Friday, January 04, 2008

John 9:13-17

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. 15Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." 16Some of the Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. 17Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about Him? It was your eyes He opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet."

This portion of our text departs from John’s usual style of relating Jesus’ own teaching about Himself, following His miraculous signs. In fact, Jesus is not even present while the Pharisees investigate His latest healing, and He will not show up again until the end of the chapter, when He comes privately to the man He had healed. But it has a crucial role in John’s Gospel, because it continues to relate the unfolding controversy that the Jewish religious leaders had with Jesus, and it further illustrates the manner in which the sign-miracles were meant to lead sinners to a true faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. We notice first that the multitude brings the healed man to the Pharisees. What is their motive? Surely they knew that the Pharisees did not approve of Jesus. Do they foolishly seek the favor of the religious leaders? Perhaps the custom was to bring matters before them for arbitration.

Next we notice the hardened state of some of the Pharisees’ hearts, for as soon as they had heard of this unprecedented miracle, which took place on the Sabbath, their sole concern was not to glorify God for His mercy, or remember the prophecies about the Messiah’s giving sight to the blind; instead they just wanted to know how the miracle was performed, so that they might accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath again. And the act of making mud and anointing the blind man’s eyes was apparently enough like manual labor to give them cause to condemn Him. And so they immediately discern that He must not be of God, since He violated God’s law. Instead they ought to have noted that such a clear work of God, which they certainly did not deny, could not have been a violation of the law of God. Of course, Jesus’ actions were not technically forbidden by Moses, who recorded the very words of God, but were in fact carried out in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of the Sabbath commandment. The work(s) of God is/are not forbidden, but rather appropriate – even commanded (ala the Puritans) – on the Sabbath. But the Pharisees had placed the oral traditions and interpretations of the law on the same authoritative plane as the Scriptures themselves – and He had clearly violated the traditions of the elders. Let us remember that no interpretation of God’s Word is infallible, no matter how ancient or widespread it is; only the Word itself has that distinction.

Finally, it appears that the nature of this particular miracle, as well as the fact that Jesus did not command the healed man to carry his bed, was enough reason to cause some diversity of opinion, even among the Pharisees (though it appears they are united in condemning Him by they end of the investigation). Divided in opinion after hearing the man’s detailed account of what happened, the Pharisees also ask him what he believed about Jesus. In doing so, they do not wish to abide by his judgment, or set any value on it, but they hope that the man, struck with fear, will reply according to their wish. But the man boldly maintains that Jesus is a prophet. And if he so boldly and freely acknowledged Christ to be a prophet, though he did not yet know that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, how shameful is the treachery of those who, subdued by fear, either deny Him, or are silent respecting Him, though they know that He sits at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge of the whole world! Since this blind man did not quench a small spark of knowledge, we ought to endeavor that an open and full confession may blaze forth from the full brightness that has shone into our hearts.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

John 9:1-12

1As [Jesus] went along, He saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6Having said this, He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7"Go," He told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man." 10"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. 11He replied, "The Man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." 12"Where is this Man?" they asked him. "I don't know," he said.

This sign-miracle is the illustration of what Jesus had said at the Feast of Tabernacles, “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12). In our tour of the tabernacle, we have seen the altar of sacrifice, the laver, or ceremonial washbasin, and the table of the Bread of Presence. Now turning around in the tabernacle, we see the Golden Lampstand, or candlestick. It would have been the only light in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-37). And just as Jesus has fulfilled the first three elements of the tabernacle imagery, so He also fulfills this one. Jesus is the Light, perfectly moral and holy, capable of resting in God’s presence. Jesus is also the light that enlightens every man to the truth. Jesus alone can bring the knowledge of God to men blinded by sin; otherwise, we would remain in utter darkness (see Ephesians 5:8; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Of all the sign-miracles that Jesus performed, this is one of the most amazing and one of the surest indicators that He was indeed the Messiah. After all, giving sight to the blind was one of the works that was to characterize the coming Christ (Isaiah 35:4-5; 42:6-7). Moreover, although the prophets before Christ had performed many miraculous signs, and had even raised the dead (2 Kings 4), it had never before happened, in recorded history, that a man born blind had been given sight – which is the point of the healed man’s observation in v32. No physical sign could demonstrate the nature of the Messianic task quite as poignantly as giving sight to someone who had been born blind. Likewise, we were all born in the spiritual night of our sinfulness; only Jesus can open our eyes to see and rejoice in God’s glory.

This episode calls into question “theodicy,” which is how we humans justify God’s actions in our lives. Webster defines theodicy as “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” The question asked is this: Why is this man blind? In other words, “Why did God make this man blind?” When we ask why God allows this or why God brings that to pass, we are talking about theodicy, which rightly recognizes the sovereignty of God over all things. The disciples, asking if this man sinned to cause his handicap, acknowledge the possibility of this man having sinned prior to his own birth. The disciples knew that man was sinful from conception, as David taught under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51:5 and Psalm 58:3. Asking if the man’s parents sinned to cause his blindness, the disciples must have been thinking of Exodus 20:5 (punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation). But why wouldn’t they equally consider Ezekiel 18:20 (The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.)? Both can be true at different times…

In this case, God ordained history so that no man before Jesus had healed the blind; and also, that this particular man should be born blind and should encounter Christ as an adult. What is God’s purpose in this man’s blindness? God’s purpose is to provide a remarkable illustration of the Gospel itself. In other words, as Jesus explains, God made this man blind, in order to show forth His glory, in the person of Christ, at the appropriate time. This is a truth that the disciples did not initially understand. Like Job’s three comforters, they believed that any such trial could only be in response to a specific sin – either the man’s or his parents’. It is certainly true that death exists only because sin has entered the world; and it is also true that sickness can result from a specific sin, as was the case with King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19) and many sexually transmitted diseases. But to trace all sicknesses and hardships to specific sins is not Scriptural. Rather God has ordained all things for His own glory.

Richard Dawkins, Darwin’s rottweiler, the evolutionist atheist of our day, in his books The Blind Watchmaker or The God Delusion, can offer an answer the question, “How did this man get blind?” He could give a scientific explanation as to the cause of this man’s blindness. But he can’t answer the question, “Why?” Science can’t answer the question. It can’t tell us about purpose here. It’s only Jesus that answers that question — and it’s a satisfying answer. Consider the amazing testimony of Joni Erickson Tada, that the book that made the most sense to her is Loraine Boettner’s The Refomed Doctrine of Predestination. Isn’t that surprising? That’s a tough book. Joni says that in the hour of her greatest agony, that is the book that comforted her the most. Do you know why? It’s very simple. Because it says that in the midst of my trouble there is a purpose. There is a divine purpose at work.

So Jesus explained these things to His disciples, and then, before He even performed the miracle, He explained why it was so significant that He do so. It is because He is the Light of the world, as He had already said at the Feast of Tabernacles, and so must work the Father’s works. The time when Jesus was in the world was the Messianic Day, that had finally arrived after centuries of spiritual night. And the night was to return, when those who experienced the light-giving Son of God, and personally encountered His words and works, saw Him no more and were swallowed back up in darkness. Of course, this is not true of Jesus’ true disciples, to whom Jesus would continue to give light throughout the age by His Holy Spirit – but for the Jews in general, this is exactly what would happen. And for us, when we seek the reason why we suffer, let us not accuse God as we may be tempted to do, for we know that He is being glorified whether by giving mercy or severity (as in the case of Job).

Jesus made a mud pie and rubbed it on the man’s eyes. Some say that Jesus did this to emphasize the point of the miracle, that are eyes are blinded by the “dirt” of our sin, until we come to Christ, who was sent by God to accomplish our redemption, and are cleansed by Him. Others think Jesus is re-enacting the creation account, when God formed man from the dust; and showing that He alone can accomplish the new creation of sinful men. Perhaps the simplest answer displays the communication Jesus was making with the blind man. Jesus rubs mud in his eyes to communicate that He is healing him. The blind man had never experienced sight, and it’s not likely that many people touched him. So Jesus communicates to him audibly with words and, more importantly, tactilely or tangibly by touch.

Then Jesus told the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam (perhaps to rebuke the Jews for rejecting Him, ala Isaiah 8:6). John translates for his audience that “Siloam” means “sent.” This was the place where the water was drawn for the Feast of Tabernacles, of which Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment, and exhorted the crowds to come to Him and drink (John 7:37). So Jesus is the One sent from God, and only Jesus can give sight to the blind. In fact, He had been called “Shiloh,” from the same Hebrew word, as far back as Genesis 49:10. This is the trial of true faith, when the devout mind is satisfied with the simple word of God, which promises what otherwise appears incredible. Faith is instantly followed by a readiness to obey, so that he who is convinced that God will be his faithful guide calmly yields himself to the direction of God. This miracle is so staggering, that people had a hard time believing that this man was actually the blind beggar they all knew – some thought it was a different man who just looked like him. But the beggar himself acknowledged that he was the same man, explaining that Jesus had healed him. He was excited to tell the story as a testimony to the grace he had received. Of course, they all wanted to see Jesus then, but the man did not know where He had gone.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

John 8:58-59

58"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" 59At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

In v58, Jesus shows that Abraham had a beginning and claims for Himself to have had no beginning. It is a clear claim of eternal nature and divine power (Romans 1:18). He says, “I AM,” which is the name of God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (see also Hebrews 13:8). Jesus had formerly said that Abraham longed for His day with zeal; and as this seemed incredible to the Jews, He adds, that He Himself also existed at that time. We must understand that even then He was acknowledged to be the Mediator, by whom God was to be appeased.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He essentially said, “One of the characteristics of someone who isn’t a Christian, who isn’t born again, is that he doesn’t understand what I’m saying.” And Nicodemus replied, “I don’t understand what You’re saying.” And that’s exactly what’s happening here. This audience doesn’t get it, because they’re not born again, not God’s people. The shallow faith of the Jews is utterly exposed; but they see that He was calling Himself by the name of God, which amounted to blasphemy. Thus they who had professed faith in v30 pick up stones to stone Him, as they rightly should have done to one who was blaspheming in this way (Leviticus 24:16). But Jesus wasn’t blaspheming. And it is not yet His time to die. Calvin notes of the last verse, “I have no doubt that Christ rescued Himself by His divine power…Some manuscripts have the words, ‘And so Jesus passed through the midst of them’; which is borrowed from Luke 4:30.”

Derek Thomas said, “If you or I were to say the sort of things Jesus said, they would lock us up. They would give us sedatives and lock the door. They would nod their heads and say that we’re lunatics, and they would be right. So why is it that millions of people throughout the world gather to bow down and worship this Man? Because He’s God, I tell you; He is the Lord.” He went on tell this story: “Jon Krakauer wrote a book published just a few years ago called Into Thin Air. It’s about the story of the attempt to climb to the peak of Mount Everest in 1996. And many of those who attempted that expedition, including two of its leaders, Robert Hall and Andy Harris, died on that mountain. Krakauer had been to the peak of the mountain, but he and his group could only stay up there for about five minutes, because they didn’t have enough oxygen. There was evidence all around that many of the men, including some of the leaders, were suffering from oxygen deprivation, including Andy Harris, who on the way down from the mountain, was given an oxygen cylinder that had been left there for this very purpose, full, unused. And Andy Harris said over and over that it was empty, that they had used this oxygen, and they hadn’t. It really was full. And rather than use it, he insisted it was empty; he died on the mountain. And there are men and women that close to Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel and are insisting on their own way.” How sad!

At the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus makes some staggering claims, demanding that all the symbolism of the great religious feasts of the Jews be fulfilled in Him alone. Thus, He alone can pour out the life-giving Spirit upon all flesh, and He alone is the true Light of the world. Of course, this is too great a claim for a mere man to make of himself; but, as Jesus makes indisputably clear by the end of the feast, He is not merely a Man – He is also God Incarnate, who existed eternally, and in whom the forefathers of Israel placed their trust. This teaching caused much animosity among the Jews, which was only stirred up all the more by His equally unpopular claim that the reason they did not believe Him is that they did not belong to God, but to their father the devil, and they were therefore unable to believe the truth of God. The controversy that has begun between Jesus and the Pharisees is intensified and spread to the common people on this occasion. Soon, in God’s own timing, it will result in the atrocity of the cross, both the greatest crime and the greatest event, the truest act of love and mercy, in history.

Monday, December 31, 2007

John 8:48-57

48The Jews answered Him, "Aren't we right in saying that You are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?" 49"I am not possessed by a demon," said Jesus, "but I honor My Father and you dishonor Me. 50I am not seeking glory for Myself; but there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge. 51I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death." 52At this the Jews exclaimed, "Now we know that You are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet You say that if anyone keeps Your word, he will never taste death. 53Are You greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do You think You are?" 54Jesus replied, "If I glorify Myself, My glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the One who glorifies Me. 55Though you do not know Him, I know Him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad." 57"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to Him, "and You have seen Abraham!"

The Jews find nothing of substance to say against Jesus, so they resort to name-calling in an effort to ridicule or taunt Him. Clearly lacking judgment, the Jews lash out in a verbal attack against Him, foolishly calling Jesus a demon-possessed Samaritan. They reckoned Samaritans to be apostate corrupters of the law; a demon possessed one must really be a lunatic! In response, Jesus refuted only the charge of demon-possession. Augustine suggests that Jesus was not afraid to identify with all of the elect, including those from Samaria, which He would be visiting soon (chapter 4). Calling Jesus a Samaritan was no big deal; but calling Him demon-possessed was, of course, blasphemous. Thus Jesus turned “the other cheek,” and rather than defending Himself against these outrageous statements, He decided to uphold the name of the Father for His glory.

In v51, Jesus claimed once again that eternal life could only come to the one who believed (and lived) the truths that Jesus was teaching – the Gospel. “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” And at this statement, the hardened Jews are made more confident that Jesus is truly demon-possessed. He is claiming that the one who keeps His word will never die. That is pretty crazy to an unbeliever. And these unbelievers are stupefied. Yet Jesus speaks of believers – who will experience death – as passing from the earthly realm to the heavenly kingdom. There will be no heavenly kingdom for unbelievers. They proclaim that even Abraham died along with the prophets, so the wonder how Jesus could dare to make a statement such as what He said. They are only perceiving physical words and sensing no spiritual meaning behind them. It’s what we’ve been saying all along (1 Corinthians 2:14). And they are driven by this logic to ask Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Abraham? Who do You think You are?”

They wrongly compare Abraham and the prophets to Jesus, as if the stars can be noticed in the presence of our sun. Jesus’ light makes the light of the other notables of the faith fade away. Notice they are still referring to Abraham as their father in asking this question; and notice that they are asking Jesus to tell them who He thinks He is. Of course, they are asking somewhat rhetorically, as a method of rebuke. It’s like, “How dare You say such things!” But the question is important. Who does Jesus think He is?

Jesus responds to this question with an indirect answer: “I am the One who knows the Father and keeps His Word.” He is not seeking His own glory, as the Jews accuse Him of doing. And He is certainly not looking for them to glorify Him; rather, He desires only the glory that the Father will give Him; Jesus desires God’s glory. So let us seek the glory of Christ, who makes us to share in His glory by His grace. When Jesus says in v54 that Jews claim Jesus’ Father as their God, He implies that they don’t know God; they don’t know Jesus’ Father. We learn that a true profession of faith is that which proceeds from true knowledge. And knowledge comes from Spirit through the Word. Consequently, all who boast in the name of God without agreement with the Word of God are hypocrites (called liars here). And in v55, Jesus explains that He must testify of His Father, because He does know Him. If He did not testify of the Father, He would be a hypocrite (liar) like them. Since silence would be a treacherous denial of the truth for Jesus, it ought to be likewise for His true disciples. That God reveals Himself to us for the purpose of confessing to the world the faith we have in our hearts is remarkable; it ought powerfully to strike terror into our minds, that hypocrites who either deny the truth of God or disfigure it for the sake of political correctness, are not simply gently reproved, but are rebuked as children of the devil (1 John 5:3; 2 John 6). Speak up!

In v56, Jesus explains that “their father” Abraham rejoiced, because he believed in the Christ who was to come; Abraham longed for Messiah when He was absent, while these Jews despise Messiah when He is present. Jesus displays that they are by no means true sons of Abraham, for they share not the faith of Abraham. Jesus’ assertion concerning Abraham applies to all the saints. Whoever desires to be reckoned in the number of the godly, let him rejoice, as he ought to do, in the presence of Christ, for which Abraham ardently longed. Jesus concludes that Abraham saw the day of Messiah and was glad. Commentators disagree on this statement, but the Jews take Jesus to mean that He has seen Abraham. And by declaring that Jesus was not yet fifty, the Jews allow Him room to be much older than He was (did He look old?); it still wasn’t going to be enough, they thought, because Abraham had lived two thousand years earlier and had long been deceased. The Jews thereby ridicule His claim to know anything about Abraham’s faith. They’re thinking, “How dare He say anything about Abraham!” They mistakenly esteemed Abraham as being far greater than Jesus; yet Abraham could not give eternal life, and Jesus is the Life.