This morning I had the privilege of preaching from the Gospel of John chapter 9. It’s the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. John chose this story, no doubt, to demonstrate the growing sense of anger among the Jews that eventually led to his ignoble trial and crucifixion. It’s a classic account of the difference of response to Jesus headlined by His words in John 1:10-12 that even though He was the creator of the world, the world did not receive Him. Even His own people didn’t recognize Him and worship Him. But others who did, like this blind man were given the privilege of becoming members of His very own family.
It’s always struck me how the vast majority of people reject faith in God despite what He has made known to the world through His creation, and especially through the Bible. How is it possible, we might ask, that believing and obeying the good news of Jesus is so uncommon? Despite the obvious nature of His revelation it seems people are inclined to reject the concept of God’s existence. It certainly is so among most of the people who live where I do. This story explains that phenomenon in terms of spiritual blindness.
It happened, in this story, that Jesus and the disciples came upon a man who had been blind from birth. We don’t know how old he was, or other details, but it is likely that he sustained himself through begging. The main question on the part of the disciples had to do with the reasons for his blindness from birth. Perhaps he or his parents had committed a grievous sin. But Jesus didn’t support that theory. Suffering in this world, we learn otherwise, is the result of original sin and the evil that came from it. (In Romans 5:12, for example, Paul explains that death has come upon the whole world due the sin of Adam, through whom all have sinned.) In Jesus’ view, the man’s blindness was an opportunity for the glory of God to be revealed.
We should learn from Jesus’ response that the suffering of people around us is an opportunity to reveal the glory of God. And it certainly is true that how we handle suffering in our own lives, or in seeking to alleviate such in the lives of others is able to bring glory to God. Jesus made a point of saying that this was the reason He had come into the world. Our mission, with Him (verse 4), is to draw attention to His glory while we have the opportunity.
Similar to what God did in the original creation of man, Jesus spits on the ground, makes some clay and puts the simple mixture on the man’s eyes. He sends him to the Pool of Siloam (which means “sent,” emphasizing the man’s obedience), and asks him to wash his eyes there. (It reminds us of how Naaman, the leper, was cleansed by washing in the Jordan River — 1 Kings 5). And so the man was healed of his blindness and came back seeing!
His neighbours argued about whether he was really the man who had been healed of leprosy. They couldn’t believe it. Some said he was like him, but not actually him. This illustrates that people are generally biased against the idea of God’s miraculous intervention in the world. They would rather believe, for example, that the world evolved on its own. The idea of God’s intervention seems preposterous.
The biggest example of unbelief in this story is the reaction of the Pharisees, to whom the blind man was brought by the community. They were doubtful of God’s intervention because the miracle had been done on the Sabbath, and in their minds a person who did such a miracle on the Sabbath couldn’t be from God. But the man who had been healed didn’t think the miracle could have happened if the man was not from God. So he already concluded that the man, who was known as Jesus, was a prophet.
Then they called his parents to confirm his identity and the miracle. They said there was no doubt that this was their son and that he had been healed of his blindness, but they wouldn’t commit to identifying Jesus because they feared the serious rejection of being put out of the synagogue. It leads us to the conclusion that many people fail to commit to faith because they fear rejection of one kind or another. There are many instances of unbelief for this reason.
When the man was brought to the Pharisees the second time, they tried to make him swear that the man who healed him was a sinner. Evidently, they had already made up their minds. But the man used the occasion to challenge their unbelief, and in the end suffered their rejection and expulsion. Somehow Jesus found the man (as He always does in these circumstances), and on revealing His true identity to the man, it says that he believed and worshipped!
This response caused Jesus to say that He had come into the world to render judgment — to effect a distinction between people, bringing sight to the blind and to show those who think they see, that they are blind. The Pharisees heard Him say this and took exception to the comment. His only response was that their guilt was confirmed by their insistence that they could see!
I love this story because it illustrates so beautifully that spiritual realities are only spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). It explains so well why so many do not believe, and thus don’t see. The blind man ends up seeing in two ways — he receives physical sight, but he also discovers Jesus’ true identity and worships Him. The wise-minded Pharisees, on the other hand, are too proud to realize that they are really blind, and so their blindness and guilt is confirmed.
It is humbling to think that God has made His reality known to any one of us, but it also calls us to pray that the Spirit of God would work in people’s hearts to remove the scales from their eyes so that they might truly see. It is, in the end, a mighty work of God’s amazing grace.