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“As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Have you ever noticed how John, in his Gospel, takes us into small personal encounters with Jesus? Rather than give us an overview of Jesus’ ministry, listing regions and various kinds of healing, John takes us into the heart of Jesus’ work, asking us to meditate on how He interacts with people. The last couple of weeks we’ve had Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Today, it is Jesus and the man born blind. In these moments, John offers us an intimate view of how God works, personally, individually, then and now in the world.
The story begins simply. “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth.” Jesus sees a man. I would like you to stop and think about how profound this is. Jesus sees a man. Sometimes, it is so hard for us to see a person. We see things not people. We see the big house but fail to see the broken marriage. We see the nose ring but completely miss the lifetime of childhood abuse. We see fashionable clothes and perfectly applied makeup but fail to see the insecure girl looking for affirmation. We see things but do we really see people?
It is hard for us to see a person. When the disciples see this man, what do they see? They see a problem, not a person. Listen to what they say to Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Why? Why is he blind? Why was he born this way?” For the disciples, he is a teaching moment, an educational instance which has reduced this human being to a theological dilemma.
The disciples think they are practicing theology, meditating on great theological questions. Yet, their theology takes them away from the man. So, they stand at a distance, observing the man, but not seeing him. Talking about him but not with him. They don’t see him. They don’t touch him. They don’t put shoes on his feet or a piece of bread in his lap. They don’t grasp his hand and lead him to Jesus. They stand apart from the man and talk theology with their teacher.
For the disciples, this is a case study they can approach from an impersonal theoretical perspective. It is an attempt to answer the age-old question: Why? Why is there suffering? Particularly, why is this man suffering? Whose fault is it?
Notice how they are looking for a Law answer. They’re asking who did what sin to make this man born blind? Remember, the Law is all about what we do, and the Law is given to show us our sin. The disciples are asking a Law question and looking for a Law answer, which isn’t completely wrong. It’s just that Jesus isn’t going to give them a Law answer. He gives them a Gospel answer.
Jesus does something different. Jesus sees the man. And Jesus sees this man as part of a greater story. Jesus’ theology is practical, hands on, personal.
The disciples had written a story which was too small. It was a story of sin and punishment from God. This man was blind, so someone had sinned. Either he did or his parents did, and God punished the sin with blindness. I don’t know if you have ever encountered people who tell the Christian story this way. It is just a story about sin and an angry God. We become the morality police in the world. We are there to discipline rather than disciple. To root out the sin rather than save.
Jesus, however, sees this man as part of a much greater story. It does not begin with sin but with creation. It does not end with punishment but with restoration in Him. When the story begins in creation and ends in restoration, all the moments in between are filled with the works of God. God who comes to take His broken creation and fashion it into a new creation.
So, Jesus looks at this man and sees him as part of a greater story. Jesus says to the disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.” In other words, neither this man nor his parents did something sinful that specifically earned the curse of blindness. It’s just one way that the curse of sin shows itself in a sinful world. Bad things happen, and bad things will happen to you also from time to time.
But that’s only the beginning of the story. Christ has come to redeem the world, to reverse the curse of sin; and so, He is going to display His work and saving power by what He does for this man born blind. He goes on to say, “We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus has come into this world to defeat sin, to bring light to dark places, to restore what has been broken by sin and its consequences.
Then Jesus stops talking theology and starts living it. It’s a bit of déjà vu. Jesus kneels on the ground and begins to create again. He spits and makes mud from the dust of the earth. Forming it. Putting in on the man’s eyes. And then He speaks to him and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus is obviously unaware of modern germ theory or the benefits of social distancing.
The One who recently said to the consternation of the religious elite, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” now shows just how far back He goes. He was there at the first creation, separating the land from the water, forming a world that was beautiful and fashioning beautiful creatures to live in the world. He was there forming the first man out of the dust of the earth and breathing life into him. The One, who was there at the original creation, has come into creation again and is going to work to restore His broken world. He will give sight to this man. On a cosmic scale, it’s just one small step toward making all things new; but for the man born blind it makes all difference in the world.
Jesus comes to make a difference. For that one man, for all people, for all of creation. That is His work. And He is willing to die to do such work. In fact, by dying He will do even greater things than these. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. He will capture our sin and condense it into His death and then He will rise to create new life. Life for this man. Life for you. A new heaven and new earth in which the former things have passed away, where there will be no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain, nor death, where God will wipe away every tear from every eye.
What a blessing for Jesus to reveal Himself like this today. How easy it is to reduce God’s story to sin and punishment; to see problems, not people. To take a colorful world and reduce it to black and white until the only thing people hear from the Church is sin and punishment, rules and regulations.
But Jesus comes today and gives us a glimpse of a much greater story. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. You are not slaves to sin but children of God, servants of His righteousness. Jesus opens the door of His Father’s kingdom and gives us a glimpse of His greater work. He teaches us to live, not by the littleness of our minds (talking about people) but by the greatness of HHis kingdom, working with people “that the works of God might be displayed.”
Jesus sees the man. Jesus sees the man who is not able to go to work because he is considered “non-essential personnel.” Jesus sees the woman who waits on tables, who is now without an income for a yet undetermined time. Jesus sees the man who is anxious and upset about the future. Jesus sees the woman who is trying to figure out how to provide care for her young children while the schools and daycares are closed, and she needs to get back to work at the nursing home. Jesus sees the child who is overwhelmed by all sorts of frightening, mixed messages of doom and despair. Jesus sees the man who is grappling for the first time with poor health and with the realization of his own mortality. Jesus sees the woman who is worried what is going to happen to her vulnerable mother, father, or grandparents during a pandemic. Jesus sees the man or woman who must wrestle with difficult decisions that may affect the health and safety of his community. Jesus sees the woman feeling the loneliness of being shut-in and separated from her loved ones. Jesus sees the person and not just the problem.
Each of these people with each of their problems is an opportunity for the works of God to be displayed. It may or may not be God’s will to provide instant, miraculous healing. But it is always His will to give faith and life and salvation for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Though a diverse group, all these people share something in common. They all need Jesus. Like you and me, they are all sinners and suffer from the consequences of sin—directly or indirectly. They all need to hear of the God who loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. They all need to hear of the Messiah, who brings living water. They all need to hear of Jesus, who gives sight to the blind and light to a world swallowed up in the darkness of sin, death, and the devil. They all need to hear of the One who brings restoration and renewal and resurrection.
But you can’t help them without personally interacting with them. Loving someone includes praying for them and encouraging them with God’s Word, yes, but that is not the extent of our involvement. St. James urges: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:22–24).
Later, he reminds us: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14–18).
One of the ways, the works of God are displayed in this world is through our acts of love. And do we ever have opportunities for this now! The man or woman not able to go to work for a while might appreciate a chance to put some of his or her talents and abilities to work. If you have a need and the ability to pay, offer them a job or project. The waitress who depends on tips for her income might need your financial help to get through the next few weeks. The woman who must still go to work might need help caring for her children. The man dealing with his own mortality for the first time needs a mature Christian to lead him through God’s Word for comfort and assurance. The civic or business leader who needs to make some important, difficult decisions can use your advice, support, and prayers. These are just a few examples of the many opportunities that God provides that His work might be displayed in us even in the midst of brokenness and confusion. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the people you may be able to help.
God’s work is always centered in Christ. We have gathered as the Body of Christ. We have received the Body of Christ. Now in our scattering, let us be the Body of Christ and seek Christ in our neighbor to serve Him. Go in the peace of Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. Christ has come and reversed the curse of sin. For His sake, you are forgiven all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.