John 9:1-41

4th Sunday in Lent – 3/19/2023

This long text from John's Gospel could be our meditation and study for a month of Sundays. It brings to the fore a whole host of significant theological truths, such as the true divine nature of the person of Jesus, the means Jesus uses to bring His healing into people's lives, and the whole subject of sin and its real consequences. But at the heart of the text is the revelation of the glory of God in Jesus Christ through His works.

"Give glory to God!" the Pharisees yelled in their rebuke of the blind man, who was claiming that Jesus had healed him. These religious leaders had judged that Jesus was an imposter and a "sinner" because He had "worked" this miracle on the Sabbath. Yet this man, who could now see for the first time in his life, was doing just that, giving glory to God by confessing the truth that Jesus had healed him. He said, "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." He was boldly asserting that his healing was not a fluke. It was not fakery or a magician's sleight of hand! It was the work of God in and through Jesus! The glory was indeed being given to God!

Unfortunately, these Pharisees were so blinded by their self-concocted theology, assumptions, and importance and power that they could not see the truth. They had already judged Jesus and decreed that anyone who would confess Jesus to be the Christ would be "put out of the synagogue (v. 22), in other words, excommunicated.

Glory to God, indeed! God's works were demonstrated in and through this healing miracle. The obvious truth concerning Jesus' identity was on full display, but the spiritual eyes of these truth deniers were shrouded in the darkness of their false and worldly understandings.

Fully revealing their blindness and lack of understanding, they reviled the healed man, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." Proving that he was the more savvy theologian, the healed man replied in complete awe of their ignorance, "Why, this is an amazing thing. You do not know!" (vs. 29,30). Proving their true blindness, the Pharisees' cast the poor man out of the synagogue!

What about this particular situation makes it so difficult to see the clear works of God? I believe it is this: the whole incident proclaims that the man's physical blindness from birth and his wonderful healing were both the works of God and were to the glory of God!

How can this be? Can blindness be to the glory of God? Eyes made to see, okay, we get that! Such a wonderful miracle—who, besides these blind, stubborn, adversarial Pharisees, could not give glory to God for it? But to see the works of God in the poor man's blindness, well, now, that is not so obvious nor easy to even conceive as being to the glory of God.

Even Jesus' disciples could not fathom it at first. By asking Jesus about the origin of this man's blindness, they revealed where they were ready to lay blame. They asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Blindness is a horrible infirmity. The disciples assumed that something this evil could not be an act stemming from God's grace by which He could be glorified. On the other hand, what about God's righteous judgment? Well, of course, they assumed that could be in play. "God had to have blinded the boy because he sinned, or one or both of his parents sinned. Such an infirmity had to be an act of God's wrath against a sinner. In no way could it be God's work of grace to accomplish such a great good!"

But Jesus' reply could not be any more clear. "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him," As cruel and horrible as this blindness appears to sinful mortals, it was an act of God's grace. Whether one says that God gave this blindness to man at birth or allowed the devil to afflict man with it is immaterial. It's God's doing, God's work.

The real story then becomes, "Why?" Why would God afflict a newborn with blindness so that he would have to live through all the days of his childhood, his teenage years, and on into adulthood, never seeing his parents' faces, never knowing what his friends looked like, never seeing the beauty of God's creation, always dependent upon others to lead him around and support him with their charity? It's hard to conceive of what good reason God could have or how this could bring God glory, not just the world's scorn.

But then, in this poor man's healing, the bright light of God's glory lights up the world and our hearts and minds. It was all for this most glorious moment! If this man had only been blind for a short time, say a few years, maybe due to an accident, his healing would have attracted some attention, especially among his family members and friends. But who could discount or make light of the miraculous and divine nature of this healing when this middle-aged man, well known by the whole town as that boy, then man, who sat there day after day begging, suddenly could see? That is the kind of thing that would make national headlines. It would be the talk of the whole city and beyond. The man said it himself: "Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind" (v. 39).

It is quite understandable, then, that the Pharisees had to investigate this miracle and discover the identity of the miracle worker. The works of God were displayed in spades, and those works revealed the grace of God.

And how about the manifestation of God's grace to this man personally? In his lifelong blindness, we can be sure he had been brought to see and know the worst of life in this world of sin. But you and I can only imagine the utter bliss he experienced, having never seen all those years, to suddenly and graciously be made to see with his functioning eyes! His first sight was the beautiful face of Him who is the Light of the world—the one through whom all things were created—the very one who is the face of God's work of grace—the Incarnate Savior of the world! He might not have seen such a meaningful vision of grace had he been blind. Glory be to God indeed!

If no one in this world were ever made to suffer blindness, would any of us, in our sinful arrogance and selfish sense of entitlement, ever truly comprehend the grace of being able to see? God, in His grace, blesses even blindness so that the works of God and His grace might truly be displayed to us all.

Can we say the same for what has now occurred in our world: the aftereffects of a pandemic; economic uncertainty; shortages; many people still living as prisoners in our own homes; even the total disruption of many people's worship lives? And what about the division among our citizenry, the rioting, and the assault on good morality that has resulted from the promotion of critical race theory, wokeness, and government ineptness? Is it as some voices are preaching a judgment of God upon the sins of the world, or is all this upon us that the works of God in His grace can be truly and more displayed among us?

If it is judgment, God makes saints and sinners pay the same price! These tragic plagues have no respect for the baptized or the unbaptized, Christian or heathen, moral person or immoral person. If I remember correctly, the last time God judged the world in His wrath, He flooded it, sending all but eight souls to hell.

No, the COVID pandemic, the suffering it causes, and all the other ills we suffer as a society are not acts of God's condemnation. Instead, their purpose is, as Jesus says of the poor beggar's blindness, "that the works of God might be displayed in them."

It is true God does, at times, if you want to use the term "punish" those who are turning away from Him, rejecting His Word, and living lives of rebellion and sin. The preferred Biblical term, however, is "discipline." The holy writer of Hebrews states, "And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard the discipline of the Lord lightly, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.'" (12:5,6). 

So we see in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 42. In this text, we hear the LORD promising His wayward people how He will "lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation... turn the rivers into islands and dry up the pools." But He also reveals why He will bring this disaster and discipline upon them. He says, "He) was pleased, for His own sake, to magnify His law and make it glorious" so that His people would be "turned back and utterly put to shame who trust in their idols" (Is. 42:15, 21, and 17). In other words, this discipline of the LORD was to lead His people into repentance and faith in Him once again so that they might not have to know and taste His eternal wrath. It was all for His works of grace to be displayed among them. Glory be to God!

Buried in this account of the healing of this blind man is the one great work of God that makes it possible that all His other works toward and among us are out of His grace and not out of His wrath. It is seen first in the very personal way Jesus heals man. Jesus could have just said the word, and the man's blindness would have been instantly cured. But, no, Jesus makes a mud pack with His saliva and applies it.

That intimate involvement is more than a sign of His compassion. It is Jesus' identification with the poor man's plight. Jesus states that He is not aloof to the man's suffering but that, on account of His grace and love, He, the Son of God, has come in the flesh of our flesh to take this man's plight and that of all of us unto Himself to deliver us from it. As the LORD's prophet has said, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (or 'sicknesses); yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and we are healed with his stripes"(Is. 53:4,5).

Jesus has come into our world to cure the real blindness that has befallen us all: sin and its accompanying death. He came to do the one great work that would bring glory to God and His grace for eternity. Jesus came to offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice in our place under the wrath of God. He came to be the lightning rod of God's true and full wrath in the position of all of us.

That sacrifice is also revealed in Jesus' work of healing. Jesus told the blind man to go to the Pool of Siloam in the temple courtyard and wash off the mud. He did as he was told, and the scales of blindness fell off his eyes. That is no coincidence. From the Pool of Siloam, it is there that the Levitical priest would bring water to pour over the sacrifice (Barrett). Jesus, our sacrifice, has caused the scales of the consequences of sin to fall from us, leaving us to see through faith the glorious grace of God in the face of Christ Jesus—a vision we are privileged to see for all of eternity!

Yes, the days, weeks, months, or years ahead may be filled with tears, pains, and hardships. Yet, He who has come and revealed in His cross the glorious work of God and His grace assures us that in all that we might be made to suffer, there will also be opportunities for the works of God to be displayed in our lives and the lives of the people of our world. Only through pain do we learn the true bliss of being without pain. Only through sickness do we truly come to appreciate the full blessing of what it is to be healthy. Only through tears of grief do we learn to truly feel the eternal joy graciously given us in our crucified and risen Lord. Ours is only in faith to watch and see the great things He will do by His immeasurable grace!

In the words of one of the Lord's cross-bearing apostles, St. Paul: 

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope, which does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Ro. 5:1-5). 


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