Study Notes 12-9-12

John Chapter 9

Introduction

In the last two chapters we have seen how Christ angered and amazed the people and the religious leaders of His day by His teaching and His knowledge. Now John is going to tell us of another physical miracle that Christ performed – a “sign” – that would point once again to who this great man was.

The ESV Study notes tell us that “This miracle is one of several events in John in which the events in the physical world are a “sign” that points to a deeper spiritual meaning. Here Jesus gives sight to a man born blind, but this is also an evident symbol that Jesus, “the light of the world” (v. 5), brings the light of the knowledge of God.”

D.A. Carson says, “This chapter portrays what happens when the light shines: some are made to see, like this man born blind, while others, who think they see, turn away, blinded, as it were, by the light.”

9:1-5 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. [4] We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. [5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

A Man Lost in Blindness

Perhaps no one that I read on this passage does a better job of existentially reading the passage, and getting inside the thoughts of this blind man than R.C. Sproul. Here is what he says in his commentary on John:

How many years did that man grope in the darkness, asking: ‘Why me, God? Everybody else can see, but I can’t see anything. My whole life I have listened to people talk about what they’re seeing, and I can only imagine. I don’t even have any memories to aid me in my imagination because I’ve never seen anything. Why me?’ Imagine the frustration, the torment. Year after year he dealt with this affliction. He had no idea that one day the Son of God would come to him and heal him. But that was the plan of God for his life from all eternity.

The reason I quoted Sproul here is because I think we often forget that we are called to identify with others in their trials and struggles. As we share the gospel with others, as we care for others, we are called to love them. John’s entire first epistle is crying out “Christians show they are Christians by showing love to others.”

Imagine yourself in your neighbor’s place, in your husband’s place, in your wife’s place. Imagine the ultimate fate of your co-worker, and the difficulties of their struggles. This is important because it helps us remember that these people are all important to God. They are all to be objects of our love.

The Universality of Sickness and Death

Jesus gave sight to this man, just as He would give men spiritual sight. That is why He called Himself the “light of the world.” He is the One true God who imparts right knowledge of God to a lost and dying world.

It seemed like a common, and even obvious question for the disciples to ask whether or not it was sin that caused the blind man’s sickness. And indeed original sin is the cause of all blindness, both physical and spiritual. Sin is at the root of all sickness and disease. The entire world was plunged into darkness because of the Fall.

John MacArthur says this, “Sickness is a universal effect of the fall, as a result of which sin, death, and decay exist in this imperfect world. It afflicts all human beings, periodically reminding each of them that they ‘are but dust’ (Ps. 103:14), and that one day ‘to dust (they) shall return (Gen. 3:19).”

J.C. Ryle agrees and says, “If Adam had never fallen, we cannot doubt that people would never have been blind, or deaf, or dumb. The many ills that flesh is heir to, the countless pains, and diseases, and physical defects to which we are all liable, came in when the curse came upon the earth. ‘By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12).”

But Why?

But the assumption that the man’s blindness was a direct result of either his sin or the sin of his parents was incorrect. For this man would have had to have sinned prior to birth, which is impossible (although MacArthur notes that it was a popular thought among Jews of the day that a baby could sin in the womb).

Also, it seems wrong that the man would have been responsible for the sins of his parents. MacArthur addresses this:

The disciples may also have been thinking of certain Old Testament passages in which God seems to promise punishment on children for the sins of their parents (Ex. 20:5, 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9)…Such passages, however, must be understood in a national or societal sense. The point is that the corrupting effect of a wicked generation seeps into subsequent generations. This is axiomatic, an obvious reality. The idea that a child will be punished for the sins of his own parents is a concept foreign to Scripture (cf. Deut. 24:16).

What the disciples did here was setup a false dilemma, a logical fallacy based on only believing that the answer for the man’s condition was one of two things (Sproul and MacArthur both note this logical misnomer).

But what Christ told them was that they were wrong on both accounts. The reason the man was born this way was because God was going to be glorified. What a thought! From the foundation of the world God had prepared this man to show forth the riches of His kindness in him.

F.F. Bruce has framed this truth brilliantly (as MacArthur also notes):

This does not mean that God deliberately caused the child to be born blind in order that, after many years, his glory should be displayed in the removal of the blindness; to think so would again be an aspersion on the character of God. It does mean that God overruled the disaster of the child’s blindness so that, when the child grew to manhood, he might, by recovering his sight, see the glory of God in the face of Christ, and others, seeing this work of God, might turn to the true Light of the World.

Sproul says, “The blind man’s life is a concrete example of suffering that went on and on for year after year until it finally resulted in glory. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’ (Rom. 8:18).”

Finally, D.A. Carson notes that Christ has been the one initiating all of this, and in this way it is a picture of salvation (as MacArthur notes later). He says, “Now the man (who of course has still not seen Jesus) obeys and washes, and came home seeing. John’s readers know that, although the healing is as thorough as the blind man’s obedience, the power itself came not from the obedience, nor from a pool called ‘Sent’ (Siloam), but from the ‘sent one’ Himself.”

The Urgency

I also think we need to note the urgency of the mission of Christ. He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

MacArthur notes that “Here the plural pronoun ‘we’ includes the disciples, who also were empowered to do the words of the Father who sent Jesus…the phrase ‘as long as it is day’ conveys a sense of urgency. It refers to the brief time that Jesus would still be physically present with the disciples.”

Ryle says, “He (Christ) knew well that his own earthly ministry would only last three years altogether, and knowing this, He diligently redeemed the time. He let slip no opportunity of doing works of mercy, and attending to His Father’s business.”

We also ought to have this sense of urgency about our mission here on earth. Paul tells us:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, [16] making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. [17] Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. [6] Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)

Ryle concludes, “The life that we now live in the flesh is our day. Let us take care that we use it well, for the glory of God and the good of our souls. Let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, while it is called today.”

9:6-7 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud [7] and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The Miracle

John MacArthur rightly points out that Christ’s healings were amazing, “He virtually banished disease from Palestine during that time in an explosion of miraculous healings.” MacArthur goes on to note in some detail some of the characteristics of Christ’s healings. Here is a condensed point-by-point list as Dr. MacArthur sees it:

  1. He healed with only a word or touch
  2. He healed instantly – “unlike some of the alleged healings of modern faith healers, none of His healings were progressive or gradual.”
  3. He healed completely
  4. He healed everyone who came to Him
  5. He healed organic, physical diseases and infirmities – not invisible ailments such as lower back paint, headaches etc.
  6. He raised people from the dead “unlike modern fakes”

Carson goes into a lengthy explanation as to exactly what the significance of the use of mud and saliva might have been, but admits, “It is extremely difficult to decide just what this signifies.” He notes that “Not a few church Fathers saw an allusion to Genesis 2:7: since God made human beings out of the dust of the ground, Jesus, in an act of creation, used a little dust to make eyes that were otherwise lacking.”

There is also a possible sense in which using saliva would have been a social and religious taboo, and that Christ was attacking the norm of thinking – once again making Him Lord of all things. Though it is hard to say for certain whether this is the statement He is making here in chapter 9.

I like what Ryle has to say on the matter as well, “The reason why our Lord used the action (spittle) we cannot tell…He is not tied to any one means of doing good, and that we may expect to find variety in His methods of dealing with souls, as well as with bodies.”

Historical NOTE: As an aside, there have been several archeological discoveries around the Pool of Siloam. You can see some of the pictures if you click here. Or you can visit: http://www.bibleplaces.com/poolofsiloam.htm

The Age of Accountability and Infant Mortality

We all know or have ourselves been intimately acquainted with the death of a newborn, or of a young child.  The question very often that comes up is “will that child go to heaven?” this is closely tied to the question of “when is the age of a child’s accountability to God for their sin?”  I wanted to address that with some resources here, and lay out a few thoughts.  Let it be said from the start where I stand on this matter.  I believe that when a when a child dies before maturity – before understanding their culpability and what their sin actually means – that child goes to heaven.

I looked over what Sproul has to say (here) and what MacArthur says as well.  In the past I found that MacArthur was the best on this issue, but his total lack of addressing the role of original sin in this article really bothered me. Nevertheless, he has a book on the matter that may be more helpful and more extensive (here).

Al Mohler wrote an article on this in the Baptist Press here – This is by far the best explanation for how the Bible talks about this difficult issue that I could find to share with everyone.  Mohler brilliantly addresses each tradition, and brings historical facts and Biblical text to bare on the matter in a way that is very helpful.  Because of this, I’ve pasted his entire article below.

 

FIRST-PERSON: God & the tsunami (Part 3) 

Posted on Jan 6, 2005 | by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

EDITORS’ NOTE: This commentary follows a two-part look at theological questions stemming from the Asian tsunamis.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The photographs and images are now seared into our consciousness. One of the most troubling aspects of the disaster in South Asia is the death of infants and young children. Moving at the speed of a jetliner, the walls of water fell on the young and the old alike — and so many of the youngest were simply swept away.

The death of the little ones poses anguished questions that reach to the depth of Christian faith. What happened to these young victims after death? Did they go to heaven or to hell?

I am convinced that those who die in infancy and early childhood — along with the severely cognitively impaired — go to heaven when they die. That is quite a claim, but it stands within the mainstream of orthodox Christian theology throughout the centuries, and I believe it is biblically and theologically sustainable.

In fact, I am hard pressed to imagine how any other answer can be given.

This is a question of emotional urgency for grieving parents, and it is a stone of stumbling for some who jump to hasty theological conclusions. The scope of the problem is huge, for untold millions of human beings have died at the earliest ages. Infant mortality still stands at several million babies a year. In the developing world, disease, famine and abandonment take a heavy toll. Even in the most highly developed nations, armed with the latest medical technologies, thousands of infants die each year.

The best estimates out of Indonesia and Sri Lanka indicate that young children make up a disproportionate number of the victims of the tsunamis. Like Rachel in the Old Testament, anguished mothers weep for their children.

What is our answer to the question of the eternal destiny awaiting those children? My argument that these children are safe in the presence of Jesus Christ is based upon biblical evidence and theological reasoning. I cannot accept the glib and superficial assertions put forth by those who would simply offer assurance without adequate argument.

These infants are in heaven, but not because they were not sinners. The Bible teaches that we are all conceived in sin and born in sin, and each of us is a sinner from the moment we draw our first breath. The doctrines of original sin and total depravity do not spring from some speculative theological imagination, but from the clear teaching of Scripture. There is no state of innocence, and these babies cannot enter heaven unless the penalty for their sin is provided by the atonement of Jesus Christ.

These infants are in heaven, but not because everyone is in heaven. The Bible presents us with a stark picture of two destinies for humankind. Those who are in Christ, who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, will be in heaven. Those who are apart from Christ will be in hell. Hell may be a despised concept — rejected by the theological modernizers — but it will not disappear, and its horrors await those who die without Christ. Jesus warned sinners to fear hell, and the Bible warns that we must flee the wrath that is to come. Universalism is just not an option for any Christian who believes the Bible. Those who deny hell deny the authority of Christ.

These infants are in heaven, but not because any of them were baptized. The practice of infant baptism has led to multiple theological confusions, and the death of infants is often one of the points of greatest bewilderment. Most of the early church fathers simply assumed that baptized infants who die in infancy go to heaven, while unbaptized infants do not. These significant Christian leaders and thinkers, including figures such as Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo, taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration — a belief still held by the Roman Catholic Church and most Eastern Orthodox churches. Among Protestants, Lutherans hold to a form of baptismal regeneration and some sacramentalists in other denominations also lean in that direction. According to this logic, infants are saved because they have been baptized and have thus received the gift of salvation. There is simply not a shred of biblical support for this argument. What these churches call infant baptism cannot help us in framing our argument. There is no biblical foundation for arguing for the salvation of infants from baptism, or for positing the existence of “Limbo” as a place of eternal suspension for unbaptized infants.

So, how can we frame an argument that is true to Scripture and consistent with the Gospel? Before turning to heaven, perhaps we should take a closer look at hell. According to the Bible, hell is a place of punishment for sins consciously committed during our earthly lives. We are told that we will be judged according to our deeds committed “in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Adam’s sin and guilt, imputed to every single human being, explains why we are born as sinners and why we cannot not sin, but the Bible clearly teaches that every person will be judged for his or her own sins, not for Adam’s sin. The judgment of sinners that will take place at the great white throne (Revelation 20:11-12) will be “according to their deeds.” Have those who died in infancy committed such deeds? I believe not, for they have not yet developed the capacity to know good from evil. No biblical text refers to the presence of small children or infants in hell — not one.

Theologians have long debated an “age of accountability.” The Bible does not reveal an “age” at which moral accountability arrives, but we do know by observation and experience that maturing human beings do develop a capacity for moral reasoning at some point. Dismissing the idea of an “age” of accountability, John MacArthur refers to a “condition” of accountability. I most often speak of a point or capacity of moral accountability. At this point of moral development, the maturing child knows the difference between good and evil — and willingly chooses to sin.

The Bible offers a fascinating portrait of this truth in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. In response to Israel’s sin and rebellion, God condemns that generation of adults to death in the wilderness, never to see the land of promise. “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers.” (Deuteronomy 1:35). But God specifically exempted young children and infants from this condemnation — and He even explained why He did so: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good and evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39). These little ones were not punished for their parents’ sins, but were accepted by God into the promised land. I believe that this offers a sound basis for our confidence that God deals with young children differently than He deals with those who are capable of deliberate and conscious sin.

Based on these arguments, I believe that we can have confidence that God receives all infants into heaven.

Salvation is all of grace, and God remains forever sovereign in the entire process of our salvation. The Bible clearly teaches the doctrine of election, but it nowhere suggests that all those who die in infancy are not among the elect. Even the Westminster Confession, the most authoritative Reformed confession, states the matter only in the positive sense, affirming that all elect infants are received into heaven. It does not require belief in the existence of any non-elect infants. Those who insist that all we can say is that elect infants are saved while non-elect infants are not confuse the issue by assuming or presuming the existence of non-elect infants and leaving the matter there.

We must remember that God is both omnipotent and omniscient. He gave these little ones life, knowing before the creation of the world that they would die before reaching moral maturity and thus the ability to sin by intention and choice. Did He bring these infants — who would never consciously sin — into the world merely as the objects of His wrath?

The great Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield certainly did not think so. These defenders of Reformed orthodoxy taught that those who die in infancy die in Christ. Hodge pointed to the example of Jesus: “The conduct and language of our Lord in reference to children are not to be regarded as matters of sentiment, or simply expressive of kindly feeling. He evidently looked upon them as lambs of the flock for which, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down his life, and of whom He said they shall never perish, and no man could pluck them out of his hands. Of such He tells us is the kingdom of Heaven, as though Heaven was, in good measure, composed of the souls of redeemed infants.”

Charles Spurgeon, the great evangelical preacher of Victorian England, and John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” added pastoral urgency to this affirmation. Spurgeon was frustrated with preachers who claimed to have no answer to this question, and he hurled judgment on anyone who would claim that infants would populate hell.

In the end, we must affirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the full authority of Scripture. We trust the goodness, mercy, justice and love of God. Whatever He does is right. Salvation is all of grace, and there is no salvation apart from Christ. All are born sinners, and those who reach the point of accountability and consciously sin against God will be judged and punished for their sins in hell — unless they have come by grace to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

B.B. Warfield may have expressed it best when he beautifully affirmed, “If all that die in infancy are saved, it can only be through the almighty operation of Holy Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases, through whose ineffable grace the Father gathers these little ones to the home He has prepared for them.”

Keep those words firmly in mind as you contemplate this great and often troubling question. The little ones are safe with Jesus.
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R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on “The Albert Mohler Program,” a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to http://www.albertmohler.com.