Top-ranked mixed-martial artist Donald Cerrone tells a fascinating true story of a cave dive off the coast of Cozumel. He and his instructor were entering an underwater cave when his instructor lost bouyancy and began to kick up silt from the cave floor, creating utter darkness. Cerrone, in an effort to save his instructor, entered the darkness where he could not see his hands in front of his face and did not know what was up or down, left or right, backwards or forwards.
Cerrone ended up losing his bearings and came out of the darkness but on the wrong side, with the depths of the cave behind him and utter darkness standing between him and the exit. Failing to make it through the darkness to safety, Cerrone began to panic. He knew he was in danger and in darkness and was doing everything possible to get out. Eventually, he remembered a crack on the cave ceiling on the way in, found it, and traced it back out.
Now imagine for a second a strange scenario. Imagine someone was in that exact same scenario, but did not know it. They were in darkness about to die but had no idea. What would it look like? They would probably swim around in irregular, nonsensical patterns with not a care in the world, full of confidence in what they were doing. As strange as that scenario might seem, that is the world of John 9.
In John 9 we pick up a story where Jesus is on the move, literally, and a striking question is asked: “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?” As strange as that question seems, we must admit we think in strikingly similar ways about suffering. Whenever we suffer, it’s easy to wonder and question whether God is angry with us. “God, have I done something to deserve this?” But the thing to note is that this story starts out with people asking, “Who is the sinner?”
Jesus answers the question by saying there is no sinner to point at to show the cause of the blindness. To Jesus, this is an opportunity to light up the darkness, so, he spits on the ground, makes mud, anoints the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash. The man washes and his sight is restored. This miracle is so shocking the community around this blind man debate it’s really him.
For whatever reason, they bring the man to the Pharisees, the religious leaders, perhaps to investigate. At this point in the story John, the author, clues us in that if this event were a grenade, the pin got pulled: “Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.” On the Sabbath the Pharisees had a rule that Jews could not knead bread and anoint for healing. But Jesus kneaded the mud and anointed for healing, on the Sabbath. Therefore they quickly conclude: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
How strange is that? This man was born blind and can now see due to Jesus and you are not even going to ask Jesus a single question about it? Jesus broke your rules, and that is enough to write him off so quickly? How strange!
But it gets stranger. They question the man some more and then we are told, “The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight…” So, let’s get this straight, they do not believe the story is even real and yet they determine that because Jesus did something that they claim never happened they know he is not from God. It’s like being mad at someone for doing something mean to you in one of your dreams.
The evidence the man’s parents provide convinces the Pharisees of the miracle but even though they are now convinced they go back and tell the man: “We know that this man is a sinner.” How wild is this! They know Jesus performed this miracle but Jesus must be a sinner because he broke their rules. The formerly-blind man has such an honest and simple answer: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” He puts the focus back on what they do not want to see, on what they seem incapable of seeing at this point.
They question him again and he asks the Pharisees, perplexed, “Do you want to become his disciples?” As expected, they tell him, “…as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” But is that not the point of the miracle, to show where Jesus comes from? What in the world is going on?
Here is what is going on: while this story begins with the focus on a blind man, the strange behavior of the Pharisees shows that they too are blind. The irony of this whole story is that the ones that should see clearly, do not see at all. The ones that should know exactly who Jesus is don’t have a clue. They are not in a dark cave trying to find their way out. They are swimming around in a dark cave and do not seem to know they are lost in utter darkness. John 9 shows us there is a more pervasive, sinister blindness than just physical blindness. It is the spiritual blindness of being dead in sin. It is a blindness so blinding that you don’t know you are blind. You walk around proclaiming, “I’m not blind! I can see!”
So, what exactly does it mean to be blind? The Pharisees show us in Jn. 9:34 when they answer the formerly-blind guy: “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” This sinister spiritual blindness says, “I’m righteous in myself, unlike you sinners. We can teach you to be righteous, like us!” The dark irony of sin is that it loves to masquerade as the most sincere, genuine kind of righteousness; a righteousness established by ourselves and our hard work; a righteousness that is superior to others and ultimately has no need of Jesus. This is true blindness and darkness.
John 9 is not a story about some people who can see and some who can’t. Everyone in this story is blind, except for one person. Everyone is born seeking to establish their own righteousness but only one person in this story actually is righteous. That is why from beginning to end, no one in this story looks for Jesus. Did you notice the blind man never looked for Jesus? Jesus found him. This is because Christianity is not about blind people creating their own sight. It is about blind people so blind they do not even know they are blind until the light shows up. Christians are those who walk around saying, “I was blind (and I didn’t even know it!) but now I see!”
There is one person in this story who can see, truly. There is one person who is righteous. And this one person in this story is in the business of lighting up the darkness, bringing sight to the blind, giving His righteousness to the unrighteous. This one person, Jesus, will ultimately go to the cross and become the darkness of our sin, so that we would become the righteousness of God.