“Blind From Birth”
March 16, 2003
Having your spiritual eyes opened means that you gradually come to really see and then believe in Jesus.
I. The light of the world (John 9:1-7)
II. The man they call Jesus (John 9:8-12)
III. He is a prophet (John 9:13-17)
IV. Ask him: he is of age. (John 9:18-23)
V. Do you want to become his disciples too? (John 9:24-34)
VI. Lord, I believe (John 9:35-41)
MessageMax Lucado tells the story of Bob Evans, who was blind for 51 years. His world was a black tunnel of sound and smell as he felt his way through five decades of darkness. Then, he could see. A skilled surgeon performed a complex operation and for the first time Bob Edens had sight. It was overwhelming. I never would have dreamed that yellow is so yellow, he exclaimed. I dont have the words. Im amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just cant believe red. I can see the shape of the moon and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky. You could never know how wonderful everything is.
Blind from birth. What would that be like? Only a small number of people, like Bob Edens, have been blind from birth and received their sight. One type of congenital blindness can be cured by a cornea transplant. Often the recovery is prolonged: those who are born blind have to learn to see following the surgery. They have no references: they dont even know what blindness means until they begin to see light.
But in a sense you and I were born blind - blind to spiritual truth. Though the light of the world had come, we were blind to him. Jesus had to heal the eyes of our hearts, through his Holy Spirit so that we could see spiritual truth and to respond to it. In John 9 the man born blind regains his physical sight, and his spiritual eyes are opened as well. Gradually he begins to see spiritual truth, and responds with saving faith. Its a great story, hes a great guy and he shows us that having your spiritual eyes opened means that you gradually come to really see Jesus and believe in Him.
I. The light of the world (John 9:1-7)
Beginning with the healing, lets look at one mans growing spiritual sight. John 9:1-7 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7"Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Chapter 9 comes between chapters 8 and 10. I know thats obvious. What I mean is that chapter 8 occurs at the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall, chapter 10 occurs at the Feast of Dedication, or Hannukah, in the winter. Chapter 9, then, occurs between these two feasts, and Jesus remains near Jerusalem during that time.
While there, he meets a man known to many, known to his disciples, as blind from birth, and the disciples presume that his suffering is a direct result of sin. In one sense, of course, it is: suffering is the result of the fall. But Scripture doesnt support the common idea that the sins and sufferings of a particular individual are tightly linked. God did promise in Exodus to allow the consequences of sin to continue for generations, but later said in Ezekiel that no one is punished for the sins of others. Its true that suffering can be the direct result of a specific sin. Examples would include Miriams leprosy in Numbers 12, after she revolted against Moses, and the sickness among the Corinthians when they dishonored each other at communion. But the Bible denies that suffering only comes from sin. Jobs accusers had this misconception, but Job was righteous. In 2nd Corinthians Paul says his suffering, his thorn in the flesh was given not because of sin but to keep him from sin.
The disciples assume that this man is blind because either his mother sinned or he sinned in the womb. Jesus denies both and tells them the blindness was part of Gods plan, so that through Jesus God could display his works in this mans life. Then Jesus affirms again that while he is in the world he is the light of the world. For these disciples his light shone directly. During his crucifixion and while he was in the tomb, there was night, when no one could work. After his exaltation, his light was revealed again through his Holy Spirits work in the lives of his followers.
So Jesus, the light of the world, took the initiative to bring light to someone in darkness. How did he do it? It was one of his more unusual miracles. First he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva, then he put it on the man's eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus used saliva in the healing process on two other occasions, but this is the only time he uses mud. The symbolism could be that Jesus has doubled the mans blindness in order to magnify the cure. It could be that Jesus was imitating creation, in which God made man out of dust. Or it could be he was showing again his Lordship over the ceremonial purity laws, since saliva was considered by many of the rabbis to be unclean.
A second feature of the healing is that he sends the man to the pool of Siloam. Located in the south-west part of Jerusalem, the water for this pool was sent through a channel from a spring in the Kidron valley. Its name sent, reminds us not just that Jesus sent the man to the pool, but that Jesus was sent from the Father, as he often said. The man simply went, cleansed his eyes, and saw. Unlike the recipient of a cornea transplant he didnt have to learn to see physically - his restored sight was perfect. But spiritually his sight took a while to develop - thats what well track in this text.
II. The man they call Jesus (John 9:8-12)
John 9:8-12 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man." 10"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. 11He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." 12"Where is this man?" they asked him. "I don't know," he said.
The man had been a beggar, not surprising for one blind from birth. His neighbors were so used to seeing him begging they were astounded to think he could see. Some found it easier to believe the blind man had disappeared and the fellow before them only looked like him. Such speculation was cut short when the man said I am he - using Jesus phrase I am but without symbolism. Naturally the mans neighbors want to know what happened. Unlike the healed paralytic in chapter five, this mans answer is quick-witted and forthright. But like some blind people Ive known, hes not very respectful: eventually he becomes sharp-tongued toward the authorities when they will not face the facts. I had a classmate in high school who was blind. He and I used to work together on what in those days passed for a computer. This man in John 9 reminds me of my sharp-tongued high school friend.
But as yet this man is still ignorant about Jesus. His physical eyes are working well, but his spiritual eyes, though open, are still trying to process the landscape. So he says only that the man they call Jesus did this, and that he has no idea where he might be. His situation is characterized by I dont know. Spiritually he is a beginning seeker, and cant say anything definite. Hes at an early stage of awareness: he knows it all has something to do with Jesus but he doesnt really know what. Some few of you here, and many you meet from day to day may be in this condition - beginning to sense a spiritual stirring within, without knowing what its all about.
III. He is a prophet (John 9:13-17)
The Pharisees, on the other hand are already far down the opposite path of spiritual blindness. They are willfully ignorant and it only gets worse as the chapter and goes on. Verses 13 to 17 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. 15Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." 16Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. 17Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet."
Its not unexpected that these common people want help from their spiritual leaders to understand what happened. They may even be trying to offer proof to the Pharisees so that restrictions on following Jesus can be lifted. The problem is that Jesus has made another Sabbath violation. Even if he convinces them that healing isnt a violation, from their point of view mixing mud is work not done on the Sabbath. Some rabbis even said that anointing eyes was a work violation of the Sabbath law.
The Pharisees are divided by this event. One side begins with a focus on the Sabbath, convinced their elaborations of Sabbath law are as binding as the law itself. They must conclude that Jesus is a lawbreaker, not godly, even if he can do miracles. The others start with the miracle itself: astounded by it, they find it hard to believe Jesus is a sinner. Ignoring for some reason the thought that his power was demonic, they affirm that only the power of God can heal a man born blind, that God would not use as his agent a public sinner. So the divided authorities put the question to the man who was healed. He had no expertise in the law, theology or Scripture, but as the Pharisees remark, it was your eyes he opened. There is value in personal witness, even to the theologically sophisticated. The blind mans response, He is a prophet, represents a step forward in the growth of his spiritual sight. At first he didnt know anything about the man they call Jesus. Now he agrees with others, like the woman at the well, who call Jesus a prophet. The details of Sabbath regulations dont concern him: he knows a work of God was done in his life, and therefore the human agent must be extraordinary, someone sent from God. As Carson says This mans eyes are opening wider: he is beginning to see still more clearly, while the eyes of his judges are obscured by a blinding theological mist.
IV. Ask him: he is of age. (John 9:18-23)
In fact, the Pharisees are so committed to disbelief they cant even accept the mans testimony. So they decide to interrogate his parents. Verses 18 to 23: The Jews still did not believe he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. 19"Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?" 20"We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. 21But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
The healed man isnt very old: both his parents are alive and brought for questioning. The Pharisees ask Is this your son?; Was he really born blind?; How can he now see?. The parents are willing to answer the first two questions: We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. This rules out substitution or fakery and leaves only the third question, which the parents are reluctant to answer: How he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age. In Jewish law the age of bar-mitzvah, 13, qualifies one to give legal testimony.
Why wont the parents answer? John explains: His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. This verse has been a rallying point for liberals, who aregue that being put out of the synagogue for belief in Jesus was a late development, generations after the time of Christ: John must have been making up this story to address problems in his own day.
But the historical reliability of the passage has been well defended, and without going into detail its clear people in Jesus day were judged by whether or not they believed Jesus was the Messiah. Its very possible such believers would have been banned from the synagogues. And this may have been a problem also in Johns day, which is why he points out that it was already taking place during the time of Christ.
V. Do you want to become his disciples too? (John 9:24-34)
The focus now shifts back to the healed man. Verse 24: A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man is a sinner." 25He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" 26Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" 28Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from." 30The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.
The Pharisees are convinced Jesus is a sinner; the Sabbath party among them has won that debate. So something must be wrong with the healing. When they admonish the man Give glory to God they mean dont dishonor God by lying to us, defending someone weve declared a sinner. But the man who had been blind doubts Jesus is a sinner, and responds with one of the great testimonies in Scripture: Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! Countless believers have relied on the power of personal testimony to declare the truth about Jesus. If, like this blind man, we can personally testify to the truth of what Jesus has done for us we communicate on a level people can really hear.
One of the evangelism courses weve done in recent years pointed out that people can deny the truth but they cant deny your experience. If youve experienced Jesus, or seen Jesus at work or have been transformed in some way, that will make an impact on those you talk to. Even reminding yourself of these things can calm your doubts and uncertainties. Ive seen Jesus at work! I saw him at work this week healing Jonathan Walliser. When I prayed for him in his hospital room Tuesday morning he was as sick and in as great pain as anyone Ive seen. When I walked back in with the elders Tuesday night he was as transformed as anyone Ive seen. Yea, it was the medicine - but no, it was Jesus. He does work in lives.
The Pharisees? They dont see, they dont hear. All they know is they want to break this guys testimony. Verse 26 What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?
But by now the mans sight has cleared: he recognizes not only that Jesus is not a sinner but is someone to be followed. He clothes that recognition in sarcasm: Ive told you already and you didnt listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too? I like the word too: its there in the Greek text and implies a desire on the part of the man to truly become a disciple of this one who healed him. But it makes the Pharisees angry: You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from. Which is certainly true - Jesus has said a number of times that despite their claims to know where he comes from, they really dont have a clue. They are unwilling to accept that he is sent by the Father as their Messiah. Thus they continue in blindness. They are sure you cant be a follower of Moses and a follower of Jesus at the same time. They reject the idea that Moses pointed to Jesus and that Jesus is righteous by the standard Moses gave.
Do you get whats going on? The Pharisees are becoming blinder, and the blind man is seeing more clearly. Carson says the blind mans increasing boldness stems from his rare gift of common sense. Verse 30 The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. The Bible agrees that God doesnt listen to sinners. Strictly speaking that doesnt prove Jesus is righteous, since there are other powers besides God who might working to deceive. But the blind mans spiritual instincts are excellent: God doesnt answer the prayers of sinners, yet he has been healed. Therefore the one who healed him must be from God.
The Pharisees are outraged by this logic, stung by the impertinence of this untrained commoner who is beating them at their own game. So they opt for personal abuse: You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us! The accusation picks up the thinking of the disciples - since this man was born blind he must have sinned before birth. They lash out, putting him out of the synagogue. The very punishment his parents feared, excommunication, now falls on his undeserving head.
VI. Lord, I believe (John 9:35-41)
But they cannot slow down our heros growth in spiritual sight. Verses 35 to 41: Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." 37Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." 38Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" 41Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
The mans spiritual insight is catching up with his physical healing. The eyes of his heart are now wide open, though he has not yet come to faith. After his expulsion by the Pharisees, Jesus again takes the initiative to find him so he can bring the man across the line, to decisive and knowledgeable faith. Jesus asks Do you believe in the Son of Man?" In other words do you now place your trust in the Son of Man.
It is unusual for Jesus - or John - to use Son of Man in any of his belief statements - its more commonly linked to his crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation. But since it is precisely these things that ultimately reveal Jesus to be light of the world it fits to link faith with this term. In response the healed man asks Who is he, sir?, not a request for information but for identification - point him out to me. The man has never seen Jesus: the person talking to him might be a disciple rather than Jesus himself. But the Lord doesnt leave the man in the dark: You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you. The words remind us of his revelation to the woman at the well: I, who speak to you, am he. But notice he adds you have now seen him - now with physical eyes, and now with the eyes of his heart. There is no more spiritual darkness: the process of seeing Jesus is now complete.
The man responds in faith. Verse 38 The man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. You could minimize the mans faith even here - you could translate Lord as sir, and translate worshiped as bowed down to, and it may be that his faith did still need the light that would come from the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. But that was true of all the disciples. In light of Thomas experience at the end of the Gospel, its clear that John expects just this confession Lord, I believe and just this response, worship, from those who become spiritually enlightened.
This man is saved, and Jesus reveals the spiritual implications of the event: For judgment I have come into this world, so the blind will see and those who see will become blind. Hes not talking about the physical. Hes telling the man that his healing and the debate with the authorities was an acted parable of spiritual light and spiritual blindness. Hes celebrating the fact that the man has believed, and mourning those who should have believed but retreated into darkness, pride, sin and disbelief. This doesnt go unnoticed. Verse 40: Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" 41Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
At the spiritual level, blindness refers to those who are in spiritual darkness, and are lost, and know it. Jesus came to open their eyes, to give them the light of revelation that will enable them to see. But those who see, which is Jesus ironic way of saying those who think they see, reject the true light when it comes, like the Pharisees in this chapter who make so many confident claims but are so profoundly wrong. They are so sure they can see that they utterly reject any suggestion to the contrary and thereby trap themselves in their own darkness.
You probably know that one face of the moon continuously points toward the Earth even as the moon travels in its orbit. The moon is locked into this position by the same forces that cause tides on the earth, as if a string was tied between the poles of the earth and the face of the moon. You may also know that the earth gives the moon a great deal of light. It adds to the light of the sun, but you can only see earth light if you live on the near side of the moon. If you lived on the far side of the moon you would never see the earth.
So, relative to the light of the world, or at least light from earth, there are three regions on the moon. One is the region of total darkness, where you cant see earth at all. Spiritually all men start in this region. The light of the world hasnt reached their darkness or blindness. Second is the region of earth twilight. As you move from the darkness toward the light the earth is below your horizon and gradually rises above. The earth isnt moving; the moon isnt moving relative to the earth: you are moving from darkness toward the light. Spiritually, everyone who is in the light has had to do this. Drawn by the light, like the healed man in our story, you have gradually come to see more and more of spiritual truth and understood more and more about Jesus and what he has done, until finally you reach the third region, the region in which the light is always there, in which you, like the healed man have finally said Lord, I believe Youve worshiped, youve trusted, youve come into the light.
But there is another possibility isnt there? You could be like the Pharisees, who see the light and go the other way. John said This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. So the question is not so much where are you as what direction are you moving? If you, like the healed man are moving toward the light, Im not worried about you. Jesus is so much better than the darkness this world offers, that once youve gotten a glimpse of his light, youre hooked. All I can do is encourage you to keep moving that way, because the light is great. And if youre in the light, dont close your eyes or keep looking at the ground: look up, look around, rejoice, worship. Youre in the light! On the other hand, if youre in the dark, and not moving toward the light, thats the time to be worried. Dont be like these Pharisees. Stop. Look around for the place on your horizon where you see his glow, light for your spirit from Jesus. Go for that and that alone, crave it, pursue it, because Jesus will not disappoint you, hes already taken the initiative to find and bring you into his light which is life.