by Matthew W. Bassford
In writing his gospel, the apostle John often likes to group Jesus’ “I am” statements with events that define that characteristic. “I am the bread of life,” follows the feeding of the 5000, “I am the resurrection and the life,” precedes the raising of Lazarus, and so on.
This certainly is the case with His statement in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.” In John 9:1-8, Jesus illustrates this claim by using His power to give sight to a man who was blind from birth.
However, this narrative focuses not so much on the miracle itself as it does on the reactions to the miracle. Even though several different groups see the light of Christ, only one person reacts favorably to it. Sadly, today many people reject Him for similar reasons. Let’s consider these things this evening as we ponder Jesus, the light of the world.
A Challenge to Tradition
In this story, Jesus appears in three different ways, and the first is as a challenge to tradition. Look at John 9:9-17. The Pharisees’ reaction here is fascinating. Rather than marveling that a miracle has taken place right there in their neighborhood, they get hung up on the fact that the miracle was performed on the Sabbath.
Some argue, unsuccessfully, that they should pay more attention to the miracle than to when it happened. However, the consensus that emerges is that Jesus can’t be from God because in working a miracle, He broke the Sabbath. Rather than evaluating their traditions in the light of the Lord, they evaluate the Lord in the light of their traditions.
Obviously, there are lots of potshots we could take at the denominational world for the way they reject Jesus in favor of their traditions. However, focusing on somebody else’s spiritual problems never made any of us more righteous. Instead, we must ask whether our own traditional views keep us from seeing the true Jesus.
Indeed, if the Jesus we see does not challenge us, we are not seeing the true Jesus. The true Jesus exalts the poor and pronounces woes on the wealthy. The true Jesus reaches out to the marginalized and unwelcome. The true Jesus celebrates the humble heart of the penitent sinner while condemning the religious elite. The true Jesus warns us not to be distracted by political issues from the spiritual issues that will destroy us. He tells us that we must take up our crosses and follow. Our Lord is an amazing Master, but if we find Him easy to hear, we aren’t listening hard enough.
A Threat to Social Standing
Second, this story presents Jesus as a threat to social standing. Let’s keep going in John 9:18-23. In their quest to expose Jesus as a fraud, the Pharisees summoned the blind man’s parents. Even though the parents surely must have known that a miracle has happened, in their answers to the Pharisees, they are as evasive as they possibly can be. They know that if they acclaim Jesus as the Messiah, they’ll be thrown out of the synagogue, so they refuse to acknowledge the truth.
On one level, this works really well. They don’t make the Pharisees angry, so they get to stay in the synagogue. The problem is that Jesus really did heal their son and really is the Messiah, so they knowingly have rejected their hope of eternal life to avoid social discomfort. They knew the truth about Jesus, but they refused to tell the truth.
It’s easy for us to shake our heads in contempt at the blind man’s parents. They knew that Jesus worked miracles, but that mattered less to them than staying on good terms with the Pharisees. Pretty dumb, huh?
Well, how about us? We know the truth about Jesus. Every one of us who is a Christian has professed that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
However, how often in our lives is the truth about Jesus less important than our social standing? How often do we have an opportunity to share our faith with an outsider, but we remain silent because we’re afraid it will ruin our relationship with them? Maybe the light of Jesus shining on our lives reveals that we are more like the parents of the blind man than we care to admit.
A Man from God
The final perspective on Jesus in this story, though, is that He is a man from God. Consider John 9:24-34. In his own words, the formerly blind man is a man with one idea. He knows that he was blind, but now he can see. He is willing to follow that fact where it leads. Because Jesus could not have done that if He had not been from God, Jesus must be from God.
This is a deeply unpopular conclusion. In response, the Pharisees ridicule Jesus. They try to pick holes in his story. They ridicule him too. In response to it all, the formerly blind man clings to the one thing he knows. In the face of that one thing, the Pharisees lose the argument, and they acknowledge that they have lost by throwing him out of the synagogue.
This looks like a deeply negative outcome for the formerly blind man, and in some ways, it is. However, it also is a deeply positive outcome because he is the only one who pleases God.
Our application is simple. Like the formerly blind man, we need to know one thing. The apostle Paul knew one thing. He tells the Corinthians in I Corinthians 2 that among them, he determined to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified.
So too for us. If the one thing we know is that Jesus is the Christ, and we are willing to follow that fact wherever it leads, we will end up in the right place. The true problems in our lives don’t arise when we remember that fact. They arise when we forget it.