Sight for the Blind
Series: The Gospel of John
In this story, Jesus displays the mighty work of God by working a new creation in a man blind from birth. Through it, we learn that we are all born blind, but that Jesus is the one who gives sight to the blind.
At my house my wife keeps a nightlight in the hallway outside of our bedroom and in the bathroom. So if you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you can get there and back without having to flip a switch. It’s great. Not all hotels are as wise as my wife, however. So one time I was staying in a hotel and got up to go the bathroom, but the bathroom had no night light. So I hit the switch in the bathroom and bam, got blasted with the light. I squinted for a bit but eventually adjusted and went to the bathroom. That wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was once I turned the lights off and wandered back in the bedroom, I couldn’t see a thing. So I’m feeling around for the bed and the wall and I thought I was at the point where I could get down in bed. I reached down, and part way down, my face hit a counter. And I mean, I hit it. When your eyes can see, your brain will automatically help you brace yourself. But I was like a cat that had hit terminal velocity: My reflexes didn’t work, and I smacked this thing, lip started bleeding, gum was cut, whole 9 yards. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to physical blindness that I can remember. In the story at which we’re looking today however, one of the main characters is a man who was blind from birth. The guy had never seen; total darkness his whole life. But in this story, he meets Jesus, the light of the world, and by the end, he sees, while, ironically, that same light of the world blinded others who seem to have seen, like the light in the bathroom blinded me when I first walked in. In the story we’ll see that Jesus gives sight to the blind by a work of God, that makes us different, and by the word of God.
By a work of God
Maybe it’s already obvious to you that giving sight to the blind must be a work of God, but our text emphasizes it in various ways. It tells us, first, that the man Jesus healed was blind from birth. Were this a temporary ailment, we might expect over time that it could possibly be healed, like when one breaks a leg that used to work properly. But this man had never seen anything even once in his life. When they see this man, Jesus’ disciples ask who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind. Jesus corrects them though; while all suffering is a result of sin in general, it’s often not the case that a person’s particular suffering is a result of someone’s particular sins. He answers in verse 3 that it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. So here Jesus clearly identifies that what He is about to do is a work of God. He also shows us that God has a desire to display His works, and will use even human suffering to do it. In this case, God displayed His work by healing the man of his suffering. In other cases, God may choose to display His perfect power by not removing the suffering, as in the case of Paul, who says of the thorn in his flesh that God would not remove, despite Paul’s repeated prayers, that God told Him the thorn was to remain in order that His power would be displayed in Paul’s weakness.
When I was in college I got to know a guy named Andy. Andy was born with crossed eyes, and still had them at age 20 or however old he was when I met him. He also had some kind of disorder in his jaw, such that his jaw sat further back in his head than it does in most humans. Finally, he’d always been overweight. Growing up he experienced a lot of shame about these features, and no doubt the insults of others exacerbated that shame. But God saved Andy and one of the passages of scripture God used was this one. Someone shared with Andy verse 3, and Andy realized that neither he nor his parents’ sin had caused him to be born the way he was, but so that through him the works of God might be displayed. And they were. When I met Andy, he wasn’t an ashamed kid who hid in the dark. He was a man full of joy and of the Holy Spirit, who walked in the light, because Jesus had opened His eyes, though they remained crossed. Do you realize if there are things you’ve been ashamed of your whole life, that the works of God could be displayed in you in the same way? When Andy lived with joy in Jesus, he showed others that Jesus was better than straight eyes, a normal jaw, and a toned physique. He didn’t pretend there was nothing wrong with him; he didn’t tell himself he was perfect just the way he is. That’s the best the world has to offer us. But we all know it’s a farse: We know eyes shouldn’t be crossed, we know there’s a proper way for jaws to function, we know eyes were made to see! It’s because of the terror of sin that our bodies don’t function the way they are supposed to, but there is hope for us even in that. Through those very things, the works of God can be displayed in us.
And so, Jesus says, that’s why this man was born blind. And so, He continues in verse 4 to say we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. But as long as Jesus is in the world, He is the light of the world. Of course, Jesus isn’t saying there is literally no work that can be done after He leaves; He sent His Holy Spirit specifically so that we can do good works until He returns. But He is saying there are particular works God sent Him to do, and they can only be done with the life God has given Him. And we come to His work in verses 6-7. While there is work for the disciples to do also, this one is all Jesus: Jesus spits on the ground, Jesus makes mud, Jesus anoints the man’s eyes, Jesus tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. There are works of God only Jesus can do because only Jesus is God. And later, when this man is defending Jesus, he points out that there are rare stories of the blind being healed, but never in the history of the world was there a story of a man born blind receiving his sight. To repair is something humans can do sometimes. But to create is something only God can do. To give sight to a man who never had it is something only God can do.
It’s hard to figure out the specifics of the symbolism here, but there are hints of new creation in the way Jesus does this work of God. When God created the first man, He formed him from the dust of the ground. Then when God cursed man for his sin, He pronounced a curse on the ground, and told man he was destined now to return to the dust. So here, Jesus takes the dust of that cursed ground and spits on it so that He can apply it to the man’s cursed eyes. But then He tells the man to wash it off in water. In the first creation, we read that after God made the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and there was water over the face of the deep. Everything was dark. But then God said, “Let there be light.” And from the water the LORD God brought up the earth, the dust of the ground of the first creation. When God first brought judgment on the earth, He covered it with water, and then from the water, brought up a new creation. When God released His people from slavery in Egypt, He brought them through water, and judged their oppressors by drowning them in it. When a commander of the army of Syria named Naaman had leprosy, he went to the king of Israel for healing, and the king of Israel basically said, “I’m not God, I can’t do this.” But then he went to the prophet Elisha and Elisha told him to wash in the river Jordan. When Naaman heard this he was angry; he figured there would have to be something more miraculous, more flashy, for someone as important as himself. Washing in dirty water sounded like a terrible way to be healed.
Well, how about having someone spit in dirt, and then rub the mud in your eyes for healing? What’s happening here? Jesus is taking the cursed ground, putting it on the man’s cursed eyes, and offering to the man cleansing from both. As with all of Jesus’ signs, it points beyond itself: This is a sign of judgment on the old creation, and the bringing forth of a new creation. Jesus already said in John 3 that unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He then elaborates that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Now He shows us. All of us are born blind, cursed with the old creation, and none of us will see the kingdom of God unless we are born again. We don’t just need a repair or improvement; we need a new creation. And unlike Naaman at first, this man was humble enough to accept the mud on his eyes, and jump in the pool of Siloam for his cleansing. He knew he was blind, he trusted Jesus’ promise of cleansing, and so on that day, he saw for the first time. Do you think you can solve your problems by improving your knowledge and honing your technique? Once again, that’s the best our world can offer. If someone is blind, we’ll study the causes of blindness, and we’ll hone our technique to either heal the blindness or create ways to help the blind live better as blind people. That’s good as far as it goes, but might you dare to hope for more? Might you dare to hope that blind eyes that have never seen could one day see, but that our knowledge and technique won’t accomplish it? You can go learn about anxiety, depression, conflict, money management, healthy eating, and you can learn strategies to address them all, but what if your problems are symptoms of a deeper problem? What if you’re blind, but there’s a way you can see? That’s the hope that’s there for you in Jesus. That’s the work that only He can do. And when He does it, it makes us different.
That makes us different
Again, perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but going from being blind your whole life to suddenly being able to see is a big difference. However, it doesn’t just make you different from who you used to be. It also makes you different from the people around you. You might think that wouldn’t be the case for this man, right? His whole life he had been different from others around him: They could see, he was blind. Now that he can see, he’s becoming more like them, right? On the surface, yes, but on a deeper level, we quickly find out in the story that the answer is no.
Because what might you expect from others who saw a man born blind receive his sight? You might expect them to rejoice. But the first people he encounters are his neighbors, who verse 8 tells us had seen him before as a beggar, only they now cannot agree on whether this is the same man or not. They don’t see quite as well as it seemed. Then they take him to the Pharisees, and instead of rejoicing, instead of recognizing the work of God in this man’s life, they start to question Jesus’ divine origins because He does not keep the Sabbath according to their tradition, which forbade any work, even doing the works of God, on the Sabbath. Even after the man gives his testimony, in verse 18 we read that they did not believe him. Though they aren’t literally blind, they can’t see what clearly happened. So then they call his parents, and his parents confirm their son’s identity, and that he was blind, but now sees. However, they deny knowing how this happened. And John tells us in verse 22 that the reason they operated this way is because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. In other words, they would be excommunicated from the Jewish church.
Now why would they do such a thing? Jesus has already told us why. In John 3:19 He says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” He’s saying, “I am the light of the world, so those who love the darkness, will hate me.” Now in this story we see what that means for those who follow Jesus: Since those who follow Jesus will walk in the light, those who love the darkness will hate them too. So they resolved that anyone caught following the light would be excommunicated from their church. And this is still true today, though the “church”es of the world are often less defined and less clear in how they excommunicate. But it’s just a reality that if Jesus opens your eyes to see Him as the light of the world, and you begin to walk in the light, you won’t fit in with the darkness in the same way anymore. You’ll go back to the darkness to call those in it out of it, but those who love it and really want to stay, won’t love you. They may be nice to you; most people are nice, but you’ll feel the loss of closeness. And that’s hard, especially when the darkness is all you’ve known. Imagine growing up Jewish, always being part of the synagogue, and now being threatened with excommunication. Imagine being “one of the guys,” but now knowing that even though you’ll still be friends with those guys, there are some parties they probably won’t invite you to, you might not be in the wedding, you might not be on the short list for the kids’ birthday party anymore. Many of you have felt the relational risk of being the one who speaks up for the marginalized when your friends or family are belittling them. How many of you have felt the career risk of not toeing the line on our world’s gender and sex ethics? The world may not have churches from which to excommunicate you, but you may be excommunicated from your company, family, or friends. And some of you with different religious backgrounds may be facing a literal cutting off from your synagogue, mosque, or even, as in my case, the Roman Catholic Church in which I grew up, whose official teaching is that those who knowingly leave it cannot be saved.
That’s the situation we face; what are you going to do about it? One option is represented by this man’s parents. They see better than the Pharisees or the neighbors; they know this is their son, they know he was born blind, and they know that he now sees. Yet they so desire to not be cast out of the darkness, that they reject the light and choose to remain in it. In so doing, they prove that they are still blind in the deepest sense of the word. They still think they need those who are in darkness to love and accept them. The man born blind represents a different response. The Pharisees bring him in again, and make a strong appeal to him in verse 24: “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.” In other words, “Do your duty to God.” Imagine hearing that from people you grew up looking up to as your religious leaders. They’re telling you your duty to God is to call this man a sinner. How could you resist that? You can resist it if you’ve had an experience you cannot deny. So look at his response in verse 25: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Here is the one thing those who really see, who are really walking in the light, cannot deny, and therefore, they cannot ultimately deny Jesus. They may know very little about Him; the man says he’s not even sure whether Jesus is a sinner or not at this point. But this he knows: He was blind, but now he sees. You may not know why a good God allows evil, you may not understand much of the Bible, you may not know why the Bible says what it says about sexuality, or why Christians have been guilty of such evil, but if Jesus has made your blind eyes see, you know He has, and you cannot deny it. When you don’t know what else to say, that’s something you can always tell others. It makes you different from the world, from those who love the darkness, and it makes you different from those who fear the darkness. This man was now different from his parents as well, for he now saw, while they remained blind. So he persists in his defense of Jesus until in verse 34 we read that they cast him out. The excommunication his parents feared happened to him, but he willingly accepted it. He couldn’t lie: Though he was blind, now he saw. And now that he was in the light, he was willing to be excluded from the darkness. Are you? It’s one of those tests of whether you are really in the light. All of us wish the world liked us; nobody longs to be hated and excluded. But when push comes to shove, are you willing to be excluded from the darkness? Those who are in the light, those whose eyes Jesus has opened, say yes, and prove it by publicly professing their faith in Him, whatever the cost. And let’s look next at what Jesus does for them. He makes blind eyes see by a work of God that makes them different, and by the word of God.
By the word of God
In verse 35 we read that Jesus hears they had cast him out, and what does Jesus do? Jesus finds him. That’s why it’s ok if the world casts you out. Jesus will find you. You’ll get Him, and He is the light of the world. Then when Jesus finds the man, Jesus starts talking to him. The man didn’t know much while talking to the Pharisees; he simply knew that though he was blind, now he saw. That was enough to carry him through even excommunication from them. However, Jesus didn’t want to leave him there. Jesus makes blind eyes see not only by doing a work in us, but by speaking God’s Word to us. He not only does great works; He explains them. So He goes to the man and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. The Son of Man was a title that had become popular in Judaism of the day, coming from Daniel chapter 7, where there is a prediction of one coming as a son of man, to whom would be giving dominion, glory, and a kingdom, such that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. So Jesus asks the man if he believes this prophecy, and the man asks who he is, that he may believe in him. Notice the blind man’s humility once again. Even throughout his exchange with the pharisees, he’s very clear about what he does not know. He doesn’t know whether Jesus is a sinner, he tells his neighbors he does not know where Jesus is, now he says he does not know who the Son of Man is. But he’s also not content with his lack of knowledge: He wants to learn! Tell me who the Son of Man is, that I may believe in Him! Today we have a problem with people who know they don’t know anything, but they like not knowing anything, because they’re afraid of the truth. On the other hand, the Pharisees are quite sure they know that Jesus is not the Son of Man.
And to the one who knows he does not know, but wants to know, to the blind man, Jesus says in verse 37, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” Think about that statement. Here’s a man who was born blind, who before the day he met Jesus, had never seen anything at all. Now not only does he see; he has seen the Son of Man. And though so many before him, around him, and after him, have seen their whole lives, they’ve never seen the Son of Man. Though the pharisees also looked right at him, they couldn’t recognize him as such. And so, having heard the word of Christ, He responds in verse 38: Lord, I believe. And he worshiped Jesus. When Jesus has opened your eyes, this is how you respond to His Word: I believe. And you worship Him. In the fullest sense of the word, Jesus had now made this blind man’s eyes see. The light of the world had shone on him, and he was no longer in darkness.
In response, Jesus says He came into this world for judgment, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may not see. The Pharisees respond defensively again, wondering if Jesus is calling them blind. Jesus responds by saying that if they were blind, they would have no guilt, but since they claim to see, their guilt remains. In other words, what’s the essential difference between the Pharisees and the blind man? It’s that only the blind man knew he was blind. And since he knew he was blind, he was willing to have mud slapped on his eyes, willing to wash in the pool of Siloam, willing to be excommunicated from the synagogue, willing to admit he did not know who the son of man was, and as a result, He truly saw. But the Pharisees, claiming to see, refused the light, and therefore they are guilty, and end the story blind and in the dark. It’s not that the light never shone on them; it’s that in their pride they never saw it.
Feeling clueless and lost is not a problem for Jesus, as long as you can admit that you’re clueless and lost. Being born blind is not a problem for Jesus, as long as you can admit that you’re blind. If you know you don’t know, you can learn, and Jesus is glad to teach such people. I remember the first Bible study I went to, I felt it was very important to show them how much I knew. Surely they wouldn’t love me if I didn’t know anything, right? But over time Jesus opened my eyes to see that I was lost, and brought me into the light. I started going to Bible study and asking questions. And guess what? I actually learned. Jesus taught me through His word. I still meet people today who come to church and just seem really nervous to convince me and everyone else that they’ve kinda got this Christianity thing figured out. And man, it’s almost impossible to teach them anything, because they don’t want to be taught. If you’re feeling that way, I just want you to know that’s not what walking in the light looks like. Jesus makes blind eyes see; He doesn’t just round up the people who already have 20/10 vision. In fact, the judgment He says He came to bring will blind those people. And as long as you’re still trying to convince God, yourself, and others that you’ve got this, you’ll stay blind.
But if you really want to see, all you need is to be blind, and to trust Jesus when He tells you He is the light. In a sense, you have to become dirtier, to take the mud on your eyes, identify with the cursed ground, and then you can be cleansed. And this is, in fact, what Jesus has done for us. Though He was the one who could truly see, on the cross the sky went dark for three hours as He hung there. Though He was truly clean, He took upon Himself more than the dirt of the ground: He took upon Himself the dirt of our sins. Though He was not blind from birth, He willingly closed His eyes in death and returned to the dust of the earth. Only then was He cleansed, and risen from the dead a new creation. Only then did He pour out His Spirit, to shine in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in His face, so that in this life we might walk by faith in Him, and one day, join this man born blind to walk by sight, and worship Him forever. Admit that you’re blind. Admit that you’re a sinner, and you were born that way. Get down into the dust, trust Jesus’ promised cleansing, and He will open your eyes. Believe in Him, worship Him, listen to His Word, and you will truly see.