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"I am the light of the world" (John 9)

J Gibson, Derby

It had never been done before, "that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind" (v.32). Eyes that had never worked, and central connections within the brain, its neural pathways, and visual cortex that had never functioned were all repaired instantaneously. It was a mighty demonstration of Christ’s power, thorough proof that He was Israel’s Messiah (Is 29.18; 35.5; 42.7), and a graphic portrayal of the truth that He was "the light of the world" (Jn 9.5). Just as He brought light to this man’s darkness, He shines indiscriminately on all peoples, Jews and Gentiles (Jn 1.9), imparting life to all that believe on Him (Jn 1.4; 8.12). He was not just Jehovah’s servant to "raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel", but has also been sent as "a light to the Gentiles, that [He] mayest be [Jehovah’s] salvation unto the end of the earth" (Is 49.6). Although His first coming was not to judge in the sense of punish, His very presence as the light of the world divided men (Jn 9.39). He revealed Himself to those who humbly confessed their spiritual blindness, hiding Himself from conceited Jews who failed to see their own ignorance (v.39). Shining brightly, as the sun, Christ exposed the corruption of men’s hearts (Jn 3.19-21), especially of religious Jews who claimed to see. It was they, full of envy and hatred, who finally delivered Him to be crucified (Mk 15.10; Jn 15.25), plunging the world into spiritual darkness. The Lord Jesus warned of this time, telling His disciples, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day" (Jn 9.4), seizing every opportunity to serve the Father – a splendid example of redeeming the time (Eph 5.16). He continued to say, "…the night [of His absence] cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (Jn 9.4-5). It is still night, during which time Christ shines through His people (Mt 5.14; Phil 2.15), but "the day [of His return] is at hand" (Rom 13.12).

The disciples assumed the man’s blindness was directly related to a specific sin committed by "this man, or his parents" (Jn 9.2). When the Pharisees accused Christ of being a sinner (v.24), the no-longer blind man responded, "Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (v.25). Frustrated by the irrefutable logic of the man’s unfolding defence and his standing there as living evidence of the unrivalled power of Christ, the Pharisees charged the man, "Thou wast altogether born in sins" (v.34). In reality, they were blinded to spiritual truths by their smug religious living which only exaggerated their own sinfulness (v.41).

Who was right in their perception of sin? The disciples were right that sin is the root cause of all sickness, suffering, and eventual death (Rom 5.12). It is true that disease can be a result of personal sin (Rom 1.27), or even sins by our parents (Ex 20.5). For example, the excessive intake of alcohol leads to liver damage, but if indulged in during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in the baby. Smoking in pregnancy may cause intra-uterine growth retardation. And, pertinent to our present study, some sexually transmitted infections have the propensity to produce visual impairment in a woman’s children.1 Having said this, there is often no clear correlation between individual sins and specific illnesses. In this man’s case the only valid explanation as far as the omniscient Christ was concerned was the sovereign purpose of God (Jn 9.3; see Ex 4.11). The Pharisees were wrong and, unintentionally, right in their view of sin. They were completely wrong in their belief that Christ was a sinner; God the Father had on at least two occasions opened heaven to declare Christ to be the sinless Son of God (v.35; Mt 3.17; 17.5). However, the Pharisees were right that the blind man "was altogether born in sins" (v.34), but, apart from Christ, so is everyone (Ps 51.5), including the Pharisees who were blind to their own depravity (Jn 9.41).

The fact that "the works of God should be made manifest in" a man born with a congenital impairment (blindness) does a number of things (v.3). It exposes the claims of faith healers, that persistent illness is fully explained by personal failure and lack of faith, for what they really are: cruel, unfounded, and malicious accusations. It shows that a termination of pregnancy is a deliberate interference with the ways of God. And it ought to encourage sick saints. God can be glorified in their illnesses.

The blind man’s experience vividly pictures the radical change that conversion brings about in a person’s life. His congenital blindness could well represent the sinner who from birth is blind to God’s truth (2 Cor 4.3-4). Uninvited and unrecognized, Christ sought the blind beggar (Jn 9.6), reminding us of the sovereignty of God in salvation. But then, having anointed the man’s eyes with clay, the Lord Jesus commanded him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent)". He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing" (v.7). If the man had disobeyed the Lord Jesus he would have died blind. But he went obediently, showing the other side of the coin, that men are responsible for what they do with God’s offer of mercy. Thus the sovereignty of God and man’s responsibility were seen to work hand in hand. It may well be asked why the Lord Jesus used clay? It was a "reminder that He once formed man out of the dust of the earth"2 and it proved that Christ can use very insignificant things, a good description of most Christians (1 Cor 1.26-29).

As is the experience of many believers, the man encountered escalating opposition (see Acts 14.22). Regarding Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, it was said "the neighbors also came out to see him run; and, as he ran, some mocked (Jer 20.10), others threatened, and some cried after him to return; and among those that did so, there were two that were resolved to fetch him back by force."3 Similarly, the curiosity of the blind man’s neighbours was aroused (Jn 9.8-12), which is usually the case when someone is truly born from above (Jn 3.3). The man’s parents let him down. Afraid of excommunication from the synagogue they refused to comment on how, or by whom, he had been healed (Jn 9.18-23). The Jews challenged the man himself severely (vv.13-17; 24-34), repeatedly asking "how he had received his sight" (vv.15,26). Yet their efforts to discredit him only reaffirmed the genuineness of the miracle. How a true conversion confuses the critics – they simply cannot understand it. Failing to win ground, the true character of the Pharisees surfaced. They boasted in their religious heritage (vv.28-29), they showed their uncertainty concerning Christ’s origin (v.29; cp Jn 7.27), and having lost the argument they stooped to vilification, excommunicating the man (v.34). Even today the religious systems of this world have no place, and are no place, for real Christians (Heb 13.12-13).

But opposition did the man good. It stimulated his increasing appreciation of Christ and within a short time turned him into an intelligent and ardent evangelist. In his mind the Lord Jesus grew from being a mere man (v.11), to a prophet sent from God (vv.17,33), to finally Lord (v.36) and "Son of God" whom he worshipped (vv.37-38). Having answered the blatant cynicism of the Pharisees with heavy irony, suggesting they too wished to be Christ’s disciples (v.27), the man went on to contest vigorously the Saviour’s divine origin (vv.30-33). This he did on the basis of God’s character (v.31; cp. Ps 66.18-19) and the uniqueness of the miracle (v.32). They had no reply. And still it is possible for the youngest Christian to confound the religious elite. They cannot explain rationally the transformed life (2 Cor 5.17).

Concluded.

1Kanski J J. Clinical Ophthalmology Third Ed. (Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1994), p. 83

2Gabelein A C. The Gospel of JOHN (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1965), p.170

3Bunyan J. Pilgrim’s Progress (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967), p.17

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