Today our text is John 9:1-41. Yes you heard me correctly, we are covering 41 verses this morning. I know it’s a bit larger of a chunk than we’re used to but we’re covering all of John 9 today because this chapter is one complete story. It’s a story of a man born physically and spiritually blind but reborn into the Kingdom of God with full sight. It’s a story that gloriously gives us a glimpse into the birth of belief, while also being a story that reveals the rising unbelief in the Pharisees. So on one hand I think we’ll be greatly comforted to see this blind man’s progression into the Kingdom, and on the other hand be greatly confronted to see the Pharisees regression from the same.
Here’s what I want to do. John 9 has two clear divisions to it. First, we see the blind man healed. Second, we see have three encounters with others: his own neighbors, the Pharisees, and Jesus. Seven verses are given to the healing, and 34 verses are given to the consequences of it.
Let’s see these things firsthand…
The Healing (v1-7)
Jesus had left the temple at the end of chapter 8 and as chapter 9 begins we see v1 giving us the context saying, “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.” This may mean the events of chapter 9 took place directly after the events of chapter 8, but remember John isn’t giving us a strict moment by moment account of Jesus’ ministry, he’s picking and choosing events that, according to John 20:30-31, will move us toward belief in the Son of God and life in His name. So most likely some time has passed by after the events of chapter 8, and in v1 of chapter 9 we see Jesus going somewhere and on His way notice someone in great need, a man blind from birth. This man must have been well known in the community because the disciples did not ask about when he had become blind, apparently they already knew that, instead they asked why he was blind.[i] v2, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Even though a couple thousand years had passed, it appears the disciples hadn’t moved past the theology of Job’s friends.[ii] That sin brings punishment and the only people who experience punishments and trouble in this life are those who have publicly or privately sinned. That bad things only happen to bad people. This is what they believed. They’ve got no category in their minds for those, who like Job, experience great suffering innocently and yet redemptively. There are truly times when God disciplines His people with afflictions and trial, but we cannot say that sin and suffering are always linked. God has not left that option open to us.
So they make a huge assumption and ask, who sinned to cause this suffering? Him, or his parents? See Jesus’ answer in v3-5, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As Romans 9 reveals that Pharaoh existed to make the wrath of God look terrible and awful, so too, John 9 reveals that this man exists, in the blind condition he is in, in order that the works of God (particularly the power and authority of Christ) might be displayed in him. Jesus rejects the popular notion that suffering is always a result of sin and says that this man has been blind everyday of his entire life for a divine purpose. What purpose you may ask? To reveal the Messiah. Jesus says as much in these verses. That these miraculous signs, miracles, works, and wonders He must do and must be doing while He is among them to give a concrete validity that He truly is the long awaited Messiah. He will not always be with them physically and when He leaves (as in ascends to rule and reign over all things) these works will leave too. But He’s there with them now and so by saying these things He’s preparing them to see more of why He truly is the Light of the world.
So after preparing them by saying such things, the wonder happens, in v6-7 we read, “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 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” The One sent from heaven to save God’s people, told this man to go to a pool named sent to be forever healed. He did, he was healed, and for the first time in his life he opened his eyes.
This blind man was used to having everybody walk right past him and barely even notice him. He was used to being treated without any dignity. But Jesus isn’t like everybody else is He? He walked by, He noticed him, He took the initiative, and He healed the man. By using the dirt Jesus is making a profound point about who He is and what He came to do.[iii] In the beginning God made men from the dirt in creation, here Jesus uses the same dirt to do a work of new creation.[iv] We’ve now seen the miracle, and truth be told there’s enough held within this scene already to move us to worship. But there’s more here as this man now encounters hostile crowds of people.
Encountering the People (v8-12)
Beginning in v8 we read, “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?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “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.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
After being healed we find out this man’s reputation as a blind beggar was so infamous that everyone knew of him, knew of his blindness, and knew of his begging. Because of this, and because he is now longer blind, he causes quite a stir around town. All those people who knew him as the blind man are now having trouble accepting what their own eyes are telling them. So much so that even though v9 tells us he kept telling them that it really is him, they don’t believe him but conclude that this man is only like the blind man they once knew. Finally, after hearing him keep saying he really is the man who was once blind…they put him to a question in v10 asking him how he had been healed. This question is the beginning of a pattern we’ll see happen again and again throughout this chapter, and each time this man answers it he grows in his conviction about who Jesus is. Notice how he answers in v11, ‘The man called Jesus…healed me.’ For now, the healed man simply refers to Jesus as a man. Upon hearing this answer his own neighbors want to put this evidence to the test so they ask where this Jesus is, and the blind man doesn’t know. So being Jews themselves they take him to the leaders of the Jews. In v13 they take him to the Pharisees, and this is where things really get going.
Encountering the Pharisees (v13-34)
In v14 we learn this healing took place on a Sabbath. In v15 they ask him how he’d been healed and the man tells them the same thing he told his neighbors. In v16 we see the Pharisees are divided about this. Some said “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how can a man who is not from God do such signs?” (notice the plural here? Apparently this isn’t their first discussion about the miracles Jesus had been doing, which tells us the division over Jesus wasn’t new). Then in v17 we see the Pharisees do something that is almost embarrassing.[v] They, being experts all things religious – zealous in their devotion to the Law of God – scrupulous in holy living, they ask this man who used to be a blind beggar what he thinks about Jesus. The impression you get when you read v17 is that these guys are so divided and desperate that they’ve really got no idea what to do, and being out of options they turn to this man for answers and direction. Notice how the healed man answers in v17? To him, Jesus is no longer just a man who healed him, but a prophet. It seems the more this man is questioned about what happened to him the more he begins to understand who Jesus really is. It’s a wonderful progression to see.
The Pharisees didn’t like his answer, so in v18 they decide to speak to his parents, and v19 they ask his parents, “Is this your son, who say was born blind? How then does he now see?” In v20-21 his parents answer saying, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 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.” Put to it, his parents show themselves to be vastly different than their son. They do acknowledge that he is their son, and that he was indeed born blind, but they don’t know how he was healed or who healed him. Rather than coming to their son’s defense they defer the question back to him telling them he’s old enough to handle it. If you have any good feelings about these parents and the parental decisions they made in v20-21, those ought to be blown out the window in v22-23. There we’re told their intentions weren’t to protect their son, help their son, or assist their son, rather, they desired to protect themselves at their sons expense. Why? They know what happens to people who confess Jesus to be the Christ. They’re excommunicated from the community at large. So fearing the Pharisees, sensing the danger that lies ahead, and thinking of their own safety above their son’s they refuse to be linked to him at all.
Can we just go ahead and agree that this is awful parenting here? Placing your own safety and security above your child’s isn’t something that reveals a deep love for that child, but a deep love for oneself. They had given birth to him, raised him, encouraged him and reassured him for much of his life. Being blind meant that he was deeply different than all the people around him. He would’ve needed such encouragement to make it in life up to this point. Imagine him coming home, no longer blind, and seeing his parents for the first time in his life. You think they’d be thrilled and would rejoice with joy inexpressible. But not these parents. They heard about it, feared for their own safety, and deferred all questions back to him to keep themselves out of trouble.
So now for a second time, in v24 the Pharisees bring him in for questioning. Their opening words this time, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.” Or in other words, ‘Son, Jesus is a fraud, we know this, God knows this, be honest before God and before us, and tell us what you’re hiding.’ His response in v25 is breathtaking, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” This simple but sound statement, one commentator I read this week said, is the most brilliant gospel moment in John’s entire gospel.[vi] It’s an undeniable fact that this man cannot get over. In the midst of all the questioning and posturing the Pharisees are doing, this formerly blind beggar confidently proclaims a statement that would reverberate through the centuries. A statement many Christians have applied to their own case about how God had saved them by His powerful grace. Just as it was said of Jesus at His birth, that “…into the darkness a great light has shone…” so too when Jesus saved this man and saves any man they experience the same thing. Into our blind darkness a great light bursts forth and everything changes.
This causes the conversation to become much more spirited than it has been before. Listen to how it unfolds in v26-34, “They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from. The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.”
The contrast here is blinding is it not? As this man is growing every second by leaps and bounds in his own awareness of who Christ is, these Pharisees are becoming more and more intent on tearing him down and proving that it’s all a ruse. Yet, though they so disrespectfully mock him, he doesn’t back down. He boldly calls their unbelief amazing and clearly perceives their own spiritual blindness to one of the greatness miracles the world has ever seen. For being so bold and for seeking to teach these ‘teachers’ the truth, they do to him what his parents greatly feared – they cast him out of the synagogue.
Encountering Jesus (v35-41)
If you’ve not been encouraged thus far, this passage gets better. As this man walks away we see him have one more encounter. Not with his neighbors, not with his parents, and definitely not with any Pharisee. No, this time he encounters his healer – Jesus Christ. In v35-41 we read, “Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
This beggar was once far from the kingdom thinking Jesus was just a man. He grew closer to the kingdom when he said Jesus was a prophet. Now he enters the kingdom by bowing in worship and calling Him Lord. In this passage we’re brought face to face with what sight and blindness truly are. The result of Jesus’ coming is that blind men see, but Jesus’ words in v35-41 point us to a deeper reality, one that all men must reckon with. Not only is physical sight in view here, spiritual sight is as well. These Pharisees claimed to see but were blind, therefore their sin and guilt remained. This beggar knew he was blind but now sees, therefore his sin and guilt are taken away.[vii] Oh how happy are those who realize within themselves there is nothing but darkness…How happy are those who know they’re empty of all light and sight…and how happy are they to find that their emptiness becomes an occasion for Christ’s fullness.[viii] Do you know such joy? Have you embraced your blindness and felt the new creation work of Christ? Do you know His victory? Or are you a tragedy remaining blind to such glories? Do you reject that you’re blind and claim to see just fine on your own?
Here’s a question to end with: does God still open the eyes of the blind today? The answer to that question is crystal clear. Every time the gospel is preached, God opens blind eyes! “Because of sin, no man in his natural state has fellowship with God. God is light and in Him there is no darkness.”[ix]
But, into our darkness God sent forth His Son, the very light of the world, and He said and gave proof that His light is ripe with life abundant. The light of Christ was put out for a time as He bore our sin and guilt and curse on the cross, but when He rose the light bursts forth from the grave so brightly that His light broke the power of darkness forever and now becomes the very life of all who repent from sin and believe in Him. All those who do repent and believe are then entrusted to shine the light of that gospel into this dark world…We do not have the power to open blind eyes, but we can tell them about the Savior who opened ours.”[x]
[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 477.
[ii] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 208.
[iii] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 174-175.
[iv] Morris, page 481.
[v] Morris, page 485.
[vi] C.H. Dodd, quoted in Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 605.
[vii] Morris, page 496-497. See also Kent Hughes, John – That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 262.
[viii] Hughes, page 265.
[ix] John Owen, quoted Phillips, page 586.
[x] Phillips, page 593.