JOHN 9: Sin and Darkness; Healing and Light

By Stephen W. Hiemstralighthouse copy

Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped (Isaiah 35:4-5 ESV).

What does it mean to be the light of the world?

Jesus declared–I am the light of the world—in John 8:12 after breaking up a kangaroo court accusing a woman caught in adultery.  Now, Jesus repeats this assertion (John 9:4) just before he heals a man blind from birth.

Chapter nine is distinctive, in part, because of the sequence of dialogs, including:  Jesus’ discussion with the disciples (vv 1-5), Jesus heals the blind man (vv 6-7), neighbors question the man (vv 8-12), the Pharisees question the man (vv 13-17), the Pharisees question the man’s parents (vv 18-23), the Pharisees question the man a second time (vv 24-34), Jesus seeks the man and speaks with him (vv 35-39), and the Pharisees question Jesus (vv 40-41).

What is so astounding from this chapter is the transition that takes place in the man formerly blind.  He starts out completely dependent on the grace of strangers when Jesus heals him.   He is not only blind; he is invisible—his neighbors do not recognize him after he receives his sight (vv 8-9).  He knows Jesus only by name (v 11).  As he repeats the story of his healing, he becomes more and more sophisticated in his understanding of what happened.  In the end, he lectures the Pharisees on the theology of his own healing (vv 30-33).  When Jesus speaks to him a second time, the man becomes a believer (v 38).  In effect, the man healed of blindness becomes a model disciple.

By contrast, the disciples ask whether the blindness was the result of sin either of the man or his parents (v 2).  Meanwhile, the Pharisees seem embarrassed the man is healed.  First, they examine the man and his parents to see if the man was previously blind.  Then, when the evidence of the healing becomes irrefutable, they attack Jesus for having healed on the Sabbath (vv 14, 16).  When the man explains the theological meaning of his healing to the Pharisees, they then turn their attack on the man himself and throw him out (v 34).  In effect, the Pharisees modeled spiritual blindness—refusing to recognize the reality of the healing—which was inconsistent with their world view.

The healing itself in verses 7 and 8 is interesting.  The man’s eyes are covered with mud which recalls God’s creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7).  The man is then sent to the Pool of Siloam—the same source provided water for the Feast of the Tabernacles.  This exercise of washing recalls the story of Naaman who was cured of leprosy after being sent to wash in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10).  In both cases, healing occurred in response to obedience, not because of the water.  Faith in the sender was required.

The formerly blind man’s faith started with reflection on the obvious:  Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see (v 25).  The resolution of the tension in this statement resulted in faith.

Where has Christ worked miracles in your life?  What was your response?

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JOHN 8: Grace and Truth

By Stephen W. HiemstraScalesOfJustice

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12 ESV).

What does it mean to walk in the light?

The story of the woman caught in adultery is probably the most celebrated capital judgment case in scripture.  The woman’s guilt is not in question; the only question was the sentence.  The Pharisees asked Jesus:  “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5).

Notice that under Jewish law both parties in adultery face the same penalty of death (Leviticus 20:10).  Because the Pharisee covered up the man’s identity, they broke the Ninth Commandment (do not bear false witness; Exodus 20:16) in presenting this case.  In other words, true justice was not being presented here irrespective of the penalty assigned.  Quite the contrary, the Pharisees have no regard for the woman.

Jesus points to the Pharisee’ bias when he says:  “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  The law required that witnesses to the crime throw the first stone (Deuteronomy 17:7).  If anyone picks up a stone, then that person is liable for prosecution under the law because they have not revealed the identity of the man who participated in the adultery.  The Pharisees understand the dilemma so they leave.  The penalty for perjury was the same penalty as for the alleged crime (Deuteronomy 19:18-9).

Jesus’ words to the woman are important.  He says:  “Has no one condemned you?  She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).  Jesus offers both truth and grace.  True alone or grace alone is not the Gospel. Truth alone is too harsh to be heard; grace alone ignores the law.  Jesus seeks our transformation, not our judgment (Romans 12:2).

It is interesting the next discussion in John 8 focuses on the nature of Jesus’ testimony.  What does it mean to walk in the light?  Scholars often argue that the case of the woman caught in adultery does not fit in John—that it was added later.  However, the context of the pharisaic controversy makes perfect sense—it is an example of fair treatment under Jewish law that the Pharisees contested.

Jesus said:  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one (John 8:15).  Under law, the woman was guilty even though she had been set up.  Under grace, the context is important—the law must be applied with impartiality and fairness to all parties.

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JOHN 7: Living Water

By Stephen W. HiemstraNiagara_Falls_07102013

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail (Isaiah 58:11 ESV).

Laconic—not! The trickle of detail found in most of scripture is replaced with a flood in John’s Gospel. In life, God showers us with Niagara Falls of blessings. The Holy Spirits washes through us to everyone we meet (Ezekiel 47:1-9).

The context of Jesus’ revelation is the seventh day of Feast of Tabernacles (or booths) in the temple in Jerusalem. It is the last of three pilgrimage feasts in the Jewish calendar: “the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths” (Deuteronomy 16:16).

On the first seven days, a priest drew water from the Gihon Spring, processed up the hill to the temple, and poured the water on temple altar1. At this point: Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (vv 37-38). His words could not have had a more dramatic context. The water ceremony commemorated the time when Moses struck the rock a Meribah in the desert and the rock yielded a flood of water (Numbers 20:11).

However, God instructed Moses to tell the rock to yield water. Because Moses disobeyed God in striking the rock with his staff, God punished Moses saying that he would not live to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:8, 12). Thus, Jesus’ declaration and sinless life testify to his exceeding the blessings God bestowed on Israel through the ministry of Moses.

Leading up the Feast of the Tabernacles, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ private life. Jesus’ brothers invite him to attend the feast with them and encourage him to make a big splash (v 4). Jesus refuses. After his brothers leave, he quietly travels late to the feast and begins teaching in the temple (v 10). Why? Because Jesus was not trying to draw attention to himself, but he preferred to wait on God’s timing (vv 8, 16).

Jesus told his brothers: My time has not yet come, but your time is always here (v 6).

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JOHN 6: Bread from Heaven

CommunionBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35 ESV).

It is ironic that someone born in Bethlehem, which is Hebrew for house (beth) of bread (lehem), should be famous for performing the miracle of breaking bread!  Adding to irony is that the miracle of feeding the five thousand should occur during Passover (v 4) and the bread was barley loaf (v 9).  Because barley is a poor person’s bread, this miracle takes the appearance of a peasant revolt.  Jesus will have nothing to do with it and leaves (v 15).

Jesus’ teaching and the miracle of the bread have both messianic and covenantal implications which are linked.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3).  Moses is linked to God’s provision of manna in the desert (v 32) and to the crossing of the Red Sea.  In an obvious parallel, Jesus likewise feeds the five thousand (v 11) and walks on water (v 19)1.

John’s references to communion here are unmistakable.  Jesus says: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (v 53).  The link to Passover makes this passage look like a Galilee Passover rehearsal for the Last Supper in Jerusalem.  Later in chapter 17, however, John focuses on Jesus’ intercessory prayer, not a covenantal meal, like in Luke 22:20.  What is interesting about all this is that John’s covenantal meal involves Jesus feeding hungry people (outsiders) rather than his disciples (insiders).

The reference in verse 35 where Jesus says, I am the bread of life, is the first of seven famous “I AM” references in John’s Gospel.  The others are I am:  the light of the world (John 8:12), the gate for the sheep (John 10:7), the good shepherd (John 10:11), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), and the true vine (John 15:1)[1].  Each sentence is significant because it begins with “I AM”, the covenant name of God given to Moses (Exodus 3:15).  The implication is that these are the character traits of God himself.

Which of these character traits are most meaningful to you?


[1] Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, pages 194,199.

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JOHN 5: Walking in Faith

By Stephen W. HiemstraFountain

The LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life (Genesis 3:14 ESV).

It is hard to fathom the desperation of the man Jesus heals at the pool of Bethesda who had been lame for 38 years.  A friend of mind undertook a statistical study of elderly patients who had broken their hip.  Most of those unable to hip replacements gave up on life and died.  The picture of a man paralyzed for 38 years is a picture of a man in tremendous suffering.

Jesus asks this man a strange question:  Do you want to be healed? (v 6)  The man ignores the question and begins recounting his desperate story.  He obviously does not recognize Jesus or know who he is. Jesus responds:  Get up, take up your bed, and walk (v 8).  The man was healed.  He obeys Jesus’ instruction—take up your bed—and starts walking around with his mat.

This is Jesus’ third miracle after turning water into wine and healing the official’s son (John 2:1-11; 4:46-54).  Both of the previous miracles were in Galilee.  This miracle is in Jerusalem at the site where the walls of Jerusalem were first rebuilt (Nehemiah 3:1), where the city’s cornerstone was laid.  Elsewhere when Jesus talks about the cornerstone that was rejected, he may be referring to this place and this healing (e.g. Matthew 21:42; Psalm 118:22).

The lame man, of course, becomes like a human billboard walking around Jerusalem on the Sabbath with his mat.  Do you think zealous Jews would notice? (Numbers 15:32-38)  Jesus shows that he has a sense of human when he meets the man:  See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you (v 14). The man was sinning (that is, carrying his mat on the Sabbath) only because Jesus told him to do!  Do you think the man knew or cared what day of the week it was?

One of the most meaningful visits that I had with a patient in Providence Hospital last fall was unplanned.  Exhausted, I left the Alzheimer’s unit for a break and sat in the hall.  A woman saw me sitting there feeling sorry for myself, wheeled herself up, and began showing me her new prosthetic leg.  It was beautiful; it was computer programmed; it was her ticket to freedom after so many years in a wheel chair.  She spoke like an excited parrot flying around the room.  It was hard not to get excited with her talk about this new leg.

Once they discovered who had healed the lame man, the Jew leaders accused Jesus of two capital offenses:  healing on the Sabbath and referring to God as his father—equating himself with God (v 18).  The remainder of chapter 5 recites a lengthy defense that Jesus offers in his own words.  It begins with an enigmatic statement:  My Father is working until now, and I am working (v 17).

Are we surprised that the carpenter’s son is learning carpentry?  A first century carpenter was more of what we would call a home builder or developer, not just a worker with wood.  This makes Jesus’ trade as a young man a metaphor for being a creator, as God is pictured in Genesis 1.  Healing the lame is an act of creation.

Jesus identified five witnesses in his defense:  God, John the Baptist, his healings, scripture, and the words of Moses[1].  In his final comments, he accuses his accusers of not believing the words of Moses which instructed them to keep an eye out for another prophet, like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15).

Has Jesus offered you healing?  If so, where’s your rug?


[1] Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 179.

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JOHN 4: The Evangelist of Samaria

By Stephen W. HiemstraBillyGraham

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

What is your image of an evangelist?

An early influence on my life was evangelist, Billy Graham.  My parents worked for the Billy Graham Society (BGS) early in his California ministry campaigns.  When I committed my life to Christ as a young person after viewing the film, The Cross and the Switchblade, in the early 1960s, I was encouraged to complete a mail-order bible study provided by the BGS.  Later, after I had started seminary, I learned that the Graham family was a major inspiration and financial supporter of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC where I studied.

While my image of an evangelist is Billy Graham, the Gospel of John records that the first, truly independent evangelist was an unnamed woman with a nasty background from Samaria.

Do you think you have sinned and that God cannot forgive you?

Then you need to read the story of the woman at the well in John 4.  Jesus not only forgave her; he gave her a new life and a new career as an evangelist.  Her testimony was so compelling that her whole village had to see Jesus.  John writes:  Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, He told me all that I ever did (v. 39).  Do you think she stopped her evangelism there?

The location of Jacob’s well near Sychar (Shechem) links the woman at the well to the story of Dinah (Genesis 34).  The sin of Simeon and Levi following Dinah’s rape leads to Judah inheriting Jacob’s blessing.  The messiah, Jesus, is later prophesied to come from tribe of Judah by way of King David (Psalm 110).  The stories of Rebekah, Rachel, and Ziporah all involve interesting male-female encounters at wells but do not directly inform Jesus’ heritage or ministry (Genesis 24 and 29; Exodus 2).

John 4 actually includes two other important stories.  The story is in verses 1 and 2, where we learn that Jesus left Judea and traveled through Samaria to avoid competing with the baptismal ministry of John.  This is an important object lesson to ministers to focus on God’s kingdom, not their own.  It also mirrored John’s own humility (John 3:30).

The second story takes place once Jesus returns to Galilee to Cana—the site of his first miracle turning water into wine.  Jesus is asked to heal the child of a local official who he heals remotely (v 50).  In effect, Jesus became the first medical missionary on his return to Galilee.

Often the Gospel of John is compared with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the synoptic Gospels—and people ask:  Why doesn’t Jesus speak in parables in John’s Gospel?  An interesting answer is that the synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ public ministry while John focuses on Jesus’ private ministry.

Today we would describe encounters, like those with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, as pastoral care. Jesus cared both for the rich and famous, like Nicodemus, and for the poor and neglected, like the woman at the well.  Both encounters were deeply theological.  Both encounters yielded fruit.  It is perhaps surprising that the encounter with the woman at the well was the more fruitful.

Do you think that God seeks such people today?  Do you think that he seeks you?

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JOHN 3: Humility and Love

By Stephen W. HiemstraMrPersonality

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4 ESV).

Have you been born again?

The Apostle John actually uses the enigmatic expression, born from above, to talk about spiritual rebirth (vv 5-6).  Commentators often wonder why Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ teaching because the prophet Ezekiel wrote something similar:  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:27).  Nicodemus was perhaps surprised, not because he does not know his scripture; he is surprised because the usual Jewish teaching focused on complying with the Law of Moses.  Pharisees taught that the law could be obeyed if the proper rules were known and followed—God’s intervention was not required to comply with the law.

Being born again implies that God comes to us—we do not come to him.  Following the law; being good; attending the right church will not bring you closer to God.  God is not far from us in terms of physical distance; He is far from us in terms of holiness—moral distance.  He is infinite; we are finite.  God must choose us; because we cannot choose him.  And when God chooses us, we are radically changed.

The discourse with Nicodemus is the first of three sections in chapter three.  The other two are Jesus’ teaching on love and further comments by John the Baptist.

The dialog with Nicodemus ends with a series of statements by Jesus which ends in verse 21.  Among these statements is the familiar passage:  John 3:16—For God so loved the world…

God’s love of an unholy world is unexpected.  The rebellion of the created order from God sets the world in opposition to God.  This was, for example, the reason for God sending the flood but saving Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-7).  Jesus, as God’s son, is the champion promised in Genesis 3:15 who would defeat Satan.  God’s love in Christ not only allows God to keep his promise, but Christ’s example also sets God’s people apart from the world—when they pay attention.   By looking to that example, we are saved (Numbers 21:9).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV).

In our own lifetime, Bishop Desmond Tutu applied this principle of love for enemies when he formed South Africa’s Truth and Justice commission.  The abolishment of Apartheid accordingly became an opportunity for healing rather than an excuse for genocide.  John the Baptist, who recognized the power of God in Christ, voluntarily gave up his own ministry to make room for Jesus saying:  He must increase, but I must decrease (v 30).  In like manner, the people of South Africa gave up their legitimate claim for revenge to make room for Christ’s love and became an example to the entire world.

Do you want to love the world?  Give up your rights and practice Christ’s love.

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JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

By Stephen W. HiemstraWeddingRings

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do (Genesis 41:55 ESV).

How does God reveal himself to you?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not enough wine).  More generally, God reveals himself through super-abundance of wine (2:1-11), bread (6:5-14), and fish (21:3-13).

Chapter one ends with Jesus encountering Nathanael and offering a prophecy paraphrasing Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12):  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51).  Nathanael came from Cana (John 21:2).  In chapter 2, this prophecy is fulfilled in a wedding at Cana.

The miracle of water being turned into wine is rich in messianic imagery.  The prophet Isaiah, for example, writes of the messianic banquet:  the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces… (Isaiah 25:6-8).  When Moses sends spies into the promised land, they come back with a huge cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:23).  Building on the vineyard theme, many of Jesus’ parables tie vineyards to God’s judgment (e.g. Matthew 21:33-40).

In case we missed the significance of Jesus’ first miracle, John writes:  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).  John’s use of the word, glory, to refer to Jesus associates him with God’s Shekinah cloud revealed at Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17) and associated with the tabernacle (Numbers 14:10) and, later, with the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).  John makes this temple association explicit in verses 19-21.

When Jesus cleanses the temple with a whip, he prophetically acts out divine judgment as a prelude to temple abandonment (Psalm 69:9; Isaiah 56:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11).  When Jesus died on the cross, the temple sacrificial system became redundant because the atonement for sin had been made for all time (Hebrews 10:12).  Jesus’ resurrection completed the symbolism (John 2:18-21; Acts 17:30-31). God abandoned the temple and it was destroyed by a Roman army in AD 70.

Which of Jesus’ miracles do you remember best?

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JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

By Stephen W. HiemstraJesus

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

Who is Jesus Christ?

The session of my home church asks each new member three questions:  Tell us about your walk with the Lord?  Why do you want to join this church?  And, who is Jesus Christ to you?

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel, in part, to answer this final question.  John’s answers include:  Jesus is the incarnate word of God (v 1); the pre-existent one  (v 2); the creator (v 3); light and life of the world (v 4); the victorious light that drives out darkness (v 5); the one about who the prophet John (the Baptist) spoke (v 7); the unknown one (v 10); the one rejected (v 11); the one who introduces us to the family of God (v 12); the one born of spirit rather than flesh (v 13); the one who shows the glory of God (v 14); the one who ranks above the prophet John (the Baptist);  the one who brings grace (v 16); the one who brings both grace and truth (vv 14, 17); the one who is worthy (v 27); the one on who the spirit of God rests (v 32); the one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit (v 33); the Lamb of God (v 36); the sought after teacher (v 38);  God’s Messiah (v 41);  The one who says “follow me” (v 43);  the good thing that came from Nazareth (v 46); the one who knew Nathaniel before he was born (under the fig tree!; v 48); the Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v 49); the one of whom Jacob was given a vision (Genesis 28:12; v 51).  The Apostle Peter answered directly:  You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).

Who is Christ to you?

Chapter one of John’s Gospels divides into three parts.  The first part is sometimes thought to have been an early church hymn with four stanzas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13, and 14-18) [1].  The second part focuses on the witness of John the Baptist.  The third part describes the calling of the first disciples.

John’s Gospel is thought to have been the last one written, in part, because it is the most spiritual.  For this reason, it was known in the early church as:  The Eagle.


[1] Gary M. Burge. 2000.   The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Page 53-61.

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References for Gospel of John

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Bauckham, Richard. 2007. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Burge, Gary M. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Keener, Craig S. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1 & 2. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Morris, Leon. 1987. The Gospel According to John. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

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