Topical Scripture: John 9:1-7
Last Monday, President Trump awarded our nation’s highest military honor to a Special Forces combat medic named Ronald J. Shurer. In April 2008, Shurer and his team of commandos were attacked in Afghanistan by an enemy force of more than two hundred.
Shurer treated five wounded soldiers, evacuated them down an almost vertical sixty-foot cliff under fire, loaded them onto a helicopter, then took command of his squad and returned to the battle. His actions saved the lives of his teammates.
Such bravery deserves our greatest commendation and deepest respect. For a person to risk his life to help others is the highest form of bravery.
All through his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated such courage. While his enemies mounted their opposition and eventually planned his execution, he continued to heal the sick and share God’s love.
This week’s healing miracle is a remarkable model for us. If you’ll follow our Lord’s example, your courage in helping a hurting soul may not win national recognition, but it will be rewarded for eternity in heaven.
See the need (v. 1)
Our story occurred on a Sabbath (John 9:14). Jesus has returned to Judea, where he has been teaching in the temple courts (John 8:2). Here he noticed a man who could not see him: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1).
Jesus had not begun the day intending to heal this man. He was “passing along,” walking through the day before him. So much of his ministry was done by “walking around,” helping the people he chanced to meet, seeing their pain and offering his hope.
So it was that he “saw” this man. The Greek word translated “saw” here means to fix the gaze, to look earnestly. Jesus gave him more than a passing glance—he paid attention to his predicament.
When he saw the man, he saw his need: he was “blind from birth.” Simple observation could not have told him this. How would anyone know when the man’s blindness had begun? It’s possible that the man told him, or that his reputation preceded him (cf. v. 8). But the syntax suggests to me that the instant Jesus saw the man he knew that his blindness was congenital. If he could heal this man’s blindness, he could determine its source.
This insight gave the Great Physician enough information for a diagnosis: his illness has persisted for many years, caused by a physical abnormality which could not be treated by first-century medicine. There was no medical option for this man. He needed not a physician, but a miracle.
What Jesus knew of this man, he knows today of you:
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139:15–18, NIV footnote).
The Physician who saw this man and his need sees yours. The blind man could not see Jesus, as we cannot see him today. But the one who cannot see is visible to the One who can.
Now Jesus calls us to see others as he sees us. We can tell how close we are to Jesus by the degree to which we love those he loves.
The first “fruit of the Spirit,” the first result of the Spirit at work in our lives, is love (Galatians 5:22). The first commandment is that we love God, and the second is that we fulfill the first by loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:37, 39). When was the last time you stepped out of your routine to see someone as Jesus does?
Be practical (vv. 2–3)
The disciples followed their Master’s gaze, but for a very different reason. He saw a man in personal pain; they saw a theological question. He stopped to heal this man; they stopped to use him as an example for their theological discussion: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
Before we listen to Jesus’ answer, first let’s explore their question, lest we ask it ourselves. The rabbis taught that suffering is the result of sin: “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity” (Rabbi Ammi, in Shab. 55a). First-century Judaism assumed that suffering was proof of divine wrath, and prosperity proof of his pleasure and reward. Such logic is not confined to ancient Judaism—every world religion holds an aspect of its claim.
Hindus believe in the law of karma, the idea that our present suffering is punishment for wrongs we committed in a previous lifetime. According to Gautama Buddha’s “First Sermon at Benares,” all suffering is due to wrong desire. Newspaper accounts following the Columbia tragedy quoted al-Qaeda sympathizers as attributing the disaster to America’s sins against Allah.
In Christian theology, the disciples’ question has been most fully formulated by St. Augustine. His “theodicy” (an account of evil in the light of God’s goodness and power) attributes suffering to the misuse of our free will. God created us to worship him; worship requires freedom; when we misuse this freedom, the consequences are not God’s fault but ours.
Often Augustine is right. I’ve seen marriages end because of adultery; I’ve buried alcoholics who died of cirrhosis of the liver; I’ve known drug users who contracted AIDS; I’ve watched students who didn’t study fail the test and then blame God or me. I know of suffering in my life which has come from my sins. You know of the same in yours.
The disciples didn’t doubt that the man’s congenital blindness was the result of sin. They only want to know who to blame: “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
Jesus cleared up their confusion: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Some suffering is the result of sin, but such was not the case here. Much of the world’s grief and pain is not the result of anyone’s sin or failure. Remember Job’s plight; remember Jesus’ innocent crucifixion. To attribute all suffering to sin often increases the suffering of the innocent.
In this case, the man’s inherited blindness was no one’s fault. He had certainly not sinned, and neither had his parents’ sin caused his handicap. Rather, “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The word translated “so that” can also be rendered “with the result that.” Jesus’ answer can therefore be translated, “this happened with the result that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
We can also change the punctuation (which was not in the Greek original) to read: “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents. But that the works of God should be made manifest in him, we must work the works of him that sent me.”
I do not understand Jesus’ statement to teach that God created this man’s blindness. He permitted it, as a consequence of the natural, fallen world in which we live. When mankind fell, all of creation was affected by the fall (cf. Romans 8:22). Blindness, birth defects, cancer, and other diseases are often the result of our fallen world, not our fallen actions. So it was here.
But the Lord would redeem this suffering for his glory and the man’s good: “The work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus came to do the “work of God” (cf. Matthew 12:28, Mark 2:7). The healing to come is a miracle to us, but it is merely the “work” of God, his normal activity and ability.
Jesus turned the disciples’ speculative question into practical truth. He did not tell them why the man was blind, but what God intended to do about his blindness. He did not explain the source of the pain, but its solution. In the hardest places of life, his answer is what we need.
Are you hurting along with the blind man? Are you or others asking why? Sometimes knowing the cause is important to the cure, especially if your suffering is the result of sin which must now be confessed to be cleansed (1 John 1:8–9). But often our speculative questions cannot give practical help.
So, we should focus on the practical. Now that we are in this place of suffering, what are we to do? How will God help us? How would he use us to help someone else? Jesus redeemed this man’s blindness by displaying his own miraculous glory, and then by leading the man to spiritual sight as well (v. 38: “the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him”). He will redeem our pain for his glory and our good. And he will use us to do the same for those we can help.
Become Jesus’ hands (vv. 4–7)
Now you and I join our story: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me” (John 9:4a). Note two words: “we must.” All of Jesus’ followers must “do the work of him who sent” our Lord. We are engaged in the same ministry which brought him to our planet. We are now the presence of Christ on earth, his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). How do we become Jesus’ hands?
With urgency: “Night is coming, when no man can work” (v. 4b). Night was coming for Jesus: “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me” (John 7:33). It is coming for us as well. None of us is promised tomorrow. We have only today to join Jesus at work.
When the night comes, “no man can work” (cf. John 11:9–10, 12:35–36). One day will be the last day. One hour will be the last hour. “Night is coming,” and all work is done. Love your Lord by loving your neighbor, with urgency.
In his power: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). The New Testament repeatedly testifies that Jesus is the spiritual light of a world darkened by sin (John 1:4–5, 9; 8:12). He is the light—we are his reflection: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
We cannot heal blind eyes, of course. But Jesus can. And so we share his power, his love, his hope. We pray for the one in pain. We share God’s word with the one who needs hope. We bring God’s love to the one in despair. We become Jesus’ hands, in his power.
At the level of need: “Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (John 9:6). We know why a first-century physician would do such a strange thing. Ancients like Pliny, the Roman scientist, believed that spit would cure snakes’ poison, epilepsy, lichens and leprosy, and neck pains. Saliva was highly esteemed as an ancient cure for illness.
Of course, Jesus did not need to use mud to heal the man. He healed other blind eyes without using spit and mud (cf. Mark 10:46–52; Matthew 9:27–31; 12.22; 15:30; 21:14). I think he used mud in this case because the blind man needed such assurance.
He probably knew Jesus’ action to be accepted medical practice. To our knowledge, he had no previous information regarding Jesus’ healing powers. Had the Divine Physician not acted as a human doctor, it is likely that his patient would not have accepted his cure.
The application to us is simple: meet need on its level. It’s hard to talk to a hungry man about his soul before we feed his body. Win the trust of the person you are called to help. Develop relationship—establish common ground—earn confidence. Connect with their suffering before you try to bring it to the Savior.
Call to faith: “‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (v. 7). Here we find the divine-human partnership at work once again. We do what we can do, and God does what we cannot.
Now it’s our turn to be the presence of Christ to our hurting world. Through this story, Jesus invites us to see the need and be his hands in meeting it.
Believe that God will use you, no matter how long takes. And he will.
John Patton was a missionary in the South Pacific in the early 1800s. After working for a year, not a single person had come to Christ. People attended his Bible studies and nodded approvingly but would not respond to his invitation to faith. He began to consider a move to another mission field, and prayed that the Lord would give him just one convert. If one man came to Christ, he reasoned, he could move on while knowing that the work would continue there.
For eight years he worked and prayed for that one convert. Then one morning, Patton awoke to see the entire population of the island, Twelve hundred people, assembled near his home. The chief said, “We are all ready to receive Christ.” Patton was stunned. He learned that tribal culture required that no one receive Christ until all were ready. He spent three days baptizing the twelve hundred converts. He had prayed for one to be saved, but God saved them all.
To open blind eyes, there is only one requirement: We must first open ours.