John 9:1-5: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Brokenness touches all of us in different ways, and my family is no exception. We will never forget watching my father-in-law battle throat cancer the last several years of his life. The feeding tube was a constant reminder to him, and to all of us, that his body was broken. Not only was he broken physically, but also socially. Before cancer, Jack was an outgoing and witty guy. In high school, he was the prom king and the captain of the football team. However, the throat cancer and the required feeding tube prevented him from enjoying social functions because so many social gatherings involved food. Jack’s broken body alienated him socially.
My mother-in-law, Penny, also experienced physical brokenness. During the last four years of her life, she battled kidney failure. Wonderfully, a donor provided a kidney and Penny underwent a successful transplant surgery. We all rejoiced! However, while in the hospital recovering from that transplant, she contracted the Legionella bacteria. Nine days later that infection fatally broke her, and she went home to be with the Lord.
At 14 years of age, my wife Britan was diagnosed with Perthes disease, a deterioration of the hip bone. It caused a leg length discrepancy. At 14, she underwent a total hip replacement. Later, at 22 years of age, she had to have reconstructive surgery on that same hip. Today, now, as an adult woman, she still feels the effects of Perthes disease and is slightly limited in her mobility and range of motion.
Also in our family, one of our sons is a Type 1 diabetic. Every day, multiple times a day, he has to check his blood sugar and then inject insulin. The constant injections remind him of the frailty of his broken body and his broken pancreas.
My own brokenness was on full display after my motorcycle accident. I broke both of my wrists and my left ankle, and had road rash on my chin, hands, knees and legs. The collision also caused my bladder to shut down for 18 days, during which time I had to use a catheter bag.
These specific situations may be unique to our family, but every family faces physical frailty in a variety of ways. Everyone has his own story, and everyone has to face her own heartbreaking situations of physical brokenness. The family in John 9 is no exception. Imagine the excitement of the parents when their new baby is born, followed by the immediate sorrow and concern when they found out that their baby was born blind.
John 9 aids us in understanding how to face our broken body situations. It teaches us how to face physical frailty, personal or familial suffering, physical disability, and even temporal pain. From this passage, we will learn about seeing brokenness, sin and brokenness, the scope of brokenness, and finally the Son-Light of brokenness.
1. Seeing Brokenness (v. 1)
Notice that Jesus "sees" the man that was “blind from his birth” (v. 1). The Lord sees this man’s broken body, and so did the disciples.
a. What do you see when you see physical frailty?
The disciples saw sin. In verse 2 the disciples ask Jesus, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” In their minds, the reason for his blindness must have been God’s judgment for either "personal" or "parental" sin. To me, it seems odd that the disciples would suggest personal sin as the reason for this man's blindness considering he was born blind. He didn’t have the opportunity to live in some type of heinous sin and then be judged for it. We are all born in sin, but the insinuation that he was personally guilty of sin and consequently faced God's judgment seems unfounded since he was born with the condition of blindness.
The disciples' second assumption was that the man was born blind because of sin that his parents committed. We must not criticize the disciples too harshly for this assumption because, after all, it has a biblical basis. Exodus 20:5 describes God as “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." The suggestion of possible parental sin is more viable biblically, but it seems to me to be out of line because it lacks compassion for this broken man.
b. What do you "feel" or "sense" when you "see" physical brokenness?
Luke 10:30-34 helpfully demonstrates our human propensity toward certain sinful feelings, and it provides an example of a Christ-like response toward physical brokenness. When answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story in which “a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead [and definitely broken]. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.”
Why? Why didn’t they help the broken man? Why did the Priest and the Levite “pass by on the other side?” Why did they avoid him? Possibly helping was inconvenient? Maybe they thought, “I don’t have time to deal with that. I have things to do.” Possibly they were disgusted? Maybe there was blood everywhere. The Bible says that he was wounded and “half-dead.” They could have been saying within themselves, “Gross! Disgusting! What if he has diseases? And what if I catch them?” Or possibly both emotions collided in their hearts. Perhaps both inconvenience and disgust came together and produced a sense of arrogant superiority. The Priest and the Levite were religious, after all. Sometimes religious piety goes to one’s head and creates hubris in the heart. Maybe they had a sense that they were better than or superior to this broken man.
Jesus continues: “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where [this broken man] was; and when [the good Samaritan] saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Instead of seeing sin, and instead of exhibiting inconvenience, disgust or superiority, the good Samaritan showed Christ-like compassion.
But, beware. Sometimes even our helpful display of compassion can be rooted in a sense of superiority. “I’ll show compassion to this broken person because, after all, I’m not in such sorry shape.” It is evident that the Good Samaritan’s outpouring of compassion was not rooted in arrogant superiority but in humble service. When the Samaritan saw that broken man, he saw an opportunity to serve. What do you see?
2. Sin and Brokenness (vv. 2b-3)
Remember, the disciples in John 9 asked "Who did sin?" They bring up the relationship between sin, brokenness, and physical frailty. Was it the sin of “this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer was “neither.” It is as if He is saying to those disciples, “Wrong! You only gave me two options, but there’s another option.” Jesus says, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents” (9:3a). Essentially their real question was, “Why is this man blind?” Jesus uses this situation to explain that in this specific case, sin is not the particular reason that he was born blind.
However, in a general sense, sin is always the “why” of brokenness. It is the “why” of suffering. Romans 5:12 explains that “wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Adam’s sin in the garden brought brokenness with it (Genesis 3-4). Had there never been any sin, there would not be any brokenness.
Occasionally, when a Christian receives a diagnosis of cancer, or his body is riddled with disease or pain, he will wonder, “Is this brokenness God’s judgment on me for my past sins?” In those moments our hearts can be overwhelmed with an unhealthy speculation and guilt. One commentator helpfully answers that question this way. He says, “Present suffering doesn’t necessarily correlate with past personal sinning, but present suffering is a part of this present world.”
When we personally experience brokenness and physical frailty, the most commonly asked question is “Why God?” The general answer to the question of “why” is that we live in a sin-cursed earth. We live in a broken world. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain” (Romans 8:22). Our broken world is full of broken bodies and broken hearts. We are all bound to bump into the “thorns and thistles” of this life (Genesis 3:18).
In a general sense, sin is the “why” of brokenness. Your brokenness may not be the consequence of personal sin or parental sin, but simply because we’re all living in this sin-cursed earth. With that truth in mind, we should expect brokenness. Christians shouldn’t be surprised by hurt. Sadly though, many Christians are still surprised by it. Their personal faith is deeply shaken after a diagnosis of sickness or disease. Some professing Christians even become bitter at God and renounce their faith in Him. Many of them thought Christianity was some kind of prosperity gospel in which, if they professed faith, they would live with wealth, health, and prosperity. Instead of seeing that the prosperity gospel is unscriptural, they see their unpleasant diagnosis as God failing them. The fact is that the Bible is full of accounts of human brokenness and physical frailty. It is full of accounts of suffering people asking, “Why, God?” Even our precious Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, faced excruciating pain and suffering. Who are we to think that we deserve to avoid it? How dare we? I suggest that, instead of being surprised by this world's brokenness, we take comfort in the fact that whatever we are facing is only temporary. It is only “now for a season” (1 Peter 1:6). Even if our brokenness is a life-long chronic illness, this temporal life is only for a season. One day “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4). This brokenness is temporary! Rejoice in that, dear Christian!
3. The Scope of Brokenness (vv. 2b-3a)
Notice that John 9 brings up the parents of this man who was born blind. The scope, or extent, of the blind man’s brokenness was not limited to himself. It included his parents.
Imagine the excitement of realizing that your wife is pregnant. Parents today paint the baby’s bedroom either blue or pink as they eagerly await the arrival of their new boy or girl. They read through books or websites that list potential names for their new child. Their family and friends host baby showers and bring gifts celebrating the life that is in the womb of that mother. They share joy over the amazing potential that child represents.
Imagine further that after the mother delivers the greatly anticipated baby the doctor says, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your child is blind.” The parents are surprised. They are probably emotional. Confused. Concerned.
Every day, around the world, children are born with disabilities. Blindness, autism, Down Syndrome, or some other genetic disorder can be devastating and heart-wrenching news for any parent. The scope of brokenness includes expense--yes financially but also emotional and relational expense. Parents can become emotionally fatigued and experience relational strain in their marriage. “This disabled baby changed our marriage forever.”
The scope of brokenness in John 9 was not limited to the blind man; his parents were certainly impacted as well.
4. The Son-Light of Brokenness. (vv. 3b-5)
Into this situation of brokenness in John 9, Jesus speaks. He answers the specific "why" of this man’s brokenness. Jesus explains that the reason the man was born blind was “that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” The Son of God, the Lord Jesus, says, “I’m going to heal him." By restoring the man's sight, Jesus proclaims, “I am God and this healing is going to further validate that I am Messiah.” Jesus is saying that “the works of God” are going to be “made manifest,” which is the idea that His healing work will be on display in full view for others to see. Jesus shines heavenly light into this dark earthly circumstance. He says, “I am the light of the world” (v. 5). It is worth noting that Jesus deliberately chooses to use the metaphorical idea of “light” as He prepares to make this blind man to see. It is wonderful. This blind man’s broken body was healed in this passage of Scripture.
However, we need to be reminded that Jesus doesn’t always heal. When we are physically broken or someone we love is battling physical frailty, we should always pray for healing, but sometimes God says “no” to healing, but “yes” to a greater miracle. In 2 Corinthians 12 we read of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Most commentators speculate that this thorn in the flesh was an issue with his eyes. Paul “besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from [him]” (2 Corinthians 12:8). But instead of healing Paul, God chose to do a greater miracle. As you read 2 Corinthians 12 you discover that God used Paul’s external brokenness to bring about Paul’s internal dependence on Him. God used Paul’s physical infirmity to cultivate his internal strength. God said to Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response is, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul recognized the greater miracle that was taking place. He says, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities.” He is not taking pleasure in his brokenness in a weird, masochistic way, but in a spiritual and healthy way. The word "pleasure" in verse 10 is the idea of approval, willingness, or“thinking good of.” When Paul says, "I take pleasure in infirmities," he is saying, “I approve of my brokenness. I face it willingly. Because of how God is working in me through this, I think good of my infirmities.” Paul understands the benefits of brokenness. He understands the value of the valley. He understands the potential he has to be puffed up with pride when everything in his life is too easy.
To Paul, what matters is the power of Christ resting on him. The situation is about the power of the Son-Light resting on his dim eyes and his weak body.
In conclusion, whatever brokenness we encounter in this life, we must remember that “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). The idea of “worketh for us” means that the affliction we face in this life is “producing for us,” or “preparing for us,” a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory! It is a wonderful promise!
What do you see when you see physical frailty? The disciples saw sin, yet Jesus saw an opportunity for His Son-Light to shine. When we see this world’s brokenness, and when we see our own physical frailty, we should see the cross. Remember that it was because of the cross that Jesus said, “This is my body which is broken for you.” What if the disciples in John 9 had asked the same question in John 19 when Jesus goes to the cross? As Jesus was facing the brokenness of crucifixion in John 19, what if one of the disciples hollered, “Who did sin that this Man should face this brokenness?” The answer? It wasn’t Him. IT WAS US. He didn’t sin. WE DID. He was the One “who knew no sin,” but became “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He suffered brokenness so that one day we don’t have to. Praise be to God for the eternal victory He provides for our broken bodies and our everlasting souls!
The above article was written by Pastor James C. Johnson. He is the pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at email@example.com.
Every Tuesday, SFL publishes relevant Bible-based content. Check back next Tuesday to read the next SFL article.
Pastor Johnson continues his series on confidence, this time from Philippians 4.