I was recently reading a discussion as to whether God hears a sinner’s prayer. As is often the case in this type of discussion, the statement in John 9:31 was brought up: “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.” As is normally the case someone mentioned that this statement was not made by an inspired man—which is true. In effect this is saying that since the man was not inspired, what he said was wrong, or you cannot use an uninspired man’s statement to prove anything. However, we would wonder if an uninspired man can make a true statement. I do not believe anyone would accept such a position. Thus, we must look at the statement within its context and determine if it is true or not.
First, consider the context of the statement. This blind man had been miraculously healed by our Lord. He had been brought to the Pharisees who questioned him concerning his healing. Upon learning that Jesus had healed him, they claimed that Jesus was a sinner since He had healed him on the Sabbath day. This led to a confrontation between the Pharisees and this blind man. Upon the statement by the Pharisees that they knew that God had spoken to Moses, but as far as Christ is concerned, they “knew not from whence he is” (v. 29). The blind man defended Jesus stating: “Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing” (vv. 30-33). The Pharisees did not respond to his statements but simply said that he was born in sin and they cast him out (v. 34). If the Pharisees could have found fault with what the blind man stated, they would have responded to his argument pointing out its error. They could not do such! The reason they could not is because what the blind man said was/is true.
Second, consider what the blind man stated. “Now we know.” How does anyone come to know anything from a spiritual standpoint? Our knowledge only comes by the revelation of God (cf., 1 Cor. 2:9-10). Thus, when this blind man said, “Now we know” he was stating what had been revealed by God. Listen to what Solomon by inspiration wrote, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Pro. 28:9). The prophet Isaiah states, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). Even though this former blind man was not inspired, he knew what the Scriptures teach and accurately represented those Scriptures to the Pharisees.
I want to consider one avenue of study to show the truthfulness of this statement—the tabernacle and the temple. Those physical structures were typifying the spiritual aspects of the New Testament system (Heb. 810). God gave specific instructions as to the making of these structures, and the Israelites were to follow the pattern God gave them (Exo. 25:40). The tabernacle proper was surrounded by the outer court, representative of the world. In that outer court were two things of importance: the brazen altar and the brazen laver. The brazen altar represented the cross where the Lamb of God shed His blood for man’s sin (Gal. 1:4; Tit. 2:14; et al). The brazen laver represents baptism where we wash ourselves clean from our sins (Acts 22:16; Eph. 5:26; et al) and qualify us to enter into the tabernacle (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
The tabernacle proper was in the western part of the court. It was divided into two compartments separated by a veil. The first compartment was the holy place in which were three pieces of furniture—the table of shewbread which had twelve loaves of unleavened bread on it, the golden candlestick or lampstand, and the altar of incense or golden altar. Inside the veil was the most holy place or holy of holies. It contained the ark of the covenant, and on top of the ark was the mercy seat.
The most holy place represented heaven itself: the dwelling place of God. The holy place represented the church of Christ. The three pieces of furniture in the holy place each typified something God placed in the church. The candlestick had a twofold application: (1) the Word of God which gives light to the church (Psa. 119:105; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Pet. 1:19; et al), (2) the light Christians are have before a darkened world (Mat. 5:13-16; Eph. 5:8; Rev. 2:5). The table of shewbread typified the Lord’s Supper (Mat. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; 1 Cor. 11:20-29). Before the veil was the golden altar which typifies the prayers of the saints. John wrote, “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints” (Rev. 5:8). Odours is translated “incense” in the American Standard and New King James. Later John adds, “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” (Rev. 8:3-4).
God placed the altar in the holy place, not in the court! The altar represents prayers and the holy place represents the church. While the denominational world has always tried to take prayers out of the church and put them in the world (so one can say the “sinner’s prayer” for his salvation), such is a violation of what God has established. Sadly, we have some who are now trying to take prayers out of the church and place it in the world with the qualification that the individual is praying to learn the truth or some such qualification. Brethren, there is absolutely no justification for taking prayers out of God’s designated place. Prayer is a spiritual blessing for those who are members of the Lord’s church and no one else.