The healing of the blind man John 9:1-5
As we come to a new chapter we have to stand back a bit from the text and look at the whole book and see how the whole thing ties together. There’s a verse in John 1:11 and 12 that’s speaking about Jesus and it says, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name.” And many people believe that this is an outline for the book. For instance, in chapters 1-8 it describes how Jesus came unto His own, but His own had not received Him. And then in chapters 9–12 we’ll see Jesus calling individuals for Himself in spite of the opposition He faces. And so we begin with an unnamed blind man. And I was thinking about this the other night and it occurred to me that there are many people mentioned in the Bible who play key roles and yet we don’t even know their names. Like in the Old Testament there was a servant girl in the king’s house who told the people about Elijah. And just think, the whole story turns on her but we don’t even know who she is. And there were lepers and guards and others who are mentioned in the stories but we’ll never even know their names until we get to heaven. And the same is true for this blind man who not only got healed but also got excited and told everyone he could what Jesus had done for him.
So, we see that Jesus had just left a very volatile situation where the Pharisees tried to trap Him with the woman taken in adultery, they argued with Him for offering them freedom from sin and then actually tried to kill Him when He claimed to be God. The scripture says He hid Himself and left the temple area going through the midst of them.
Some say He somehow became invisible to the Pharisees while others claimed He just hid Himself in the mob that were present and others that the disciples had stepped in between He and the Pharisees. However it happened, we can’t be sure because the scripture doesn’t say. It just says He hid Himself and slipped away.
And then as He was leaving the temple area we see Him perform a miracle of healing and this particular miracle is unique in that it’s the only case of someone who is healed of blindness that was born blind that’s recorded in the gospels. The early Christian writers often referred to this healing as an illustration of conversion. They said it illustrates that when a person becomes a Christian they’re like this blind man in that they don’t recover what they formally lost but they receive a new nature and the ability to see and understand the things of God.
We can only imagine what it would be like to lose our sight, because the fact is, seeing is very important to each and every one of us, even though it’s one of those things that we hardly ever even think of. I mean, seeing affects the very way we live including how we take care of ourselves, how we make a living, any entertainment we enjoy and everything we do. And we can’t even imagine what it was like to be blind back in Jesus’ day when even those in perfect health had a hard time making a living. There was no brail reading, no respect for those who carried a white cane and certainly no disability pensions or any kind for those who were handicapped in any way.
Blindness was a very common condition in Israel back then even as it still is today in most of the underdeveloped countries of the world. Much of the problem of blindness in those days is attributed to unsanitary conditions, infectious organisms, and excessive heat. Many were born blind because of various diseases that the mother had during pregnancy while others lost their sight from being exposed to venereal diseases while passing through the birth canal. Much of the problem was attributed to the glare of the eastern sun on unprotected eyes and also because people didn’t really understand the importance of basic cleanliness. And then there were the clouds of flies that led to various infections and that also led to loss of sight. And there were those who were blinded at work or by some other kind of accident. I think the fact that Jesus healed more people who were blind than any other condition shows how common the condition was in His day.
And one of the biggest problems faced by those who were blind back then was the way they were treated by the religious crowd because they had certain beliefs about the cause of blindness that were not necessarily true. Most of all they believed that it was demons that were responsible for taking away a person’s sight. And there were all kinds of weird beliefs about the activities of demons.
For instance, they believed that demons could eat, drink and father children. And they actually believed there were seven and a half million of these creatures and every person had ten thousand at his left hand and ten thousand at his right. They believed that demons lived in unclean places like the tombs of the dead and dry places where there was no drinking water, like the desert where their howling could be heard. This is where we get the phrase ‘the howling desert’.
Demons were especially dangerous to the lonely traveler, the woman in childbirth, to the bride and bridegroom, to children who were out after dark and to anyone who traveled at night. And the high time for their activities was during the time of the noon day heat.
The Jews believed there was a demon of blindness, a demon of leprosy and a demon of heart disease. And they also believed that these demons had the power to transfer their evil powers to men and then those who were possessed by them could give someone the evil eye and all their good fortune could be turned to bad. And they also believed that demons worked with certain animals such as the serpent, the bull, the donkey and the mosquito. (I’m kind of with them on the mosquito.) But when you think like this it would be easy to put the blind people either as victims of or in league with the devil.
And so, regardless of your parent’s social status, the heritage of your family or any mental abilities you had. If you were blind, you didn’t have a life. Basically, your life would be reduced to that of a beggar.
Well, there are those who can’t see in life and there are those who refuse to see. I remember reading about when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in 1912 there were over 1800 people killed. After the tragedy had been announced, a New York newspaper called ‘The American’ devoted their lead article to the story but they focused entirely on the death of one man. His name was John Jacob Astor and he was a well known millionaire. They acted as if he was the only one who mattered. And at the end of the article they almost casually mentioned that 1800 other people died as well but the fact was only the very rich were important to these editors. This was certainly a case of selective blindness on their part. I know we’re grateful that Jesus sees everyone and not just those whose pockets are full.
I Jesus saw the man who couldn’t see Him.
In verse 1 it says, “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from his birth.” Now, just think about who this man was. All his life he had been a beggar who sat by the temple gate. And he probably sat there because this was probably a good place to beg. I mean, there would be those who were going to the temple to make an offering to thank God for something and when they saw someone who was worse off than they were and since they were feeling good about their blessing they’d probably throw him a coin or two. And then others might have come with a problem they were praying about and think, well I better not ask God for something and refuse to help someone else who was made in His image and they’d throw him something too. So, hanging around the front of the temple was probably a good place to beg.
And so it says, as Jesus and the disciples were passing by, one of them asked the Lord a philosophical question and the reason I say it’s philosophical, is because they really didn’t want to know what they could or should do for this guy they just wanted to know how he got in that condition. You see, they just saw him as someone they could use as an illustration. He was someone whose situation they felt they could learn from. And what they were really asking was, what is the reason for all the pain and suffering in the world? They really weren’t concerned about him, they were just curious about his condition.
You see, the Jews always connected suffering with sin. And so when the disciples asked their question it revealed their wrong perspective. And their perspective was two-fold.
The first is the pagan assumption that human suffering is the result of either a specific sin or simply a mistake that was done in a previous life. It’s like they were thinking about this blind guy, he must have done something awful the last time he was here and that’s why he’s blind, or that’s why others are poor or in that wretched family. And there are several religions today that believe this.
Just to give you one example, there’s the country of India where there are people who are dying from starvation all over the place but no one seems to be doing anything about it. And the reason no one is doing anything is a religious problem, they believe these people are suffering for some sin in a previous life and if they do anything to stop their suffering, then these people are going to have to live this life all over again. So, if I do anything to help them, not only am I not doing them any favors but I’m actually hurting their spiritual progress. But listen, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” Did you get that? Once!
And then the second belief was that some blindness could be caused by the sin of the parents. And to a degree we would agree with this because there are certain diseases like sexually transmitted ones that result in blindness but just to write off any physical problem by claiming it was a judgment on the parents is absurd. I mean, that’s not taking into account, the life of the one who is suffering. Why would they be punished for something their parents either did or didn’t do?
In this case Jesus said this guy had been born blind that the glory of God might be revealed in him. And this means, that God had allowed him to be born blind for a specific reason. And what was it? So Jesus could come and heal him and God would be glorified by this. I want you to learn a few lessons from this miracle and here’s lesson number one.
There are no pat answers, to the questions of human suffering. There was a lady in our church in Guelph who had come from a Christian home and one day she told me about her sister. She said her family had all come home from church and they were sitting down to Sunday dinner enjoying themselves when her sister who was about sixteen years old choked on some food. They all started rushing around trying to help, they did everything they could but couldn’t get it out of her throat and she went into a coma before any medical help arrived. And listen, she’s been hospitalized and in that coma for over fifty years. Why?
I had a friend who was a nurse at a hospital in Montreal and she worked in a special care unit that took care of babies that were born deformed. She told me about one whose heart was outside the body before it was born. And several others who were in such severe conditions that all they could do was take care of them until they died. Why?
And then there are those who are born so severally retarded that they have to be institutionalized for their entire lives. And we wonder why?
I read a book one time by Truman Capote about two murderers who were caught, tried, convicted and executed. In the book you find that the people these guys tortured and murdered were a very devout Christian family who were about to go to church when these guys showed up to rob them and ended up killing the whole family. Why?
Listen, it’s easy to say that God has a reason for everything that happens. The difficulty comes when someone asks, what that reason is. Sometimes we just don’t have all the answers and have to admit that in spite of the fact that we don’t know everything we still trust in a God who does.
So, suffering can be as a result of sin but it’s not always. Let me give you a few other reasons why we suffer.
First, suffering is corrective. There are certain things that happen in our lives that God allows that are meant to get us back on the right path. I mean, sometimes something or even a few things will happen and the only thing we can do is bow our heads and ask the Lord for help. And I’m sure when that happens God says to Himself, well, it took you long enough.
We read about the chastisement of the Lord in Hebrews 12: 5-7 where it says, “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?”
So, He says, when you are going through this chastening or scourging there are two things you have to avoid. One is, don’t despise it or another way of saying this is, don’t react in anger which will soon turn to bitterness if you don’t get over it.
Every once in a while we’ll run into someone who goes through difficulties like we all do but this particular person gets angry at God and soon they become angry at everyone else as well. And the result is a bitter disposition.
And the second thing the writer of Hebrews tells us, is not to faint or give up. You know, this is the person that gives you the impression that God is too difficult to serve. After all, when they got saved, they thought all their problems were over, and then they found that God hadn’t prepared a velvet pathway for them to follow all the way to heaven. But listen, verse 11 says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yeildeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Listen, the Christian life is not one big picnic but God is trying to teach us something. It’s corrective. Anything we go through always has a purpose.
And not only is suffering corrective but the second thing we see is suffering is also constructive. I mean, God allows things to happen in our lives that we may not appreciate at the time but He allows them to happen, so we can develop character. And our character is made up of personality traits and each of them have to be matured.
I think one of the parts of character that God is developing in all of us is patience and that’s one area of our lives that we all wrestle with because in order to learn patience we have to be content to wait. And we all want to be patient, but we all want it, right now.
A friend of mine got an article from his mother that describes the process of maturing and I thought you might appreciate its message. It’s about a guy who is maturing, slowly like the rest of us. It’s written like a diary and this is what it says.
Day 1 I went for a walk, I fell down a hole, I didn’t see it and it took me a long time to get out. It’s not my fault.
Day 2 I went for a walk down the same street. I fell in the same hole. It took me a long time to get out. Why did I do that?
Day 3 I went for a walk down the same street. I fell in the same hole. I got out quickly. It is my fault.
Day 4 I went for a walk down the same street. I saw the hole. I walked around it.
Day 5 I went for a walk down a different street. I can’t handle it when I go down that street. Every time I go down that street there’s just something sucking me down that hole. I’m not going down that street anymore.
When we hear that, our first thought is, this guys really stupid. He keeps making the same mistake all the time. Why didn’t he change direction the first time he fell into that hole? But, don’t we all make the same mistakes or commit the same sins over and over again until we’re finally willing to change direction. And changing direction is constructive.
Third, suffering is allowed specifically to bring glory to God. I think that one of the people who illustrates this best for all of us is Job. And his suffering proved to Satan and all the angels of heaven that he loved God for who God was and not for what he could get.
This might sound like a strange thing to say but why would God permit a man like Job to have all of his children killed, lose everything he has and be struck with such illness that he finds himself sitting on an ash heap moaning over the fact that he was ever born? Because Job did.
Why would God allow a man to be struck with total blindness for the better part of his life just so that He could heal him. God did.
Would God allow someone like Lazarus to die and all of his family to go through the experience of losing a loved one just so He could raise him back up again. God did.
And through all these things God was glorified. And I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand what that means as long as we are living on this earth but the scripture says that someday we’ll understand fully even as we are understood.
I believe there are some things God allows for reasons that only He knows. I mean, it certainly wouldn’t surprise any of us when we get to heaven to find out that He was doing something that was way beyond our comprehension and by this He caused us to mature and brought glory to Himself.
And so, we need to be careful when we assume we know why someone else is suffering. God may be teaching them, He may be trying to give them some direction in life or He may just be using their situation for His own glory.
So, lesson number one, we see the blind man’s situation but we also realize that there are no easy answers to the problem of human suffering. It’s like this, I don’t know why you have your problems and you don’t know why I have mine. So, this tells me we have to learn to be patient with one another and we also need to pray for one another. We don’t need to have a bad attitude and accuse one another of sin. That’s Satan’s job.
And the second lesson we learn from the disciples question about this man’s condition is that it’s easy to be objective as long as we aren’t affected by the problem. And so, they could look at this guy in passing and either observe a lesson about human suffering or they could even think of a way they might use him as a sermon illustration. But as far as they were concerned, his blindness was his problem, not theirs. And that’s where they were at. If it sounds like they were kind of cold, they were.
There’s an old saying that goes, “There is none so blind, as he who will not see.” And there are people who are born blind but I think spiritual blindness is even worse because it affects them for all of eternity.
Now, I’m not saying we should all go out looking for blind people to help, but it does tell us that we, like the disciples need to examine our attitude toward those who are around us. Otherwise, we’re no different than the non-Christians we’re trying to reach.
George Barna is a Christian researcher and he’s written several books. One of them was entitled, “The Second Coming of the Church.” In this book he analyzed and compared the attitudes of born again Christians with pagans or their secular counterparts and he found there was little difference between the two. Here are some examples.
In the area of money, 33% of Christians say it’s impossible for them to get ahead because of their immense financial debt. 39% of non-Christians say the same thing.
When they heard the statement, “You’re still trying to figure out the purpose of life.” 36% of Christians agreed and 47% of non-Christians said the same, not very much difference.
When asked if they were satisfied with their life, 69% of Christians said they were while 68% of non-Christians said they were too.
Then they were asked what changed them. 92% of Christians said they were changed by what they believe ( That sounds pretty good doesn’t it? But listen.) 75% of non-Christians said the same. They too were changed by what they believe.
The author said, “Most believers said, God gives them material blessings to make them happy and only very few said He gives them these things to reach a lost world.” He says, “The average Christian believes that once they’ve come to faith in Christ their spiritual life has pretty well come to an end. “
Listen, I don’t want to offend you but I want you to think about something. If someone went out of their way to share the gospel with you so that you could get to heaven, don’t you think you have the responsibility to do the same thing for others?
You know it’s a strange thing but some Christians feel as though they’ve done their share to reach the world and now they can just sit back and relax. You know, we’ve built a building and hired a Pastor so anyone who wants to can come and hear the gospel. We have Sunday school, children’s works and special services once or twice a year. We support missions and are reaching people around the world. That’s right, we might be doing a lot, but at the same time, you have people at work or maybe right next door who will never have a reason to come to church and they won’t, unless someone invites them.
So, lesson number one is, we need to be more patient and loving toward others and lesson number two is, we need to be more aggressive in our witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our time to be productive for God is limited. As Jesus said in verse 4, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” Did you hear that? He was saying His time was limited. And so is ours.
I think there are many people who have had a positive influence on most of our lives. One of the people who really affected me was someone many of you knew. Her name was Edith Johnstone and I had the privilege of knowing Mrs.Johnstone for the last ten years of her life while she was living in the Drew Nursing home. And I’ve got to say that every time I went in to visit she treated me like I was a member of the royalty family and she was happy to see me. I mean, not only was she always glad to see me but she was always took time to remind me she was praying for me and often asked if there was any specific areas of my life that she could remember before the Lord.
I remember walking in one time and I thought I woke her from a nap but she said, “It’s alright, I was just going over my scripture memory.” And she was always memorizing scripture, even in her nineties. Did you ever think, ‘I’m too old to memorize the scripture. My mind just doesn’t work that well anymore.’ You see, it wasn’t something she felt she had to do but something she wanted to do.
And because she was living so close to the Lord she was always trying to reach one or two of the other residents with the gospel. She shared with me one of her frustrations. She had been praying for this one woman for several years and she shared the gospel with her several times only to have this lady come into her room one day and say to her, “I want to pray and receive the Lord.” And Mrs. Johnstone led her in a prayer of commitment but when she was done the lady said, “There I’ve done it, now don’t bother me about it anymore.” Mrs. Johnstone knew this woman wasn’t sincere in her commitment but she was frustrated because she also knew she wasn’t saved and there was nothing else that she could do. But that didn’t stop her from praying for her.
And you know, she always had something to share that she had learned from the scriptures. Sometimes it was an insight she got from the Daily Bread and other times it was a promise she received from the Lord about one of her grandchildren. She was always in the word.
And there were others in the same nursing home who had come from the same church and had grown up in Christian homes and yet all they did was complain about their aches and pains or whine about how nobody ever came to visit them. What was the difference? I think it’s easy to say that the one was really saved and the others just had a Christian perspective on life but that’s not being realistic.
I think there are many people who are simply becoming what they will be while a few others get sidetracked or overwhelmed by the problems and concerns of life. And that means, that there are some who are useful for the kingdom while a lot more are simply spectators. Listen, which type are you?
I’m not much of a football fan but when I was living in Toronto, a friend of mine got a couple of tickets to an Argo game and we went. I enjoyed the game even though I really don’t understand it but there was one thing that really stood out to me. I noticed that there were twenty-two men playing on the field and they were exhausted. They were giving it everything they had. These men looked like they really needed a rest while at the same time there were fifty thousand people in the stands and most of them looked like they really needed some exercise. And doesn’t that describe the church.
We need to get more people out of the stands and unto the field of play. I’m afraid that many seem to act as though their job is to let the pastor know how well he’s doing. But listen, his job is not to reach the town but it’s to equip us to reach the town. So, the question isn’t how is he doing, but how are we doing?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” And so this week, you’ll either see people who have a need for God and invite them to come and hear the gospel or you’ll just say, that’s their problem, not mine.
There’s a little book in the Old Testament by the name of Esther. And it’s unusual because it’s the one book in the Bible where God is never mentioned. I mean, you won’t find His or any mention of Him in the entire book. And yet, the Jewish scholars said it was the one book they would include in the scriptures before any of the rest because it’s obvious that God is so involved in every aspect of Esther’s life.
At one time in the book she was in the position of queen and enjoying all that entails when her uncle Mordecai asked her to take a message to the king and explain to him that Israel was about to be destroyed unless he did something to help. And going before the king without being invited could mean instant execution. But rather than just saying yes she said, “If I perish, I perish.” And so, what she said was, I’m either going to do it or I’m going to die trying.
Listen, would you say to God this morning, ”Lord, you give me the opportunity this week and I’ll do my best to witness for you.”