Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. – Isaiah 60:1-3
** Before you begin, read John 8:12-20 and John 9:1-41
The multitude of worshippers filled the temple courts on the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles. The oil lamps in their niches did little to banish the darkness in so vast a space. Men, women, and children jostled against one another as the priests took their positions for the final ceremony, the Joy of the Feast.
Earlier in the evening, young men of priestly descent had climbed ladders to reach the top of the four enormous candelabras in the Court of Women. Each attendant had carried a large pitcher of oil that he carefully used to fill the golden bowls at the top of the structures.
Now the priests began singing hymns, and a hush fell over the crowd as the attendants once again began ascending the ladders to the top of the candelabras, this time with torches in their hands. Every eye was trained upward in the darkness, and as the people waited for the light, they remembered the significance of the ceremony.
Light represented both the pillar of fire that had led their fathers in the wilderness as well as God’s shekhinah glory.
The rabbis taught that God wrapped Himself in light as a garment that could not shine by day lest it dim the sun. His divine light was that from which the sun, moon, and stars had been kindled, and it was now reserved under the throne of God for Messiah when He came.
The light was representative of Messiah Himself too. He was the “great light” shining in the darkness (Isaiah 9:2) that God had promised to one day kindle for His people Israel.
When the attendants reached the top of their ladders, a holy silence fell over the crowd. Then slowly, in unison, these young men lowered their torches to the golden bowls. A roar of flame and wave of heat swept over the people as the temple courts were flooded with brilliant light. The people raised their voices in both gratitude for God’s past deliverance and joyful expectation of the coming Messiah.
A few days later, Jesus of Nazareth stood in the temple courts and raised His voice:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. – John 8:12
No one missed the significance of Jesus’ statement, especially the temple leaders. Their distaste for the Prophet from Nazareth was developing into a murderous hatred.
The next Sabbath, as Jesus and His disciples were going to the temple, they walked past the many beggars waiting near the gates. On any other day, the unfortunate souls would cry out for alms, but it was against the law to beg on the Sabbath. One man, blind from birth, maintained his place on his mat in hopes that his mere presence might stir compassion in the heart of a few worshippers, and discreet gifts would follow. He sat cross-legged with his eyes closed and head down. One hand rested on his knee, and the other grasped a long stick he used to guide himself through Jerusalem’s streets.
As they neared the man, the disciples saw a familiar expression of compassion on Jesus’ face.
‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ they asked. – John 9:2
The disciples had been taught all their lives that physical deformities were God’s punishment for sin. But what about a man who had been born blind? Who had sinned then? Was the man’s father or mother to blame, or did he somehow sin while in the womb?
Jesus stopped in front of the beggar and knelt down before him. He reached out and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works 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.’ – John 9:3-5
Jesus was redefining all that His disciples thought they understood about suffering and the nature of their fallen world. Jesus was explaining to them that creation was broken by sin and that suffering would inevitably follow as a result.
Jesus was also holding out a new hope to them: having come as a light into the darkness, He had the power to redeem suffering for the glory of God. It was a promise true not only for the blind beggar, but for all who are wounded by the fall.
By this time, Jesus had the blind man’s rapt attention. Jesus spat on the ground and began to knead the dirt between His fingers to make a small bit of mud. The disciples had seen spittle used for eye maladies many times. Although no one expected it to cure blindness, it was a common treatment. Jesus’ actions would not have been considered terribly remarkable on any other day, but this was the Sabbath. The Jews’ oral tradition forbade the application of any treatment of an illness on the Sabbath unless internal organs were threatened, but even then treatment was allowed only under the direst circumstances. And while it was acceptable to apply wine to the eyelid because wine qualified as a cleanser, applying it to the inside of the eye was unlawful. The application of saliva on the Sabbath was, in fact, expressly forbidden.
Jesus took the mud and put it on the man’s eyes.
‘Go,’ He told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam.’ – John 9:7
Then Jesus and His disciples proceeded into the temple.
The blind man’s pulse was racing. He had heard about this prophet from Nazareth and the mighty works He had done. Could he dare hope that when He washed the mud from his eyes, he would be healed? He stood to his feet and held his walking stick out in front of him, tapping it from side to side to feel for obstacles in his way. He knew the streets of Jerusalem well and had been to the Pool of Siloam many times. It was a very popular place.
A short time later he heard splashing and the voices of the other people at the pool. The blind man carefully walked up the short flight of stairs at the entrance of the pool and then stretched his stick in front of him to find a clear path to the water. After a few steps he felt his stick slip from the solid surface of the stone-paved platform to the water below. He had arrived. Trembling, he knelt on the stone and laid his walking stick to the side. Then he felt his way down the steps which framed the interior edge of the pool to ease into the water. He dipped his hands beneath the cool surface of Siloam, splashed the water over his eyes, and rubbed away the mud.
Brilliant, piercing light flooded his senses as his own hands came into focus. Next, he saw the sunlight dancing across the surface of the pool. He laughed and turned to see blues, purples, browns, and reds in the robes of the people around him. The verdant green of palm trees above his head swayed in the breeze, and beyond them stretched an endless blue sky.
Laughing again, he stood to his feet and shouted for all to hear. “I can see! I can see! I can see!”
His walk home was awash in countless awe-inspiring images, but the wonder he felt was equaled by that of his neighbors upon seeing him for the first time after his healing. They had known him, defined him by his blindness, all of his life. Some of them struggled to believe the miracle standing before them.
“Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” some of them asked. – John 9:8
“No,” others said, “he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. – John 9:8-12
Ultimately, it was decided that an occurrence so astonishing should be brought before the Pharisees for investigation, so the crowd took the once-blind man to meet with them.
When the Pharisees repeated the same questions his neighbors had asked, the man patiently repeated his answers. Surely, the leaders of Israel would be in awe of such a miracle and rejoice that God was moving so powerfully in Jerusalem. But that was hardly their reaction. They couldn’t get past the fact that Jesus had broken the Sabbath when He healed the man. It was impossible for them to conceive that Jesus could be from God if He did not keep the Sabbath according to their guidelines.
Searching for an answer to their quandary, they found a possible solution.Perhaps the man was lying about being born blind. The Pharisees decided to call his parents in for questioning and expose his deceit. But his parents were afraid to be drawn into the discussion. They did not want to risk angering the Pharisees. They confirmed that the man was their son and that he had been born blind. All other questions would need to be answered by the man himself. They would have no part of it.
The tension in the room was building. The man knew what had happened to him and could not deny it. The Pharisees could not accept his account because it conflicted with their own misconceptions about God.
“Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” The man responded in frustration. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” he asked. – John 9:24-27
This response was more than the Pharisees could take. They were furious.
“You are this fellow’s disciple!” they accused him. “We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man laughed softly before responding. “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes” – John 9:28-30
He paused for a moment before making his argument. “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” – John 9:31–33
The leader of the Pharisees sneered at him. “You were blind from birth and you, who were marked as a sinner from the womb, dare to lecture us! You aren’t worth any more of our time. Get out!” The man sat outside the synagogue unsure what to do next. He knew he had told the truth. He also knew he could not possibly deny the One who had given him his sight. A short time later a Man approached him and sat down beside him. When He spoke, His voice was familiar.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asked him. – John 9:35
The man turned to Him. “Who is he, sir?” he asked Jesus with all the conviction in his heart. “Tell me who he is so that I can believe in him!”
Then Jesus honored his courageous faith and loyalty by offering the man who had been cast out of the synagogue a new home for his heart.
“You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.” – John 9:37
“Lord, I believe,” the man said as he knelt before Jesus to worship Him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were standing nearby overheard Him. They laughed mockingly. “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” – John 9:39-41
Light of the World, Your broken creation, marred by the fall, is full of trouble. Someday You will come and make all things new, but until that day there will be times when the road before me is marked with pain and suffering, accusations and judgment. What joy it brings my soul to know that my suffering need not be in vain because of Your cross. If I am willing to surrender my hurt to Your healing touch, You will bring it for the glory of God. There could be no sweeter promise for me, Your child. I love You, Light of the World. Forever shine in me. Amen.
Excerpted with permission from Arms Open Wide by Sherri Gragg, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2014.
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If you were the blind man and Jesus had healed your life-long handicap, what would your response be? What would you say to Him? Join the conversation on our blog!