November 9, 2008
For the first time in our study of the book of John, we come across a complete chapter devoted to a single subject – spiritual blindness.
Please have your Bibles open at John, chapter 9 and follow along as I read the first seven verses: “Later, as Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been blind from birth. ‘Master, whose sin caused this man’s blindness?’ asked the disciples, ‘his own or his parents’?’ ‘He was not born blind because of his own sin or that of his parents,’ returned Jesus, ‘but to show the power of God at work in him. We must carry on the work of him who sent me while the daylight lasts. Night is coming, when no one can work. I’m the world’s light as long as I am in it.’ Having said this, he spat on the ground and made a sort of clay with the saliva. This he applied to the man’s eyes and said, ‘Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.’ (Siloam means ‘one who has been sent.’) So the man went off and washed and came back with his sight restored.”
First I want you to notice this man. Although we never know his name, he apparently was known to the people in Jerusalem. Another thing to note, he didn’t approach Jesus. Nobody brought him to Jesus. He didn’t ask to be healed. All of his life he had lived in darkness. He was blind from birth, and he had no idea what it meant to see. His physical condition was every bit as hopeless as if he had no eyes at all. Because of his infirmity, he was a beggar. Likely he would have been led to the city gate each morning by a parent, then left there to beg. Another striking fact you will come to see is that the man was intelligent. He was a logical thinker, and, as we shall see, a skilled communicator.
Let me give you a little background to this chapter. Just prior to this event, the Lord had been involved in a major, confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus had made bold claims about himself and about his relationship with his Father in Heaven. He had claimed to be one with the Father. He had claimed to be greater than Abraham. He had said that these religious leaders were sons of the Devil. And he had just made his boldest claim to divinity. The Pharisees had begun pick up stones so they could stone Him for blasphemy, and he had escaped by miraculously slipping away through the crowd.
So Jesus may not have been relaxed at that particular moment. But apparently he was ready to jump on the teachable moment using this blind fellow, who customarily sat by the temple gate, as His object lesson. Jesus approached the man. He didn’t engage him in prolonged discussion. He did not ask him questions. He did not tell the man to follow him and become his disciple. He did not discuss the man’s past or his sins. He didn’t tell him that he had to be born again. All of this came later.
Let’s go back to our Scripture passage. Look again with me at verse 2 now: And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Why did the disciples ask the question? A common belief in Jewish culture was that calamity or suffering was a result of sin. But Christ used this man’s infirmity to teach about faith, and about glorifying God.
So the disciples asked, “Why him, Lord?” and Jesus, ever the teacher, answered "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. We all love to see the power of God visibly displayed in miraculous healing don’t we? But sometimes, in our eagerness to see the spectacular, we miss the “silent” miracles. How many times has God spared us from harm and we’ve missed it? We live in a corrupt, fallen world surrounded by evil and disease. Yet we are silently spared. And do we miss it? We are sometimes so focused on the suffering, we fail to be thankful for the lack of suffering – the grace of Jehovah Jirah – our provider; Jehovah Shalom – our peace; Jehovah Rapha – our healer; Jehovah Nissi – our banner – our protector.
Here, in today’s Scripture, we see Jehovah – in the flesh – showing as His provision, peace, healing, and protection. He who knew no sin walking and talking with a group of 12 sinners. I often wonder why Jesus didn’t answer their question another way.
Jesus could have said that only heaven is perfect..
Or he could have explained that yes, there are some situations in which the sin of the parent brings pain or grief or sickness on a child.
We certainly see this in the case of children of alcoholics, or parents infected with a venereal disease. Jesus could have gone into that.
He could have explained that all suffering is not alike. He could have said, “Suffering has a place in God’s plan—in the lives of certain people and certain situations; it can affect all the people around us.” Do you think, like me, that Jesus missed an opportunity. He could have preached an unbelievably good sermon that would have gone down in history as the most penetrating analysis of the problem of suffering ever given. He was the Son of God. He knew all the answers to all the questions. So much of our own inner bewilderment about suffering could have been once and for all settled if Jesus had just preached that sermon that day.
Why did my father die as a young man? Why did these two young men die so cruelly in a fiery automobile accident? Why that disaster? Why that little boy born without any arms? Why Auschwitz? Why Afghanistan? Why AIDS?
He could have explained all of, but he didn’t. He chose not too. And as a result we still have only an imperfect, incomplete understanding of the answers to the problem of suffering. We are often spiritually blind. Often we still find ourselves perplexed and grief-stricken in the midst of tragedies that befall all people everywhere.
What did Jesus do in this situation? He said in essence, “The only thing I’m going to tell you right now is that this situation is an opportunity for God to be glorified, to show what God can do.”
This is an important point: When you face tragedy, whether it’s sickness or natural disaster or whatever, you might be able to discern reasons why this is happening, and you may be able to lay the blame on someone or something. You may even be able somehow to see the hand of God in it. You may not, and it may seem God is not answering you when you pray. Why?
It just may be the only answer you will get is this: “This has happened; don’t dwell on why. Rather, you now have an opportunity to see God at work.” That really is a much better answer. And if you don’t see God at work in this suffering, then say as Job did, “Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10)
All Jesus said was, “Here’s an opportunity to see what God can do.” I thought about that this week, and here’s what I thought: sickness and people who are suffering around us provide us with an opportunity to show the love and compassion of God by caring for them and praying for them and working for their healing. It may be that God is calling you to show love and compassion — giving you opportunity to demonstrate the love of God to people who are suffering. This will be especially true if God has taken you through the same ordeal Then He – God may call you to comfort with the comfort you have been comforted with.
Many people, like this blind man in John 9, are so overcome by their suffering that they may be open to giving their lives to Christ, when they are loved and cared for, when they sense the compassion of Christ through our deeds of mercy, they may, like this blind man, eventually come to Christ and find spiritual healing as well as physical healing.
George Shearing, the British-American jazz pianist, was born blind. He once stood on a New York City street corner during rush hour. With his dark glasses and white cane, he could always count on someone, sooner or later, to offer to assist him across the street. While waiting, he felt a tap on his shoulder. "Excuse me, sir," said a voice, "but I'm blind. Could you help me across the street?"
"Certainly, I'll help you," said Shearing. He reached out, found the arm of the other blind man, and strained his ears to decipher the sound of the traffic. After a few moments, he said, "It's safe to cross. Let's go!" Together, the two blind men set off across the intersection. As they walked, Shearing heard a great deal of horn-honking and yelling, but he was never sure if it was directed at him or not.
Moments later, the two men were safely on the other side of the street. The other blind man thanked Shearing for his help, and went on his way.
Shearing later related the incident to an astonished friend who asked, "George! Why on earth did you do such a dangerous thing?!"
Shearing smiled. "Oh, I couldn't resist the irony of it! The blind leading the blind and all that! And you know, that was the biggest thrill of my whole life!” And aren’t we all, to a certain extent, “the blind leading the spiritually blind”,
The question that throbs at the very core of our suffering is this: Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow people to suffer? Don’t we all have questions about the dispensing of mercy and the withholding of mercy by a merciful God?
There is no easy answer to that question. But as we walk alongside Jesus and watch Him as He deals with a man who is blind from birth, we may catch a glimpse of God's eternal purposes through suffering.
When Jesus and His disciples pass this man and the disciples question Jesus about "who sinned, this man or his parents?" Jesus does not deny that concept of generalized sin: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." He does not say, "You've got it all wrong. Suffering is just a random event that has nothing to do with sin."
We live in a world that is fallen and imperfect. As a result, sins often seem to go unpunished, and suffering often falls on those who are innocent. In this broken and fragmented world, we often suffer unjustly. In fact, one of the most unjust ironies of all in this world is that much of the suffering we endure as Christians comes not as a result of sin, but as a result of doing good! As some cynic once observed, "No good deed goes unpunished."
Where, then, does this subtle cause/effect relationship between sin and suffering come in? It comes in at the fall of man, in the opening chapters of Genesis. Because sin entered the world through Adam, the entire moral sphere is wobbling drunkenly on its axis. This world, which was created to function justly and perfectly, is now a dysfunctional planet, filled with misery, natural disaster, disease, and death. God did not create the world this way; sin corrupted it. So, let’s go back to the profound question: “Why would al all-loving, all powerful God allow people to suffer?
The Scriptures affirm that we are all affected by this principle of innate human evil or sin nature. Whether our sinful tendencies are visible or not, we all have handicaps. The finest physical, mental, and emotional specimen in the world is second-best to humanity before the Fall. Everywhere humanity reflects the weakness of the Fall.
But Jesus, in verse 3, makes it clear that suffering is not always directly traceable to sin. And in the case of this man born blind, Jesus is emphatic: His blindness is not a result of his sin or his parents' sin. His blindness was "So that the work of God might be displayed in his life," says the Lord.
Jesus gives a positive reason, not a negative one, for this man's blindness. "This man's blindness is not a meaningless disaster. It is an opportunity. God is going to manifest His power and His character through the suffering of this man." Do you ever think of your suffering or the suffering of others as an opportunity? An opportunity to show God’s power? An opportunity to bring glory to God? That is how Jesus observed this man’s malady.
There are many examples of this principle outside of the Bible — people who allow God to display His work through their suffering and through their lives. The famous hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, was one such person. Blind from her earliest babyhood as a result of an accident, she wrote many of the most cherished and enduring hymns of our faith, including "Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine." When she was only eight years old she wrote this little rhyme,
Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I can not see.
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don't.
To weep and sigh
Because I'm blind,
I cannot and I won't!
Fanny Crosby lived to be over 90, and that beautiful, rejoicing spirit characterized her life all her days. It was a manifestation of the work of God in her life, and it was no less a miracle of God than if He had reached down from heaven and instantly restored her sight! Now, are you getting any closer to the answer to our question, “Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow people to suffer?”
Jesus goes on to say that God's chosen hour has struck in the life of this man born blind. He has lived with his affliction for years. Now the culmination of his suffering is at hand — and the work of God is about to be displayed.
Jesus received in His heart a signal from the Father, telling Him it was time to act. In chapter 5, Jesus said that this is how He knew what to do and when to do it. He was given an inner vision of the Father at work, and He did only what He saw the Father doing. So, seeing this blind man, Jesus immediately felt a sense of urgency. That is why Jesus said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." Time is short, He is saying, the cross looms, and then there will be no more time for Him to work. With this clear sense of urgency, Jesus moves to do what must be done in this blind man's life. Do you sense that time is short? It is not a cross looking this time – but the end of the age. The time to be salt and light to our neighbors, friends and family is getting short.
Jesus said: "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." In other words, "I was sent to bring light into the world. That is my function. Here is a man in darkness, and it is time to bring light into his world." We are light-bearers, are we not? What does Matthew 5:16 say? “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Why? “… for all to see.
Then Jesus proceeds to do the work of healing the man of his blindness. John describes the work that Jesus does in simple, straightforward terms. Jesus spits on the ground, makes clay of the spittle, and anoints the man's eyes with the clay. Then He sends the man to bathe in the pool of Siloam.
The moment when the miracle is revealed is also described by John with a remarkable economy of words, without any razzle-dazzle or smoke and thunder. He writes, "So the man went and washed, and came home seeing." Clearly, it is not the miracle itself that interests John. It is the deeper significance that he reports.
The deeper significance is to be found in the symbol that Jesus uses to accomplish His miracle: clay. What does clay symbolize in Scripture? In Genesis we are told that God formed man from the dust of the ground, from the clay of the earth. That symbolism is used many times in Scripture. Jeremiah says that God is the Potter, we are the clay. He molds us and shapes us into what He wants us to be. And the apostle Paul likens believers to earthen vessels — clay pots — in which God stores His treasure. Clay is not a very strong substance. It is fragile. Throughout Scripture, clay is used as a symbol of human weakness.
When our Lord smears clay over this man's eyes, He is saying that something is hindering the man's sight — both his physical sight and his spiritual sight. It is the clay of his humanity. The blind man's fallen human nature is a hindrance to seeing spiritual truth and reality. Not that Jesus is singling this man out as spiritually blind. In fact, this man is a symbol for all of us; he represents you and me. We are all spiritually blinded by our fallen human nature.
Physical eyes can easily be opened by Jesus’ power, but to open spiritual eyes takes a process of overcoming obstacles. After his physical healing, this man still had to gain his spiritual sight. But as we shall see, this man will overcome these obstacles, and he will ultimately find himself at the feet of Jesus, with his spiritual eyes wide open, drinking in the light of the world, just as we do!
In verses 8-13 John says: His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man." "How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. He 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." "Where is this man?" they asked him. "I don't know," he said.
Notice that all this man knows about Jesus is His name. "The man called Jesus," he says, "made some mud and put it on my eyes." He must have heard Jesus' name, but he knows nothing more about Him. That is where he begins. That is the sum total of his knowledge and his faith.
Then a new difficulty arises in verses 13-16 They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore 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."Some 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.
I love the simplicity and directness of the man born blind. He never complicates anything. "He put mud on my eyes," the man says, "and I washed, and now I see." Whenever he is asked, he simply tells his story — then he shuts his mouth. A wise man!
Here we see the resistance mounting. Led by the Father, Jesus has again deliberately run afoul of the legalistic Sabbath regulations of the Jewish leaders. In their eyes, He has broken the Sabbath in three separate ways:
First, He spat on the ground and made mud on the Sabbath. The rabbis held that it was all right to spit on a rock on the Sabbath day because that would not make mud. But spitting on the dirt made mud, and making mud is work, and work is forbidden on the Sabbath day!
Second, Jesus healed on the Sabbath — and the rabbis said it was forbidden to heal on the Sabbath day. They specifically said, "If you find somebody with a broken leg, you can keep it from getting worse, but you cannot make it any better. That would be work."
Third, there was a specific instruction in the rabbinical literature that spit could not be used on the Sabbath because, in their culture, spit was considered a medicine. The use of medicine was forbidden on the Sabbath day because that too was a form of work. That is how ridiculous their regulations were!
The religious leaders had so surrounded the Sabbath with narrow, intricate, petty regulations that one could hardly breathe without breaking the law! And these Pharisees' were looking for rules so they could reject Jesus. Some said, "How can he be from God? He doesn't keep the rules!" But others were more cautious. "Look at the signs," they said. "How can a sinner do such miracles? God seems to endorse what he does!" So there was division among the Pharisees.
Throughout this divisive debate, the formerly blind man sits and listens quietly. Now we see the effect that these events are having on the man's level of faith. Listen to verse17: Finally 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." Well, that didn’t help their debate, did it? But it did show deepening understanding. The eyes of his heart were being opened.
The Pharisees cannot accept this man's assessment of Jesus. It sets their teeth on edge! So they try another plan of attack. Somehow they need to undermine the man's credibility as a real blind man if they want to undermine Jesus' credibility as a healer. So, in verses 18 to 23, they involve the man's parents in the issue: The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?"
"We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. But 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." 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. That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
The man's parents knew who had opened their son's eyes, but they refused to say because they were afraid. The clay of fallen, fearful, weak humanity continued to blind the eyes of those who were involved in this story.
Now the resistance grows even more intense. The spiritual obstacles multiply. Next the Pharisees call once again the man who had been blind to the witness stand. A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man is a sinner." He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"
When the Pharisees told the man, "Give glory to God," they were putting him under oath. It's the equivalent of putting a person on the witness stand and saying, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" Of course, the Pharisees don't really want the truth. They want the man to confirm their preconceived conclusions.
But he refuses to be drawn into their theological arguments. "Whether he is a sinner or not," he says, "I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"
Here is a man who knows how to witness! He knows how to share the gospel — and we should take lessons from him. Many people are afraid to say anything about the Lord because they think they will be dragged into a theological argument that will be over their heads. But "witnessing" simply means saying what God has done for you. You don't have to understand theology to be a witness. All you have to do is what this man did: Tell what God has done in your life. Let me repeat this – all you have to do is what this man did – tell people what God has done in your life.
Who will share Jesus with the members of your family, with your neighbors, your friends; people you care about? God has called you to do this job – He called you to it before you were born and He continues to call. Jesus, Himself, said to us that if we love Him we will obey His commands. Have we obeyed Him? Are there any in Cut Knife and area who have not heard the good news? If there are, then we have not been obedient. How can we not share God’s offer of salvation with people we claim to care about? If they don’t hear the good news from us, how will they hear it at all? You won’t find them watching the Miracle Channel, will you? How will they hear? (Rom 10:14) And if they never hear it, they are condemned to eternity in hell! So, how can we say we love them, or even care about them, if we are willing to let them suffer in hell for all eternity? It doesn’t sound very loving to me! And the days are growing short! You may have only a few days or weeks to share the good news. Please, oh please do it now! Tomorrow may be too late!
You may not be an authority on theology, but you are the world's greatest authority on what has happened to you. As someone once said, "A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with only an argument." When you speak of your own conversion experience, no one can argue with that. No one can deny what the Lord has done in your life.
Let’s move on in this chapter. The Pharisees are now about to dig a pit for themselves. Here they fall into their own trap. In verses 26-29 Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"He 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?"Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from."
The Pharisees have made a fatal mistake! They have admitted there is something they don't know — "as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from" — and then in verses 9:30-33, the man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
Now he has them! With this simple, logical argument, the man who was healed of blindness has pinned the Pharisees to the wall. Note the man's powerful and unassailable argument: "You Pharisees don't know where this man came from, you admit your ignorance — yet He opened my eyes! Obviously, I can now see more clearly than you! You religious leaders are missing the truth that's right in front of your eyes! You are facing the greatest miracle anyone has ever seen — the opening of the eyes of a man born blind! How do you explain this miracle if this man did not come from God?"
Observe, also, how this man has grown in his faith and his understanding. At first, he only knew the man who healed him as "the man they call Jesus." As his understanding grew, the man saw Jesus as "a prophet." Now he says Jesus is the man "from God." In other words, He is not just a prophet, but the One whom God has sent: the Messiah! His insight has grown progressively and tremendously. He has now come to a place of understanding who Jesus is. Spiritually, he has reached the pool of Siloam.
As they did earlier in their dialogue with Jesus, the Pharisees have run out of logical argument, so they resort to abuse and rejection. "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.” (John 9:34)
When the Pharisees say, "You were steeped in sin at birth," they are referring to his blindness. His physical condition marked him as a sinner in their eyes — someone cursed by God. This gave them the right to feel smugly superior to the "physically challenged".
The man's logical reply to their accusations has whipped them into a froth of fury. So, instead of dealing with the logic of his arguments, they call him a cursed sinner, then physically throw him out into the street. He is excommunicated — literally out on his ear!
In verse 35 through 38, Jesus and the blind man are brought back together for an important follow-up. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?""Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him.""Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.
Notice that the man did not have to find Jesus. Jesus found him! After the clay had been washed away from the spiritual eyes of this man, he could see Jesus. But Jesus had one more operation to perform this time on this man's spiritual eyesight. He asked the man if he believed in the Son of Man, and the man said, "Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe."
Then, in a scene that is made powerful by its very simplicity, Jesus says "You are looking at him! I am the Son of Man." And the man who was blind fell instantly to his knees in worship!
In Matthew 11:25, Jesus prayed, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." As we read the Scriptures, we should recognize our own desperate spiritual blindness. God is able to open our eyes if we admit we do not see. But if we think we know, then we are stumbling about in blindness. And walking blind is a good way to end up in a pit.
The Lord of Light has revealed Himself to us today in our spiritual blindness. As we look to Jesus, the light of the world, we may not see clearly, our vision may be clouded. It may be difficult to see Him in all His beauty, glory, and majesty.
We may find it hard to see Jesus because of our suffering or the suffering of someone close to us — a spouse or a parent or a child. We may say, "How can a loving, all-powerful God allow such suffering in the life of this innocent person?" And it is true: Very often, suffering comes into our lives that has no direct relationship to sin. As we have just seen, suffering is not always God's discipline. Suffering is often simply a result of this broken, fallen world into which we have been born.
But Jesus stands ready to break through the spiritual blindness of our sin. He is the light of the world.