John 9:1-2 – Who Sinned?

While walking in Jerusalem, the disciples see a man born blind and ask Jesus why the man was born blind (verse 1-2). Judaism sometimes connected sin and illness The reason for this is a strong belief that God judges sin with illness. The three friends in the book of Job is the classic example of the belief that extreme illness and suffering is the result of sin. For example, when Miriam rebelled against Moses, she was struck with leprosy.The same is true for Uzziah, a king who violated the law.  When Hezekiah became ill he took it as a sign of divine disfavor.

Jesus Heals a Blind Man

In addition to suffering for your own sins, there are a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible that indicate some sins will be punished for several generations.  Idolatry, for example, carried a punishment for three more generations. Frequently kings were not directly punished for their rebellion, but their sons or grandsons are killed, ending their line.

Another possibility for a man born blind is that he sinned in the womb. For most of us, the idea of a prenatal sin is difficult to understand (not to mention a little bit frightening!) The rabbinic Genesis Rabbah suggests Esau was “hated” and Jacob “loved” because he had committed sin in the womb:

“R. Bekehja said in the name of R. Levi: “When she [Rebecca] walked past synagogues and houses of instruction, Jacob struggled to get out, in accordance with Jer 1:5: ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I knew you.’ And when she passed idol temples Esau ran and struggled to get out, in accordance with Ps 58:4, ‘The godless go astray from the womb’” (Gen. Rab. 63; cited by Beasley-Murray, John, Second Edition, 154)

Jesus denies a “universal principle” that sin and sickness are connected. There may be cases, (Miriam, Paul’s comments to the Corinthians about their abuse of the Lord’s supper), but not all sickness can be connected to a specific sin. Generally, alcohol abuse often leads to a natural physical consequence; this natural result hardly a judgment of God!

In fact, Jesus says the man was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in him (John 9:3-5). The blind were considered unclean and were always excluded from Temple worship. Since they are blind, they cannot know when they might contact some unclean thing, therefore they could never be allowed to go up to the Temple to worship.

Jesus says the man was born blind so God’s power might be displayed in him (verse 3-5). The blind were considered unclean and were always excluded from Temple worship. Since they are blind, they cannot know when they might contact some unclean thing, therefore they could never be allowed to go up to the Temple to worship. Jesus indicates he will not always be in the world. Since he is the light of the world, it is the time to do the work of God. As Rabbi Tarphon said, The day is short and there is much work to be done; the workers are lazy, and the reward is great, and the Master of the house is urgent” (Pirqe ‘Abot 2.15).

Once again Jesus declares he is the light of the world (cf. 8:12). In this case, the light will illuminate the darkness of the blind man. This chapter is connected to the previous via “the light of the world.” Carson comments that this is what happens when someone who is blind encounters the “light of the world.”

It is important to pause and reflect on what Jesus says about sin and sickness. Some Christians make an unfortunate assumption that sin leads to illness, so that if you are sick in any way there is unconfessed sin in your life, or sickness is a sign of a deficient spiritual life. If you are healthy, they claim, you are blessed by God and must be living a spiritual life. Even thought there are examples of God using illness as a punishment in the Old Testament, this view of relationship between illness and sin is completely unscriptural. Aside from a general ignorance of the Book of Job and the life of the Apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh, it misses the point Jesus makes here in John 9: sometimes illness can be used for the glory of God. Jesus does not say God will smite you with a dread disease so that you will praise God more, but he does indicate physical infirmities are opportunities to see the glory of God in different ways.

If this miracle does reveal something about the glory of God, what is it? What do we learn about Jesus from this miracle?

Mark 2:1-12 – Sin and Healing

That Jesus did miracles is the claim of every layer of tradition in the New Testament. Even non-biblical writers describe Jesus as a healer. But Jesus did not heal people to gain an audience or to generate interest in his mission, he never asked for anything from those he healed. Jesus did not want “prayer partners” who regularly give to his ministry. Jesus healed in order to reveal something about himself. The healing in Mark 2 is an example of this “healing as self-revelation.”

Jesus returns to Capernaum and attracts a very large crowd at Peter’s home. A paralytic is brought to Jesus by some friends to be healed. Since they cannot enter the home because of the crowd, the men go onto the roof and break a hole large enough to lower the man on a pallet into room where Jesus was. The roof of a typical home at the time of Jesus was a sun dried mud thatch, so the very “to dig” is quite appropriate.

Mark 2:5 says “When he saw their faith,” referring to the friends of the paralytic. But rather than heal the paralytic, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. The paralytic does not demonstrate faith, at least to our knowledge, nor did he ask for his sins to be forgiven. Jesus pronounces the man’s sins forgiven in order to make a point about himself – the miracle here is a revelation of who Jesus is.

There was a relationship between sins and birth defects in the minds of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus may be attacking this misconception of sin by forgiving the sin without healing the man. In the ancient world, an extreme illness or birth defects was considered to be the result of sin, either on the part of the sick person or on the part of the person’s parents or grandparents. (The disciples ask about a blind man in John 9:1-2.) Not only do all the people observing this believe this to be true, but the man himself probably believed that his sickness was the result of sin.

Forgiveness of sin and healing typically go together in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period Judaism. In 2 Chron 7:14, God forgives the sins of Israel and “heals their land.” Similarly, Psalm 103:3 connects forgiveness with the healing of disease, and in Isaiah 19:22 the Lord responds to Israel, hears their pleas and heals the nation.

For most of the original audience, it is  startling that Jesus claims to forgive sin by his own authority. in fact, Jesus;s claim to have forgiven the man’s sin elicits a strong reaction from the religious leaders observing Jesus’ actions. Jesus did not say, for example, “in the name of God your sins are forgiven,” but rather “your sins are forgiven.” Jesus himself is forgiving the sins as if he were the one offended by them rather than God.

Noticing their thoughts, Jesus says to the teachers of the law: Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise and walk’?” It is just as easy to say one as the other. Jesus point is that saying is the easy part, doing is the difficult part. Jesus says that he will not only forgive the man’s sins, but he will heal him, so that the teachers of the Law might know that he has the authority to do those things. There is a significant bit of theology packed into this statement. Authority is power, ability, and permission to do something.

Jesus healed in order to signal the beginning of the messianic age and to prove to the Jewish leadership that he was the Messiah. That Jesus calls himself the Son of Man in this section important since it is likely an allusion to Daniel 7, where “someone like a son of man” is given authority to rule. In a sense, Jesus is drawing together three lines of evidence for his divinity. He forgives sin, he is about to heal a lame man, and he claims to be the Messianic Son of Man.

John 5:9-15 – A Healing on the Sabbath

Since the man is carrying his mat on the Sabbath, some Jewish officials point out that he is breaking the Sabbath. This healing takes place during a feast of the Jews, on a Sabbath day. That Jesus would heal on the Sabbath is well known from synoptic. On the few occasions when Jesus takes the initiative in a healing, it is generally on the Sabbath (see also Mark 3: 1-6; Luke 13: 10-17; 14: 1-6).

Jesus heals at Bethesda

Jesus could have easily have waited to heal the man after the Sabbath was over – the fact that He does not suggests strongly that Jesus is making some sort of a declaration by healing on the Sabbath. One of the reasons John tells us the man was an invalid for 38 years is that Jesus could have waited a few hours until sundown and then healed the man.

We have no way of knowing where the man went, but since the Pool is in the on the  north end of the Temple Mount he likely came into the city where some of the Jews told him he was violating the Sabbath by carrying the mat.

The man does not know who Jesus was, but “blames” him for his breach of the Sabbath. The man may have assumed that Jesus was a religious authority since he healed him. There are other rabbis who were reputed to have been healers although nothing on the scale of Jesus. The man does not believe in Jesus as the official did in John 4. If he believed at all it was a very superficial and thin belief. He only knows that he has been healed and does not care how or why

The Jews, on the other hand, encounter a miraculous healing and are more interesting in the implications of what Jesus’ actions and words mean. Jesus is claiming to be far more than a healer in this action!

There were a number of things which were exempt from work on the Sabbath. In m.Sabb 18.3 and 19:2-3 there is a brief discussion of things various rabbis allowed as exceptions to the “no work” rule. In fact, most rabbis tried to make Sabbath rules which could be kept and permit the enjoyment of the day.

m.Sabb. 18:3 They do not deliver the young of cattle on the festival, but they help out. And they do deliver the young of a woman on the Sabbath. They call a midwife for her from a distant place, and they violate the Sabbath on her [the woman in childbirth’s] account. And they tie the umbilical cord. R. Yose says “Also: They cut it.” And all things required for circumcision do they perform on the Sabbath.

m.Sabb 19:2-3 They do prepare all that is needed for circumcision on the Sabbath: they (1) cut [the mark of circumcision], (2) tear, (3) suck [out of the wound]. And they put on it a poultice and cummin. If one did not pound it on the eve of the Sabbath, he chews it in his teeth and puts it on. If one did not mix wine and oil on the eve of the Sabbath, let this be put on by itself and that by itself. And they do not make a bandage in the first instance. But they wrap a rag around [the wound of the circumcision]. If one did not prepare [the necessary rag] on the eve of the Sabbath, he wraps [the rag] around his finger and brings it, and even from a different courtyard. 19:3 They wash off the infant, both before the circumcision and after the circumcision, and they sprinkle him, by hand but not with a utensil. R. Eleazar B. Azaraiah says, “They wash the infant on the third day after circumcision [even if it] coincides with the Sabbath, “since it says, And it came to pass on the third day when they were sore (Gen. 34:25).” [If the sexual traits of the infant are a matter of] doubt, of [if the infant] bears the sexual traits of both sexes, they do not violate the Sabbath on his account. And R. Judah permits in the care of an infant bearing the traits of both sexes.

It is possible the Jews who see the man carrying the mat think that Jesus has “made an exception” for him, in which case Jesus is setting himself up as an authority who can give rulings on how the Law ought to be kept.

Should we think of the healed man’s attitude is as strange? Rather than give credit to Jesus for healing him, he does not even know Jesus’ name and seems to shift the blame for breaking the Sabbath to Jesus. Is this man an example of “faith that is going nowhere” (Köstenberger, John, 182)? Or is the man afraid of what might happen to him if he opening breaks the Sabbath by carrying his mat? On the other hand, this is less about the faith of the healed man than Jesus’s relationship with the Pharisees and their traditions concerning the Sabbath.

Isaiah 61, Jesus and Healing

The gospels claim that Jesus was a healer of all kinds of diseases. Jesus is constantly called upon to heal, and on several occasions he takes the initiative to heal.  His ministry of healing was not at all like modern faith healers – in fact, in several cases the individual healed does not express faith in Jesus (Mark 2:1-12, the paralytic, Mark 7:24-30, the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman). In Luke 22:51 we might even say that the person healed was decidedly anti-Jesus since he was one of the servants of the priests who were arresting Jesus.

Christ and the, Paolo Cagliari 1571 Centurion

Healing was an expected part of the Messiah’s coming.  Isaiah 61:1-4 says that the age of the Messiah will bring physical healing and liberation from oppression.  This text is spoken by an individual who is anointed by the Lord (a messiah) for the purpose of preaching the good news of the end of the exile.  Notice Isa 61:3 describes the reverse Zion’s mourning and 61:4 describes the rebuilding of the ancient ruins.  It is this passage that Jesus quotes in Luke 4 as being fulfilled in his ministry.  After he announces that he is the fulfillment of Isa 61, he begins healing many (Luke 4:31-37, a demon; 4:38, Peter’s mother-in-law, 4:39-40, many diseases and demons). Similarly, in Matthew 11 Jesus answers John’s disciples by alluding to the Hebrew Bible.

Why would healing be a part of the messianic age? The coming age is a time of the New Covenant, when Israel and Judah will no longer be under the curse of the Law, but under the blessing of the New Covenant.  The First Covenant promised a physical curse for breaking the law, but a physical blessing for keeping the Law. The New Covenant will enable the people to keep the covenant, therefore the coming age will be a time when the curse is reversed and people are physically blessed with real health.  In the coming age, God will deal with sin, even destroying Death (Isa 25:6-8). God’s representative, the messiah, will initiate that period of health and prosperity.

Mark 2 is a most remarkable healing because it seems designed to reverse contemporary assumptions about disease and sin.  If a person had a disease or other serious physical problem, it might very well be an indication of sin (as in Job, for example).  When the paralytic was lowered through the roof, Jesus does not heal him, but rather forgives his sin.  This provokes a response from the teachers of the Law, since only God can forgive sin.   Perhaps they thought that if Jesus really could forgive sin, he would have healed the man.  Jesus goes out of his way to point out that he has authority to forgive sin (a divine prerogative) and heals the man to show that his sins have in fact been forgiven.

How are Jesus’ healing ministry related to us today? We are really back to the “already / not yet” of the Kingdom. Jesus dealt with the problem of sin on the cross, but the Kingdom is not yet fully consummated.  The future, fully realized Kingdom will be a time when the curse of sin is reversed.  Today we have the spiritual blessing of the New Covenant, but not necessarily all of the physical blessings.

Two implications follow from this.  First, the Church is not under the curse of the Law – physical illness should never be seen as a direct punishment from God because of your sin (or your parent’s sin). It might be, since sin is usually “punished” by the natural results of that sin.  But you cannot say your illness is a result of the curses of the Law.

Second, you cannot say your good health is a result of your positive spiritual life. Again, it might be (guilty conscience could cause an ulcer), but there is not contract with God that guarantees you health if you are living out your Christian life properly.

I realize this runs counter to popular teaching from evangelists about healing, but these teachers seriously misunderstand Jesus’s miracles when they tell people their illness is a result of sin or their success is a result of spiritual maturity.