Daily Bible Study Tips: John Ch. 9 - 14
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Humor doesn't translate very well from one language to another, but for my money, today's passage is one of the funniest anecdotes in the Bible. The chief character is a blind beggar, although begging per se
was not especially stigmatized in first-century Judea. This fellow had a home and family. He probably made a good living as a beggar, because he had a sharp and ready wit and learned scripture from his parents. I love this story, so I will try to confine myself to a few of the most important points:
- The testimony of numerous witnesses confirms that this very man was born blind and now sees.
- The Pharisees and other religious leaders are still trying to get Jesus on a charge of Sabbath-breaking. This case is probably the best one they've got because he made the mud paste; hence the detailed investigation. They are so intent on this point that most of them totally miss the miracle.
- The Pharisees don't like the answer they got the first time, so they call the formerly blind man back and put him on oath. "Give glory to God" (vs. 24) means "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
- What the Pharisees are after is clear to the formerly blind man, and he starts getting a little sarcastic with them in vs. 27. The form of his question expects the answer "no," and the pronoun "you" is emphatic: "You don't want to become his disciples, too, do you?"
- In vs. 29 he gets really sarcastic and gives them a Bible lesson. "Now this is AMAZING! You don't know where he is from, even though he has opened my eyes! ... If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
- The Pharisees respond the same way that any powerful group responds when they have been bested in logic – they physically throw him out.
This passage contrasts the sight and insight of the formerly blind man with the willful spiritual blindness of the sighted Pharisees. For anyone who doesn't get this from the events, the point is made explicit in 39-41.
One thing we don't often think about when we read this text is that the Shepherd was a common Old Testament metaphor for God and for the Messiah. This saying of Jesus comes immediately after he opens the eyes of the blind beggar (Ch. 9), and now Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who witnessed this miracle and its results. The Pharisees are divided among themselves about what it all means (9:16; 10:19-21). They couldn't miss the point that Jesus was claiming some sort of relationship between Himself and the OT Shepherd. Some accuse him of sin or demon-possession. Others, more thoughtful, wonder how a man who is a sinner or demon-possessed could work such a miracle.
The Jewish people were perfectly familiar with the idea that the LORD was their shepherd. Gen. 48:15, Ps. 23, Ps. 95, and Song of Sol. 1:7 are a few of the OT scriptures that refer to God as the shepherd of his people. Our reaction to Jesus' claim to be the good shepherd should be "Baa! Take care of me!" This was not the reaction of the Jews. First they disagreed among themselves, thinking that possibly he was just crazy (vs. 20-21). Then some of them began to suspect that he was claiming to be the Messiah (vs. 24). Finally they realized that he was not claiming to be A
good shepherd, but rather to be The
good shepherd, i.e., God. This, they thought, was blasphemy, and they tried to stone him.
The image of the LORD as a shepherd of his people occurs repeatedly in the Old Testament, for example, in Gen. 49:24 and Psa. 23 and 80:1. It is especially prominent in Messianic passages like Isa. 40:11, 63:11; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:23, 37:24; and Zech. 11:16. We saw earlier this week what David had to say about shepherds. First, he told Saul that he could defeat Goliath because he was a shepherd. Shepherds fought and defeated dangerous animals; they laid their lives on the line for sake of the sheep. Second, David said that he himself was as much in need of protection as any sheep, but fortunately, he had the LORD as his shepherd. When Jesus says that he is the good shepherd, he draws on both of these images. He is willing to protect his sheep with his life, because he is the Messianic shepherd whom God promised to the people of Israel.
Lazarus is not the only person Jesus raised from the dead (see Lk. 7:11-15 and 8:49-55), but he is the most famous for two reasons. First, his resurrection was by far the most dramatic, and second, it was a crisis point in Jesus' deteriorating relationship with the religious leaders. Can you stand some more information about Greek? Most of John is about this difficult: "See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run." Once in a while you come to a sentence like this: "Dick is a gracile juvenile exemplar of the species Homo sapiens, while Spot is a robust tetrapod of the genus Canus." It is my impression that when I start looking up every other word in one of John's sentences, I have gotten to the climax of the story. In the story of Lazarus, that point is the first sentence in vs. 44. Of 16 words, 6 are rare or unique. John is not showing off. The event he is describing is extremely unusual, and the only words available to describe it are similarly unusual or unique.
Fortunately for us, the resurrection of Lazarus is not really unique. It is merely the first resurrection of those who believe in Jesus Christ, and an illustration of what he means for all of us when he says, "I am the resurrection and the life.”
During the several centuries preceding Jesus' birth, the world had been prepared for his coming in a number of ways. One important phenomenon was that synagogues could be found all over the civilized western world, and many who attended these synagogues were not Jews, but Gentiles who believed in God but chose not to convert to Judaism. On the last day of Jesus' public ministry, one of his disciples is approached by some "Greeks," "who went up to worship at the feast." Now, "Greek" could and typically did mean "not Jewish," so we really don't know anything about them except that they were among these believing Gentiles. The passage does not say whether they got to see Jesus or not, although Wesley points out that this is a modest request, not to speak to him, but only to see him. I choose to believe that they were indeed part of the crowd on this day. And Jesus does address them, at least indirectly. "If anyone serves me," he says, "the Father will honor him. ... And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."
John's gospel differs in several ways from the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For example, John's account of the Last Supper, from which today's reading is taken, is much more detailed. Mark and Matthew give nearly identical accounts of about 9 verses. Luke has about 24 verses. John devotes five chapters
to this event. Why the big difference? For one thing, John's place at the table was directly next to Jesus, at a dinner for 13. He obviously had the best opportunity to hear and understand what Jesus said. For another, John's Gospel was written many years, even decades, after the other three. The Church had noticed that several aspects of Jesus' ministry were inadequately covered in the existing gospels, and John was asked to fill in some of the details. Most importantly, John spent these decades in the company of the Holy Spirit, thinking about what Jesus had said and done, and his gospel reflects this spiritual emphasis.
Jesus promises several times that whatever we ask in his name will be granted to us (vss. 13-14). So how come I don't get what I pray for? I think the tricky part of this is praying "in his name." Biblically speaking, "the name" is equivalent to the person. If I pray that something bad will happen to my enemy, that is not "in the name" of the person who loved his enemies (us, while we were still sinners) enough to die for them. If I pray that something good will happen to me at the expense of someone else, that is not "in the name" of someone who pointed out that God makes rain fall on the just and the unjust. If I pray for stuff, sometimes I'll get it and sometimes I won't, depending on whether God thinks it's good for me--the person in whose name I pray pointed out that God knows what I need. Occasionally something we pray for is in line with the will of God, but to grant our petition God would have to cross the will of another person, which he won't do.
On the other hand, if I pray for God to align my will with his, that certainly is "in the name" of the person who said, "Not my will, but thine, be done." If I pray for forgiveness, I will certainly get it. If I pray to be used for God's work, I'll get a job. So when our petitions are not granted, it's not a bad idea to reexamine them and make sure that we really are praying "in Jesus' name." Amen.
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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