Teaching series from John

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

John 9:1-41

Teaching t22483


In Jn.7-9, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Booths—a week-long Old Testament festival that commemorated God’s provision for the Israelites in the desert after He delivered them from Egypt. Jesus takes this opportunity to make two striking claims.

The festival celebrated God’s supernatural provision of water in the desert. At the climactic celebration, Jesus claimed that He is the sole Source of spiritual “water” who can satisfy our spiritual thirst (read 7:37-39a).

The festival also celebrated God’s provision of guidance and protection in the desert. They were in a vast wilderness, in danger of hostile tribes and without any maps to the Promised Land. But God provided them with a GPS system—a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He said: “When it moves, you follow it. When it stops, you stay put.” As they followed this expression of God’s presence, He guided them safely around enemies and to the Promised Land. During the FOB, they celebrated this by lighting huge lamps in the Temple precinct which illuminated much of the city each night.

In this (nighttime?) setting, Jesus made another striking claim (read 8:12). He is saying: “I am the sole Source of spiritual “light” in a dark and dangerous world. If you follow Me, I will guide you and bring you safely into the life of God’s kingdom.” This claim also implies that if you don’t follow Jesus, you will be lost in spiritual darkness and end up spiritually dead.

This is a claim to be the Messiah and to be God. The Pharisees (a religious sect) publicly reject Jesus’ claim as an unsubstantiated assertion (read 8:13). But Jesus does substantiate His claim by healing a blind man. That’s how chapter 9 begins.

Jesus substantiates His claim

Read 9:1,2. The disciples’ question reflected rabbinic theology, which taught that all sicknesses and handicaps were punishments for specific sins. In the case of congenital blindness, they taught that it was a punishment either for the mother’s sin during pregnancy or for the fetus’ sin while still in the womb.

Read 9:3. Jesus rejects the rabbis’ explanation, and says that God has allowed this man’s blindness to be an occasion displaying His healing power.

Read 9:4-7. Jesus repeats the claim He made in 8:12, and then substantiates His claim (“when he had said this”) by miraculously restoring the man’s sight. This is why John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs”—because they not only meet a real physical need for a specific person; they also “signify” and substantiate Jesus’ Messianic claim to meet humanity’s spiritual needs (CHART).

The law of light and sight

What follows is John’s eye-witness account of how the man and the Pharisees responded to Jesus’ light, and how their responses affected their sight. They illustrate Jesus’ spiritual law of light and sight: Those who respond to Jesus’ light receive more sight, but those who reject Jesus’ light become more blind. Look for this as we read the rest of the chapter (read 9:8-41). Do you see how Jesus states this spiritual law in 9:39? He is saying that the light of His presence and Word precipitates a crisis in each person’s life. Those who admit their blindness are enabled by Him to see, but those who refuse to admit their blindness become more blind. Let’s review this passage and reflect on how the man and the Pharisees illustrate 9:39.

Those who respond to Jesus’ light receive more sight: THE MAN

Jesus gives him some unusual “light”/instruction (9:7a). Because he admits his blindness, he follows Jesus’ instruction—and comes back seeing (9:7b). But this is only the beginning. His physical healing is the beginning of the far greater healing of his spiritual sight.

When questioned, he stands by the light he has received about Jesus—that He 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?”).

As a result, he receives increasing spiritual insight into who Jesus is. His perception of Jesus goes from “the man” (9:11) to “a prophet” (9:17) to God’s unique Servant (9:32,33).

And then Jesus seeks him out to give him the crucial additional light that he needs—that Jesus is “the Son of Man” (9:35; the Messiah) and therefore “Lord” (9:38; God who accepts his worship).

This is what Jesus will do if you open yourself to His instruction and respond to what He shows you. He will do whatever is needed to enable you to see that He is the Lord who is worthy of your worship.

Those who reject Jesus’ light rejected become more blind: THE PHARISEES

Now rewind the account and focus on the Pharisees. They had asked for substantiation of Jesus’ claim, and Jesus gave it. This was an instantaneous, public, verifiable miracle—and it was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy (Isa.35:5; 42:6,7). That’s a lot of light! But the problem is that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, which their man-made laws said was work and therefore a Sabbath violation. Instead of questioning their understanding of the Sabbath, they insist that they “see.” As a result, they become progressively more “blind.”

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 pre-natal sinner—we excommunicate you!”

To the very end, they insist they see clearly. Claiming to see, they have become spiritually blind and “blind guides” (Matt.23:16,17,19), and they are morally culpable for their own blindness (9:40,41). This leads us to the main lesson of this chapter—beware of the “I see” mind-set!

Beware of the “I see” mind-set!

Being willing to admit that “I don’t see” (humility) is the key to receiving spiritual light and sight. Conversely, insisting that “I see” (pride) is what keeps us blind so that we don’t seek light (Matt.6:23b). This is what will keep you from meeting Jesus, and this is what will keep you from growing in your relationship with Jesus when you do meet Him.

The “I see” mind-set prevents many people from meeting Jesus in the first place. It’s not how much you’ve sinned, or how badly you’ve messed up your life, etc. It’s thinking that you already have God, spirituality, life, etc. figured out. I notice several forms of this mind-set in our culture:

Do you think: “I know I’m already in God’s kingdom because I was raised in a religious family, or because I am relatively more moral than others, or because I have some biblical or theological knowledge?” Like the Pharisees, you can have all of these things and be very far from God!

Do you think: “I don’t need Jesus because I already ‘see’ what makes my life work—e.g., a decent job, enough money, a romantic relationship, enough entertainment, etc.?” You can have all these things and be completely lost and waste your whole life running down this blind alley!

Do you think: “I don’t need Jesus because I already ‘see’ that all religions lead to God, that everyone goes to heaven anyway, that no one way can be the truth, etc.?” You may believe this just because it is personally comforting, not because there is any rationality or evidence for this!

If you were wrong about these matters, would you want to know? If you were blind and headed for spiritual disaster, would you want to have your eyes opened? Are you willing to admit to yourself that you may not “see” clearly? I can tell you from experience that when you humble yourself to admit that you don’t “see,” Jesus will start to open your eyes and lead you to Himself.

The “I see” mind-set isn’t unique to non-Christians. This is the number-one reason that so many true Christians become stunted in their spiritual growth. All Christians—rookies through veterans—are vulnerable to this peril, which is why the Bible has so many warnings to Christians about this. How would you know if you think you “see?” Consider these symptoms:

Is your default internal reaction to God’s Word “I already know that?” Are you resistant to sitting under Bible teaching frequently for this reason? Are you offended (aloud or silently) when another Christian suggests that you need to understand God’s Word better? If you don’t regularly read and meditate on the Bible, isn’t this the root reason? “If anyone thinks he knows, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” (1Cor.8:2) Ps.119:110 says “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I need God’s Word every day because I’m not able to “see” on my own!

Are you aversive to seeking counsel or correction from other Christians, or are you dismissive when they offer this? This is what Proverbs says characterizes a fool. A fool is someone who thinks they already know, that they are immune to deception, that they are internally self-correcting. A fool’s mode of operation is “I see.”

Do you think you can follow Jesus selectively and still be spiritually healthy? “I can ignore His instruction on this area of my life, and it won’t affect the rest of my spiritual life.” John speaks of the Christian who decides he can hate/not forgive his brother and yet still live in the light. But John says (quote 1Jn.2:11). The same thing applies to areas like sexual immorality, or dishonesty, etc. This is just another way of saying: “I see” better than Jesus does how to lead my life. When we reject His instruction in any area, darkness can eventually seep into every area of our spiritual lives!

This is why the most important attitude we can cultivate is a humble conviction that we don’t see clearly, that we are easily misled, that we are prone to self-deception. This attitude is what keeps us illuminated by Jesus, the Light of the world.

See D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p.362.

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). For Talmudic citations, see D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, p.367.

“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.