Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

Prayer Challenges

Thoughts from Doug Knox.

May 2017

Exodus 6:1-13

Defeat, Not Failure

Part 1

Background reading: Exodus 5-6

Experiencing Defeat

Recently I suffered a defeat in my ministry that has left me wondering about my abilities, my direction, and even my calling. Some good friends have given me wise counsel, but while the wound is fresh, I concentrate on personal study and Bible reading. So far, three truths have become evident. One, my own mistakes have contributed to the defeat. Two, in spite of my mistakes, the defeat probably was inescapable. And three, my circumstances do not spell failure. God still reigns over both me and the situation. One of the places where encouragement has emerged is from my current devotional reading in Exodus. I have found I am not alone.

Securing Defeat

Some of God’s greatest works come after what appears to be our deepest failures. An example of this occurs just prior to his deliverance of Israel from Egypt. If we were writing the story of Israel’s rescue from Egyptian slavery, we probably would allow at least some encouraging news at the beginning, like an inspirational moment. As the story stands, the LORD sends Moses and Aaron to the Pharaoh, knowing full well that they will fall flat on their faces. In Exodus 3, the LORD tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and ask for three days leave so that the people can sacrifice to their God in the wilderness. Then he drops the bomb. “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand” (Exodus 3:19). In the original language, the opening phrase is emphatic. The LORD knows with certainty that Pharaoh will refuse to budge.

Now we come to Exodus 5, where Moses approaches Pharaoh. The contrast between the two men could not be greater. One is an unknown prophet from the desert who says he represents the creator of the universe, and the other is the most powerful monarch in the Near East, a man who believes he is a god.

At the beginning of the chapter, Moses introduces his God to Pharaoh. “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a fast for me in the wilderness’ ” (Exodus 5:1). On the surface the demand is a simple one. Any god would claim the right to his people’s worship. Of course, Pharaoh objects. “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Even though Pharaoh phrases his challenge as a question, his words are dismissive. He does not care who the LORD is. All he cares about is his own image as the reigning god of the Egyptians. Moses ignores the challenge and moves to the issue. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall on us with pestilence or with the sword” (Exodus 5:3). The answer goes to the heart of Pharaoh’s question, “Who is the LORD?” He is the God who has chosen Israel to be his people, and because he has become their God, he owns the right to claim their allegiance. Pharaoh does not care. He claims that the people have too much time on their hands, and in a show of spite, withholds straw from their assigned task as brick-makers. Meanwhile, he insists they continue to meet the quotas.

The Bitter Taste of Defeat

The Israelite foremen bring their complaint to Moses, and Moses takes it to God. “O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:30). Defeat hurts.

The incident looks like a failure, but Pharaoh has done only what God said he would do. The LORD tells Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will drive them out of this land” (Exodus 6:1). Here are nine statements that God makes regarding who he is and what he is about to do. The statements run in sequence from Exodus 6:6-8, and begin and end with the declarations, “I am the LORD.”

I am the LORD.

  • I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
  • I will deliver you from slavery to them
  • I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.
  • I will take you to be my people.
  • I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
  • I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
  • I will give it to you for a possession.
  • I am the LORD.

The LORD utters these words just before he begins the final Shock and Awe campaign against Egypt--the ten plagues that will humiliate Egypt’s gods, destroy the land, and ultimately dethrone Pharaoh by taking out his son. Sometimes the darkness eats us alive, and God is nowhere to be seen. Do not think that all is lost. Sometimes the darkness must be dark in order for the light to be most welcome.

 

Return to Top

June 2017

Exodus 11-12

Defeat, Not Failure

Part 2

The Moment of Truth

We all have seen movies where a hero so far outclasses his opponents that we know in advance that any confrontation will be a rout. Since the audience knows the outcome, the script writers often build a sense of anticipation by staging a verbal confrontation before the actual fight. The hero, usually outnumbered, approaches quietly and asks for his opponents’ cooperation. Of course the opponents laugh at his offer. One man against the team is lunacy. The hero counters with an offer of clemency. If they cooperate, he will let them go. Again, the opponents laugh off the offer. They guy must be nuts. By this time, the audience begins to think the opponents might be right. The hero stands alone in front of a group of men who outnumber him, outweigh him, and appear to overpower him. Meanwhile the hero waits for the others to make their move. When they do, he mops the ground with them. When we see that happening, we get the picture. We should have realized that the hero possesses resources that no one knew he had. The fight was a rout from the beginning.

God’s Display of Power

A very similar scene occurs in Exodus, just prior to the LORD’s deliverance of his people from Egyptian slavery. After the LORD calls Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses and his brother Aaron approach Pharaoh. Pharaoh, obsessed with his own self-image, laughs at the two men and scorns their God. He sends Moses and Aaron away in humiliation. But Moses and Aaron’s failure is the cue for the LORD to work. He tells Moses what he has said from the beginning. “Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:4-5). God is about to display his power through a series of plagues. From this point on, the LORD’s dealings with Pharaoh will be confrontational, and they will continue until God shatters him.

Waiting for What?

At this time, Moses and the Israelites have yet to witness the LORD’s bone-crushing power. They do not understand the authority behind God’s earlier double declaration “I am the LORD” (Exodus 6:6, 8). They will have to wait until he claims all the territory that the Egyptian gods currently occupy. When the LORD unleashes his power against Egypt, he attacks their gods. Each plague either directly or indirectly challenges one of the Egyptian gods. The plagues begin in Exodus 7 and run through chapter 10. The first nine plagues do more than destroy Egypt. They de-create their world. In Genesis 1, God creates the light, followed by plant life, and then by animal life. The plagues against Egypt destroy the animal life, then the plant life, and finally rob the nation of light itself. The ninth plague calls for “darkness to be felt” (Exodus 11:21). The message is clear. If your gods are so great, then let them do what the LORD has done.

The Tenth Plague

When the tenth and final plague arrives, it stands apart from the rest. Here the LORD takes out every firstborn in Egypt, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill” (Exodus 11:5). This judgment is aimed at Pharaoh, who claims to be a god. When the leader of the land loses the next reigning god, the weight is too much. He drives out the Israelites from Egypt.

Deliverance and Trauma

We know that the plagues were traumatic for the Egyptians. They were supposed to be. But a close reading of the plague cycle in Exodus 5-12 reveals that deliverance is traumatic for Israel as well. First, Israel is called to witness God’s astounding judgment against Egypt while they escaped. Those who put blood on their doorposts survived. Their children lived, while their neighbors wailed over their losses. The Israelites would live with the understanding that God had chosen them, but the cries of mourning from the Egyptians they would leave behind would remain in their memories for the rest of their lives. Second, Israel’s deliverance is also violent. Before Zero Hour, the LORD gave instructions for their last meal in Egypt. It is to be the first Passover meal, a memorial celebration consisting of better herbs, roast lamb, and yeast-free bread. The menu remembers Israel’s bitter years of slavery. The meal also looks to their deliverance. “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste” (Exodus 12:11). The people literally would eat and run. They were about to become a free people, but they would have to flee for their lives when Pharaoh would be ready to cast them out.

The High and Necessary Price for Deliverance

The awful price for their freedom had to be what it was. Something that precious would remain unappreciated unless it would come at a cost. This is right, however, because their freedom was costly. We place the highest value on that which costs us the most. Sometimes the most traumatic events become God’s most valuable work in our lives.

 

Return to Top

 

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

Part 1

John 9:1-7

A Foregone Conclusion

Background reading: John 9

Discipleship with Strings Attached

If you attend church, listen to Christian radio, or read Christian blogs, you probably have heard someone mention discipleship. Whether or not the term is familiar, it sounds intimidating. As in, “There are Christians, and then there are disciples. Guess what we want you to be?” Actually, that distinction is not true. The word is the Bible’s term for a follower of Jesus. In short, discipleship is what Christianity is all about. If I am a true Christian, I am a disciple. To be engaged in discipleship means to be committed to following Jesus and his commands.

This series on discipleship will look at an episode from Jesus’ life from the Gospel of John. John Chapter 9 tells the story of a man who met Jesus under unusual circumstances and became one of his disciples. The drama continues in John Chapter 10, where Jesus holds the man up for the world to see what true discipleship means.

Miracles in John’s Gospel

John writes about Jesus with a magnifying glass in hand. He is not content just to tell us about Jesus’ miracles. He chooses to stick around to watch how people react after the miracle. What he finds is revealing. Of course, some believe and follow Jesus. We would expect this. What comes as a surprise is the far greater number of people that reject Jesus. In some cases, they fail to understand his deeds. Sometimes their prior hatred of him rums so deeply that they become blind to the things that he does. This is the case in John 9-10. There, Jesus heals a blind man, and the man becomes a disciple. Then the whole religious establishment attacks him. John 9 records the act, while chapter 10 covers Jesus’ message preached to those who oppose the man. A blind man sees, while those with perfectly good eyesight become spiritually blind. Let’s look at the story.

The Usual Way of Thinking

Just prior to John 9, Jesus narrowly avoids a stoning by the religious leaders in the temple at Jerusalem (John 8:59). He and his disciples walk away from one incident into another. John 9 opens with these words. “As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi [the Jewish word for Teacher], who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:1-2) Stop and think about that statement for a moment. First, John’s wording, “As he passed by,” suggests a chance meeting with the man. Probably Jesus and his men were within a couple steps of him, and the sight must have stopped them in their tracks. Picture the scene. The disciples do not have time to think. They only have time to react, and they react out loud. So when they ask a moral question that treats the man like a laboratory specimen, they apparently think they are immune from detection. But the man can hear them. He is just as human as they are. I suspect he has heard this kind of language his entire life. Second, notice how the disciples phrase their question. They do not ask whether anyone has sinned to cause this man to be born blind. The disciples live in a morally simple universe. They know nothing about genetic or developmental defects. In their world, blindness and other maladies are results of someone’s sin. Their belief requires God to rewards the righteous and punished the evil with perfect efficiency. Since he must balance the divine books, some sin stands behind this man’s blindness. No other possibility exists.

A Much Brighter Alternative

Jesus presents a new alternative. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

In contrast to the disciples, Jesus offers possibilities. He has something else in mind. That something becomes evident a few sentences later. John writes, “Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:6-7).

What Just Happened?

Have you ever noticed how unconcerned Jesus is about what people think of him? Really, spitting on the ground and then smearing it on a blind man’s eye sockets? Isn’t that a little exploitative? Obviously, Jesus doesn’t think so. And apparently, neither does the man. He just follows Jesus’ order. Then he discovers that for the first time in his life he can see. If we are careful readers, we have to ask some questions. First, why did the man obey Jesus (no pun intended) sight unseen? I suspect part of the reason lay in Jesus’ words, which may have been the first positive words the man had heard. He hears grace in Jesus, and the grace is irresistible. The second question is more involved. Why does Jesus send the man away? I think the answer lies in what he has created. He gave the man dignity with his words. His command to go and wash called the man to faith. And now the man’s faith has made a whole human being. Without sight, the man has “seen” Jesus.

The Unfolding Drama

The drama will continue to mount when the Pharisees discover the man, because the healing takes place on the Sabbath. The religious leaders become split in their opinions about Jesus. Some sense the greatness of the miracle, while others see only a broken Sabbath. In the midst of the controversy, the man will find himself caught in a religious inquisition. Meanwhile, Jesus remains out of sight and lets the man endure religious brutality. But he knows his own, and he knows the works of God will grow in him. The story is far from over.

 

Return to Top

July 2017

 

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

Part 2

John 9:8-16

Discipleship and Division

Background reading: John 9

Jesus and Division

Jesus divided men. His message continues to divide them. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we face the same reaction to Jesus’ words and deeds in our day. In the Apostle John’s account of the healing of the blind man, he opens the story abruptly. “As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And the disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:1-2) This is the language of division. The disciples could see only one reason for the man’s blindness, and it involves judgment from God, the ultimate form of division. Jesus’ answer to the disciples is designed to plant harmony into the disciples’ thinking. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). John writes that Jesus spit on the ground and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Then he told him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash off the mud. When the man did, he could see. What could be more heartening after the disciples’ dismal interpretation of his circumstances? Jesus has brought indescribable joy to a man who never dreamed he would be able to do something as simple as watch a sunrise.

From a Crack to a Fissure

Even so, division follows the event as certainly as Saturday follows Friday. The crack begins with the neighbors.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.”

He kept saying, “I am the man.”

So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

--John 9:8-11

From a Fissure to a Chasm

Perhaps we need to give the people a break. After all, no one has given sight to a blind man. We cannot fault them if they have a hard time believing Jesus could do such a thing. But the miracle has religious overtones, and the people take the man to the religious experts, the Pharisees. The division grows. John writes,

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight.

And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

--John 9:13-16

When the Pharisees reach an impasse among themselves, they turn to the man. “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” (John 9:17). The man’s answer could not have caused more fallout if it had been an atomic bomb. “He is a prophet.” These words come from one who has experienced Jesus and seen the truth. In the Jewish world, a prophet spoke to God and communicated his word with absolute authority. Since the days of Moses, the prophets had been God’s mouthpieces. Just before Moses the Prophet passed on his mantle to Joshua, he told the people what God had said concerning prophets and their authority. “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). The Pharisees revered Moses and the prophets, because they all spoke God’s words. What the prophet said came from God. So when the man concludes that Jesus is a prophet, the message that goes to the Pharisees is, “You need to listen to him, because he speaks God’s words to you.”

The beginnings of Discipleship

Jesus steps in, and instead of judging, he says that the works of God are about to be displayed in him. And are they ever. Jesus speaks what is probably the first kind word in this man’s life. The man listens and obeys a command as strange as, “Go to Siloam and wash this mud off your eyes.” Disciples are not special people. The day before, everyone ignored the man. In the closed religious system of the day, he was walking judgment. Now that Jesus has touched him, he becomes unstoppable. The first mark of true discipleship is evidence that a man has seen Jesus.

Return to Top

July 2017

 

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

Part 3

John 9:17-34

Transformation and Discipleship

Background reading: John 9

Wooden Traditions

Jesus had a way of doing things that split people’s opinions down the middle.

One of his habits was to perform great works on the Sabbath. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day did not just worship on the Sabbath. They practically worshiped the Sabbath itself. To their credit, they kept a very important command of God. The Sabbath was a sacred day that God had assigned as a memorial for Israel. It was to be a day of celebration and rest. But the super-religious had turned it into a day of forced inactivity. Their insistence on rigorous rules for the Sabbath had turned God’s holy day into something joyless. Jesus resisted this belief, and he did so by performing some of his greatest miracles on the Sabbath. When Jesus gave sight to the blind man on the Sabbath, he eliminated any middle ground. People had to choose to recognize him as a miracle worker or condemn him as a Sabbath breaker.

Raising the Stakes

When John records the miracle, the stakes become even higher than just performing a miracle on the Sabbath. At the beginning of John 9, John says that Jesus and the disciples came upon a man “blind from birth” (John 9:1), and the disciples ask Jesus the reason why he was “born blind” John 9:2). Obviously they have never seen the man, so how do they know his blindness has come from birth? What they may be witnessing is a condition now called anophthalmia, meaning “no eyes” (Wickipedia.org). The condition sometimes manifests itself with small, closed eyelids covering empty eye sockets. Some manifestations are more grotesque. We get hints that this is the case from the story. One of them comes from the complete confusion of the man’s acquaintances. Here is the dialogue again:

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this the not man who used to sit and bet?”

Some said, “It is he.”

Others said, “No, but he is like him.”

He kept saying, “I am the man.”

--John 9:

When the people have to debate about whether the whole man standing before them is the once-blind beggar or someone else who is otherwise identical, the transformation is radical. Whatever his pre-miracle appearance was, he remains recognizable—except for eyes that see. John breathes a deeper life into the story in verse 6, when Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud, and smears it in his eye sockets. Think about this: What does the Bible say about the way God made man? He “formed the man out of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7).

Jesus’ act of making mud and putting it on the man’s eye sockets appears to be an act of creation. Jesus did something that only God could do. He takes the dust of the ground and creates fully functioning eyes for the man.

More Interrogation

The Jewish leaders enter the story at this point. They are unable to believe that Jesus the Sabbath breaker could do such a thing, so they try to argue theory instead of facts. They reason, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16). Unfortunately for them, the man keeps muddying the water with the facts. “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see” (John 9:15). When the facts begin to get in the way, the Jewish leaders resort to the next tactic. They call him a liar. “The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight” (John 9:18). The attempt to discredit the man’s testimony blows up in their faces. It also gives us a glimpse into a religion that has begun to strong-arm its adherents. The Jewish leaders ask the man’s parents,

“Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

(His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

--John 9:19-23

John is taking the story to a definite conclusion. The man’s support groups have vanished. His acquaintances are unable to make up their minds about who he is. His family backs down in the face of the religious bullying. Even Jesus sends him away so that the miracle of sight takes place when the man is alone. The man is going to have to stand on his own. In the next challenge, we will witness the stand that he takes. For now, though, we need to see the changes that have begun to take place in the man’s heart.

Men with Heart

Any man who is serious about being a man knows his own heart. He knows his likes and dislikes, as well as the values he upholds and the things he despises. We engage these values to define ourselves as men. When we strive to become better men, we hold these templates in our mind about what a better man is.

When God calls a man to become a disciple, he confronts him at the heart level. He reveals Jesus as the perfect man, the Son of God, and says, “Make me your most valuable quality.” True discipleship is more than a makeover. It is more than an eternal life insurance policy that we can cash in when we die. It is more than a date and signature scribbled in the front of your Bible. It is nothing less than a new way of seeing Jesus and then making a commitment to be a lifetime Christ follower. It is a visible display of God’s invisible work in the heart and manifests itself as a commitment to follow a greater ideal.

Return to Top

 

August 2017

 

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

Part 4

John 9:24-34

Men with Heart, and Hearts of Steel

 

Background reading: John 9

Men with Heart

In the previous installment, I mentioned that Jesus’s call to discipleship is a heart call. Those who have experienced the call can attest to what I mean. A heart call is a call to our deepest convictions. It is a call to recognize that Jesus is the most important person in the universe. It is a call to follow him and to allow him to guide our convictions. For the man in John 9, who has been born blind, the heart call comes when a rabbi named Jesus corrects his disciples’ assumption about his blindness and says that the works of God are to be done in him (John 9:3). These probably were the first positive words the man had heard in his life. Therefore, when the rabbi smears mud on his eye sockets and tells him to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash, he goes without hesitation. Whatever the works of God are, he is ready to receive them. In return, he comes away with eyes to see. Before long, however, the man realizes another truth about following Jesus. When we place him at the center of our convictions, there is a cost. First, his acquaintances doubt his story. Then they take him to the religious authorities, who already despise Jesus. Finally, when the man’s own parents cave under the religious leaders’ pressure, he realizes he must make his stand alone.

Heart of Steel

The narrative continues with another challenge from the religious leaders. This time, when they push, the man pushes back. Here is how the encounter begins.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”

He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

--John 9:24-29

I love this part. The religious elite demand that the man give glory to God. All he has to do is agree with their educated conviction that Jesus is a sinner because he has broken the Sabbath rules. When the man stands on what he knows—“Though I was blind, now I see.”—the authorities turn to insult. “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.” The thought is clearly comparative. You are only a disciple of this Jesus. We follow Moses. Except that Jesus has made eyes for the man. Now the man sees their prejudice for what it is, and his heart solidifies into a heart of steel. The man’s final words to the religious leaders stand on conviction.

“Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

--John 9:30-33

Stealing the Religious Territory

With this statement, the man seizes the religious leaders’ religious territory like a king sacking a city. First, he demolishes their intellectual defenses. “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” Then he takes over their spiritual turf like it is his from the beginning. “We know that God does not listen to sinners….” How does this one-time beggar take on the religious experts and beat them at their own game? An example will help. Several years ago, a blind man attended the church where my wife and I belonged. We became friends, and he began to share his life as a sightless individual in a seeing world. He taught me a great deal about perception that lay beyond mere sight. For example, most people assumed that since our friend couldn’t see them, he was unable to hear them. Like the characters in John’s account, they ignored his presemce. While they gossiped freely about the other people in the church, our friend became an invisible witness that took their stories in. That insight in turn helped me understand the blind man in John. I believe he listened to an endless series of rabbinical debates as he sat on the synagogue steps. This invisible student must have received a lifetime of theological training. When the teachers of the law apply the right pressure, Jesus’ work galvanizes into conviction, and he crushes them. All at once, the religious leaders find themselves on the defense, and they have to retreat. The only recourse they have is insult. “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out” (John 9:34).

What it means to know the Truth

The story leads to two endings, one human and one spiritual. The human part of the story loops back to the original question. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Under human judgment, the man remains a statistic—once blind, always judged. John mentions that the authorities carry out their threat to cast the man out of the synagogue because he has become a Jesus follower (John 9:22, 34). In their eyes, then, his devotion to the man who has given him eyes simply proves the guilt he supposedly had from the beginning. The spiritual perspective is entirely different. Following Jesus involves a cost, but it brings a greater reward. Jesus has given him physical eyes to see, discernment to understand, and courage like steel. The man knows what it means to know. In short, true discipleship enables us to become men of conviction that the world can neither understand nor stop. In the next few verses, Jesus will introduce himself to the men he healed, and we will see what worship looks like.

Return to Top