Preached: March 27, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus is Matthew 15.
Passing by [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. The disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But [this happened] to make clear God's works in him. It is necessary for us, while it is day, to keep doing the works of him who sent me. Night comes when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am light for the world."
After saying these things, he spit on the ground, made mud from the spit, and spread this mud over the eyes. He said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam," which means "Sent." So he went away and washed and left seeing. (John 9:1-7)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
The healing of this man born blind is just the beginning of John 9. As the chapter unfolds, we see how this miracle begins a change in this man. Even more so, we see Jesus carrying on his work, the work the Father had sent him to do. Jesus came into this world as light. Toward the end of the chapter he sums up this work, "For judgment I have come into the world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" (John 9:39 NIV1984).
Now judgment can go two ways. It can hand down the verdict: "Acquitted!" or the verdict: "Condemned!" Guilty or not guilty. When the light of Jesus shines into our hearts opening our blind eyes to see the fountain filled with his blood washing us clean, what a blessed verdict we hear: Acquitted! Forgiven! Righteous! Not guilty! We who were born blind see the work the Father sent him to do, the work of saving us sinners from death and damnation.
But how dreadful the verdict for those who ignore the light! They think they can see. They may even know a lot about Jesus. They think they can see, so they don't pay attention to his light. They are blind to how much he paid for their great debt. They are blind to the living power that the shines out from Jesus. They do not come into his light, but lurk in the shadows keeping Jesus at a distance.
You and I, dear Christians, began our life with that blindness. How lost we were under the condemnation of death and hell! We needed the Light who came into the world. What great good news that Jesus is that Light. He shines doing the work the Father sent him to do! That the theme today. So his light has penetrated our hearts. And now we reflect his light in our confession.
Blinded by unbelief, lost in sin's darkness, we began life born spiritually blind. Through Baptism Jesus' light penetrated deep into our hearts. We saw him on the cross, not just a man, but your God and Savior. "Yes, Jesus died for me, for my sins," your infant heart believed. What light shines from Jesus! He did the saving work the Father had sent him to do. He did it though it took him to the god-forsaken cross. He did it for you, dear sinner, for you. And now as your risen Savior, he brings his saving work to you, pouring out his Holy Spirit on you through Baptism and his Word. His light has penetrated your heart.
But how did he do that saving work in John 9? He not only brought physical sight to this man born blind but also penetrated his heart, so that by the end of the chapter this man, once blind, now confesses, "Lord, I believe" (John 9:38 NIV1984) and worships Jesus. Let's think about this man.
What a difficult life he most have had! Put yourself back in that time. There was no ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, no braille, no audio books, no government welfare. He couldn't earn a living, no jobs for the blind back then. So he begged, dependent on the pity of others, hoping to stave off hunger for another day.
Did he struggle with guilt, as well? "What did I do to deserve this?" Did he blame his parents or maybe even God? Did the disapproval of others weigh heavy on him? How many passersby might have thought like the disciples: "[W]ho sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2 NIV1984).
But Jesus works the Father's plan. He would accomplish what the Father had sent him to do, just as a diligent worker finishes his labor before the sun goes down. And his work here is much more than giving physical sight. But that's where he begins. He spits on the ground, makes some mud, and spreads it on the man's eyes. He's clearly communicating that he, Jesus, was the one giving him sight. He sends the man to wash the mud off in the Pool of Siloam, which means Sent, just as Jesus was the One sent by the Father. Yes, it was very clear to this man that Jesus gave him his sight, something that only God could do.
So amazing was this miracle of healing someone born blind was that others tried to explain it away. When he returned to his neighbors and those who had seen him begging, they ask. "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" (John 9:8 NIV1984). Some said yes; others said, "No, he only looks like him" (John 9:9 NIV1984).
Do you see how when faced with the evidence of the divine, human reason tries to explain it away? That's one reason we cannot come to Jesus or believe in him by our our thinking or choosing or deciding. We needed his light to penetrate our hearts, before we can see him as our Savior.
But even as we see his light, how often don't we struggle with the shadows of doubt? Maybe you weren't born physically blind, but haven't we all suffered sadnesses in one way or another? I don't think I'm the only one who has asked: "Why did this happen to me? Did I do something wrong? Is God angry with me?" But note how Jesus explained this man's blindness. "This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:3 NIV1984). We've witnessed the beginning of that work as Jesus healed his blindness; we'll see more in part two. But do you think that during all those years up until this momment, that man had any idea of the miracle God would work?
So also, dear Christians, as we go through the sadnesses of our lives, the shadows of doubt want to darken our hearts. We can't see the good God is working. We can't see the sunshine of his blessing. The clouds of sadness tempt us to doubt his goodness, love, and kindness. But then recall Jesus' words here: "This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:3 NIV1984). God's at work in your life, dear friend. Jesus shines on you bringing to you the fruits of the work the Father had sent him to do.
We could try to order the clouds around, thinking, "I should be in control, or he should at least explain himself to me." We could do our own thing, figuring, "If this is how bad life is following God, I might as well strike out on my own, chasing after the fun of life. Who cares what God says." Or, dear Christian, you can leave it in his hands to work his work in you. Trust his care and mercy. I cannot explain the trials you go through. But I can assure you that his promises do not fail. Trust him.
Think of the years this man spent blind, not knowing why. Think of young Joseph, sold as a slave by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar's wife in Egypt, imprisoned and forgotten. Years passed before he could clearly see what God's plan was. Think of Job and his lose of wealth, children, and health. God never explained himself to Job.
So also, we may suffer for years or our whole life through without understanding the whys and wherefores. God moves in a mysterious way. But he is at work in your life, dear Christian. For you are his blood-bought child. Look at the cross to see how precious you are to him. He sent his Son to be the Light of the world, your Light. Jesus shines on you, for he has completed the work the Father sent him to do. Through Baptism and his Word, Jesus sent his light into your dark heart and opened your blind eyes. He has done such great things for you already, so keep on trusting him. Trust him no matter what the trial. His light shines on you through his promises in Word and Sacraments, penetrating deep into your heart day after day, scattering the shadows of doubt, no matter how dark the clouds of sadness.
Jesus shines on you. And as his light penetrates your heart, you also reflect his light in your confession. We see that in this man who once was blind.
This man is brought before the Pharisees. He had been healed on the Sabbath. They ask him how it happened. He tells it like it is: "He put mud on my eyes ... and I washed, and now I see" (John 9:15 NIV1984).
But this caused a dispute among the Pharisees. Since Jesus had broken the traditions of the elders by making mud and healing on the Sabbath, some figured Jesus couldn't be from God. Others of them wondered how someone could do such miraculous signs if he was an open sinner actually breaking the Sabbath. So they asked this man his opinion. He clearly confesses: "He is a prophet" (John 9:17 NIV1984). He doesn't fully grasp who Jesus is, but it's a start.
Now this man's life gets more difficult. The Pharisees don't let the matter rest. They drag in his parents. Maybe he wasn't born blind. Maybe he's just pretending to be that blind man. But his parents testify that he is their son and that he was born blind. But as to how he got his sight back, they would need to ask him.
So the Pharisees call him back in again. They pressure him. (Who would have thought all this trouble would come with seeing?) They place him under a solemn charge to tell the truth: "Give glory to God ... We know this man is a sinner" (John 10:24 NIV1984).
Now although he still does not fully understand who Jesus is, he does not back down from what actually did happen but clearly confesses: "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:24 NIV1984).
Notice how their continued interrogation, as troubling as it might have been for this man, brings him to sharpen his confession. They intend to undermine him but God uses it to strengthen his conviction. They demand for him to tell them again how he was healed. But he answers, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" (John 9:27 NIV1984). He had begun to realize that he wanted to learn from this Jesus.
His reply only brings insults from the Pharisees. "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from" (John 9:29 NIV1984).
Listen to his answer: "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing" (John 9:30-33 NIV1984). What a confession!
They throw him out, but Jesus finds him and asks, "Do you believe in the Son of God?" (see John 9:35 KJV).
This man knows he can trust Jesus to direct him rightly, for Jesus comes from God. He replies, "Who is he, sir? ... Tell me so that I may believe in him" (John 9:36 NIV9184).
Jesus answers, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you" (John 9:37 NIV1984).
And the man once blind now confesses, "Lord, I believe" (John 9:38 NIV1984). He sees not only with his eyes but with his heart as well.
So also in your life, Jesus is at work. Like those Pharisees, some around us seek to undermine our faith and plant doubts in our hearts. But as you confess your faith, God uses even their hostility to sharpen your conviction so that you are all the more ready to hear Jesus revealing himself in his Word and see him even more clearly. The work Jesus has done shines through you as you reflect his light in your confession.
Finally, as we sing the last two hymns today, think about how Jesus is at work in your life. His love is shining for you even behind the clouds of sadness as God moves in a mysterious way. You can be sure of that, because Jesus has carried out the work the Father sent him to do. He has filled a fountain with his blood in which you lose all your guilty stain.
These last two hymns were written by William Cowper. Consider how Jesus worked in his troubled life. Born in England in 1731, he lost his mother at age six. Bullied as a child, he never liked school. He describes his study of law as "Day and night I was upon the rack; lying down in horror and rising up in despair" (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal: Handbook, p. 672). He never became a lawyer, never held down a real job except for four short year. And he couldn't marry the woman he loved.
His sad and painful life only got worse as he struggled with nervous disorders and mental illness. At times the depression became so great he attempted suicide, even imagining that God had told him to kill himself. A life of struggle and dependence. Where was Jesus?
But in this troubled Christian Jesus was at work. Despite the mental illness and depression the light of Jesus had penetrated his heart. He believed in his Savior, and he confessed his faith. Think of that as sing these two hymns ("God Moves in a Mysterious Way", "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood") that William Cowper wrote. How much good hasn't Jesus worked through these words in comforting Christian hearts in the years since then?
That same Jesus at work for the blind man, at work in William Cowper, is at work in your heart through his Word and Sacraments. He shines having done the work the Father sent him to do. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.