Enlightened Sermon notes 03-30-14

John 9:1-411 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

During the season of Lent we have been studying stories of “Jesus encounters” from John’s Gospel, and we find today as we have in each of the previous encounters we have studied that Jesus meets each person where they are, but … he doesn’t leave them there. We find just as we did with Nicodemus and with the woman at the well that Jesus addresses the deepest need in each person while also revealing something about himself. A difference that we see in this particular encounter between Jesus and the man born blind is that this is also a healing story. This man, unlike Nicodemus and the woman at the well, has an obvious physical disability that Jesus miraculously heals. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, because … that is not the man’s deepest need. The act of physically restoring the man’s sight leads to circumstances that result in Jesus meeting an even greater need in the man than that of being able to see. The main lesson we find in this story is that this man’s greatest need, and our greatest need, is not the ability to physically see, but the ability to see who Jesus is, to know him as the light of the world, and to worship him as Lord.

As the story of this Jesus encounter begins, we find that before the blind man is enabled to see Jesus, Jesus first sees the blind man. John tells us in verse 1, “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.” Jesus notices the man—he sees him—and his disciples apparently notice that Jesus notices him, because they ask Jesus a question about the man. They want to know whose sin is responsible for the man being born blind, his own or his parents. We are not told how Jesus or his disciples know this man had been blind from birth; but they apparently had some knowledge of the man prior to this encounter.

As for the question the disciples ask, it may seem a strange question to us, but it was a commonly held belief of many people in that time that illness and disability were God’s punishment for sin. For the disciples it seems not to be even a question of whether sin is the cause; the only question for them is whose sin is responsible for the man’s blindness. But Jesus does not support the notion that this man’s blindness is connected to sin. Jesus tells the disciples that the man’s condition is not due to anyone’s sin, but rather he is blind so that God’s works might be displayed through his condition of blindness.

This exchange between Jesus and his disciples highlights what I think is a troubling aspect of life for many of us, especially at times in life like the present time, when the world seems to be fraught with suffering and disease and death. One of the most difficult things for us to understand in life is the question of why there is suffering in the world. That difficulty is what is behind the disciples’ question. They have attempted to identify a cause for human suffering. They are not unlike us in their inability to understand or explain suffering. We have all asked questions such as, why does God allow suffering? We might have even wondered, does God cause suffering? Some have even suggested, for example, that the coronavirus is God’s judgment on a sinful world. Jesus’ words in response to the disciples’ question about the blind man would lead us away from claiming God caused this pandemic, to looking for God to be at work in the midst of it.

Jesus tells the disciples that the man was not born blind because of sin, but so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus seems to be saying that God does not dole out punishment for sin in the form of illness or disability. But as this story illustrates, it does seem to be the case that in his wisdom and his mysterious ways, our heavenly Father sometimes allows his children to experience hardship and suffering so that they can experience his power and grace in delivering them from their suffering.

Sometimes we are not able to see God’s activity and presence in our lives any other way than through the way of suffering. When things are going well for us it can be all too easy for us to forget God, to think we don’t need God. If we never suffered, we would be inclined to take God and his goodness for granted and we would never have the experience of God delivering us from suffering.

One thing I love about this story of Jesus delivering and healing the blind man is that Jesus does not wait for the blind man to ask Jesus to heal him. Jesus states in verse 4 that he has been sent by God to work God’s works in the world, and then he proceeds to do just that, without the blind man speaking a word. Jesus goes to the blind man, makes mud from soil and his own saliva, places the mud on the man’s eyelids, and tells him to go wash in the pool called Siloam, or Sent. The blind man does all of these things, and finds himself seeing and sent to proclaim the truth about his healing. For a good portion of the remainder of the story, we find the man bearing witness to what has happened to him. He does not know how it happened; he knows only that he was blind and now he sees, thanks to Jesus.

But of course, the man’s witness brings the inevitable trouble with the Pharisees. As we see repeatedly in John’s Gospel, the Pharisee leaders are out to get Jesus. They not only fail to see the power of God at work in what Jesus has done, they do not even believe that a miraculous healing has taken place. They accuse the man of pretending to be blind all along, and when they cannot get him to admit to that, they get into an angry dispute with him and finally cast him out of the synagogue. Jesus hears about it, and once again we see that Jesus does not leave the man in his condition. This time he does not leave the man as an outcast with an incomplete understanding of who Jesus is. Once again, we see Jesus take the initiative to find the man and meet his need that is even deeper than the need to be healed of physical blindness. The man’sdeepest need is to see and believe in who Jesus is.

When he finds the man, Jesus asks him a question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” In some translations the question Jesus asks is, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” In either case, Jesus is essentially asking if the man born blind believes that Jesus is the One sent from God to share in our humanity and save us from our sins.

Notice that this is the third time in the story that the man is asked about the identity of Jesus, and his answer each time reflects a growing understanding of who Jesus is. In v. 10 his neighbors ask the man, “How were your eyes opened?” He answers, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes….” In v. 17 the Pharisees ask, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” This time the man replies, “He is a prophet.” Finally, when Jesus asks him if he believes in him, he asks, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” In a response that is very similar to his response to the woman at the well, Jesus says, “it is he who is speaking to you,”—you’re lookin’ at him—to which the man responds by saying, “Lord, I believe.” The formerly blind man identifies Jesus first as a man, then as a prophet and finally as the Son of Man and Son of God, the Lord. He makes the confession, “Lord, I believe.” And upon confessing and believing that Jesus is Lord, he does what only the Lord is worthy of; he worships him. Although the Jews had cast this man out of the synagogue, the Lord of all life who is the object of worship in the synagogue finds the man, and the man worships the Lord outside the synagogue. The man’s sight is truly and fully restored as he comes to see and believe that Jesus is the Light of the world, and the Lord of all.

In this Jesus encounter, God performed a miracle in restoring vision to the man born blind. But if the man had been enabled to see only physically, without coming to faith in Christ he would have been as lost and as spiritually blind as the Pharisees. The greater miracle in this story is not the healing of physical blindness, but that the man came to see and believe that Jesus is God’s Son, the Lord.

Friends, we are all born with spiritual blindness, unable to see who Jesus is. But just as the Lord saw the man born blind, and without being asked took the initiative to heal him, so God sees us, wherever we are, and works in our lives to heal our blindness and the blindness of the whole world. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to see the Light of Christ, we are enlightened. The Spirit takes the initiative to seek us out and to confront us with our sin and offer forgiveness. The Spirit reveals Jesus to us over time as our ability to understand grows. Like the man born blind, it may take us a while to fully realize who Jesus is, but as the Spirit continues to work in our lives … in the midst of suffering, in the midst of healing, in sorrow or in joy … we eventually come to realize that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord, and we worship him with all of our lives. Thanks be to God. Let us pray.

O God, we thank you, for seeing our need, for sending Jesus, and for enabling us to see the Light. Help us to bear witness to what you have done for us, so that the whole world will be enlightened and saved by faith in your Son, who we worship, and in whose name we pray. Amen.