From Blindness to Boldness
We didn’t get very far into the action of the story last week, as Jesus and His disciples were discussing the situation of a man who had been blind since birth. There in the beginning of John chapter 9, the disciples were questioning the reason behind this man’s suffering. It didn’t seem quite fair for one to be born blind. The disciples assumed the man was being punished for sin his parents committed, or for sin that he committed as a baby forming in his mother’s womb- but Jesus stated that his suffering wasn’t linked in any way to a specific sin. Rather his suffering was intended to bring glory to God. I used these verses as a springboard to build a case that everything in life- the good and the bad- needs to pass through a “glory filter” in our lives in order to produce clean glory for God. There is suffering that is part of this life just because we live in a broken world, there is suffering that occurs as a natural result of bad decisions we make, and there is God given suffering that might occur as a form of discipline intending to bring about repentance. But still, every form of suffering should be processed as opportunity to see God glorified.
I admit, this is perhaps one of the most challenging concepts to apply in the Christian life. We as followers of Christ aim to humbly give God glory when any good thing comes our way, but it’s a much harder task to humbly give God glory when bad things come our way. And this concept isn’t applied by just thinking about how things could be worse and then glorifying God through thankfulness that things aren’t worse than they are. If you’re sad because you lost your job, it probably doesn’t help too much for me to tell you “well, at least you had a job for a while. You could have lost it sooner- it could have been worse.” Or if a friend let you down, it’s not going to help you feel better for me to say “well, at least they didn’t turn psycho on you and punch you in the face- it could have been worse.” Nor is this glory filter idea applied only by “counting your blessings,” by just focusing on the good things you do have. This might help to a degree, but when in the midst of suffering it’s sometimes hard to feel better by just trying to take your mind off of the bad and think of good things in life. “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this really tough time in life, try to be thankful for the air you breath, and that you can breathe, and that God made you with your nose facing down instead of up- if He had made it facing up you might drown when it rains.”
No, applying this glory filter is much more than thinking about how tough times could be worse, it’s much more than just focusing on the blessings you do have. It’s choosing to honor and glorify God in the midst of whatever circumstance you face- choosing to honor and glorify Him through your trust in Him, your attitude, and your perseverance. It involves looking past the current circumstances and attempting to see what lies ahead in the future. It’s choosing to look at life not on a micro level, but rather zooming out far to see life on a macro level- attempting to see your circumstances from a further out, bigger perspective.
I’m sure we could talk further about this glory filter, and it will probably come up again in our studies, but for now I want us to continue reading and see what happened in the life of this man who was born blind. The qualities he displays, are the very qualities that we as followers of Jesus need to display, especially in the world we live in today. Let’s read again from verse 1 of chapter 9, but this time we’ll continue through verse 12. (John 9:1-12)
In verse 4, Jesus was referring to the day as the time in which He was walking in flesh on the earth, and night was when His life would be taken from earth. And then in verse 5 He repeats to His disciples what He had previously said in chapter 8, saying “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12), which was super relevant considering He was speaking to a man who had only known darkness since birth, and a man who hadn’t yet been enlightened spiritually through an encounter with Jesus.
So, Jesus spat on the ground, mixing His spit with dirt in order to make some clay, and then put it on the man’s eyes. Bible commentators haven’t reached a consensus on why Jesus used this method in this particular case. There are other miracles He performed using His spit, but also miracles he performed using His touch or even just His words. There is some history indicating that spit was used medicinally as a salve for the eyes. In fact, back when I used to wear contact lenses, there were times when I didn’t have cleaning solution handy, and I cleaned my contact lenses with a little bit of spit- it worked just fine in a bind. But I’m not sure I understand the whole mixing the spit with the dirt. There are some that suggest this scene is symbolic of the act of creation, as God made man from the dust of the earth, here Jesus is working an act of creation in giving sight with an element of His being- His spit- and then the dust of the earth. Surely, at the very least, Jesus worked in this manner in order to connect with the man, and help him in His belief and trust that Jesus could help. But the miracle was not contained in merely Jesus’s spit and the dirt, Jesus told Him to do yet something else- “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:7)
Now the pool of Siloam- John wants the reader to know that it means “Sent.” Either he finds it cool that Jesus sent the man to the “sent” pool in order to be healed, or perhaps it was cool because Jesus was sent (as was just stated in verse 4) -sent by God, to do the works of God. The pool was well known, it probably wasn’t too far from where they were having this conversation, and the man probably would have been able to get there on His own by himself, even in his blindness. Unlike the Pool of Bethesda, the Siloam waters weren’t known as having any supernatural properties. It appears that Jesus was perhaps just giving the man a doable task of obedience. The healing wasn’t necessarily in the clay made from dirt and Jesus’s spit, nor was it in washing with magical water, but it was accomplished by Jesus’s will plus the man’s obedience. There’s probably a really good sermon just in that little equation: Jesus’s will + man’s obedience = miraculous results, but again, let’s keep moving forward through the story.
So, after the man washed in the pool of Siloam, he could see and returned back to where he had been sitting when he had encountered Jesus. This spot most likely was very close to his family home. But Jesus and the disciples have moved on by now, perhaps the guys with rocks in their hands will still in pursuit- but meanwhile, everyone is arguing over the man’s identity. Why? Because they just couldn’t believe that a man who had been born blind could receive sight- this was a big unbelievable miracle! Notice in verse 11 how the man refers to Jesus- he refers to him as “the man who is called Jesus.” As this story progresses, we’re going to see this man grow in his boldness as to who he considers Jesus to be. Let’s read the next section, verses 13-17.
We don’t know if these are the same Pharisees who had picked up stones to throw at Jesus previously in chapter 8, or if they are a different group, but either way it seems they realize Jesus just did a big unexplainable miracle. Some are trying to say He’s not from God, others are arguing that if He’s not from God how could he have possibly given sight to this man? They’re arguing back and forth, and think that perhaps the man could give sway one way or the other in this argument, so they ask him “What do you say about Him?” And his answer is: “He is a prophet.” (John 9:17) Before, he had just referred to Jesus as “the man who is called Jesus,” but now it’s starting to sink in that Jesus must be more than just an ordinary man, or actually I think rather that He is just getting bolder in what he is willing to publicly proclaim concerning Jesus. Verses 18-23…
Now the Jewish religious leaders are interrogating the man’s parents and they confirmed that the man healed was in fact their son, who indeed was born blind, and was definitely the same one who could now see. It sounds like the parents knew exactly what had happened and who Jesus was as the Messiah, but didn’t want to take on the wrath of the religious leaders and be kicked out of the synagogue community. So, they put it back on their son. Now parents, don’t take this as a biblical example to follow- don’t do what these parents did- stick up for your children on matters of spiritual truth! Verses 24-34…
In verse 24 the religious leaders are trying to persuade the man to publicly denounce Jesus as a common sinner, they’re trying to get him to say that he was just lying about what Jesus did- to tell the “real truth” and thus give God the glory by coming clean on the story- but the man is already telling the truth and sticks to his story, yet still careful not to say too much about Jesus as he basically responds in verse 25 “I don’t know anything about Him other than He gave me my sight.” At this point in the narrative the man, as well as his parents, are staying fairly politically correct. They are really careful to tell the truth, but not to say too much, not to say anything that would offend the leaders or majority position. They just want to pass under the radar, they’re not sure it’s worth the fight to publicly announce their beliefs just yet.
But then in verse 26 the religious leaders ask the man again for his story, and at this he has had enough and gets boldly fired up at their ridiculousness. He becomes noticeably bolder suggesting that perhaps they too should become Jesus’s disciples. And then in verse 30, “Well here is an amazing thing…” and he continues, calling them out on their blindness not to recognize that Jesus obviously must be from God. And the religious leaders definitely picked up on the man’s bold defiance and responded with complete hate in verse 34 “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” This is a pretty incredible statement- basically they were saying that the man had indeed sinned within his mother’s womb, and not just had he sinned a sin, but they accused him of multiple sins (plural), and not just multiple sins, but they were implying that before he was born and in the moment he was born, he had already been consumed entirely by sins. This was the insult of insults! And what’s so ironic, is that Jesus had already just moments earlier within earshot of this man declared that he in fact hadn’t sinned within the womb. The religious leaders were conscientiously countering what Jesus had said about the former blind man, they arrogantly defied His truth, and then forcibly removed the man from their presence. Let’s see how the story ends, verse 35-41.
Now at the beginning of this segment of our passage, in verse 35 after hearing what had happened, Jesus went out to find the man and asked him did He believe in the Son of Man- in Jesus the Messiah? And the man responded in verse 36 “Who is He lord, that I may believe in Him?” I believe the man at this point in the story already knew that Jesus had to be the Messiah, but the man had no idea what Jesus looked like. He had only heard His voice for a brief moment, and when he came back from the pool of Siloam seeing for the first time in his life- Jesus wasn’t there. And so here, for all the man knows, this guy asking him “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” could be anyone, maybe even one of the religious leaders attempting to trap him and persecute Him further. But what relief I’m sure he experienced as Jesus said you have seen Him- because He is the one talking with you right now! And the man declared his belief and worshipped Him, publicly displaying and confirming openly what was at that time completely politically incorrect.
We’ve witnessed the man move from timid, politically correct answers and referring to Jesus as “the man known as Jesus,” to referring to Him as “a prophet” and then boldly defending Him as being “from God,” to now worshipping Him as “Lord.”
In verse 39 Jesus appears to contradict Himself, He states that He came into the world for judgment, but previously in John 8:15 He had said that He was “not judging anyone.” Also John 3:17 states “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” I think part of the answer to this perceived contradiction is in the verse that follows John 3:17, verse 18 says “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” So, I think the answer is that Jesus’s main intent is not to judge, but those who don’t believe in Him have already judged themselves. A natural result of His coming to save, is that those who don’t wish to be saved are choosing judgment over salvation. Another pastor explained it like this, he compares it to a doctor who comes to amputate a man’s arm in order to save his life from a deadly spreading infection. And just before the procedure takes place, the man asks the doctor “Did you come to amputate my arm?” and the doctor answers “I didn’t come to cut off your arm, I came to save your life.” Jesus has come to save, not judge, but in saving- judgment occurs as a necessary by-product.
And then the chapter ends with powerful words from Jesus, verse 41… You see, the man Jesus healed had no problem admitting he was blind, he had been there letting everyone know that he had been blind from birth. And after being healed, there was a bit of a process that took place as he grew in his ability to admit publicly his new-found spiritual sight that accompanied his new found physical sight. He was authentic, admitting shamelessly his weakness, and then eventually admitting shamelessly his strength of believing in Jesus. This is admirable. The religious leaders on the other hand were too prideful to humbly admit Jesus was worthy to believe in, and those who previously in verse 16 had admitted “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs” were too ashamed to allow the strength of their argument to gain momentum.
We need to be like the blind man in this story. Humble in admitting our weaknesses and struggles, and yet bold in publicly defending God’s truth and worshipping Him as Lord. In declaring his weakness, Jesus found him and healed him. In declaring his boldness, the man was wrongfully insulted, despised, and put out. But who came to his rescue? Verse 35 tells us upon hearing of what happened to him, Jesus went and found him. I don’t know about you, but I want to be found by Jesus in this manner. As I admit my weaknesses, my sin, my blindness- I want Him to find me, bringing strength, forgiveness, new vision. I want to boldly proclaim Him and live a life that publicly worships Him as Lord, and whether I’m praised for living such a life, or ridiculed and despised- I want Him to find me and say, “Wes, I am the Son of Man, the one who is talking with you right now.”
I fear that many believers haven’t often experienced Jesus showing up in their lives. Many believers have a hard time telling you what they are learning from God, or they have a hard time describing God moments in their lives, or those God moments happen so infrequent that it’s difficult to remember the last one. Listen- could this be because of our pride, in not wanting to admit our weaknesses, in not being authentic and being able to declare the ways in which we need Him? Does He not show up more often because we say “we can see”- we’re fine, I’m doing pretty good in life? Or does He not show up more often because we rarely put ourselves out on the line, we’re never bold enough in defending His truth publicly? Because of our shyness, because we’re ashamed and timid to proclaim His truth in this politically correct world- we thus avoid any criticism, we avoid insults, we avoid being put out by certain circles of people- but in doing so, we avoid opportunities for Jesus to find us, showing up to reassure us of His presence.