John 9:1-9, 25-38.
 
Extreme Makeover:  Heart Edition
 
Jesus, the LORD of New Beginnings

American Journal of Biblical Theology, February 11, 2007
Copyright © 2007, J.W.  Carter.      Scripture quotes from KJV


1.  The Desire for an Extreme Makeover

In recent years the television series, "Extreme Makeover" has been hugely popular.  Everyone has a desire to experience events that give their lives a dramatic positive change.  We dream of winning the lottery thinking that somehow a windfall of money will solve our most vexing problems and bring us great happiness.  We dream of the genie in the bottle who will grant our any wish.  When we think of it, each of us has experienced many events in our lives that can be characterized as extreme makeovers ... those seminal moments where life makes a turn in a new and positive direction:  graduation from high school, marriage, the birth of a first child, the departure from the home of the last child, the birth of the first grandchild.  All of these events result in such extreme, life changing situations that we never want to go back to the way it was before.  So, advertisers and marketers have been very successful in marketing to this desire in people's hearts.  In the early days of television the popular reality show was entitled, "Queen for a Day," and was presented in a culture where few women worked outside the home, and few had the opportunity to realize such dramatic events.  The woman would be showered with gifts as we voyeurs of greed experience some sense of vicarious identification and appropriate for ourselves a piece of the experience, as if we have something to do with the event.  Women dreamed of being that contestant in the show and what they would do with all of the prizes.  The recent television show, Extreme Makeover" started with providing extreme plastic and prosthetic surgery for people who had moderate to dramatic disfigurement, giving them opportunities in life where they had previously felt rejected.  However, people are more interested in vanity than charity, so the show degenerated to facelifts on people who are already blessed with good health, and then the show quietly faded away.  It was then replaced with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" when the Sears Corporation rediscovered a gold mine when it again showered people with the huge gift of a three-million dollar house and in so doing draws huge audiences and untold millions in advertising-promoted revenue as people dream of this happening to them. 

In the early days of game shows people were entertained by "What's my Line," "Jeopardy," "Celebrity Squares," and others that focused on competition for modest prizes, usually exercising memory skills.  Today, the most popular game shows are those lottery games such as "Do You Want to Be a Millionaire," "Deal or No Deal,"  "1 Vs 100" and others with huge cash prizes, stimulating a sense of excitement that promises of great riches can bring.

The truth is, people want an Extreme Makeover.  The concept has been a part of human nature since creation.  People search and search for the source of true happiness and joy, yet few realize where the source of that blessing actually comes from.  If we research the lives of the significant lottery winners we find a collection of disaster stories where the quality of people's lives and relationships were destroyed and they wished they never had the experience.  Obtaining that huge, expensive and beautiful home may take the breath away when first received, but the second great exhalation comes with the first income and property tax bills.  There is a problem with our relationship with the genie in the bottle:  we simply do not know what to wish for.  We lack the wisdom to fully understand or appreciate what are the true blessings of life as we chase after improbable dreams.  However, in the LORD we do find that resource of wisdom as He gives us the opportunity to experience the fulfillment of His promise recorded in John 10:10, "The thief comes to kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and live it to the full."  Jesus promises the abundant life to those who will listen and respond to His message.  Jesus promises an extreme makeover that goes beyond the wildest imagination:  a changed life.  Despair is replaced by hope.  Chaos and turmoil are replaced by peace.  Bitterness and envy are replaced by love.  Who needs a million dollars, a huge tax bill and an army of solicitors trying to take your money away when you can have the type of makeover that God has planned for you?

There is one invariant truth that belies the testimony of all people who refer to themselves by the name of Christ: true faith in God through Jesus Christ results in a changed life. Most individuals who have truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ can contrast their lives before and after that point in their lives when the Holy Spirit brought such transforming change. Those who cannot would number among the ranks of those who turned their lives over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ at a very young age. These people can share a testimony of how the Holy Spirit served as a guide who convicted them of their sinful and inappropriate behavior as they passed through the formative years and into adulthood.

What is it in the life of a Christian that is so different from their lives before faith? Probably the most significant change comes from the repentance from a life that follows the sinful ways of this wicked world, to one that follows the calling of the Lord Jesus. The desires for the old world fall away, and are replaced by a desire to be obedient to the faith, and the turmoil and grief of this world is replaced by the peace and joy that comes from a knowledge of the security of Godsí love and the hope of eternity. While our world searches for a better life, as self-help and counseling products sell in the range of billions of dollars, why do people reject the simple gift of God? Jesus is the true source of the peace and joy that people are looking for, and His gift.

2.  The Opportunity for God's Extreme Makeover.

When one looks at the people who met Jesus, we see such changes in the lives of those who trusted in Him. Many found change in the physical healing that He brought, and more found spiritual fulfillment as they learned and responded to the truth of the Gospel. The scripture passage of this Bible study bears testimony to an individual who received both physical healing and spiritual fulfillment. 

John 9:1.

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 

The writer of the book of John tells the account of Jesus' ministry from a theological, rather than a historical, perspective.  While the other gospel writers tend to focus on the historical accounts of Jesus' ministry, John focuses on its predominant theological themes as he presents the good news of the gospel through a sequence of seven signs, or miracles that illustrate God's grace.  Consequently, we see some variation of the sequence of events between this book and the three other gospels.  The previous events in Chapter 8 took place in Jerusalem during the Feast of the Tabernacles.  In this chapter a debate took place between Jesus and the religious leaders that nearly ended in a riot.  Jesus slipped away from the temple through the crowd before threatened violence could break out.  One could, based on this context, consider that Jesus was leaving the temple area on the same day, the Sabbath of the Feast.

Jesus meets a blind man on the way.  There were two primary areas of conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, not the least of which was their condemnation of him for healing the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida on the Sabbath day (John 5.)  It is now another Sabbath, and Jesus meets a blind man.   What would Jesus do in this situation?  Should he capitulate to the religious leaders and wait until the morrow to heal this man?  This man was blind from birth and knew no other life.  No person who had been blind from birth had ever had their eyesight restored.  It would have been simple for Jesus to bless the man and return tomorrow to address this need in his life.  However, Jesus had a greater purpose.  Jesus would be able to use the healing of this man as an illustration of the blindness of the religious leaders, who like this man were also blind from birth. 

John 9:2.

And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 

Observing the blind man, the disciples gave no thought to his need for sight, as they were focusing instead on this man as a sinner.  Their question may sound a bit odd, but was relevant in their culture.  Jewish tradition held that those who suffered from great illnesses or medical conditions were responsible for their own state, brought on by God's judgment for sin in their lives.  This philosophy served to relieve them of the responsibility for caring for those in need, and served also to denigrate those in need, separating them from undesired social contact.  Because of this, the disciples did not see the blind man as one of value, but rather as a lost sinner to be avoided at all costs.

Another observation can be made here.  Note that the man was blind from birth.  If this were a judgment for his own sin, this would necessitate that he sinned even before birth.  There was a tradition held by the Jews that one could sin prior to birth.  Therefore, when a baby was born who was anything less than perfect, blame could be placed on the child if no sin were evident in the parents. Otherwise, the congenital defect could be cause by the sin of the parents (Ex. 20:5).

This whole system of social denigration of the unfortunate people in society is still prevalent today.  Though churches and government agencies step in to help those in need, there are few outside of those organizations who recognize the value of those who live on the fringes of society.  For the most part, the rest of society dismisses all but the meager existence of those less fortunate than themselves.  This sinful pride extends to the point that many devalue others to the point that they see others as worthy of nothing better than death.  It is of such a view that wars are fought.  

The disciples were not concerned about the value of this blind man, as they were interested only in whom they could blame for the condition.  One of the primary distinctives of the Christian faith is its respect for all people; a view that comes from an understanding that God created all people with infinite value, and God is not a respecter of persons.  When Jesus saw the blind man, He was moved with compassion, a response quite different than that demonstrated by the apostles.

John 5:3.

Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. 

Though much sickness originates from actions and events that are sinful in nature, not all of it does.  In no case do people suffer infirmity as a divinely proclaimed  judgment for their sins.  It is easy for us to come up with such a theology, since human nature demands payment for sin, and does not demonstrate grace.  We are often perplexed when we see babies and children who suffer from congenital birth defects, or innocent children who suffer from devastating illnesses.  We read scriptures like Romans 8:28, "For all things work together for good for those who love the Lord..." and are at a loss to find where any good can come from such suffering.  What good can come from the blindness of a newborn baby?  Though there is probably no one good answer for all circumstances, we do see one applied to the situation of the blind man that Jesus met here.

There is no question that blindness is a profound inconvenience on the one who is struck blind.  However, when people reach out to help such a person, their need (though usually unnoticed) to minister to others is met as they meet the needs of the blind man.  The circumstance of the blind man engenders compassion and love from those who respond appropriately, and through the circumstances of the blind person, God's hand is revealed.  The need for compassion in our world is exercised only through compassionate ministry to those who need it.  God has a purpose in all things, according to Romans 8:28, and even the life of the blind man has purpose.  In this specific case, that purpose is even much greater, as the event that the blind man will experience will be remembered and debated for thousands of years. Jesus is able to use the circumstance of this blind man to demonstrate God's love in a dramatic way, and to create an illustration that would be used to teach God's purpose to those in his community and in the world for thousands of years to come.  

John 9:4-5.

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. 

Jesus could not simply walk past this man in need.  To do so would be contrary to Jesus' nature.  As Jesus stated about his healing of the lame man of Bethsaida, the needs of this man far exceeded the needs of the traditional Jewish laws that concerned the Sabbath.  These laws were designed to protect the commandment to "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."  Acts of compassion and mercy that bring glory to God are certainly consistent with God's purpose for the Sabbath, so Jesus' response to His encounter with the blind man is predicable.  

The writer of the gospel of John makes frequent use of the metaphor of light and dark as a vehicle to demonstrate the contrast between the goodness of God and the depravity of evil.  The presence of God is often indicated by light both in the Old Testament and in the New.  When God led the people from Egypt, His presence was made known in the pillar of fire, and as God interacted with the children of Israel for the next 1200 years, that light, the Shekinah glory continued to illustrate His presence.  When Israel and Judah were taken into captivity, the Shekinah glory was removed from the temple, and about 400  years of darkness ensued.  During that time between the writings of the Old and New Testament there were no prophets, no pillar of fire, no overt example of God's presence.  The darkness was ended one night when shepherds were watching their flocks near Bethlehem when the "Glory of the Lord showed round about them," and they were frightened.  The light returned in the form of Jesus.  Consequently, throughout Jesus' ministry, He referred to Himself as the "Light of the World."

However, Jesus states here that the period of light is short.  There will be a time coming when He will no longer be the Light of the World.  However, while He is here for such a short time, it is necessary that He fulfill the purposes of his coming.

What would happen when Jesus leaves?  Would the world be thrown back into darkness?  Jesus, in His sermon in Matthew 5, reveals to the apostles that the same light that characterizes the Christ is to be passed on to those who find faith in Him.   Jesus stated, "You are the light of the world ... let your light shine before men so that they might see your good works and glorify God..." (Matt. 5:14 ff.)   The Light of the World was first an indication of the presence of God the Father, then was an indication of the presence of God through Jesus.  Now, the Light of the World is an indication of the presence of God through the Holy Spirit who resides in the life and heart of every true believer.

John 9:6-7.

When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, 7And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

The method used by Jesus in the healing of the blind man might sound a little unusual to us, but would be commonly practiced in ancient times.  The application of herbs and poultices to infected areas of the body was widely accepted as the proper application of their limited medical science.  Certainly, the poultice had no intrinsic healing power.  What the poultice did, however, would serve to require its removal.  The man would have to clean the mud off of his eyes.  Jesus told the man to go to the pool of Siloam to wash his eyes.  This was a rather unusual request.  The pool at Bethsaida was considered the pool of healing.  However, the pool of Siloam was the source of the water for the rituals that were associated with the Feast of the Tabernacles that was, presumably, currently taking place.  If this is true, the pool would have a large number of people around it.  This was the freshest source of water that existed within the city, and people would come for it.

The pool of Siloam was built by Hezekiah during the reign of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, about 600 years before this event.  When the Assyrians threatened to lay siege to Jerusalem, Hezekiah built a tunnel from the Spring of Gihon, under the city walls, to the point within the walls where the pool was formed.  This tunnel was approximately 1/3 mile long, running several feet below the surface of the ground.  Rather than following a straight line, the tunnel snakes its way from source to mouth through hand-hewn limestone.  In order to speed construction, two groups each started at opposite ends and worked towards each other.  The tunnel is still there today, and the inscriptions that were made at the point of their meeting are still there.  The path of the tunnel has engendered much debate over the years, and the leading scholarship argues that the direction of the tunnel excavation was ascertained by ear.  People on the surface would bang the ground with rocks and the the diggers would work toward the sound.  Consequently, the tunnel is not straight, and the point of the meeting of the two tunnels has a turn in it, a turn made when the teams heard one another and moved towards the noise.

What Jesus did was to demand an act of faith by the man being healed.  The man could have simply said, "This is ridiculous," wiped the dirt from his eyes, and gone home blind.  Instead, he had to walk a distance through one of the busiest and most crowded streets of the city to the pool.  He would then have to wash his eyes at the pool while others watched.  We find no indication of any doubt in the mind of the blind man.  He went straight to the pool of Siloam and washed his eyes.  When he did, he literally came up out of the water being able to see.  Jesus was not present when his eyesight was restored, so the only evidence of Jesus' act would come from the blind man's personal testimony.

John 9:8-12.

The neighbors therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? 9Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. 10Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened? 11He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. 12Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not..

The people who witnessed this event were quite skeptical.  The man would have been well-known in the community since he would have been one of the regulars who were continually asking for alms.  However, it is possible that this event took place during the Feast of the Tabernacles when the city would be filled with visitors.  There was much debate as to whether or not the man before them was, indeed, the same man that had been begging.  This is also an indication of the denigration of the poor in their culture.  People saw the man every day, but never really looked at him.  Now, when he is healed, most cannot recognize him.  His answer to the people was honest, and contained the only argument he knew.  He met a man named Jesus, followed his instructions, and is no longer blind.  His sight was restored by simply listening to, believing in, and responding to Jesus.

A similar transformation takes place in the life of a new believer.  The new Christian's outlook on every one of life's properties is seen now in the light of the Holy Spirit who provides the new believer with the power to change those things in their lives that need changing, and to point him/her to His purpose for them.  A desire for obedience to Christ replaces a desire to be accepted by the world, and the Christian's world view grows further and further away from the sinful world that serves only to separate people from God.

When word of this healing got back to the Pharisees, they sent for the blind man and demanded an explanation.  They rejected the man's testimony, even after sending for his family as witnesses.  This even served to further fuel their hatred of Jesus, who by healing this man had again broken the Sabbath law they had so recently attempted to defend.  They declared Jesus a sinner who was to be banned from the synagogue.  The people were divided concerning how this man could be so evil, yet perform such signs and wonders.  The testimony of the man who was healed never faltered.

John 9:25-27.

He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. 26Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes? 27He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?

As the debate between the religious leader and the healed man continued, they pressed him repeatedly.  They went so far as to threaten to remove him from the synagogue if he would not swear that Jesus is a sinner.  This was not an idle threat on a man who had now for the first time in his life attained access to the synagogue.   His testimony to them was simple and unchangeable, "I was blind, now I see."  In his testimony, the man also identifies himself as a disciple of Jesus when he challenges the Pharisees with the acerbic "will you also be his disciples"?

John 9:28-30.

Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Mosesí disciples. 29We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. 30The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.

When one thinks of one who is infirmed such as this blind man, our stereotypes might lead us to equate such incapacity with ignorance.  We find that this man held his own against the Pharisees as they tried to discredit his testimony.  We can see that the religious leaders could not believe in Jesus, because they did not "know where he was from."  This is the second time that this Aramaic idiom is used by the Pharisees in the gospel of John.  Their presuppositions concerning the identity of the Messiah were so firmly established that they could not see that Jesus was who He says He is.  They were so firmly grounded in their book learning that they could not see what was happening before their very eyes.  This astonished the healed man.  How could these people not know who Jesus is when he has such power to heal as nobody has ever seen before?  How could these people who have studied the law and the prophets not be able to recognize someone with such Spiritual power and presence?

John 9:31-34.

Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. 32Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 33If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. 34They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.

Some have taken verse 31 out of context to argue that God cannot hear the prayers of sinners.  Obviously if this were true, none could ever be saved.  Furthermore, God would not be omniscient if He were subject to such a worldly limitation.  The word that is translated "heareth" in the KJV involves the responding to what has been heard, not just the perception of hearing alone.  In the later chapters in the gospel of John we see numerous imperatives by Jesus as He teaches Christians to pray in God's will.  If God is to answer our prayers in the way we desire, then our desires must be consistent with God's will. If our prayers are motivated by selfishness or pride, we can expect God's response to be unswayed by our own opinions, choices and desires.  God does not change His character to match ours.  We must work humbly to bring our character to match His.  This was a concept that was completely foreign to the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were finally overcome by the skillful debating of this unlearned man.  However, this example illustrates the power of a personal testimony: a confession that is sincere and unchallengeable, making it one of the most powerful and authoritative means for sharing God's message of salvation that there is.  Note that the Pharisees, unable to challenge the testimony of this man, compensated for their inability by simply dismissing him as being "born in sins" due to his blind birth.  By so stating, they are inadvertently agreeing that he is the man who was healed of blindness, a charge that they originally refused to accept.  It also illustrates their firmly held beliefs that sin and sickness were inexorably related.  If they could categorize this man as a sinner, then nothing he had to say would have authority in their presence.  Since his words were spoken with authority, they had no other venue than to discredit him personally.  Their arrogance is evident when they charge that because of his sinful state, the healed man has no right to "teach" them.  It was obvious that the religious leaders could not profit anything from further discussion, so they had the man ejected from their presence.

The character and spiritual strength of this man is evident by his choice to take on the Pharisees in debate, men who were respected for their knowledge, their position, and the power than came with both of them.  The man gave an account of what God had done for him, and was unwavering in his allegiance to the one who had healed him.  It is this kind of obedience that God desires, and God will certainly bless this man and all who like him will take a stand against this evil world and proclaim the righteousness and goodness of God. 

John 9:35-38.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? 36He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

3.  The Results of God's Extreme Makeover

We have seen the sincerity of the man's faith, and when Jesus heard of the defense he had maintained before the Pharisees, He went to him.  The Pharisees had succeeded in creating more difficulty in his life than he could ever imagine.  Now that his sight was regained, he could no longer work as a beggar.  However, he was also thrown out of the temple, an act by the Pharisees that declares him as a sinner.  Now he would not be welcome in the society he is so eager to enter.  This newfound faith had resulted in physical sight, but also resulted in social castigation.  Jesus was moved to compassion for the man.

Jesus sought out the man, and upon meeting him, sought to give to him the sight that he truly required.  First, Jesus inquired as to the substance of his faith.  Did he believe in the Son of God?  This is a clear reference to the Messiah, the one that the Pharisees should have been well-trained to recognize.  The healed man did not yet understand who Jesus is.  If he had, he would have proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God before the trial with the Pharisees.  Such a testimony would have only enraged them and added a charge of blasphemy against Jesus.  Following his healing, and his trial with the Pharisees, the healed man wanted to know who the Son of God is.  Who is the one who healed him so that he might believe?  Jesus then revealed himself to the blind man as the Son of God, and the blind man believed, and worshipped him.

The cultural setting of the blind man is not unlike our own.  Like the religious leaders of first-century Israel, most of the world today is as blind to spiritual truth as the blind man was to his physical world.  The religious leaders had been told by John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah.  They had seen the works that Jesus had done and were familiar with the content of His teaching.  When Jesus healed on the Sabbath they were blinded by their adherence to their traditions and could not see God at work in their very presence, and instead used the event to defend their desire to destroy Jesus.  Even when they had a clear witness of a man who received sight after being congenitally blind, a theological and physical impossibility from their perspective, they were not moved.

Though the Pharisees had physical vision, they were spiritually blind.  The blind man had physical blindness, but spiritual insight. The Pharisees left the encounter unchanged.  The blind man left the encounter both physically and spiritually saved.

People who cannot see Jesus for who He is are very much like the Pharisees who were blinded by their world view.  They would continue to go through their lives unchanged, and untouched by God's redeeming hand.  Ultimately, they are eternally separated from God, a tragedy considering God's initial purpose for the Jews.  There is no reason why people must remain condemned to an eternal separation from God.  Just as the blind man stepped out in faith and followed Jesus' command to wash in the pool of Siloam, Jesus calls us to listen to Him and to accept who He is by faith.  When we take that leap of faith, the blinders of this world view fall just as the blind eyes of the man at Siloam were opened.  And, as his life was forever changed, faith in Jesus Christ produces a profound change.  

Why would anyone desire separation from God any more than they would desire separation from light?  Let us continue to pray for those who are still blinded by this world, and look for every opportunity to share God's love with others so that more lives can be changed, so that more lives can experience the ultimate extreme makeover; a makeover not of the budget, but a makeover of the heart.  A new life began for the blind man, both when his sight was regained, and then when he found salvation through Jesus Christ.  That new beginning is available to everyone who has not experienced the transforming change that the Holy Spirit brings to the life of every believer.


References.

Beasley-Murray, George R. (1999). John, 2ed. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36.  Dallas, TX:  Word Books.  Pages 148-162.

Hull, William. (1970).  John, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9.  Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.  Page 296-302.

Tenney, Merrill C. (1981).  John, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 9.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House.  Pages 100-106.