Monday, October 21, 2013

Opening Blinded Eyes (John 9:1-12)

She was born in 1820, and died in 1915. She lived all but six weeks of her 95 years of life completely blind. When she was just six weeks old, she lost her eyesight due to a combination of a bad infection and a botched treatment by a pretend doctor. But, Fanny Crosby lived her life for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom she met at the age of 30. She was at a camp meeting, and while singing the final stanza of Isaac Watt’s hymn, “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed,” she said, “I surrendered myself to the Savior, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light.”[1] She went on to write over 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, fifteen of which are in the hymnals there in the back of your pew. Some of them are your favorites. Someone once remarked to Fanny Crosby, “Miss Crosby, I think it is a great pity that the good Master, when He showered so many gifts upon you, did not give you sight.” She answered: “Do you know that, if at my birth, I had been able to have made one petition to my Creator, it would have been that I should be made blind. … Because, when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”[2]

In our text today, we meet a man who was born blind. We might say that he was double-blind, for he was physically and spiritually blind. We know this because all human beings are born spiritually blind. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, unbelieving people are blinded “so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In 1 Corinthians 2:14, we read that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We were born in this state, blind to our true sinful condition, blind to our need to be saved, blind to God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Word of God. What this man in our text is physically, all of us are spiritually. Not only was he born blind, but we discover in verse 8 that he was a beggar. Because of his lifelong blindness, he was unable to support himself by any other means other than reaching out his empty hands to receive the gracious gifts of others. And spiritually, this is what we all are. We are blind beggars, capable of doing nothing to better ourselves before God or to earn His favor. We are only capable of reaching out our empty hands to receive the saving grace that He extends to us in His infinite kindness.

When we look at this born-blind-beggar in our text, we see a picture of ourselves in our true condition. It is a picture of hopeless desperation. But thankfully, this is not all that we see in this passage. For here we also see the Lord Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). He alone could meet the deep need of this man, and heal him, not only physically, but spiritually as well. And as the Lord Jesus opened the blinded eyes of this man, so He is able to heal us of our spiritual blindness as well. What He did for him, He does for us. We see in Jesus here a compassionate divine initiative; powerful divine action; and a miraculous divine outcome.

I. Jesus takes compassionate divine initiative (v1).

Our text begins with these words: “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.” These words set the stage for what follows, but they also depict for us how Jesus Christ takes the initiative to intervene in our lives. He is sovereign; He always makes the first move toward us. In our spiritual blindness we do not see Him and we do not seek Him. But He is the One who said of Himself that He had come to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10). This is but one of many examples we find in the Scriptures of Him doing just this.

Notice how Jesus takes the initiative in going to this man. Let’s remember what just happened prior to this. In the last verse of Chapter 8, after a time of teaching and interaction at the Temple following the Feast of Tabernacles, the crowd has become so riled up against Him that they pick up stones to kill Him. This was the prescribed penalty for blasphemy, which they are accusing Him of because He is making obvious and direct claims to be God in the flesh. So, when they picked up the stones, somehow (we are not told), Jesus “hid Himself and went out of the temple.” So, Jesus is now a wanted man, and a vigilante mob is out to kill Him. What would you do if you were Him? You might high-tail it as far away from the area as possible. But Jesus hadn’t even left the Temple area yet. We know this because this blind beggar would likely be somewhere near the entrance to the Temple, where a steady stream of travelers would see him and give alms to him. Jesus stayed in the danger zone in order that He might show compassion to this man. Notice that Jesus didn’t just hurry by the man, preoccupied with His own concerns. We would understand if He had. He’s in a potential deadly set of circumstances here. You and I might say, “No time to chat, got a mob chasing me!” But Jesus sees the man and takes the time and the intiative to intervene in his life. I wonder how often we fail to do this? So wrapped up in our issues, we do not take the time to notice the hurting people around us. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t do that? I pray God would develop this more in my life as well.

The man didn’t see Jesus – he was blind. But Jesus saw him. And not only did He see him, but He also knew him. He knew that this was a man who was not just a beggar, but was blind, and had been that way from birth. The man didn’t know anything about Jesus, but Jesus knew everything about Him. And you know, the same thing is true for all of us spiritually in our natural condition. We are situated in our places in life, spiritually blind, spiritually impoverished. We can’t see Jesus; we aren’t even looking for Him. We certainly don’t know Him. But in His compassion and by His sovereign and divine initiative, Jesus sees us. He’s never lost sight of you. You might be sitting in darkness and despair today, saying to yourself, “I don’t see the Lord.” Your hope is not found in your ability to see Him. Your hope is in His ability to see you. And not only does He see you; He knows you. He knows the shape you are in; He knows the concerns, the fears, the frustrations of your heart. Not only this, but He also knows your sin. You’ve never talked about it with anyone because you are ashamed of it. But you don’t have to tell Him about it. He already knows.

You see, Jesus knew more about this blind man than his physical condition. He also knew that, just like every other human being, this man has a sinful heart. He’s had thoughts and desires that are offensive to a holy God; He’s said things with his mouth that are an affront to God’s holiness. He’s done things that God has forbidden, and not done things that God has commanded. You might say, “How do you know all of that about him?” It is true of all of us. Romans 3:10-18 describes the state of the entire human race: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In other words, from head to toe, we are all radically corrupted by our sinfulness. It is summed up for us in Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  

But notice that Jesus is not sitting back saying, “If you ever need Me, just let me know.” He isn’t saying, “Once you take care of your sin problem, come and find Me and then I will help you.” There’s no way you can take care of your sin problem without Him. He is the one who has taken care of it for you. He is taking the initiative, coming to you, seeing you, knowing you, and wanting to show His compassion to you. He loves you. He wants to take action in your circumstances. You might say, “Why should I believe that? I don’t know Him; I can’t see Him; I’m not even looking for Him.” But the fact remains that He knows you; He sees you; and He is seeking you. He has come to seek and to save that which is lost.

II. Jesus performs powerful divine action (vv2-7).

There are some people who, whenever some kind of crisis erupts, immediately begin to look for someone to blame. Rather than making sure everyone is okay, or even looking into what exactly took place or how to fix it, they begin trying to find who is at fault. The disciples of Christ in this passage are somewhat like this. When Jesus encounters this born-blind-beggar, they say, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” That’s a good question, isn’t it? It is part of a bigger question – one that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with for centuries. If God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then why do so many bad things happen to seemingly “good” people? We call that question “the problem of evil.” And for many, the answer is to always assume that suffering is the direct result of someone’s sin. If someone is experiencing a hardship, it is assumed by some that they must be experiencing some kind of judgment from God against their sin. Now, make no mistake about it, there are some immoral actions that do result directly in suffering, either for the perpetrator or the victim, or both. For example, if a person makes the sinful decision to drive their vehicle while they are intoxicated, they could kill or seriously injure themselves or others. Who’s fault was it? The person who was driving drunk. That is one of many examples where we can clearly connect the dots between the sin and the suffering.
That’s what the disciples are trying to do here. Did this man sin in some way to deserve his physical condition of blindness? I have no doubt that there are sins that one could commit that would result in blindness. But this man has been blind since birth. Jesus says, in fact, it was not his sin that caused this. So, the other idea that the disciples put forth is that maybe his parents sinned, and their son’s blindness was a judgment against them. Now, there are sins committed by parents that can result in children being born with affliction. A mother who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol while pregnant can be the cause of a child being born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Some sexually transmitted diseases can actually cause children to be born blind. But this is not the case for every person who is born blind. In this particular case, Jesus says plainly that this man’s blindness was neither caused by his sin or that of his parents. Though he and his parents had undoubtedly sinned, their specific sins are not the direct cause of his specific condition.
Now, there is an underlying truth here that we do not want to overlook. The fact is that all human suffering is in some way related to human sinfulness. When there is a direct connection between a sinful act and its consequences, it is easy to see. But moreover, we have to remember that death entered the human race because of Adam’s sin. And therefore, death is at work within all of us from the time of conception. It is because of sin that we all experience sickness, disease and ultimately death. But, though this is generally true for all human beings, we cannot say in all cases that a specific person is suffering in a specific way as a direct result of some specific sin. That is what the disciples are trying to say, but it isn’t true.
We’ve already given this difficult question about human suffering more attention here than Jesus did when He met the blind man. It is not as though Jesus deems the question unimportant. It is important, but the debating the theoretical issue of evil and suffering in the world can be a distraction that prevents us from actually doing something to come to the aid of suffering people. Jesus is not distracted by theoretical issues here. Does it really matter who is to blame for this man’s blindness? Is it not more important to act in a way to help him? The Lord Jesus never lets theoretical arguments distract Him from His business of transforming lives.  Rather than pointing blame or arguing about cause and effect, Jesus moves the focus to something more important. He says that this man’s condition provides an opportunity for the glory of God to be manifested in his life. He says, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in Him.”
Not only is the Lord Jesus is not distracted by theoretical issues; neither is He deterred from His redemptive mission. Notice in vv4-5 that He says, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” Notice the imperative: We must work. This man’s blindness is an occasion for displaying the works of God, and it is those very works for which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father into the world. This man suffers in the darkness of human blindness, and Christ has come to be the Light of the world. His time for ministry on earth is drawing to a close. Within 6 months, He will die on the cross. There is urgency here. “We must do this now,” He says. There is no time for meaningless debates. There is only time for powerful divine action.

And so, undistracted by theoretical issues, and undeterred from His redemptive mission, the Lord Jesus is also undaunted by desperate circumstances. There is no situation which is so bleak that He cannot intervene. This man was BORN blind! Notice the severity of his circumstances, revealed in the man’s own comment later in verse 32. “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” If there was ever a picture of human hopelessness, surely this man is a good candidate. Imprisoned by the darkness of his physical and spiritual condition, all he can do is sit and beg, hoping for the kindness of others to help him along in life. But He has just met Jesus, who will do more for him than sparing him a dime. The light of Christ’s mercy and grace will shine upon him in his darkness.

I don’t know what you were born with. I don’t know what darkness you find yourself in today. I do know this – we were all born in the blindness of sin. We are all desperate beggars before God. And I also know this – the Lord Jesus is undaunted by desperate circumstances. Whatever it is that you are facing today, you do not have a greater crisis than this: you were born in a state of sin, separated from the God who made you and loves you. You may feel hopeless; but He is not powerless. He is mighty to save! And if He can save your soul from hell and reconcile you to God, then certainly you do not possess any other hardship that is too difficult for Him. In this life, He may not choose to heal you of your affliction or take you out of your hardship, but it is not because He cannot. In fact, ultimately He will in the most glorious way possible, by taking you to be with Him in transformed glory in heaven. And if He doesn’t alleviate the temporal physical suffering you are enduring here and now, it can only be because He intends for those things to be opportunities for His grace and glory to shine through you as they usher your heart and your hope to Him and to your eternal home with Him. If He has not acted toward you or your circumstances in any other way, you need look no further than the cross to see how He has acted with compassionate divine initiative and powerful divine action to meet your greatest need!

III. Jesus Produces a Miraculous Divine Outcome (vv8-12)

Sometimes, God uses people like us to do the things that we know how to do, things we’ve been trained to do, things we are good at, to produce His desired effects. Those are fun things to be a part of. But in my experience, it is far more wonderful to be part of God doing something that only God could do, not because of our abilities, but in spite of our inabilities. There are some moments in which God providentially choreographs our circumstances in such a way that He alone can get the glory out of it. The account in our text is one of those situations. We have a man born blind. In the history of the world to that time, no one had been able to do anything to cure anyone in that predicament. Technology has come along now, where maybe his chances would be better today. But not back then. For congenital blindness, at least in that day, there was no ointment, no drugs, no lasers, no surgical procedure, that could offer him any hope of seeing. But there was Jesus.

Jesus does something unusual and inexplicable here. He spits on the ground and makes a paste of spit and mud and begins to rub it into this man’s eyes. Why on earth would He do such a thing? There are certain things you just don’t want in your eyes, and I would think that someone else’s fingers, mud and spit would be near the top of the list. I imagine this man might instinctively pull away as he feels the wet cold grime being massaged into his eyes, but he cannot. It is not for us to know why, in this circumstance, Jesus chose to use spit-mud to heal this man. On other occasions, He merely spoke and His will was done. At other times, it was a simple touch of His hand. Why is the spit-mud necessary? Maybe He is at work in your life in ways that are not enjoyable or pleasant at the moment. You might be enduring spit and mud right now. You might be thinking, “Why is that necessary?” But we have to trust that when the Lord Jesus hurts us, it is so as to heal us. We may never know why He has chosen to work in the varied ways that He does in our lives. As the great hymn writer William Cowper said, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform … Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.” It is not that spit plus dirt equals a wonder working cure for congenital blindness. It is that this is the Lord Jesus at work. If His methods here do not show us anything else, at least we are able to see that He is never without the resources and power that He needs to intervene and act on our behalf.

But there is something more that we see here. Not only did Jesus put spit-mud in this man’s eyes, but He also told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Now, John inserts a phrase here in the dialog, telling us that Siloam means “Sent.” It was so called because the waters were “sent” into that pool from the Springs of Gihon through Hezekiah’s tunnel. Why would John tell us that? Whenever we see something like this, we have to use the context of the passage to determine why this detail is important. What else is “sent” in this passage? Look at verse 4: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” The Lord Jesus is the “Sent One” of God. This pool is a symbol of Christ. Just as this man must go to the waters that have been “sent” to cleanse himself of the mud and be made whole again, so must you and I flee to the One who has been sent to cleanse us and save us.

The word “Siloam” is derived from the Hebrew word “Shiloh.” Here in this text is the answer to a great riddle of the Old Testament. In Genesis 49:10, it is prophesied of Judah that “the scepter shall not depart from” him, “nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes.” Your English versions may be more interpretive there and replace the word “Shiloh.” They assume you won’t understand “Shiloh,” so they don’t use it. But it is best to just leave it as it is. Judah will carry the rod of authority until Shiloh comes, “and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Shiloh is a person. So who is Shiloh? He is the Sent One, who comes from God as the Lord of all nations. The prophecy in Genesis says of Him, “He ties his foal to the vine, and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine,” indicating His humility. He does not come on a warhorse; he comes on a donkey, just as the Lord Jesus would enter Jerusalem for the final time. “He washes His garments in wine, and His robes in the blood of grapes.” You see, the Lord Jesus did not go to a fountain of cleansing water to wash Himself; rather, He washed Himself in the blood red stains of our sins, and carried them all the way to the cross where He suffered and died for us. And as a result of that, we can go the fountain of Siloam, the Sent One, and be cleansed of our stains and made whole by His saving power and grace. He is the long-awaited Shiloh, who has come as Lord of all nations, to save us from our sins. This blind man’s trip to the pool of Siloam is a picture of what we all must do to be saved. We must go to the One who has been sent for us, that by Him we might be saved and cleansed before God. This blind man came back from the pool “seeing.” He had been changed by the power of Jesus in a miraculous way. And the Sent One is still opening blinded eyes today. Our spiritual eyes that were blinded in sin have been opened and we see Him now as Lord and Savior, healing us of our iniquity through His life, death, and resurrection.

It was a miraculous divine outcome. You see in verses 8-9 here that there was really no other explanation. People were saying, “Is this the same guy that we used to see out here begging?” And people were saying, “No, it is just someone who looks like him.” And while they were saying all these things, the man was saying over and over again, “It really is me!” So they had to ask him, “How then were your eyes opened?” And in his answer, he gives credit where it is due: He says, “The man who is called Jesus did it.”  And he told them about the spit and the mud and the pool, and all that. But they didn’t say, “Give us some spit-mud too.” They knew that it wasn’t the spit or the mud or the pool. They knew that the effect had been produced by the man who is called Jesus. They said, “Where is He?” They want to find Him for themselves. But he said, “I do not know.” You realize, he had never seen Jesus. Jesus might have been standing right in front of him and he wouldn’t have known it. He did not know how to direct them to Jesus. But that did not change the fact that he had indeed met Jesus for himself and been transformed in a miraculous way. There was no other explanation and no other factor involved. Simply the miraculous and wonderful grace and mercy of “the man who is called Jesus.”

You know, some of you are like this man. You’ve been radically changed by an encounter with Jesus. People you have known all your life don’t know what to make of it. They wonder, “Is this the same guy we used to know?” And you are saying, “It is me!” And they are saying, “Then how did this change happen in your life?” And how shall you answer? You can answer the same way he did: “The man who is called Jesus.” But, should they ask you how they might find Him for themselves, do you know how to point them to Him? I want to say this both as a comfort and as an admonition. First, if you don’t know how to direct them to Jesus, don’t be dismayed. It doesn’t diminish the reality of what He has done for you. After all, this man had only encountered Jesus moments before. He hadn’t enrolled in Sunday School or Bible studies yet! So, sometimes, when people are young and immature in their faith, they may not be able to explain to someone else exactly what happened in their lives, or how someone else can experience it. I have no doubt that some of you have had a profound, saving experience with Christ, but you don’t have the foggiest notion of how to explain that to someone else. There is a point in which that is perfectly understandable. There is comfort in knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers, and sometimes you can say, “I don’t know,” when people ask you questions about your faith.

But take this also as a loving admonition. Just because you might be too young or too immature in your faith to point someone else to Jesus, you do not have to stay that way. In fact, if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for years and years, and you still don’t know how to point someone else to Jesus, then you are stuck in a prolonged spiritual infancy.  You need to be growing in your faith, and as you do, you will discover the simplicity of sharing with others how they too can find Him. You see, back in verse 4, Jesus did not say, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me.” He said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” The Lord Jesus intends to use His followers in His mission. He said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” God had come to dwell among His people. But He also said that a dark night was coming. He was taken out of the world, and for a brief period, the Light did not shine in the darkness. But shortly after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon His followers. God came to dwell within His people. And Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses.” And it was for this reason that the Lord Jesus, who said, “I am the Light of the world,” also said to His followers, “You are the light of the world.” While He is in the world, He is the Light of the world. Now that He has been taken out of the world through His death, resurrection, and ascension, you are the light of the world. You shine forth His light, and the light of Christ that they see in you points them to Him.

All of us were at one time just like this born-blind-beggar. We couldn’t see Jesus, but He saw us, and He acted toward us in compassion and power through His cross. He died for our sins so that we might be saved. He has opened our eyes by the Light of His glory and grace. He has done all that was necessary to save us! Ours is but to recognize our true condition, and go to the fountain of the Sent One, where we can be cleansed and made whole: the man who is called Jesus. He is more than a man, He is God in the flesh. And nothing is too difficult for Him. He can open the eyes of the blind. He did it for this man. He did it for many of you. He will do it for others as we point them to Him.

[1] Robert Cottrill, “Today in 1850 – Fanny Crosby Converted
[2] The Sunday School World, Volume 40, Issue 8. Online at PqLNAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA302#v=onepage&q&f=false. Accessed October 16, 2013. 

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