Responding to Religious Criticism – John 9:13-41

When Jesus healed the man born blind, it created quite a stir amongst the religious leaders of that day. This is common ground for Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went, He was met with some form of opposition and questioning by religious leaders. Unfortunately, many sincere followers of Christ face the same type of scrutiny today. There are several things we see in this passage concerning criticism and the response to criticism.

Criticism fueled by unbelief (v. 13-15 & 17-23). The people who witnessed the healing of the blind man, brought the man to the Pharisees. Their reason for bringing the man to the Pharisees was to seek answers as to how this man could have been healed. They witnessed a miracle, but instead of believing immediately, they sought assurance from their religious leaders. What the people did here was not all bad. After all, they were seeking truth in confirming this miracle. It is important that anytime we witness a miraculous event that we examine the event through the lenses of scripture. If it is of God, it will pass the scriptural test. On the other hand, these people saw first-hand what occurred and they were knowledgeable of the works of Jesus. Therefore, the more proper response would have been to accept the miracle for what it was and give all the glory to God.

As the man is taken to the Pharisees, they begin to investigate the situation by rigorously interrogating the man. Instead of believing his testimony, they call on his parents to provide proof that the man was indeed born blind and that he was miraculously healed.

Have you ever witnessed a great work of God only to have it downplayed and questioned by others? Most all forms of criticism have at its root unbelief, or better yet, a refusal to believe. When we find ourselves doing the criticizing, we must pray that God would help our unbelief and that His truth will be revealed. When we are the object of criticism we should not respond in like kind, instead we must pray that eyes will be opened and truth revealed.

Criticism causing division (v. 16). The Pillar New Testament Commentary says, “Earlier, the crowd was divided over Jesus (7:40–43); now the authorities are similarly at odds. They are divided into two groups. The first, beginning their reasoning by focusing on the Sabbath, and convinced that their interpretation of the Sabbath is correct and that therefore Jesus is in violation of the law of God, judges that the healing miracle itself is not an adequate attestation of his authority. After all, the law of Moses warns against false prophets and those who foretell by dreams, insisting that even if what they predict comes true they must nevertheless be put to death if by their teaching they are drawing people away from the Lord (Dt. 13:1–5). They have no choice: they must conclude that This man is not from God. In this context, from God does not refer to Jesus’ metaphysical origins. What this group is denying is much simpler: Jesus has not been sent ‘from God’ in any sense, i.e. he is not God’s messenger, not even in the way John the Baptist was ‘sent from God’ (1:6). The other group, astounded at the healing miracle itself, finds it hard to believe that Jesus is a sinner. Only the power of God can heal a man born blind. If Jesus performed the miracle, it must be the power of God at work—and surely God does not use as the agent of his power a public sinner. By implication, this means that whatever Jesus has done on the Sabbath needs to be weighed again.”[1]

As the criticism mounts, so does the division. Most of the criticism that occurs in our lives and in the church, will result in some form of division. Now, we need to understand that not all criticism is bad. Constructive criticism can be very helpful and beneficial. Constructive criticism encourages unity. However, what we see here in our text is not constructive criticism. Rather, it is divisive criticism. Have you ever met someone who thrives on division? When things are going well they find something to criticize, thus, stirring up the waters of division.

Criticism due to authority disputes (v. 24-34). The underlining issue behind the Pharisees criticism of the blind man being healed had to do with the assumed challenge it brought to their authority. They did not like the response of the man. In verse 25, he says that all he knows is that he was blind and now he sees. The point here is that no one can argue with your story. If you have a personal encounter with Jesus, no one can refute your experience. Still, the Pharisees did not like the explanation of the blind man. As they continued to question him, the real issue comes to light. They felt threatened by Jesus. They felt that their religious authority was in jeopardy. Sometimes, in the life of the church, there are those who regularly criticize due to a fear of losing control. There is friction over who is in charge and petty criticisms are made in order to challenge authority.

The response of Jesus (v. 35-41). When Jesus hears about the interrogation of the man born blind, He comes to Him and gives Him an opportunity to receive the gift of salvation. In this conversation, we learn several things that Jesus does in response to the criticism that was taking place.

1. Focuses on the man’s soul (v. 35-38). Jesus did not care about winning a debate against the Pharisees. His concern was for the man’s soul. The lesson here is that when criticisms rise we must not fret. Instead, we are to focus on the most important thing of all and that is the salvation of lost souls. If we are focused on winning souls to Jesus, we will not have time to criticize or to fight against those who criticize us.

2. Focuses on His purpose (v. 39). In verse 39, Jesus makes a clear statement concerning His purpose. His statement can be difficult to understand. On the surface, it appears that Jesus is contradicting Himself. In John 3:17 Jesus says that He was not sent to condemn the world. Yet, here in John 9:39, Jesus says He was sent for judgement. The point Jesus was making is that in fulfilling His purpose to save man from His sin, there are those who will be condemned. As a result of the spiritually blind being made to see, there are those who think they see but in reality, because of their unbelief, they are blind. Jesus is making it clear that His purpose is not to win over the religious crowd, but to bring salvation to the lost. Our purpose is not to argue and debate, but to bring light to the blind.

3. Focuses on truth (v. 40-41). Jesus tells the Pharisees that as long as they remain in their religious piousness they will continue in their sin and, thus, remain blind. The point here is that religion cannot save you. It is only by faith in the Lord Jesus that you can be saved.

As a Christian, have you encountered criticism? Follow the example of Jesus and respond with a renewed focus on what matters most. As long as you stay focused on doing what God has called you to do, no form of criticism will deter you.


[1] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (pp. 367–368). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

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