4th Sunday in Lent – A LSB #’s 744, 545, 849
Text – John 9:39
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, & those who see may become blind.”
One reaction is to take pity. Another is to wonder whose fault it is. That’s how human beings tend to respond when we see suffering. Was it a car accident, or cancer, or a stroke? Were they a smoker, or have they been drinking too much? In the Gospel reading, Jesus passes by a man who was born blind. His disciples ask, “Who sinned – this man or his parents?”
Human beings love to find fault. Who should we blame? The Gospel reading highlights a few examples. The disciples wonder if they should blame the blind man or his parents. The Pharisees blame Jesus for violating their law by healing on the Sabbath. They blame the man who was blind for being born in utter sin.
The blame game is an easy trap to fall into. Adam & Eve had it down pat the moment they sinned. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve & their Creator. It’s difficult enough to accept the blame for our sins. Jesus does not lower the bar. He gives an answer that can be even more difficult to accept:
“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) That’s not a blanket statement which can be applied in every instance of suffering. Yet in this particular situation Jesus clearly makes the point that this man’s blindness was for the purpose “that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
As believers, we are all for the works of God being displayed. In fact, a survey would probably show we’d like to see a lot more of it. As one Collect says, from the season of Advent, “Stir up Your power, O Lord…” We’re just not very comfortable with the thought that it might be our suffering that provides God those opportunities. The man who was healed of his blindness had his time of suffering brought to a close. In spite of the ruckus caused by the Pharisees, his healing brought great joy to him. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are the ones who now begin facing the prospect, in their own eyes, of suffering.
This new Rabbi, who’s appeared on the scene, is attacking the very foundation of their religion & their livelihood. By undermining their laws against working on the Sabbath, He is destroying their credibility. Their religion, & Jesus, cannot stand side by side. One, or the other, will be destroyed. The Pharisees will decide to destroy Jesus.
They were unwilling to suffer through the wholesale revision of their religion. They reject the teachings of Jesus at every turn. They refuse to acknowledge that He is working miracles which only God Himself could work. When the man who used to be blind confesses faith in Jesus, Jesus summarized what happened:
“‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, & those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near Him heard these things, & said to Him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41 ESV)
One of the works of God being displayed in this event is obvious. A blind mind receives his sight physically & also spiritually. Another work is the revelation of what happens when a person refuses to receive the gifts of God. Even though the Pharisees were leaders in the Jewish faith, their refusal to accept Jesus as God was causing them to become blind spiritually.
The religion of the Pharisees was no longer the teaching that God gave to Moses in the first five books of the OT. Whereas Moses taught trusting in the mercy & grace of God, by the time Jesus was born, the Pharisees were teaching that they could make up for their defects in fulfilling the law. They did that, as righteous people, through their sufferings, & they considered themselves righteous by virtue of the fact that they were biological descendants of Abraham. For example, blindness was considered to be a disease & all disease was regarded as punishment for some transgression.
Thus, the disciples’ question, “…who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV) They believed that all sin incurs earthly & eternal punishment unless it is made good by atonement. Atonement was made chiefly by good works & repentance – the main expression of which was fasting & by suffering.
Jesus’ disciples had a lot to unlearn. That unlearning was one of the works of God being displayed through the man who was born blind so that he could be healed by Jesus. This event confronted the Pharisees & the disciples with an opportunity to learn the truth from God’s Son. Forgiveness is earned & atonement is made for us, by Messiah as He dies on the cross.
It’s ironic that the Pharisees believed suffering would make atonement for their sins. Yet, when the opportunity came to suffer – the loss of their power of prestige – they refused & had Messiah suffer & be crucified instead. His very suffering & crucifixion made perfect atonement for all of their sins, but they refused to receive that gift which Jesus offered.
The man born blind was gaining sight. The Pharisees, born with sight, were losing it. They were becoming blind because they refused to see. Jesus performed a miracle & they acted like it didn’t happen. The purpose of Jesus’ appearance was to blind unbelievers hoping that they would then recognize their condition & turn to Him for healing.
Peter experienced that firsthand after Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Still, Peter denied Christ & when the rooster crowed, & Jesus looked at Peter, Peter went out & wept bitterly. Peter recognized his condition & once Jesus was resurrected, Peter turned to Jesus for healing. Acknowledging our sin, & our blindness, allows God to bring sight into our lives. This morning, the uncomfortable point of the law for you is this, “Are you blind, or can you see?” Think carefully about that question & remember these words:
“Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” Whenever we begin to believe that we have our religious life all tied up in a neat little box, it’s wise to keep at least one eye open. God may be coming for us to prove that we are blind so that we can return to Him & see.
That tendency to believe that I can see, is why we speak words like these here in God’s house, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities… But I am heartily sorry for them & sincerely repent of them…” (LSB p. 213) When spoken from the heart, those words express our blindness & our desire that God, once again, restore our sight.
As God said in the OT reading from Isaiah, “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.” (42:16a ESV) Jesus came to fulfill that prophecy in the events of John 9, but also in your life & in mine.
Whatever suffering we endure in this life, even if it is our fault, can be used by our merciful Father to display His works. And His works in this life are not to condemn the world, but to save it. The blind man was encountered by Jesus that he might be saved. Jesus is looking to encounter you this morning, not just in your joys, but in your sorrows as well. Amen.
Word eternal, throned on high, Word that brought to life creation, Word that came from heaven to die, crucified for our salvation, saving Word, the world restoring, speak to us, Your love outpouring. Word that caused blind eyes to see, speak & heal our mortal blindness; deaf we are: our healer be; loose our tongues to tell Your kindness. Be our Word in pity spoken, heal the world, by sin now broken. Amen. LSB 545:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet