Born Blind for the True Light to Shine
Passage: John 9:1–9:41
Sermon on John 9:1-41 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, March 16, 2014
Sight & Salvation for the Blind & Guilty
How you respond to Jesus determines whether you truly see and are finally saved or you remain blind and finally condemned. This account of Jesus healing a man born blind comes to us as part of Holy Scripture. And within Holy Scripture we are taught from the very beginning that the world has suffered a great blindness since Adam and Eve were first tempted in the Garden and fell into sin (Gen 3:1-7; 2 Cor 4:4). It’s not that everybody became physically blind in a world under the power of and curse for sin—though some are born that way, such as the man in our story—but it is most certainly the case that everybody became spiritually blind, no longer able to see and enjoy and worship what they were created to see and enjoy and worship, namely, the glory of their Maker (Rom 1:18-30). Sin had breached the fellowship between God and man, and unless God graciously intervenes, the consistent testimony of the Bible is that humans remain spiritually blind to God’s glory, blind to God’s revelation, blind to God’s ways, and therefore unable to fulfill the role God created them for to begin with—to be worshipers of his glory as we gaze upon him and are wholly satisfied in his beauty.
Because of this spiritual blindness, we have chosen things in this world that we think are more satisfying than God himself; and therefore we remain guilty before him. Because we think we can actually see what is truly valuable in this world, by nature we have become idolaters and guilty for false worship and worthy of condemnation (Ezek 14:1-5; Rom 1:18-3:19). That’s the biblical setting in which John 9 comes to us; and I’m here to tell you this morning from John chapter 9 that God has in fact graciously intervened by sending Jesus into that blind world to remove the spiritual blindness from all who turn to him in faith. For all who turn to him in faith, he takes away their guilt, opens their eyes to the glory of God, and makes them into true worshipers. That’s ultimately where we’re heading in this story as we find the man born blind worshiping Jesus in verse 38. But not all in this story will choose to worship Jesus, and therefore Jesus says in verse 41, their guilt remains.
So, how you respond to Jesus determines whether you truly see and are finally saved or you remain blind and finally condemned as guilty sinners. Let’s see how we’re responding to Jesus as we walk through this story together.
Three Observations for Seeing the Light through the Miracle
Jesus has finally finished his dialogue with the Jews surrounding the Feast of Tabernacles in chapters 7 and 8; and sometime after those days we’re told that Jesus passes by somewhere in Jerusalem and sees “a man blind from birth” (9:1). And his disciples ask him a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). As usual, Jesus then gives them an answer that does more than just satisfy their curiosity and a misguided one at that. He gives them an answer that shows them precisely how they should understand the man’s blindness as well as how they should view Jesus’ cure of his blindness. The disciples, of course, don’t know that Jesus intends to heal the man right then, but they soon enough will. And before Jesus makes a move, he wants them to see something deeper about God and about himself through this particular man’s blindness and Jesus giving him sight. So Jesus sets the stage for his miracle and how he wants his disciples—and us—to understand it before he performs it.
(1) Jesus gives us a God-centered view of the man’s sufferings.
So, to begin with, Jesus gives us a God-centered view of the man’s sufferings. Verse 3, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” There’s a sense in which all human suffering in the world is a result of sin—both Gen 3:1-19 and Rom 8:18-25 help us understand suffering in light of the larger curse that still sits on the world because of sin. Jesus isn’t denying that. There’s also a sense in which human suffering can actually be attributed to a person’s refusal to repent from specific sins—places like 1 Cor 11:30 and Jas 5:15-16 and Rev 2:22 speak to that sort of discipline God is willing to bring upon his church to purify them from evil. Jesus isn’t denying that either. What Jesus is denying is that this particular man’s blindness is the result of a specific sin he or his parents have committed (cf. Job 1:1-2:10; 2 Cor 12:1-12). And together with that, Jesus is affirming that even the colossal effects of sin shouldn’t be our ultimate lens through which we see human suffering. In this man’s suffering in particular, Jesus lifts up their eyes to the ultimate viewpoint of how we should see all suffering—namely, through a God-centered perspective.
This man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. God’s hands are not tied by the man’s blindness; rather, he ordained the man’s blindness and has something he wants to display through the man’s blindness. God has unique works that he wants to show off through this man’s blindness. Now, we already know from the front end of John’s Gospel that the “works of God” are usually those unique works given to Jesus by his Father to perform; and it is by performing these works that God then displays something unique about Jesus (John 4:34; 5:20, 36). So what Jesus means is that God the Father is about to reveal something marvelous about God the Son; and this blind man will be his agent. There’s a work God wants to do through his sufferings for all these years, in order to make Jesus look great; but the only way we can see that is if he first centers us on God’s ultimate purpose behind the man’s blindness. What he says here is much like what God said to Moses, when Moses questioned God’s use of him to deliver Israel and God responded to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exod 4:11). God’s hands are not tied by our sufferings; he has designed them to bring glory to his Son. Our sufferings are not meaningless.
(2) Jesus’ crucifixion and death are just over the horizon.
There’s something else Jesus wants us to see before he performs his miracle; namely, his crucifixion and death are just over the horizon. Verses 4-5, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The picture is that Jesus, in his personal presence on earth, is the Light of the world—he is the one shining in the midst of the world’s darkness (cf. 1:9-13; 8:12). But there’s coming a day when night will fall, such that even the darkness swallows up the Light. In fact, that’s exactly the way John portrays the betrayal of Jesus by Judas—in 13:30, Judas goes out to betray Jesus and the text reads, “and it was night.” So night is coming when the Light of the world will be snuffed out. The whole world system of sin and death and spiritual darkness will swallow up the Light of the world—but not forever; only for three days will it swallow Jesus up, praise be to God.
Surrendering himself to the darkness of sin and death, letting them swallow him up in the crucifixion was something Jesus chose to do—came to do out of his love for the Father and his Father’s love for us—so that he might save us from the darkness and the blindness that we could never escape on our own. He alone had the power to enter the dungeon of death, slay the power of sin, and rise victorious over the grave (cf. Rom 6:1-14). The crucifixion of the Son of God is the darkest moment in world history, and yet in it we find the brightest triumph of all history—God almighty forgiving sinners from their spiritual corruption and freeing them from bondage to darkness, then confirmed by the resurrection. That cross is just over the horizon, and Jesus wants all his disciples to see this miracle in that light—in light of his journey to the cross where he defeats the darkness for those who follow him.
(3) God sent Jesus into the world to give multitudes spiritual sight.
One last thing we should see in Jesus’ healing of the blind man, namely, Jesus was sent into the world for more than healing people from physical blindness; God sent him into the world to give multitudes spiritual sight. John gives us a couple of clues that tell us Jesus’ miracle is about more than giving physical sight to the blind man. At the beginning of verse 6 he says, “Having said these things, Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva.” So “having said these things” means “Disciples, you view everything I’m about to do in light of my Father’s works and in light of my mission as the Light of the world. This miracle is like a real life parable that receives its deepest meaning from everything I just told you.”
Then, in verse 6, Jesus anoints the man’s eyes with the mud and says to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” and John very helpfully tells us “which means Sent. So he went and washed and came back seeing.” So John connects the pool of Siloam which carries the significance of sent-ness to the man receiving his sight. Jesus could have healed the man on the spot with one word from his mouth like he did in 4:50 with the official’s son. But he doesn’t here. Instead, he deliberately heals the man this way to make a connection between Siloam, which means Sent, and people receiving sight—precisely why Jesus was sent by the Father as the Light of the world to give people sight, spiritual sight. When you receive Jesus rightly as the only Son sent from the Father, you see.
So, all these things come together like this as Jesus heals the man: the Father’s works and the Son’s mission come together in this miracle, so that we see Jesus as the Light of the world. God’s purpose in healing the blind man was not simply to give him physical sight, but to display the worth of his Son, so that when he dies on the cross and rises from the dead, multitudes might have eyes to see that he alone is the Light of the world. The true healing of our spiritual blindness only comes through the One sent from God to die for our sins and shine the glory of God into our darkened and cavernous hearts. This is how the man born blind ends up actually seeing fully—his physical sight is certainly restored, but through his encounter with Jesus, his spiritual eyes begin to open. And that’s what actually unfolds throughout the rest of the story: the man actually sees the Light, clings to what he knows about the Light, and more and more and more are his spiritual eyes awakened to Jesus’ beauty such that he cannot help but worship him at the end. Let’s look at this development of the man’s spiritual sight through his next four encounters with various folks and then one last encounter with Jesus.
Encounter 1: The Man with His Neighbors
First, he encounters his neighbors in verses 8-12. The account reads like this: “The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘It is he.’ Others said, ‘No, but he is like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ So they said to him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered [and please see this], “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.’” Amazingly simple faith, right? He receives the revelation given him, embraces it, obeys it, follows it, and then receives his sight.
Now, what I’m about to say doesn’t mean that if you or your friend are physically blind and you obey Jesus’ words, then automatically you will receive your physical sight. That’s not what this text is teaching or any text in the Bible for that matter is teaching, unlike some of our neighbors in the Metro who preach the false gospel of health and wealth. But what I will emphasize is what this man’s obedience to Jesus’ word is meant to illustrate.
What has Jesus been teaching throughout chapter 8? “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31-32). Or “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (8:51). There’s been a constant thrust in Jesus’ teaching that when we listen to his word and follow it, we then gain spiritual freedom from sin, spiritual life from death; and now comes a blind man, who obeys Jesus’ word and the result is seeing. Within John’s Gospel, the blind man has become a real life parable of the outcome of faith in Jesus, the result of following his words, namely, our spiritual eyes being opened.
I don’t care whether you’re a Christian or not a Christian, if you want to truly see and enjoy the God you were created to see and enjoy, then follow Jesus’ words. When you follow Jesus’ words, God will open your spiritual eyes—sometimes the Bible talks about those spiritual eyes as the “eyes of our hearts.” Paul makes it his prayer that “the eyes of your hearts might be enlightened” through a knowledge of Christ (Eph 1:18). The more we welcome God’s revelation in Christ and abide in Jesus’ words and keep his words and do what he says, the more God will awaken our souls to himself. Don’t let the competing voices of this world crowd out the voice of Jesus. Don’t let the words of pop psychology and marketing venues and television advertisements and politically conservative talking heads drown out the message of Jesus. Don’t let the lies of the evil one keep you from following Jesus’ word—lies like “God doesn’t really care about you,” or “God really can’t forgive all you’ve done,” or “Jesus isn’t powerful enough to save.” Those lies blind us to truth. But Jesus’ word helps us see the truth. Are you obeying the revelation Jesus has given of himself to you? If not, what makes you think he’ll give you more insight to himself and God’s will and his glory and his power? We cannot bypass hearing and obeying Jesus’ word and hope to gain more of God. The two go together—following Jesus’ word and spiritual awakening are married. We see this deeper truth illustrated in the blind man who followed Jesus’ words and has his physical eyes opened.
Encounter 2: The Man with the Pharisees
The neighbors, however, still remain very perplexed by the man’s healing and ask where Jesus is in verse 12—to which the man responds, “I don’t know.” So, they take it upon themselves to get an opinion from their own authorities, the Pharisees. And that brings us to the man’s second encounter. Verse 13, “They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day [important note there] when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
This encounter is pretty remarkable actually when you consider all the revelation God has given to Israel in their own Scriptures, and revelation about the Sabbath day in particular. The Pharisees are so fixed on whether Jesus breaks the Sabbath by making mud and performing a miracle that they totally miss him fulfilling God’s purposes for the Sabbath. The Sabbath has always pointed to God’s saving purposes. The commandment in Exodus 20:8-11 to keep the Sabbath day holy was never an end in itself; it was always built on God’s original creation goal of rest because all things were very good—no blindness and suffering there until sin came into the world and broke everything (Gen 2:1-3). So later God put the Sabbath Day in Israel as a reminder to long for the day when all brokenness and suffering in the present sinful world would be restored to a new creation by God (cf. Ps 95:7-11; John 7:22-23; Heb 3:7-4:10).
And later on, the prophet Isaiah would play off this same Sabbath-New-Creation theme in his words to Israel—that a Day was coming like no other when the physically blind would see; and that would be the signal for the peoples sitting in spiritual darkness that the Day of their salvation had arrived (Isa 42:7-8). Their spiritual eyes would be opened to God’s glory and all false worship of idols would be driven from their darkened hearts (Isa 42:16-18). And guess who was bringing that day with him? The Servant of the Lord who would be “a light for the nations” (Isa 42:6). We know his name as Jesus, the Light of the world. So this exchange is remarkable, because despite all the revelation the Pharisees had in their own Scriptures, they remain spiritually blind to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ right before their eyes. Seeing, they do not see.
Not so with the man who has been healed. All the revelation he has of Jesus is the few words Jesus mentioned to the disciples in front of him, the command to go wash, and the experience of physical sight; and he sees more than they do, because he has embraced it in the right, simple, child-like manner. Some of the Pharisees reject the possibility that Jesus could be from God; this man knows without doubt that Jesus must be at least a prophet—a man sent by God to speak on behalf of God.
That should be an encouragement to many of you. Jesus doesn’t require you to know everything about him first, in order to become his follower or even in order for you to gain spiritual sight. All Jesus requires is that what little you do know about him, you embrace it with faith—you receive it with humility and follow him in it. Christianity is not merely for the learned seminary student, the well-educated folks, and the intellectually elite. We can certainly see here that it’s not the well-educated who understands Jesus best, but the social outcast who embraces the little revelation he’s come to know about Jesus with faith. I know that we live in a city with lots of universities and a couple of seminaries around the area—we even have quite a few students in our midst for which I am very thankful—but spiritual sight doesn’t come with large amounts of mere Bible knowledge. It comes through a relationship with Jesus as you listen to him speak and act on it. So, don’t be intimidated to pray here if you haven’t read a theology book; don’t be intimidated to ask the guys teaching Sunday school or in your care group a question you might perceive is a simple one; don’t hold back from jumping into this or that ministry if you can’t quote the Puritans. Simply listen to Jesus when he speaks and act on what you know about him. And let that also be a warning to those of you who know so much: to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).
Encounter 3: The Man with His Parents
Despite the man’s clear, simple testimony, the Pharisees collectively reject it at first, but then we see they’re willing to accept that it happened once they call in the man’s parents for questioning. This is now the man’s third encounter. Verse 18, “The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ [Then get this in verse 22] His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’”
So the man sees more about Jesus than the Pharisees do; but now we find out that he’s also willing to confess more about Jesus to the Pharisees than even his own parents are willing to admit—at least publicly admit. Verse 22 tells us the parents know more than they’re willing to confess to the Pharisees. What hinders them? The fear of man is driving their answer even when the situation calls them to stand up for the well-being of their own son. Chapter 12 describes this same fear of man like this: “many even of the authorities believed in Jesus, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (12:42-43).
What is the fear of man? The fear of man is loving the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. Put a different way: the fear of man is worrying about what everybody else thinks about you instead of being satisfied with what God thinks about you. That’s why the man’s parents respond the way they do. The idea is that they’re unwilling to get into the debate in any way that would force them to identify with Jesus who healed their son, even if remotely.
Not so with their son. No, what becomes clear is that when you’ve been given eyes to see Jesus, the fear of man shouldn’t drive what you say about him or even limit what you say about him. No, the point is that Jesus has so thrilled your soul—he’s become so beautiful to your eyes which had never gazed on true beauty—that you can’t help but speak what you know about him. What the authorities in this world can threaten you with—in this case, the public humiliation of being ousted from the synagogue—what this world can strip from you—your job, your money, your reputation, your friends and family, maybe even your life for the sake of Christ—none of it should ultimately hinder us from proclaiming what we’ve been given eyes to behold in Jesus. In Jesus we see the God of such infinite beauty and compelling worth, that we must simply speak what we have come to know—which is what the man continues doing in his fourth encounter again with the Pharisees.
Encounter 4: The Man with the Pharisees, Again
Verse 24, “So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ [The man then answers], ‘Whether he’s a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’” Don’t miss that: the man has gone from seeing Jesus as healer (9:11), to seeing Jesus as prophet (9:17), now to identifying himself with Jesus as master (9:27): “Do you also want to become his disciples?”—meaning, "I’m already one of his disciples. I see; I'm sold!"
They don’t like this very much. Verse 28, “They reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’” This is really ironic, because in 5:46 Jesus makes it very clear that God spoke to Moses; it’s just that when God spoke to Moses, he spoke to Moses about Jesus (1:17, 45; cf. Luke 24:44). But they’re blind to this fact. The man, however, sees what they don’t see. Verse 30, “‘Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.”
You’ve got to see the kindness of our Savior toward his disciples in this. The disciples nearly drew the same conclusion as these Pharisees just did about the man: “You were born in utter sin.” They had at least asked Jesus about it in verse 2: “Rabbi, who sinned that his man was born blind, this man…?” But Jesus taught his disciples not to draw that conclusion; and instead pointed them to his Father and himself. Jesus will always be a teacher to those who draw near to him. But the Pharisees can’t stand Jesus, so they conclude of the man, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And then they cast him out of the synagogue.
What we’re witnessing, here, is that the more you embrace the Light of the world, the more the world that sits in darkness will end up hating you. That’s what’s happening to this man. He confesses that Jesus must be from God—the very point Jesus has stressed many times over, that he has been sent from God. And what does it get him? Ridicule and excommunication from the synagogue. The more we embrace the Light of Jesus, the more the darkness will hate us—the more the world will mock us; the more the world will persecute us; the more the public square will dismiss us; the more our unbelieving friends and family members will find us strange. But that doesn’t mean Jesus has forsaken you. No, it actually means Jesus draws all the more near to you for salvation—all the closer to you so that you experience him in all his wonderful, divine glory and grace. Just look at verses 35-37.
Encounter 5: The Man with Jesus
“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him [such a kind Master Jesus is: having found him] he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ [The man] answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.” Jesus didn’t merely create physical sight in this man, did he? He actually gave the man something infinitely better—a heart that could finally see Jesus for who he really is, the Son of Man, who is worthy of all worship. He didn’t just give him physical eyes to see a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus, but a new heart to adore the glory of God shining radiantly in Jesus (cf. John 1:14-18; Heb 1:1-4). He is the Son of Man whom all nations and peoples must serve and to whom belongs all dominion (Dan 7:13-14).
There’s no greater gift that God can give you than the gift of seeing his Son, because if you see the Son rightly, what else can compete with his infinite beauty as the eternal Son from the Father. What else compares to his infinite grace displayed in his cross and resurrection? A wad of cash? What could possibly match up to his infinite power working on behalf of sinners? An image on a computer screen? Who else can reflect the glory of the invisible God like Jesus reflects it? You or anybody else in this world? Nothing and nobody is comparable to Jesus. How does Blair Linne put it in her poem, “The Perfection of Beauty”—that if we truly beheld God’s beauty, he’d make magazines and Mattel go bankrupt, but we instead fall to lips pasted on with Mac[book] makeup. If your story this morning is anything like this man’s—“once I was blind, but now I see”—if that’s your story, then give thanks to God and praise him all the more for his mercy and grace to you, because God certainly wasn’t obligated to open your eyes to his beauty. He chose to open your eyes out of love.
Jesus says in verse 39, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see [that's love], and those who see may become blind.” Why did he come? He came to save those who do not see by absorbing God’s holy judgment in their place—the Lord laid on his back the iniquities of us all (Isa 53:6)—and the flip side of that love is that he also came to judge everybody who pretends to see without Jesus but really don’t. Those who pretend to see on their own remain blind in reality and even become more blind because of their refusal to come to the Light of the world.
Beware of Pharisaical mindsets and proud attitudes of the soul that reject God’s love and say, “We see quite fine without Jesus, thank you.” Those will make your blindness worse, leave you in sin, and carry you to hell. That’s what Jesus tells the Pharisees, especially when they arrogantly ask, “Are we also blind?” He says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt [lit. sin]; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt [lit. sin] remains.” Those who think they see, who think they don’t need Jesus, remain guilty before God and will not escape condemnation. God will punish you if you pretend to have spiritual sight apart from Jesus. Take note of the Pharisees, who think they see yet blaspheme God’s Son, and run from such attitudes into the precious Light of the world, where there’s grace for the humble. He shines for your everlasting good; and if you follow him, you will not suffer judgment but enjoy the Light of life.
Spiritual sight comes through Jesus, because he alone is the Light sent into the world to reveal God and rescue sinners. He is sight and salvation for the blind and guilty. He is sight because he reveals God; he is salvation, because he died in the place of guilty sinners. So follow Jesus; listen to his words; identify with him at all costs to yourself; worship him in all his radiant glory! The best place for all of us to be is admitting that without Jesus we simply cannot see, but that with Jesus we see more of God than our souls have the capacity to contain on this side of heaven. So with this blind man who believed and worshiped Jesus, may we too believe as we turn to worship God through Christ in song and bow before him in prayer. And may we continue worshiping him throughout the week as we listen to his voice and follow his words.
More in The Gospel According to John
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May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus