April 6, 2014
I once heard comedian Bill Cosby tell how he was staying in the same hotel as the blind singer, Ray Charles. He decided to stop by Ray’s room and say hello. He knocked and then entered as Ray yelled, “Come in.” Cosby walked in the door and heard Ray shaving with an electric razor. There were no lights on and the room was pitch black. Without thinking, Cosby blurted out, “Hey, Ray! Why are you shaving in the dark?”
Then it hit him and Cosby thought, “Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!” Ray good-naturedly replied, “I do everything in the dark, brother!”
I heard that story decades ago and it has always stuck with me because I’m often like Bill Cosby on that occasion. I forget that unbelievers are spiritually blind and that they live every day in that dark world. And so I relate to them as if they can see.
As we’ve seen in our studies in this Gospel, John was fond of symbolism. He often uses the imagery of light and darkness. In 1:4-5, he refers to Jesus as “the Light of men” that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” In 3:19, he said, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Then in 8:12, in connection with the Jewish ceremony of lighting bright torches at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus boldly proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
Now, in 9:5, as Jesus and the disciples encounter this man who had been born blind, He proclaims, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (See, also, 12:35, 36, 46.) Then the Light of the world proceeds to give sight to this man who has lived in total darkness all his life. But by way of contrast, at the end of the chapter the proud Pharisees, who thought that they could see, are left in their spiritual blindness.
A. W. Pink (Exposition of the Gospel of John, on monergism.com) points out a number of contrasts between John 8 & 9. In John 8, we see Christ as the Light exposing the darkness; but in John 9 He imparts sight (both physically and later spiritually) to one in darkness. In John 8, the Light is despised and rejected; in John 9, He is believed in and worshiped. In John 8, the Jews stoop to pick up stones to kill the Light; in John 9, the Light stoops to make clay to bring light to the eyes of the blind man. In John 8, Jesus hides Himself from the Jews; in John 9, He reveals Himself to the blind beggar. In John 8:37, Jesus’ word has no place in the Jews; in John 9:7, the blind man responds obediently to Jesus’ word. In John 8, Jesus is called a demoniac; in John 9, He is worshiped as Lord. In John 9:1-12, the message is:
Since Jesus is the almighty Savior who can open blind eyes for God’s glory, we should labor to point people to Him.
We see four things here: the great need; the great Savior; the great purpose; and, the great urgency.
This blind man is a picture of the condition of everyone since the fall: everyone is born spiritually blind. This man lacked the ability to see Jesus physically, just as unbelievers lack the ability to see Jesus spiritually. The apostle Paul put it this way (2 Cor. 4:3-6):
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Lost people don’t need just a little more information so that they can make an informed decision to get saved. Rather, they need the miracle of spiritual sight that only God can give.
The disciples viewed this man as an interesting theological case study (9:2): “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Since blind people usually have an acute sense of hearing, it was insensitive and cruel of the disciples to say this within earshot of this poor beggar. Behind their question was the common Jewish view that there was always a direct correlation between sin and suffering. That was the view of Job’s “comforters”: if Job was suffering, it must be because he had sinned. It’s true that all suffering in the world can be traced back to Adam and Eve’s original sin. And sometimes there is a direct correlation between sin and suffering (John 5:14; 1 John 5:16). But the Bible is clear that often even the righteous suffer apart from any specific wrong that they have done.
But the disciples bought into the popular view. Since this man had been born blind, either he or his parents must have sinned to result in this difficult trial. As to how they believed that the man could have sinned, there are a couple of possibilities. Based on the account of Jacob and Esau struggling in the womb, some rabbis taught that babies could sin in the womb. Also, many Jews bought into the ancient error that the soul preexists birth. Some even held to reincarnation, the view that we can come back in different lives (see Matt. 16:13-14). But Jesus replied that this man had not sinned as the direct cause of his blindness.
The Bible does teach that children can suffer on account of their parents’ sins (Exod. 34:7; Jer. 32:18). We see this principle all around us. Kids born to a drug-addicted or alcoholic mother, or to a mother with AIDS, suffer physical and mental impairment. Children whose parents are verbally, physically, or sexually abusive suffer terrible trauma. The examples are endless.
But in this case, Jesus said, this blind man was not suffering because of his own or his parents’ sins. But he was still very needy. He pictures all who are born in sin and spiritual darkness. We need to see all people who do not know Christ, even those who present an image of being successful and happy, as being spiritually blind and needy. For all such people, there is only one solution:
This blind beggar did not take the initiative to cry out to Jesus for healing (in contrast to Mark 10:47-48). Rather, Jesus saw Him, and although John does not say it, I’m sure that He saw him as He saw all hurting people, with compassion. Since He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), He reached out to this helpless man and granted him the gift of sight. Think of how this man must have felt: He began the day as he had begun every other day of his dark existence, making his way to a busy thoroughfare where he could beg for alms. We don’t know how the disciples knew that he had been born blind, but it’s likely that to garner sympathy the man cried out all day, “I was born blind; please help!” But he ended that day seeing for the first time in his life!
Why did Jesus heal the man in this unusual way, by spitting and making mud, applying it to the man’s eyes, and telling him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam? Why didn’t Jesus just speak the word, as He did with the man at the Pool of Bethesda or at Lazarus’ tomb? John doesn’t tell us, so we don’t know for sure. Some early church fathers speculated that the mention of clay made from the ground recalls Genesis 2:7, where God formed man out of the dust of the ground. Thus this miracle would illustrate John 1:3, that Jesus is the Creator (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], pp. 480-481). Other suggestions have been made.
It seems that John wants us to see some symbolic significance in the name of the pool, since he translates it for his Greek readers (9:7, “Sent”). As we’ve seen (e.g., 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42), John puts a big emphasis on the fact that Jesus was sent by the Father. As we’ve also seen, at the Feast of Tabernacles the priest would get water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out at the base of the altar in commemoration of God’s providing water from the rock when Israel was in the wilderness. That water also pictured the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the all-sufficiency of Christ (7:37-39). So this blind man had to wash in the Sent Pool to gain his sight. If the spiritually blind wash in the One sent by God, they will receive their sight.
The unique way that Jesus performed this miracle also teaches us that each person is an individual and therefore requires an individual approach with regard to how we deal with them spiritually (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:136-137). There’s nothing wrong with using means or methods in presenting the gospel. Jesus here used the clay and the pool as a means toward healing. But Jesus never used the same means or method twice. While it’s helpful to memorize a basic presentation of the gospel, be sensitive to tailor it to each person.
But there is another reason that Jesus performed this miracle in this manner. We read in 9:14, “Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” By doing this, Jesus deliberately violated several of the manmade additions to the Law of Moses that the Jews had invented (Morris, p. 480, note 17). Making clay was a breach of a prohibition of kneading on the Sabbath. Placing the clay on his eyes violated a regulation about prohibited anointings. Healing on the Sabbath was forbidden unless it was to save one’s life. So I think that Jesus made clay, anointed the man’s eyes, and instructed him to go and wash on the Sabbath deliberately to poke His finger in the eyes of the legalistic Pharisees. They cared more about keeping their rules than they did about this poor, blind beggar receiving his sight.
As we’ll see, they got into an argument about whether Jesus was sent from God or a sinner because He broke their Sabbath rules (9:16, 24)! They should have instantly recognized that opening the eyes of the blind was a Messianic activity.
In the Old Testament, there are no stories of sight being restored to the blind. But there are numerous verses that show that only the Lord can cause the blind to see and that the Messiah, who is the Lord, would do this. Psalm 146:8 proclaims, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” Isaiah 29:18 states, “On that day the deaf will hear words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” In Isaiah 35:5, after saying that God will come to save His people, the prophet says, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.”
When John the Baptist was languishing in prison, he began to wonder, “If Jesus is the Messiah, then why am I, His messenger, in this dungeon?” So he sent messengers to Jesus to ask (Matt. 11:3), “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered (11:4-5), “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus was referring to Isaiah 35, which He fulfilled.
Also, in Isaiah 42:6-7, God is speaking to His Servant (42:1), the Messiah: “And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes ….” It’s interesting that of all the recorded miracles that Jesus performed, giving sight to the blind has more than any other category. The Jewish leaders, who knew the Old Testament, should have concluded, “Jesus is the promised Messiah.”
But the point is, it takes a great Savior to open blind eyes physically. But the great physical miracle points to the greater spiritual miracle. He opens spiritually blind eyes through the gospel as God shines “in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). If you get an opportunity to share the gospel with someone, keep the focus on Jesus. People will try to divert the conversation to all sorts of peripheral issues, like evolution or why God allows suffering or whatever. While you may need to respond briefly to those issues, steer things back to who Jesus is. He is the mighty Savior who can open their blind eyes. And, as you’re sharing, pray that He will do that with the person you’re talking to.
So this story shows us the great need: the world is born into spiritual blindness. But we also see the great Savior who can open blind eyes.
In response to the disciples’ theological question, Jesus answers (9:3), “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Some have a problem with the view that God would allow this man to be born blind and suffer all these years just so that his healing would display the works of God. But I think that those people have too big a view of man and too little a view of God. If our suffering can bring glory to God and display His infinite worth to others, then it takes on ultimate meaning and significance. Paul put it like this (2 Cor. 4:17), “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
Jonathan Edwards argued that God created the world for His own glory (“The End for Which God Created the World,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:94-121; see John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory [Crossway Books]). Since He is infinitely glorious, it would be wrong for Him not to seek His own glory. Also, as Edwards argues, there is no disparity between God’s seeking His own glory and at the same time seeking our ultimate happiness. As John Piper has pointed out, we glorify God the most when we are most satisfied in Him. God may be glorified in us through physical healing (as with this blind man) or through our experiencing the sufficiency of God’s grace through our suffering, as was the case with Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
But the healing of the blind man pictures what happens whenever God saves a soul through the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6). He gets the glory and we get the blessing. Our happiness in what He has done for us contributes to His glory. But my point is, the gospel isn’t mainly about how Jesus can give you a happy life for your own sake. It’s about how He can give you a happy life so that you can proclaim His excellencies as you tell others how He called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).
This blind man did that. He was obviously a changed man. In fact, some of his neighbors thought that he must be someone else who looked like the blind man (9:9). But he kept saying, “I am the one.” So then they wanted to know how it happened. He didn’t know much at this point. He refers to Jesus as “the man who is called Jesus.” Remember, he still hasn’t even seen Jesus and he doesn’t know where He’s at. He will argue with the Pharisees that Jesus is a prophet (9:17). Later, when he sees Jesus, he will believe in Him and worship Him as Lord (9:38). But his obviously changed life and his simple witness brought glory to God (9:24). So should our changed lives and our verbal witness. That leads to the last point:
The best manuscripts of John 9:4 read, “We [not I] must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” Jesus includes the disciples among those who must work God’s works. That includes all of us who have put our trust in Christ. This is the harvest mindset that we saw Jesus emphasizing with the disciples back in chapter 4, when He was talking with the woman at the well. Their focus was on getting Jesus to eat His lunch so that they could get on the road. His focus was on doing the Father’s will and accomplishing His work (4:34). And that should be the focus of all who follow Him.
Note the little word “must” in 9:4. It’s a word of divine necessity. We saw it back in 4:4, where it says, “And He had to pass through Samaria.” “Had” is the same word in Greek: It was necessary for Him to go through Samaria so that He could give living water to the immoral woman and to her entire village. Here, although the Pharisees were threatening to kill Jesus and His death was just months ahead, He must work the works of the Father who sent Him.
Do you sense that necessity in your life? It’s not just that the Lord would like to use you to accomplish His works if you’ve got some spare time and don’t have anything better to do. Serving the Lord is not only for the super-dedicated. It’s a necessity for all who have been bought with the blood of the Lamb. If you belong to Jesus, you’re a member of His body and every part has a necessary function for the proper working of the whole body. And if you think, “Well, I’m not a very important part,” remember the parable of the talents. It was the guy who was given just one talent who buried it and didn’t use it for his master’s purposes. The master had some rather frightening things to say to him (Matt. 25:26-30)!
But note, also, the urgency of doing the Lord’s work: Jesus says (9:4), “Night is coming when no one can work.” He was referring to death. His “night” was coming soon, when He would be betrayed into the hands of sinners (13:30). But night is coming soon for all of us. None of us are guaranteed of even another day. But even if we live a long life, it goes by all too quickly. As James 4:14 says, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” Paul says (Eph. 5:15-16), “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” “Making the most of your time” could be translated, “Buying up the opportunities.”
My parents had a familiar plaque on the wall when I was growing up: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Are you looking for and taking advantage of the opportunities that the Lord gives you to point people to Jesus and to help them grow in Him?
When he was twelve, Robert Louis Stevenson was looking out into the dark from his upstairs window, watching a man light the street lanterns. His governess came into the room and asked what he was doing. He replied, “I am watching a man cut holes in the darkness.”
That’s our task in this dark world. Point blind people to the Light of the world who can open their eyes for God’s glory. Tell them what Jesus has done for you. He can use you to do His works before night comes, when no one can work.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation