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Lesson 52: How Do You Know? (John 9:13-34)

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April 13, 2014

Every college philosophy major has to take epistemology, which deals with the questions, “How do you know what you know? How can we be sure about what we think we know?”

One day one of my philosophy professors pontificated, “We all know, of course, that Jesus never claimed to be God.” By adding that little phrase, “of course,” she was insinuating, “Anyone with half a brain would know that what I am saying is true.” Or, perhaps you’ve heard a professor state, “We know, of course, that evolution is a fact.”

When anyone authoritatively states, “We know,” the obvious question is, “How do you know?” Often, when you examine the evidence, you discover that there are knowledgeable people on both sides of the issue. So the obvious question remains, “How do you know what you think you know?”

When it comes to spiritual truth, the common view today is that there is no such thing as absolute truth in the spiritual realm, and so any spiritual views that you hold are just a matter of your subjective opinion or personal experience. But there isn’t universal, absolute spiritual truth. If you claim that you know the truth and that all other views are wrong, you’ll be labeled as a narrow-minded bigot. Tolerance and open-mindedness, especially on spiritual matters, are the prevailing values of our day.

In the story of Jesus’ healing the man born blind, there are a number of comments about what the various characters claimed to know or not know. When the Pharisees called in the man’s parents to try to discredit the account of his healing, they answer (9:20-21a), “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know.” John explains (9:22) that their evasive answer stemmed from their fear of the Jewish leaders, who had threatened to excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ.

In 9:24, the Jewish leaders state, “We know that this man is a sinner.” The healed blind man dodges that issue for the moment and replies (9:25), “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” In 9:29, the leaders come back with, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” The former blind man retorts (9:31), “We know that God does not hear sinners….” He concludes (9:33), “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” At this point, the exasperated leaders have heard enough. They throw the man out of the temple.

But the dialogue raises the question, “How do you know what you know, especially in the spiritual realm?” We learn that…

True spiritual knowledge is founded on Jesus Christ opening our eyes, but sin hinders us from true spiritual knowledge.

When it comes to knowing God, there is only one sure basis, namely, His choosing to reveal Himself to us. Anything else is just speculation. For example, we could sit around and speculate on whether men from Mars have blue eyes. But we wouldn’t have any basis for knowing. We’re just stating our subjective opinions. But if a man from Mars came to earth and revealed himself to us, then we could say with some certainty, “I met a man from Mars and he had blue eyes.”

Jesus claimed (Luke 10:22), “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly claims to have been sent by God the Father to reveal the Father to us. In 1:18, John stated, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” In 14:9, Jesus tells Philip, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” God’s revelation of Himself to us centers in the person of Jesus Christ, which we have in the written eyewitness testimony of the apostles. So true spiritual knowledge of God is founded on knowing Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent to reveal Himself to us. Anything else is mere speculation.

But sin hinders us from true spiritual knowledge. This is illustrated in this story both by the former blind man’s parents and by the Pharisees:

1. Those in spiritual darkness think that they know spiritual truth, but sin blinds them to the fact that they do not know God.

We sometimes hear, “If I could just see a miracle, I’d believe in Jesus!” But these Pharisees saw all sorts of miracles and yet hardened their hearts against Jesus. The blind man’s parents had just seen their prayers answered, in that their blind son had been miraculously healed. And yet they were afraid openly to confess Jesus as Lord. The Pharisees and the blind man’s parents reveal four factors, which are either sinful in themselves or they stem from sin, that keep unbelievers from true spiritual knowledge. These factors also can hinder growing in spiritual knowledge among us who do believe in Jesus.

A. The fear of men hinders true spiritual knowledge.

In the context, “they” (9:13) seems to refer to the man’s neighbors. We’re not told why they brought him to the Pharisees, but here’s my guess: In that culture, the religious leaders exercised control over the people through intimidation. We read (9:22), “For the Jews [the religious leaders] had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” In a culture of fear, people keep their distance from anything that would get them in trouble with the authorities. That’s how Communist regimes operate. If you know that your neighbor is criticizing the government and you don’t report him, the authorities will come after you. If you do report him, you’ll get extra credit for supporting the state. So the neighbors hear that Jesus, whom the religious leaders were trying to get rid of, has healed this beggar. They think, “We need to take him to the Pharisees so that we don’t get into trouble!”

The Pharisees ask him how he received his sight and he tells them how Jesus applied clay to his eyes, he washed, and he now sees (9:15). This sparks a debate among the Pharisees (which we’ll look at more in a moment), but in frustration they turn again to the blind man and ask for his opinion about this Sabbath-breaker, Jesus, hoping that he may have changed his mind or his story. But he ups the ante by replying (9:17), “He is a prophet.”

At this point, they wonder if this is a hoax. So they call the man’s parents and ask (9:19), “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” They reply (9:20-21), “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 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.” Their answer was not truthful. It’s inconceivable that their son had not told them what he had told the neighbors, namely, that Jesus had healed him and how He had healed him. But John explains (9:22) that they replied as they did because they feared the Jews, who had threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Jesus as the Christ.

There were different levels of excommunication, and we can’t be sure which level is indicated here (see Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Eerdmans], 2:183-184). But being excommunicated at any level was a serious penalty in that tight-knit, religious community. Eventually it would have meant being cut off socially from your neighbors, who would also be kicked out of the synagogue if they associated with you or helped you in any way. You couldn’t buy or sell, because if your neighbors engaged in business with you, they would get into trouble. You couldn’t escape by moving to the next town, because the rabbis there would enforce the Sanhedrin’s ban. For a poor family, being excommunicated would result in social and financial devastation.

So while we can understand the intense pressure on the man’s parents, it’s too bad that they feared these spiritual bullies more than they feared God. They could have let the facts speak for themselves by saying, “Jesus opened the eyes of our son, who has been blind from birth.” But instead, they dodged the issue.

It’s a problem that has plagued many down to our day: People fear what others will think more than they fear what God thinks. Perhaps a family member has met Jesus and is obviously changed. But it embarrasses or threatens the other members of the family. They’d rather not talk about it. Or, if it comes up and Jesus is named as the cause of their loved one’s change, they downplay it by saying, “Yes, that seems to work for him!” Then they change the subject. They’ve received a powerful testimony of the power of Christ, but as long as they fear what others think, they will not experience Christ’s power in their own lives. The fear of men hinders true spiritual knowledge.

B. Wrong presuppositions based on religious rules hinder true spiritual knowledge.

Here we move from the parents to the religious leaders, whom John calls “the Jews.” John almost offhandedly mentions the crux of the problem (9:14), “Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” As I mentioned last time, this violated at least three rabbinic Sabbath regulations: (1) You could not knead on the Sabbath, but Jesus kneaded the saliva and dirt into clay; (2) there were rules against anointing on the Sabbath; (3) you could not heal on the Sabbath, unless it was to save a life. These rules were not in the Law of Moses, but had been added by the religious leaders.

Their wrong presupposition was: “Our rules are equal to God’s law.” The minor premise was, “Jesus violated our rules.” Their conclusion was, “Thus Jesus violated God’s law, and He is a sinner.” But their presupposition was faulty.

Some of the Pharisees disagreed with this reasoning, so a debate ensued among them (9:16). This may have been Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, both of whom were on the Council, but later took bold action to provide for Jesus’ burial. Earlier (3:2) Nicodemus had admitted to Jesus, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” So, here they register disagreement by asking (9:16), “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” But their view did not prevail.

It’s easy to confuse religious traditions or rules with biblical mandates to the point where you assume that your traditions or rules are equal with Scripture. But you can end up denying a miracle, even if he’s standing right in front of you! Back in the hippie era, when most people dressed up in their nicest clothes to go to church, many older church members could not accept that a bearded, long-haired guy in tattered jeans, a T-shirt, and bare feet had really been converted. Why doesn’t he look like us and dress like us? But they never stopped to question what the Bible says about how a Christian should look and dress. Wrong presuppositions based on religious rules hinder true spiritual knowledge.

C. Always seeking more evidence while discrediting the evidence you already have hinders true spiritual knowledge.

The Pharisees had the evidence of the neighbors, the parents, and the man himself that he had been born blind and that Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath. But they still wanted more evidence, or more truthfully, they wanted evidence that would refute the evidence that they had been given, which they didn’t like. So, they called the man a second time and said (9:24), “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.”

What they’re saying is, “Come on, your story must be wrong! Tell us the truth! We know for a fact that this man is a sinner!” (See Josh. 7:19 for the expression, “Give glory to God,” meaning, “Tell the truth.”) But John wants us to see that the man really is glorifying God by testifying to the truth about Jesus. He won’t change his story. So, they ask him again (9:26), “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” They aren’t looking for more evidence so that they can believe. Rather, they’re trying to find something to discredit the evidence that they have.

Now the man reveals both his sense of humor and his fortitude to stand up to these feared religious leaders. He says (9:27), “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?” They revile him and take their stand as disciples of Moses. They state what they know (9:29): “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” Back in 7:27, they had written off Jesus by claiming that they did know where He was from, namely, from Nazareth. But here they’re discrediting Jesus as a religious upstart from who-knows-where. I love the former blind man’s reply (9:31-33):

We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

At this point, the Pharisees are so beside themselves that they put the man down and then put him out (9:34). They weren’t genuinely seeking evidence to clear up their doubts. Rather, they were just looking for ways to discredit the evidence that they already had been given. They would not come to know the truth. Always seeking more evidence while discrediting the evidence you already have hinders true spiritual knowledge.

D. Pride hinders true spiritual knowledge.

The Pharisees put down this man’s testimony (9:34), “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” They held to the view that the disciples reflected (9:2), that either the man or his parents must have sinned for him to be born blind. But they prided themselves on their spiritual knowledge because they thought that they knew the Scriptures. So how could this former blind beggar, who was probably illiterate, teach them anything? Again, John is using irony: He couldn’t teach them anything and neither could Jesus, because of their spiritual pride.

In 9:40, these Pharisees challenge Jesus by asking, “We are not blind, too, are we?” Jesus replies (9:41), “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” He means, “If you would admit your spiritual blindness, I would forgive and heal you. But because you arrogantly insist that you can see, you remain in your sins.” Spiritual pride is one of the main reasons people do not come to Christ. They think that their good works will commend them to God, so they don’t see their need for the Savior. But the starting point for true spiritual knowledge is to admit that you’re a sinner and need Jesus to save you.

So, the fear of men, wrong presuppositions based on religious tradition, always seeking more evidence while discrediting the evidence you already have, and spiritual pride, will hinder true spiritual knowledge.

2. The foundation for true spiritual knowledge is for Christ to open your eyes.

Unlike his parents and the Pharisees, who both begin by claiming certain knowledge, the man begins by admitting that there is much that he doesn’t know. He didn’t know where Jesus was when his neighbors asked him (9:12). He didn’t know much about Jesus at the point of his healing, although he soon came to surmise that He was a prophet. He didn’t know enough to comment on the theological debate about whether Jesus was a sinner or not because He had broken the Sabbath (9:25). But there was one thing he knew for certain, and it was a glorious fact (9:25): “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

In this, the man is a type of everyone who truly knows Jesus. A new believer doesn’t know much. He probably can’t state the biblical doctrine of the trinity. He won’t understand how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility tie together. He may not be able clearly to articulate the two natures of Christ. There are many theological controversies that he is clueless about. But one thing he knows truly: I was blind, but now I see!

To put it another way, when God causes you to be born again, He changes your heart and you know it. He changes your desires. Formerly, the Bible was both confusing and boring if you ever tried to read it. But now, it’s food for your soul. You long for it like a newborn baby longs for his mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2). Before, you shrugged off sin as no big deal. Many sins you didn’t even recognize as sin. “Everybody does that! Every guy looks at porn sometimes! Everyone loses his temper! Everyone uses swear words at times! Everyone cheats on his taxes!” Etc.

But after God opens your eyes and you begin to feed on the Word, the Holy Spirit begins to convict you of things that you formerly did without a twinge of conscience: “The way you just spoke to your wife was not loving. The way you looked at that woman was lustful. The way you covered your tracks was not truthful.” So you begin to call sin what it is and to walk in daily repentance. You begin to want to know Christ more deeply. The foundation for this new desire for spiritual knowledge is that Christ opened your eyes to your own sin, to God’s absolute holiness, and to the provision that Christ made for you at the cross.

3. From the foundation of Christ opening your eyes you grow in spiritual knowledge.

The man begins by only knowing Jesus as “the man who is called Jesus” (9:11). He progresses to calling Him a prophet (9:17). Later he acknowledges Him as one worthy of being followed (“disciples,” 9:27-28). He moves on to argue that Jesus had to come from God (9:33). And finally, when he sees Jesus for the first time, he believes in Him and worships Him as Lord (9:38).

The Bible pictures the Christian life as a growth process from birth (John 3:3) to infancy (1 Cor. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:2), childhood, young adulthood, to spiritual fatherhood (1 John 2:12-14). But time alone does not insure spiritual growth. We have to be actively engaged in the process. Daily we need a healthy diet of spiritual food from the Word. We need to talk with our Heavenly Father and take all our cares to Him in prayer (1 Pet. 5:7). We need to spend time with our brothers and sisters in the family of God, helping each other to grow. We need to be judging and turning from the sins that hinder spiritual growth.

When it comes to true spiritual knowledge, we still need to be careful. As Paul warned (1 Cor. 8:1, my translation), “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Or (1 Tim. 1:5), “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Conclusion

Billy Graham told the story of an English actor who was honored with a banquet. In the course of the evening, he was asked to give a reading, and he chose Psalm 23. He read it in a moving way that brought out the beauty of the Psalm. His friends applauded. Later in the evening, an aged pastor was asked to speak. He too quoted Psalm 23. His voice rang with assurance and was vibrant with love. When he concluded, there was no applause, but there were not many dry eyes in the room. The actor stepped over to the pastor, grasped his hand, and said, “Sir, I know the Psalm—but you know the Shepherd!”

So what do you know? I hope that you know the Shepherd and that He has opened your eyes to the truth of who He is. I also hope that you want to know Him more. Let’s press on to know our risen Savior (Phil. 3:8-14)!

Application Questions

  1. Of the four hindrances to spiritual knowledge mentioned in our text, which gives you the most trouble? How can you fight it?
  2. Give some modern examples of religious rules that often take on a status equal to Scripture. Are all such rules bad? Why/why not?
  3. What are some specific ways that we as evangelicals are prone to fall into spiritual pride?
  4. In what sense does God not hear sinners (John 9:31) when they pray and in what sense does He hear sinners (Rom. 10:13)? Cite other Scriptures on both sides of this matter.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life