The Thirty-Third in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Moses and Israel’s prophets foretold of a time when God would send a faithful shepherd to care for God’s people (his flock)–yet another blessing of the messianic age. In the person of Jesus, that shepherd has come to Israel. Ironically, the Pharisees see themselves as Israel’s shepherds. But Jesus sees them as faithless thieves and robbers who care little for God’s flock, and who think nothing of exploiting the flock as it suits them. It is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who will gather God’s flock to himself, lead them to green pastures, and protect them from all enemies. The Good Shepherd cares for his flock and he will lay down his life for his sheep, those who hear his voice and who follow their shepherd wherever he leads them.
In John 9, Jesus miraculously heals a man who had been blind from birth. This miracle–the sixth of seven miraculous signs in John’s Gospel–proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. One of the main themes of messianic prophecy (especially that found in the Book of Isaiah), is that when the Messiah comes, he will restore sight to the blind. When the Pharisees learn that Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath, they were outraged by Jesus’ action and sought to use his miracle, and the manner in which he performed it (using mud and spittle), as grounds to find Jesus guilty of breaking the Sabbath. This would be sufficient to arrest Jesus and put him to death.
When the Pharisees could not prove that Jesus had done anything wrong, they angrily turn on the blind man who identified Jesus as the prophet. When the blind man refuses to change his story about how Jesus healed him, or change his opinion about Jesus’ identity, the Pharisees cast him and his parents out of the synagogue, solely on the ground that Jesus had healed him. Knowing what had happened to this man and his family, Jesus has compassion on him yet again, and brings him to saving faith (as recounted in verses 35-37). The blind man whose eyes are now open, confesses his faith in Jesus, and then worships him. Remarkably, Jesus receives his worship.
The ever-present Pharisees are watching this transpire and could not help but respond when Jesus places God’s covenant judgment (curse) upon them. In John 9:39-41, “Jesus said, `For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, `Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, `If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.’” The Pharisees witnessed a man born blind from birth receiving sight, and yet offer not a word of praise to God. The miracle proves that Jesus is the Messiah, but they seek to kill him. Because the blind man will not change his story to help them trap Jesus, the Pharisees revile him, before excommunicating him. John leaves us with the amazing irony in chapter 9 is that a blind man can now see (spiritually and physically) while it is the Pharisees who are truly blind even though there is nothing wrong with their eyesight.
The actions of the unbelieving, heartless, and cruel Pharisees towards the blind man and his parents, coupled with the fact that Jesus places God’s covenant curse upon them (they remain in their sins), sets the stage for one of the most beloved sections in the New Testament, John 10:1-21, wherein Jesus proclaims that he is the Good Shepherd of Israel. In the prior chapter (John 9), the account of the healing of the blind man takes place against the backdrop of the messianic expectation of sight being restored to the blind. So too in chapter 10, Jesus discourse is set against the Old Testament backdrop of God placing his covenant curse upon the faithless shepherds of Israel who exploit the people of God for personal gain. The list of Old Testament texts is extensive, and we will consider a number of them. The list includes Ezekiel 34, Isaiah 56:9-12, Jeremiah 23:1-8 (which we read as our Old Testament lesson), 25:32-38, Zechariah 11, and even the 23rd Psalm. In John 10, Jesus will make the point that the Pharisees, who have just demonstrated their rank unbelief in their treatment of both Jesus and the man born blind, are false shepherds who will come under the covenant curses.
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