John 9:1-2, “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’”
For a measure of context… Jesus has exited the Temple complex and is making His way through the winding streets of downtown Jerusalem when John tells us “He saw a man who was blind from birth.” Now the first thing you should take away from John’s description is that “Jesus saw a man.” In the original Greek language, this word translated as “saw” implies both perception and intent. Jesus “saw” more than everyone else could see.
While we can reason this man Jesus saw this day was not elderly (we’ll learn his parents were still alive), the truth is we really have no idea how old this man was. And yet, regardless of his age, John adds that he’d tragically been “blind from birth.” How horrible!
It seems most likely the man’s blindness was some kind of congenital birth defect. What this means is that his blindness hadn’t been the result of some type of misstep or accident. The man hadn’t become blind nor had he been maimed. This poor soul had been born into darkness and remained in this state his entire life.
Keep in mind, this man has never seen — ever! Imagine that… He’s never witnessed the amazing colors of a sunrise or the deep hues of a sunset. He’s never seen his father’s face or gazed into the eyes of his loving mother. Yes, this man is alive but has he ever lived?
Because of his blindness so much of life remained a mystery. And what’s worse, unlike a person who eventually loses their sight, this man didn’t even know what he was missing! In many ways, the man was simply ignorant to the full scope of the reality around him.
What makes the detail provided by John that he was “blind from birth” so fascinating is that of the five instances recorded in the Gospels where Jesus heals someone of blindness this is the only time we’re specifically told the individual was born in such a condition.
Again for a measure of context, Jesus has just left having a truly frustrating conversation with the religious leaders just moments before inside the Temple. In fact, I believe this is one of the main reasons this particular man caught His attention. In such a state, he presented a perfect illustration of humanity blinded by the ignorance of sin.
Not only were these religious men blind to the obvious truth right in front of them that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, they even lacked the basic awareness to know what they were missing. These men were completely ignorant and totally lost. Jesus “saw a blind man” and it reminded Him of the men He’d just conversed with.
As the scene unfolds it becomes evident to the disciples that Jesus had grown enamored by this particular blind man sitting on the side of the road likely begging for alms — which is why they promptly chimed in with a theological question relevant to the situation. They ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
John 9:3-5, “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’”
Consistent with the theological thought of the day, the disciple’s question centers upon the causation of the man’s blindness. The Jews believed physical maladies were the direct result of sin and were, therefore, to be seen as evidence of a divine judgment.
And to be fair the Old Testament is filled with many examples validating such a perspective. The men of Sodom were struck with blindness before the city was destroyed (Deuteronomy 19). Elisha prayed and God caused blindness to fall on the Syrian army (2 Kings 16). Moses’ sister Miriam was given leprosy when she challenged his authority (Numbers 12).
That said, the one complication with this theological explanation for physical maladies was undoubtedly the existence of birth defects. Because this man had been born blind, the disciples were wondering if his subsequent blindness was the result of a parental sin making him a victim or was evidence of a pre-natal sin he was being judged for. Either way, the disciples assume his blindness was some type of divine judgment.
How surprised these men must have been when Jesus’ response directly dispels this conventional assumption? While avoiding the much larger conversation, Jesus is clear this man’s blindness was not the result of his sin or a sin committed by his parents — meaning his condition was not to be seen as a punishment or some type of judgment.
Instead, Jesus says the man had been born blind for one reason… “That the works of God should be revealed in him.” In the Greek, the word “works” is ergon meaning business or more specifically that which one is occupied. Additionally, the word “revealed” means to make manifest, visible or known what has been hidden or unknown.
As to the question of the origins of the man’s blindness, Jesus answers that his condition wasn’t a consequence of any sin, but had been allowed to create an opportunity by which God would work and ultimately reveal Himself! In many ways, Jesus is saying, “This man was born blind so that I could come along and do this…”
John 9:6-7, “When Jesus had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay (He literally spread the clay onto his eyes). And Jesus said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.”
What a crazy scene to have been present for! Jesus spits onto the ground, stoops down, and rubs the spit into the dirt to make a tacky substance. He then stands up with the clay in His hands and proceeds to cover the man’s eyes with the mud. Amazingly, no one attempts to stop Him and the blind man doesn’t resist what had to of been an awkward experience.
What makes this story even stranger to me is that never once does Jesus tell the man He’s doing this to restore his sight. Additionally, the instructions to “go” and “wash” aren’t tethered to any specific promise. All Jesus says is that the man needed to go to the pool of Siloam and wash out his eyes, which was evident as someone had just rubbed dirt in them!
While it’s safe to say this situation had to of been bizarre for the man, honestly, I’m not so sure the disciples knew what was really going on either. Earlier I mentioned Jesus healed people of blindness on five occasions… This particular instance happens to be the third.
In Matthew 9, we’re given the first account of Jesus healing two men of blindness by touching their eyes. In the second recorded in Mark 8, Jesus spits into a man’s eyes. After this third instance, in Luke 11, Jesus will heal a man of blindness by casting out the demon responsible. And lastly, on His way through Jericho towards the end of His ministry, Jesus will heal Bartimaeus by simply speaking to him. This event is documented in Mark 10.
My point is that there was absolutely no precedent for what Jesus was doing here! He’s never healed a man of blindness in such a way before nor will He heal in the same way ever again! Clearly, the takeaway is that the mechanism had very little to do with the miracle.
So we must ask… Why does Jesus heal this man in such a dramatic fashion? There are some who suppose Jesus incorporated such a strange approach so that His followers wouldn’t try to replicate it. And I believe there is likely some truth to this position. And yet, in the context of the events of the last two days and specifically those recorded in John 7 and 8 related to the Feast of Tabernacles, I think there are two other explanations:
First, that very morning Jesus has just declared Himself to be the great “I AM!” It was a claim of deity — to be the God of the Old Testament. As such, I don’t find it to be a coincidence that Jesus selects the very building blocks He used to form the first man Adam to now repair this man’s sight — dirt! In Genesis 2:7, “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
For those who find such a miracle to be preposterous, please know it’s completely logical to believe the very God who made man from the “dust of the ground” would also have the power and ability to repair a broken component of that man using the “dust of the ground!”
Aside from the fact Jesus is performing a miracle in order to demonstrate His divinity, the instruction for this man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam was also significant. Connecting back to the priestly procedure of drawing from this pool water as an offering — one in which Jesus dramatically interrupted the day before in the Temple by crying out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” — I believe Jesus was also drawing an important contrast between Himself and the empty religion of Judaism.
Before we get into the larger lessons we can take from this story, let’s take a moment and imagine what this day had been like for this unnamed blind man. It’s the day following the close of the Feast of Tabernacles. With the masses on their way home, at last, your life can return to a comfortable normalcy. This bustling city whose population had swelled has finally settled back into the sounds and rhythm you’re accustomed to.
You wake up and go about your daily routine — which would ultimately lead you to your customary place on beggars row. My guess is you heard the distant cries of a woman you’d later learn had been caught in adultery? A while later you heard an uproar coming from the Temple. Clearly, someone had just said something to set off the mob. You sit pondering.
I imagine you can hear Jesus and his entourage making their way down the street. I’m sure your faculties grow heightened when they abruptly stop as they get close to your very location. I imagine that sixth sense kicks in as Jesus stands there staring in your direction.
No doubt you grow uncomfortable when your suspicions are confirmed… You know the question about sin and blindness pertained to you and your situation. What’s worse you know this inquiry was directed towards a Rabbi. Verse 11 indicates that while His name hadn’t been specifically mentioned the blind man knew the Rabbi was Jesus.
While you brace yourself to hear what you’d been told all these years — that your blindness was the judgment of God — nothing prepares you to hear Jesus’ response… “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
Jerusalem is not a big place and gossip moves at the speed of sound. Because you spend your day on the streets, you’re familiar with what people have been saying. You’ve heard the rumors of the healings. You’ve likely been within earshot as Jesus was teaching.
As you ponder the implications of your blindness not being evidence of God’s judgment but instead an opportunity for God to work in your life, you hear footsteps approach. What must it have been like to then hear the man in front of you spit onto the ground? As Jesus stoops down you’re wondering what He’s doing? You hear Him rise and you know you’re standing toe to toe with Him. You have no idea what’s about to happen!
Could anything have prepared you for that moment Jesus touches your eyes? Shocked by the invasion of your personal space, you likely stand there completely paralyzed as Jesus smears clay onto your face. Questions immediately begin to overtake you… Why was He doing this to you? Was Jesus really who they claimed? What did all of this mean?
Finally, when it becomes evident Jesus has finished, you don’t think twice about obeying His instructions to go to Siloam to wash off the mud. What had initially been cool to the touch doesn’t take long to harden and grow irritating as you fumble your way through town.
Once at the edge of the pool, you fall to your chest and frantically begin cupping water to your face. Again, nothing could have prepared you for what happens next… As you continue to splash yourself and the chunks of stiffened mud begin to fall from your eyes an almost overwhelming thing takes place. Your darkness is invaded for the first time with a bright but hazy light. Your heart starts to race over this most unexpected development.
Then with each hand full of water loosening the tacky clay from your eyes more light floods in followed by a spectrum of color. Slowly shapes take form. Finally, you can make out images — you can see! Understandably, in this instant, you’re overcome with emotion!
The first thing you notice is your hands. Then your attention turns to the deep bluish-green of the water. Finally, you’re enraptured by a reflection staring back at you. “That’s what I look like!” I have no doubt once enough of the mud was gone this man rose to his feet to survey his surroundings. Imagine what that moment would have been like for “a man born blind?”
He could see! Darkness retreated from the light. Uncertainty gave way to clarity! What was it like as this man made his way back to that familiar street corner? Every mysterious sound now has meaning. Every intriguing smell a source. All that this man has ever touched is finally, at long last, identified. His life gains coherence. Everything begins to make sense. The shroud is lifted. He can finally see the world that has always surrounded him.
John simply tells us, “So he went and washed, and came back seeing.” Not to bore you with all of the science behind this but the miracle of Jesus fixing whatever had been wrong with the man’s eyes is dwarfed by the neurological miracle that also occurred.
It’s been said, “Sight takes place in the eye, but it’s the brain where you actually see.” Keep in mind, vision necessitates a chemical library of images we amass and begin to recall almost immediately following birth. We understand what we see because of this cache.
And yet, because this man was born blind and had never seen anything. Simply enabling sight would not have given him vision. What is most amazing about this particular miracle, in the unique context he’d been born blind, is that Jesus not only gave him his sight but enabled him to make sense of what he was seeing! An incredible miracle indeed!
With the time we have left I want to make five observations about this story… First, Jesus sees you even when you can’t see Him! Personally, I’m so encouraged by this reality. The very context for the miracle that ultimately changed this man’s life in a way he never thought possible was the fact as Jesus was “passing by” He stopped to “see a man who was blind from birth.” As I mentioned, Jesus’ actions were specific and intentional.
Again, it’s important I reiterate what “Jesus saw.” As Jesus walked that Jerusalem street this day “He saw a man.” From Jesus’ perspective, the man’s blindness was a condition, not his identity. Jesus saw so much more than what this world had left him as. He saw a creation of God, “a man” — a human being afflicted by life in this tragic state of fallenness.
Sure, his condition was not caused by a specific sin he or his parents had committed. His blindness was not the judgment of God or some form of divine punishment. The man had not done anything to deserve the plight that had befallen him. And yet, the effects sin had rot on this world had taken an unfair toll on this poor man. He’d been born blind!
Friend, while your difficult and trying situation — the raw hand you’ve been dealt at no fault of your own — may make it difficult for you to see the person of Jesus, take heart knowing He sees you anyway! He sees your plight and knows your affliction.
Jesus resides not on some lofty perch ignorant of what it’s like to be human — the trying things you’re going through. Beyond this, most incredibly, Jesus sees so much more than these things… He sees you — the person God made, not the person you presently are!
Second, in this man, Jesus saw a human need and not a theological conundrum. One of the interesting contrasts presented in the text is the way Jesus saw this man as opposed to the way the disciples processed the situation. While the disciples saw him and grew focused on somehow getting down to the root cause behind his blindness, Jesus was more interested in practically addressing the man’s core need.
I have found it’s so much easier to end up like the disciples than Jesus in the presence of a real need. Here’s why… We falsely believe an explanation for how the need has arisen is paramount to discovering a solution. Sadly, this only ends up yielding legalistic remedies.
For example… When faced with the alcoholic or addict, we immediately dive into all the varying causes for the behavior believing we can then establish an effective path for liberty. It’s the essence of a 12-step program. Along a similar vein, when Christian counselors are faced with marital strife they immediately being exploring the various ways each party has contributed to the problem hoping this will yield some helpful does and don’ts.
Here’s the problem with this approach… Even if the man’s blindness could be explained and attributed to a sin that wouldn’t have in and of itself yielded an effective remedy! So what if they pinpointed the cause of his blindness? He’d still been sitting there blind!
The truth to all sin is there really is only one remedy regardless of causation — an encounter with Jesus! The blind man had been told his entire life his condition was the judgment of God. He didn’t need a diagnosis. He needed a solution. He needed a healer!
The grand problem for humanity is sin. And because sin is the culprit, the remedy must address the problem of sin. Friend, the power of grace is found in the reality that, while it affirms your brokenness, it’s far more interested in making you completely whole!
Third, hardships always present opportunities for Jesus to reveal Himself! I know this is a difficult concept to swallow, but there is no question the man’s blindness was instrumental in facilitating his encounter with Jesus. In this particular situation, while his condition wasn’t a consequence of any particular sin, his blindness did create an opportunity by which God would work in the man’s life and ultimately reveal Himself!
I don’t know what hardships you’ve come to church bearing. The truth is maybe the difficulty is a result of your sin or maybe it’s simply the result of living in a fallen world. Either way, there is a hope provided in this story that Jesus can use this to work in your life and in doing so reveal an aspect of Himself you wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.
I know from my own personal experiences that it’s in the times when I’m at my weakest that the conditions are established whereby I can experience a supernatural strength found in Christ I didn’t know was possible. In the end, it was through his blindness he saw Jesus.
Four, Jesus will often work when you least expect it. Think about this blind man… Sure, he understood his fundamental problem but he had no power to do anything about it. He was blind. As such, his daily life was all about surviving to live another day. Whether you want to call it a routine or a rut this was his life and he knew nothing else.
In no way did this man wake up that particular morning and expect to encounter the Healer. As he took his familiar place on that street corner he had zero expectations this would be the day he’d finally see — the day his darkness would be interrupted by the “Light of the World” — the day his mundane life would gain clarity, meaning, and purpose.
Not only did Jesus see him while he was blind to His presence, but Jesus had determined to change this man’s life forever even while he was ignorant of the plan. Beyond this, spitting in the dirt to make mud to smear onto his eyes wasn’t the way he believed a miracle would happen. I have found Jesus often works when you least expect and He works in a way completely unexpected. Never underestimate what Jesus is planning to do!
Finally, Jesus came to give sight to the blind. In our culture seemingly obsessed with social justice, the church has become overly consumed with changing a person’s condition as opposed to seeking the transformation of the person. Sadly, the approach is misguided.
Now that’s not to say Jesus didn’t care about this man’s physical needs or even the effects blindness had in his life practically. He did and so should we. And yet, Jesus always knew the most potent way to affect a man’s situation was to change the man!
Friend, there are some of you here that don’t even know what it is you’re missing. Like this man, blindness is all you’ve ever known. You come to church and you hear me talk. You’re exposed to Christians and you think to yourself, “What planet are these people living on?” The truth is you lack context because you’re spiritually blind.
I want you to know the work Jesus wants to do in your life this morning is very similar to the work He did in the life of this blind man. Today, Jesus wants to give you the ability to see and the ability to understand what you are seeing. He wants to give you sight and provide you vision. He wants to perform a miracle inside of you that will change the way you see and interact with everything.
In closing, why didn’t the man resist Jesus when He was plastering his eyes with mud? While there was no way for the blind man to have known what Jesus was really doing, don’t forget what he’d heard Jesus say before He acted. This man heard Jesus declare, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
You see he embraced Jesus’ touch, allowed Him the space to work, and was willing to obey his instructions to go and wash because he’d heard what Jesus said and figured he had nothing to lose. My question is simple… Are you willing to do the same?
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