You don’t have to have a vision problem to be blind. Maybe you’ve felt our own blindness before. Certain circumstances can bring out our blindness more than others. For instance, have you ever tried putting a baby crib together? I did it again a couple weeks ago. Now, this one wasn’t bad, but years ago, the first one I did was awful. The directions were so complex, the pictures were so strange and unhelpful, and I’m pretty sure there were pieces missing. Looking at those directions, I felt blind.
A lot of times, though, we can’t notice our own blindness; but we can see it in others. Have you ever tried explaining something to someone and they just can’t get it? They start looking confused and obviously not following you. Then eventually they look at you like you’re the one who doesn’t get it. It seems so simple to us when we’re explaining it, but the other person seems to stay blind to what we’re saying.
But we can’t always look at others. We need to look at ourselves. Every single one of us was born with spiritual blindness. We were born not knowing the truth of who our Savior really is and trusting him for our salvation. This blindness can still creep into our lives now. Temptations both around us and inside come to pull us away from Jesus and keep us from seeing the light of his salvation.
But he is the one who lets us see! He is the Light of the world who removes our blindness. He has given us his Word to show us the way. He has given us himself to light our way to eternal life. He has given us the strength to overcome temptation, and the forgiveness to get up after we fall. Only in Christ do we have any chance of avoiding permanent spiritual blindness. Only in him can we say along with the hymn-writer of Amazing Grace: I once was blind, but now I see.
Even though we’re talking about spiritual blindness, our text for today deals with a man who had very real physical blindness. In fact, it was a man who had been blind from birth. He had never been able to see. Usually, when something like that strikes a person, it gives us questions as to how God could let it happen. That’s exactly what happened in our text. As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:1-2)
We believe that God is loving, and we should! But because we know God is loving, it makes bad things happening to people a difficulty. How could God be loving if he allowed people to be born blind? One way to answer this question is that God must be punishing people when things happen. That’s what the disciples thought here. Either the blind man or his parents must have sinned bad for him to be born blind, right?
No! Jesus explained the truth. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn. 9:3) God’s plans for plans are so much bigger than we could ever imagine. Just like Job found out in the Old Testament, we can’t begin to know why God allows certain things to happen. But we know he works everything for our good. (Rom. 8:28) As another example, we don’t know why God allowed an earthquake and tsunami to hit Japan. We can not say that God was punishing them; we don’t know all his plans. But he will use it for the good of his people.
In this blind man’s case, Jesus’ was going to show his power for this man’s good. It was about the work that Jesus had to do. He said, As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (Jn. 9:4) Jesus, the light of the world was going to use this man’s actual blindness so that others would be cured from their spiritual blindness. Plus, once this man could see, the spiritual blindness of others would be pointed out. It was part of Jesus’ plan.
The first step of that plan was to actually heal the man He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” … So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (Jn. 9:6-7) Remember: this is an amazing miracle of Jesus. Someone who is blind from birth shouldn’t be able to see thanks to some mud on his eyes. Jesus showed his power over all things. But really, this wasn’t his most amazing miracle in our text. We’ll get to that later.
From here, the story moves from someone who was physically blind to people who were spiritually blind, the Pharisees. Wouldn’t you know it, the man had been healed on the Sabbath day. It’s true that in the Old Testament God had commanded his people not to work on the Sabbath. But realize this: God never said “thou shalt not perform miraculous acts of healing on the Sabbath day.” No, the Pharisees added their own rules to God’s commandments, and they made what they said more important than what God said.
So when they heard about this miracle, they were confused. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided. (Jn. 9:16)
Jesus was a threat to the Pharisees. They were the religious experts, and suddenly Jesus was making a huge splash on the world with his teaching and his miracles. These religious leaders needed to have an answer about who he was. They could either have embraced Jesus and maybe even have seen him as the Savior that he was, or they could reject him and try to work against him.
They went the second route. In this chapter of John, they investigated everything that happened and came to the conclusion that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath, and that everyone who followed him should be kicked out of the synagogue — basically excommunicated from the church. After the formerly blind man dared to speak up for Jesus and speak against the Pharisees, that’s what happened to him. The Pharisees said to him, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (Jn. 9:34)
From our perspective now, nearly two thousand years after these events, it’s easy for us to picture these Pharisees as a group of monsters. They’re bad guys to us; we don’t identify with them as we hear this story. I’m sure we’d picture ourselves not going along with the Pharisees if we’d been there. We would have been on Jesus’ side! Right!?
Yes, the Pharisees here were spiritually blind. They rejected Jesus. They were jealous of him and thought their man-made laws were more important than God’s laws. This is different than us. We are believers. We don’t reject Jesus. But still, there is a part of the Pharisees way of thinking that can still get to our hearts, too.
We tend to expect things to happen in a certain way. When things happen differently, one reaction that we can have is to react with suspicion and anger. This way of thinking can become our default way of viewing the world. Pretty soon, our dealings even with our fellow believers can be full of anger, full of suspicion, and even full of jealousy. The attitude those Pharisees showed can creep into our hearts. It can lead us to shut ourselves off from others, and maybe even shut our ears to what God says in his Word.
Or, we can let our own opinions and thoughts about things cloud what God actually says. Maybe there’s even a specific teaching of the church, that you know is from the Bible, but there’s still a part of you that says, “I just don’t agree with it.” Maybe you don’t see it as a big deal. Maybe it’s not a teaching that has anything to do with how we’re saved or who Jesus is, but it could start us down a bad path. When we start putting God’s opinions ahead of God’s Word, who knows when more of our opinions might change? Where will we be left then?
You see the Pharisees were spiritually blind and had rejected Jesus. That’s where we come from, too. Every one of us were born spiritually blind. We were born rejecting Jesus and hating God by nature. And in our sinful nature we are still tempted to this. We are tempted to turn away from him.
When this temptation strikes, or even if we don’t feel it, we need to turn to Jesus and see the light of the world. He is the only one in whom we can see the truth.
Listen to his exchange with the blind man after everything had happened. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (Jn. 9:35-38)
I mentioned that the greatest miracle in this text was not Jesus healing this man’s physical blindness. No, the greatest miracle came right here. When this man’s spiritual blindness was finally taken away. He knew Jesus was a healer, but he didn’t yet know him as the Savior. But when Jesus revealed who he was, the man believed, and he worshiped him.
That was a miracle! This same miracle has happened to every one of us as Christians. It may have been when we were baptized before we can even remember, but it happened. When we are brought to faith, the Holy Spirit removes the spiritual blindness from us and focuses us on Christ. That’s when we see that our actions can’t earn heaven for us. That’s when we see that our sins are forgiven. That’s when we see that Jesus lived, he suffered, he died on the cross, and he rose all to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation forever. We once were blind, but now we see!
Don’t ever take this for granted! Continue in the Word and Sacrament that the Holy Spirit continues to use to work in you. Continue in God’s Word so that the blindness of your sinful nature never creeps back into your heart. Continue in Christ, the only light, the only source we have of salvation, the only way to heaven.
In him, we will never be blind. In him, we have a light that shines through this sinful dark world into the perfect eternity that he has won for us. Follow this light. Live in this light. And always give thanks for the sight you have, as you say with the hymn-writer, “I once was blind, but now I see.”