Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 9:1-41
Dear people with blind faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. Knowing this, upon seeing the man blind from birth, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. Thus, the disciples thought the blind man was obviously getting what he deserved.
Keep in mind that in that day there was no welfare system to take care of this man. There were no disability benefits for which he could apply. There was no centre for the blind, no school for the blind, no seeing eye dogs, no government assistance for the blind. This man was born blind and the only thing he could do for food was beg on the side of the street and hope that enough people had pity on him to toss a couple coins in his direction so that he could eat.
God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. So, the disciples thought this man must have deserved what he got. God punishes sin, and here you can see it. Either his own sins are the reason, or his parents’ sins are the reason he had been suffering in complete darkness from birth, relying on the compassion of strangers just to eat. The explanation for such an awful situation must be payback for something.
Is that how we tend to see things? Any suffering that someone else goes through must be deserved. Any tragedy that strikes others must be divine retribution for their sin. Either they sinned, or their parents sinned, but they are getting what they deserve.
This is easy to understand. Sin results in the just punishment of God. What we do has consequences. This is justice in our eyes. If I don’t smoke, I won’t get cancer. If I eat healthy and exercise, I won’t have a heart attack. If I don’t drink and drive, I won’t be in a collision on my way home. It’s the smokers who get cancer, the unhealthy eaters who get heart attacks, and the drunk drivers who end up in collisions.
The problem with seeing things this way, is that we know that things don’t work out this way. Non-smokers die of cancer every day. Young athletes have heart attacks. Innocent families get hit by drunk drivers.
That must be just bad luck, many will say. You can do things to decrease your chances of getting cancer or a heart attack or being in a collision, but in the end, it just comes down to pure dumb luck. You may not be a high risk for a disease, but if you do get it, it’s just unpredictable chance and bad luck.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples, however, was not that the man was blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin. Neither was His answer that the man was blind out of pure dumb luck. Jesus told the disciples that it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. In other words, God made the man blind so that He could display His work in the man.
Well that’s not fair, we might be quick to say. We prefer to say that God allowed the man to be blind. Whoever did it, it cannot have been God. God wouldn’t do such a thing. But God allowing something is still His doing. Nothing happens apart from God’s will.
Do you remember Job? He lost his oxen and donkeys to raiders as well as the servants who cared for them. Fire from heaven burned up his sheep and the servants who cared for them. Another group of raiders took his camels and killed the servants tending them. A great wind blew over the house of his oldest son and killed all ten of his children. Job was struck with loathsome sores from the bottom of his foot to the crown of his head. And Scripture says that God brought all this disaster upon Job (Job. 42:11). God did it. It wasn’t Job’s sin. It wasn’t coincidence or chance. God did it.
According to our sense of justice, righteousness, and fairness, we say that this is not just, it is not righteous, it is not fair. We don’t just say that about what God did to Job. We say it about what God has done to our loved ones. We say it about what God has done to us.
We say it’s not fair that my loved one died. It’s not righteous that she suffered so long. It’s not fair that I have cancer.
Did we sin or did our parents sin so that we suffer like this? We can go right back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and say yes, our parents sinned, and that sin has been passed on from generation to generation, so that we also have sinned. That is why we suffer. We suffer because we are sinful. We will die because we are sinful. If we were not sinful, we would never suffer and we would never die.
This does not give us the complete answer, however. The truth is that we will not receive a complete answer on this side of heaven to why we suffer in the ways that we do. We will not know the answer because we are blind.
We might sing, “I once was blind, but now I see,” but that’s not true. We don’t see. Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” Don’t say that you see, because you don’t. If you say that you see, your guilt remains.
If you could see, you would never question God’s justice, righteousness, or fairness. You would see that all that you suffer is so that the works of God might be displayed in you. What is the work of God? Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Everything God does is so that we would believe in Him, but we don’t see it. We’re blind to it.
If you could see, every time suffering came upon you, you would rejoice and rush onto your knees to thank God that He is allowing you to suffer. In the face of loss, you would say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) In the face of illness and death, you would say, “Thank you God for displaying Your works in me.”
The work of God is that you believe in Him whom He has sent. The work of God is that you believe in Jesus.
This might be easier to understand first from someone else’s suffering. That’s why we have the example of Job. God took away all of Job’s earthly possessions, yet Job still believed in God and trusted in Him. That displays God’s work of faith. God killed all of Job’s children in one great blow, yet Job still believed in God and trusted in Him. That displays God’s work of faith. On top of all this loss, God struck Job with loathsome sores from the bottom of his foot to the crown of his head, yet Job blessed God, he did not sin, and he did not charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22). God displayed his work in Job.
God displays His work in us also. We suffer in this life. We cannot say it is because of some sin that we committed. We certainly cannot say that it is just random dumb luck. If it is by random chance that we suffer, then it is by random chance that our suffering ends. We suffer at the hand of God, so that He would display His work in us.
God’s work of faith is displayed in us when we continue to believe and trust in Him even when we suffer illness and loss. God’s work of faith is displayed when we, who are blind, trust in what God does even though we cannot see what He does. Faith is by definition in something that is not seen. Hebrews 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (v.1) Romans 8 tells us, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vv.24-25)
God’s work is displayed in us when we accept that we cannot know all the reasons why we suffer as we do, but we trust that God knows better than we do. God’s work is displayed in us when we accept that we are blind to what God does but we accept from His hand both days of gladness and days of sadness. God’s work is displayed in us when despite what we suffer, we say with firm confidence that God is just. He is righteous. He is fair.
You can trust that everything that God does is for your good. He sent His only Son to suffer and die for you. What more could He do for you? The Son of God voluntarily came to take your sins on Himself and receive the punishment that your sins deserve. Jesus suffered and died for you so that you have the promise of leaving this world of suffering, sorrow, and death. His death gives you the promise of an end to suffering and a reunion with all your loved ones who have died in the faith.
Because of what God has done for you, you can blindly trust Him. Even though you cannot see now, one day you will see clearly that He has loved you dearly. Despite what you cannot see, you can trust God’s promises to you. His promises to you are sure and certain, because Jesus died for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.