A Man Born Blind

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 9:1-12, 35-41

It is a terrible thing to be blind. But it’s even worse to be faced with the truth and not be able to see it.

One day Jesus had an encounter with a man who had been blind from birth. Their meeting not only brought blessing to the blind man, it brought enlightenment to Jesus’ followers. Here is the story from John chapter 9.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

John 9:1-12, NIV


It’s a terrible thing to be blind. Most of us, thankfully, will never have to struggle with such a handicap. But imagine being sightless from birth. Never to have seen the light of day, the beauty that fills our world and unfolds before us each day a sunset over the lake, snow drifting quietly down and mantling the boughs of the pines, the face of your beloved think of it, never to have seen anything! How difficult it must be to have to live, as the man we just read about did, in a world of perpetual darkness. An affliction like blindness is hard enough to bear today with modern technology, but this man had no braille alphabet, no seeing-eye dog, no books on tape, no disability insurance or pension plan. Moreover he had no hope whatsoever of ever seeing. There was no medical miracle on the horizon for him, no cataract surgery, no cornea transplant. He was doomed to live in darkness all his days.

Why had such a terrible tragedy befallen this blind man, Jesus’ disciples wanted to know? He must have done something awful to deserve such a fate. But wait, what could he have done? He was born that way. He had been blind from the very start, before he could have possibly committed any sin bad enough to merit this punishment. So maybe it was his parents then who were responsible? That’s what the disciples wanted to know (v. 2). They may not have understood about genetics, but they did believe in payback and the principle of family solidarity: you not only reap what you sow in life, you also reap what your parents have sown.

Jesus’ disciples, in common with most people, had a simple view of things. If God was just, life had to be fair. The righteous should be blessed and the wicked punished always, in this life, here and now. For the world to be right, suffering had to be deserved. So if a person was suffering, it must be because they sinned at some point, and if they couldn’t have done anything themselves (as in the case of the man born blind), then it must have been their parents who had merited punishment. Actually this view is comforting in one way because it insists that there is an unvarying connection between wrongdoing and punishment. No need to feel pity or compassion for people who are suffering; they’ve earned it, you see! Jesus’ disciples wanted the universe to be a moral place where people consistently got what they deserved and deserved what they got.

But Jesus tells them they are wrong. Life doesn’t work that way. Things aren’t as neat as we would like them to be. We can’t always identify a reason for the tragedies that befall human beings, or draw a straight cause-and-effect connection between sin and suffering. Sometimes people don’t get what they deserve, or deserve what they get. In response to his disciples’ question, Jesus says nothing about the cause of the man’s blindness. Whether God willed it, or merely allowed it, whether it was the result of cosmic evil or human folly those are the big questions which Jesus simply does not answer. Instead, he says that neither this man nor his parents were responsible for his blindness. Rather, the purpose of this affliction was that God would be glorified in this man’s life. The blindness, Jesus said, was in order that the work of God might be displayed in his life. The man was about to have a close encounter with Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. He would never be the same afterwards.


What happens next in the story, though, is rather unusual. Not the fact that Jesus heals this man there’s really nothing surprising about that, if you know anything about the work that Jesus came to accomplish. But what is surprising is the method Jesus uses to heal the blind man. John tells us that he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and anointed the man’s eyes, and then told him to go wash in a pool across the city of Jerusalem.

Why did Jesus do that? Obviously he did not do it because he had to. We know enough about Jesus’ power to understand that he had no need of any props or external aids in order to heal. For him it was enough just to say the word. But on occasion Jesus did add something more in healing particular individuals, a physical gesture perhaps a touch, or a breath from his mouth, or a bit of clay as here in the case of the blind man. In these instances, Jesus chose to give a tangible symbol of his saving, healing power, something that could be seen and felt, a sort of a visual aid for faith. Perhaps we could think of it that way. Because we are physical creatures we benefit from symbols we can touch, feel, hold onto, taste. God gives us such things from time to time to strengthen our faith. A splash of water, a bite of bread, a sip of wine these are all visible, physical signs of God’s invisible, spiritual grace.

What does this miracle mean for us? All four of the New Testament Gospels record numerous stories of Jesus restoring sight to the blind or hearing to the deaf, healing to the sick, even life to the dead. The usual word for any of those mighty works of Jesus is “miracle.” These acts are indeed miraculous. Jesus could and regularly did work miracles; he had the power to interrupt and overrule the ordinary laws of nature. But John’s Gospel uses a different word for the miracles of Jesus. It calls them “signs” (cf. 2:11), and it records exactly seven of them. At the very end of his gospel John wrote that if he had written down everything Jesus did there wouldn’t be room enough in the whole world to contain all the books that would be required (John 21:25). What that suggests is that John severely edited his material. He cut it down to a manageable size by very carefully choosing the seven miracles of Jesus that he recorded, and he chose these seven primarily because of a particular truth each one illustrated about the person of Jesus. These mighty works are not merely acts of miraculous power. They are signs, symbolic signs, which reveal the true nature and mission of Jesus Christ.

So what does the sign of healing the man born blind point to? Jesus said that he has come to do the works of God while it is day, and one of the greatest of those works is to give sight to blind people. Not just to the physically blind, but to the spiritually blind. Jesus has come to open people’s eyes. In a sense we are just like that man; we are all born blind. None of us knows or sees the real truth about God. How could anyone hear the story of Jesus of his selfless love, his suffering and death in our place and for our sake, his glorious, triumphant resurrection how could anyone hear all that and not believe it? How could anyone really understand the gospel and all that it offers and not accept it? And yet so many do. How is it that so many people can be indifferent to the Lord Jesus Christ, can even ridicule him and laugh at him? Because people are blind. They find it easy to ignore or deny the truth. The Bible says that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). People won’t see the truth, people can’t see the truth, until the Lord opens their eyes.

Jesus summarizes what this miracle means with one of his great “I am” sayings: “I am the light of the world” (v. 5). That’s a wonderful image for the effect that Jesus has. Think about what light does, how light functions. First, light illumines. It shows us what is there. Light represents knowledge and understanding. “In thy light we see light,” sang the psalmist. Like a bedside reading lamp, light enables us to gather the information on the page in front of us. We don’t naturally know God or understand his ways. We only learn what he’s really like and what he truly wants when we learn of him through Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus shows us the Father, and no one can know the full truth about God who does not know Jesus Christ.

Second, light guides. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). In the darkness we cannot find our way. Absolute darkness means we’re absolutely lost. Have you ever been down in a cave when they turned all the lights off? It’s a very disorienting experience to literally not be able to see your hand in front of your face. And imagine trying to find your way back to the surface under those circumstances! But we are just as blind and as lost as that in spiritual terms. Not only do we not know God, we have no hope of finding the way back to him. Left to ourselves we stumble and grope and wander off in the wrong directions. But Jesus is the light of the world who guides us back to God. Think of the runway lights at an airport or the headlights on your car or the lamppost at the end of your street. Jesus is like all those things he shows us the way home.


Jesus adds another comment on this whole incident of healing the man born blind. After restoring sight to the man, he spoke to him about a different kind of seeing:

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

John 9:35-39

Here is the interesting conclusion to the miracle. The blind man had been literally blind and now could see. And as he was healed he also passed from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight, that is, faith in Jesus the Savior. But in contrast to him, Jesus’ opponents the Pharisees could see (in one sense), but were blind (in another). So the whole story is full of irony. A poor blind beggar becomes a model of faith and spiritual sight, while the learned religious authorities shut their eyes to the truth about Jesus.

This is the challenge to us. Jesus has come for judgment. He makes a division among people. The blind see him; they have their eyes open to the truth, and are saved. But at the same time many who think they see, who claim to know so much, become blind. The point, you see, is that you can’t stay neutral. You can’t simply remain the same. You must either open your eyes in faith towards Christ or the cataracts just get thicker. Either yield your heart to him or your unbelief becomes more stubborn.

It is indeed a terrible thing to be born blind. But it’s even worse to prefer darkness to light, blindness to sight, to be offered Christ and to harden your heart against him. Don’t do that!