It seems like just yesterday we were cooing over a chubby 8oz little baby Jesus sleeping serenely in a manger full of hay, his cherubic face lit by glimmering fairy dust falling from angel wings in the rafters, the shepherds tiptoeing around the barn so as not to disturb him. In the distance, children are singing carols in piping, dulcet tones. It is inexplicably snowing.
Then the holidays are over, we get back to real life at work and school, and on Sunday we flip to John chapter 9 and see Jesus spitting and slapping mud on a man’s face and hear him talking ominously about how night is coming, about judgment and about guilt. We may feel this is a bit of a bait and switch. What happened to our cuddly baby Jesus? What happened to candy canes and hot chocolate by the fire, what happened to our warm spiritual snuggles?
Well, the truth is that if this seems like a very different Jesus than the Christmas Jesus, then we may not truly understand who Jesus is and what exactly he came to do. He didn’t leave his heavenly throne and put on the aching, dying body of a man just to give us warm hugs. Jesus says in John 9:35, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Don’t despair. In fact, if we learn anything from this chapter, it is that we are all born spiritually blind, and so it should come as no surprise that we cannot see Jesus rightly. The important thing is that Jesus sees us. Jesus sees us as he saw the blind man, sitting alongside the road, desperate for salvation. And he sees us as he saw the Pharisees, puffed up with religiosity and self-importance, blinded to our own blindness. We are not only blinded to who Christ is but we are blinded to our own sin. We utterly unable to save ourselves. We are dead in the water.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). But God. As Jon Bloom puts it, “These two words are overflowing with gospel. For sinners like you and me who were lost and completely unable to save ourselves from our dead-set rebellion against God, there may not be two more hopeful words that we could utter.”
In his great mercy, God sent Jesus to become a snuggly little baby who would grow up into a rule-flouting, Sabbath-breaking, literal mud-flinging savior who would turn the world on its head and give us true sight. He sent Jesus to walk down muddy roads to seek and find us, the lost, and bring us home. Only after Jesus has seen us and transformed us can we begin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to see him for who he is, to understand his mission here on earth, and to joyfully take part in the work alongside him.
The blind man in John chapter 9 embodies the journey of the Christian life, all in one emotional roller coaster of a day. He first calls Jesus a man (verse 11), then a prophet (verse 17), then Lord (verse 38). The blind man shows us how acting in obedience to God’s commands brings blessing and joy. And he shows us that Jesus never leaves us where we are; from the moment he first calls us to himself (verse 7) he stays with us throughout all the hard times when it seems we are all alone (verse 35). The blind man teaches us that even when we cannot see grace in our lives, even when we do not understand his ways, God is moving and working. All we have to do is act in obedience.
That’s what the cuddly Christmas baby teaches us too, more than thirty years later when he prays in the garden of Gethsemane, “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). Jesus says in John 5:25, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Are you listening? Do you see him?
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass