09 April 2007

Here's Mud in Your Eye

by Phil Johnson

Rather than resurrect last week's controversy first thing Monday morning, how about we start with something a little more positive? It's still resurrection Sunday as I'm writing this post, and I frankly don't feel like writing something I know is going to unleash another flood of controversy. Let's just save that till another day later this week, OK? Instead, here are some thoughts on John 9:6-7, where the apostle John describes how Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth.

"[Jesus] spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam' (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing" (John 9:6-7).

ere's a curious means of healing! Jesus spits on the ground. And I'm assuming He spat several times, because if you have ever tried to make clay with your own spit (and I have) it takes a lot of spit to make even a little ball of clay.

Then he takes this mud made from spit and rubs it into the eyes of the blind man.

It's remarkable that the blind guy submitted to such a remedy. If you go to a charismatic optometrist and he proposes something like that as a treatment for your nearsightedness, my advice is to find a cessationist doctor.

Why did Jesus use that method?

Well, for one thing, it makes a good picture of the gospel. It's offensive. It goes against propriety and common sense. It offends our sense of good taste. It is crude. In the judgment of worldly wisdom, it seems foolish. It is a stumbling-block and an offense to our sense of decorum and refinement. It is probably the last method you would expect God to employ.

And yet it was perfectly suitable to Christ's purpose. Underneath the crass and uncouth outward appearance of this act is a tremendous amount of divine wisdom.

Suppose Jesus had used a more refined means of healing the man. Suppose he had reached into his bag and taken out an alabaster vial of glycerin or oil and delicately put drops in the man's eyes, and the man received sight from that.

What would have been the result?

Everyone would have said, "What a wonderful medicine! What is that stuff? Where can I get some?" The focus would have been on the elixir. The cure would have been ascribed to the eye-drops rather than to the power of God.

But the way Jesus healed this man, no one would ever say, "The mud did it!" Or, "It was the spit." Instead, it was clear to everyone that Jesus possessed divine power, and the glory went to Him, where it rightfully belongs.

He deliberately chose means that were commonplace and menial. He purposely did something unconventional. Instead of an elaborate ceremony or a cultured and polished ritual, He chose means that people might think unsanitary, messy—perhaps even indecent.

Again, that perfectly illustrates how God works through the gospel. "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

The atonement itself is regarded by many in this world as an ugly, appalling, embarrassing thing—a blood sacrifice, involving the death of God's own Son on a cross of shame, to pay the price of sin in such a public and inglorious way.

But the wisdom of God is foolishness to this world. "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

What's more, the means by which Jesus healed this guy almost seems counterproductive. Who would ever think that putting mud in a man's eyes would help him see? The clay is actually an impediment to the light and an irritant to the eye. This is no way to heal blindness! Besides, clay is inert. It has no healing power or efficacy!

And you know what? That's right. The healing power was not in the dirt. It was not even in the spittle. The efficacy came from the power of Christ.

There may be a couple more reasons Jesus used such an unconventional method. Note: this miracle comes in a context where Christ was proclaiming His deity. What better proof of His deity than a miracle that shows His creative power? Remember how God made Adam in the first place? Genesis 2:7: "The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Here it was as if Christ took that same dust of the ground and fashioned new eyes for this man. It was a creative miracle, regenerating those eyes that had never before been able to see! What better proof of Jesus deity?

Perhaps another reason Jesus chose this means was to demonstrate that He was Lord even of the Sabbath. According to verse 14, this miracle occurred on the Sabbath, like so many of the healing miracles of Jesus. In this case, He actually made clay. And that was a deliberate breach of the Pharisaical system. It was tantamount to making bricks on the Sabbath. They saw it as work—and it was. Remember, Jesus Himself said so in verse 4 ("I must work the works of Him who sent Me"). But it was not the kind of work that was forbidden on the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:12, Jesus had reminded them, "It is lawful to do [good] on the sabbath."

But that infuriated the legalistic Pharisees. Even when they knew the miracle itself could not be gainsaid, they turned their hostility against Christ into an accusation of blasphemy. As if the miracle itself were not proof of His deity, in verse 16, some of the Pharisees say, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath."

There you see the cold hard-heartedness of unbelief.

Phil's signature


Catez said...

That's what always blows me away about the Pharisees - they don't argue that the miracle didn't happen - they get hung up on how it happened.
And yeah - it's good to be reminded that God regenerates and loves his clay to His glory.
Nice post.

donsands said...

Wonderful study on a puzzling account.
Thanks. Good thoughts.

Anonymous said...

This is by far my favorite post you've ever done. This is a stirring truth that is worthy of daily meditation.

Anonymous said...

Seriously.. I was that blind man.

Glory be to God in Christ.

Hayden said...


I heard you preach on this at GCC a couple of years ago and this has quickly become one of my favorite accounts in the Gospel of John.


David A. Carlson said...

Phil said:

"The atonement itself is regarded by many in this world as an ugly, appalling, embarrassing thing—a blood sacrifice, involving the death of God's own Son on a cross of shame, to pay the price of sin in such a public and inglorious way."

The atonement is all of those things. The difference between belief and unbelief is that for believers it is a way point in the story, for non believers the begining and the end - they see no past nor any future.

He has risen! He has risen indeed!

slf said...

Excellent post. Thank you Phil!

James Scott Bell said...

Phil, I really liked this thought:

"Well, for one thing, it makes a good picture of the gospel. It's offensive. It goes against propriety and common sense. It offends our sense of good taste. It is crude. In the judgment of worldly wisdom, it seems foolish."

Christianity is not the sort of religion you'd expect man to make up. Which is one more bit of evidence for its truthfulness.

Chris L said...


Another aspect that fits with your exegesis is that when you examine the layout of Jerusalem, the places that were known for begging are on the opposite side of the city from the Pool of Siloam. The end of John 8 has Jesus and his disciples leaving from the Temple grounds.

If this is the case, then there were numerous public water sources available for the blind man to wash his eyes. However, Jesus asked the blind man to navigate his way - up to a mile - through winding streets to the pool of Siloam. Having walked part of the route to Siloam (which is downhill and winding), this is no easy task.

Catez -
One reason the Pharisees investigated was that while there were records of priests/sages healing men who were blind, none were recorded as having healed someone who was blind from birth. This is one reason why they would have interviewed the man's parents - only the Messiah, per Isaiah's prophecy, would be able to heal someone with this condition. So, in effect, Jesus was again demonstrating a clear sign of Messiahship (which he hinted at in the final verses of John 8) by doing this healing.

Chris Ross said...

I love it! Thanks for the word, Phil. Here's to the offensive but true penal substitution atonement truth. My only boast is his willing death on the Cross for my sake.

David A. Carlson said...

egads! I agree with JSB.

It really must be a fresh start

James Scott Bell said...

Right on, David!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thank for this post!

Todd Buck said...

Again, your emphasis upon the use of spittle is dead on--especially the remarks connecting it to the Sabbath. The Pharisees had elaborate laws (which they invented) as "fences" built around the actual laws of God (including those for the Sabbath). In effect, they were insisting by practice, if not by intent, that God's laws were not good enough. By mixing the mud and saliva, Jesus intentionally violated the laws against both kneading and the use of spittle! (Yes, there were such things!) By coming in the section of John's Gospel which demonstrates Jesus as the Light of the World and the fulfillment of the LIGHT of the Feast of Dedication, this story is amazing. Four large lamps lit to accompany the dancing and singing celebrated the coming deliverer; the last night the candelabrum was DELIBERATELY left UNLIT to remind Israel that the light had not come. At this exact Feast, Jesus heals the blind man and makes declaration that He is that light.

Dawg said...

*It's remarkable that the blind guy submitted to such a remedy.*

The blind guy must have been looking the other way. ;)

brentjthomas said...

I love these stories about the physicality of our Savior. Earthy, nurturing. Our Savior is the Designer and Artisan of all eyes, and this story is perfectly in character for such a Glorious Artisan, who loves the media with which He works.

Neil said...

Thanks Phil, this was excellent!

We read this at our house the other day, and I think it was one of the kids that suggested an additional reason for Jesus doing this miracle the way he did...

Because Jesus put the muddy spittle on his eyes and sent him away, the blind man was by himself when he regained his sight. He didn't actually see Jesus and wouldn't recognize him when he did see him.

This allowed the man to respond to the miraculous sign without being "contaminated" by familiarity with the healer, and his response stands as a stark condemnation of the Pharisees' responses to the signs that they said they wanted. He stood up to the Pharisees in a quite difficult situation, and had the correct answer: no one could do this unless he came from God. He defended a man he had never seen and might never see again.

Then Jesus sought him out, told him who He was, and now armed with this knowledge the man put his nascent faith into words. "I believe".

If Jesus had just waved his hand and healed him on the spot, the blind man's road to salvation wouldn't have been nearly as instructive to us.

wordsmith said...

Thanks for the reminder, Phil. I put this sermon of yours on my mp3 player last year and listened to it while out on my morning run.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

I enjoy these posts much better than the other kind. My Calvinistic knee-jerk reaction to hearing clay is: Potter.

Jim Jordan said...

Excellent homily on this odd miracle. Unbelievers never see the profound truths in the gospels, then with the pharisees or now. They only seek to vindicate themselves.

brentjthomas said...

Thank you for this poetic, stimulating post, Mr.Johnson. I like to think of Jesus regarding His creation in this way.
I look forward to reading the work of each of the Pyrolunatics, (even when the posts are more contentious). I always learn something from the post of the day, and from the commenters. For example: It was good to learn from Dan Phillips' post that Maundy Thursday really means "New Commandment" Thursday. I've steadily attended church since childhood, but never had discovered the profound meaning of "Maundy Thursday". (The word "Maundy" previously always made me think of something less meaningful, as though "Maundy" was some kind of confection or bunting).
The Spurgeon sermons are wonderful to read. Thanks for all of this stuff.

4given said...

Very thought-provoking...

Robert Ivy said...

Thanks Phil,

I certainly agree with all your points - a fantastic peer into the mind of God.

But just allow me, for the sake of diffusing tensions between the crowds, to illustrate how this post demonstrates precisely the core differences that exist between charismatics and cessationists - because it think it will show how small (but real) the differences are.

You see I, as a charismatic, would approach this question from a completely different angle. I can totally agree with you and be turned totally upside-down at your thought process.

The difference is essentially this: you begin with Jesus being God and then go from there. I begin with Jesus being man and then go from there.

When you answer the question, you think about divine thought-processes. When I answer the question, I think about divine Spirit-given revelation.

You see, I always turn to John 5:19-20, which says that God the Father, because he loved Jesus, showed Jesus everything he did so that Jesus could do likewise. For me, I don't how Christ could have known what to do unless God the Father revealed it to him.

You say, "He deliberately chose," and, "The efficacy came from the power of Christ." I say, "The Spirit revealed," and "The efficacy came from the power of the Spirit."

Your application from this would be to make one's mind more productive to demonstrate the message of the Gospel, my application from this would be to commune deeper with God so that the Spirit can better demonstrate, through you, the message of the Gospel.

Your answer for the "why" of Christ would have been my answer for the "why" of the Father.

Your response to this passage is to think hard and develop possible reasons, my response to this passage is to cry out to God and ask him to make me capable of similar things.

Allow me to say that at every dissection BOTH positions are supported in Scripture. I just find it very interesting how we would approach the question so differently.

For anyone interested in pursuing this particular "why" question a little further, I would recommend this sermon by Sam Storms that he preached at Piper's church last year. It gives one potential response (different than Phil's) to the question of how Jesus did ministry.

Phil Johnson said...

Robert Ivy: "You see I, as a charismatic, would approach this question from a completely different angle. . . I begin with Jesus being man and then go from there."

Go from there to what?

Robert Ivy: "my response to this passage is to cry out to God and ask him to make me capable of similar things."

I think if I had suggested that the charismatic perspective stresses the humanity of Christ at the expense of any proper emphasis on His deity, and it undermines the evidentiary nature of the creative miracles He did as proofs of His deity, a chorus of voices would have risen up in unison to condemn me for over-generalizing and misrepresenting the charismatic perspective.

Yet you have in effect said those very things and not one charismatic has yet complained that you are misrepresenting charismatic doctrine. I've been waiting all morning for someone to come along and say that, or write something to soften the implications of what you wrote. No one has.

I just wanted to point that out.

Robert Ivy said...


I think you're right that there is a divide between charismatics and cessationists on this point, but I don't see any more reason to say that the charismatic position is, "at the expense of any proper emphasis on His deity" than the cessationist position is, "at the expense of any proper emphasis on His humanity."

I am merely pointing out verses like Acts 10:38 and Phil 2:1-10.

It seems to be the height of futility to me to argue over who gets their percentage emphasis right. I love your emphasis on the diety of Christ. Why can't we also savor his humanity?

If you can present a Biblical argument for what is the "proper emphasis on Christ's diety" then I would truly love to hear it. Until then, it seems to me that you are just looking for a fight.

Catez said...

One reason the Pharisees investigated was that while there were records of priests/sages healing men who were blind, none were recorded as having healed someone who was blind from birth..

Yes, I know Chris. That wasn't really what I was getting at - I was thinking more of the fact it was the sabbath.
Jesus actually sent people to be examined by the priests after healing them of leprosy - it was their function to pronounce some-one clean.
But in this particular story we see too that they were not exactly unbiased - they really wanted a reason to have something against Jesus. Instead of marvelling that the blind man can see.

Catez said...

In all the years I was a Charismatic I never heard anyone preach on this story from the perspective of Jesus humanity. Not once. I did hear plenty about the fact that Jesus was divine, that this was a divine miracle, and that it was one of the evidences that he was God.

I think you are trying to introduce an emphasis under the unbrella of charismaticism that doesn't exist in regard to this account - although I'll give that there may be some Charismatics who preach from the perspective of Jesus humanity, there are also plenty who preach this as an example of the fact he was and is God.

If there is any demarcation from a Charismatic perspective I would say it lies not in which emphasis is chosen, but on the much used proof text that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Consequently a charismatic will hold that Jesus will divinely do the same kind of miracle today. Interestingly, some cessationists believe that Jesus may divinely do a miracle today too.

Where is the difference? Not in the emphasis on divinity or humanity - but on who and through whom Jesus works today, and what he does. I think you have very much misrepresented a Charismatic position here. The belief that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, will do the same thing today does not have it's anchor in the humanity of Jesus, but in his divinity.

What you propose seems to have more in common with docetism than a biblical understanding of who Jesus is. In your schema Jesus is reduced to a mere human example that we can also attain to. At best you split the unity of the Trinity in doing so, and remove the headship of Christ from the body by attempting to bypass his divinity. If Christ is the head then the body does not function without his headship - and thus his divinity is evident in any God-authored work produced through the members of His church.

Having said all that, I must say too that I am well aware of the subtle self-aggrandizement that occurs when people assume that they can do whatever Jesus did - as if His spirit is some impersonal force, disconnected from His divinty and Sovreign headship.

April said...

Great post...that is why I read this blog.

Robert Ivy said...

Hm, wow, well I certainly didn't mean to teach any heresy. I always thought the orthodox position was that Jesus was fully God and fully man.

You may well be right that charismatics don't teach from the perspective of Jesus being a human, I should have hesitated to use that term. I only claim to speak from the reformed charismatic perspective. Hence why I included the Sam Storms sermon.

I do wonder what you would say about a verse like John 14:12 that explicitly says that we should do greater works than Christ. And I wonder what you would say about verses like Acts 10:38 that says Christ was anointed with power by the Holy Spirit.

But if what I presented was at all unorthodox, I relent.

Catez said...

"heresy" wasn't what I thought regarding your statements - but what you said did strike me as being closer to docetism that a more balanced view.
I don't have time to discuss the verses you mention.
On doing "greater works" -briefly - if you reread my previous comment the same things apply.