    – in this chapter we have seven quick scene changes
  2. Chiasm (the text is laid out in an ‘X’ formation)
    – the crux or turning point of the chiasm usually highlights a specific theme
    – if the storyteller wants to emphasize a point, he puts it here
    In this case, what is emphasized?
    – expulsion and exclusion
    – whatever else this chapter is about, there is a price to pay for owning Jesus as Christ
  3. Envelope
    – both the beginning and end refer to blindness to sin
    But there’s an obvious difference: in verse 1, the blindness is literal; in verse 41 it is spiritual
    – the progress of the chapter follows the typical method of Jesus’ teaching in John
    – he moves from the literal and physical to the metaphorical and spiritual
    This method creates a process that is means to lead the characters to enlightenment
    – but John also uses it in this chaper to bring us, the readers to enlightenment

The story reveals the process of a person becoming enlightened 

Enlightened to Jesus and by Jesus – “He opened my eyes” (v. 30)
– this is certainly an important theme in John’s gospel 

There was the true Light [phos] which, coming into the world, enlightens [photizo] every man (Jn. 1:9) 

  • In the same way that “light” is related to enlighten, the Greek word phos is to photizo
    – right away in the story of the blind man, our attention is drawn to the light (v. 5, I am the Light)
    – that reference is connected to the major theme: a who receives sight and comes to know Jesus
    – his enlightenment, however, occurs in incremental stages (see Mk. 8:23-24, “men as trees”)
  • However, turning back to chapter 1, immediately following the verse about the Light coming into the world, we read:

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know him. (Jn. 1:10) 

  • The same thing happens here
    – in fact, “we know” and “we do not know” takes up a lot of the discussion among the Pharisees
    – in this chapter, knowing and not knowing are related to seeing and not seeing (to not know, is to be in the dark)

So the story also reveals obstructions to enlightenment 

  • people can resist being enlightened
    – Pharisees, who are looking for answers all through the chapter, never find them
  • The blind man points out their problem: “you did not listen” (v. 27) 

We need to appreciate what John intends to do in this chapter; namely, to walk us through a process of enlightenment 

  • Everyone is born blind
  • As we go through story, it shows us a path to enlightenment
    – there is an attempt to pry our eyes open
  • But the story also also shows us things that can get in our way
    – the story helps us discover our struggles and face up to them

Verse 1, Right from the start, we look through Jesus’ eyes  

There’s an obvious contrast, “He saw a man blind” 

  • The one who can see is the one who can help others
    – Mt. 7, “first take the log out of your own eye . . .”
    – Mt. 15:14, “they are blind guides of the blind . . .” 

Verses 2-3, Perhaps the disciples noticed Jesus looking at him 

And that is what prompted their question  

This is where our education begins  

As far as the disciples were concerned, this was an open and shut case 

  • they knew with absolute certainty why the man was blind: “Sin”
    – it was only a matter of figuring out whose sin
    – to them, the solution is either this or that–there were only two possibilities
  • Jesus immediately demolished their  conclusion of only two possibilities
    – “this man or his parents”? “Neither”
    – this must have sent them reeling in confusion
  • then Jesus broke the lock that imprisoned their minds
    – the sins of humans was not the issue, but just the opposite, “the works of God” 

Here is a first stage of enlightenment (in this case, the disciples’ enlightenment)  

  • It can begin when we encounter something that raises a question for which we have no answerBut to proceed from that point
    – we must be willing to loosen our grip on our dogmatism and absolute certainties
    – the Pharisees totally resisted doing this (they held to the conclusion they had drawn from the start, “You were born entirely in sins . . .” (v. 34)
  • The disciples were right about suffering being consequence of sin–i.e., the “fall” in Genesis 3
    – but they were wrong in thinking that sin could be a sufficient cause to explain every instance of suffering
    – or get at the full meaning of suffering
    – or uncover all the possibilities that were opened up by suffering
    It was this same kind of closed-off thinking that prompted Peter to rebuke Jesus (Mt. 16:22-23)

How did Jesus free disciples from their dogmatic interpretation of suffering? 

  • By changing the question
    From: “Why this meaningless suffering?”
    To: “What good thing will God bring out of this suffering?”
  • Yet this is a unique situation because the “What good thing” question, could only be answered by fact that Jesus was there
    – that isn’t always the case
  • But when our minds are imprisoned in one way of seeing things, there is always a different question to ask
    – and it will always lead to a different answer than what we produced when suffering brain-lock

CONC: Take another look at the way the chapter is organized in a chiasm  

At heart of chapter we see that there is a price to be paid for going with Jesus 

  • the enlightened person will persecuted by the unenlightened
  • after being healed by Jesus, the blind man’s suffering did not go away
    – it just changed into a different kind of suffering
  • nevertheless, his suffering was different now
    – because he was no longer alone in his darkness
    – he had been kicked out of his religious community, but he was immediately taken up into new community of Jesus

Before embarking on the journey of enlightenment, John asks us, “Are you interested? Do you want to be enlightened?”
– you will be challenged all the way down to what you believe is reality, and face difficulties you have not imagined
– but your eyes will be open, you will know Jesus, and he will be yours for the rest of life’s journey and unto the endless ages, world without end

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