21. Jesus and the Man Born Blind (John 9:1-12)
My personal experience with blindness has been short-lived, for which I am grateful. While I was in college, late one night I was awakened by pain from an infected wisdom tooth. I went to the campus infirmary, where the nurse on duty had compassion on me. She gave me a couple of small pink pain pills and told me to see my dentist in the morning. After taking them, I quickly fell into a sound sleep. The next morning as I was taking a warm shower, I suddenly became light-headed and lost my sight. Quickly, I turned off the hot water and remained standing under the cold water. During this time, another dormitory resident happened to pass by, recognized me, and engaged me in a brief conversation. I did not want him to know I couldn’t see him, so I just chatted with him until he left and my sight returned. He never knew what I was going through in those few moments. My “blindness” could be measured in minutes, perhaps even seconds, but it was something I do not wish to experience again.
Subsequent experiences with blindness have all been second-hand. God has given me a friend who lost his sight when he was about 12 years old or so. Craig Nelson and I have spent a fair bit of time together, especially in our travels to India and Africa. Observing Craig’s response to his own blindness has been a great inspiration to me, and watching people of the Third World relate to Craig has greatly enhanced my appreciation for our text.
When Craig and I landed at the airport in Delhi a few years ago, our first task was to go through customs. The experience there was unlike anything I’ve gone through anyplace else in the world that I have visited. We were led to a large metal building (something like a storage building, but with no air conditioning) which served as the “overseas terminal” and customs area. We were questioned by a customs official who asked all the standard questions. Suddenly, it dawned upon him that Craig was handicapped in some way. In his British accented English he asked me, “Is he a sick man?” Craig responded, “I’m blind.” From that point on, the customs official would not speak directly to Craig. He spoke only to me, even when the question pertained to Craig. For all intents and purposes, Craig was not regarded as a person—at least not by this fellow.
The same is true for the untouchables, the lowest group in India’s caste system. In the airports and elsewhere, these folks go about sweeping with a handful of straw, stooped over and never making eye contact with others. People pass by them as though they are not there, as though they do not exist. The people never interact socially, never nod, never say “Hello” or “Thanks” or “Pardon me.” The outcasts simply don’t exist, or so it appears from the way others relate to them. It is nearly the same with the blind and with beggars. The simple fact is that the blind are, without question and without exception, beggars. There are so few laws, if any, which prescribe and protect the rights of the blind. There are no Braille buttons on elevators (at least that I ever saw); there is no special handicapped status. The blind are almost completely ignored. As it is in the Third World today, so it was in Jesus’ day.
We know for a fact that this blind man is a beggar (9:8). We also know how begging usually works, then and now. We remember the story of the man, lame from his mother’s womb, who was begging as Peter and John were passing by (Acts 3:1-10ff.). This man was stationed outside the temple, where he hoped for a few kind-hearted folks to pass by. To the Pharisees and some others, people in such straits were not considered “handicapped” or “down on their luck”; they were disdained as sinners who had gotten what they deserved. Why should they show charity to one under divine discipline? To many others, these folks were just a nuisance, and the way to avoid them was not to “see” them. (Don’t get smug here. This is exactly what you and I do when we come to an intersection where someone is begging or selling flowers. We look straight ahead, not “seeing them,” so that they will leave us alone. It is a signal we send, informing them that we are not planning to contribute.)
When the man who was born lame noticed that Peter and John were looking intently at him, he knew there was hope, and he was right. But he was wrong in supposing he was about to have a few coins tossed in his direction. Instead, he was healed in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. At Peter’s instruction, the man took hold of the apostle’s hand and stood to his feet, and before long he was walking and leaping and praising God!
Before we turn to the specifics of our text, imagine how this miracle in chapter 9 of John’s Gospel might have taken place if “seen” through the “eyes” of the blind man. While this is largely a figment of my imagination, the miracle must have happened something like this:
The blind man makes his way to his designated spot, the place where he stations himself daily and begs for alms. He may even sleep in the same place where he spends his days. Most beggars have the benefit of their sight, so that when they see someone who is a regular donor, they can certainly start to make their appeal. Likewise, there are undoubtedly many “tightwads” who aren’t worth the effort of making a plea for a gift. Strangers are at least a possible source of income. Even such things as begging can be made into a science. What a vantage point from which to observe humanity. The difference with this blind man is that he cannot “see” his prospective donors coming. He has to listen very carefully for the sounds of people passing by. Or, perhaps he is stationed alongside another beggar who can see, who will give him advance notice (or he can at least hear him make his appeal and do likewise).
The sound of footsteps is heard by this blind beggar. And then he hears an even more encouraging clue—the footsteps cease, nearby. He has been seen! He knows it. We are not told that this man asks for money, but it may well be that he does. He must overhear the conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Whoever raises the issue of sin (my money is on Peter, John’s partner in later years), I doubt that he does so quietly, so the blind man must overhear. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” he hears one of the bystanders ask “the Rabbi.” I wonder if the blind man has ever asked himself this question.
I suspect the blind man is curious, though he has probably heard every theory on suffering. If the answer he hears is not entirely new, it is most certainly encouraging: “Neither the sin of this man nor that of his parents is the explanation for his physical infirmity. This man’s condition has been sovereignly ordained, so that the works of God might be revealed through him.” Can you imagine the chill that must make its way up this man’s spine? He does not know what the outcome of this encounter will be, but it certainly sounds hopeful. If I were he, this is about the time I would be humming a tune Doug Oldham recorded some years ago: “I just feel like something good is about to happen. …”
As Jesus utters these words, He begins drawing nearer to the blind beggar, and then He pauses beside him. Then the Rabbi spits. Perhaps the beggar flinches, having been spat upon before by a self-righteous Pharisee or by some mischievous youth. “He missed!” the beggar may be thinking, somewhat triumphantly. The Rabbi (for this the blind man would likely have overheard) now stoops down and does something on the ground, right where the spit landed. Almost before the man realizes what is happening, two “mud pies” are applied, one to each eye. Is this not adding insult to injury? Is this some kind of cruel joke? The man who has placed the “clay” on his eyes then instructs the blind beggar to go to the pool named Siloam and to wash this mud from his eyes. He promises no miracle, and He says nothing to the crowd. Then, He and His disciples silently slip away.
The blind beggar makes his way to the pool of Siloam just as he has been instructed. We know that this was a necessity, and thus it may or may not have been an act of faith. After all, he has to get this stuff out of his eyes! (I must confess I was tempted to illustrate this more dramatically. I seriously considered going out into the audience with a can of whipped cream left over from the ice cream social last night. I was thinking of prearranging a scene in which I would put a topping of whipped cream on the head of a friend in the audience, and then tell him to go wash it off. Doing so would not be an act of faith as much as an act of necessity. Who is going to sit around with whipped cream on their head?) Likewise, why do we think this fellow would sit around all day with mud in his eyes?
At no time (in the text, as we have it) does Jesus promise this man a healing. He does not tell the crowd that a great miracle is about to occur. So far as we can tell, the miracle took place while this man was alone, washing his eyes. (It is not until later that folks seem to hear of his healing.) Can you imagine this man’s amazement as he washes the mud from his eyes? He sees light! He sees people! He has eyesight for the first time in his life! No doubt he knows his way to the pool and back by memory. (I never cease to be amazed at my friend, Craig, who quickly memorizes the layout of the place he is staying—the number of steps between various objects, and so on). Now, this man can actually see the things he has bumped into and felt with his fingers. Can you imagine him making his way home, pausing to take in the beauty of the roses he has only smelled in the past? What a day this is for this man, blind all of his life, until Jesus sees him.
We have imagined how this miracle could have taken place, seeking to “see” it through this blind man’s “eyes.” Let us now consider the inspired account of this event to see what God has for us to learn from this incredible incident, in which a blind man sees the light.
A Blind Beggar Sees the Light
1 Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw121 a man who had been blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. 4 We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. 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 this, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. He smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes 7 and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So the blind man went away and washed, and came back122 seeing.
Jesus is once again with His disciples, who are strangely absent in chapters 7 and 8. Now, they are once again said to be with our Lord. We are not sure how much time has passed since the events of chapters 7 and 8, either. It doesn’t seem to matter to John, who does not inform us of such details. He is more concerned about the logical connections than with a chronological sequence of events.
Jesus is walking along with His disciples and they pass by a blind beggar. It doesn’t seem that the disciples even notice the beggar, which isn’t really unusual. On the one hand, they are not that interested in such folk at this point in their lives, and they may not have anything to give anyway, even if they wished to do so. And so they simply don’t see all the beggars who are there, in Jerusalem (and there must be many). On the other hand, they are probably preoccupied with Jesus and could well be deep in conversation with Him, oblivious to anything or anyone else. It is Jesus who is said to have “seen” this blind man, who suffered blindness from his birth on. I believe Jesus sees this man and immediately knows not only of his ailment, but the length of his affliction. Jesus pauses to look at him more intently. He stops and so His disciples stop also, finally taking notice of the blind beggar.
As they begin to size up the situation, they decide this is an interesting topic for theological inquiry:123 “Was this man’s blindness the result of his sin, or that of his parents?” For them, these are the only two options; no others come to their minds. Their premise is apparent: sickness is the result of sin. Like Job’s friends, they seem to reason: “This man is suffering, and it must be due to sin. Such sin is either that of the man himself, or of his parents.” And so they ask Jesus which of their two options is the correct explanation. As usual, there are more than two options, and neither of the two are right. Some sickness is the direct result of sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:30), and ultimately all sickness is the result of Adam’s sin. But this man’s blindness is not divine punishment for a specific sin committed by this blind man or by his parents.
At this point, a number of students of this text launch into an attack on the disciples, chastising them for their lack of compassion. I do not question their lack of compassion. With William Hendriksen, I agree that the disciples could use a large dose of love:
To the disciples a glance at this man suggested a theological puzzle. To Jesus a look in his direction presented a challenge, an opportunity for work. They reasoned: ‘How did he get that way?’ He answered: ‘What can we do for him?’124
Hendriksen goes on to point out three ways one can respond to a man like this blind beggar:
(1) If he excites your envy, you can pelt him with brickbats.
(2) If he arouses your desire for additional information, you can try to gratify your curiosity by asking questions about him, in order, perhaps to solve a theological puzzle.
(3) You should love him and help him!125
Let me point out that Jesus does not say anything to His disciples here about their need for compassion or for greater love toward others. Therefore, we must press on to consider what Jesus Himself says about this man and his affliction. Jesus does speak of His obligation to fulfill His mission, while time remains for Him to serve the Father as the “light of the world.” Notice the pronouns in verse 4:
“We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work” (emphasis mine).
Jesus has a mission, a mission He is obliged to fulfill. That mission is to be the “light of the world.” This is a mission His disciples share with Him, and thus they must join Him in performing the Father’s deeds. Our Lord’s response reveals His sense of mission and His priorities. First and foremost, He must please His Father by doing His works. Secondarily, He will reach out to men and minister to their needs. Is this priority not in keeping with the two-fold command to (first) love God and then (second) to love our neighbor as ourselves?
Yet one more element must be considered in our Lord’s words. Jesus is very clear that His time is short. How interesting. Previously, we have read that our Lord’s time (or hour) has not yet come (see 7:30; 8:20). We have also read of a certain hour or time that is in the future (2:4; 5:25, 28). But here, Jesus speaks of the shortness of the present hour. He speaks of a time when “night” will come, and when the deeds He is doing in the light (or, more properly, as the light) will not be possible. Will not even greater deeds be done after our Lord’s resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? When is this time to which our Lord refers?
I understand Jesus to be speaking with reference to the nation Israel and of His coming to “His own” people as the promised “light” (see 1:1-18). The days of opportunity are indeed short for the nation Israel. Both Jesus and John the Baptist announced the coming of the King and His kingdom, and called upon Israel to repent, lest they face God’s wrath. Jesus has come as the promised Messiah, and within a few months He will be rejected and crucified by His own people (with the help of the Gentiles). There is but a very small window of opportunity for Israel to repent and be saved. After this, the time for repentance (for that generation, at least) will come to a close. Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed, and the nation will be judged for its sin, and especially for its rejection of Messiah. There is indeed a very real sense of urgency merited by these circumstances, and our Lord speaks of this here. Jesus sees this situation not as His brothers would (an opportunity for a great public relations feat—see 7:1-5), and not merely as a time to minister to the sick and afflicted, as good as that may be. Jesus sees it as the time to do the works of the Father, works which He has been sent to do, works which He has little time left to perform.
How different our Lord’s perspective is from that of His disciples, who at best can only “use” the blind beggar as a case study, a topic for theological discussion and debate. How many healings have these disciples witnessed up to this point in time? How many blind men have they seen our Lord heal? Why does it not even occur to them that our Lord (or they) might be able to do a great work in this man’s life? Why do they not look at this man and his plight in terms of our Lord’s mission, and theirs? Lest we be too hard on them, let us not overlook the fact that we err in precisely the same manner today.
Having reiterated His commitment to fulfill His calling, Jesus turns His attention once again to the man born blind. He spits on the ground, then makes some “mud” and places some of it on each of the man’s eyes. So far as I can tell, He does not indicate to this man that He is about to heal him. He simply puts mud over each eye, and then tells the man to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. John makes a point of telling us that Siloam is a word which means “sent” (verse 7). Surely the meaning of Siloam is important, or John would not have included this detail. The man was “sent” to the pool named “sent.” Up to this point in John’s Gospel there has been considerable emphasis (and even debate) over the fact that Jesus was “sent” from heaven to the earth by the Father.
Accordingly, when the man is told to go and wash in the pool Siloam, though it is certainly true that this must be taken in the most literal sense so that he was actually expected to wash his eyes in that literal pool, the deeper meaning is surely this: that for spiritual cleansing one must go to the true Siloam; i.e., to the One who was sent by the Father to save sinners.126
There is a considerable amount of speculation over the significance of the “spit” and “dust” which resulted in the “mud” or “clay” placed over the eyes of the blind man. I will spare you these speculations, simply because they are just that.127 I would suggest, however, that some things can be learned from this unique healing method, employed here by our Lord.
First, let me point out that while our Lord gave sight to a number of people who were blind, this is the only healing of its kind. Every instance of someone blind receiving their sight at the hand of our Lord is different:
You will notice that the man didn’t ask to have his eyes opened. The Lord loves to do things differently. At least four times He opened blind eyes, and He does it a different way each time, depending on the personality and the circumstances.
In Matthew chapter 9 we read that Jesus touched the eyes of two blind men. In Mark 8 we have the account of Jesus spitting in the eyes of a blind man. He looked up and said, ‘I see men as trees, walking.’ Jesus put His hands on his eyes, and made him look up, and his sight was restored. In Luke 18 a certain blind man cried, saying, ‘Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.’ Jesus simply said, ‘Receive thy sight,’ and the man was made whole.
But here in chapter 9 Jesus made clay and put it in this man’s eyes. Now, if he wasn’t blind before, he’s blind now! And Jesus sent him to the pool of Siloam to wash. And he came away seeing.128
Jesus was never restricted in terms of His options. He, the infinite, omniscient, omnipotent God, has many different means at His disposal to accomplish the will of the Father. Because of this, it is not necessary for Him to employ the same technique time after time. Thus we see great variety in the way He deals with the very same malady.129 In this instance, Jesus employs what is readily at hand—spit and dust. This should not strike us as strange. I can remember when I was a little boy, and I would get a smudge of some kind on my face. My mother would take her handkerchief, touch it to her tongue to moisten it with saliva, and then use that to wipe away the smudge. As Jesus made use of the five loaves and two fishes to feed the 5,000, so He made use of His own spit and the dust of the ground to heal the blind man. If God can use spit and dust, He can use you and me, my friend.
Second, the method our Lord employs perfectly accomplishes what our Lord intends. On the one hand, Jesus purposes to heal this blind man, giving him the sight that he has never possessed. But there is another goal. Jesus wants to help this man in such a way that he will not attract a crowd or undue attention to Himself. In short, Jesus wants to keep this healing as private as possible. This is what I call a “take out” healing. Jesus could have sought to attract a crowd, to call attention to Himself and His power. Yet Jesus does not seem to indicate in advance what He is about to do, even to His disciples. No one is looking for a miracle. No crowd appears to follow the man to the pool of Siloam. It seems as though he is simply going there to wash up, as Jesus instructed him to do. Only after the man goes and washes does he obtain his sight. Jesus is long since gone and nowhere to be found. It is apparent that this man did not “set eyes” on Jesus until well after his healing. Jesus wants to heal this man in a way that does not attract attention, and for good reason—the Jews are seeking to kill Him.
Third, this method gives our Lord’s opposition a lot of trouble. This has taken me a while to recognize, but the more I read this chapter the more apparent it becomes. I contend that this is by our Lord’s own design. The Pharisees initially refuse to believe that this man is truly healed of blindness. Then, forced to acknowledge his healing by the compelling evidence of this fact, they concentrate their efforts on the method Jesus employed. Somehow this method doesn’t fit into any of their preconceived categories, and so they are perplexed. It is almost as though they assume Jesus has committed a crime, but they can’t figure out what the crime is, or how He accomplished it.
The Talk of the Town
8 Then the neighbors and the people who had seen him previously as a beggar began saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some people said, “This is the man!” while others said, “No, but he looks like him.” The man himself kept insisting, “I am the one.” 10 So they asked him, “How then were you made to see?” 11 He replied, “The man called Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and was able to see.” 12 They said to him, “Where is that man?” He replied, “I don’t know.”
I want to particularly emphasize the fact that in these verses (8-12) neither the Pharisees nor the religious leaders are in view. These people are those who are most familiar with this man. They are the neighbors who watched this fellow grow up. They are the people who have seen him begging, and who perhaps have given him money in the past. If anyone can and should recognize this man, these people should.
A miracle like this cannot be kept quiet for long. Everyone is talking about it, but not everyone agrees on the facts of the matter. We must understand the level of difficulty nearly everyone has in accepting this miracle as a fact. The blind man says it himself, “Never before has anyone heard of someone causing a man born blind to see” (verse 32). Many of those who hear of this miracle refuse to believe it. The question is constantly asked, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” (verse 8). Some agree that it is. Others do not, but admit he is strikingly similar in appearance to the beggar they know. All the while, the man himself insists, “I am the one!” (verse 9). (Almost unconsciously they give testimony to his identity, because they are treating him like the blind man he used to be, by ignoring him, by treating him as a non-entity.)
The formerly blind man keeps insisting that he is the beggar they have known, and that now has been made to see. The question changes from “Who?” to “How?” and “By whom?” These people seem intent upon “closing their eyes” to the facts. I like to think of them as the “MPA,” the “Miracle Protection Agency.” The former beggar is on the spot, and he is being grilled as to how the alleged miracle took place. The man’s answer is too simple and too difficult for them to accept: A man called Jesus made “mud,” placed it on his eyes, and told him to wash. He did so and was able to see.
Unable to intimidate this man into changing his testimony, these “neighbors” and acquaintances and others press him regarding the whereabouts of the one who healed him. Notice that while the blind man refers to Jesus by name as the One who healed him, those who are interrogating him seem unable to utter His name: “Where is that man?” they insist. I do not think they want to know where to find Jesus so that they can worship Him, or even so that they can bring others to Him to be healed. They want to know where He is so He can be arrested. Fortunately for the man (and precisely according to our Lord’s plan), he does not know where Jesus can be found. When he tells them he does not know where Jesus is, they take him to the higher authorities so they can deal with him. One almost gets the impression that the former beggar has done something very wrong, at least as some of the Jews see it. Or do they “see” at all? We’ll save this question for our next lesson.
I would like to focus your attention on three important matters as we conclude this lesson. First, our text makes a very significant contribution to our understanding of the divine perspective on suffering. It is apparent from our text that many of the Jews misunderstand the purpose and place of suffering. They assume that suffering must be the consequence of some specific sin. The Pharisees certainly believe this about the man born blind (see verse 34). Unfortunately, so do our Lord’s disciples (see verse 2). Some sickness is the result of our own sin (1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:30), but not all sickness can be traced to personal sin in this way. Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble after a marvelous glimpse of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:7). Physical afflictions can enhance our desire for heaven and focus our attention and affections on the unseen, eternal things that are most important (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10).
Sickness and suffering can be used of God for purposes not known to us at the time, and perhaps not even in our lifetime. Job’s afflictions, for example, were a part of a much bigger picture, of which Job was not aware (though the reader is, thanks to chapters 1 and 2). Sickness and affliction may very well be purposed by God to bring glory to Himself. Jesus deliberately waited for His friend Lazarus to die, rather than heal him of his sickness, for the glory of God (John 11:4). Peter’s death, of which our Lord speaks in John 21:19, will glorify God. Joseph’s suffering at the hands of his brothers was for his own good and for the good of his family (see Genesis 50:20). Paul certainly saw his sufferings in this light (Philippians 1:12-26; Colossians 1:24-29).
And yet, with all the Bible teaches us about the glory of suffering, we tend to respond to suffering much like the disciples do. We think that when we are prospering and healthy, it is because of our own piety, and when we or someone else is suffering, we assume it is due to sin. We take credit if our children “turn out right,” and we look down on those whose children have gone astray. When someone goes through a divorce, it hardly enters our mind that it could be due to godliness, even though the Bible speaks of this as a real possibility (see 1 Corinthians 7). Suffering is not always meted out as punishment for sin.
Julie Andrews puts our legalistic thoughts to music when she sings these words:
Nothing comes from nothing,
Nothing ever could.
So somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good.
And lest we tell ourselves that this is a “secular song,” and thus it doesn’t express Christian thinking or beliefs, let me remind you of these words from the very popular song, “Butterfly Kisses,” by Bob Carlisle:130
With all I’ve done wrong
I must have done something right
To deserve your love every morning,
And your butterfly kisses at night.
How do you view human suffering? Is it the occasion to look down upon the one suffering, to ignore that person’s agony and pain? Is it a time for you to engage in idle speculation about sin and guilt? Do you see it only as a time for showing compassion and love? Or do you see it as an opportunity for ministry in a way that fulfills our calling, thus bringing glory to God by accomplishing His works in this sinful, fallen, suffering world? Let us also be exhorted by the words of our Lord to remember that the time for such works is indeed short (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
The ultimate good is not our happiness, but the manifestation of God’s glory by the fulfillment of His purposes, the doing of His works. The ultimate good is not our pleasure, nor our freedom from pain, trials, or tribulation. He who has declared and demonstrated this is the same One who gave up the most in coming down from heaven, taking on human flesh, and taking upon Himself the sins of the world, suffering the wrath of God toward sinners on the cross of Calvary. Our ultimate good is knowing and loving God, and if God purposes to use pain and adversity in our lives to get us there, it is well worth the price.
The second lesson emphatically underscored in our text is that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah. In his excellent commentary on the Gospel of John, Leon Morris131 indicates that there are very few accounts of healing the blind in antiquity. There is no miracle of the giving of sight to the blind in the Old Testament. God is the One who has the ability to give sight to the blind:
So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? (Exodus 4:11, NKJV).
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous (Psalm 146:8, NKJV).
In the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah, it was He who was to give sight to the blind. It is our Lord who claims to fulfill such prophecy:
16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as he customarily did. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him, 21 and he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21, citing from Isaiah 61:1-2).
Morris reminds us that, “There are more miracles of giving of sight to the blind recorded of Jesus than healings in any other category (see Matt. 9:27-31; 12:22f.; 15:30f.; 21:14; Mark 8:22-6; 10:46-52; Luke 7:21f.).” He also points out that there is no recorded instance in the New Testament where the apostles performed this miracle (The role of Ananias in the removal of Paul’s temporary blindness is as close as we come—cf. Acts 9:17f.).132 Here is but one more proof—one more sign—that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Savior of all who believe in Him (see 20:30-31).
Third, in this marvelous account of our Lord’s giving sight to the man born blind, we have an example and illustration of the greater “salvation” of God in which He gives “sight” to those who are spiritually blind, resulting in eternal salvation.133 The healing of the man born blind is what I would call a “Calvinistic healing.” Some healings in the life and ministry of our Lord are prompted by the initiative or persistence of the one who is infirmed. But in this case, John mentions nothing about a request to be healed, or even a request for alms. It is Jesus who sees the sightless man, who knows he has been blind from birth. It is He who purposes to fulfill His calling and to do the works of God by healing this man of his malady. He does not ask the man if he would like to be healed, nor does He promise the man that he will be healed. He places “mud pies” over this man’s eyes, and then tells him to go wash in the pool named “sent.” When he does so (he can hardly do otherwise), this man leaves that pool seeing.
This young man will never again be the same. He has received more than physical sight. His spiritual eyes have been opened, so that he “sees” much more than his Jewish neighbors, much more than the Pharisees. He even sees the blindness and hostility of the Jewish religious leaders toward Jesus and any who would follow Him. The man, blind until this very moment, now sees things quite clearly. His life will never be the same, now that he has “seen the light.”
Let me ask you, my friend, have you “seen the light”? Have you come to recognize your sin, your helplessness, your blindness to spiritual truth, your “deadness” to doing the works of God? Have you acknowledged Jesus as the “sent one,” sent by the Father to die on the cross of Calvary for you, bearing the guilt and penalty for your sins? Let me urge you to come to the “light,” to trust in Jesus Christ as God’s only provision for lost sinners to be saved, and for the spiritually blind to see.
121 I am probably working too hard at this, but it is interesting that this blind man does not “see” until after he is first “seen” by the Savior. This is similar to the truth that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
122 I would prefer, “and came away seeing.” This man came to the pool blind; he came away seeing. Many translations render this, “He went back seeing.” I doubt that he immediately went back to the place where he practiced begging, although he might have done so in an attempt to “see” Jesus and thank Him. At some point he does go “home,” and thus some render this, “he went home seeing,” or something similar (cf. Phillips, NIV).
129 “Jesus’ method of dealing with the man is not to be overlooked. First He healed him, then He left him to debate the situation with the Pharisees, and only after they had taken disciplinary action against the man did Jesus approach him to deal with his spiritual need. The result was that the man came to believe (v. 38). In His ministry to the souls of men Jesus adopted no stereotyped approach. He dealt with each man as his peculiar need required.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 476.
131 “It would not be true to say that there are no accounts of the healing of the blind in antiquity other than those of Jesus, but there are remarkably few in canonical scripture. There is no story of the giving of sight to the blind anywhere in the Old Testament. Nor is this function anywhere attributed to the followers of Jesus. The nearest we come to it is when Ananias laid hands on Saul of Tarsus and that Pharisee’s temporary blindness disappeared (Acts 9:17f.). But this exceptional case is not on all fours with the giving of sight as Jesus gave it.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 475.
“(1) This miracle is certainly symbolical, picturing Jesus as the light of the world (8:12; 9:5).
“(2) In this Gospel Jesus constantly presents himself as the One who is sent by the Father (see on 3:17, 34; 5:36, 37; 6:57; 7:29; 8:18, 27, 29; etc.)
“(3) The waters of Shiloam flow from the temple-hill and are even in the Old Testament regarded as symbolical of the spiritual blessings which issue forth from God’s dwelling-place (see Is. 8:6 and cf. Ezek. 47:1).”
Related Topics: Miracles