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.
The opening line of the passage is fairly ambiguous in terms of its relationship to the end of chapter 8. At the end of 8, somewhere within the temple courts, Jesus announced that He is God. Enraged, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, believing Him to have committed blasphemy. And yet, because His time had not yet come, “Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” It’s not immediately obvious if the “as He passed by” of 9:1 was on His way out of the temple or some other time. And yet, it’s generally agreed that the events described in chapter 9 took place some indeterminate time later…long enough that people had cooled off to the point of putting their stones down, but close enough that Jesus was clearly still in the hot seat.
The short version of what happened in this scene is absolutely remarkable, but also pretty straightforward. Jesus healed a blind man and, for various reasons, it caused various responses, among various people.
The structure of the passage is pretty straightforward as well. In vs.1-7 we read of the healing itself. Verses 8-34 describe the responses of the four groups most directly affected by the man’s healing—the man himself (7, 11-38), the man’s neighbors (8-12), the man’s parents (18-23), and the Pharisees (13-40). And then, in vs.35-41 we find Jesus explaining things to both the man and the Pharisees.
The big idea of all of this is that Jesus gave physical sight to the blind man in order to glorify God and prove that He has the power to give spiritual sight to the spiritually blind. And 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.
Before I pray and get to the text, I need to say a word about how I’m going to approach this passage. In short, I really struggled all week with how to best present it to you. I asked for prayer and I talked to a few of you to get your thoughts, but there are several things that make it complicated.
The gist of the struggle is that all of chapter nine is one remarkable story. Breaking it up at all makes it harder to appreciate it, but it’s too long and there’s too much in it to treat it in a single sermon. Additionally, the natural divisions in the story aren’t very conducive to multiple sermons. What’s more, there are two significant theological points that need to be treated separately (Jesus’ explanation of the cause of the man’s blindness and Jesus’ explanation to the Pharisees of why they couldn’t accept His teaching). And on top of all of those things, I’m preaching this week and next and then Pastor Mike will be preaching for three weeks in a row (one week while we’re on vacation and two weeks while I’m back but working in the office on different projects).
So, here’s the best plan I could come up with in an attempt to be as faithful to the text and helpful to you as possible. I’m going to preach on the healing and the man’s response to it this week, the rest of the responses and Jesus’ interpretation next week, and then I’ll spend a week on each of the two big theological questions after Pastor Mike is done with his brief series on Haggai. Again, not ideal, but probably the best option. Would you pray with me then, that God would be honored, Grace Church would be strengthened, and the Spirit would be pleased to make up for whatever is lacking in this plan?
THE HEALING (1-7)
Again, with some unknown amount of time having passed between the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9, in 9:1 we pick up with Jesus and His disciples encountering a blind man as they were walking along. By itself, there isn’t anything notable about that. As we’ve made our way through John’s Gospel, we’ve seen Jesus encounter many people who were sick and suffering. While it’s clear that Jesus had compassion for the poor in body and spirit, it’s also clear that He did not address every suffering person He met.
Before we consider what it was that caused Jesus to stop and address this man when He’d passed by so many others (along with a few other keys to this first section), I’d first like to point out the fact that we’re told virtually nothing about the man in this passage. We don’t know his name, his background, or almost anything else to fill out his life story. Further, this is the only time he appears in the Bible.
Directly, all we know is that he had been blind since birth (1). Indirectly, all we know is that he was at least 13 years old (but probably significantly older) (his parents referred to him as being “of age” and able to “speak for himself” in v.21), that his family was poor (he is called a beggar in v.8), and that he was a Jew (his parents feared being put out of the Synagogue in v.22).
The very fact that we know so little about him is certainly intentional. As awesome as it is that he was made able to see, he isn’t the point of the story. Jesus’ power to heal the eyes of the body and soul is the point, and the man’s obscurity helps us see that most clearly.
From there, there are four specific things to note from the healing and the circumstances surrounding it in vs.1-7.
First, John makes special mention of the fact that the man was born blind from birth.
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.
That, combined with the fact that he was “of age” means that no one could reasonably accuse him of pretending to be blind or of this being some type of deceitful conspiracy between Jesus and the man. The man, certainly known by many in town (as we see in the next paragraph), likely had more than two decades of and countless witnesses to his blindness. Even as some wondered how this could be, they were all forced to quickly accept the simple facts that he had been blind and after a brief encounter with Jesus he could see.
Second, while John makes it clear that this was no chance meeting, he also makes it clear that it was a question from the disciples that prompted Jesus to stop and address the man. As they were passing by, the disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (2). There’s a lot in there, and in Jesus’ reply as well.
“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.’”
In fact, there’s so much in there that, as I mentioned in the intro, I’m going to spend an entire sermon on it a few weeks. For now, I simply want to draw your attention to the facts that the disciples assumed that the blindness was the direct result of the sin of the man or his parents (as did the Pharisees in v.34), that Jesus corrected them, letting them know that God’s glory, not sin wasn’t the ultimate cause, and that the healing was an important part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Again, there’s a lot there and I’ll unpack all of it in a few weeks.
The third specific thing to note from this passage is the manner of Jesus’ healing. Jesus certainly could have healed the man with a mere word, or even a thought. Instead, however, He chose to do so with spit, mud, and a pool washing.
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).
There is certainly a great deal of symbolism in these things. The number of possible symbolic interpretations that I read of this week is impressive; ranging from magic to baptism to an overturning of the entire social and religious order. The two that seem most likely and most helpful to me are that Jesus used entirely ordinary things (spit, dirt, and water) to perform an entirely unordinary work. What’s more, two of the ordinary things Jesus used (spit and dirt) were far more associated with uncleanliness than any normal instruments for anointing (v.6). Just as when He made a leper clean by touching him, rather than contracting leprosy Himself, here Jesus healed through means and in ways that defied reason and custom.
And second, the connection between the pool of Siloam and Jesus cannot be missed. It was from that pool that the water for the purification ritual of the Feast of Booths came (7:37-39). And it was the Sent One (v.4) who sent the man to the pool of “sent”. Combined those things help us to see that it was not any kind of medicinal power in the water, but the power of God working through Jesus that gave sight to the blind.
Finally, forth, as will become clear in vs.39-41, the healing of the man’s physical blindness was directly tied to Jesus’ mission on earth, to bring spiritual sight to the spiritually blind. The Light of the World came to the world to enable the world to come out of the darkness and into the Light.
The result was that the man “went and washed and came back seeing” (6). Jesus miraculously gave him sight for the first time in his life, even as He would soon give the man spiritual sight for the first time as well (v.38). It’s important to note that the man was healed after leaving Jesus’ presence. Therefore, he never actually saw Jesus until later (v.35).
In this story, remember Grace, Jesus can still heal. He is no less able today than He was then. You cannot be sick for too little or too much time for Him to heal. If you pray He will hear you and He is able. And yet, we must also remember that while He is always able, He does not always choose to do so. Our great promise, however, is that when He does and when He doesn’t alike, it is for God’s greatest glory and the greatest good of all who love Him (even those God chooses to wait until heaven to finally and fully heal).
All of that leads us to wonder what kind of response this would produce. How would news of this healing travel and what would happen as it did? We don’t have to wait long to find out. Predictably, this healing sent immediate and significant shockwaves throughout the town. And once again, John goes into some detail about how several specific people/groups responded to the shockwaves—the man himself, the man’s neighbors, the man’s parents, and the Jewish leaders.
THE RESPONSES (8-34)
Before we get to what they did do, I want to ask you to consider what they ought to have done. All four groups were descendents of Abraham. They were all Jews. They were all members of the covenant people of God. They claimed to believe in God as God, to follow His law, and to be worshipers of Him. What would a God-honoring response have looked like in each of these people?
For the man, certainly, the most God honoring response would have been overwhelming gratitude, thankfulness, and worship. He ought to have left everything to find Jesus (v.11 tells us that even though he’d never seen Jesus, the man knew it was “the man called Jesus” who had healed him), in order that he might follow Jesus for the rest of his life. And along the way to finding Jesus, he ought to have boldly told everyone he met about the power of God manifest in Jesus.
The man’s neighbors and parents, the first to have witnessed his new, miraculous ability to see, and the ones most deeply affected by his lifetime of blindness, ought to have eagerly sought an explanation from the man and then gone with him to find Jesus. They ought to have investigated the man’s claims and in finding them true in Jesus, they too ought to have joined him in worship and obedience, following Jesus in faith with all they had!
And the religious leaders, the Pharisees, ought to have recognized the unique hand of God upon Jesus, His teaching, and His power. Jesus said repeatedly that to truly know God was to know Jesus. They ought to have humbled themselves, holding firmer to the Man of God, than their own interpretations of what the Man of God ought to have been. And therein, they ought to have rejoiced that their long-awaited Savior had finally come, demonstrating His power through signs and wonders. They ought to have trusted in Him and followed Him.
This is what each of these people/groups should have done, but only leaves us wondering what they actually did do. As we’re about to see, it was a mixed bag.
With that, we’ll consider just the response of the man himself this week. How would the person most directly affected by Jesus’ miracle respond to the miracle? John tells us quite a bit about it.
One of the most significant aspects of his response is found right away in v.7. The man had certainly heard of Jesus (v.11 tells us as much). And he’d most certainly also have heard about the controversy surrounding Jesus. He’d certainly heard of the anger of the Jewish leaders and the various explanations offered by the crowds who’d seen and heard Him. On top of that, presumably the man had some sense of the strange thing Jesus had already done to him (make mud with His spit and dust from the ground and then smear it on his eyes); strange as it was.
Thus, when Jesus commanded him, without explanation, to go and wash in the pool of Siloam (v.7), without even suggesting that it would lead to his healing, the man’s simple response is notable. Without question, he simply did what Jesus told him to. Was this faith? Desperation? Something else entirely? We’re not yet sure of his motives, but we are sure of his response, “So he went and washed…” (v.7). There’s something truly profound in the simplicity of the man’s obedience, even as there’s something truly profound in the simple result, “and came back seeing” (v.7).
O, that we might all learn this lesson. Grace, simple trust in Jesus is the path to fullness of life and joy and eternal blessing. It is right and good to seek understanding, but we are called to do so in child-like faith. There are few clearer pictures of what this looks like in an adult than what we see here in this man’s response.
From there the man’s responses are largely connected to others and their questions and interrogations. In that vein, the next time the man has a chance to respond to his healing is found in v.9. There, he found himself (understandably) being questioned by his neighbors who desperately wanted to make sense of this. Never having seen or even heard of anything like this (v.32), they ran through several possible explanations. Chief among them, seems to have been to question whether or not the seeing man in front of them was the same man who had been a blind beggar among them for decades. Unashamed and emphatic, “He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’” Far from trying to distance himself from Jesus’ and His miraculous healing, the man was unrelentingly insistent.
Seemingly convinced that it was in fact the same man, the neighbors turned their questions in the direction of how this happened. To that end, when questioned by his neighbors, “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’” (v.11). We see basically the same thing in his initial response to the Pharisees in v.15, “he said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.’” And again in v.25 when pressed a second time by the Pharisees, “He answered, …One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Without exaggeration, without wavering, and without apology, the man mater-of-factly told all who questioned him what he knew. He never claimed more than the basic facts. He knew that it was “the man called Jesus” who healed him. And he knew the basics of what Jesus did (spit, mud, command to wash). But despite being pressed repeatedly, he made no claim to have any meaningful understanding of how Jesus healed him or why.
In v.17, we see that he responded to the Pharisees’ increasingly hostile interrogation by offering a guess as to what it was about Jesus that allowed Him to heal him. Presumably from having heard a lifetime of stories concerning the marvelous works God accomplished through the prophets, when the Pharisees asked him about his take, “He said, ‘He is a prophet.’” Again, it would have been well known among all the Jews at this point that the Pharisees would not tolerate any kind of acceptance of Jesus as a man of God.
Therefore, the man’s lack of intimidation and willingness to offer straightforward answers and explanations is genuinely praiseworthy. Might we learn from him in this as well. Might we be so bold and clear when our unbelieving coworkers, family, friends, or neighbors ask about our faith, our understanding of where the world came from, how it’s ordered, and what it’s for. As the world grows in confusion and hostility toward the truth, may we learn from this man what it looks like to give clear, courageous answers.
From there, things took a bit of a turn. Becoming tired of the Pharisees’ antics and becoming annoyed by their obvious unwillingness to even consider the obvious, in v.27 we see that the man eventually became snarky with the Pharisees as they continued to press in on him. Desperate to come up with some way to explain away the increasingly obvious fact of Jesus’ healing, the Pharisees continued to ask the same questions of the man. This time, though, he replied, “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?”. In that, the man moved from simple, straightforward, and courageous answers to adopting a tone of ridicule. And in that he willingly moved the bull’s-eye from Jesus to himself.
It’s not hard to see in the passage that the man quickly gained clarity from and was emboldened by the ridiculousness of the Pharisees. As it became increasingly obvious that the Pharisees weren’t in the least bit interested in thinking rationally about any of this, the man seemed to grow less tolerant with their nonsense and posturing. Therefore, when they were unable to offer any legitimate alternative explanation for his healing and Jesus’ power to bring it about, the man concluded “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.”
So how can we characterize the man’s response? Very simply, it’s clear from the beginning that the man really didn’t know what to think about any of this. But it’s also clear that this poor, blind, beggar was willing to acknowledge what the learned, wealthy, “shepherd-leaders” of Israel would not—that Jesus, filled with the power of God, caused this man who had been blind from birth to be able to see!
We’ll see a bit more from the man and his response in the final section (where Jesus reenters the scene), but for the most part 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.
As we continue to consider the responses of those nearest the man next week, please ask God to help you rightly consider your own response to the person, power, and call of Jesus. Learn from their various responses to find areas in your life that are marked by genuine faith and by anything else.
Grace, our lives are ultimately marked not by our money or education or earthly relationships, but by our response to Jesus. It is a great gift of God, therefore, to give us tools like this passage to help us evaluate our responses.
Even more, however, please consider the simple fact that Jesus’ power to heal those who have physical ailments comes from the same place (His divine nature and oneness with the Father) as His power to heal us from sin’s spiritual blindness and death. In fact, what we have here is anther remarkable picture of what Jesus told the paralytic in Matthew 9, “’that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—’Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ 7 And he rose and went home.” That our passage in John is another example of this will become clearer next week when we consider Jesus’ words in vs.36-41. For now, and in conclusion, let us marvel at His power to heal the body and ask Him for it. And let us marvel even more tat His power to heal the soul and ask Him for it all the more.