Welcome back. John 9:3 is a classic text for us at Desiring God when it comes to understanding God’s good design in human disability. In six APJ episodes, we’ve talked about the man born blind and Jesus’s explanation for why he was born blind. It’s just a profound story, a profound revelation of God’s purposes.
But today we’re looking at a different part of that story. You’ll remember that Jesus spit on the ground, mixed his saliva with dirt, made mud, applied the paste to the man’s blind eyes, and then sent him off to wash it all off in a pool. And that’s where his eyesight was restored. Let me read this account in John 9:1–7: “As he [Jesus] 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?’” There has to be a reason why, right? “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” There’s the key text. Why does disability exist? It’s a profound response, with wide-ranging implications. Then we read this. “Having said these things, [Jesus] spit 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 Pastor John.
He healed him with mud. Why? He could have said, “Eyes open,” and they would have opened. He’s done that. He used mud and spit. I have a lot of ideas why. I’ll just give you the one that’s most obvious in the text, least controversial. I think it’s manifest.
Namely, he used mud because he knew it was Saturday, the Sabbath, and it’s against the law to knead dough or clay or mud. One of the 39 interpretations of the Pharisees as to what it means not to work on Saturday was you can’t knead dough. And the word for “dough” is identical (pēlon) to the word “mud” or “clay.” It’s like brickmasons: “Hey, give me some more mud,” and all they mean is a big clump of moldable cement. Or it’s like women working with their bread, because they could call it mud. They usually don’t, but it’s the same word.
He knew exactly what he was doing. “I’m going to break the law; I’m going to do it in a way that breaks the law” — the law as the Pharisees understood it. Why would he want to do that? Because he’s the Lord of the Sabbath, and he wants to show that he is — or to show what the point of the Sabbath is: rest. Why? Why do you need rest? Healing. If you don’t rest, you die. Rest is weekly therapy for dying bodies. Get well; stop working. So I’m just really illustrating with this, What else would you do on the Sabbath but make eyes see? Especially if you’re God and you want to show that you’re the Creator and Sustainer and Healer.
But I don’t think any of those is the main reason why he did it. I think the main reason was to trigger the controversy.
Miracles Through Human Means
Yes. And it sure did that. But there’s a second reason why Pastor John thinks Jesus used the means of spit and dust and mud and a pool — a second reason Pastor John didn’t deliver from the pulpit, likely due to time limits. But it’s included in his written manuscript online, the sermon notes he had with him in the pulpit. So I’ll read this second one myself. Here’s what he wrote in his manuscript.
“God usually uses means in doing his wonderful works in this world.”
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. But 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 vitamins to radiation, from sunshine on the skin to cough syrup for the throat.
“If our hearts are alive and humble and worshipful, we will not stop until we see God at the bottom of everything.”
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.
Glory of His Work
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” (Psalm 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.