As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” [which means sent]. So he went and washed and came back seeing.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
Last time, we focused on verses 1–5. Jesus sees a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples ask about the cause of the blindness. Jesus turns the question around and says, in effect, human causes are not decisive in explaining things. Divine purposes are decisive. Verse 3: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents [human causes], but that the works of God might be displayed in him [God’s purpose].”
The reason causes are not the ultimate explanation for things is that God is not ultimately a responder but ultimately a planner. In other words, when God ordains that something happen, God is not, at the bottom, responding to human causes. He is, at bottom, planning a purpose.
All Things for Good — Even Mess and Pain
The implication of this for your life is profound. No matter what mess you’re in or what pain you’re in, the causes of that mess and that pain are not decisive in explaining it. What is decisive in explaining it is God’s purpose. Yes, there are causes. Some of them your fault, perhaps, and some of them not. But those causes are not decisive in determining the meaning of your mess or your pain. What is absolutely decisive is God’s purpose. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3).
And if you will confess your sins, and hold fast to Jesus as your Rock and your Redeemer and your Riches, God’s purpose for your mess and your pain will be a good purpose. It will be worth everything you must endure. We know this is true because God says so. Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
God Himself: The Greatest Treasure
Of course, none of this will make sense, or be helpful, if God himself, and the glory of his incomparable works, is not your greatest treasure. When Jesus says, the purpose of this blindness is “that the works of God might be displayed in him,” he assumes the manifestation of the works of God, has a value that outweighs years and years of blindness. Both for the man and his parents.
In order to embrace that, we have to value the manifestation of the works of God more than we value seeing. Indeed more than we value life itself. Psalm 63:3 says, “Your steadfast love is better than life.” And Jesus said to the prisoners in Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Being loved by God, and being with God forever, is better than having eyes and better than being alive in this world. If we don’t believe that, then saying that God has wise and good purposes in all our losses, will not be much comfort. But if we do believe it, not only will God’s purposes comfort us and strengthen us, but they will make us able to patiently, and gently help others through their times of darkness.
Hop on “The Table”
I have been very encouraged since the announcement two weeks ago that so many of you have signed up for “The Table” — Bethlehem’s private online community. And even more than that, I have been encouraged by what is happening there. For example, one of you shared your struggle with infertility, and how hard it is to feel the love of God. The last I looked about 35 people had prayed for you and several had left words of empathy and encouragement that seemed to me amazingly sensitive and biblical.
So I hope many more of you will follow up with the email that was sent and join the Table. You can use it as much or as little as you want. But I predict that the truth of biblical teaching is going to become much more practical and powerful as we apply them to each other in this way — and many others.
Jesus: Doing the Works of God
Now here we are at verses 6–7 and the actual healing of the man born blind: “Having said these things, [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
Here’s an observation that sets the stage for everything else in this chapter. Jesus said in verse 3 that the man was blind so that the works of God would be manifest. But then he said in verse 4, “We must work the works of him who sent me.” And in verse 6 Jesus himself made the mud and healed him. So the stage is set for the question: Who is this Jesus? How are we to respond to this Jesus, who says God’s work is going to be shown here, and then does the work himself?
Controversy Divinely Designed
And I’ll tell you ahead of time what’s going to happen so you can watch it unfold. The controversy that follows is all designed by God to show how the person and work of Jesus leads some to blasphemy and some to worship. The blasphemy is in verse 24: “So for the second time they [the Pharisees] called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.’” In other words, God gets glory when you call Jesus a sinner. That is blasphemy. “You are glorifying God when you are demonizing Jesus” is blasphemy.
But that was not the only response to the healing of this blind man. There is also worship. This is in verse 38. It’s the climax of the story. The last thing the man does in this text before he disappears from the story is worship Jesus: “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.” In the other six places in this gospel where the word “worship” (Greek proskuneo) is used, it means really “worship,” not just “fall down.”
Toward Blasphemy and Worship
So that’s where the story is going. Jesus has himself done the works of God. And those who have eyes to see say with John 1:14, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That’s what the blind man saw. That’s what the Pharisees did not see, which is why this chapter ends with blindness just like it began, only of a worse kind.
So let’s see how things unfold toward blasphemy and worship.
Why did Jesus use mud to heal the blind man? I suggest two reasons. One is explicit in the text, and the other seems implied.
First, Jesus did it because it was against the law to do it on the Sabbath — against the Pharisee’s understanding of the law — and he meant to unleash the controversy that would bring out both the blasphemy and the worship (compare 1 Corinthians 11:19). You can see this in verses 13–14: “They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.” So the mud-making is explicitly connected with the Sabbath and the Pharisees. They had developed many applications of the prohibition of work on the Sabbath, and one of them was the kneading of dough. And the word for mud or clay here is the same as the word of dough. Jesus had broken the law against kneading dough, or clay, or mud.
Why the Sabbath?
Why would he do this? To show that he was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). He defines the Sabbath. To show what the point of Sabbath rest is. The point of Sabbath rest is healing. That’s why you rest. Healing! The point of Sabbath rest is that we are helpless and God creates, God sustains, God heals, we don’t. What day could be better for God incarnate to find a broken man and heal him — to give him and his parents rest from all the struggles of blindness? That’s what the Sabbath is for — God-exalting blessing to broken and weary humans.
And he did it on the Sabbath to trigger this controversy that goes on for 41 verses. Hearts are exposed in this controversy. And not just exposed. Hearts are shaped. Faith doesn’t just get revealed; faith gets strengthened. This blind man becomes clearer and clearer about who Jesus is. And he becomes stronger and stronger in his courage in defending Jesus against very dangerous adversaries. This is what Jesus was after: Clear sight of who he was, courageous confession of faith, and worship. And the expression of tragically blasphemous hearts.
That’s the first reason for the mud. It was on the Sabbath and would unleash a firestorm for the sake of truth and faith and worship.
God Usually Uses Means
The second reason for the mud is to show that God usually uses means in doing his wonderful works in this world. Jesus could have simply spoken and the man’s eyes would have been opened. Most of the wonders of God in the Old Testament were brought about by the use of human means. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). God is decisive in the victory, but he uses means. He doesn’t need the horse, but he uses the horse.
Ponder this in the bigger picture of life for a moment. What this means is that God does not despise the physical world he has made. He uses the means of food to sustain life. He uses the means of sex to beget children. And he uses a thousand remedies to bring about healing — from sleep to penicillin. From Riboflavin to radiation. From sunshine on the skin to cough syrup for the throat.
Not Despising the Physical World
And lest you think this removes the mystery of God’s wonderful work, consider boring down through layer after layer after layer of physical causes for why antibiotics work against strep. Forty or fifty layers down into the molecular, subatomic activities of the smallest particles, or non-particles, there comes a point where there is no explanation inside this closed material system. The final explanation is always God. And if our hearts are alive and humble and worshipful, we will not stop until we see God at the bottom of everything.
It is no small thing, to believe that God uses means to accomplish his purposes. And his purposes are that the glory of his work would be displayed. And therefore, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1). And so does all the rest of creation, if we have eyes to see. Jesus used mud. We may use mud — or medicine. The difference is how close to the surface the miracle is. Let your life be full of wonder at the works of God — and full of worship.
The Pool Called Sent
Now Jesus sends him away to wash in the pool of Siloam. Verse 7: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” The name of the pool meant sent and John bothered to point that out. Why?
Perhaps because the reason the pool was called Sent is that the water in the pool was sent there by stream from a distant spring. In pointing this out, Jesus may have been making a comparison between the pool called “Sent” and himself as the one “sent” from the Father as the living water (John 4:10–11). Verse 4: “We must work the works of him who sent me.”
If that’s right, then the water signifies not just cleansing, and not just healing, but life. In John 4, Jesus gives the woman at the well “living water” — the water of life. When you meet Jesus and receive him for who he is, you live, and you see, and you begin to be healed, and will be healed completely before he is done with you at the resurrection. All our seeing and all our healing is owing to new spiritual life that comes from Jesus — the Sent One.
Five Conversations Follow
Now come five conversations, and step by step the blind man’s sight of who Jesus is becomes clearer, and his courage to defend him becomes stronger, until we reach the climax in verse 38 with worship.
1. The Beggar and His Neighbors (Verses 8–12)
The first conversation in verses 8–12 is between the man and his neighbors. They were arguing about whether he was the blind beggar. He insisted he is the one who as blind. So they ask in verse 10 how his eyes were opened. And he answers in verse 11, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes.” So at this point, he simply calls him “the man.” He knows his name, Jesus, but he simply calls him “the man.”
2. The Beggar and the Pharisees (Verses 13–17)
The second conversation in verses 13–17 is between the man and the Pharisees. They too ask him (verse 15) how he could be seeing if he were blind. He tells them. They are divided by his answer. He can’t be from God; he broke the Sabbath. How can he do this sign if he is a sinner? So they ask the beggar in verse 17, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?”
Something has happened in this interchange. Something is happening in the man’s heart. He answers in verse 17, “He is a prophet.” Not just an ordinary man, but one sent by God. He is a prophet.
3. The Pharisees and the Parents (Verses 18–23)
The third conversation in verses 18–23 is between the Pharisees and the man’s parents. They ask in verse 19: Is he your son? Was he born blind? How does he see? They answer (verses 20–21): He is our son, and he was born blind, but we don’t know how he was healed. And John says in verse 22 that the reason they said this was because they feared the Jews. (See also 7:13; 19:38; 20:19).
I think the point here is not to be hard on the parents, but to make the son’s courage all the more amazing. The parents are like Nicodemus who in John 3:2 came to Jesus at night to avoid being seen, but in John 19:39 was openly assisting in his burial. They are on their way. But their son is moving much faster.
4. The Beggar and the Pharisees (Verses 24–34)
So in the fourth conversation in verses 24–34, we see the full-blown courage of the beggar — a mere beggar standing up to the most religious and educated people of the land! And we see the full-blown blasphemy of the Pharisees.
Verse 24: “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” Join us in our blasphemy. Or we will excommunicate you from the synagogue. Glorify God by calling Jesus a sinner. Amazingly he responds to this threat with his most famous statement of all: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” The power of a personal testimony over a bad argument is very great.
The truth about Jesus was going deeper all the time. He is seeing more and more. And his courage becomes scorn. Verse 27: Why do you want to hear my story again, “Do you also want to become his disciples?”
And now they become hostile. Verses 28–29: “They reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The controversy exposes another deceit. No, they are not disciples of Moses. Because Jesus said in John 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” Now we start to see who is really blind in this story.
His courage for Jesus continues to grow. Verses 30–33: “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
This is simply astonishing what has happened in this man’s soul. They can’t handle it. So they cast him out with contempt. Verse 34: “‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.” Yes, he had become their teacher. The blind man was seeing more and more clearly. And their blindness was hardening.
5. Jesus and the Beggar (Verses 35–38)
Which leads to the last conversation in verses 35–38 between Jesus and the beggar. And one thing that makes it so significant is that Jesus initiates it. The man has been threatened and cast out of his lifelong religious community. But Jesus seeks him and finds him (it’s no accident that the next chapter is about Jesus as the Shepherd who gathers his sheep). Verses 35–38:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.”
And that’s the last thing we see or hear of him. That is the point of the story. Jesus does the works of God. Jesus is the glory of God. Jesus is to be worshipped. The man was blind. And then he called Jesus “the man.” And then he called him a prophet. And then he defended him at huge risk. And then fell down and worshipped. This is why Jesus came into the world. He is seeking worshipers.
So I close with four questions for you, and three statements.
Do you worship Jesus?
Do you find your worship of Jesus deepening or weakening in the midst of threat and danger?
Does your worship falter or flourish when your family is fearful or unbelieving?
Do you confess him openly and defend him with your simple testimony, I was blind, but now I see?
To encourage you in each of those four ways, here are three statements:
God has a wise, good, and Christ-exalting purpose for everything that happens to you.
Jesus is the only path to the full, final, joyful experience of that purpose.
Jesus sought out this rejected blind man — this nobody, this beggar — and he is seeking you out right now. To make you a courageous worshiper of Jesus.