Fourth Sunday in Lent

“That the Works of God May Be Displayed”

John 9:1-41


            In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Of course, we are above asking such a question.  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2, ESV)?  But the disciples have the Scriptures on their side: “I, [Yahweh] your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5, ESV).  Jesus is apparently not upset with them for asking the question.  He says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3, ESV).  And, when you think about it, what is more offensive?  That a man should be born blind because his parents sinned, or the fact that he went through a large part of his life blind so “that the works of God might be displayed in him”?  Jesus is saying that this man was born blind so that when Jesus showed up years later, God’s work might be accomplished.  The guy never asks to be healed.  There is no sign that he knows who Jesus is, or that he has any inclination toward the outbursts of Bartimaeus; you know, shouting louder and louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:46, ESV)!  As far as we’re told, Jesus spits on the earth, makes some mud, smears it over some blind guy’s eyes without being asked–on the Sabbath, no less–and the story winds its way through Siloam, through the synagogue, and back out again, until it’s just Jesus and the formerly blind man.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out [of the synagogue], and having found him he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’  He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?'” (John 9:35-36, ESV).  The physical blindness is gone, but the spiritual blindness remains.  How many people are healed of their ailments, whether by “conventional” medicine or more miraculous means, and never give a thought to the One who heals bodies and souls?  Then, “Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’  He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (John 9:37-38, ESV).  He did not ask for this.  He never said anything to Jesus; never asked to be healed.  He was simply standing there when Jesus passed by, and Jesus chose to have mercy on him.  The blind man can’t even tell the Pharisees who Jesus is; he says only, “One thing I know, that being blind, I now see” (John 9:25).  But now, Jesus seeks him out.  The once-blind man is no earnest seeker.  Jesus finds him and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man.  And, strangely, the man says tell me who it is, so that I can believe in him.  Jesus answers him very literally: “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37, ESV).  Use your newly opened eyes and see: I am He.  And that Word of Jesus is enough to create faith in this man.  “He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (John 9:38, ESV).  It is all very similar to what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well: “I who speak to you am He [the Messiah]” (John 4:26).  And the woman and “many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41, ESV).  Jesus has a habit of seeking out these sorts of people: the Samaritan outcast drawing water in the heat of the day so that no one will see or talk to her; the blind man who is brought into and then cast out of the synagogue for speaking the truth.

This is simply who Jesus is and what He does.  After all, He sought me out; He sought you out.  “For at one time you were darkness” (Ephesians 5:8, ESV).  We didn’t just walk in darkness, or have pockets of darkness inside us, we were darkness.  Without light.  As far from seeing as either the blind man or the Pharisees.  As far from love and acceptance as the woman at the well.  “Wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17, ESV).  We did not ask Jesus to heal us, to make us see with the eyes of faith.  “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8, ESV).  Behind the blindness of our own eyes, we can ignore our very real sin.  If you think there are monsters in your bedroom, maybe you can pull the covers over your head and hide.  But if the monsters are inside you, if you are the monster, there is nowhere to hide.  The physical blindness of the man by the road is only the flip side of the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees-and every other person, for that matter.  You and I came crying from our mothers’ wombs as blind spiritually as that man was blind physically.  We should not be surprised, then, to hear children crying when the water of baptism is poured over them.  Spiritual rebirth is just as painful, bloody, and messy as physical birth; just look at Christ on the cross.  And this blind man found it out, when a stranger started smearing spit and dirt on his eyes.  If you find it hard to drink from the chalice, how do you think that guy felt?  And then, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:7, ESV).  Somehow, he stumbled his way to the pool, caked mud falling from his still-blind eyes, and he washed.  And when the mud was gone, sight had come.

And all of this so that the works of God might be displayed in him (9:3).  But it is no different with you.  “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32, ESV).  Does this offend you?  Would you wipe the mud from your eyes without washing and refuse the healing of Christ, because Original Sin is not “fair”?  God would display the works of Christ in your life, and will you turn down His mercy?  He would feed you all His gifts, He would speak into your ears all his words, He would make you His holy child within this glorious fellowship of saints.  He sought you when you knew Him not.  And He seeks others, also, to worship Him in Spirit and truth.  The Christ comes here for those who have been given eyes to see, and He goes out in you, His hands and feet and mouths, and He speaks compassionately to others who are not of this sheep fold (John 10:16).  The works of God are being displayed in you, both for your sake and for the sake of those around you.

The works of God are being displayed in you: the first proof is that you are here.  Whether you are here out of a right motivation or a feeling of obligation, God is here to meet you.  He is driving you toward Himself with relentless pressure: Hold My Word sacred, He says, and gladly hear and learn it.  Teach it diligently to your children, write it on your forehead and the doorposts of your house.  Speak of My Word when you sit in your house, and when you take a walk, and when you lie down at night, and when you get up in the morning (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Where is your only healing?  It is in the Son of God, crucified for your sin.  “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”  Thus says Yahweh, “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.  I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16-16, ESV).  He leads you by His Word, as He feeds you with the precious Body and Blood of His Son, as you move ever deeper into the Faith handed down to you.  The darkness is light to Him, and thus it is light for you.  He gives His Faithful Son as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  I am Yahweh, He says; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.  Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them (Isaiah 42:6-9).  New things.  Judgment: that the blind shall see and the seeing become blind.  But one thing I know: that having been blind, now I see.  These are the things Yahweh does in Jesus Christ, and He will not forsake you.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/28/08

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