I recently read again the account of Jesus healing the blind man in John chapter 9. This chapter consists of 5 verses of set-up, 2 verses of action, and 34 verses of reaction. Jesus is mostly in the background after He performs this miracle. At the foreground and epicenter is this beggar who has had a direct experience of Christ. This experiencer of Christ instantly becomes the target of religious opposition. John presents a clear conflict between Christ and religion. Below I track and comment on the development of this religious opposition in seven stages.
Is not this the one who used to sit and beg? Some said, This is he. Others said, No, but he is like him. –v. 8-9
The Jews then did not believe concerning him that he had been blind and had received his sight… –v. 18
Doubt and disbelief are the first manifestation here of opposition. The reaction is almost passive and casual, and comes at first from the blind man’s neighbors and then later from the Pharisees. These two groups represent close acquaintances and religious leaders. The neighbors are probably incredulous of the miraculous transformation and the Pharisees are probably more concerned with the violation of orthodoxy. Sometimes when we have a significant experience of Christ or an experience of Christ that those around us haven’t had, people just don’t believe us. They don’t believe WE are the person who has experienced this, or they don’t believe that such an experience is possible, or that it could be so transforming.
How then were your eyes opened? –v. 10
Again therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he received his sight. –v. 15
What do you say about Him, in that He opened your eyes? –v. 17
How then does he now see? –v. 19
What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes? –v. 26
Next came the religious interrogation. This is where things start to get ugly. I’ve known a number of people who have been cross examined by religious authorities for their experience of Christ. Just last week I met a guy whose pastor pulled him aside and said, “I’m a little concerned by how much joy in God you’ve shown recently. I’ve never seen you like this before. It just sends up a little flag about that new group you’re meeting with.” Too much joy in God? Seriously? I’m not kidding. I have another very close friend who was sat down with a few seminary professors and interrogated for pretty much the same reasons. Her Christian life had taken a quantum leap and she was really a different person. They were concerned that she had drunk the Kool-aid. I guess they forgot that Jesus is not kidding about transformation.
It is interesting to track the “hows” in this passage. It’s the same question over and over. Instead of rejoicing with the blind man because of his incredible transformation (the “what”), the religious establishment stubbornly questioned him concerning the “how.” How did this happen? How could this happen?
The blind man himself admitted, “Since time began it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one born blind” (v. 32).
This experience broke all precedent. Whether anyone understood it or not, the fact is that it DID happen. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a similar experience and also suffered for it (Luke 2:35). Whether or not a virgin CAN conceive a child asexually is a question of scientific possibility. Whether or not a virgin DID conceive a child, is a question of historical occurrence.
This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath. –v. 16
We know that this man is a sinner. –v. 24
We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from. –v. 29
After doubt and interrogation there comes contradiction. The religious leaders contradict the blind man’s testimony and try to undercut it through magisterial pronouncements. This is really an attempt at silencing the blind man’s testimony through superior, verbal force. But the blind man wisely keeps referring back to his actual experience, which was impossible to deny. How could this man be a sinner or not be sent from God if He performed such a miracle? Clearly then, this man is doing God’s will and his prayers are heard and answered by God (v. 30-31).
The experience of Christ is often contradicted by partial doctrinal arguments or undermined by historical precedent. Jesus is not bound by either.
Some people argue against the fact that, in resurrection, Christ became the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). Or that Christ actually indwells the believers (Rom. 8:10). To denounce these verses for the equally inspired verses that say that the resurrected Jesus has a body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39) and is at the right hand of the throne of God (Rom. 8:34), is one of the proclivities of an unrenewed mind and is unwarranted. Robert Govett called this tendency in the Scriptures the “twofoldness of divine truth.” These seemingly divergent statements are not contradictory but complimentary.
The Pharisees indicted Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, not realizing that He was the Lord of the Sabbath and had the rights to amend or annul His own enactments (Mark 2:28).
Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner. –v. 24
In verse 24, the Pharisees pressure the blind man to recant and side with them. This pressure can come from different angles including family, friends, or religious leaders. The pressure here is combined with upper-handed statements meant to persuade.
And they reviled him… –v. 28
To revile is to “assail with contemptuous or opprobrious language; criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner.” This is when the opposition becomes blatant, ugly, and caustic. I have a friend who was once asked, “What’s the difference between Christians and Marines? Marines don’t leave their dead behind.” I know one case where, in a Christian family, when the daughter decided to meet with another church, the parents told her that they were going to pray for her to fail everyday. This is hardly Christian behavior. We should leave each other room to respectfully differ on doctrinal points and experiences that aren’t central to the faith. As Paul says in Romans 14:5, “Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
If we do find ourselves facing this kind of opposition we should remember that we have a living Lord inside of us, “who being reviled did not revile in return; suffering, He did not threaten but kept committing all to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
You were wholly born in sins, and you are teaching us? –v. 34
This represents, as C. E. B. Cranfield once said in another context, “the pretentious claims of self-important men.” This is the reaction of the blind religious establishment to the living witness of Christ. The Pharisees explode when the blind man restates how obvious it is that Jesus must be sent from God. He has done something no one else has ever done before. This shows how hardened and unreasonable people can become in the face of undeniable evidence. Really, the point of contention now is, who is Jesus, but because the blind man has had a direct experience of Christ, he is implicated in Christ’s identity. He is now part of the evidence that Jesus really is the Son of God. They have already condemned Christ as a sinner, and now they condemn him as such also.
And they cast him out. –v. 34
The last and ultimate step in persecution is to be cast out. In religion, this is excommunication. In society, this is ostracism. When the religious establishment cannot suppress or defeat the living experience of Christ, it rejects it. However, in chapter 10, Jesus indicates that this excommunication only served to fulfill His own intention for this man. Religion cast him out (9:34) but Jesus as the Shepherd of the sheep led him out (10:3).
Thus, even persecution is part of the all things that God works together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
1. Watchman Nee takes this approach in explaining the virgin birth in The Normal Christian Faith. Augustine makes the same point (although on a different topic) in City of God when says, “The fact that a rational explanation cannot be given for something does not mean that it could not have happened.” (21.5)
I want to be a crazy lover of Jesus, just like the blind man. He didn’t care what anyone said to discourage him. He also couldn’t stop talking about Jesus! Keep blogging about Jesus bro!
Thanks David. I love this guy’s persistence too. He has a Martin Luther-like backbone. He just won’t back down.
Insightful post, Kyle. Our reactions reveal a lot about who we are intrinsically; in this case, the reaction to a blind man’s being healed strongly exposes religion’s opposition to Christ.
Thanks. It’s really true. Mary was told that the reasonings of many hearts would be revealed when she brought forth Christ. When we bring forth an experience of Christ it’s the same with us.
Kyle, I was really helped by this post. I also have many christian friends that will benefit from this kind of word in John 9. Here in the south, religion is a huge opposition to the work of the ministry. Many of my friends are too deep in religion and are in turn blinded by religion. The ones who are actually blind are the religious ones! Lord make us crazy lovers of Jesus! I echo drod that we need to keep talking about Jesus!
Thanks Brian. I think it’s important to define “religion” for this discussion. The two posts I did on Jefferson Bethke’s video (linked above) explore my working definition of religion. The main elements involve judgmentalism, self-righteousness, objective teachings that don’t transform, mere rule-following, hypocrisy, works and self-merit. Really what it comes down to, in my mind, is a lack of the experience of Christ as our way, reality, and life. When this happens, the spiritual reality behind things is lost, leaving only the teachings, rituals, and traditions as an empty shell.
I’d say that’s a good “anatomy of religious persecution.” As I read it, I just felt so sad that this kind of tragedy happens today. Thank you for ending it like you did: “Religion cast him out (9:34) but Jesus as the Shepherd of the sheep led him out (10:3).” This is an encouraging reminder that God is on the throne and is caring for His sheep.
Glad you made it to the end! Yeah, I didn’t want to end on a downer. 🙂 Look for my next post on Monday. I show how Jesus has already passed through all these experiences. I didn’t want this post to get too bloated, so I saved some verses for next time. If this post was anatomical, the next one is pastoral. I also reflect a little more on what this implies.
May the Lord enlighten each of us and save us from any of these reactions.
You mention Govett’s Twofoldness. In cleaning my shelves this week I found three extra copies of this booklet. It’s only 23 pages of text. If anyone wants one of these copies, I will be glad to mail it. Leave your address here or email me.
Thanks for offering that Don. I hope someone takes you up on it! It is also available online with reader friendly subheadings here: http://www.contendingforthefaith.org/responses/Geisler-Rhodes/Govett-twofoldness.html
Thanks for the link; I hadn’t known about it.
The offer for a physical mailing is still open if anyone prefers a paper copy.
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I’ve belatedly read your blog on John 9 – with much enjoyment.
You, and a commenter, mention Govett’s “two-sides…” I was much encouraged by finding it on the shelves in the meeting in Vancouver, and sent copies to some others. I had wrestled with the Calvinist / Arminian thing, and came to the conclusion they were talking past each other – I had friends on both sides – and they were both quoting truths/ and missing truths. The recovering church life was more than a breath of fresh air ~ it has been new life.