Growing up, my parents had a display case with all of the sporting achievements that had been accomplished by me and my brothers. Being considerably more bookish than the rest of them, I don’t remember contributing anything to its shelves, and by the age more academic achievements were officially recognised, my brothers quickly overtook me once again!
Nonetheless, we all recognise the value of a display case in exhibiting accomplishments, and the term ‘display case’ probably conjures up a fairly standard mental image. That’s why it’s surprising when someone chooses an unusual way of sporting their attainments. Yet John 9 does exactly that.
As the episode opened, speculation grew that a blind man suffered the disability as a result of specific sin (vv2-3).
Disciples: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus: It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
How could a blind man display God’s work? How would he be a display case? Once again the master author draws us in to read on, and see the works of God unfold.
The works of God
For those expecting a series of extraordinary miracles, the disappointment is palpable as the man’s sight returned within 7 verses of the chapter’s opening, and no further miracles appear to have been conducted. But at the end of a protracted and frequently farcical discussion, Jesus revealed that the works He had revealed were more than healing that blind man.
For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. (v39)
It’s the very idea communicated by Jesus’ title, “the light of the world” (v5). Ever since John 3:20-211, we’ve seen that Jesus’ illuminating work divides people – those who come towards Him, and those who run into the darkness. It was seen especially clearly in chapter 8. In chapter 9, we see these two works on display once again.
“Those who do not see may see…”
The first of these works was plain from the outset – the blind man ‘came back seeing’ (v7). But as we keep reading the chapter, we realise that the man came to have more than just physical sight. Notice the way that his view of Jesus developed over the course of the chapter.
He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes…” (v11)
He said, “He is a prophet.” (v17)
He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know.” (v24)
“If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (v33)
He said, “Lord, I believe [that you are the Son of Man],” and he worshiped him. (v38)
Jesus’ gift of sight to the man is more than physical. It’s spiritual too. As the works of God are displayed in him, we see Jesus doing the amazing work of giving sight. The man went from thinking that Jesus was just a man to realising that He was the divine Son of Man2. As we’ve been seeing throughout this section, He is God Himself.
“…those who see may become blind”
But notice how the converse is also true. While the man became increasingly able to see who Jesus was, the Pharisees in the chapter became progressively more closed-minded:
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. (v16)
… the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. (v22)
“Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” (v24)
“We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” (v29)
They answered [the man born blind], “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (v35)3
Jesus’ response to their rejection is blindness. It’s another hard teaching from Jesus, but shows that He isn’t dispassionate towards those who reject Him. He responds with judgement.
The final verse of the chapter helps us to see what Jesus means by ‘blinding those who see’. It’s not a case of finding those who believe and making them blind – it’s evident from the start that the Pharisees weren’t believers. Rather, v41 helps us to see that Jesus condemns those who claim to see. If they admitted their blindness, if they admitted the problem that we all have, they would be able to come and get healing from Jesus; but those who refuse to accept His offer face His judgement. Because the Jews of Jesus’ day refused to have their guilt dealt with and instead claimed they could see, their guilt remained.
The light of the world
Ever since John 54, Jesus had presented the divine works of God as evidence of His own divinity. In this chapter, we see those works on display, as Jesus gave spiritual sight – and therefore spiritual life – to the man born blind, while judging those who rejected Him. Just as we’ve been seeing since John 35, Jesus is the light of the world who divides those who are exposed to Him – and those dividing works are “the works of God”.
It’s the work of giving sight – which explains why the Jews rejected Jesus. How could they see without a miracle happening? As our question throughout this section reaches the end of its answer, we’re reassured that rejection of Jesus isn’t surprising, it’s expected. Nothing less than a miracle is needed to prompt any other response.
But it’s also the work of blinding those who reject Him. As the Jews chose to follow in the footsteps of their father, Jesus didn’t ignore their response. He responded with the condemnation that it warranted.
Such an episode is supposed to give us hope, confidence, and a challenge.
- Hope – because Jesus is in the business of giving sight. While I think some people seem like they’re never going to recognise who Jesus is, John reminds me that in reality everyone is a miracle away from coming to see Jesus. The “God-fearer” and the atheist both need a miracle – and Jesus is able to give them sight.
- Confidence – because the rejection of the experts doesn’t undermine Jesus’ identity. They simply demonstrated their own rejection of the evidence – they proved their own blindness. Their rejection doesn’t undermine Jesus’ identity – it proves it. Jesus really is God, doing the works of God.
- And a challenge. How will we respond to Jesus’ claims? The man born blind became the occasion for God’s works to be displayed – the very works that Jesus has claimed prove His identity6. What conclusion have you drawn at the moment? And whose example are you following? Are you like the man born blind, acknowledging your blindness and coming to Him for sight? Or are you like the Jews in this story who reject Jesus, claiming they can see?
That could be the end of this section, but our author hasn’t finished yet – and I for one am glad. Because at this point in his account we’ve explained the abandonment of God’s people, but we’ve left ourselves hanging. God appears to have almost no one left. What ever has happened to God’s people? Well, the episode concludes next week…
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.
- John 3:20-21, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But everyone who does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” ↩
- “Son of Man” was a title that came from the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 7. Rather than being a comment on Jesus’ humanity, it was a title that communicated immense authority – the kind of authority that only God has. Have a read of Daniel 7 to see that more clearly. ↩
- Notice how their verdict on the cause of the man’s blindness is the exact opposite of Jesus’ answer in v3 ↩
- E.g. John 5:21, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son.” ↩
- E.g. John 3:21 ↩
- E.g. John 5:36 ↩