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 (Watchman Nee takes this approach in explaining the virgin birth in The Normal Christian Faith).
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).