Encounters with Jesus: A Blind Man

“The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam” by James Tissot

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Today we have the third of a series of sermons on the Gospel readings for the month of March. Each reading features a specific individual who was encountered by Jesus and was changed. They lived in times and places far from ours, but we have more in common with them than we might initially imagine.

 The Gospel reading for this week, John 9, puts a blind man in the spotlight. The text is long and complex with several subplots. The disciples asked the wrong question. The parents distanced themselves from their son. The Pharisees bullied and refused to believe. The neighbors were confused. And then there was the mud and the spit. These details and subplots are all significant. But rather than trying to unpack them all, we’ll stick with the man in the middle, a man born blind. This man had lived his entire life in the darkness, that is, until he met Jesus.

The disciples knew of this man’s condition. They asked the question we continue to ask in such cases: “Why?” It’s a complex question, but Jesus’ answer was simple: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Having made His point, Jesus proceeded to do His divine work on the blind man. We can speculate on why Jesus worked the way He did. But we’ll never know for sure except to note that it was purposeful. Other times He healed by a word or touch or even from a distance, but this time He used spit, made mud, applied it to the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man listened to Jesus’ directions and followed them.

The blind man’s neighbors and others who had seen him begging didn’t know what to make of the man who now walked back home confidently with full sight. How could it be the same person? Some insisted it wasn’t the man, but only someone who looked like him. He kept telling them, “I am the man.”

“How is it that you can see?” they asked in wonder, and the man told them without embellishment exactly what Jesus had done. “Where is He?” they wanted to know. But he couldn’t tell them because he didn’t know.

Some of the people led the former blind man to the Pharisees. The Pharisees, as the religious leaders, needed to know about this apparent miracle. Immediately, the Pharisees raised doubts, however. No sooner had they heard the man’s story than some declared that Jesus could not have done this with God’s power or blessing because He did not observe the Sabbath. But some were not so easily sidetracked by the Sabbath question. They wondered how it was possible for a mere sinful man to work such signs as this—even while committing sin.

Not satisfied with their own conclusions, they turned back to the man. “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes.” The man didn’t hesitate. “He is a prophet.” He believed Jesus was from God and spoke for God.

The Pharisees fell immediately into the pattern of unbelief. They ruled out giving any credibility to Jesus, so they had to somehow discredit this man’s story. They assumed it was a hoax, that the man never was blind. To get to the truth, they called for the man’s parents. “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” (John 9:19).

The man’s parents answered briefly and evasively: “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” (John 9:20-21). They did not say what the Pharisees wanted to hear but feigned ignorance. They spoke in fear. The questioning itself no doubt intimidated them, but it came also with a threat. The Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus out of their way, so they had spread the word that anyone who confessed Him as Christ would be thrown out of the synagogue. They couldn’t prevail against Jesus with reason or with God’s Word, so they resorted to scare tactics and threats.

The Jews called the man again to convince him to change his story. They were trying every ploy they could imagine. They put the man under oath, asking him to answer to God’s glory. They knew Jesus was a sinner (and, therefore, incapable of doing the miracle). What did this man have to say about that? Their once-blind witness did not fall for their trap. He had no evidence that Jesus is a sinner. Instead, he knew one thing: “I was blind, now I see!”

The Jews badgered the man, but he did not waver. “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” The man’s infant faith was being tempered in the fire of cross-examination, and he began to show some mettle. His answer came back with a touch of sarcasm. “I’ve told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

If only they had wanted to learn from and follow Jesus! But their anger boiled over at the suggestion. They ridiculed the man. “You are His disciple!” they taunted. “We are disciples of Moses!” To them, a person could not be both. To follow Jesus was to oppose Moses. They knew that God talked with Moses. But where did this Jesus come from? What authority could He claim?

The man did not wither under the insults of the Pharisees but grew still bolder. “Well, if you can’t figure out that this man came from God,” he shot back at them, “maybe you’re not as smart as you think you are.” He told them to look at the evidence and employ their own reasoning. They would agree that God doesn’t listen to sinners but listens to anyone who is godly and does His will.

Still employing the Pharisees’ own reasoning, the man pointed out that Jesus could not have restored his sight if He were not from God. Never in all history had anyone before restored the sight of someone born blind. Jesus had worked a miracle of God.

The frustrated Pharisees leveled their final insult and threw the man out of the synagogue. No doubt alluding to his blindness as evidence, they said he was born completely in the control of sin and had no business teaching them, who “self-evidently” were not so sinful. The Pharisees touched on a universal truth but only applied it halfway. The words “born in sin” actually apply to everyone. This condition, like the man’s blindness, can be corrected only by Jesus.

Jesus did not waste any time finding the man once the Pharisees were done with him, because He had important work to finish with the man. Jesus had given him physical sight to set the stage for a greater miracle—giving him spiritual sight. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asked, using the phrase with which He most frequently identified Himself as the promised Messiah (see Daniel 7:13). He, the eternal Word, had come from heaven and was made flesh, that is, He became a man, to do God’s will for the salvation of the world. Jesus was the true Son of Man, the essence of what God had created man to be—sinless.

The man’s heart was ready, but he had not yet actually seen Jesus. So he asked, “And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him” (John 9:36)? “You have seen Him,” Jesus replied, “and it is He who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The man confessed his faith in Jesus on the spot and bowed before Him in worship.

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” (John 9:39-41).

Notice the change in the man as the text progresses: First, he recognizes Christ as the man that is called Jesus, of whose whereabouts the blind man is ignorant (John 9:11-12). Then, he calls Jesus a prophet, because He has performed a miracle (John 9:17, 25). Then he is certain that Jesus was sent from God because the miracle is without parallel since the world began (John 9:30, 32, 33). And, finally, he recognizes Jesus as the Son of man and the Lord, to whom worship must be given (John 9:35-38). The man passes thus from blindness to complete illumination and consequently to adoration, from ignorance to spiritual sight.

The man born blind had lived his entire life in the darkness, until he met Jesus. Most of us cannot relate to such blindness. We may need glasses, but at least we are able to see where we are going. This can be deceptive, however, for our vision is not absolute. We do not see as much as we think. Like the teenage driver who has not learned to look over his shoulder before switching lanes, we have blind spots. Of course, by definition, our blind spots are, well, hidden from us. Blind spots can cause serious problems, as the new driver will soon learn.

So, let’s consider a few of our spiritual blind spots. Three possibilities come to mind.

First, we cannot see God. Perhaps that seems obvious, but we should admit it. We believe in a God, a Creator, a Father whom we cannot see. As the evangelist notes, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). We see His handiwork. We also see glimpses of His love and mercy in our interactions with one another. But God Himself remains hidden, until He reveals Himself.

Second, we cannot see ourselves. Yes, we see our reflection above the bathroom sink, but I am talking about a fuller, more honest seeing. There are several ways in which we have blind spots about ourselves. Sometimes we are blind to our failings. We can spot what is wrong with others a mile away. But when it comes to our own faults, we often do not see them.

At other times, however, the opposite is true. Sometimes we look in a mirror and we see nothing good at all. Our faults are so glaring that we only see what is wrong. It is like the pimple you got the night before prom. It did not matter what you were wearing or how you fixed your hair. You knew everyone would fixate on the bright, pink pimple on the tip of your nose. Sometimes our faults, which are real, keep us from seeing God’s good (albeit fallen) creation in the mirror.

Third, we are blind to others. We simply do not see other people. I am talking about their needs and feelings, their struggles and concerns. In our text, the disciples did not see the man born blind as a fellow human. They looked at him and saw a theological problem. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Rather than seeing his need for love and compassion, they looked at him as an object lesson.

What do you fail to see? The widower in the congregation who goes home alone? The teenager who does not fit in anywhere? The overworked and underemployed husband? The mom struggling with mental health issues? We do not wish any of these people harm. We just do not see them. We are blind to them.

In these ways we have something in common with the blind man.

Perhaps I should offer a correction, however. Throughout this reflection, I have been calling the man in our text the “blind man,” but that is not right. He was born blind, this is true. But in our text, he was blind for only the first seven verses. After Jesus rubbed mud on his eyes and told him to wash, he could see. And for the rest of chapter 9, and the rest of his life, he was the man who used to be blind!

That is who we are, too. We have not seen Jesus, not in person, at least. But God has opened our eyes by faith to see the Light of the world (verse 5). In Jesus, we have seen God’s love and His mercy. In His death and resurrection, we have seen His victory over the darkness.

We also see ourselves. When we look at Jesus’ suffering and death we see the plank in our own eye. We see our sinfulness, our guilt. When we see the baptismal font, we see Jesus’ death and resurrection for the dead and our share in His new life. When we look in the mirror, we see a forgiven child of God, not perfect, but restored and renewed, no longer in the dark, but now living in the light.

And in the light, we see one another. We see our brothers and sisters as fellow humans and fellow members of the Body of Christ. We see their hurts and we reach out to them with love and compassion. We also see those outside the Church, not as enemies or as antagonists (even if they are), but as beloved creatures of our heavenly Father who need His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation as much as we do.

Like the man in the text, we were born blind, spiritually blind, but now we see. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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