WHO SINNED? — John 9:1-5

john 9:1-5, Uncategorized


Have you ever come in contact with a blind person?  Can you remember the thoughts that came to your mind?  Have you ever been introduced to a blind person?  What did you say, or were you at a loss for words?   A famous blind lady named Helen Keller said, “The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people towards them.”  When I was a hospital chaplain, I learned that one of the psychologists who counseled patients in the psychiatric ward was blind.  When I first saw him, I felt uneasy.  A thought that came to my mind almost immediately was:  “Since he can’t see me, I can ignore him and get away with it.”  I felt ashamed of myself for entertaining that thought and I introduced myself to him.  As a result, I learned two things about him:  how kind and gracious he was and how fast he walked.  I could hardly keep up with him!

I.  THE SETTING (verse 1)

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus and His disciples are about to have an encounter with a blind man.  The Feast of Tabernacles was now over.  The last event was the trip to the pool of Siloam by the priests to fill the golden pitcher with water and return to pour it on the steps of the temple.  This water would flow down to the world outside the temple, signifying that the Jewish faith would satisfy the deepest needs of the world.  It was the Sabbath day.  Jesus and His disciples were leaving the temple.  The Jewish leaders had just tried to kill Him in the temple but He walked through their midst unharmed. 

Verse 1 says, “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.”  That’s a significant statement.  Jesus and His disciples may have been passing through the gate of the temple at that moment.  That’s where many beggars lined up to beg for money.  This blind man may have been assigned a place to beg that was not in the flow of traffic.  Maybe he was in the shadows where the uncaring majority didn’t have to see him.   But the Lord Jesus looked upon this blind beggar and He saw the need.  Jesus had compassion for people.  We see that over and over again in the Gospels.  Even though He had just left the temple to get away from those who wanted to stone Him to death, Jesus still took the time to stop and look at someone in need.  Most people would look away, ignore this blind man, or pretend that he didn’t exist.  Most people don’t like to look at someone who is in misery and without hope.  It’s painful to look at the other side of life, isn’t it?  It’s uncomfortable to think about what could have happened to us or what might happen to us in the future.


Now that they have come to a stop in front of this blind man, Jesus’ disciples take this opportunity to ask Him a deep, theological question.  They offer Him two alternatives to choose from and only one of them can be correct, in their opinion.  Here is their question:  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  In their minds, his blindness was a punishment for sin, but whose sin?

If you’re familiar with the game of baseball, you will understand this anonymous quote:  “Most of us are umpires at heart.  We like to call balls and strikes on somebody else.”  They didn’t have the game of baseball back in that day, but they certainly had the umpires!

The question asked by the disciples tells us that they were familiar with this man because they knew that he had been born blind.  How did they come up with that question:  “Who sinned “?  Do they have scriptures to back it up?  Actually, this was the teaching of many of the Rabbis during that period of time and the disciples probably heard it explained during the times of instruction in the synagogue.  Some of those rabbis taught that a child could sin while in the womb, and would have to pay for those sins for the rest of his life.  One of the verses the rabbis would use as proof was Genesis 25:22-23, where Jacob and Esau “jostled each other in Rebecca’s womb”.  They interpreted it as fighting and proclaimed that fighting is a sin, even if it occurs in the mother’s womb.  I doubt that any mother in the first century or the twenty-first century would call her unborn child a “sinner” when the child kicked inside her womb.  Many of you mothers may remember times when the child in your womb seemed to be trying to assert control over your body or was getting even for something you did or didn’t do.  After all, the fourth commandment does say, “Honor your father and your mother”! 

Other rabbis taught that such misfortunes were the result of the sin of the parents.  A scripture that was used to defend their argument is Exodus 20:5.  It says, “. . . for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.”  The rabbis were misusing that verse by taking it out of its context of idol worship.  God is speaking of the nation of Israel as His wife, and she is pursuing other gods.  He will continue to pursue and punish His wife from generation to generation until she (the nation of Israel) comes back to Him.  Verse 6 tells us what will happen when she does return to Him.  It says, “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  These rabbis have butchered that passage of scripture and caused untold agony, guilt, and sorrow to this blind man and his parents.  Jesus sees those years of guilt and shame as He looks at the face of this man, and He is ready to give an answer to the question raised by His disciples.


Jesus begins by saying, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents”.  This answer doesn’t fit within the bounds of their question, so Jesus goes on to give an explanation saying, “but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in Him.”  Jesus is looking ahead to what He is about to do.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  He always knows what He is doing and His ultimate purposes are always good.

Francis I. Anderson, in His commentary on Job, makes an observation based on this verse of Scripture.  He says, “Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect.  They look backward for a connection between prior sin and present suffering.  The Bible looks forward in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals.  The purpose of suffering is seen, not in its cause, but in its results.”


Jesus continues His answer, applying His words, not only to Himself but also to His disciples and to us as well when He says, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day.”  He didn’t say “we should” but “we must”.  There is a sense of urgency in His statement.  He and they are called to do the works that the Father has called Him to do


Before we go any further, let’s consider this situation and this conversation from the perspective of the ears of this blind man.  Having been born blind, this man would have a very keen sense of hearing.  He has no visual images in his mind to distract him from what is going on around him at this moment.  He would also have a very good memory of activities and conversations that go on around him in the temple area.  Let’s review what He is hearing and consider what he is thinking.  He hears a group of people stop directly in front of him, and he’s wondering, “Are they going to give me some money or are they going to ridicule me?”  The first word he hears is “Rabbi”.  Immediately he realizes that a rabbi and his talmudim (or disciples) have stopped to look at him.  His thoughts:  “you can look but please don’t say anything.”  Because of his blindness, he can’t see them, but he also can’t keep from hearing them.  Then he hears the horrible words that he has heard so many times before:  “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?”  The tears begin to well up as he waits for the derogatory remarks to come from this rabbi and be echoed by his disciples.  To his surprise, He hears an answer that he has never heard before.  This Rabbi says, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  He thinks, “This man speaks with the authority of God.”  “Could this be Jesus, the one I’ve heard so much about – the one who performs miracles and claims to be the Messiah?”  “Is He going to display His works in me by healing me?”  Jesus’ words that follow confirm this hope.

In verse 4, Jesus says, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work.”  Jesus’ death wasn’t very many days away, and none of us know which day will be our last.  There is work to be done for the kingdom of God and we should be pursuing it as if today was the last opportunity to get it done.  Who knows, it may be our last opportunity to meet a need or to share our faith in Jesus Christ with someone we know.  Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was a songwriter who wrote hymns during the late 1800s through the mid-1900s.  One of the hymns he wrote is entitled “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”.  I’m sure we’ve all sung that hymn many times.  I found a poem written by him about this verse of Scripture, John 9:4.  I don’t know whether or not this poem was put to music, but the words are certainly motivational and inspirational.  Here are the words to that poem.  It’s entitled “I Must”.

To every life, it seems to me,
There should be found a single key;
One central purpose there should be,
One all-controlling aim.
Of Jesus this was surely true;
One passionate delight He knew
And that, His Father’s will to do
And glorify His name.

“I must!  I must!” we hear Him say;
For Him there was no other way
But swiftly, wholly to obey
And do the work assigned.
“I must!”  He counted not the cost,
The raging rivers to be crossed;
He must go seek and save the lost,
His “other sheep” must find.

“I must!”  And on and on He went,
Upon His mighty mission bent;
That whereunto He had been sent.
They crucified Him, as He said,
A cruel crown upon His head,
Accursed, forsaken–in our stead.
At last His work was done.

“I must!”  Oh, may that fervent word
Upon our lips as well be heard.
By nothing may we be deterred
From following “in His train!”
Our meat and drink, to do His will,
Though steep the climb, to follow still
Till death o’ertake us, or until
His coming back again.

Have you ever missed out on an opportunity to be used by God because you waited too long?  It’s discouraging, isn’t it?  We should be saying to ourselves, “God has work for me to do today so I won’t put off doing God’s will any longer.


After stating His compulsion, Jesus reminds His disciples and Himself of what the Father has called Him to be in the eyes of the world.  He has said the following words before and He says them again in verse 5:  “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Jesus’ words are a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.  The prophet Isaiah described the coming of the Messiah with these words:  “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them”  (Isaiah 9:2).  He also prophesied in Isaiah 49:6 saying, “I will also make You a light to the nations so that My salvation will reach to the ends of the earth”.  The Lord Jesus is determined to complete those works and fulfill the calling that the Father has given to Him.  Those prophecies refer to the spiritual blindness of unbelief.  As this blind man listens to those words of Jesus, he may have come to the conclusion that he is not only physically blind but he is spiritually blind as well.  Notice that he hasn’t said a word to Jesus.  He is “all ears” right now, focusing his attention on every word that Jesus says.  Has he come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah?  Does he believe that Jesus can and will heal Him of his physical blindness and remove his spiritual blindness?  I think so.  The veil over his heart is already being lifted, and the stage has been set for what’s to come.  As we begin to study the miracle itself, we are going to see some of the evidence for that persuasion.


There are several lessons that can be learned from this discussion between Jesus and His disciples.  First, we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions about people based upon limited or questionable information.  In this case, it is the relationship between sin and suffering.  Even though suffering is often the consequence of sin, it is not always the consequence of sin.  There was no direct connection between sin and suffering in the case of this blind man.  Therefore, let’s resist the temptation to make negative judgments when we don’t have all the facts.

Secondly, God wants to glorify Himself through the lives of those who have disabilities whether He heals them or not.  God will use anyone who belongs to Him and is devoted to Him.  Our heavenly Father often gives HIs children with disabilities an even greater ministry than they could have had without that disability.  People are watching Christians, especially those Christians who have the most to overcome.  When they see that God has given them the power to overcome and the joy of knowing and serving Him, many will become convinced that Jesus Christ is the One who can meet their deepest needs.  When God gave the apostle Paul a “thorn in the flesh” – a “messenger of Satan to buffet him”, he asked God three times to remove it.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  Paul responded by saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  

Thirdly, let’s follow Jesus’ example. Let’s treat those who are disabled with dignity, respect, and kindness.  Let’s be busy doing the work of the Lord each day while we still have the opportunity, and let’s be a shining light to the world around us.

If you are personally living in spiritual darkness, with no real peace of mind or joyful heart, and no real hope after death, only Jesus and His Word can bring your life into proper focus and add the brightness of true peace and joy into your life.  Please, don’t close your eyes to the truth any longer.  Open them wide and see what life is like as a new person in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).