Knowing Jesus: “Pawns of the Powerful” (John 7-10)

Did you ever feel like your life was like a game in which you were more a Pawn than a Rook or a King? We’ve all had those days. We got up and nothing seemed to work for us.

  • Your toaster suddenly decided our toast should be cinder black instead of its usual delicate brown.
  • Your hair dryer decided to take the morning off.
  • Your car didn’t think turning the key was something impressive enough to make it want to start up and go for about forty tries.
  • Everyone ahead of you in traffic was apparently on vacation; everyone behind you had a date with destiny at the nearby race track.
  • The time clock at your job was set fifteen minutes ahead of your watch.
  • The notes for your meeting were all completed and ready for distribution, but laying on your dining room table, right where you accidentally left them.

It isn’t hard to feel sometimes like life is “doing us” rather than the more appealing method of us “living life.” It is clear that in a fallen world, there will be days that things don’t work out. How we see life is largely determined by our attitude.

“Facts are facts,” some will say. “I have had a tough life,” another will chime in. Yet, it may be their life was far easier than others. They just didn’t see it that way. We need to be careful about the standards we use to judge our life. In fact, we need to be careful about the standard of truth we use altogether. Today, our lesson from John 7-10 will remind us of an essential and perhaps startling truth…

Key Principle: How we see Jesus determines our ability to discern the truth.

We will unpack that from the Gospel of John in a few moments…

If you think back before the Christmas Season came, we were pursuing a more careful look at each of the seven miracles of the Gospel of John that showed Jesus’ identity, character and power. So far we saw:

  • Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).
  • Jesus healing a child long distance between Cana and Capernaum (John 4:46-54).
  • Jesus restoring the legs of a lame man at the Pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-11).
  • Jesus multiplying loaves and fish for a hungry Galilee crowd (John 6:6-13).
  • Jesus shutting down a storm on the Sea of Galilee that brought fear to His disciples (John 6:16-21).

The sixth installment of this series is what I would like to look at today in the story of Jesus…

  • Jesus giving sight to a man born blind at the Siloam Pool in Jerusalem (John 9:1-7).

This is the story of a man who felt himself to be a pawn in life – a man with few options and even fewer friends. At the heart of the story was the solution Jesus offered him. He needed to be able to “see” Jesus for Who He is, so that he could see life for what it is. It is a lesson worth hearing.

Jesus is the lens through which truth is made clear.

A man born blind got his physical sight restored, but he was still blind until he saw the identity of Jesus clearly. It was only then he could truly say he was no longer blind.

Open your Bible to John chapter seven.

The chapter opens a story that doesn’t close until chapter ten, as John recounts the week-long festival in Jerusalem at the Feast of Sukkot (or Tabernacles) one autumn. Because it was one story, let’s take a few moments and refresh in our minds the details of how He got there, and in what setting He found Himself. Let’s set up the context and then look at the main event.

John 7 reminds us that Jesus was well-regarded and had become quite popular in the Galilee region by that time. In John 6, a crowd wanted to proclaim Him to be its king (I’d say His popularity was in an upward curve!). Jesus just fed thousands on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and they were stunned, excited and full! By John 7, we read of an attempt by the earthly brothers of Jesus to coach Him to go to the feast in Jerusalem to perform public miracles, and get better known. Their reasoning in John 7:

John 7:4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him. 

Verse five reminds us there is a stark difference between crowd popularity and real belief.

We can give away $100 bills to all new attenders here at church, but that doesn’t mean they will really believe what we preach. It only means they want the lotto ticket without the cost of purchase.

Jesus didn’t need to do stunts for the boys who weren’t sincere about their belief. Funny as it may seem, they were some of the blind men in the passage.

Consider the fact that a Brazilian farmer, right now as we are seated in this room, may be burning a field and clearing Amazon rain forest land of the last of a plant that would cure cancer… but he doesn’t know that. He is working to build his farm and is blind to the valuable asset right in front of him.

That describes the brothers of Jesus in John 7:5.

Jesus didn’t do what they asked. John 7 reminds:

John 7:6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.10 But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret. 

When I read those words, Jesus sounds “down” or “feeling persecuted.” Do you take it that way? We cannot know what He was thinking, but three things are clear:

First, Jesus was not going to allow the ministry timing to be directed by the boys. He reserved the right to know before the Father WHEN He should reveal Himself to the crowds. This was a similar problem to what we saw in the first miracle at Cana, where Jesus was being pressed by His mother to deal with a wine crisis, and He declared, “It isn’t yet my time!”

Second, it is clear Jesus knew when He was revealed, there would be a significant backlash in the world around Him. Some would react with violent negativity He described as “hate.”

Third, Jesus didn’t tell His brothers His whole intent. When they left, He journeyed to Jerusalem. Perhaps He understood their plan to stage a grand theatrical entrance to the city.

Let’s summarize the whole scene this way: Jesus did not seek a review of His plans, nor did He ask for approval of them by those who pressed Him to do so. He still doesn’t. He knows what He intends to do and when He intends to do it, and is fully able to deal with the tension of not pleasing even a follower in the immediate in order to pull off the best plan. It is important that we remember that. Jesus’ first allegiance is to the plan of God, not to our intermediate comfort. He isn’t cruel, and He doesn’t desire you to suffer unduly – but the plan set by His Father has priority over our sense of temporal timing.

Even mature believers can forget this. We begin to think because something makes sense to us, it must be what God truly desires. The problem with such logic is how much it ignores the stunning amount of truth I do not understand and my often ignored inner desire to have immediate relief from trouble at any cost.

If you took the time to read the remaining verses of John chapter seven, you would immediately see that Jesus’ sense that some would grow quickly violent and reactionary was valid. After Jesus arrived quietly in Jerusalem, He began teaching and the Temple leadership immediately sought to shut Him down. They questioned Him directly but found out that was a mistake. He was extremely well-versed in spite of the fact none of them could identify from where He could have learned the Word so well. (There are definite advantages to being the Author of “the Law” when parsing the difficult portions!)

After plotting to seize Jesus because He made them look bad (see John 7:32), Jesus seemed to disappear into the crowd for the week of the feast, re-emerging to offer public teaching on the last day of the feast according to John 7:37. Chapter seven closed with a division in the crowd – some sent to seize Him and most at least seem to like what He said.

In John 8, during that last great day of the feast, Jesus was in the temple courts and the leaders thought of a way to trap Him in a complex situation between the popularity of the crowd and the technical discourse of the text of Scripture. They brought a woman who was caught in the act of committing adultery.

It is notable the men drew her past the outer doors that were normally reserved for those who were ritually cleansed. It is also important that we see through the set up and recognize only the woman was brought to Jesus. The Master saw through the attempt to railroad the woman without proper consideration and testimony of her husband, and with no attempt to see if he was also committing such acts.

Jesus didn’t object to carrying out the law against adultery; the Bible claims He was at Sinai and spoke that Law with His Father. He had no desire to amend or retire the holiness standard of marriage in exchange for some lawlessness people would call “grace.” God’s undeserved favor does not demand God cancel His own rules. Remember, they were revealed to offer long life, security, and propriety – as well as to bond people together in holy matrimony.

Jesus saw the plot and objected to hidden bias and trickery that was being characterized as proper judicial behavior. He understood the play. They wanted Him to take a side and they wanted to paint Him as “for” or “against” something for which they could prove Him wrong before the crowds. It is an old political ploy used often by people who call themselves “leaders” but find their strength, not in character but in the popular polls.

When it became impossible to trap Jesus, the leadership again engaged Him in debate, and chapter eight ended with leaders grabbing stones, ready to kill Jesus, but holding back in recognition the great day of the feast could not be maintained if they acted on their angry emotion.

We have skipped through two chapters, and shoved two violent and angry reactions beneath the surface. That’s important. Leaders were seething but(for the moment) stuck. When John recalled Jesus passing a man born blind, he built the scene above the wave of strong tension.

Now enter the scene for a moment:

John 9:1 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 would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

Jesus was walking though the city, when He encountered a blind man, put mud in his eye, and sent him to a public pool to wash it off. That pool has recently been excavated, and was elegant for a public watering place in the time. We don’t know how close to the pool Jesus was when they met, but the initial dialogue wasn’t with the man. It was with His disciples.

They asked a question that showed how deep an impact the Sadducees had made on their thinking and spiritual formation. Sadducees (who ran the temple in Jerusalem) typically believed in no afterlife, and thought all inequity in this life was a sign of judgment. “People are blessed or cursed in the here and now according to their worthiness,” they routinely taught. Since they didn’t believe in afterlife, they reasoned that God needed to settle all things in this life (at least according to their misguided teaching).

Jesus made clear the man’s blindness was not because someone sinned, but because it suited His Father’s plan to use this man’s eyes to point a sign toward Jesus’ identity. As you read the rest of the story that is exactly what happened.

We must remember that we are, like the disciples, wholly unqualified to know why God does what He does when He does it. At least they asked, even if it showed poor theological foundation.

Did you notice that Jesus turned the discussion to the limitation of time? He warned, “A night is coming in which no one can work.” He seemed stuck on the fact that opposition was rising around Him, and after two chapters of ducking angry leaders, you can understand why He felt that way.

Jesus made the point that while He was doing His earth ministry,   He could use His power to make things clear and plain – for that was part of His purpose (in John 9:5-7). To that end, He spit on the ground, made some mud, and put it in the man’s eyes. He told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, which we hope was not a long distance for the sake of the man. Why send him there?

The term Shiloah is the word “sent” or “caught” and refers to the water of the Gihon Spring being caught in the catching pool south of the canal that carried the water. Jesus sent the man to the place where the waters that made Jerusalem a living city were sent – to separate the man from Him when he was healed, and to make a point about His own sending, His own mission from the Father. The man would get clarity of sight by the power of God, not the clarity of Jerusalem and its water source.

The last part of the story captured the reaction of both the healed man and those who encountered him after his eyes were restored. His neighbors in John 9:8-9 became stirred when they say him walking about able to see. When they determined it was the former blind man they engaged, they asked:

John 9:10 “…“How then were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”

The rest of the passage recalls how people reacted to the work of Jesus.

The Lord worked to give the man new physical eyes, and that amazed the people around the man born blind. Think of it this way: The One Who made man’s eyes remade this man’s eyes. That puts the act in a different perspective. Physical healing is the peak of God’s work – it isn’t even close to what is most important to Him. People get very excited about this life and its comforts and cares, but forget the larger concern of Jesus is what happens to people after they leave this broken body.

The man could see but was still blind. His neighbors could see, but they were blind as well.

Some people are swayed by an encounter with Jesus’ power to change them; that is all it took.

The man born blind didn’t start following Jesus right away – he didn’t even know where Jesus was at the time! Because of the stir, John 9:13 reveals they brought the man for a review by Pharisaic authorities, a standard practice for people to be declared “well” after sickness, giving them access to public works, etc. The Pharisees asked the man how he was made well in John 9:14-16. The Pharisees then asked:

John 9:17 So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”

His encounter was enough for the man to conclude that Jesus was in touch with God and could access God’s power. The Pharisees pressed the man for a judgment on Jesus. Ironically in the passage, they couldn’t agree (and they ostensibly had the training the man on the hot seat didn’t have)!

John 9 continued:

John 9:24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

The man kept his claims simple and based on what happened to him. That is where we all start in our testimony of God at work in us. It is clear from our reading, this man was both changed and surprised that such a welcome event wasn’t being celebrated by people in charge.

Some people are moved by the evidence; they see a change.

Others discount the evidence, because it doesn’t get them to the conclusion they desire.

I particularly enjoy the few verses in John 9:18-21 that record what happened when the parents of the man were brought in and questioned:

John 9:18 The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, 19 and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” 20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”

What shocks me is how little these who should have cared were moved by the man’s new eyes. They saw what everyone else in the room wanted, and that changed what their own eyes beheld.

Some people are so molded by peer pressure; no evidence  really matters much to the view they hold.

It is clear to me the parents were blinded by fear. John continued:

John 9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. 23 For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

Think about those leaders for a moment. For them, the method of investigation seemed to be: conclusion first, evidence second. We must remember that many are blind because they truly choose to be!

Some people have a vested interest in Jesus NOT being Lord, because that would change their sense of license.

No amount of new testimony will open the ears of one who does not want to hear the truth. Only God can do that. In fact, keep reading…

John 9:26 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28 They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.”

The new seeing man was starting to get snippy with them. This was the best day of his life and they were quibbling over details. Add to that, his mom and dad seemed to love their status in the community more than they stood in truth beside their son. Boy, was he getting his eyes opened!

The leaders tossed out words about how they knew truth in John 9:29 and the man retorted:

John 9:30 “…Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.”

A changed life is a hard thing to deny, even by learned skeptics.

The man pressed the leaders again about their qualifications in knowing truth:

John 9:31 “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.

To any Jew of the time, being put out of the synagogue seemed like a terrible thing. Yet, if you keep reading, it was outside the place the man really got his spiritual eyes opened. Jesus came and found the man who was “on the street” again. John concluded:

John 9:35 Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

Now the man could see. He could see the truth about who cared for him and who cared for their reputation. Can you see it?

How we see Jesus determines our ability to discern truth.

Some people will change when they see the light. Sadly, others won’t change until they feel the heat. Jesus’ message urged people to see while the light stood before them.

A blind man saw. His heart changed. His thoughts, his ideas and his desires changed.

To close my Christmas season for 2018, I must return to the story of change I watch each year:

When Dickens finished his work called “A Christmas Carol,” he left us with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man in desperate need of change. Though rich, the man took pleasure in nothing and seemed wholly indifferent to human suffering.  On that fateful Christmas Eve, Scrooge was visited by a series of ghosts who took him on a journey to see,  perhaps for the first time,  his own character.  They showed him his sins,  his faults and his effect on others. As the last spirit’s bony finger pointed Scrooge toward his own future headstone, Scrooge was commanded to wipe the snow off and read the name carved on it. Weeping and shaking, Scrooge pleaded with this spirit, “Are these the shadows of things that will be… or are they the shadows of things that may be only? Why would you show me this if I was past all hope? His was the human predicament.

That is where we are today if we don’t understand what Jesus has done. We face the grave with our regrets and our shame. The good news is that you need not face it at all. Jesus died so that I don’t have to. Even when my mortal body gives way, it will be swallowed up in the victory of salvation provided by Jesus.

Either the death of the body is the beginning of judgment, or it is the end of it – and the beginning of uninterrupted joy. It all depends on how you see Jesus.