Spitting. It is something someone told their boys was disgusting and was not to be done. Of all the images of Jesus I have personally envisioned, I have never imagined Jesus spitting. Of all the Renaissance paintings based on the Bible, from the Last Supper to the crucifixion, I have never seen a painting of Jesus’ letting loose a wad of spit. It is not the way we think of Jesus. We think of Jesus as being proper, acting almost noble. No one wants to dwell on the idea that three times in the New Testament we read about Jesus’ closing his mouth, working up some saliva, and letting it go. But this is the Jesus we are faced with in John 9.
I. The Story
A. Who sinned? (9:1-5)
- As Jesus is walking out of the temple complex, he walks past a man who has been blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned for this man to be in this condition: the man or his parents. It was the prevalent thought in Jewish society that bad things happen to people because of something they did. We see this concept in the three friends who declared Job to be a sinner because calamity struck him. This likely grew out of a misunderstanding of Exodus 34:7, applying God’s words to mean that all afflictions stem from sin.
- But Jesus responds that neither the man or his parents sinned. Jesus says this took place so that God’s words might be displayed in him. I do not believe Jesus’ explanation is that this man is suffering directly by the hand of God so that Jesus would find this person in particular and heal him. The context seems to go against such an understanding. Jesus is referring to all of his miracles in general as doing the works of light while it is day. Essentially, the problems and weaknesses these people have are going to be used as opportunities to display God’s power. This was the answer God gave to Paul concerning his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Many of our trials and tragedies are opportunities for the glory of God to shine in ourselves and to those around us.
B. Jesus spitting (9:6-7)
- After Jesus explains these things to his disciples, he spit on the ground. Jesus stoops down and makes some mud from the saliva. Then he takes this spit mud and spreads it on the eyes of the blind man. It is probably a good thing the blind man did not see that coming, but we would have surely run the other way if we saw someone trying to put mud mixed with spit on our face.
- Jesus tells the blind man to go to the pool of Siloam. It is important to the story to realize that the pool of Siloam is not a couple feet away. The pool of Siloam is at the southern end of the city, some distance away from the temple complex. The man leaves, washes his eyes in the pool of Siloam, and came back seeing. The reason knowing the distance the pool is from the temple complex is to realize that Jesus and his disciples are not with the formerly blind man who now can see. As the man is returning to the temple complex he is encountering various people of the city.
C. Reaction (9:8-23)
- Disbelief of neighbors (8-12). This man’s neighbors and other people of the city who had seen him begging for money begin to wonder if this is the same person who was blind. Some people believe it is the same person, but many others think he just looks like the other fellow. The man is insistently telling the people that he is the one. But they ask him how he is able to see. The man responds that the man called Jesus made mud, spread it on his eyes, and told him to wash in Siloam. When he did, he received his sight. The people want to know where this Jesus is, but the blind does not know.
- Declaration of sin by Pharisees (13-34). The people of the city bring the man who used to be blind to the Pharisees. The Pharisees declare that the one who healed him is not from God because he did not keep the Sabbath. Many have read this passage wondering how healing could be considered breaking the Sabbath. The problem was that Jesus broke the Pharisees’ rules, for the tradition of the Jewish elders was that it was a violation of the Sabbath to spit and it was also a violation to knead the clay and spit together, just like kneading dough was a violation. Making clay was considered work on the Sabbath according to the Talmud and was condemned.
- We fail to realize how detailed and constraining the Jews had made the law concerning the Sabbath. Here is one example of such constraints: “If a man reads in a scroll (of sacred scriptures) on the threshold of the house, and the scroll slips out of his hand, he may draw it back again. If a man reads in a scroll of the scriptures on the roof of his house and the scroll slips out of his hand, he may, if it has not rolled down for a distance of ten spans (from public ground), draw it up again; but if it reached down to a distance of ten spans (from public ground) he should turn the written side over (downwards to the wall), and leave it there till nightfall” (Mishna X.233) . The interpretation of this tradition was even more nonsensical: “What was the threshold? Shall we say that the threshold was private ground and the space before it public ground, and no precautionary measure is ordained which would forestall his picking up the entire scroll if it fell into that public ground? Hence we must assume, that this is in accordance with the opinion of R. Simeon, who holds that no ordinance regarding the Sabbath-rest supersedes the veneration due to sacred scriptures. If, then, the first clause of the Mishna is according to R. Simeon, then comes the dictum of R. Jehudah, then again the dictum of R. Simeon, it is obvious, that the first and last clauses of the Mishna are in accordance with the opinion of R. Simeon, while the intervening clauses are R. Jehudah’s? Said R. Jehudah: “Yea, so it is.” Abayi, however, said: “The threshold referred to, was not private ground but unclaimed ground, and the space before it was public ground. If the scroll had rolled out into that public ground entirely but for a distance of four ells only, the man would not be culpable even if he picked it up and brought it back to the threshold, hence in this case it was allowed him to bring it back to commence with; but if it fell for a distance of more than four ells, he would, should he bring it back, be culpable, because he would have carried more than four ells in public ground; hence it was not allowed under those circumstances to bring it back in the first place” (Gemara) . These rules were not built upon the law of Moses, but were the laws and interpretations of humans.
- But the Pharisees were in contradiction with themselves since many said “how can a sinful man perform such a sign?” So they ask the man who used to be blind what he thought about the man who healed him. The man replies that he is a prophet. The Jews did not believe this about Jesus so they summon this man’s parents.
- Distanced from the family (18-23). The Pharisees ask the parents if this man is their son whom they claim was blind. How does he see now? The parents respond that this man is their son and that he was born blind. But they did not know how he is able to see or who did it. The parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews and did not want to be banned from the synagogue. So the parents tell the Pharisees to talk to their son, not them.
- The questioning turns back to the man who had been blind. They demand that he tell the truth (“give glory to God” was a solemn charge to tell the truth). The Pharisees declare that the one who healed him was a sinner. An exchange goes on between this man and the Pharisees.
D. No one healed the blind (9:32)
- No one has ever heard of someone opening the eyes of a blind person. Despite all of the healings we read about in the Old Testament, no one ever healed a blind man. Such an act of bringing light to the world and light to a person’s eyes is reserved only for God. This is the argument of the man who used to be blind. Obviously Jesus is from God otherwise he could not have accomplished what he did. Further, healing the blind was the prophesied work of the Messiah (Isaiah 42:7).
- Upon hearing these words, the Pharisees declare that the man was born entirely in his sins. This declaration goes back to what the disciples of Jesus asked about who had sinned for the man to blind. Since this man was blind from birth, he was born in sins and they are not going to listen to him. They proceed to thrown him out of the synagogue. This act made the man who used to be blind an outcast.
E. Jesus finds the healed man (9:35-38)
- Meanwhile, Jesus is trying to find this man in Jerusalem. Jesus has heard that he had been cast out of the synagogue and now goes about trying to find the man. I visualize a rather dejected man at this moment. This has been his moment of great healing and great joy. But many of the people did not believe he was the same person who had been blind. The people take this man before the Pharisees who do not believe his story either. They accuse him of lying and being full of sin all his life and cast him. His own parents were not willing to stand up to the religious leaders for fear they would be put out of the synagogue. They simply assert that he is their son and he was blind. But they will not say anything else on their son’s behalf. This man has gone from being afflicted to being rejected and his word doubted.
- Jesus finds the man and asks him if he believes in the Son of God. Some early manuscripts say “Son of Man,” and your version may read this way. Either way, both the phrase “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are messianic references. Jesus is asking if the man believes in the Messiah. The man responds that he wants to know who he is so he may believe in him. Jesus responds that the Messiah is the one speaking to you. The man responds by believing and worshipping him.
- I am afraid there may have been many people who would have grumbled. “Why did you make me go so far away to wash that mud off to be healed?” “Why didn’t you come with me to help explain what has happened?” “You know that I was just put of the synagogue, don’t you?” “My family made no defense for me and hardly anyone in the city believes me.” Despite the adverse circumstances, the man believed and worshipped Jesus as Lord.
II. Today’s Applications
A. Rules on salvation and healing?
- We can laugh at all that the Pharisees and elders had done to the law of Moses. A simple law of not working on the Sabbath had turned on its head so that no one knew if they were breaking the law. Further, rather than reading the law itself, they listened to the words of the rabbis of the days and followed their opinions and commentary. But the same thing still happens today.
- We too reject the great works of God because “it was not done right” or not performed the way we like it. Allow me to give you a real life example: a couple years ago I preached a meeting in California. At the end of one of the lessons, the woman named Jesse decided to give her life to Jesus and have her sins forgiven by being immersed in water. It had taken quite a bit of work by many members of the church there to get her to the point that she was ready to obey Jesus. When she came up out of the waters of baptism, there is great excitement. Many people shouted “amen” and some other people applauded from the joy of their heart. After a song was sung and announcements made, we came out and I walked to the back and she sat up front. An older gentleman and former elder came to the front and began to chastise the church for clapping. Basing his rant on James 5:13, he says that it was wrong for people to clap, for the scripture says, “If anyone is cheerful, let him sing songs of praise.” I just put my head down on the pew in front of me. I could not believe what I had just seen. Rather than be joyful that another had been saved and added to the fold of God, he was upset that people expressed their joy with their hands. Do you think we do not act like the Pharisees? How often we do!
- I am still troubled by people who have added laws to salvation. The Bible states that a person needs to repent and be immersed in water to be saved. If this is done, a person is saved and the gospel message is as simple as this. But we come along with our own rules: was the person baptized in a ” church of Christ” building? Did a ” church of Christ” preacher do the baptizing? Did the person baptizing say “in the name of Jesus” or “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Did the person baptizing believe the person was being saved? Was the person baptized backward or was the person dunked? We have not only made up extra rules for salvation but have added our own commentary to it, just like the Jews did in Jesus’ day. Let me state something in the strongest words I can think of: it does not matter who baptizes you. Nor does it matter what the person believes who baptizes you. What matters is what you believe when you are baptized. If you believe you are having your sins forgiven when you are immersed in water, then you have fulfilled the command of God in the Bible. If you believe you were already saved when you were immersed in water, then you have not fulfilled the command in the Bible. Your faith in the act of repentance and baptism is what matters. Not my faith, not another preacher’s faith. It does not matter if we baptized people in a denomination that does not believe baptism is necessary to be saved. It does not matter if the preacher calls himself a pastor and does not believe baptism is necessary and he baptizes you. We are making up rules for salvation, baptism, the use of the church treasury, for our acts of worship, and other individual and congregational actions that are not stated in the Bible. Woe to us when we do these things!
- God does not accept us adding to his laws nor making up our own rules of obedience. I cannot help but chuckle at Paige’s latest attempts to get her way. The other day I told her that she could not eat cake at 9 in the morning and she would have to wait till after lunch. Her response was, “But I want it!” I tried to explain, but it did not matter what I said, she was determined to have things her way. She tried to get the mother to give the cake to her, but failed also.
- We do the same thing with God. We act like a three old wanting to do things our way, according to our logic, and by our rules. It is amazing to see all the rules that have been added to the word of God in the religious world. It is amazing to me to see the things that have been tolerated in religion that is clearly condemned in the scriptures.
B. Worship God
- We may go through bad circumstances to follow after God. We may be rejected by our friends and family because of our decision to serve God. People may not believe that we have made a change because they know us from our former lifestyles. I have seen many people make such sacrifices because they realize they need to follow God’s word.
- Unfortunately, we can be too much like the parents of the man who was blind. They were afraid of what would happen to them if they declared the truth of the miracle. Many people have decided not to be baptized because someone has told them they are saved without baptism. Some have not come to the Lord because their parents were another religion or denomination and they fear the consequences of their family by coming to Christ. But we cannot succumb to public opinion or people’s reactions. We must follow the truth. We must do what the word of God says or we will lose ourselves in eternity to torment. There is only one factor that must guide our lives: what does God want me to do? We must do what is right and do what God says regardless of what the outcome may be. The man who was blind accepted those consequences and Jesus came to him for comfort. Let us obey God and not man.