Biblestudy: John (Part Sixteen)
John 9:8-10:14 Spiritual Blindness / Hearing the Master's Voice
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 19-Jan-87; 82 minutes
I have had a lot of interesting comments regarding the analogy in John 9, and I hope you have your own ideas regarding it.
We will go back to the beginning, we only got about five or six verses into John 9, and I think that if we go back it will constitute enough of a review from last week that we will get off to a good start.
John 9:1-5 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
I mentioned last week in passing that this is the only person of all the people that Jesus healed that is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, who was afflicted from birth. In many of the cases, it says that he or she had been afflicted for 17 years, or 38 years, or whatever. But this one was from birth, and it seems as though he was pretty well known to quite a number of people—not everyone, as it seems evident from the rest of the chapter, but he is apparently well known to some of the disciples.
The question often arises as to why the disciples would even ask the question, since it seems apparent that they knew him to be blind from birth. Why would they ask the question about who sinned? How could it be possible for someone to sin before they were born?
It is part of their Jewish tradition, that it was possible to do that. They had some ideas regarding when it was possible to begin sinning, even as we have some ideas regarding when the spirit in man becomes a part of us. Does the spirit of man become a part of us, does it enter into us, when we are separated from the womb, and we take the first breath? Or is it imparted somehow in the womb?
In the same manner, these people had ideas regarding the possibility of sinning before the person was even born. We will see in Psalm 51 that David makes a statement that is a little bit vague that he was conceived in sin. It seems to give the indication that he was sinning before he was even born.
That is neither here nor there, because as far as Jesus was concerned, it did not really matter. As I said last week, I do not know how He knew, but He somehow knew that neither the parents of this man, nor the man himself, were guilty of any sin that was involved in his blindness.
You have to give them credit, at least for understanding that sin is at the root, the core, the bottom, of all of the suffering, the pain, the affliction of mankind. It has all come from there, except in, I would have to say, exceptional cases. And this was one of those exceptional cases. It is a marvel to me how Jesus knew. Was He inspired to know? What kind of prescience did this man have, to be able to perceive that sin was not involved in this man's affliction? Whatever it took, He had it and He was able to see that the man was not guilty of any sin, but was going to be used, by God, to bring glory to God through the healing.
John 9:4 “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.”
It is another one of those brief statements that Jesus so frequently made regarding us having a sense of urgency regarding the Kingdom of God, the work of God, that time is short. We do not know when it is going to run out on us. We can tell from prophecies that there is a certain amount of time involved in the tribulation, in the last days. We can see that things are not completely shaped up the way that they are going to be shaped up, whenever prophecy finally gets to that place when the tribulation will actually be able to begin.
But time is short for us because none of us know when we are going to die. We do not know how much longer we have, any single one of us. So there is always that sense of "Don’t procrastinate! Get on with it! Don’t wait until we discover that it’s too late to do something that we should’ve done!"
In John 9:5 there is something that I did not bring out the last time:
John 9:5 “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Apparently, there are quite a number of old versions of the Bible that say, “As long as we are in the world, we are the light of the world.” It uses the plural rather than the singular.
It seems to me from verse 4 that the singular is more indicated, because it does not say, “We must work the works of Him”—nobody claims that is said. It says, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. . . . As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” That certainly seems to me to be more correct, but I will pass it along to you because there are quite a number of authorities that say that it should be the pronoun we. Even if it does say we, we certainly have to be able to take the lesson that is there and go on with it.
John 9:6-12 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing. Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?” Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.” He said, “I am he.” Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” Then they said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”
One of the interesting things here is, why did Jesus spit, or use His spittle, to make clay? It is certainly shown in many other places in the Bible that He did not need to do that. There was the occasion when the nobleman said to Him, “You don’t even need to come to my house,” and there was the time when the centurion said to Him, “You don’t need to come; just give the word.” Many other times, He did nothing more than lay His hands on somebody, or command them to rise and walk, and it was done.
So there was nothing that needed to be done on His part to affect the cure, I mean anything of a physical nature. What He did must have been done for the good of the blind man, or possibly for the good of those who stood around.
It is a good time to review something here briefly. In Mark 2, it is shown very clearly that healing is by the forgiveness of sin. That is a spiritual act that God does. There is nothing physical to which God has given the property of forgiving sin. So it does not matter whether it is a medicine, vitamin, minerals; it does not matter whether it is some other kind of physical act that a person does. Although that act may not be wrong in itself, and though it may be something that would be good for the person to do, it cannot forgive sin, and it cannot heal.
So there is no doubt that this clay that was made by Him mixing His spittle with it had no curative powers. It had no restorative powers. There seems to be some kind of psychological reason why He did it, something that had to do with confidence. We know that they did not have spiritual faith. They did not have the Spirit of God, so it had to be the kind of confidence that they could have from physical things, or a circumstance, or an event in which they were participating.
That seems to be the best reason that I can come up with. He did something that would either be something that the man would expect to be done, or He did something that would give the man the feeling of confidence in His doing what He did. So He did what He did. As I mentioned to you last time, there are enough historical notations that it was something that the doctors and physicians of those days were doing, using spittle for medicine. I do not think it had anything to do with that though; it had something to do with the effect on his mind, the placebo effect.
It is interesting to note the reaction of his neighbors. They no doubt recognized the man by his physical appearance that this fellow sure did look like the guy who was blind, but it was something that was a little bit beyond belief. They could not make a relationship between someone who looked just like the guy who was blind, but was not blind. I know that in a similar circumstance, we would probably be scratching our heads too, not really sure whether or not that was the same man. But indeed it was.
John 9:13-16 They brought him who was formerly blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.
Which is typical; it seems that everywhere that Jesus went, no matter what He said, no matter what He did, that people were divided regarding who He was and what He was doing. There are several hundred different denominations, all looking at the same Book and all coming up with different answers regarding who was Christ? So that has not changed at all to this day.
Did Jesus break the Sabbath? We know that He did not. But to the Pharisees, it was a breaking of the Sabbath because it does state, very clearly, in their writings, that to make clay was work. He had obviously done that. There were other things that were work, although we consider them to be very minor affairs, but to them it was a very important matter. To take a bowl of olive oil, which would be used make light, and fill it up and even to set it beside an already burning bowl, was considered to be work. It was considered to be work to put out a burning lamp. It was also considered to be work to wear shoes that had nails in them, because the carrying of the nails was considered to be labor.
They considered the Sabbath to be broken because He worked. But they also considered that the Sabbath was broken because their law stated that it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath. They were quite specific about it. You could keep a person comfortable, but you could not do anything that would make him better. If a person inadvertently tripped and fell and broke a bone on the Sabbath day, then you could make them comfortable in a bed or on a pallet, but you could not set the bone. As far as the Pharisees were concerned, it was very clear to them that He had broken the Sabbath.
John 9:17-34 They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. [Notice how others are being drawn into this.] And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.” He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” Then they said to him again, “What did he do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” [Fighting words!] Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.” The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshipper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could nothing.” They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and you are teaching us?” And they cast him out.
Notice the players in this drama as it unfolds.
First of all, the man who was healed. He could not put things into theologically correct language, but at least he felt with all of his heart; he was not uncertain at all. It certainly seems that he is a pretty brave man.
The parents—what a contrast. They were uncooperative, they were afraid, and they had good reason to be afraid. They were faced with being cast out of the synagogue; they were faced with being excommunicated.
There were two kinds of excommunication. There was a temporary suspension that might last a designated period, a month or six weeks. Then there was a permanent excommunication. That had very far-reaching effects. If it was done, and it was done the way it could be done, it had very shattering effects on a person.
Ezra 10:7-8 And they issued a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the descendants of the captivity, that they must gather at Jerusalem, and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the instructions of the leaders and elders, all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly of those from the captivity.
What they are talking about here is a disfellowshipping because of not obeying the government of the nation/church. On occasion, we have to disfellowship someone. The person is put out of the fellowship of the congregation, and it has very serious spiritual ramifications. Physically, nothing changes, except that you no longer meet with the congregation, but you hang onto your job and your property; you still have a family that you can go to.
If the Jews really wanted to be hard on a person, being put out of the synagogue could also mean the confiscation of their property. In James Michener’s book The Source, one chapter was devoted to a man who was skilled in doing mosaic work, he was an artisan. He made the serious mistake of entering into a contract with the pagan church in his area to do a mosaic on the floor of the building. For his trouble, he was put out of the congregation by the local synagogue. His property was confiscated and he became a man without a country. He could not own property; he could not live in the community, because no one would hire him. He became cut off from his physical family because they did not want to be associated with him, because if they associated with him, they would face the same kind of chastisement for fellowshipping with an excommunicated person.
So to be excommunicated or thrown out of the synagogue was something to be feared.
There is a spiritual lesson in all of that. If we are disfellowshipped, just because we are left with our property in this world, we might be deceived into thinking, “Things aren’t really so bad.” But is that true? Spiritually, what have we lost out on, what have we given up? We have given up our part in the spiritual inheritance in the Kingdom of God. The effect of it is far more terrible in the New Testament. In one sense, we have become a man without a country. When we became a church member, we declared ourselves to be pilgrims and strangers and foreigners, and that our citizenship was in heaven. If we are cast out of the Kingdom of God, we are no longer a part of it, and we still do not have a country. You really have to think these things through.
You can understand why the parents were uncooperative. They really did not want to be a “rat fink” as far as their son was concerned, but they had to think about their future. What were they going to do if they were cast out of the synagogue? You can have a little bit of pity for them. They were in a Catch-22 situation; they were between a rock and a hard place. It was either a matter of offending the Pharisees or offending their son, so they chose to offend their son, because their son could not take their property away.
The other people in this drama are the Pharisees. Their reaction is interesting, because they did not believe that the man was blind. They thought it was a fake miracle; they felt that Jesus and the man had gotten together and staged it. There was little bit of backing in the Old Testament for that. In Deuteronomy 13:1, God warns about those kinds of miracles. I am sure that in their history that had plenty of documentation of people who had done similar things.
We might sometimes think that the Pharisees were really dumb. They were not dumb at all. Part of the confusion might arise because of the term Pharisee. It may very well be that every time we see the word Pharisee that Jesus was not talking to the same Pharisees all the time. Most of the time, He kept running across different ones in different areas. So they had to be introduced.
That would not apply to the Pharisees surrounding the temple, those who were a part of the Sanhedrin and the ones who were most responsible for His being put to death. They knew full well, because they had been witness to Him many times.
They did not believe that the man had been blind; they believed that it was a fake miracle. They were willing to use their ecclesiastical authority to further their own ends. That is why they were casting the man out of the synagogue.
In John 9:24, it says “Give God the glory!” This phrase appears in several other places in the Bible. First, notice if was given by the Pharisees to the man who had been blind, “Give God the glory!” I will show you the first place that phrase appears, in Joshua 7 in the episode with Achan.
Joshua 7:19 Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
That was their way of saying, “Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” “Give glory to God” was a charge to these people to tell the truth, as though God was there listening, as if they were in the Presence.
When the Pharisees said that to the man, he came back with an argument. His argument was this: He did a good thing, how could He be a bad man? As a basis for that argument, he used the principle that God does not hear sinners. It was obvious to the man who was healed that what Jesus had done, He had done through the power of God. The man was already coming to see that no man, of course, could do what was done to him unless God was with Him. His reasoning was absolutely correct, and that is, this Man must be a good Man, He must be somebody who is in contact with God. He is somebody that God has given the power to; otherwise He could not have done what He did. He could see it, but the Pharisees could not.
Let us consider this question: does God hear sinners? That puzzles us, because you look at what is going on in the world, and every once in a while you hear somebody say that they have been healed by God. You see that they are not keeping the Sabbath, the holy days, as far as you know they are not tithing. They are not doing all of the kinds of things that God would expect a person to do in obedience and submission to Him, and yet the person claims that he prayed to God, and God healed him. Does God hear sinners?
Job 27:8-10 For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he may gain much, if God takes away his life? Will God hear his cry when trouble comes upon him? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call on God?
The implication is that even though Job does not say it directly, is that God is not going to hear the hypocrite. Job was a pretty upright person. According to Ezekiel, one of the big three you might say: Job, Noah, and Daniel. Very righteous men. So Job must have had some insight, when he said that the hypocrite cannot rely on God listening to him.
Psalm 66:18-19 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.
David said very clearly there that God is not going to hear the person who regards iniquity in his heart, that is, it is part and parcel of his way of life. That blind man did not have any eyes, but he knew a thing or two!
Isaiah 1:14-15 “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.”
That is pretty clear. That man did not have any eyes, but he was listening to what was going on in the synagogue.
Ezekiel 8:18 “Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”
On the other hand, there are many verses about how He hears the righteous. Far more of them than there are of those regarding who He will not hear.
The answer is this: God loves His creation. He says in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. He tells us also in Matthew 5:43 that we are to love our enemies, the reason being that if we are to be like our Father, who makes His sun to shine on the good and the evil—which is nothing more than an illustration to show that God does good even for the evil. So if we want to be like our Father, we have to love our enemies like God does.
There are many things that you see occurring, even along the road. People get flat tires, and how frequently do you stop to help them fix their tire? People might be in a little bit of trouble, and the chances are very great that you and I might just walk right on by. In a similar manner, so it is with God. He is aware of what is going on, but He picks and chooses His place and His time to intervene. There are occasions when He does hear what people cry out to Him in all sincerity. In the faith that they do have, He will respond to them on occasion. The question is, Why? I would say it is because He is beginning to lay groundwork for the future for this person. Somewhere down the road, it is going to be important to that person’s spiritual well-being.
I remember hearing one of our ministers give an example from his own life. He was a pilot during World War II and he flew many, many missions in the Far East, against the Japanese. One time, he got shot down. As his plane was descending in flames, he leaped out of the cockpit and started plummeting toward the ground. His parachute opened, but the strings wrapped around his ankle. It would not fully open. He was plummeting toward the ground, just as fast as he and the parachute could get there, all the while struggling, trying to get the thing untangled from around his ankle. I do not know whether the man had done much thinking about God up to that time, but suddenly, he was thinking about God. He said that he did cry out to God, and just practically at the last moment, the parachute opened up and he landed on his feet.
It was not until another ten or fifteen years later that the man was called. He would not have been called at all if he were dead. I think that is at least one reason why God intervenes and hears the cry of somebody, because He has plans for them down the road. There may be other reasons that you can think of, but God does, on occasion, hear the prayers of sinners, even though He Himself shows very clearly that, as a rule, He is going to pass right on by. Proverbs 1 is very clear on that. About two-thirds of the way through the chapter, it says “You will cry and I will not hear you.” In fact, He says “I am going to mock at you and your trouble.”
Returning to John 9—we have not considered Christ in all of this. The man, his parents, the Pharisees, and now Christ.
John 9:35-41 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshipped Him. And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.”
Christ sought him out, which I think is something that ought to be encouraging to you. The man’s loyalty to Christ brought him persecution; yet, in the midst of the persecution, Christ sought him out. What He is doing here, remember, is showing what God is like. So if you are being persecuted because of your loyalty to God, He is again going to seek you out. He is going to do that spiritually, but it is nonetheless a very clear indication of what He will do. He will come to your side, come to your aid.
In John 9:11, the man was a little bit vague about who Jesus was: He saw Jesus as a man. A wonderful man, but still, He was a man.
John 9:17 They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
Now, He is no longer just a man, He is a prophet. A prophet is a messenger from God, he is one who is close to God, and who bears God’s message to man.
John 9:35-38 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshipped Him.
Now, He was God, because that is who you worship. He came to see, through his experience, that Jesus did not fit normal categories, that he was not just a man, that he was not just a prophet—He was somebody who was worthy of worship. That was the reward that he got from his persecution. That was the reward of his loyalty.
You can draw a conclusion from this; that is part of the reason why it is here. The closer we get to God, it is very likely that we are going to have more persecution as a result. But, the closer we get to Him, the greater He becomes, and the more likely we are to serve Him correctly. It is part of this process of coming to know God. That is why to know God is eternal life.
I am going to give you that analogy. Let us see how close you came. Beginning back in John 9:1, we begin with a blind man. He is the second major player in this analogy; he is an important one, and the analogy would not be there without him. The blind man represents something in the analogy; what he represents is the state of the entire world. The whole world is blind! Blind from birth! And it is not their fault; it is not our fault.
Where does the blame for the blindness lay? God lays it on Satan. He is the one who has blinded, who has deceived the whole world.
So this man represents the whole world. So how did he receive his sight? In the course of His work, the Light of the World came to him, which is of course, Christ (John 6:44). And what did He do? He anointed his eyes so that he could see—spiritually, that is the analogy. The man could not see immediately, but he did respond. He responded to a command: he had to begin to exercise his faith in the One who had anointed his eyes. If he had not done that, he never would have seen, that would have been the end of his progress.
He followed the command, and what did he do? He went and washed in the pool of Siloam, as though he was being purified, as it were, in the waters of baptism. What was the pool called? It was called “Sent.” It was water that was sent from afar. The Holy Spirit was sent to man from afar, from heaven, for the purpose of what? So that we could be washed by the water of the Word and cleansed.
In John 9:8-9, his neighbors refused to believe that it was the same person. If you are following the analogy of a person who is called out, the spiritual blindness is lifted. He begins to obey God; he receives the Holy Spirit; he begins to be washed. His life is changing dramatically. People refuse to believe that it is the same man who is doing these things, because his life is changing so drastically.
In John 9:12, they ask, “Where is He?”, and the man replies “I do not know.” Even the man cannot fully understand how it happened! How many times have I heard, “Why did God call me?” It happened, but the person cannot fully understand.
In John 9:18, the Jews did not believe, and neither did his parents. The spiritual sight begins to affect those who are close, but still blind. In other words, they begin to be fearful, and they react to the conversion of this formerly blind person. They say, “How will this affect me?” Boy, if that does not happen within families! Even divorces have taken place, because of the reaction of the one not called. They begin to fear that what you are doing is really going to upset their life, and they do not know whether they can put up with that.
Now we begin to get into really serious stuff: in John 9:24, the world begins to persecute. The blind are leading other blind to persecute the only one who can really see! The spiritually blind are leading one another to persecute the one who has spiritual vision.
Through this whole thing, the formerly blind person is giving his witness. He is doing it partially with his mouth, being questioned and interrogated, by his family. They are watching his reaction to all of these things. The Pharisees are also watching his reaction, and in the course of his witness, he is drawn closer and closer in his worship of Christ.
There are actually several analogies here. One could be of the whole world, and another could be of the individual’s conversion. The last one is, when did it happen? It happened on the Sabbath, and the Sabbath represents the Millennium, and that is when mankind will begin to have its blindness removed.
John 9:40-41 are important in regard to judgment. Being confronted with truth brings judgment on a person, and the judgment is determined by our reaction to it. The blind man responded and now he was able to see. The Pharisees responded, and their blindness actually deepened. They actually brought the judgment upon themselves.
A person who is conscious of his blindness, or to put it another way, is conscious of what he lacks, or of his weakness, or his inability to comprehend, to understand, to perceive—a person who is able to see that he does not have the kind of character that he needs to have, that his faith is not strong enough, that his fear of God needs to be strengthened—a person who is conscious of his blindness and makes the effort to try to overcome; that person is going to understand and be able to see more. That person can be moved even more deeply into the truth. Only the person who can see his weaknesses is going to be able to overcome them. If a person is not aware of his weakness, or he does not acknowledge that there is a weakness, that person cannot be changed.
The more knowledge that a person says that he has, if he does not recognize truth when he sees it, he is condemned by it. That is why Jesus said to Pharisees, “It you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’” In the pride of their knowledge, they said that they understood. Their knowledge actually kept them from seeing. So the condemnation actually lay in what they claimed to know so much of, and yet not recognize in Christ.
They claimed to know the Old Testament. They claimed to know what it said about the Messiah. They claimed to know what the evidence would be when the Messiah would come. They were the spiritual leaders of the people. They said that they knew, but they did not recognize. And the man who said, “Who is He?” He is the one that recognized.
The reaction to truth is what brings the judgment. That is a very clear Biblical principle.
Another way of putting it is that responsibility is the other side of privilege. Our privilege is to know God, because He has given us that insight. Our responsibility is to do according to what He reveals. We have that responsibility to go along with our privilege.
This continues right on through into John 10. In John 9:40-41, Jesus was talking to the people who were the shepherds of the flock of Israel. They were the people given the responsibility to provide spiritual leadership. The subject of the shepherd follows right on the heels, because he was talking to the shepherds of Israel.
John 10:1-6 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.
He is doing this partly in condemnation of the Pharisees and partly in defense of the formerly blind man who is now following Him. The blind man recognized His voice, and was now following Him. The Pharisees were about ready to jump on the blind man for following someone that they thought was a religious fraud.
The analogy of God shepherding His flock is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Remember, we are talking about the Messiah: He is the Good Shepherd, that is, God leading the flock.
Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
That is expressed in a multitude of other Psalms as well. Every Feast of Trumpets we sing, “Though who are the shepherd of Israel, lead the flock of Joseph,” from Psalm 80. Also, there are many connections in the Old Testament between the Messiah. There is no doubt, in the context, that He is talking not about the Lord, but about the Messiah. The Messiah will also be a shepherd who will be leading a flock.
There are also many examples in the New Testament
Matthew 18:12 “What do you think? It a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?”
Matthew 9:36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
Matthew 26:31 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”
I Peter 2:25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
The duty of the shepherd is to lead and care for the flock in a wide variety of circumstances. The word pastor means shepherd. So the analogy is very clear: one how leads a flock of human beings called of God is a pastor. His responsibility is to shepherd, or to lead and care for, a flock of the spiritual children of Israel in a variety of circumstances.
The analogy is very good because shepherding in Judah, and throughout the whole Middle East, was different from shepherding in the United States, where people in the United States were likely to have flocks of hundreds or thousands of sheep. In the United States, they would be let out into a pasture and would be, in many cases, fenced in behind barbed wire.
In ancient Israel, the average Israelite was a subsistence farmer or shepherd; he just barely had enough to get by, the way most of us are. We live from paycheck to paycheck, and we are not putting away a lot of money, and neither were they. Their keeping of flocks was for the most part not for the purpose of meat, but rather for the wool. They tended to keep a sheep for a long period of time, maybe over its entire life. They would not slaughter the sheep except to make a sacrifice or when the sheep was finally so old that it was not good for anything but mutton. They tried to raise their sheep for the wool.
That meant that the sheep almost became a part of the family. They all had names in their small flock, so the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep was generally a very long one, over a span of eight, ten, to twelve years, as long as the lifetime of a sheep. It was almost like a family relationship, with each sheep having a name. During that period of time, the sheep were very clearly able to distinguish the voice of their master.
My wife and I had five sheep for a while that we shared with our landlord. We had them for about a year, and even in that time, they came to recognize our voices very clearly. There was no trouble at all calling a sheep; all they had to do was know your voice, or some sound. If we went out with a pan and banged on it with a spoon, they would come running from wherever they happened to be. They knew there would be some oats, or molasses, or something that they were going to get that was awfully good, and they wanted to get there. They were very responsive, far more so than dogs. I do not think God would have used a dog in this kind of an analogy; a sheep is a lot better.
This is interesting, because sheep tend to pretty much all look alike. There may be some differences between them, but you and I could probably not distinguish them. This was important to a shepherd in Judah, and it is important to this analogy. Whenever it was winter (remember in the story of Christ’s birth it said the flocks were still out in the field), if they were in town in the wintertime, the whole community would usually have one sheepfold. We would call it a corral today. The sheep would stay in there and the farmers took care of them during that period of time. If there was not a large flock, it was likely that the sheep lived right in the house with the people.
But when they were out in the field, there would be kind of a common area. During the evening time, they would all bring their flocks together, and during the night, the sheep would mix together. How would you be able to separate one flock from another when they all look practically the same? Well, it was no trouble at all. All the shepherd had to do was come out and give his own peculiar greeting to his sheep, and the sheep would separate themselves.
I can picture that in my mind: I would go out and the sheep were in the little pasture we had for them. I would yell something, and the sheep would put their nose up in the air, turn around, and come running. That is how they separated their flocks; that is why Jesus said “They know their master’s voice.” It is no trouble at all for the sheep to recognize their master’s voice; all the master has to do is speak, and the sheep will follow the shepherd. But they will not follow a stranger.
You have to be able to understand the spiritual analogy here. Somebody who is really following God, somebody who is really following Christ, is going to recognize truth. They might get confused from time to time, but by and large, they are going to recognize truth. They will not follow some other shepherd, because they are not deceived.
John 10:7-9 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
I mentioned before that when the sheep were in town, they were usually kept in a community corral. It was a permanent structure that had a door on it that was good and solid, so that the sheep could not go in and out; there was no problem with the sheep escaping. But if they were out in the field, and all of the community sheep were in the same general area, they built their corral, but they tended to build it without a door. This is important to the analogy. How do you protect a bunch of sheep in the evening time in a corral without a door? Would not the sheep wander out?
The answer is no, because the shepherd—who had the assignment of guarding the sheep that night—would sleep with his body across the doorway, becoming the door. If any sheep was going to go in and out, they had to go over the body of the shepherd. That is what Jesus is here picturing Himself as: the door. If His sheep are going to go in and out, it is going to have to be over, through, or around Him, because He is the Shepherd of His flock.
What does this going in and out mean? It also has a meaning in this analogy. “In and out” is a Hebrew idiom that means to have peace and security. Solomon used it in I Kings 3 when he was made king. In his prayer to God, he said “I am a young man, and I do not know how to go either in or out.” In Deuteronomy 28:6, the blessing and curses chapter, God uses that phrase about his people going in and going out.
Deuteronomy 28:6 “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.”
Numbers 27:17 is another example of the use of that phrase.
What it indicates is order, stability, a full life, and a fit and healthy people. You are not afraid to go out of your door; you are not afraid to be inside of your house. There is peace outside of your door; stability on the streets. You are not afraid of being robbed, mugged, or raped. It indicates that your life is full; it is not confined to your own home. It is not confined because of the instability and disorder that is on the street. You are fit and healthy, so you can make use of your non-confinement.
So what Jesus is saying is, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, [they are going to have to through Him to get into the fold], he will be saved.” And not only saved, he will not only have the security, but he will also have a full life, and be fit and healthy. He is going to be able to go in and go out. He goes out to find pasture; he comes in to find safety.
Jesus is saying that it is God’s intent to bring us to a condition of security and a condition of fullness of life.
When Jesus talks about the thieves and the robbers, he is not talking about all of the prophets who came before Him, in the sense of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses and others. He is talking about false prophets and false messiahs; their ways are ways of death.
John 10:10 “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.”
That is what the false messiahs do; that is what the false prophets do. That is what they do to the flock: they steal people, they kill them spiritually, they destroy them.
John 10:10 “I have come [the good shepherd] that they may have life [eternal life] and that they may have it more abundantly.”
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Perhaps the first law of God’s Kingdom, at least for you and me, is self-denial. It seems that we are always in a position of denying what human nature wants. Jesus said it six different times, the way to life is to deny yourself. He said the person who tries to save himself will end up with nothing, but the person who denies himself will find life. That is why I say that the first law of God’s Kingdom is self-denial.
It seems dull, but is it? Consider this proposition: I think that what God is saying is that in life, as in mathematics, there are minus signs and negative numbers. Many experiences in life, many things in life, actually detract, even though they seem attractive, or may be pleasurable or entertaining. They are actually detracting from life. All God wants us to do is to avoid the minus signs.
What is He asking us to deny, except that which is no good for us? Even though the experiences may give a certain amount of pleasure, they are certainly not going to lead to the Kingdom of God.
John 10:11-15 “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees [he did not deny himself, instead he did what nature told him to do]; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling [an unfaithful shepherd] and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
You can find in the Old Testament that the shepherd had absolute responsibility for the sheep. You can understand this in light of what I said before: when they were out in the field, they tended to rotate the responsibilities, so that each shepherd was not up all night long guarding the sheep every night of the week. They would bring their sheep together so that one man would have the responsibility. When he was on duty during that evening, he had the responsibility for the sheep. If a sheep was killed while he was on duty, he was responsible. It was his responsibility to chase off the wolf, the dog, the lion, or whatever predator came in.
If an animal died and it could be proven that it was something for which he was not responsible, (the only way that could be proven is shown in the book of Amos), the man had to be able to find a leg, an arm, or something to indicate that it was beyond his responsibility for the death of that animal. But if he had the opportunity to beat off the attacking animal, then it was his responsibility to do it, to the point of laying down his life. Remember, those sheep meant a great deal to those people; that was their life.
I Samuel 17:34-36 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.”
Exodus 22:13 If it is torn to pieces by a beast, then he shall bring it as evidence, and he shall not make good what was torn.
Isaiah 31:4 For thus the Lord has spoken to me: “As a lion roars, and a young lion over his prey (When a multitude of shepherds is summoned against him, he will not be afraid of their voice nor be disturbed by their noise), so the Lord of hosts will come down to fight for Mount Zion and for its hill.
In order to have the right picture, you have to understand where Christ was coming from. He is drawing this analogy from the shepherding of sheep in Judah, but it applies spiritually. I am telling you about my responsibility as a pastor. What He is saying here is that the faithful shepherd loves his flock. The sheep are actually his friends and companions. That is why I told you earlier that these sheep tend to be with the shepherd for many, many years, until he knows them all by name. They are his friends and companions all the while, especially while they are out in the field. The field represents the world. It is not just a job. It is the guarding of one’s friends and companions.
Acts 20:29 “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
Zachariah 11:16 “For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces.”
I Peter 5:2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
John 10:15 actually begins another section. It has a great deal to do with the attitude that a shepherd ought to have. We will pick this up in the next Bible study.