I woke up the other day and couldn’t see properly. I could see a blurred object like a large hair moving around in one eye. When I looked in the mirror there was nothing on my eye, but I could still see something moving around. That was when my curiosity turned to mild panic. Was I losing my eyesight? Was it cancer?
I phoned the medical helpline 111 and was referred to the local Accident and Emergency Eye Hospital. A nice person triaged me over the phone and made an appointment for me to visit the next day. I was seen quickly by an eye specialist who did numerous tests, one of which is not for the faint hearted. It involved smearing my eye with aesthetic jelly and then placing an instrument on the pupil to explore the inside of my eye. Her diagnosis was that I have a vitrous detachment or ‘floater’.
As we age, tiny strands of our vitreous (the gel-like fluid that fills your eye) may shrink and pull away from the retina (that’s the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye). This casts a shadow which appear as a floater. It cant be repaired so I’ll have to live with it. She did warn me that since both eyes are the same age I might develop one or more in the other eye as well. She said it was important to get in touch again if the condition worsens, as it can lead to a detached retina in about one in ten people. So, I’m thankful that I am not going blind. I do however, look forward to the day when, by God’s grace, I will receive a new body that won’t age or wear out, as promised in 1 Corinthians 15.
But you know there is something far worse than physical blindness, which is temporary. Spiritual blindness has eternal consequences. Jesus promised in John 8, “I am the Light of the World, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” (John 8:12). In our gospel reading from the next chapter, John 9, Jesus went on to illustrate how true this is. Jesus did something that had until then never happened before in all of history. Jesus gave sight to someone who had been blind from birth. And through this miracle he wants to teach us something very profound. This encounter was very good news indeed for this blind man who received his sight. But it was also very bad news for some of those listening, who like many people today, were moving in the opposite direction, from sight to blindness. I want us to retrace this man’s spiritual journey from darkness to light and reflect on the implication for our own spiritual journey. There are three main sections of his story – his testimony – before, during and after he encountered the Jesus Christ.
- What was his condition before he met Jesus?
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1-5)
We don’t know much about this man except that he was blind and as a consequence, poor. He was a beggar, dependent on the charity of others. He was not however, necessarily blind because he was a sinner. A common belief in Jewish tradition understood suffering to be the result of sin. We live in a fallen world where good behaviour is not always rewarded and bad behaviour not always punished. Therefore, innocent people invariably suffer. Regardless of the reason for our suffering, Jesus has the power to help us deal with it. When you suffer, don’t ask, “Why has this happened to me?” or “What did I do wrong?” Rather, ask God to give you strength to cope. Remember Jesus explained,
“this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3).
Pray that God might be glorified in and through your suffering, whatever the outcome. What was the man like before he met Jesus? He was blind and poor. He was helpless. And that is what we are too, without Christ.
2. How did he come to know Jesus?
“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.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said… Therefore, the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” (John 9:11-15)
Jesus had rubbed some wet mud onto the blind man’s eyes and told him to go and wash. What did the man do? He did as he was told and went home seeing! As the crowds debated whether it was him or not, he must have jumped up and down trying to be heard…. “It’s me! It’s me!” “Then who did this to you?” they asked. How did the man reply? Notice the four steps he took as his trust and knowledge of Jesus grew under the testing of interrogation.
2.1 “The man Jesus did this.”
“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.” (John 9:11)
That was his first step into the light. Recognising that Jesus was a real person not a myth, not a ghost, not an apparition but a historical person. He began to trust in Jesus. That first step was not intended a blind leap of faith but a sure and certain step into the light. He began to take Jesus seriously. But notice some people couldn’t or rather wouldn’t believe it was the same man. There was no joy shared, no praise to God for this miracle, just doubt, suspicion and prejudice. The people couldn’t make up their minds so they took him to the religious leaders. They too were full of intimidating questions. “Is this your son?” they asked his parents, “yes”. But that was not enough. “Was he born blind?” “yes”, Here the man took his second step into the light. From the man Jesus to the prophet Jesus.
2.2 “He is a Prophet”
“Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” (John 9:17)
Jesus must be inspired to do such a wonderful thing. That was his second step into the light – declaring Jesus was sent from God. What did the man do next? He wasn’t intimidated by their questions. Instead, he grew more confident. He shared what God had done in his life. The Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, was the weekly holy day of rest. The Pharisees had regulated what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. When Jesus made a paste of mud from some earth and a little spit in his hands, the Pharisees considered that work and condemned him. Jesus could have healed the blind man with a word. Why mud and spit? Perhaps Jesus was drawing a parallel with the way he created Adam in Genesis 2. The similarity is striking.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
The Pharisees were sceptical because they were jealous of Jesus’ popularity. They denied the evidence staring them in the face. They were not interested in the facts, only with gathering evidence to incriminate Jesus. So the questions begin to fly again. It had turned into an inquisition. The miracle was now really quite irrelevant. But not to this man. He couldn’t believe his eyes. This former blind beggar, used to being pushed around and moved on, turns the tables on these religious leaders. He is amazed at how illogical they had become. How unwilling they were to face the truth. He had already trusted the man Jesus. He had testified that Jesus was a prophet. Under cross examination, he goes one step further.
2.3 “Surely such a man was from God”
“The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30-33)
The man had taken a third step. He now defends Jesus. He begins to see that it was not he but they who were really blind. Their blindness was however, self- inflicted. His testimony was based on two vital things. Knowledge – “One thing I know” (John 9:25). And Experience – “I was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25). Knowledge and Experience – both are needed for an authentic faith. They are a difficult combination to argue with.
The man did not yet know who, how, or why, he had been healed. But he knew he could now see. That is the power of testimony. That is why he wasn’t afraid of the consequences. He told the truth and left them to work out the implications. You don’t need to know all the answers either. Tell people how your life has changed and is changing through meeting Jesus.
Then trust God to use your story to help others believe in him too. But believing Jesus was a real human being, even believing Jesus was a prophet from God was not enough. This man needed to take one more step.
2.4 He received Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour
“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38)
The man put all four pieces of the jigsaw together and realised who Jesus really was. He calls Jesus ‘Lord’. He finally looks upon his healer for the first time. What did he do? He fell to His knees in worship. This was proof of his saving faith in Jesus. Are you surprised? Jesus accepted worship that was due to God alone because that is who He is, God and man in the same person. The Son of God. The invitation to the man born blind had been accepted. But there is also a warning to those who had seen, (or have read about this miracle) and who were now in danger of becoming blind,
“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too? Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41).
What does Jesus mean? Light from the sun enables us to see. But the sun must be treated with respect. Just enough light brings life and energy. Too much brings blindness and decay. Sunlight may look harmless but it can also be very dangerous. Someone foolish enough to look at the sun through a telescope will go blind instantly, permanently. But Jesus tells us here there are worse things than physical blindness. People who look at the Son of God and refuse to accept his claims, who ignore his credentials, who spurn the evidence, become increasingly blind to reality, blind to the truth. We have seen considered what this man was before he met Jesus – a blind beggar. We have seen how he met Jesus and gained his sight.
3. How was his life changed after he met Jesus?
We don’t know what happened to this man – other than that he could now see and therefore work and provide for himself. His life was irrevocably transformed by Jesus. We don’t even know his first name, but his testimony has been retold for two thousand years. If you have come to know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you have a credible testimony as well. If you are not sure, then perhaps you can identify with the blind man somewhere along his spiritual journey. Either way, think of the people whose lives could be transformed by hearing your testimony of what God has done in your life. They might not be convinced by your arguments or agree with your beliefs, but hearing your testimony may impact them powerfully. The man’s new faith was severely tested by some of the religious leaders. You too may face ridicule, hostility or even persecution. You may lose friends; you may lose your job, you may even lose your life. But no one can ever take away what you know and experience in Jesus.
Many if not most of the early Church died as martyrs. They were accused of being atheists for refusing to sacrifice to the gods. They were given a choice – denying their faith — or be killed. Polycarp had been a disciple of the Apostle John. He became Bishop of Smyrna (what is today Izmir in Turkey). Around 155 AD he was arrested and tried before the Proconsul. The story of the Martyrdom of Polycarp (translated by J.B. Lightfoot) records the following.
“The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” …“Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” Polycarp replied, “86 years have I have served him and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” “I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” Polycarp replied “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
The question is – are you ready to share your testimony? The Apostle Peter insists,
“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.” (1 Peter 3:15)
That is why I recommend you write down your story – before, during and after you came to know Jesus, and memorise it, then you will be ready when asked. We have seen that the longer this man was questioned about what Jesus had done for him, he became more and more confident. His personal knowledge and experience of Jesus held up under pressure. The same is true of us. It is often only when our faith is tested that we will grow in confidence. Earlier in John’s gospel, in chapter 3, we find the explanation of what happened to this blind man and to the sceptical religious leaders, and also what happens today when people encounter Jesus.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:19-21)
Light always separates. Jesus had taken the initiative, intervened, meeting this person at his point of deepest need. The man came into the light. But the Pharisees turned their backs on Jesus and walked away from the light. What about you? Through this story Jesus speaks into your situation and mine. He knows you better than you do yourself. Your needs, your hopes and fears, your future. Jesus brings the light of his understanding and the warmth of his presence into our dark world. He came that we might know God personally. Whether we are gaining our sight or losing our sight depends on what we make of Jesus. And oh yes, believing is indeed seeing.
Bruce Milne, The Message of John (IVP)
St Helen, Bishopsgate, John’s Gospel: Read Mark Learn (Zondervan)
Merrill Tenney, John, The Gospel of Belief (Eerdmans)
Download a copy of How to Prepare your Testimony
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
- What was wrong with the theology of the disciples? (9:1-2)
- How does Jesus’ answer enlighten our understanding of suffering? (9:3-5)
- What is significant about the way Jesus gave the man his sight? (9:6-7 – see Genesis 2:7 and 2 Kings 5:10)
- What does the story reveal about the Pharisees?
- How does the man’s understanding of Jesus develop?
- Compare and contrast the man’s response with that of his parents. (9:18-23)
- What are the negative and positive aspects of Jesus being the light of the world? (9:35-41)
- Jesus is absent from most of the incident (9:8-34). What does this tell us about thew work of God?
- For someone weighing up whether or not to believe in Jesus, what pointers are there in this chapter?
- Who do you best relate to in the story? Why?
- How lessons do you learn about sharing your faith?