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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Spiritually Blind?

By James Hernando
October 12, 2014

The Gospels, as their name insists, are “good news.” What could be more uplifting than the news that God has sent His Son into the world to make possible our relationship with Him?

But the Gospels do more than proclaim Jesus as the way of salvation. They also expose the deception inherent in our sinful nature. Perhaps no self-delusion is more powerful than our belief in our goodness. How difficult it is to understand our utter need for God’s redemption. Often, even after we come to Christ in faith, we slip into a false belief in our ability to live holy lives.

“Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains’” (John 9:39-41, ESV).

This passage follows a dramatic miracle when Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-7). Neighbors take the man to the Pharisees to evaluate the miracle’s authenticity.

In John’s Gospel, the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders oppose Jesus almost from the beginning of His public ministry. The Pharisees admit to the miracle, but dismiss the divine agent. “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (v. 16).

After multiple interviews with the healed man and his parents, the Pharisees are willing to concede the healing is an act of God worthy of praise (v. 24). They will not acknowledge God was acting in and through Jesus.

The former blind man challenges them, and for his audacity is insulted and possibly excommunicated. Later Jesus finds the man and gives him an opportunity to complete his faith by understanding Jesus’ messianic identity and worshipping Him (vv. 35-38).

The Pharisees take note of Jesus’ words to the man in v. 39 about coming into the world so those who are blind might see and those who see may become blind. They ask if Jesus is putting them in the category of “the blind,” to which Jesus responds with the puzzling words of v. 41.

When encountering a Scripture that is difficult to interpret, it is good to remember an age-old principle from the Protestant Reformation: “Scripture is its own interpreter” — shortened to “Scripture interprets Scripture.” I believe the Old Testament Book of Malachi holds a key to this passage in John.


Malachi (“My Messenger”), the last of the Old Testament prophets, rebuked Israel and warned of impending judgment. Malachi preached to a spiritually decadent people guilty of forsaking the true worship of God and violating His Law. The prophet records a series of questions from the people, questions that reveal a profound spiritual blindness not unlike the Pharisees’ blindness in Jesus’ day.

The first question, “How have you [God] loved us?” (Malachi 1:2) presents not only doubt and confusion about God’s compassion but also reveals a corporate loss of memory. Israel could not remember their own “salvation history.” Malachi points them back to their beginnings as God’s elect people through Jacob (Malachi 1:2-5).


Malachi continues his rebuke by giving an extended illustration of why God is poised to send judgment. Israel was guilty of showing a total lack of respect and reverence for God. The prophet accuses them of despising the name of the Lord and defiling His altar.

The people bring to the altar for sacrifice lame, sick or blemished animals and spoiled grain (Malachi 1:8-14). Nevertheless, they ask, “How have we despised Your name? How have we defiled/profaned You?”


Israel had been called by God to be a holy people, separate and distinct from pagan nations. They were to keep themselves pure and not intermarry with idolatrous peoples. This was not only made clear in the Law (Deuteronomy 7:1-4), but from Israel’s salvation history, which contained numerous examples of God’s displeasure with and judgment on their disobedience.

Nevertheless, Israel had forgotten the lessons of their own history. In Malachi’s day they were again practicing mixed marriages, which inevitably led to the worship of foreign gods (Malachi 2:10-12). The condemnation of divorce that immediately follows suggests such condemned marriages came after divorcing Jewish wives. The men of Israel were acting treacherously against their wives and the God of Israel (2:13-16).


Israel saw no connection between God’s refusal to bless their offerings (v. 13) and their blatant rejection of His Law. They ask, “How have we wearied him?” (v. 17). Malachi explains the people have equated evil with good because no immediate justice or judgment follows their sinful deeds (v. 17). God’s patience and longsuffering are interpreted as God’s endorsement of their sin!

Malachi calls for repentance and shares the promise God will purify Israel from their sins so their offerings will once again be acceptable to the Lord. God assures the people through the prophet, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (3:7). They can only ask, “How shall we return?”

Malachi points to the people’s sin of “robbing [God]” (3:8) by refusing to support His house (i.e., the temple) with tithes and offerings (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21). The people remain oblivious to their sin. Their question, “How have we robbed [God]?” gives the prophet the occasion to detail their sinful neglect and explain why the windows of heaven have been shut (Malachi 3:9-12).


The final question Malachi records is perhaps the most offensive: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge?’” (3:14). The clear implication is that if God does not bless the people’s perceived obedience to Him with prosperity, what’s the point in serving Him?

For Israel, the point and purpose of obeying God was to receive material blessings. They saw the wicked prospering, and concluded their obedience was for nothing. But God was not yet done with His people, Israel. They were still His own special possession (3:17). They were destined not only for a future deliverance and restoration, but a judgment as well (4:1-3,6). Moreover, there would be a future day of reckoning. For now all their deeds were being written in “a book of remembrance” (3:16).


This bleak picture of Israel’s spiritual condition leads us back to John 9. The Pharisees, like the Jews of Malachi’s day, were privileged recipients of God’s truth but did not embrace it by faith and obey it. With each rejection, they added to their spiritual decline and a spirit of arrogance fed their delusion. They no longer possessed the spiritual capacity to perceive truth, not even when that truth was standing in front of them.

As followers of Christ, when we examine our own spiritual character, the people of Malachi’s day and the Pharisees offer us valuable models for comparison. When the Holy Spirit’s conviction points to our own spiritual blindness, may we heed a prophetic call to repentance and warning that God still holds His people accountable for the truth they profess to believe.

JAMES HERNANDO serves as professor of New Testament at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo.


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