Sermon for March 26, 2017 (fourth Sunday in Lent)
1 Sam. 16:1-13, Psalm 23: 1-6, Eph. 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
THE MIRACLE OF SEEING JESUS (John 9:1-41)
By Ted Johnston
Jesus performed many miracles by which he met human needs while conveying truth concerning his identity as Son of God and Messiah. One of the biblical signs of the Messiah was the healing of blindness, and in John 9, Jesus fulfills that sign. John also is using this miracle to say something about the human condition, for in John “to see” physically is a metaphor for understanding spiritually. And so John 9 is about spiritual blindness as well as physical blindness, and about how Jesus heals both.
The man we meet in John 9 was both physically and spiritually blind from birth. But Jesus changed both conditions: The healing of his physical blindness was instantaneous; but the healing of his spiritual blindness unfolded in stages as he progressively came to “see” Jesus for who he truly is—the Son of God. Let’s walk through those stages of unfolding vision with him. May we too see Jesus more clearly!
1. Jesus: man (John 9:1–12)
About the only thing a blind man could do in that day was beg, and that is what this man was doing when Jesus passed by. No doubt there were many blind people who would have rejoiced to be healed, but Jesus selected this one. Apparently he and his parents were well known in the community. It was on the Sabbath when Jesus healed him (v. 14), thus Jesus, once again, was deliberately challenging the religious leaders.
The disciples did not look at the man as an object of mercy but rather as a subject for theological discussion. They were confident that his congenital blindness was caused by sin, either his own or his parents’. But Jesus disagreed as we see in John 9:3. Contrary to popular Jewish belief at the time, not all disability is punishment for sin (of the person or their parents). Sometimes bad things just happen.
Jesus’ method of healing in this instance was unusual: He combined his spit with dirt and made clay; then smeared it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash. Why this method? Perhaps because God made the first man out of clay, then sent his eternal Son in the “clay” of human flesh. Note also the emphasis on the meaning of “Siloam”—“sent,” and relate this to “the works of him that sent me” (v. 4). Perhaps Jesus is enacting a mini-drama about his own incarnation as a man (clay) sent by the Father to bring healing to all humanity.
In any case, the healing meant not only deliverance for the blind man; it also meant a crisis of identification surrounding both the blind man and Jesus. Was this really the blind beggar? And who caused him to see? Throughout the rest of John 9, a growing conflict takes place around these two questions. The religious leaders did not want to face the fact that Jesus healed the man, or even that the man had been healed.
Four times in this chapter, people asked the man how he was healed (vv. 10, 15, 19, 26). First the neighbors asked the man, and then the Pharisees asked him. Not satisfied with his reply, the Pharisees then asked the man’s parents and then gave the son one final interrogation. All of this looked very official and efficient, but it was really an evasive maneuver on the part of both the people and the leaders. The Pharisees wanted to get rid of the evidence, and the people were afraid to speak the truth.
When asked to describe his experience, the man simply told what had happened. All he knew about the person who had done the miracle was that he was “a man called Jesus.” Though he had not seen our Lord, he had heard his voice. Not only was the beggar ignorant of Jesus’ identity, but he did not know where Jesus had gone. At this point, the man has been healed, but he has not experienced salvation. The light had dawned, but it would grow brighter until he saw the face of the Lord and worshiped him.
At least 12 times in the Gospel of John, Jesus is called “a man.” John’s emphasis is that Jesus Christ is God, but the apostle balances it beautifully by reminding us that Jesus is also fully human. The incarnation was not an illusion!
2. Jesus: prophet (John 9:13–23)
As custodians of the faith, the Pharisees appropriately investigated this claim of healing. The fact that they studied the miracle in such detail is only further proof that Jesus did indeed heal the man. Since the man was born blind, the miracle was even greater, for blindness caused by sickness or injury might suddenly go away.
That Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath was cause for great concern among the Pharisees. It was illegal to work on the Sabbath; and by making clay, applying it, and healing the man, Jesus had performed three unlawful “works.” The Pharisees should have been praising God for a miracle; instead, they sought evidence to prosecute Jesus. They were judging on the basis of one conclusion: nobody who breaks the Sabbath could be a true prophet of God. The Pharisees did not realize that Jesus was offering something far greater than the Sabbath—he was offering the true spiritual rest that comes from God (Matt. 11:28–30).
But the beggar was not intimidated by the threats of the Pharisees. When asked who he thought Jesus was, he boldly said, “He is a prophet!” Some of the Old Testament prophets, such as Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, did perform miracles. But the religious leaders did not want to see Jesus given that kind of high designation. “This man is not from God,” they said (9:16).
Perhaps they could discredit the miracle. If so, then they could convince the people that Jesus had plotted the whole thing and was deceiving them. He had craftily “switched” beggars so that the sighted man was not the man who had been known as the blind beggar.
The best way to get that kind of evidence would be to interrogate the parents of the beggar, so they called them in and asked them two questions: (1) “Is this your son?” And (2) “How is it that now he can see?” If they refused to answer either question, they were in trouble; or if they answered with replies contrary to what the leaders wanted, they were in trouble.
They answered the first question honestly: he was their son and he had been born blind. They answered the second question evasively: they did not know how he was healed or who healed him. They then used the old-fashioned tactic called “passing the buck” by suggesting that the Pharisees ask the man himself. After all, he was of age!
Behind all this evasion lay human fear. People were seeking the honor of men and not the honor that comes from God (5:44). To be sure, it was a serious thing to be excommunicated from the synagogue, but it was far more serious to reject the truth. “The fear of man brings a snare” says Proverbs 29:25 (NASB). The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus, and the parents were trying to avoid a trap; but all of them were only ensnaring themselves!
The Pharisees could present a “good case” for their position. After all, they did have the Law of Moses as well as centuries of Jewish tradition. What they failed to understand was that Jesus had fulfilled all of this law and was now bringing something new. Moses was preparation and Jesus is the consummation (see John 1:17).
3. Jesus: man from God (John 9:24–34)
Anxious to settle the case, the Pharisees called the man in and put him under oath. “Give God the glory” is a form of Jewish “swearing in” at court. But here the judges prejudiced everybody from the start. “We know this man is a sinner,” they said of Jesus. They were warning the witness that he had better cooperate with the court, or he might be excommunicated. But the beggar had experienced a miracle, and he was not afraid to tell them what had happened. He did not debate the character of Jesus Christ, because that was beyond his knowledge and experience. But one thing he did know: now he could see!
For the fourth time, the question is asked, “How did he open your eyes?” (9:10, 15, 19, and 26). I imagine the man got impatient at this point. After all, he had been blind all his life, and there was so much now to see. He did not want to spend much longer in a synagogue court, looking at angry faces and answering the same questions.
We admire the boldness of the man in asking the irate Pharisees if they wanted to follow Jesus. The man expected a negative answer, but he was courageous even to ask it. Unable to refute the evidence, the judges began to revile the witness; and once again Moses is brought into the picture (5:46). They were sure about Moses (though in actuality they misunderstood Moses, who pointed to Jesus), but they were not sure about Jesus. They did not know where he came from. He had already told them that he had come from heaven, sent by the Father (6:33, 38, 41–42, 50–51). They were sure that he was the natural son of Mary and Joseph, and that he was from the city of Nazareth (6:42; 7:41–42). They were judging “after the flesh” (8:15) and not exercising spiritual discernment.
It seemed incredible to the healed man that the Pharisees would not know this man who had opened his eyes. How many people were going around Jerusalem, opening the eyes of blind people? Instead of investigating the miracle, these religious leaders should have been investigating the person who did the miracle and learning from him. The “experts” were rejecting the stone that was sent to them (Acts 4:11).
The beggar then gave these “experts” a lesson in practical theology. Perhaps he had Psalm 66:18 in mind: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The leaders called Jesus a sinner (9:24), yet Jesus was used of God to open the blind man’s eyes. He added another telling argument: Jesus healed a man born blind. Never, to their knowledge, had this occurred before. So, God not only heard Jesus, but enabled him to give the man sight. How, then, could Jesus be a sinner?
Again, the leaders reviled the man and told him he was born in sin and then officially excommunicated him from the local synagogue, meaning that he was now cut off from friends and family. But not only did not reject him, he embraced him. Indeed, Jesus came for the “outcasts.”
4. Jesus: Lord and God (John 9:35–41)
The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep. And now Jesus, knowing that the formerly blind beggar had been excommunicated, sought him out and opened his spiritual eyes to now see him for who he truly is: the Son of God his Lord and Savior.
It is not enough to know that Jesus is a man (though he is), or a prophet or man of God (though he is both). “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). John wrote his Gospel to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Messiah. Here Jesus proclaims to the beggar that he is “the Son of Man” (v. 35). Son of Man, as John 5:27 shows, is a designation associated with the role of judgment which the Father has committed to the Son. And here the Son of Man is acknowledging before the Father that this formerly blind beggar is his true follower—which the beggar affirms by proclaiming “Lord, I believe” and worshipping Jesus (v. 38).
“My sheep hear my voice” says Jesus in John 10:27. And here the beggar hears and believes. Not only did he trust his Savior, but he worshiped him. Only God is to be worshipped, and Jesus accepted this worship. Indeed Jesus is God as affirmed by John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Peter (6:69) and now this healed blind beggar.
Wherever Jesus went, some of the Pharisees tried to be present so they could catch him in something he said or did. Seeing them, Jesus now closes this episode by preaching a brief but penetrating sermon on spiritual blindness.
As we see in John 3:16–17, the reason for our Lord’s coming was salvation, but here he reminds us that the result of his coming was condemnation of those who, though seeing Jesus, refuse to believe. These religious leaders were willfully turning a blind eye to the reality of Jesus’ identify. Therefore, the light of truth only made them blinder. The beggar admitted his need, and he received both physical and spiritual sight. No one is so blind as he who will not see—who thinks he has “all truth” and has nothing more to learn about God (9:28, 34).
The listening Pharisees heard what Jesus said and it disturbed them. “Are we blind too?” they asked, expecting a negative answer. Jesus had already called them “blind leaders of the blind” (Matt. 15:14), so they had their answer. They were blinded by their pride, their self-righteousness, their tradition, and their false interpretations of Scripture.
Jesus’ reply was a paradox: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (v. 41). Blindness would at least be an excuse for not knowing what was going on. But they did know. Jesus had performed many miracles, yet they ignored the evidence. Jesus is the light of the world (8:12; 9:5) and only those who are blind or refuse to look cannot see the light. The beggar was willing to see and chose to respond and was healed. The Pharisees could see, but were unwilling to believe in Jesus—they made the wrong choice and remained spiritually blind.
We never meet the healed beggar again in Scripture, but we assume that he became a faithful witness to others about Jesus. Life was probably difficult for him because of his excommunication from the synagogue. But perhaps he found a new place—a new and eternal identity in Christ. Perhaps he led his parents to Christ. Perhaps many others.
Like his call to the blind beggar and to the obstinate Pharisees, Jesus calls people today to see the evidence and to decide to believe in him. The choice is often one between Jesus and family; or Jesus and religious tradition. The blind beggar made the right choice, even though the cost was great. But his reward in heaven is also great—a reward he began to experience on earth as he followed the light of Jesus the righteous one.
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18). Amen.