A Light Shining in the Darkness: An Advent Devotional

“As he 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:1-3).

So begins John’s account of Jesus healing a blind born blind. Notice at the outset that Jesus says something revealing. In contrast to what was likely a common belief that such a serious setback could be immediately attributed to sin, Jesus explains that the man’s blindness was intended to provide an opportunity for the “works of God” to be displayed.

And they certainly are. Jesus, in rather mysterious fashion, uses mud made from his own saliva to anoint the man’s eyes and instructs him to wash in the pool of Siloam. When the man returns, he can see for the first time in his life.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Jesus’ miracles are never done simply to impress or entertain. Rather, they invariably point to something true about Jesus and his mission. This case is no exception and, as usual, the immediate context provides a clue to what Jesus is communicating through the miraculous. Just prior to healing the man, Jesus makes this bold claim: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

This is not the first time Jesus says something like this. A chapter earlier, in the midst of an exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus makes a very similar statement: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And John, at nearly the very beginning of the same gospel, writes the following:

1:4 In him [i.e. Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

But neither John nor Jesus, it turns out, is communicating in a vacuum. Hundreds of years before, the prophet Isaiah penned these words:

9:1 In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Then, a few verses later, we find these familiar words:

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

And many chapters later, speaking of the “servant of the Lord,” Isaiah says this:

6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness (42:6-7).

With all these passages in mind, we’re in much better position to grasp that Jesus is doing more than giving physical sight to a blind man, as gracious and significant that might be. Rather, the physical healing points to a larger, spiritual reality. Long before, God had promised a light that dispels darkness and sets captives free. This light would give genuine life, bringing with it a glorious kingdom that would never end. In healing a man blind from birth, God-incarnate was signaling that this promise was no mere fairy tale. That long awaited light had come.

It is telling that the beneficiary of this grace was a blind beggar, while those confident in their righteousness and claiming to see clearly failed to do so (see the rest of ch. 9). Particularly during this season, in which we celebrate the light coming to shine in the darkness, we might ask ourselves whom we identify with more.

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