Have you had your eyes checked lately? How is your vision? I know a blind lady with perfect vision. And I know people with perfectly good vision who are totally blind. Today we will see a man who was born blind but who obtained perfect vision. And we will see men with perfect vision who could not see because they would not see.
Of the five main senses that God has given man—sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing—many of us would consider sight the most important. A lot of deaf people live fairly normal lives. They can drive vehicles, go where they want to go, read books, even watch television. But the sightless person faces many more challenges. Many are very creative and seem to overcome obstacles and shine in areas where many of us do not shine.
In John 9, we find the story of a man born blind who by the end of the story, had perfect vision. But those who claimed to have perfect vision, turned out to be totally blind. This is the story of two responses to Jesus: a blind man who sees Jesus for he is, and seeing men who would not see. And then there’s the question that keeps coming up in this story: Who sinned?
1.1.The Question: Who Sinned?
The story begins when Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who had been blind from birth.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth (John 9:1 ESV).
Jesus looks at the man, and the disciples, apparently taking their cue from this look, ask Jesus about the cause of the man’s blindness.
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV).
The man was born blind. There had to be a cause. The disciples take for granted that someone has sinned. Their only question is, “Who sinned?”
Did this man sin? He is the one who is blind. He must have done something terrible to be born blind. But how could that be? Some of the Pharisees had the idea that it was possible to sin while still in the womb, before one was even born. Did this man somehow sin while he was still in his mother’s womb, something so bad that God would make him suffer with blindness from birth? That really didn’t sound right.
Perhaps it was his parents:
“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 NLT)
The disciples assume that sin was the cause of this tragedy. In the Book of Job in the Old Testament, Job was the richest man of the east. He lost everything that he had: his wealth, his health, and even his family. All except for his wife who told him to curse God and die. Some friends came to comfort him, but they were so shocked at his appearance, that they could not speak for seven days. When they finally opened their mouths, all they could do is accuse Job of sinning. They said that God would never allow this to happen to a righteous man. But they were wrong. The first verse of Job tells us that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1 ESV). In the closing chapters, God himself rebukes Job’s miserable comforters for falsely accusing him.
Still the question persists. We are all too ready to point the finger, to assign blame. 1 Corinthians 11:30 tells us that sometimes sickness and even death is the result of sin. But not always. And not in this case.
“Rabbi,” the disciples ask, “who sinned?” The disciples are right to expect Jesus to know. In John 2:24-25, John tells us that Jesus knew all people; he himself knew what as in man. Jesus knew who was going to betray him (John 6:64). He knew all that was going to happen to him (John 18:4). And Peter will say to him, “Lord, you know everything” (John 21:17). The question was not the best, but the disciples were right to ask Jesus. Jesus knew why this man was born blind. Who else could explain that? Who else could explain why bad things happen? Who else could tell why a man was born blind? These are questions that only God himself could answer. On every page, John is showing us that Jesus is God the Son, God in the flesh, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14).
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:3-5 ESV).
“You are wrong on both counts,” Jesus said. One translation puts it this way:
Jesus replied, “Neither one—not he, not his parents. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for God’s acts to be exhibited in him (John 9:3 MIT).
How do you see problems? Are you looking for the cause? Or are you looking for the solution? Jesus looks at this problem—a man’s blindness—and sees it as an opportunity to do something for God. The disciples are saying, “Who did this? Who is to blame? Who is at fault here?” Jesus says, “This is an opportunity to do something that will reveal the glory of God.” This is not some academic exercise. This is real life. There are people all around who need your help. We don’t need to be pointing the finger, assessing blame, trying to figure our who is at fault. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite passed on the other side when they saw a man who had been left half dead on the roadside. The Samaritan went to the man, bound up his wounds, and showed mercy on him. Jesus tells us to do likewise.
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4 ESV).
God has give us work to do. “We must work the works,” Jesus said, and now is the time to do it.
The Healing (vs. 6-7).In this chapter of 41 verses, only two describe the actual healing.The description is repeated in verses 11 and 15 before the friends of the blind man, and before the Pharisees, but nothing new is added.Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva, and smeared the man’s eyes with the mud.He then told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam.We are not told how the man got their, but he came back seeing.
The man was blind at birth. He had known nothing but darkness for his entire existence. Nothing but thick, impenetrable, blackness all around. Never had he even seen a flicker of light. But before the story ends, he would see more than a flicker of light. This man would see the Light of the World:
As long as I am in the world, (Jesus says,) I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV).
It was in chapter 8:12, in the debate with the Jewish authorities that Jesus declared that he was the Light of the World. Now that Light will shine in the dark corners of this blind man’s soul, making everything clear and brighter than the noonday sun.
In two verses, John describes the healing:
Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (John 9:6-7 ESV).
Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva, and smeared the man’s eyes with the mud. He then told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Spit. Mud. And a pool named Siloam which means Sent.
The waters for this pool were probably sent from a spring. In John 4, Jesus said that he was the source of living water. Now in chapter 9:4, he says that he must work the works of him who sent him. Jesus is the one and only Son of God sent from the Father. You need to go to the one who was sent from God.
How did the blind man find the pool? We are not told. Perhaps with a walking stick. Perhaps he asked someone to take him there. However he got there, he obeyed. He went. He washed. And he came back seeing.
2.CONVERSATION 1: THE MAN AND HIS NEIGHBORS (9:8-12)
2.1.The Blind Man Sees!
Yes, he came back seeing. He came back to his place. He came back to his neighborhood where people had seen him sit and beg all his life. They knew the blind man, but this could not be him!
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man” (John 9:8-9 ESV).
This man’s appearance was greatly changed. He is no longer blind. His eyes are open. They are bright and shining. They are alive! “Is this the man?” “No, it can’t be!” “But it must be!” “Yes, I am the man! I am the man!” They could hardly believe their eyes that this was the same man.
So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” (John 9:10 ESV).
2.2.The First Step Toward Perfect Vision: “The Man Called Jesus”
Here we come to the man’s first step toward perfect vision. “How were you eyes opened?” they asked him.
His response: “The man called Jesus…” He does not know much about Jesus. He has heard of him. He has possibly heard of his teaching or of his miracles, but all he can say is,
“The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know” (John 9:11-12 ESV).
The first steps of faith in Jesus begin simply.
Here we have a remarkable event. Everyone knows that this man was born blind. They know that he used to sit and beg for his living. Suddenly, all that has changed. The man can see! How did this happen? Spit, mud, a pool called Siloam, and—oh yes—a man called Jesus. What does this mean? How could this happen? There must be an explanation! Let’s ask the religious authorities! They will know what this means! Let’s take this man to the Pharisees.
3.CONVERSATION 2: INTERROGATION BY THE PHARISEES (9:13-17)
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind (John 9:13 ESV).
3.1.Not On the Sabbath!
It is only now that we learn that this healing took place on the Sabbath:
Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes (John 9:14 ESV).
There it is again: Jesus made mud. Five times in this chapter we read that Jesus made mud and anointed the blind man’s eyes with it. Now we learn that it was the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and anointed the man’s eyes.
This brought Jesus into conflict with the Pharisees on several accounts:
- Since the man’s life was not in danger, they thought that Jesus should have waited until another day to heal (cf. Luke 13:14).
- The Jewish authorities had a list of 39 activities that they had forbidden people to do on the Sabbath. One of the 39 activities forbidden in the Mishnah was kneading like when you knead bread dough. Jesus had kneaded the clay with his spittle to make mud.
- Anointing the eyes on the Sabbath was also forbidden in the Talmud. But Jesus was not too concerned about the traditions of the elders.He was bound only by the Word of God not by man-made traditions that were added to the Word of God.
Why did Jesus use mud and spit? This was no accident. Jesus purposefully made mud on the Sabbath. He used mud to unleash a controversy on the Sabbath. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and he showed that the point of the Sabbath is rest and restoration of our bodies. The very first time the Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible is in Exodus 16, when God gives the Israelites the manna in the wilderness. It is not mentioned before. It is in the wilderness that God gave his people the Sabbath, telling them that they were not to gather manna on the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath is that God’s manna—God’s provision of the Bread of Life, Christ Jesus our Lord—eternal life is not of works; it is the gift of God.
Jesus made mud on the Sabbath to bring about the controversy that we find in John 9.
So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them (John 9:15-16 ESV).
The religious authorities are divided. Some of them say that Jesus is a sinner, that he is not from God. But others wonder how he could open the eyes of a man born blind if he were a sinner. So these Pharisees, these religious authorities, these doctors of the law are now reduced to ask a poor blind beggar his opinion: “What do you have to say about him?It was your eyes he opened” (John 9:17 ESV).
3.2.The Second Step of Faith
He said, “He is a prophet” (John 9:17 ESV).
We see that the blind man has progressed in his understanding.When asked by his acquaintances how his eyes were opened, he could only say that it was done by “a man named Jesus” (v. 11).Now he calls him a prophet.Perhaps we find this insufficient, but this directly contradicts what some of the Jewish authorities were saying. They were saying that he was not from God. In declaring that Jesus was a prophet, the blind man was saying that Jesus was from God.
4.CONVERSATION 3 (9:18-23) – MAN AND HIS PARENTS
This miracle was so extraordinary, that the Pharisees were not yet convinced that it had happened. The formerly blind man has taken a second step in his faith while the Jewish authorities have taken another step in unbelief. Perhaps this was just a farce. So they interrogate the man’s parents:
¶ The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him” (John 9:18-23 ESV).
But the parents would only confirm that this was their son and that he had been blind.To say any more risked excommunication from the synagogue and from Israel.
John Piper says, “The point is not mainly to be too hard on them, but to throw into stark relief how unfearing this beggar is.”
5.CONVERSATION 4 (9:24-34) – FULL BLOWN COURAGE AND BLASPHEMY
5.1.Name of the Game: Intimidation
Not satisfied with the responses of the parents, the Pharisees called for the blind man again. “Give glory to God,” they charge him. In Joshua 7:19 this formula is used to encourage Achan to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
“We know this man is a sinner,” they said.The Pharisees no longer seem to be divided. There is a united front. At any rate, those who wondered how a sinner could give sight to the blind kept silent.Maybe they too were fearful of the consequences.
“We know that this man is a sinner,” declared the religious experts. “Join us in our blasphemy or we’ll excommunicate you out of Judaism.” This is huge. If you get disciplined by your church, you can either accept it or go find another church. But this is being marked and cut off from Israel.
Nonetheless, this line of intimidation will not work.Try as they will, they cannot get him to move “from a position he knows to be right.He does not know anything about Jesus and thus does not know whether or not he is a sinner.But he has one important certainty: I was blind from birth. I never saw the sun rise or set. I never saw the beautiful flowers that I could smell. I heard birds sing but could never admire them in flight. I heard my mother’s lovely voice, but was never able to look into her face. “I know one thing: I was blind, but now I see” (v. 25).
Nobody is going to shake a man out of a certainty like that. A man with an experience, it is said, is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. And, as it was Jesus who gave him his sight, nobody is going to make him takes sides against Jesus.”
5.2.Tell Us Again!
So they ask him again how Jesus opened his eyes.Perhaps through a second round of interrogation, they could uncover some contradictions and show that this was nothing more than a sham.With a twinkle in his eye he responded, “I told you once and you didn’t pay attention,” he said.
“…Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (John 9:27 ESV).
This word “also” indicates that the blind man has begun to think of himself as a disciple of this Jesus.
Step 1: The man called Jesus.
Step 2: He is a prophet from God.
Step 3: I’m a disciple.
Unable to resist his logic, the Pharisees, as refined and sophisticated as they were, began to hurl insults at the man.
And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:28-29 ESV).
Here the religious authorities inadvertently admitted their ignorance: “We don’t even know where he comes from.”
They left themselves wide open.”Now that is remarkable.You don’t know…”The man had been blind all his life, but behind those blind eyes was a logical mind. The blind man marshals his argument:
- “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes (John 9:30 ESV)
- You say he is a sinner, but “we know that God does not listen to sinners” (John 9:31 ESV).
- if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him (John 9:31 ESV).
- Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind (John 9:32 ESV).
- If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33 ESV).
Unable to resist his argument, the Pharisees insulted him and resorted to violence: “You were born steeped in sin, and now you are lecturing us?”Then they threw him out.This probably means that they excommunicated him, since it is emphasized in both verses 34 and 35.In any case, it was not a good sign.It meant trouble for the man.
6.CONVERSATION 5 (V. 35-38) – JESUS AND THE BEGGAR
This is amazing: Jesus sought him out. He was cast out; Jesus sought him out. To whom will he turn; he doesn’t need to turn. It is no accident that the next chapter is about the good shepherd who gathered his sheep.
Jesus came looking for the man.He heard that the blind man had been excommunicated, so he sought him out.As Chrysostom put it: “The Jews cast him out of the Temple; the Lord of the Temple found him.”
Now the blind man had never seen Jesus’ face, but he recognized his voice.”Never in all his life would he forget the voice that had told him to go and wash in Siloam!”
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV).
Jesus was obviously looking for people to “believe in the Son of Man.”And if Jesus wanted him to believe in the Son of Man, the formerly blind man was willing to believe in him.But who was he?This man was so fundamentally honest that he would neither cower to the Pharisees, nor would he profess faith in someone he did not know.”Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”Jesus said, “You have now seen him, for it is he who is speaking with you.”
The words of Jesus brought a new enlightenment.At that moment the man opened his eyes and saw something he had never seen before.He had begun by called Jesus “a man named Jesus.”Then he called him a prophet.Then he marshaled an argument proving that Jesus was from God.Finally he recognized that Jesus was the Son of Man, and bowed down and worshipped him.
This man worshipped Jesus. The word is προσκυνέω (proskuneo) and this is the tenth time that we find it in John’s Gospel. The first nine times are in John 4:20-24 where Jesus says that God is seeking true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth.
In speaking of Jesus, the Word made flesh, John says in 1:18,
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18 ESV).
This man worships Jesus.
7.THE CONDEMNATION OF THOSE WHO SEE (vs. 39-41)
In verse 39 Jesus says, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”It is strange to hear Jesus speak of coming for judgment.In 3:17 we read, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
“It is not the purpose of the shining of the sun to cast shadows.But where the sun shines upon opaque objects, shadows are inevitable.It is not the purpose of the coming of the Son of God to bring condemnation.But when his offered salvation is rejected, condemnation is inevitable.”
The Pharisees, despite their advantages, regressed in their understanding.They started with the firm conviction that Jesus was not from God (v. 16).Then they questioned the reality of the miracle he had done (v. 18).They declared their certainty that Jesus was a sinner (v. 24), and made other statements revealing their spiritual ignorance (v. 29).Finally, they were shown to be both blind and sinful (v. 41).
In answer to the question, “Who sinned?” several possibilities were suggested.The man himself.The mans parents.Jesus was accused of sin.But the guilty ones in this story are those who insist that they see.”If you were blind,” Jesus said, “you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
There is a kind of blindness that is rooted in willful rebellion against God, a moral spiritual blindness, that does not remove guilt. There is a blindness that does not want to see the light, or confess that our works are works of darkness. This does not diminish our guilt; it is our guilt. It does not remove accountability.
The first glimmer of light in the soul is to say, “I’m blind.”
If we will acknowledge our blindness, Jesus will show us the light.But if we insist that we see, there is nothing that he can show us.
8.WE WERE ALL BORN BLIND!
This blind man is us. We were all born blind. It takes a work of God to open our eyes to see the truth.
- Do you worship Jesus?
- Do you find your worship of Jesus deepening or weakening in the face of threat and danger. It took a miracle for this man’s faith to get stronger and stronger as the opposition intensified.
- Does your worship falter or flourish when your family is unbelieving?
- Do you confess Jesus openly and defend him with your personal testimony? 95% of Christians are saved through seeing the truth of the gospel.
- God has wise good, Christ-exalting purposes that happens to you.
- Jesus is the path to the full, final, joyful experience of that good purpose.
- Jesus sought out this nobody, this beggar, and He is seeking you right now. That is why you tuned in today and heard this story. He wants to make you a worshipper of Jesus.
Ask Jesus to open the eyes of your heart.
See also “Gospel of John”:
- John 01:01-05, 14-18, “God in the Flesh”
- John 01:06-08, 19-34, “The Witness”
- John 01:35-51, “Finding the Messiah”
- John 02:01-11, “Believing”
- John 02:13-25, “Christ Cleanses the Temple”
- John 02:23-03:15, “You Must Be Born Again”
- John 03:01-15 “The Purpose of the New Birth”
- John 04:19-24, “The Seeking God”
- John 05:01-18, “Jesus: Who Does He Think He Is?”
- John 05:19-29, “Jesus, What right do you have?”
- John 05:30-46, “Jesus’ Witnesses”
- John 06:01-71, “No Appetite for the Bread of Life”
- John 07:01-39, “History’s Most Controversial Person”
- John 08:02-11, “Guilt – What to Do with It”
- John 08:12-30, “Jesus, the Light of the World”
- John 08:31-36, “Life’s Greatest Freedom!”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 12:01-19, “The Triumphal Entry in the Shadow of the Cross”
- The only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent
According to a later Jewish tradition (Babylonian Talmud Abodah Zarah 28b) there was an opinion that it was not permitted to anoint an eye on the Sabbath.The Jerusalem Talmud Shabbath 14d and 17f says that one may not put fasting spittle on the eyes on the Sabbath.See Brown, The Gospel According to John, 373.
Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, 359.
Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, 360.
Barclay, The Gospel of John, 49.
Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, 364.
Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, 366.
Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, 357.
These questions and statements are suggested by John Piper.