To Open Blind Eyes, First Open Yours
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: Jesus heals us as he healed this man,
and now calls us to join him in his ministry of compassion
The following report to a state industrial commission was filed by a worker who was injured in the act of repairing a chimney:
“When I got to the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked some bricks off the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the building, there were a lot of bricks left over.
“I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom, and then went and filled the barrel with extra bricks. Then I went to the bottom and cast off the line.
“Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was, and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on, and halfway up, I met the barrel coming down and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my finger jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out. I was heavier than the empty barrel, so I started up again at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up, and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges.
“At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of the line. The barrel then came down giving me another heavy blow on the head and putting me in the hospital.”
We’ve all been on that brickpile, and we’ll all return there again. Are you there today? This week’s miracle will help you find the Great Physician and his hope. Do you know people on brickpiles of pain, despair, or loneliness? The miracle before us will help you help them. Our suffering can be great, but our Savior is greater, as this week’s study will prove.
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). The annual Feast of Tabernacles has just occurred in mid-October (Tenney 100). Jesus may have met the man in our story as he sat begging by the Temple, or at the Pool of Siloam (since its waters were used for the Feast of Tabernacle rituals just completed). Wherever our story began, it started with Jesus. 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 (Hovey 201). 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 (Lenski 675), 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.
He sees you and your problems today: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6.8). Our prayers do not inform God of our needs; rather, they yield them to the only One who can solve them.
Now Jesus calls us to see others as he sees us. This week’s miracle is the only account in the gospels of Jesus healing a person with a congenital physical problem (Robertson 160, Barclay 37). But we find another such account early in Christian history: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts” (Acts 3.1-2). Here is a man who had begged for 40 years beside the Temple (Acts 4.22). For their entire lives, Peter and John have seen him there and passed him by. But not today.