John 9:24-41 – Who are the Pharisees?

John 9:24-41 – Who are the Pharisees? June 28, 2017

Blind BartimaeusI love the sighted man in John 9: he’s one of my favorite characters in all of the Bible.  He’s got guts, he’s got charm, and he knows how to poke disbelievers in Jesus Christ in the eye.  He had the kind of irrepressible attitude that all of the rest of us blind men who were healed need to have.  I call him the sighted man because that is who he is after he has experienced Jesus Christ: sighted both physically and spiritually.  John 9 contains probably the most extended story of anyone in the Gospels except for Jesus Christ Himself.  John must have thought that this character was important.

It would have been easy for this sighted man to receive this wonderful, life-changing gift of God, and then go on his merry way, “experiencing life to the fullest,” hiding himself in his newfound joy of the creation.  He could have used his sight and his joy on himself.  But he doesn’t.

This sighted man is so straightforward, so honest, and joyful that instead of stealing away to please himself with his sight, he uses his healing and his joy to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Some of the Pharisees corner him and ask him point blank: “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, without regard for the fact that the Pharisees may rob this man of the joy of his sight by exsynagoguing him, he simply says, “He is a prophet.”

And here is where the true blindness is illuminated.   The Jews did not believe the sighted man when he said that he had been blind.  Now why would they doubt him?  The man is obviously a man of good character, and it’s not the kind of obvious, outrageous lie that someone is likely to make.  They don’t believe the sighted man, the prophet of Jesus Christ, because they don’t believe Jesus Christ.  Their blindness to Who Jesus Christ Is forces them to be blind to the sighted man.

The Pharisees then confront the sighted man’s parents who acknowledge that this is indeed their son and that he was indeed blind from birth.  But they quickly extricate themselves from having to explain how he could now see.  Fearing the Jews (which is a common theme throughout the New Testament), who had threatened to kick anyone out of the synagogue who confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the sighted man’s parents did what any loving, protective parents would do: they sic them on their son!

Once again the blind Pharisees confront the sighted man.  Once again, he is fearless, even after having seen the threat of being kicked out of the synagogues made to his parents.  Like a dog returning to its vomit, the Pharisees again ask him how this happened.  At this point they are likely to explode because this blind man’s testimony has demolished their worldview.  They don’t have a category in which Jesus is truly the Christ and has the authority and power over men and creation.

And here is one of my favorite answers in all of the Bible.  When the Pharisees again ask the man how he gained his sight he turns the tables on them, in a way reminiscent of Jesus Himself.  “Why do you want to hear again?  Do you also want to become one of his disciples?”

I can’t quite make out whether or not this is an honest, guileless answer made out of pure joy and passion for Jesus Christ or whether this humble sighted man is a lot more clever than we give him credit for.  In either case, he thus identifies himself as a disciple of Jesus, who is the Christ.  He is willing to face being kicked out of the synagogue for Jesus’ sake.  He is willing to suffer separation from his parents over the issue because to be kicked out the synagogue in the first century would have been to be kicked out of polite society, the seats of power, and the most important social component of a Jew’s world.

Having just received his sight and being on the threshold of experiencing his own known world for the first time in technicolor, he is willing to give it all up for the sake of Jesus Messiah.

Notice, too, that after being saved by Jesus this sighted man immediately wants to go and tell others about him.  I believe that his intention in asking the Pharisees about whether they wanted to become Jesus’ disciples as well is born out of hope.  He hopes that some of them will join him.

Having courageously stood up to the Pharisees and testified to Jesus, they revile him and place Moses above Jesus.  They continue their tirade against the sighted man and proclaim their ignorance as to where Jesus comes from.  Of course, it’s true that they really don’t know (or believe) that He came from heaven.

Once again, the plain, courageous, and joyful answer of the sighted man humbles and encourages me.  He begins to preach a sermon to the Pharisees!  The sighted man knows where Jesus comes from: why can’t they see it?  Here is a man who has performed a miracle not seen since the beginning of the world, and the Pharisees can’t even see where He comes from.  Where does He come from?  From heaven, of course!  “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

All the Pharisees can bluster is, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?”  And they cast him out.

At the end of the story, the sighted man is privileged enough to be able to see Jesus Christ a second time.  Now he knows for sure that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God because God has revealed it to him.  Now Jesus makes the point clear to all of us: “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind” (verse 39).

We, who were born in sin and now see Jesus, are the sighted man.

But who are the Pharisees?

We think of the Pharisees as being merely the legalists in the church.  In so doing, we miss who they really are and therefore miss some of the most important applications to our lives.  We bash the Pharisees of our day, attacking those who are “legalists.”  But I think in many ways the best parallel for the Pharisees today aren’t the fundamentalists and others who may have legalistic tendencies but are actually trying to serve the Lord.  The true modern-day Pharisees are the secular and unbelieving rulers of our age, some of whom even claim to be Christians.  It is those who hold the seats of power in our culture and are blind to Jesus Christ and threaten to kick out of the seats of society and power anyone who dares to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ.

The Pharisees of today are those in the media who cannot stand to hear about Christ.  They are the one who feel compelled to shut off the mike and censor pro athletes when they begin praising God for the victories in their lives.  They are the ones who kick Christians out of our centers of education if they speak too much about Christ.  They are the ones who will not ask questions about Christ unless they can find a way to use Him to discredit Christians.

But you are the sighted man.  How will you choose to live your lives?  Will you confront the Pharisees of our age, not some phantom Christian fundamentalists?  Will you go and proclaim Jesus Christ as I AM, not out of mere duty but out of joy for Who He Is and what He’s done, regardless of whether or not the Jews and Pharisees kick you out of the seats of cultural power?

You are the blind man given his sight.  What is your gut reaction?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!  I know that I am still too blind and that I cannot see You the way I should.  I ask You to restore my sight again this day and every day.  As You visit me today, I cry out to you for my deepest need, knowing that You can heal me if You are willing.  Lord, as You visit me with Your Presence and the hope of healing, let me not depart until I have remembered to glorify the Father, vowed to give praise the remainder of this day, and sought the courage to proclaim You to the world.

Points for Meditation:

  1. In what ways do you lack courage to proclaim Jesus Christ? Ask Him to send the Holy Spirit, the Encourager, to you today.
  2. Have you experienced the joy of Jesus recently? Find someone who can help you remember what Jesus has done for you, and share your joy with that person or people. 

Resolution:  I resolve to re-experience the act of Jesus giving me my spiritual sight.  I further resolve to seek one way today in which I may express my consequent joy and courage. 


Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus by William Blake – U.S. public domain

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