John 9:1-41 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 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.
Welcome back to John 9. In case you’re just joining us, I began preaching through this passage Sunday. In that sermon I shared a simple summary (Jesus healed a blind man and, for various reasons, it caused various responses, among various people). I shared the big idea (that Jesus’ ability to give physical sight to the blind pointed to his ability to give spiritual sight to the spiritually blind). I also shared the simple structure of the passage (1-7 is the healing, 8-34 is the responses to it, and 35-41 is Jesus explanation of it). And from there I covered the healing and the first of the four responses (that of the man who was healed).
In looking at the healing, I pointed out that the man’s obscurity and Jesus’ means of healing were both meant to help us keep our focus on the main focus—Jesus Christ’s power and mission. And in looking at the man’s response, I tried to help you see from the text that he simply comes across as one thankful to be able to see, convinced that Jesus is some kind of man of God, confused about why everyone is making things so complicated, and ultimately annoyed by the Pharisees obstinacy.
Finally, I mentioned that there are two significant theological principles introduced in this passage that I’ll deal with in a few weeks (Jesus’ explanation of the source of the man’s blindness in vs.3-5 and Jesus’ explanation of the Pharisees’ blindness in 39-41).
This morning, then, we’ll pick up where I left off. We’ll start with the remaining three responses (beginning with the man’s neighbors, and then moving to his parents, and finally to the Pharisees) and then finish with Jesus’ explanation of it all.
Just like last week, the main takeaway for us is to pray earnestly for God to grant sight to those who do not yet believe in Jesus and increase the clarity of vision of those who do. Along with that, John intends us to consider our own response to Jesus in light of the responses he recorded here. Let’s pray for God’s help in all of that.
THE RESPONSES (8-34)
Once again, one of the more remarkable aspects of this passage is the way John recorded the responses of four different people/groups. Each responded in different ways for different reasons. It should stand out to us that of the 41 verses in this chapter/story, Jesus is only present in 14 (barely a third) and only 2 are given to the miracle itself. The vast majority of this passage (two thirds, 27/41 verses) is dedicated to the response Jesus got from the miracle.
We have to ask ourselves why that is. Why are the responses given such disproportionate attention? This becomes even more of a question when we consider that it’s been somewhat normal in John’s Gospel. This isn’t the first (or second) time John has written significantly more on the reaction Jesus’ miracles (or teaching) produced than the miracle itself. Isn’t that somewhat counterintuitive? If your goal is to help people believe that Jesus is the Christ, doesn’t it seem like emphasizing the miraculous power of the Christ is the better strategy? That is, doesn’t it seem like the miracle is the more impressive part of the story?
Of course it is, in one sense. But consider this, Grace Church. The miracle of new birth is no less miraculous than the miracle of new sight; and in some ways it is far more miraculous still. John was interested in helping his readers understand that Jesus is the Christ, the promised savior of the world. That’s why he recorded Jesus’ miracles. Who, but the Christ could perform such wondrous works?! But John was even more interested in helping his readers believe that Jesus is the Christ. For it is by believing in Him (not merely understanding His claims), that we find life. And to that end, describing the various responses of those impacted by Jesus’ miracles helps his readers avoid the folly of those who rejected Jesus and embrace the child-like faith of those who received Him.
In that regard, the main thing for us to see is that merely being in Jesus’ presence, merely hearing Him teach, merely witnessing His miracles, or even merely being the recipient of one of His miracles is not enough to make someone believe in Jesus. Some other grace is needed. Again, that’s the sermon in a few weeks, but understanding that helps us understand why John gave so much attention to the responses of those who had these exact experiences. It was meant to smash the mistaken notions that if only I could see Jesus, or touch Jesus, or witness Jesus, or find answers to my questions about Jesus, or be healed by Jesus I would believe. As we consider the experiences with Jesus or those John describes here, coupled with their reactions to their experiences, let us see plainly that some other grace is needed—having the eyes of our hearts darkened by sin, we need God to grant spiritual sight that we might truly see Jesus and believe in Him.
With that, having already considered the response of the man Jesus healed, let’s consider the response of the second group mentioned by John, those who lived near him.
As you can probably easily imagine, word quickly spread that a man they were all familiar with had been healed from a lifetime of blindness. Their response to this news was entirely predictable. Essentially, they were curious and not quite sure what to make of it.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.”
Again, understandably, since this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often (perhaps not since the “beginning of the world,” v.32), just as you and I would likely be, they were initially skeptical. Their first response, then, was to try to come up with a more reasonable explanation. They wondered if there was just some sort of mix-up. Perhaps it was simply a matter of mistaken identity. Perhaps there was a man in town who looked just like the blind beggar and a few people mistook them for the same person. That would be a lot more common and a lot easier to explain than a genuine miracle.
Upon seeing the man for themselves, and upon his insistence that he was the same man, however, that notion quickly came off the table. It obviously was the same man. They turned their questioning, therefore, from if to how. Accepting the fact that it was the man they knew as blind who could now see…
10 … they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”
“OK, it is you. But how in the world did this happen?” The man gave a simple and straightforward account. “A man named Jesus did it. He did it by anointing my eyes with mud! and telling me to wash in the pool of Siloam. I did what He said, and now I can see. That’s it.”
Naturally, then, 12 They said to him, “Where is he [Jesus, the man who healed you]?” Of course, they wanted to see and meet the man who could perform such marvelous works. Who wouldn’t?! “Tell us where to find Him so we can meet the man who can do such amazing things.”
Finally, curiously, John tells us that in the end the neighbors’ decided to bring the man to the Pharisees (v.13). We’re not told why they did this. Perhaps, they thought the Pharisees would be able to better explain what happened or what they ought to do about it. Or, perhaps they feared the wrath of the Pharisees if they failed to report such a thing. Regardless, the upshot of the neighbors’ response to the miracle is confusion, curiosity, and a type of non-disbelief. John doesn’t tell us that the neighbors rejected Jesus or His miracle, but tragically, he also doesn’t tell us that any of them came to a place of genuine faith either. They simply handed the man off the their religious leaders.
How, then, would the Pharisees respond to this man and this news?
With the man having been brought to them, the Pharisees, like the neighbors, began with a series of questions.
14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight.
It’s telling that John began his account of the Pharisees’ response with an acknowledgement of the fact that it was the Sabbath on which Jesus healed the man. It will soon become clear why John mentioned that.
For his part, undoubtedly sensing the displeasure of the Pharisees with Jesus, the man gave a simpler and more sanitized version of the events than he did with his neighbors. He likely answered in a way so as not to give them any unnecessary bullets for their guns, for their guns were already pointed and Jesus and were turning toward him.
The result of the man’s stripped down answer was a brief debate among the Pharisees. They turned away from him for a moment, and like the neighbors, they too tried in vain to make sense of these things by coming up with some alternative explanation for the man’s sight.
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.
Once again, I find it fascinating that the Pharisees seem to accept the fact of the miracle. If Jesus hadn’t healed the man, how could He have been accused of breaking the Sabbath by the first group? And the second group simply assumed that Jesus performed the miracle.
The initial debate among them, therefore, wasn’t over how to explain Jesus’ sleight of hand. Instead, it was simply about how to understand the relationship between Jesus’ miracle and Jesus’ status before God. Some suggested that Jesus couldn’t be right with God since He broke God’s command by healing on the Sabbath. The rest didn’t know what to think, but couldn’t imagine someone doing what Jesus did apart from the power of God.
Unable to accept the possibility that Jesus was who He said He was (the Christ, the Son of God), and that His motives were what He said they were (the glory of the Father and the good of the world), and that His mission was what He said it was (to reveal the Father’s will and save the world from sin), instead of responding as they should have (in awe and wonder and joy and submission), the Pharisees began devising tactics to explain away the goodness of Jesus’ healing. That is, they immediately started looking for ways to discredit Jesus and the man.
Against the man, they laid the trap of compelling him to pass judgment on Jesus’ nature. If he were to accept Jesus’ miracle as a godly act from God, they’d be able to accuse him of sin as well.
17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?”
And with his reply, “He said, ‘He is a prophet,’” they had what they believed to be a first piece of evidence against him.
To further discredit him, they backed up a bit and now attempted to deny that it was in fact the man who they knew who had been born blind. Maybe it was a sleight of hand. Maybe it wasn’t a miracle. Like a political strategist or football coach, the Pharisees seemed to be throwing out ideas to see what might work. Therefore, in vs.18-19 we read,
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
This second round of strategizing quickly proved fruitless as well. For when they called the man’s parents in to ask them, they confirmed that he was their son and that he was born blind, but pled ignorance about everything else. They did nothing to help the Pharisees case against Jesus.
From there, they returned their attention to the man.
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”
By charging the man to “give glory to God,” the Pharisees were, with tragic irony, demanding that he do what God commands and acknowledge that Jesus was a sinner. Grace, we need to pause here for just a moment to consider the fact that this might be among the top three lies in the history of mankind. What greater lie has ever been told than that accusing Jesus of sin gives glory to God?! We must see the zeal and certainty of these men in one of the worst lies ever told, and give glory to God by learning humility where they knew only pride.
Definitely wise to their motives by this point, the man deftly sidestepped their trap by simply sticking to the facts.
Undeterred, though, the Pharisees returned to the question of how Jesus had restored the man’s sight. Again, the man evaded their tricks, and even turned it back on them.
At this point, things came quickly off the rails. In rapid succession, the Pharisees began to “revile him” (v.28), claimed to be true disciples of Moses in contrast to him (v.28), denied even knowing where Jesus came from (v.29), pronounced the man to have been “born in utter sin and ignorant, and finally cast him out of the synagogue (v.34).
It’s hard to see anything in their response other than proud, zealous, ignorant men, blind to the things of God. They are the blind attempting to lead the seeing away from the One who gives sight!
Finally, in the course of the Pharisees’ interrogation, as we saw a few minutes ago, the man’s parents were brought in and questioned. Their response is in some ways the most tragic of all.
Their son was born blind. He was forced to beg to survive because of this. The pain. The sadness. The shame. The embarrassment. The grief. The desperation. And then, one day, out of nowhere, a man came without fanfare or seeking payment of any kind, and healed their son, enabling him able to see for the first time in his life. What joy they should have known. What thankfulness. What relief. What hope. What allegiance.
Instead, however, they are forever written into the word of God as knowing only the fear of man. Undoubtedly, there was more to their reaction than this. And yet, at the only time the spotlight of God was on them we’re told (in v.22), “[they] said [the things they said to the Pharisees] because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.”
Rather than give glory to God by rejoicing in His mercy more than fearing the relatively puny punishment of wicked men, the man’s parents are described as doing whatever they could to distance themselves from Jesus and even from their own, miraculously-healed son…repeatedly, “He is of age; ask him.”
And that leads us to the final section of the passage and in it, Jesus’ explanation.
THE INTERPRETATION (35-41)
All of that leads to the final few verses when Jesus returns to the scene. Having allowed word to spread and everyone to form their opinion on the matter, Jesus came back to explain to the man and the Pharisees how they ought to think about what He’d done.
At some point after the man had been driven from the Synagogue, Jesus sought him out. Jesus’ message to him was simple: believe in me. I’ve given you physical sight, and therein I’ve overcome the greatest problem you believed you had. But I’m here to tell you now that you have a greater problem still. More than that, I’m here now to offer to heal you from that as well. Your greater problem is that you lack spiritual sight. I know that because you cannot yet see the Man standing before you.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
The most remarkable aspect of these few verses is hidden somewhere in between v.37 and 38. Somewhere in there is the additional grace the man needed. Having already been miraculously healed by Jesus, having now seen Jesus in person and hearing Him speak, the man still couldn’t see Jesus for who He was. But at some point before v.38, Jesus miraculously gave the man eyes to see, such that he was finally able to believe and worship. How awesome is that?! Again, that’s the subject of a later sermon.
Likewise, Jesus interpreted the situation for the Pharisees as well. And likewise, I’ll mainly unpack that in a few weeks. For now, I simply want to help you see that as Jesus was talking to the man, the Pharisees were apparently lurking nearby. John tells us that they were listening in and were, once again, shocked and incensed. Jesus’ explanation for them was ultimately the same as the one He gave to the man. That is, Jesus told them that although they had always had physical sight, they had always lacked the spiritual sight they needed far more. Like the man, this was evidence by their complete inability to recognize the true nature of the Man standing before them. And like the man, they needed more grace than their lifetime of sight and study and money and power could provide.
Again, then, what are we to make of the various responses to Jesus’ miraculous healing of the man born blind? What are we to make of them? In considering these varying responses, it’s right of us to look for ourselves in them.
As you consider the neighbors, do you find any hints in yourself of mere non-disbelief? Are there any hints of unbelieving belief? Are you more curious about Jesus than trusting in Him? Are you more concerned with how people might respond to you if you believe in Jesus than you are about the truth of Jesus?
As you consider the man’s parents, does the cost of the life Jesus calls you to cause more angst and fear in you than the hope and joy He promises? Are you ever privately thankful for Jesus’ work, but publically unwilling to acknowledge it for fear of what others might think?
As you consider the Pharisees, is there any animosity in you toward Jesus, perhaps because He doesn’t fit the mold you’ve made for Him? Perhaps because believing in Him means having to surrender your own pride? Perhaps because you believe you deserve answers to your questions that He has not given?
And as you consider the man, are you able to see the obvious rightness of his ultimate trust in Jesus? Can you see how clearly (pun intended) Jesus opened the man’s spiritual eyes as well as his physical eyes so that he could see and believe? Are you like the man in simple sight and child-like trust or are you tempted to believe that what you really need is more answers or more proof?
John focused on these responses in large measure to compel us to ask these questions of ourselves. And as we do, let us be freshly reminded that it is the grace of God that saves us. Left to our own devices, even as objects of a divine miracle, we cannot see God for who He is or ourselves for who we are. If we are to see and believe, then, it will be owing to the grace of God alone. Seek it from God today and you will find it, for such is the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord.