What happens in salvation? We know salvation is the free gift of God, but what events take place in the heart leading up to the point where one is saved?
If you’ve been a Christian for long (and have read the gospel of John specifically) you are surely familiar with the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. One of my favourite parts of the story is the simple and powerful testimony of the blind man (now healed) to the Pharisees when he says, “Whether he is a sinner i do not know. One thing i do know, that though i was blind, now i see.” (Jn.9:25) There is an immediate connection of course to John Newton’s famous line from the hymn “Amazing Grace” where he echoes these very words. My point here, then, is to show what i think both John 9 preaches and John Newton saw: that beyond a literal, historic account of the life of Christ, the apostle John (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) is giving us a glimpse into what happens in salvation. Cool huh?
One of the keys to this understanding of the passage comes from the end of the chapter in vs. 39 where Jesus gives us one of His many ‘why I came’ statements. Here He says, “For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [emphasis mine] Now we know that Jesus did literally and corporeally heal blind people, and this is the plain reading of, say, Luke 4:18 where Jesus – quoting prophecy about Himself from Isaiah – reads out, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind.” But unless we want to say that Jesus also went around literally blinding people, we need to search for a deeper understanding of John 9:39. And i think if we get up a little higher from the narrative of John 9, we’ll see that Jesus came to heal spiritual blindness primarily, and sometimes physical blindness. [though i should state that in my view, the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was not to heal broken legs and eyes, but rather, He did these signs to attest to His deity and sovereign power over creation.]
So, the first key to note is Jesus’ testimony about the man in vs. 1-3. The disciples are asking about this blind beggar, (‘who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’) and Jesus responds to their question by saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” For those of you who have a problem here with the idea of God making someone blind in order to bring glory to Himself, read Ex. 4:11 and then tighten your runners so we can move in here.
The second key to note: we see the blind man’s progressive understanding of who Jesus is throughout John 9. After being healed, in vs. 11 he refers to Jesus as “the man called Jesus.” Next, when being questioned by the Pharisees in vs. 17 he now refers to Jesus as “a prophet.” Finally, in vs. 38 the man calls Jesus “Lord” and worships Him. So already, something more is going on than just a physical healing. But what?
Finally, notice that in both meetings with the man, it is not the blind man who is looking for Jesus, but Jesus who finds the man. Romans 3 anyone?
The main key then, keeping these first three in mind, is to see the progression of events from the time the man is healed onwards. In vs. 6 Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud and puts it on the mans’ eyes [so interesting to note as well here the Creator of mankind re-creating His creation out of the same dust He made us from!], and then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Pause for a moment here and see both Jesus’ words to the man and name of the pool (Siloam) indicating a direct command from God to do something, which then required obedience. Also notice, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘go wash and you’ll be healed’, he just says, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”
Back to the story. What’s crazy here is that after healing the man Jesus just sort of disappears for a while – clearly to allow for the events coming up between the Pharisees and the man’s parents to take place and solidify what has already begun in the man’s heart and mind. He goes through this huge interrogation – growing in boldness and joy all the time – and not until he get’s kicked out of the synagogue does Jesus find him again.
And what’s the first thing Jesus says to him? ‘Hey, i’m Jesus, the one who healed you. Want to follow me?’ No, He says to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” – Jesus Messianic title from the book of Daniel. But the guy still asks, “Who is he sir, that i may believe in Him?” And it is only then that Jesus reveals Himself to the man and says, “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.” And notice the immediate response, “He said, ‘Lord, i believe’ and he worshiped him.”
First question: did Jesus reveal himself to the man before or after He had healed the man’s eyes? After obviously. And what i see here is God showing us that we need to be given ‘eyes to see’ [and ears to hear] to be able to truly see Jesus for who He is: the Son of God. This ability to ‘see’ Jesus did not happen naturally nor was the man seeking to see Jesus. It was all the work of God.
Second question: where else in Scripture do we see the idea of blindness and/or the inability to see God attributed to our un-regenrate state? Well, way too many places to list, but here are four: 2 Cor. 4:4 Paul writes, “… the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God.” John 3:19 “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” 1 Cor. 2:14 “The natural person [unregenerate person] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 2. Cor. 3:14 “For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains un-lifted, b/c only through Christ is it taken away.”
And so, in John 9, i believe we see these deep and profound truths of how God works in salvation: seeking out and then opening/re-creating the eyes of blind sinners, so that as He sends out His effectual call on our lives and reveals Himself in all His beauty, we now have eyes that can truly see, and our hearts melt in worship before the Son of God.
“And we all, with [now] unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image form one degree of glory to another.” 2 Cor. 3:18
“The grace of God does not find, but makes a person fit to be chosen.” St. Augustine.