THE GIFT OF SIGHT John 9
“One thing I do know.
I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25)
Only the man who insists “I see” is doomed to remain spiritually blind.
Jesus, “the light of the world,” gave sight to a man born blind (9:1–8). Stunned neighbors (vv. 9–12) took him to the Pharisees, who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (vv. 13–23). The healed man ridiculed the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus (vv. 24–34), and worshiped Christ as Lord (vv. 35–39). The Pharisees remained spiritually blind (vv. 40–41).
Understanding the Text
“Rabbi, who sinned . . . that he was born blind?” John 9:1–4 Popular first-century theology explained every disaster as a consequence of sin. Seeing a man born blind led the disciples to ask a puzzling theological question. Since the man was born blind, whose sin had caused his blindness? Did he somehow sin in the womb, as some rabbis argued? Or had a sin of his parents caused his condition? This strange theology is still popular. When my wife lost a daughter in childbirth, her sister-in-law remarked, “I hope I don’t do anything that will make God punish me like that!” Many a Christian friend, come to comfort a person who is suffering, has made a similarly thoughtless remark. How callous of the disciples, and of us. The man born blind and the devastated mother aren’t objects for theological speculation. They are hurting human beings, not riddles for which we have to offer some solution. Jesus rejected both alternatives. The blind man’s plight was an opportunity for God to relieve suffering. The cause was unimportant. This is still the case today. The cause of a person’s suffering is not at issue. The reality of suffering is. All suffering is still an opportunity for God—and God’s people—to express compassion. “I am the light of the world” John 9:5. John first recorded this claim in 8:12. The present incident, again reported without regard to chronology, both demonstrates and illustrates the theme. As Son of God, the Creator who called light and life into being at the beginning, Jesus performed a creative act to give the man sight. The man had been born blind. This miracle was no restoration of a damaged capacity, but the creation of a totally new capacity. There is an analogy here to spiritual enlightenment. Human beings are born in sin, without the capacity to see the spiritual world or know spiritual reality. Only by a creative work of God in our hearts can we be given spiritual sight. The man born blind received both physical and spiritual sight as he gradually came to trust Jesus as Lord. “The man went and washed, and came home seeing” John 9:6–12. While the restoration of physical or spiritual sight is possible only by a creative act of God, the recipient is not passive. Thus Jesus put clay on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to find his way to the pool of Siloam and wash. Without at least a hesitant faith, or some dawning hope, the blind man would have bitterly removed the clay and sulked at what seemed ridicule. This man, however, responded to Christ’s words, and went to the pool as directed. This and this alone is man’s part in receiving spiritual sight. We hear Jesus speak and, however hesitantly, we respond. We take those first stumbling steps of faith, and in responding we suddenly discover that we truly can see. Actually, this chapter traces the growth of the blind man’s faith in Jesus, from first response to full discipleship. We notice the stages in the way the man speaks and thinks of Jesus: He was “the Man they call Jesus” (v. 11), then “He is a Prophet” (v. 17), then “from God” (v. 33), the “Son of man” (a messianic title) (v. 35), and finally, “Lord” (v. 38). So our faith grows too. At first we fail to understand fully who Jesus is. But as our spiritual sight becomes more acute, we acknowledge Him as Lord, and worship Him. “They brought [him] to the Pharisees” John 9:13–17. The stunned neighbors brought the now-sighted man to the Pharisees in hopes of an explanation. These men were regarded as religious experts. Perhaps they could explain what had happened. The Pharisees struggled to force the square peg of this miracle into the round holes of their theology. It just wouldn’t fit. Jesus had performed the miracle on the Sabbath, and in the process had made mud (vv. 6, 14). This was “work” according to earlier rabbinical rulings, and forbidden on the Sabbath. Theology demanded they classify Jesus a “sinner.” But reality demanded they acknowledge a miracle that required the exercise of God’s creative power. There’s an important lesson for us here. Christian experience will never violate the Scriptures. But it may run contrary to our interpretation of the Scriptures! When a person gives evidence of a work of God in his or her life, we need to reexamine our understanding of the Word of God. John showed that some of the Pharisees considered Jesus’ works on their own merit, without trying to explain them away because they didn’t fit contemporary theology (v. 16). The blind man, who saw more clearly than the leaders, had the simplest explanation. Jesus was obviously a Prophet: one of those men called and empowered by God, who spoke and acted with God’s own authority, and thus was above the leaders’ jurisdiction. It is both dangerous and foolish to claim the right to stand in judgment on a work performed by God. “They sent for the man’s parents” John 9:18–23. The opposition party (in John, “the Jews”) refused to believe the man had been born blind until they called his parents. They insisted that the healed man was their son, and that he had been born blind. But they refused to be involved in the controversy over Jesus. How desperately the Pharisees tried to avoid facing the reality of this miracle. They knew as well as the blind man that the only valid explanation was that God was working in and through Jesus. But they refused to admit this obvious fact even to themselves. Later Jesus accused them of being blind, and observed that they would remain blind, since they insisted they saw. There is no one as blind as the person who sees the truth, and then shuts his eyes tight in a desperate effort to avoid admitting it. “Anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue” John 9:20–23. There’s often a terrible cost to discipleship. In the first century being “put out of the synagogue” meant being cut off from Jewish society. Friends would not speak to such a person; no one would buy from or sell to him. He could not participate in worship or ritual. By implication he was cut off not only from the covenant people but also from salvation itself. The mother and father of the blind man were unwilling to risk such a penalty by stating their (implied) belief that Jesus was the Christ. The blind man himself was not so hesitant. He boldly affirmed his faith to the Pharisees, and even ridiculed their doubts. Awed by the miracle that had taken place in his own life, he was no longer in awe of mere human authorities. The greater our focus on what the Lord is doing in our own lives, the less hesitant we’ll be in speaking out for Him. “Now that is remarkable!” John 9:26–34 The blind man finally tired of the inquisition. We catch both sarcasm and contempt in his words to the religious leaders as he stated the obvious. “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” (vv. 31–33). Unable to refute the blind man’s logic, Jesus’ opponents resorted to personal attack. When someone resorts to personal attacks on you, you know he or she is desperate, and cannot deny the truth of what you’re saying. “Do you believe in the Son of man?” John 9:35–39 Later Jesus looked for and found the man He had healed. The man undoubtedly recognized Jesus’ voice, though he had not seen Him earlier. When Jesus identified Himself as the “Son of man,” a messianic title that many believe implied Deity, the man fell on his knees and worshiped. As our faith grows, we, like the blind man, are gradually given fuller and fuller revelations of Jesus and His will. Spiritual sight becomes more acute, and we acknowledge Jesus as Lord in every area of our lives. “Are we blind too?” John 9:39–41 Some Pharisees who heard Jesus’ remarks on blindness were highly insulted. Jesus answered them honestly and bluntly. Their conviction that they could “see” spiritually prevented them from confessing blindness, and becoming candidates for sight. Anyone who insists that he “sees” spiritually, but refuses to confess that Jesus is Lord, is both blind and guilty, lost in his or her sins.
One Thing We Know(John 9:13–25)
People who are far more intelligent than we scoff at faith in Jesus. They speak with great superiority of comparative religions, of evolution, or of the latest scholarly reinterpretation of Bible history. Or they claim that Jesus never saw Himself as Son of God. That was just foisted off on the church by the Apostles. In short, they take the role of the Pharisees of John 9, as Jesus’ critics. There the Pharisees tried so hard to ignore Jesus, and discredit the blind man’s story. But every time the man responded with a truth so obvious that the foolishness of the Pharisees’ position was exposed. “We know this Man is a sinner” (v. 24), the Pharisees announced. “We know.” The blind man just shrugged and refused to be drawn into that kind of argument. “One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see.” The Pharisees could say whatever they wanted about Jesus. But they had to face the fact that He gave sight to a man born blind. Today too people can pass any judgment they wish on Jesus. But if they are honest they have to face the fact that millions testify to Jesus’ transforming work in their lives. John Newton, once a slave trader, in personal bondage to the most vile practices, experienced a transformation expressed in this hymn he later wrote: Amazing grace! How sweet the sound— That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed. One thing we know. Once we were blind. Now we can see. Once we were in bondage to sin. Now we love and serve Jesus Christ. No argument that the Pharisees or scholars of this world can marshall against our faith can stand before our experience of this reality.
We do not merely hope. We know.
Quotable“I’ve never gotten over the wonder of it.”—Gipsy Smith