September 26, 2015.
Daily Reading: John 9-12.
Background: John 7-8.
Concepts and Connections.
The blinding of pride and stubbornness: In chapter nine of John’s gospel, we are given an account of Jesus’ healing of a man that had been born blind, but the irony of the story is that those who could well see were the ones who were truly shown to be blind spiritually. Note at the beginning of this story, the belief that physical abnormalities were the by product of sin is revealed not only in the scribes and Pharisees (as seen later in the story), but also in His disciples as they ask why the man was born blind. Since he had been blind from birth, this belief lends itself to assuming that the man’s blindness was due to his parents sins. However, there was clear teaching in the prophets that this was not how God dealt with sin (see Ezekiel 18). Jesus makes it clear that this man was not born blind out of sin, but rather in order that God might be glorified in the miracle that He was about to do. It is true that sin has its consequences, and those consequences can involve other people; however, this is not the only cause of suffering in the world. Suffering exists because we live in a fallen world, and it is caused by different things. Here, the man’s blindness would be the most important thing that ever happened to him, as his handicap brought him to the Savior of the world, and his life would forever be changed at his healing. He had never looked upon any of the beauty of the world, and then through the Messiah, he received both physical sight and spiritual awakening, so much so that the Pharisees could not shake his faith later in the story, as we see the man boldly stand against them because of their blindness.
Note the importance of the fact that the man was born blind and not that he had gone blind during his lifetime. When the people saw that he could now see, there was no denying that he had ever been blind in the first place. He had been begging all his life, and everyone knew who he was. When his parents were called into questioning, they could not deny his blindness, nor the fact that he could now see. The Pharisees didn’t even debate the fact that he had been blind (that is, after they heard the witness of the man’s parents), but rather pointed to the fact that they had already determined that Jesus was a sinner, and demanded to know how he had opened the man’s eyes. But they would not listen; they were not willing to see what was right before their very eyes. They could not see what the blind man clearly saw- Jesus had the power of God. When the man got frustrated with their questions, for they were asking him the same thing over and over, expecting a different answer, he finally makes a remark that invokes their pride. They would not even consider that they, being the righteous and studied leaders they were, could ever be taught by a man who had been born blind. They cast him as a sinner and in their stubbornness, blinded themselves to the Messiah. In the end, Jesus says “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” This is the irony of the story. The blind man saw, while the seeing were made blind.
1. “I am the Door… I am the Good Shepherd”: Here we find a sermon of Jesus that contains two more of the “I AM” statements that John records, “I am the Door of the sheep” and “I am the Good Shepherd.” This chapter teaches a clear doctrine of Jesus that some today, even those who bear the name of Christ, would softly (or bluntly) deny- salvation is found through Jesus alone. There are several profound teachings found in this section. Through these words, Jesus sets Himself fourth to be the One and only Messiah that was to come into the world. All those who had come before claiming to be Him were but thieves and robbers. And the sheep did not listen to them, because they knew that they were not the Good Shepherd, as Jesus is. Though this, we can see the confirmation that Jesus was the Good Shepherd, as His sheep still follow Him today. There is no other who came in His name that continued to have a following; this is simply because they were not the Good Shepherd. Secondly, Jesus teaches here that He would lay down His life on His own authority for His sheep. He would be lead to a cruel cross and there crucified, but this would not be because He was forced to at the hand of man. Rather, it was the plan of God that He might die for our sins, bearing our shame and iniquities (see Isaiah 53). It was Jesus’ decision to lay down His life for us; He did it by His own free will and on His own authority. Though He had the authority not to lay down His life, His will was to do the will of the Father, and His love for us ever shines through that crucial moment in human history. There was an ever growing division amongst the Jews as to who Jesus was, for His teachings were hard to accept, but His miracles were hard to ignore.
2. Jesus claims to be God: In the second portion of this chapter, John records another dialog that Jesus had with the Jews. They asked Him to give them a straight answer as to whether He was the Christ or not, and in essence, He tells them that He already has given them that answer, but they were just unwilling to hear it. Calling back on His previous teaching of being the Good Shepherd, He tells them that they are not among His sheep. In His fold, there was safety, and no one could take His sheep from His fold by force (note that this says nothing about the sheep’s ability to leave on their own). Then He makes the clear statement that He and the Father are one. This was their answer- Jesus is God. At this, they picked up stones to kill Him, for they considered His statement to be blasphemy. But Jesus calls them out about what they are about to do, and then quotes from the Law to show their inconsistency and blindness (see Psalm 82:6). He pointed to the testimony of His works and asks them to believe the works, even if they don’t believe Him, that they might understand that He and the Father are one. They still would not listen, and He escaped from their hands. But there were many across the Jordan where John the baptizer had been baptizing who did believe in Him.
The raising of Lazarus: John records for us here a very moving story that allows us to see the compassion and love of Jesus for those He was close to. We see a deeply emotional side of Jesus that is not always readily apparent in the gospel accounts. But even though we see His emotion, He does things in this story that we would not necessarily expect Him to do for the people He cared about so deeply. This is apparent at the beginning of the story, when word is brought to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness. He had not died yet, and surly the one who had healed so many people, even from great distances, could remedy the situation quite easily. But He chooses not to, but rather stayed in the place where He was at for two more days before telling His disciples that they were going to begin the journey to Bethany. Though He knew the reason for His delay, He did not tell the others what He was going to do, but rather that He did so for their own sakes, that they might believe. His disciples are apparently against traveling back to Judea, as the Jews had just attempted to kill Him there. Even when He presses on, Thomas remains doubtful and expresses that he believes they are traveling to their own deaths. But Jesus was on a mission, and He would be glorified through the death (and resurrection) of His dear friend.
When they got to Bethany, Martha goes out to meet Jesus while Mary stays in the house. This sheds some insight on the personalities of Mary and Martha, as Martha is apparently driven more by reasoning and Mary by emotion (though this is somewhat speculation). Martha voices what they were all thinking- if Jesus had come sooner, He could have stopped the death of Lazarus. It should be noted, however, the faith of Martha here, that even though she was in despair and knew that Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus her brother but didn’t, she still believed that He was the Christ, and that all would be raised on the last day. Her situation did not dictate her belief, and this should be applied to her character. As He is speaking with Martha, Jesus gives another “I AM” statement: I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Martha believed in Jesus, but she did not know what He was about to do.
Mary then is called out to Jesus, and she quickly runs and falls at His feet, saying just was Martha had said. But this time Jesus doesn’t have a conversation with Mary, but rather looks around at all the suffering and is greatly, deeply moved and troubled. It has been said that Jesus wasn’t necessarily moved at the death of Lazarus, though He did love him deeply, as He knew that He was about to raise Him from the dead. He was moved, rather, by the suffering that was around Him, the suffering that had been caused by the fall of man when sin and death had entered the world (see Genesis 3). We see the great love and compassion that Jesus has for people here. He asks where the body is laid and then is taken to the tomb. Note the importance of Jesus’ delay here when He tells them to take away the stone- Lazarus had been laid in the tomb for four days. There was no denying that he was dead. Martha even objects, because she knows that there will be a strong odor in the tomb. But they take away the tomb, and then Jesus says an interesting prayer, or perhaps it is better described as the follow up to a prayer that has been made. He specifically says the words so that those around Him would hear and believe. Then He calls Lazarus out of the grave, and Lazarus comes forth. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life; He holds the power of life. As Lazarus comes forth, Jesus says “unbind him and let him go.” Once again, the Son of Man had been glorified though the power of the Father.
The sign of raising Lazarus from the dead was no doubt one of the most distinct and glorifying signs that Jesus does, and many who saw it believed in Him. However, the when the chief priests and Pharisees heard about it, they did what they normally did and ignored the sign, and focused on how they were going to get rid of Jesus. Notice how they do not deny the sigs that He does. They did worry about their own position and their relationship with the Roman government. Their pride had blinded them to the power of God that was right in front of their face. Their corruption is apparent here, as Caiaphas seeks the death of Christ just to fulfill a prophecy that he had made earlier (note that any true prophecy of God does not rely on the power of man to fulfill it), and even would plot to kill Lazarus in the next chapter because many were believing in Jesus because of him. This is why Jesus did no longer walk openly among the Jews. He was going to die for the salvation of all men, but His hour had not yet come.
The building climax of Jesus’ ministry: Energy has been building in the previous chapters of John’s gospel, and the ministry of Jesus seems to begin its climax in this chapter. At it’s beginning, we see the foreshadowing of the death of Christ, as Mary brings expensive ointment and wipes Jesus’ feet with it using her hair. When Judas stands in opposition to this (not because he actually cared about the poor, but rather because he often took money from the treasury that he kept for Jesus), Jesus references His death and burial that was soon to come. We then see the Pharisees organizing to do their best to put a stop to the ministry of Jesus, even by means of killing Lazarus, who Jesus had raised in the previous chapter. But their efforts would be in vain (even after they did put Jesus to death), and the triumphal entry is recored here, just as was spoken of by the prophets (see Zechariah 9:9). Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a young donkey, and the people were laying palm tree branches along His route, crying out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” The glory of this picture can only be imagined by us today, but what a moment! The Pharisees saw that all their efforts to silence Jesus had been in vain, for the people flocked to Him. There were even Greeks who sought to see Jesus. This is an important moment in the gospel of John, as Jesus had come to be a savior to the Jews first, but His ultimate plan was to call all men of ever nation to His salvation (see Romans 9-11). This was a concept that the Jews would not understand yet. Jesus uses this opportunity to speak of His death, saying that the Son of Man must be lifted up, signifying the kind of death that He would go though. The people were confused, as they knew the Law said that the Christ would rule forever (see Psalm 89:4, 110:4, Isaiah 9:7). He would indeed rule forever (see Hebrews 7), but His salvation would be brought in a way that they were not expecting. It would be brought in a way in which all men were called to Him, not just the Jews. But there were still many who would not believe Him, that the scriptures might be fulfilled (see Isaiah 6:10, 53:1). Though many did not believe, many others did believe, even those who were among the authorities, though they did so quietly out of fear of losing their position. They loved the glory from man rather than the glory from God.
Jesus had come to save the world, and He calls all who will believe in Him. His own people missed their Messiah. Let us not miss Him as well.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Hosea 8-14.
Believe in the I AM.