The miracle of sight
This has always been one of my favourites of Jesus’ miracles. A man, we assume was blind his whole life, is giving the gift of sight. The most awesome thing is – when addressed by the disciples who sinned to make him blind – Jesus answered “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” It is an extraordinary illustration of how Jesus came to do the Father’s will!
Jesus has begun to actively confront the false teachings of local religious leaders. His most recent debate included a heated exchange with the Pharisees, where Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham. This resulted in an attempted stoning for blasphemy. Here, Jesus continues to antagonize religious hypocrites by healing a man who was born blind. The ensuing ruckus further exposes Jerusalem’s religious leaders as shallow, prejudiced, and false. This event launches Jesus into another lengthy discussion of His ministry, recorded in chapter 10, including several crucial teachings on His role as Shepherd.
It also reminds me of a song. I’m sure most of you have heard it:
Follow the series on John here
- Follow Jesus
- Jesus’ Authority
- Looking for Truth, He Must Become Greater
- Living Water, The Second Sign
- No More Lame Excuses, Testimonies about Jesus
- Supernatural Overflow, Walk on Water, I Am the Bread of Life, Do not be driven by selfishness
- Trust God’s timing, ”Right Judgement”, ”Who is the Jesus you trust?”, Rivers of living water,
- A stones throw away, I am the light of the world, Like Father Like Son
Questioning if God is listening?
When suffering occurs, what is your initial thought? Amid sickness do you ever wonder what you did that resulted in God allowing your sickness? When suffering of any kind entered your life did you question what you must have done to deserve it? Or, maybe you didn’t think you deserved it and questioned whether God cared about you or was unjust in allowing your suffering.”
More than a miracle, more than about Jesus
Most people see the healing of the blind man as a miracle. Jesus made a mud pack, put it in the blind man’s eyes and then told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Amazingly he was then able to see. Once again, Jesus enabled a blind man to see, an event which confirmed that Jesus was in fact the son of God. Indeed, the healing of the blind man was a miracle. Miracles happened then and miracles happen today. When someone’s cancer goes into remission, that is a miracle. When someone walks away from a tragic accident, that too is a miracle. Miracles occur in a variety of ways. Thank God for miracles, life changing events that restore lives to wholeness.
There is however a lot more going on here than just a miracle. This is a story of faith. That will become clear when you consider everything the man born blind had to overcome. He is really the main character. What Jesus did was minimal in comparison to all the blind man had to endure. What John wants for us today is to have our own vision restored. He does that by presenting this story with several other characters, each of whom suffers from spiritual blindness.
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. John 9:1-12
The sixth miraculous sign
This man will be the subject of Jesus’ sixth miraculous “sign” as recorded in the gospel of John. Almost every aspect of this story has spiritual implications, which is why John devotes an unusually long passage to the miracle and its immediate aftermath. The important detail is that this man is blind, a condition often used in Scripture as a metaphor for those who lack saving faith in God. The Old Testament predicted the Messiah would cure blindness (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7). In all of Scripture, only Jesus is seen miraculously healing the blind—further proof of His identity (Matthew 11:5; 12:22–23).
It’s also key to notice that this man was born blind. He’s not about to regain something he lost at some point in the past. Jesus is going to give this man an ability that he has literally never had. This provides a powerful parallel to the role of God in bringing us to saving faith, and to salvation by grace.
Healing the disciples (and our) “Blindness”
In the disciples’ culture, sickness and suffering were often seen as a punishment for sin. In other words, those who suffered must have “deserved it,” or at least someone in their family did. The fact that this man was born blind, then, leaves the disciples with only two options: either the man somehow sinned before his birth, or he is being punished for something his parents did.
Jesus directly counters this mistake. His response is that personal suffering is not necessarily linked to one’s own personal sin. In a broad sense, all suffering is a result of sin—aftershocks of the fall of man through Adam (Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—). It’s also true that most of the suffering we experience in this world is primarily the result of human sin.
Everything from political unrest to poverty to hunger is grounded in humanity rejecting their blueprinted and created purpose. But, as this man’s example shows, not all suffering is directly deserved, in and of itself. In other words, not everything that happens to a person happens because they did something wrong. Hardship and suffering, including persecution, are not surefire signs of divine retribution. This directly counters the eastern idea of karma, which suggests that all current suffering is, in some way, that person’s own fault.
Jesus’ answer clearly and definitively refutes these ideas. In a very broad sense, it’s true that all human suffering is the result of sin. Jesus’ words prove that not all suffering is punishment for sin. This man, in particular, did not experience blindness as any sort of judgment on sin, either his or someone else’s.
A classic interpretation of this verse is the man was born blind specifically so Jesus could perform this miracle. This would harmonise with verses such as 2 Corinthians 12:7–9 and Exodus 4:11. However, it’s also true that New Testament Greek was not written using punctuation. Based on the context, it’s also possible that Jesus meant His comments about sin and the parents separately from His remarks on the works of God. That is, one could reasonably punctuate this passage as “…or his parents. But, that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work…”
Limited time for Jesus work
In an era without electricity, nighttime was a time where less work could be done on account of darkness. The day was the most effective time to work, but it is also a limited time. As used by Christ here, “day” refers to the time left for Jesus to serve God’s will on earth. The “Night” referred to is the rapidly approaching time when Jesus will die, ending His earthly work.
That parallel makes Jesus’ use of the term “we” very important. Jesus knows He has a finite amount of time to “work” in His earthly ministry. Likewise, we as Christian believers have only the days of our earthly lives to accomplish the work God has assigned us in that time. Rather than simply saying, “I must work…” Jesus places an obligation to be responsible with our time by saying “we must” do so—meaning all who serve God.
In ancient Hebrew philosophy, “light” was the ultimate ideal, representing both knowledge and morality. This Scripture uses blindness as a spiritual metaphor. Those who are blind are incapable of seeing light, even when it’s presented to them. Those who are “spiritually blind” reject God, making it literally impossible for them to perceive His truth.
In chapter 8, Jesus referred to Himself as “the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That comment was in a slightly different context than this reference. There, Jesus implied His role in salvation. Here, Jesus is speaking of “light” in a more general sense, which explains His use of the phrase “as long as I am in the world.” Jesus made careful use of the word “we” in describing those who needed to work while they had the opportunity. He pointed out that He, like any other man, had a limited earthly life with which to follow God’s will. This reference to light describes the way Christ will be the bearer of the gospel up until His death and resurrection.
Change of perspective
He is about to give this man a perception he never had before. Both are important points in this particular miracle, the sixth of John’s seven miraculous “signs” of Jesus’ divinity.
Jesus’ use of muddy clay carries several deeper meanings. First, Jesus is shown healing blindness in several New Testament passages. However, His methods vary considerably. Here, Jesus uses clay and applies it to the man’s eyes. In Mark 8:22–26, He only uses spit. In Matthew 9:27–31, He heals by a simple touch. This variation helps remove any suggestion that Jesus healed the blind through advanced natural medicine or some kind of magical formula. It confounds this chapter’s repeated questions about “how” Jesus accomplished the act: the only explanation is divine power.
Second, the use of muddy clay hints at man’s ultimate origin: as a being formed by God out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7).
Third, this interaction happened on the Sabbath (John 9:15). Jesus has already made a point of deliberately challenging the Pharisees’ legalism regarding the Sabbath (John 5:18), which this miracle does twice over. Not only is Jesus “working” through His miracle, but He also does so by “kneading clay”—an act explicitly forbidden on the Sabbath by the Pharisee’s expansive oral traditions!
One could also say there is a practical side to Jesus’ use of clay in this man’s eyes. His instructions are for the man to go and wash the mud off his eyes. Unlike spit or touch, this meant the man could not sit idly by and wait for the miracle: he had a role to play. He also had an incentive, since having mud caked on one’s eyes is not likely to be comfortable.
Jesus’ signature moment
The result of this action is a miracle that becomes a signature moment for Jesus’ public ministry. Until Jesus resurrects Lazarus, this will be seen by many as the primary evidence of His power (John 11:37).
This man’s lifelong blindness was common knowledge, removing any possibility of this being a mere trick. The questions raised about this man’s identity are not all expressions of doubt—they’re mostly declarations of surprise. The people know exactly who this man is, and precisely what his problem was. For that specific person to suddenly have sight is a shocking experience.
Of course, as in all cases, there will be hardened sceptics. As shown in the next verse, some in the crowd try to explain away the miracle by suggesting that this is not actually the blind beggar, but an uncanny lookalike. Despite the man’s own claims and the witness of the crowd, some chose not to accept the evidence of a miracle. Even today, this is a common occurrence and another example of why “show me a miracle and I’ll believe” is not an honest response to the gospel.
We tend to recognise people not just by their faces and voices, but also by their clothes or their surroundings. When we see the same person in very different circumstances, we might find it jarring, and even wonder if it is the same person. Jesus created such a situation by healing a man who had been blind from birth (John 9:1–7). The people who regularly saw this man begging, and now witnessed him able to see, are understandably surprised. Most seem to recognise that this is the same man—their follow-up question strongly supports this.
Others, it seems, prefer to believe that this is a close look-alike. In other words, they reject the man’s own claims, and the witness of others, choosing instead to believe that this is some kind of scam. This is a common human response: what we believe is first determined by what we want, and only after that by what we see (John 7:17). When something challenges our preferences, our first instinct is to find excuses. This is exactly why Scripture reminds us that those who refuse to believe unless they see a miracle are fooling themselves. Such people won’t believe, no matter what (The Rich Man and Lazarus).
The controversy over the healing is made worse by the fact that the formerly blind man doesn’t know where—or even who—Jesus is. The last time he spoke with Jesus, he was still blind and had his eyes covered in mud. The combination of arguments over this man’s identity, and the mention of Jesus, is probably what leads the crowd to take him to the Pharisees (John 9:13). They will demonstrate extreme scepticism about the man’s healing, refusing to believe any part of it until speaking with the healed man’s parents.
Nothing Jesus did was accidental
Jesus’ choice of this particular man for His sixth miraculous “sign” is no accident. In chapter 5, Jesus chose to heal a man who had been crippled for nearly 40 years (John 5:1–9). This meant there could be no doubt about the miraculous nature of the healing. The man would have been known for his condition, and his condition would have been known to be permanent. In this case, the man Jesus healed with muddy clay (John 9:6) had been born blind (John 9:1–2). He was easily recognised by the people of Jerusalem as a beggar (John 9:8). It’s the fact that the man is so well-known for being blind that some in the crowd resist believing that he’s been cured (John 9:9).
Despite some doubters, most people accept the obvious: this is the same man once known as a blind beggar. Their response question makes perfect sense: “if you’re the one who used to be blind, what happened to make you see?” On the other hand, this same question will be repeated no less than four times (John 9:10, 15, 19, 26). These questions assume some kind of natural, mechanical answer. The people are so concerned with those details that they’re missing the message of the miracle!
This presents an important perspective on Christian testimony. Through the rest of this chapter, the formerly blind man will be challenged to explain, re-explain, and repeatedly explain his story. Each time, his response is sincere, simple, and honest. What attracts others to his message is not his own charisma or some deep philosophical idea. People are drawn because they see something powerful and want to know what caused it. The man’s answer, consistently, is simply to tell others that it’s Jesus who changed his life.
When pressed about what happened to so drastically change his life, the man has a simple answer: Jesus put mud on my eyes and said to wash, so I did, and now I can see. This man will be interrogated by the Pharisees, and yet he will consistently give the same answer. In fact, when pressed to give a deeper explanation, he will respond with a classic statement: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
God does not expect us to have deep, advanced knowledge in order to be saved. Nor do we need to have extensive experience or a well-polished story in order to reach others for the sake of Christ. In most cases, our most potent tool is to give a simple explanation of what God has done for us (Mark 5:19). Not only is this personal and real, but it’s undeniable:
Another helpful perspective here is to consider what would have happened had the man refused Jesus’ command. In this particular case, Jesus didn’t instantly heal, He gave the man a task to perform. This is not an uncommon tactic by God, even when it comes to healing (2 Kings 5:1–14). Putting muddy clay on the man’s eyes certainly gave him an incentive to wash.
But this man’s blessing was effectively on hold until he acted in obedience. Not all of God’s work in our lives is this way, and we certainly can’t presume that God “owes” us when we do certain things. However, we should also recognise that God does not expect us to be passive (John 9:4; Matthew 5:16), and sometimes His commands are for our own benefit.
The key lessons from this story – Jesus has given sight to a man who was born blind. To do so, Jesus put clay on the man’s eyes, then told him to go and wash it off. This means the formerly blind man has not, yet, actually seen Jesus! He’s not even in the same place he was when Jesus encountered him. Though others doubt what has happened the evidence is clear. This man was once blind, but now he can see.
The man’s ability to give this message to a crowd is not caused by his own abilities. He’s not using eloquence or drama. He’s not demonstrating deep thinking or skilled debate. He is—in literal terms—telling others the truth about what God has done for him. And it’s the powerful impact of God in his life that makes people want to ask in the first place.
Defending our faith
1 Peter 3:15–16 – 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
That being said, Christians do not have to be expert philosophers. We do not have to earn academic degrees or become full-time ministers, in order to effectively tell others about Christ. And we don’t have to have all of the answers. What we need is what we know, an idea this same man will summarise beautifully when interrogated later on: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
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