John 9:39-41 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
I told you all over a month ago that I was going to wrap up John 9 by taking a closer look at two bigger theological ideas introduced in the chapter. Last week I preached on the first—the cause of the blind man’s blindness (along with God’s relationship to human suffering in general). This week, as promised, we’ll consider the second—Jesus’ explanation of the Pharisees inability to see Jesus for who He really is and the solution to that problem. Like last week, Jesus doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about this idea, but He does provide some important pieces. The big idea is that recognizing our (spiritual) blindness is a prerequisite to being given (spiritual) sight. And the main takeaways are to humble ourselves before God and learn to see the whole world through spiritual eyes. To help you see each of those things in the text, we’ll consider the judgment Jesus refers to at the beginning of v.39, Jesus’ distinction between two different kinds of blindness, two different causes of spiritual sight, and then, finally, the necessity and practice of looking at all of life through spiritual eyes.
FOR JUDGMENT I CAME
As I said, there are four main parts to this sermon. The first is the judgment Jesus spoke of at the very beginning of our passage. The idea of judgment is an important one in John’s Gospel. John uses some form of the word “judge” more than 25 times. It would be an interesting study to work through each of those uses and compare them to one another. But that’s beyond the scope of this morning’s sermon. The main reason I bring it up is to help you all see the need to lean in a bit more to this since it’s such a significant theme for John. With that, look at the beginning of v.39 with me.
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world…
It’s important to ask what Jesus meant by this. What did He mean by “judgment”? What did He come to judge? What is the practical effect of His judgment? And how does this verse relate to 3:17 and 12:47? Let’s work backwards through those questions.
As we saw, John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” That sounds a lot like Jesus did NOT come into the world to judge it. Similarly, as we’ll see when we come to chapter 12, in v.47 Jesus said even more plainly, “…I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
So what gives? Did Jesus come to judge the world or not?
You may remember from our time in John 3 that the point of that passage was to reiterate the fact that Jesus didn’t need to condemn the world because the world already stood condemned on account of sin. Judgment had already been pronounced (guilty), which is why Jesus came (to save the guilty). And in the same way, in chapter 12, Jesus stated that His primary mission was to rescue the already-judged world from its guilt, not to determine (judge) it’s innocence/guilt.
One of the keys to understanding how that relates to our passage is grasping the reason John needed to keep reiterating this principle: because when Jesus came people felt judged. People regularly felt as if Jesus was there to condemn them. But that’s what always happens when sinners stand in the presence of a holy God. We might not always recognize that’s what’s happening (even as many didn’t in Jesus’ day), but that’s always what happens. Jesus’ coming in perfect righteousness simply revealed that which was already there—guilt and condemnation for sin. Apart from Jesus’ presence, people were able to trick themselves into believing that they were right with God. But when He came, their false understanding of themselves was exposed; and this left them feeling judged.
With that understanding of those passages, we can see that John 9:39 (our passage) is saying the same basic thing but from the opposite angle.
Those passages – Jesus didn’t come to judge. All mankind had already been judged and found guilty. He came to announce the judgment and offer a solution (Himself). And in doing that, people felt judged.
This passage – Jesus did come to judge. But His judgment, in this sense (as we’ll see), was living and teaching in such a way that forced people to press their understanding of things against the truth (Him). John worded it like this in 3:19: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” The point of the second half of 9:39 is the same, “Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
This introduces two more important distinctions. First, the world is divided into two different kinds of people. And second, there are two causes of new spiritual sight. Let’s consider both distinctions.
TWO TYPES OF BLINDNESS
I was at a conference a while ago where one of the speakers noted that he answers the question, “How are you doing?” differently today than he did before he was diagnosed with cancer. He said he vividly remembers being asked that very question on the morning of his diagnosis. He responded by telling that person that he was doing well, only to find out later that day that he very much wasn’t. His feelings about his health were a poor indication of his actual health. In this way, he was blind but didn’t know it (though now he does).
One time many years ago, when I was a youth pastor (I know I’ve shared this before), I shared the basic gospel message to a group of kids at Christmas time. God is greater than you know, you’ve sinned against God, you deserve to be punished for your sins, Jesus came to save you from your sins, and that means that Christmas is really about a baby who came to die in your place. It was fairly straightforward stuff. But at that last idea one girl audibly gasped. In that moment she came to realize she was blind.
I had someone come up to me at the farmer’s market who found our Gospel for Kids booklet on the Grace table. This person was appalled to find in it the ideas that kids are born sinners (Romans 3:23) and deserve the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). The person had not yet realized they were blind.
The world is filled with people who are deeply offended if any aspect of their desires, inclinations, or self-understanding are called into question, much less condemned. They don’t know they are blind.
I met with someone for years who had done some really awful things and was tormented relentlessly by the guilt that came from them. He knew he was blind.
I grew up believing that I was OK with God because I wasn’t as bad as the really bad people. I didn’t know I was blind.
Grace, while we are all born spiritually blind on account of our sin, there are some who recognize this and some who don’t. In coming as the light of the world, Jesus came to help people see their blindness and to offer them sight (to “judge” them). He came as the true eye test and the perfect prescription for every ailment. Lots of people believed lots of things about their ability to see. But Jesus came to “judge” the legitimacy of their claims and offer help to all who would receive it.
In our passage, we’re given an example both of one who knew he was blind and of some who didn’t.
The Knowingly Blind
The man Jesus healed is a perfect example of someone who came to know he was bind. As I’ve mentioned several times throughout our time in John 9, the man’s physical blindness was a clear, visible picture of his (and our) deeper problem of spiritual blindness. And Jesus’ healing him from his physical blindness was a gift of God to help him see his need to be healed of his spiritual blindness.
The man clearly felt his spiritual blindness before he understood it. This stands out in the simple fact that he repeatedly acknowledged his ignorance. He came to know that he couldn’t see much.
The man knew he didn’t know how to cure his own physical blindness. For that reason, when Jesus offered him a solution, as goofy as it must have sounded, he humbly complied. “‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” John 9:7.
When asked by the Pharisees whether or not Jesus was a sinner, the man once again admitted that he didn’t know, “He answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know'” (John 9:25).
And when Jesus asked him if he believed in the Son of Man, the man admitted that he didn’t know who that was until Jesus told him (9:35-36).
Once we come to recognize our blindness, and before we’re granted spiritual sight, we know for the first time the depth of our ignorance. But it is only those who can see their inability to see who will turn to Jesus for help to see. Acknowledging our blindness is a prerequisite to gaining sight.
Having done so, the once-blind, now-seeing man was finally ready to truly “see” Jesus; and so he did. Jesus opened his eyes and his immediate response was to worship! Acknowledging this, Jesus said, this is exactly why I came. “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see…”. And so you do.
Grace, do you really know that you (and your kids and grandkids and neighbors and coworkers and all mankind) are born spiritually blind—unable to see God for who He really is and yourself for who you really are? Do you know that’s why everyone does everything they do from birth? Do you know that no one can gain spiritual sight until we come to admit that we are spiritually blind? And do you know that only Jesus can give spiritual sight, which He came to do for all who will acknowledge their blindness?
Our text helps us to see what it looks like when someone does. But is also helps us to see that many don’t; that there’s another kind of blindness or, rather, another kind of blind person. There’s the person who is knowingly blind and the person who is unknowingly blind.
The Unknowingly Blind
Jesus explained that He came not only that the blind might see, but also that “those who see may become blind.” Having just overheard what Jesus said to the man born blind and having just witnessed the man’s healing and worship, the Pharisees—evidently lingering within earshot—wondered aloud (v.40), “Are we also blind?”
The basic idea seems to be this: The Pharisees knew that the blind man was largely ignorant of the things of God. He was not educated or well trained in the Scriptures. In that way, it made sense that Jesus considered him blind. And in that way it made sense that Jesus would want to help him see. In contrast, the Pharisees understood themselves as learned, educated, and informed concerning the things of God. They were not blind. They could see. But they felt judged by Jesus and so they scoffingly, incredulously wondered whether Jesus put them in the same category as the poor, blind beggar.
We’ve seen this haughtiness play out in the Pharisees throughout John’s Gospel and in chapter 9 in particular. In contrast with the man born blind, who consistently acknowledged his ignorance, the Pharisees continually expressed (misplaced) confidence in their own (false) understandings.
Some among the Pharisees “knew” that Jesus was not from God, “Some … said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath'” (John 9:16).
The Pharisees “knew” that Jesus was a sinner (John 9:24).
And they “knew” that the man’s blindness was due to his sin and that, therefore, he had nothing to teach them (John 9:34).
The Pharisees believed they could see. They were unknowingly blind. To make things worse, not only did they not recognize their blindness, when Jesus showed up to tell them (so that He could heal them), they refused to believe Him. And for that reason, they were incensed that Jesus would accuse them of being blind.
In response to their question, therefore, Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
What Jesus seems to mean is this: If you knew you were blind, if you would admit it, you would turn to me, I would give you sight, you would believe in me, and I would take your guilt away. That is why I came! But since you are unwilling to admit your blindness, since you claim to be able to see, your eyes remain closed to the salivation standing before you and so the condemnation I came to rescue you from remains on you.
They were unknowingly blind.
THE TWO CAUSES OF SPIRITUAL SIGHT
We considered the cause of the blindness last Sunday. This morning we’re considering the cure. How was it that the blind man came to gain not only physical sight, but also spiritual sight while the Pharisees remained blind? As I mentioned in the beginning, there is an immediate an final cause of the man’s new spiritual sight.
The Immediate Cause
The common denominator in the Pharisees, the conference speaker, the person at the market, the world at large, and me is a type of pride that gave us false confidence in ourselves and our lies. Our pride kept us from recognizing our blindness, and our blindness kept us from seeing what was real.
In contrast, as we saw, the blind man was marked by humility. If you want to see, Grace, you must begin with humbly acknowledging your blindness. As the Pharisees warn us of pride, the blind man calls us to humility. The immediate cause of new spiritual sight, then, is humility.
The Final Cause
Having clearly seen that it is only once we know we are blind that we will seek the help we need, and having clearly seen that it is the pride that we’re all born into that keeps us from seeing that we can’t see, we still need to ask where the humility comes from that causes us to cry out to God.
The answer is Jesus. And that answer has two components to it.
First, the answer is Jesus in the sense that it is often by encountering someone who really can see that we recognize our blindness. The conference speaker needed a doctor with special instruments to reveal to him what he could not see on his own. I needed a teammate to share the gospel with me in clear and winsome terms so I could see what I’d been blind to for so long. And the man born blind needed Jesus Himself to show up and put on display the wisdom, mercy, grace, and power of God before he was able to recognize his deeper blindness.
In simplest terms, that’s what the judgment of v.39 is about. Jesus came as the one with perfect sight to exemplify and describe the truth of God and man to the world, revealing sin’s blinding effects, so that the world would turn to Him for healing and forgiveness.
And that is why holiness and evangelism is so critical for the Church. That is why you and I—those who have been given spiritual sight—need to live in the light and share the gospel with those who remain spiritually blind. God has chosen to use us to show the transforming power of the gospel and open eyes through it.
And that leads to the second component of Jesus being the source of the humility we need to see our blindness and cry out to God for healing. Ultimately, as John repeatedly highlighted throughout his Gospel, all of that comes from the sovereign grace of Jesus.
One Pastor summarizes it like this, “In John 3:3, Jesus says, ‘Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ … In John 6:37, Jesus says, ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me.’ And in verse 44, he says, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.’ And in verse 65, he says, ‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ So coming to Jesus is a gift. We don’t do it on our own then get the gift. Our coming is the gift…Or in John 10:26, Jesus says, ‘You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.’ And in John 8:47, he says, ‘The reason why you do not hear [my words] is that you are not of God.’ And in John 18:37, he says, ‘Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ So our listening to his voice and our hearing his words and our believing on him are all owing to something that went before. Something God did.”
Our passage for this morning is yet another expression of the sovereignty of God in giving the humility that leads to recognizing our blindness, and through that the sight that leads to faith, and through that the union with Christ that leads to salvation.
Just as we saw with last week’s big theological point, there is some measure of mystery in how both of those things can be true at the same time—(1) We must humble ourselves in order to see our blindness and (2) God is the one who gives humility. But there is not mystery in John about the fact that they are both true at the same time. For some, this is a point of frustration and difficulty. For John, however, it is without exception a point of clarity and comfort. It is not a doctrine to be embarrassed by or uncomfortable with, but one to embrace as hope and life-giving.
NEW EYES FOR ALL OF LIFE
The theme of sight/blindness is an important one throughout John’s Gospel. Typically, as is the case in this passage, Jesus/John speak of it in relation to the Jews’ and Jewish leaders’ inability to see Jesus for who He is. More broadly, they speak of sight/blindness in relation to the blinding effects of sin which keep people from receiving Jesus as the Christ and finding life in Him. That is, the general principle is that we need to be given new spiritual eyes in order to see God for who He is and ourselves for who we are, in order to trust in Jesus and be saved.
But there’s more to it than just that. What I’ve hinted at a few times, I now want to make explicit: The new spiritual eyes which come to those who humble themselves according to God’s sovereign grace, and which allow us to truly see God and respond to the gospel in faith, those eyes don’t go away after our conversion. They stay with us for the rest of our lives. What’s more, by even more of God’s grace and according to His promises, our spiritual vision will continue to increase, bringing all things into ever-sharpening focus.
Again, we need to pray for new spiritual eyes for conversion (ours and others). But what I want you to see now is that we need to continue to pray for increased spiritual vision for the rest of our time on earth. We need new eyes to see God initially and we need renewing eyes to grow to see God, ourselves, and the world rightly. Even though every Christian has spiritual eyes, none of us have perfect spiritual sight yet.
Therefore, Grace, I urge you, pray constantly that God would help your spiritual vision to increase so that you can better see His holiness and glory. More than anything else, that will shape the way you live. Even a moments glimpse into the glory of God as we will see it in heaven or God’s wrath as many will see it in hell will shape everything about us. The key for us to understand is that God is just as glorious and wrathful now as He will be then. He has revealed much of that to us in His Word. We simply need better eyes to see. With them, who/what would we fear? What command would be burdensome? What could compete for our affection and joy? What would we want to pass on, train in, and praise more to our kids than God?
Christian, pray also that God would help your spiritual vision to see sin as sin. We all have certain sins that truly disgust us (usually those of other people). But the fact of the matter is that because our spiritual sight still isn’t what it will be, even our greatest experience of disgust pales in comparison to what it should be. Sin is far more vile than we’ve ever seen and we need better spiritual sight if we are to properly cultivate proper reviling.
This must begin with us. We’ll never see the sins “out there” properly until we see the sins “in here” properly. Until, like Paul, we understand that we are the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), we won’t be able to see the sins of the world as God would have us. More importantly, though, we’ll never see the amazingness of the grace of Jesus Christ until we see the staggering heinousness of our own sin.
Once God grants increased clarity of spiritual sight with regard to sin, and as He brings together a right view of our own sin and the grace of Jesus, our concern for the sin of the world will have its proper motivation (the glory of God and the good of the world), reach its proper height (far above what it currently is in disgust and compassion), and lead to its proper response (fearless proclamation of the truth in love). It’s all there to be seen, but our vision must be cleared even more.
And pray also that God would help your spiritual vision as you look at the world around you. Pray to have the vision to see the heavens declaring the glory of God. Pray to have the vision to see your children as the divine image bearers they are. Pray to have the vision to see math as an extension of God’s unchanging nature. Pray to have the vision to see good music and art as an expression of God’s beauty in the world. Pray to have the vision to see each of the spheres God has made (family, church, government, society) as the gifts from God they are when they aim for their God-given mission, using their God-appointed means. And pray to have the vision to recognize where they’re out of whack and need God’s people to call them to repentance. Pray for God’s help to have the vision to see conflict and reconciliation, ethnic division and the unity of heaven, abortion and adoption, the nature and roles of men and women, government corruption and the Imperium of Jesus, and all other areas of life as God would have you.
Pray for clarity of spiritual sight in each of these areas in order that you would live more fully in light of what’s really real. And pray not only for your own sight, but that of us as a church as well. When we are transformed together, we have an even more powerful witness to the world and paint an even fuller picture of the power and grace of God.
Pray for increase spiritual clarity in each of these areas and as you do, ask the Holy Spirit to bring one to the surface that you might not only see it more clearly, but also live in light of it more fully. The final aim of improved vision isn’t a changed perspective, but a changed perspective leading to a transformed life, family, church, and world for the glory of God.
Jesus came to judge the world in the sense that He came to help the spiritually blind to know they are blind in order that they might see. New spiritual sight comes when we humble ourselves according to the sovereign grace of God. And through new spiritual sight comes overwhelmedness at the holiness and glory of God, leading to brokenness over our sin, leading to throwing ourselves before Jesus to be saved, leading to forgiveness of sins and new life, leading to greater spiritual vision for all things, leading to a longing to obey all Jesus commanded in all of life for the glory of God and the good of the world.