This past Sunday we looked at John 9. In that chapter we heard about Jesus miraculously healing a man who was born blind. This isn’t the first miraculous thing that Jesus has done in John’s gospel and it’s certainly not the last. Besides healing a man born blind, Jesus has saved a wedding by turning water into wine (2:1-12). He healed the son of an official without even visiting the sick child (4:46-54), and also healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (5:1-15). He then turned five loaves of bread and two fish into a meal for over 5000 people (6:1-15) and walked on water in the same day (6:16-21). In a few chapters we’ll see him bringing his friend Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, back to life (11:1-44).
So what’s the point of telling us these particular stories about Jesus? Is it just to impress us with how powerful Jesus is? Does John tell us all this so that we’ll be convinced that Jesus is the best miracle worker this world has ever seen? I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. Later on, in 20:30-31, John is going to tell us that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” If John was trying to impress us with Jesus’ ability to do miracles, he probably would have included as many stories as he could instead of a small handful. Rather, John says he chose these specific miracles so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…” In other words, John chose them because they help us understand Jesus’ true identity. They help us see that Jesus is accomplishing everything that the Messiah (Christ), who was promised throughout all of the Old Testament, is supposed to accomplish.
This is also why John doesn’t refer to these miraculous events simply as “miracles.” Instead he prefers the word “signs.” Why is this a better way for John to describe all these incredible things that Jesus is doing? It is better because it points us away from the importance of the event for the individual people who are being helped (the wedding guests, the sick child, the paralyzed man, the hungry crowd, the blind man, dead Lazarus and his family, etc.) and points us toward Jesus’ importance for everyone who is reading John’s Gospel. That’s what signs are meant to do – point toward something else. How do I know when I’m at McDonalds? The sign out front tells me so. I don’t get my McNuggets from the sign, it just tells me where to get them. How do I know which exit I want when getting off the highway? The sign tells me that it’s the one I want. The sign isn’t the exit, it just tells me where the exit is. So it is in John’s Gospel: a sign will be performed by Jesus and then some discussion or speech will often be close by, letting us see the sign’s bigger meaning.
The fact that Jesus is performing “signs” also connects him with past messengers sent from God. Many of the Old Testament prophets performed signs that verified that the messenger was sent from God. The most prominent example of this came during the Exodus. The Plagues that came upon Egypt were all signs performed by Moses (Exodus 4:17) and were meant to prove that the One True God was with him. Thus, the prevalence of signs in John helps verify that Jesus is sent from God in a greater way than any prophet before.
One great example of this is when Jesus feeds the 5,000 in 6:1-15. It’s a miraculous and incredible story. But does it tell us anything about Jesus except that he is able to take care of us if we ever forget our lunch? Certainly! A little bit later in the chapter we hear Jesus calling himself “the bread of life” (6:35). In other words, what Jesus did physically for the hungry crowd he will do on a much deeper and more satisfying level by dying on the cross (6:50-51). A similar pattern happened in Sunday’s passage. Jesus, in chapter 8, calls himself the light of the world and promises that whoever follows him will not walk in darkness (8:12). Then, in chapter 9, we encounter a man who was born blind. Miraculously, Jesus is able to give this man physical sight. That is not the climax of the chapter though. The climax doesn’t come until the end when the recently healed man recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah. All the while, the Pharisees, whose physical eyes are working perfectly fine, refuse to recognize Jesus’ true identity. As versed in the Old Testament as they were, they still lacked true sight. As a result, they refused to accept Jesus’ testimony. Yet this sign helps us understand that Jesus is the Messiah; the one who has come to give sight to the spiritually blind(Isaiah 42 & 43).
So while we should definitely be impressed by Jesus’ power as we read about all the miracles he has done, we shouldn’t stop there. We need to see the bigger significance in the details of these displays of supernatural power. We need to see the relevance they have for ourselves. Because even if your wedding isn’t running out of food or drink, your children are healthy, your legs work, you can see perfectly well and you packed your own lunch today, you still need Jesus. The stories of the miraculous things that Jesus did are told by John to help us see what our true needs are. More important than that; they help us see that Jesus is indeed “the Christ, the Son of God” and by believing we “may have life in his name.”