Jesus has left the temple, and he passes by a man who was blind from birth. In a culture where there is no safety net for a person with disabilities, Jesus sees a man who must depend on the charity of others for his daily survival. Likely, the man’s parents can no longer care for him, as they lack financial ability. Thus, the blind man is left to beg for his daily needs.
It’s difficult to imagine the pain, suffering, and shame this man has experienced. As people pass by, they guess what he had done or what his parents had done to cause such suffering and disability. There is a stigma overshadowing his life as others pass judgment. Jesus sees the outcast, the marginalized, and the overlooked. Often as the case in the Gospel of John, there is more going on than meets the eye.
John 9 opens with another sign. Jesus heals a blind man. We are also confronted with a question about God’s justice. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (ref. Jn. 9:2). This is a comfortable question if you are not the one suffering. If you are well-fed and healthy, if you are not being accused of sin, this is a comfortable question. However, if you are the one begging for your daily needs, if you were the one born blind, this question would play over and over in your mind as you struggled for the answer. Jesus corrects a common misconception, and we may need to let go of some commonly held assumptions.
JOHN 9:1-5 (NKJV) “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
There was an assumption that suffering was a direct result of sin. Therefore, wicked, sinful behavior led to suffering and punishment. This assumption is also demonstrated later in the passage when the Pharisees question the man healed of blindness.
JOHN 9:30-34 (NKJV) “The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.”
One thing Jesus is doing in the text is correcting a false assumption, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned….” The first time God’s attributes are described in the Bible is in (Exodus 34) the Lord meets with Moses on Mount Sinai.
EXODUS 34:6-7 (NKJV) “…“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
Among other attributes, God describes Himself as merciful and gracious (Exodus 34). These attributes of God are expressed throughout the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. The Bible does not teach a uniform cause-and-effect relationship between sin and pain and suffering. For example, in the Old Testament book of Job, part of what we learn is how the innocent and righteous, Job suffers greatly from no cause of his own. What is described in (Exodus) is not a multigenerational cause and effect of sin. God is a God of justice. This is what (Exodus 34) speaks to, God's justice. Jesus, in (Jn. 9), is correcting a false assumption. This man's blindness is not because of his sins or the sins of his parents.
The point of this sign is for the works of God to be revealed through Jesus. It's not that God caused the pain and suffering or the blindness of this man. But that through pain and suffering, God's glory is displayed.
One of the most challenging times of my life was at my mother's bedside when she passed away. In her final days, she was at home under hospice care. I was with her the weekend she passed away, and I know the pain she experienced. I had been praying and praying for a miracle, for God to step in somehow and intervene. Unfortunately, it seemed as if He was not to be found in these moments. I was knelt by my mother's bed, holding her hand, with my head bowed in prayer; when I looked up at her face. All I could see was peace. There was such peace on her face—a radiance and peace that made no sense to me at the time. I just asked her how; how can you have such peace at this moment? Her words to me were, "I know my Savior, and I know where I will be when I open my eyes." At that moment, the glory of God was revealed. His goodness was made known even amid pain and suffering.
Loss, pain, and suffering will never be easy. Death is in opposition to God, the final enemy to be destroyed. A better question than "Who caused this?" may be, "How can God's glory be displayed through this?"
LIGHT AND GLORY
Jesus continues in (John 9):
JOHN 9:4-5 (NKJV) “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John mixes these rich metaphors throughout his narrative. For example, in (John 8), Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (ref. John 8:12). What has Jesus done for the blind man? Metaphorically, He has given him the light of life. This ties into a larger narrative of light and glory found in John's gospel.
JOHN 1:3-5 (NKJV) “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
Later, in (John 1:14) we read, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Thus, through his gospel, John reveals the glory of the Lord through signs performed by Jesus. They are signs that point to the true identity of Jesus.
Throughout (John 9), there is a progression of faith developed in the account of the blind man. It begins as the formerly blind man only knows the one they call Jesus.
JOHN 9:10-11 (NKJV) “Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.”
Later, the man recognizes that Jesus is a prophet.
JOHN 9:17 (NKJV) They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
As the account develops, notice how his faith develops and how his faith leads him.
JOHN 9:35-38 (NKJV) “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.”
Finally, it leads him to confess the true identity of Jesus, the Son of God, as it creates a heart of worship in him.
There is more going on than what we often see. And to see Jesus, we may need to let go of some strongly held assumptions. Suffering and pain are never easy. Through my experiences, I have learned there are no easy answers for surfing, pain, or even death. Such is opposed to God's good kingdom. However, Jesus has overcome. In Him, we can have peace that surpasses all understanding (ref. Phil. 4:9). I am reminded of (Psalm 147), a Psalm of praise to the Lord.
Psalm 147:1-9 (NKJV)
Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.
He gives to the beast its food,
And to the young ravens that cry.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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