“While I am in the world, I am the Light of the World.” As you heard, Jesus spoke those words to his disciples as they stood near a blind-from-birth beggar. And they were especially appropriate. Jesus is able to give light, to supply sight to the blind man so that he might see. What would otherwise be impossible, Jesus simply does – miraculously. At the same time, there is a strangeness to this story in John. If this story is simple as Jesus healing the blind man, that’s over by v.7…the chapter’s 41 verses long. And that’s because when Jesus speaks about sight, he’s talking about the kind that reveals answers to life’s most difficult questions. He’s addressing the causes and purposes of life itself. He’s revealing the truth about us and about him. In these ways, for these things, Jesus shines so that, like the blind man, we might see.
In John 9, the disciples see Jesus’ attention on this blind beggar and they’re moved to ask a pretty common question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” We know that we live in world of sin. We know that God has said things like this: “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” When we don’t understand why certain bad things happen to us or don’t have an answer for why God allows planes to go missing or fathers to get fired or disease to run rampant or someone to be born blind… then we question. The disciples are really asking what we sometimes ask, “Why does the world work the way we see it?”
We’re tempted to look for answers to that question from the perspective of our limited, human sight. To do what the disciples did and assume a cause. It’s very often this one: “What sin did I do?” “Why is God punishing me?” Maybe we ask like that sometimes because if it were a sin that caused, say, the trouble my neighbor is experiencing, I could explain it better myself – “You’re being appropriately judged!” I might even be excused from helping – “No, this is God’s judgment on you!” And for ourselves, if we knew they were specific sins that caused the specific troubles we had, we’d know how to fix them. At times, even as Christians, in the middle of troubles very honestly we feel if only we knew the cause, we might know the cure.
This perspective is dangerous because it’s almost always related to other ones, like that of the Pharisees after our verses – they denounce Jesus for doing this miracle because he did it on the Sabbath – the day God had commanded his people to rest. Did you know that the Pharisees had 39 laws for how one could work out not working on the Sabbath day? They wanted people to keep God’s law – so they built some laws around his law that would keep people really holy. Their perspective says our relationship with God and to the things of this life is caused by what we do. They thought they knew the cause and they thought they had the cure.
Did you know that one of their 39 laws forbids kneading dough or clay? Funny thing, their word for “dough” or “clay” is the exact same word as the word for the “mud” Jesus makes for the blind man. Think for a minute: do you wonder why Jesus made this blind-healing so worksy? He’s healed people with a word from afar… Here, though, it’s very active – down on his knees, spitting, kneading mud, smearing it on eyes… Flair for the dramatic? Special mud in Israel? Maybe Jesus knew that his Sabbath-day mud-kneading would lead the once-blind man right to the Pharisees so they could ask how it happened. And they and others would have to consider everything they thought caused a good relationship with God in light of the Son of Man who worked miracles for a greater purpose.
And that’s how Jesus shines so that we truly see how the world works. He points not to some cause to excuse us or to explain everything for us but rather to the purpose God has in mind. Jesus said to the disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” It happened that this man would be born blind and be present in the right place just so that Jesus could walk by and see him and heal him and Jews and Pharisees and you and I would be able to engage the truth that God works all things for the good of his people. Specifically by seeing that even something like blindness can serve the purpose of letting Jesus shine his light – so that people might “have the light of life.”
What a beautiful thing to see! The work of God is displayed in human lives! Lives just like yours? Well, you know God planned to use that blind man’s life to showcase the Savior – Jesus specifically says it. But St. Peter would also later write about us, “We are people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Is it in the sickness that has debilitated you? Or when your finances are a struggle? Or when there is a tragedy in our nation? See things in the light of Jesus who says that God is planning and using all sorts of things so that you and others might better know the light of life. And then understand that if we are to correctly understand how the world works – that it works for the purpose God has in mind and that that purpose is good for us – then we have to understand who Jesus really is. Jesus has come that we might see just that.
Near the end of chapter 9, Jesus says to the once-blind man, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” He didn’t mean physical blindness; he meant the sight of faith. Faith holds on to Jesus Christ. After the miracle, the Pharisees finally throw the man out of the synagogue – essentially excommunicate him from Jewish religious life – they summarize things this way: the righteous do what we do, this Jesus doesn’t do what we do, he cannot be from God! Here’s the last statement wherein the man’s eyes of faith open ever wider and the Pharisees confirm how blind they truly are: the man said, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where [Jesus] comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners…If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The Pharisees and many others think they see how life works, but they are blind in sinful self-centeredness – that judgment is part of who Jesus is.
Maybe as you consider who Jesus really is, that seems like a contradiction – that he’s come for judgment. You might remember that he said in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Here he says, “For judgment I have come…” Some have compared it to a surgeon with a little child. The child is sick, needs major surgery – the surgeon will have to remove a tumor from within his body. A horrible thing. The child afraid of that surgery asks the doctor, “Did you come to hurt me,” and the doctor answers: “I didn’t come to hurt you; I came to save your life.” Jesus’ mission isn’t to condemn the world, but to save it by shining his light on the truth. The truth is that he is the one way to life with God. He is the one way of perfection that deserves a reward in this life and in the next. He is the one about whom the question, “Who sinned?” could never be fitting. And apart from him, “Who sinned?” absolutely fits all of us. We need to know who this one is and our lives need to be arranged for his purpose or we will face judgment.
So who is he, this Jesus we see in John 9? The blind man finally stands before Jesus himself and understands that this one is the “Son of Man”. Jesus spoke more than once about himself as the Son of Man. He said things like this: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ask the disciples’ question again, “Who sinned…” Because you know that it wasn’t the glorious Son of God, Jesus Christ. And yet, with all his glory he came to serve you and me by taking up sin as the God-Man. Now if God asks that question, “Who sinned?” the answer is not us. All our sins are on Jesus and he served us well by paying for them. He gave for free to us a good standing with God by his sacrifice at the cross – no cause of ours. Jesus also said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Don’t you think it’s interesting here that this chapter begins like this: “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth.”…before the disciples asked, Jesus saw. Don’t you think it’s interesting that later it reads: “Jesus heard that they had thrown [the man] out, and when he found him,”…the man didn’t look for Jesus, Jesus found him. Or maybe it’s not interesting, but simply fitting because this is Jesus, the Son of Man, who has one purpose: to seek out and to save sinners from the blindness of sin for the brilliant light of everlasting life.
What should you take away from John 9? I pray that Jesus’ presence helps us see that our lives are not a fickle game of cause and effect where every bad experience is God’s heavy hand, crushing out our guilt. Our guilt was crushed when the Son of Man died. Instead, our lives are the space in which God’s purpose is put into play – that the light of his Son might shine for all to see. I pray that Jesus’ presence helps us consider what he said to the disciples for ourselves as well, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” I pray that Jesus’ presence helps us to do that with confidence as we see who he is: the Son of Man who brightly shines so that we open our eyes to see that God is at work in everything for us and through us. I pray that, having seen your Savior, once again you go home seeing. Amen.