Healing a Man Born Blind
In this miniseries on the miracles of Jesus in John's gospel, we come now to the sixth miracle—in which Jesus heals a man born blind.
This miracle took place in Jerusalem, near the Pool of Siloam. Read 9:1,2. The disciples ask this question because it reflected rabbinic theology. The rabbis wrongly extrapolated the general principle that sickness is a result of human rebellion against God (the Fall) to a rigid casuistic system which attributed each and every sickness to specific sins. In congenital cases like this one, some rabbis argued that the cause was pre-natal sin by the fetus; others argued that the cause was the mother's sin while pregnant.1
Read 9:3. Jesus rejects this explanation, and explains instead—not that God caused this sickness—but that God's sovereign purpose included both permitting this man's sickness and effecting his healing.
Read 9:4-7. Why did Jesus heal the man in this way, instead of in his usual way (instantaneous upon speaking the word)? The best explanation is that he was again provoking a controversy with the Pharisee's concerning their Sabbath laws. 9:14,16 tell us that Jesus healed the man on a Sabbath. As we have seen earlier in this series, rabbinic teaching perverted this humane Old Testament provision into a straight-jacket catalogue of Blue Laws. In healing this man on the Sabbath, Jesus violated four of their rules: plowing (spittle rolling on the dirt), kneading (making the clay), anointing (putting clay on the man's eyes), and of course healing (illegal unless a life-threatening emergency).2 Jesus hated the way man-made religion elevated ritual observance over human need, and never hesitated to break its rules. Once again, his actions precipitate a conflict over his identity . . .
But there is more going on here than a spectacular healing miracle that doubles as a protest against unbiblical Blue Laws. Like all of the miracles in John, this miracle not only helped a real person by meeting his real physical need (blindness). It was also a "sign" (sumeion)—an "attesting miracle," meaning that its ultimate significance is not in the miracle itself, but in what it reveals symbolically about Jesus' unique ability to meet humanity's spiritual needs (Jn. 20:31). In other words, this "sign" is a picture of the salvation that Jesus offers to the world, including you and me. John makes the specific meaning of this miracle clear.
John is careful to tell us that Jesus performs this miracle “having said these words” (9:6). What words? The words of 9:5—“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The miracle follows the claim in order to validate it. 9:5 echoes Jesus’ claim in 8:12 (read), spoken shortly after the Feast of Tabernacles which lit huge lamps at the Temple to commemorate the pillar of fire in the wilderness—signifying God’s presence and guidance. Jesus is claiming to be the sole source (“I and I alone”) of spiritual enlightenment to a spiritually blind humanity (contra pantheism: “We already have the divine light; we’re just ignorant of this”). In other words, Jesus' unique ability to restore physical sight to a congenitally blind man both illustrates and validates his claim to be the only One who can provide spiritual revelation and understanding to a spiritually blind humanity.
But although Jesus graciously grants all of us access to his spiritual light, this does not automatically enlighten us. Jn. 8:12 tells us it is our response to this light that determines its effect on our lives. Like the sun that softens butter but hardens mud, so Jesus is the light who has radically different effect on our lives depending on how we respond to him. Light received results in more sight; light rejected (exposes and) results in greater blindness. The rest of chapter 9 illustrates this principle positively in the man and negatively in the Pharisees. As I read the narrative, look for this (read 9:8-41) . . .
Light rejected results in greater blindness: The Pharisees
This healing was unique in Israel’s history, and the Old Testament prophets predicted that this kind of healing would herald the Messiah (cf. Isa. 29:18; 35:5; 42:7). As leaders of the synagogue, the Pharisees had a responsibility to investigate such claims carefully and fairly for the spiritual welfare of the people. But this is not a fair appraisal. They were unwilling to re-examine their Sabbath or and their view of Jesus. Instead, they expose and increase their spiritual blindness by suppressing the light.
First, they try to claim that the man wasn't healed (9:18a): “You were never really blind.”
When his parents testify that he was in fact blind from birth (9:18b-23), they posit another explanation (implied from 9:24): “Someone else other than Jesus must have healed you.”
When the man reiterates his testimony (9:25-27a), they revile him (9:27b-29): “You're too ignorant to know what you're talking about.”
When that doesn't intimidate the man into withdrawing his testimony (9:30-33), they get rid of him (9:34): “You’re a big-time pre-natal sinner—we excommunicate you!”3
To the very end, they insist they see clearly, but Jesus disagrees (9:40,41). Claiming to see, they have become spiritually blind, and they are morally culpable for their own blindness.
This passage teaches us an important lesson about the relationship between faith and evidence. We often think that if God gives us enough of the right kind of evidence, our faith will follow naturally and inevitably. But this passage clearly disagrees. Evidence is important (contra BLIND FAITH), but it is not the final and decisive issue. Both parties got the same abundance of evidence—yet they responded in totally different ways. Why? Because the main obstacle to faith in Jesus is not insufficient evidence, but rather unwillingness to bow to God.
When it comes to the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ, no one is completely neutral in his perspective. We all have a bias—a “grid” through which we interpret the evidence. If you are biased against bowing to God, you will interpret the evidence accordingly and find it (however irrationally) unpersuasive. If you are biased toward bowing to God, you will find the evidence sufficient.
This bias is not something culturally or sociologically determined; it is something you choose, something you can change, and therefore something for which you are morally responsible. That’s why Jesus says Jn. 7:17 (read). We would reverse the order of his statement (rephrase), but his order is correct. If God exists, we should be willing in principle to bow to him and submit our lives to him. It is immoral not to choose this bias, and our unwillingness to do so will both expose our blindness and increase it.
As a tragic example of this principle, consider this death-bed interview of existentialist Jean Paul Sartre in 1974.
INTERVIEWER: How did your atheism begin?
SARTRE: . . . I don’t know where the thought came from or how it struck me, yet all at once I said to myself, "But God doesn’t exist!" . . . I remember very well, it was on that day and in the form of a momentary intuition, that I said to myself "God doesn’t exist." It's striking to reflect that I thought this at the age of eleven and that I never seriously asked myself the question again until today, that is to say for sixty years. (Did he become an atheist based on objective evidence?)
SARTRE: . . . Even if one does not believe in God, there are elements of the idea of God that remain in us and that cause us to see the world with some divine aspects.
INTERVIEWER: What, for example?
SARTRE: . . . As for me, I don't see myself as so much dust in the world (the inevitable conclusion of atheism), but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God . . . (This idea) contradicts many of my other ideas; but it is there, floating vaguely. And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for want of being able to think otherwise. (This is a HUGE contradiction!)
INTERVIEWER: (Then) what is the benefit to you of not believing in God?
SARTRE: It has strengthened my freedom and made it sounder: at the present time this freedom is not there to give God what he asks me for; it is there for the discovery of myself and to give me what I ask of myself. That is essential . . . This life owes nothing to God; it was what I wanted it to be . . . 4 (Here is the BIAS, the “GRID.”)
What about you? Are you willing to tell God that you are in principle willing to bow to him and his will for your life? If not, no amount of evidence will convince you. But if you are willing, he will give you all the evidence you need to entrust yourself to Jesus—just like he did for this man . . .
Light received results in more sight: The man born blind
First, he responds to Jesus' Word . . . and receives his physical sight (9:7). But this is only the beginning, because as we saw, this healing is a picture of a far greater healing . . .
Next, he stands by his testimony that Jesus healed him (9:25: “I don't know about him being a sinner, but I know he healed my sight;” 9:27: “Why are you trying to discredit this?”) . . .
. . . And as a result, he receives increasing spiritual insight into who Jesus is (9:11: “the man;” 9:17: “a prophet;” 9:32,33: God's unique servant). And notice how Jesus seeks him out to give him the crucial light he needs (9:35: “Son of man;” 9:38: “Lord”/God to be worshipped). (Notice in 9:36 that he is willing in principle to believe.)
Do you identify with this man? Over the past several weeks, I have talked to many of you who have been traveling this same path.
You have been willing to admit your need for light from God, and to expose yourself to the light by coming here week after week to hear God's Word. Many of you have also talked with some Christians and heard their testimony of how Jesus has changed their lives.
As a result, your view of Jesus has begun to change (“Jesus is just one of many ways” >> “I never realized his claims and his offer of grace” >> “It sounds like this may be what I'm looking for”).
You've come a lot closer to Jesus, and that's great. But while this light increases over a period of time, it leads to the crisis of decision. Like this man, Jesus is asking you” Will you entrust yourself to me as your Messiah and Lord?” When you do this, you'll get even more light (assurance). And then as you follow Christ, you will get ever more light (direction; purpose; illumination on every major area of life). But don’t get the CART before the HORSE—make the decision to entrust yourself to him.
The power of your testimony
This passage also applies to you if you have recently received Christ. You may feel like you can’t bring others to Christ because you don’t know very much Bible, you may not have much spiritual experience, etc. But (like this man) you have the most powerful resource of all—you have your testimony, your personal story of how you came to Christ and how he has changed your life. Ask God to give you opportunities to share your testimony to others, and allow him to work through you to draw others to Christ!
1 See D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 362.
2 For Talmudic citations, see D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 367.
3 “In so doing they unwittingly confirm one of the points their interrogation aimed to overthrow: You were steeped in sin at birth is a cruel reference to the man's congenital blindness . . . So the man was born blind after all! So Jesus must have opened his eyes! But the irony of their rage quite escapes them, so great is their blindness.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 375.
4 "A Conversation about Death and God," Harper's, February, 1984, p. 39.
Next Week: John 11:1-46 - Raising a Man from the Dead
Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt