Born Blind (John 9)

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Service Notes

  • Liturgical Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 30, 2014
  • Order of Service: Hymn Sing
  • Hymns: LSB #419, 425, 739, 411, 420, 547, 953, 763

Theme Verse

As he 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." ... Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, "Are we also blind?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains. (John 9:1-3, 39-41)

Sermon Text

Like the man Jesus meets in our Gospel reading, we are all born blind. Maybe not physically blind. But we are all born spiritually blind. "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). "Who is blind," God says, "as My dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD" (Isaiah 42:19). We are blinded by sin. As with the accusation of the man born blind, we are born in "utter sin" (v34).

This caused Jesus' disciples to ask the question: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v2) If anyone tries to tell you that little cute babies are born without sin, ask them, "Why do babies die in the womb?" Or, like the disciples, "Why are some born with birth defects?" They'll mumble around, trying to stumble over an answer. The answer's right there in Scripture. Everyone is conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). But many people are so blinded by their sin they cannot see this fact. They want a one-to-one correlation between sin and punishment. But the Scriptures don't give us an automatic one-to-one correlation.

In some instances, there is a one-to-one correlation. And Apology XII points these out. Adam ate the forbidden fruit and immediately he was cast out of Eden. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and the child conceived by that lustful union died before the day he would have been circumcised. These are some of the times where there is a one-to-one correlation between sin and punishment. But Scripture declares that the bulk of afflictions we receive come from original sin. "For the creation was subjected to FUTILITY, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its BONDAGE TO CORRUPTION and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been GROANING together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:20-22).

But "faith sees, believes" (LSB #547.1). And those who cannot see Jesus as Messiah with the eyes of faith are the wayward sheep who kill their Shepherd (LSB #547.3). But with the eyes of faith, we see that the Shepherd came to be killed. To be offered as the final sin offering for all mankind. Jesus offers Himself, shedding and pouring His blood on the altar of the cross. He makes atonement for sin so that we are forgiven. This is the Christian faith. This is what we believe. Jesus Christ died for me. He died for the man born blind. He died for the Pharisees who would later condemn Him to death. He died to show God's works in you.

"Who sinned?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (v3). The man's blindness from birth was a prophecy that the Messiah would come in his lifetime. He would receive his sight. Because God's works were going to be displayed in him. The man had likely prayed Psalm 142 throughout his life (6-7): "Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to Your name! The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me." He had been brought very low by his blindness. People persecuted him because of his disability. He was imprisoned by the physical need for other people to care for him. From all of these he craved deliverance. And Jesus had come to display God's works in him by delivering him. Dealing bountifully with him by giving him his sight. Not because of some vindictive streak in God that caused this. No. "The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness' sake, to magnify His law and make it glorious" (Isaiah 42:21). Christ shined on him (Ephesians 5:14) and gave him the light of sight. The Holy Spirit had been in his life to uphold and comfort him in the trials of his blindness (LSB #953.3).

But the glory would be short-lived. Moments after being able to see for the first time in his life, the man is brought before the Pharisees. To be tried for blasphemy against the Sabbath. His blasphemy for the fraud he perpetrated by begging for so many years. Jesus' blasphemy for doing work on the Sabbath (vv14-16). Breaking the commandments of men to bring God's glory into another's life. Because Christ is "the life of all the living" (LSB #420.1). He is Life, even in His death (LSB #547). His death gives us His own righteousness (LSB #547.4). As the Sun of Righteousness shines on our path (LSB #411.2).

"Afflictions are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are the works of God, intended for our profit, and that the power of God might be made more manifest in our weakness" (Ap XII 160). These works of God profit us because He suffered for us. Afflictions are often given to God's people so that they might grow in their faith. Job is the perfect example of this (Ap XII 158). Jeremiah says, "They whose judgment was not to drink of the cup have assuredly drunken" (49:12). God's saints are afflicted even though the judgment is not directed to them. Not because of wrath. But so that God may do His work in them. When we look at afflictions in sin's blindness, we cannot see God working. When we look at afflictions with the eyes of faith, we trust in God's Word that He may be working something better in our lives through the afflictions. The eyes of faith deliver God's peace. Peace that rolls over us like a flood (LSB #763). A flood that we need not worry about drowning. Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us through the flood (LSB #739). Jesus took the man born blind by the hand and led him. Not necessarily literally. But Jesus grabs at the man's heart who sees Jesus' authority and power with the eyes of faith. The man born blind saw Jesus better than the Pharisees who could see.

This statement brings us to the great understanding behind the miracle. Jesus came for judgment so that He might reverse sin's blindness. He Himself says, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind" (v39). St. Paul writes, "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). And this transformation from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, is not instantaneous. The man born blind was able to see immediately after he washed the mud off his eyes (v7). But for us, it is not miraculous. The transformation takes time (Isaiah 42:14-16):

For a LONG TIME I have held my peace; I have kept still and RESTRAINED MYSELF; NOW I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will GASP AND PANT. ... I WILL TURN darkness into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I DO, and I DO NOT forsake them.

God waited patiently to send His Son into the world. He waited until "the fullness of time had come" (Galatians 4:4). Then, He sent the "Light of the world" (v5) into the world to open the eyes of the blind (v11). And this is all done through Christ's reversing sacrifice. A death that brings life. His hour of dire despair brings your lifetime of hope. His agony of prayer engenders your comfort. The spear that pierced Him brings blood and water that cleanses your soul (LSB #763.2). His torturing scorn encourages your praise that pleases Him (LSB #419.3). Jesus' sacrifice reverses everything.

This is seen in the reading from St. John Chrysostom: "What [the Pharisees] considered so great and praiseworthy actually brought them punishment instead." But "it would be better for them to be blind ... [because] your punishment would be more tolerable." They were blind in their loyalty to Moses. They refused to believe that anyone--even the Messiah--would be as great as Moses. And Jesus was claiming to be greater. Had they just been blind in faith, their punishment would have been less. Their blindness made them hostile to Jesus. The man born blind was eager for Jesus' help and healing. The Pharisees saw the man has being disabled. Less than human. Jesus saw God's work that could be done through him. "What they considered so great and praiseworthy actually brought them punishment instead."

When the Pharisees heard Jesus speaking about His judgment, Jesus replied, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains" (v41). When you proclaim your blindness, your guilt is taken away. You receive the forgiveness of your sins. Your eyes are opened. You are washed clean from sin (v7). When you claim to see, you are truly admitting your blindness to God. Trying to see without Jesus' Light is like the foolish virgins in the parable. Asking the wise virgins to share the oil of their faith with them. Trying to claim something that they have no claim to.

When you see with the eyes of faith, you find yourself on your knees lifting your repentant, weeping eyes to Heaven (LSB #419.1). Believing that God has provided the Lamb of price for your sin (LSB #547.1). You see Jesus as He is. A prophet (v17). Yet more than a prophet. He is the Christ who gives sight to the beggar (vv8-9). He is the Christ who died on the wondrous cross (LSB #425.1). He is the Christ who will hasten the Day when your faith will be sight (LSB #763.4). Hastening it because He is merciful. "And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But FOR THE SAKE OF THE ELECT, whom He chose, He shortened the days" (Mark 13:20). Jesus hastens the Day of His return so that you might be saved.

You were born spiritually blind. Jesus has come and told you to wash in the font. Your eyes have been opened to faith. You see Him as the Light of the world. You have confessed your blindness. He has taken your guilt away. His death has reversed your blindness so that you may confess Him as your light. Amen.