John’s Gospel: Chapter 9:1-5 (“Who sinned, this man or his parents?”)

[If things go as planned, the materials issued on chapters 7 and 8 conclude the spring quarter for our adult Bible classes. Maybe this will be for the summer quarter of 2013.]

(John 9:1-2 ESV)  As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

The Jews understood that the brokenness of the world, including disease, results from sin. However, they incorrectly concluded that only the sinner would suffer from this sin.

Of course, this isn’t true. The brokenness caused by sin isn’t limited to the sinner. If a husband sins against his wife by divorcing her, not only is he likely to suffer the ill consequences of his sin; but so are his wife and children. So are his parents and friends and congregation. The painful consequences of sin aren’t limited to the sinner — but that was the thinking of First Century Jews when it came to physical illness.

You see, they thought of illness as God’s punishment, and hence a result of God’s will, rather than the unwanted consequences of sin and therefore the enemy of God.

(Isa 33:24-1 ESV) 24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.

(Isa 29:18-19 ESV)  18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.  19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

(Rev 21:4 ESV)  4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Indeed, to explain birth defects, such as this man’s blindness, the rabbis concluded that a baby could sin in the womb. For example, if a pregnant woman were to worship in an idolatrous temple, the baby would be sinning along with her!

To demonstrate that disease is opposed to God’s will, Jesus says,

(John 9:3 ESV)  3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

This is another of those “hard” sayings. Is Jesus saying that God made him blind just so there’d be someone for Jesus to heal? Well, was he the only blind man in Israel?

(John 5:2-3 ESV)  2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.  3 In these lay a multitude of invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed.

It’s not as though God had to reach out and blind this man just so Jesus would have someone to heal!

Make no mistake: God has the perfect right to have done just that. I’m not judging God or limiting his sovereignty over us. Rather, it just doesn’t make sense to suppose that God imposed this suffering on this man just so Jesus could do a miracle, given that there were surely thousands of other blind men and women in Israel. It’s not as though he’d healed them all and was at risk of running out of miracle-performing opportunities.

Rather, I conclude that Jesus is speaking of what is true of all diseased people. Every person with a disease is an opportunity for “the works of God [to] be displayed in him.” And this interpretation fits well with the next verse —

(John 9:4 ESV)  4 “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

This is certainly true of Jesus, as he’ll soon explain, but also true of his followers; hence, the “we.” (This is no royal or editorial “we,” or else Jesus would have used “us” rather than “me” later in the same sentence.)

Even today, there are countless diseased people who provide the opportunity for God’s work to be displayed through the compassion and ministry of the church — the body of Christ, charged to continue Christ’s mission on earth.

And this is true of all consequences of sin, all brokenness. The mission of Jesus, and so the mission of the church, is to labor toward the undoing of the curse of Gen 3 on this Creation, to make the Creation, once again, “very good.”

Light of the world

(John 9:5 ESV)  5 “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

This sentence, of course, hearkens back to John 8:12. Indeed, it appears that John has chosen to insert this account of the blind man to illustrate just that point.

We would certainly think that Jesus remains the light of the world, but Jesus claims that role only until his Ascension. At that point, I think the church became the light of the world.

(Eph 5:7-10 ESV)  7 Therefore do not become partners with them;  8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),  10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

(1Th 5:5 ESV)  5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

(1Jo 2:10 ESV) 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.

Remember: the term originally applied to Israel (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 60:3). Jesus takes it upon himself, doing for the world what Israel had failed to do. But after Pentecost, Jesus turned that role over to his disciples, that is, the church (the spiritual Israel!).

Of course, the church is unified with Christ through the Spirit. The church is Jesus’ body, and the church is led by the Spirit. Therefore, this is not so much a change in who is the light of the world as how he now manifests his light.

Night

If all that’s right, what is the “night” of John 9:4: “Night is coming, when no man can work”? In John 11:10, “night” is used in the same sense in which “darkness” is used in John 1, which makes sense because both words reflect the thought of Gen 1 — God’s separation of light from darkness and day from night.

My first thought is the time Jesus was buried. This is the time when Satan ruled in apparent triumph, only to be defeated by the resurrection.

Or, as some commentaries suggest, Jesus may be referring more generally to the death of anyone (obviously, including Jesus). That is, we Christians, just like Jesus, must work while we have light during which to work. God gives us but so many days and so many opportunities. We must seize them — each one — because our role on earth, like that of Jesus, is to bring glory to God.

It’s not about earning our way into heaven. It’s about being true to our calling and the mission we’ve received from God. Because we love God and his creation and all within it, we want to glorify him by healing brokenness.

The opportunity to heal and restore and redeem is not the price of salvation but the delight of being children of God.

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About Jay Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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