The Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
St Paul Lutheran Church, Manito, IL
Rev. James T. Batchelor
One of the things we do to prepare for the Lord’s Supper is confess our sins and receive absolution. Those of us who received baptism as infants and attended services regularly ever since probably can’t remember the first time we heard this confession of sins. When something has been such a life-long habit, it can become mechanical. We can say the words on autopilot without really thinking about what we are saying.
When we confess our sins, we began with these words: “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Think a moment about what you said. “I … justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Temporal punishment is punishment here in time. It means that you confessed that you deserved bad things every day. You deserve an absolutely miserable life. Eternal punishment means that even after you leave this world and enter eternity, you deserve continuous punishment in hell. It sounds very severe when you think about it, but it is what you said you deserved when you confessed your sin. How thankful we can be that God graciously forgives our sins for the sake of the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
The old sinful nature that still struggles in us wants to deny this confession. The Old Adam constantly tries to convince us that we are not really that bad. We might make the occasional mistake from time to time, but, surely, we have not earned temporal and eternal punishment. A slap on the wrist … maybe, but eternal damnation? Surely not! In this way and others, the Old Adam battles against the confession we make. The Old Adam would have me believe that I am God … that I am responsible for my own salvation.
One of the many things that challenges the Old Adam is a person with disabilities … a person with special challenges … a person with severe problems. The Old Adam would have us believe that the right word … the right thought … the right attitude would prevent all struggles in this life and the next. That means that the person with the problem has been speaking the wrong word … thinking the wrong thought … having the wrong attitude. The Old Adam wants the security of knowing how to prevent that problem. Therefore, it seeks to determine what this person did wrong. Then it can avoid that behavior secure in the belief this cannot happen to me.
Jesus’ disciples demonstrated the Old Adam in action when they encountered a blind man. They asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) Not only were they cruel in assuming some gross sin on the part of this man or his parents, but they were also being arrogant. Since they could see, they assumed they were better than this man. They failed to understand that they could see by virtue of the grace and mercy of God who did not punish them as they deserved.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3) First of all, it is impossible to trace a specific condition to a specific sin. The sin in this world means that we all deserve to be blind. We all deserve a life that is way worse than the life we actually lead. Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, we should ask why we sinners receive so many blessings from day to day.
The second thing that Jesus taught was that God often turns the tragedies of this life and uses them to accomplish His purposes. The blindness of this man would ultimately reveal the works of God.
Jesus proceeded to give sight to this man in a way that reminds us of the creation narrative: The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7) Just as the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, so Jesus used the dust of the ground. He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:6–7)
You would think that giving sight to a blind man would be a cause for celebration. You would think that the man’s family would declare a feast. You would think that the entire community would give thanks to God for His many blessings. That is what you would think. But that is not what happened.
Instead of celebration, this healing led to great controversy and division in the community. His neighbors refused to believe that he had been healed. The Pharisees launched an investigation. The healing caused suspicion and fear. In the end, we learn that blindness of the heart is a lot more dangerous than blindness of the eyes.
The reason that this healing was so controversial is the day on which it happened. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. (John 9:14) The Pharisees had hundreds of traditions and according to their traditions, making mud from saliva and dust was work. This meant that Jesus had violated the Sabbath by working on the holy day. According to their traditions, this would seem to indicate that Jesus was a sinner.
On the other hand, God obviously listened to Jesus and gave sight to the blind man. This would seem to indicate that Jesus was not a sinner for God does not listen to sinners. This contradiction really bothered the Pharisees. They either had to resolve this contradiction or they had to change their theology. Not only that, but they are going to make everyone’s life miserable until they get this contradiction straightened out.
Here is where we see the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the man who was born blind. The Pharisees will verbally abuse him, but this will only serve to strengthen his witness. He will gain boldness even as the Pharisees apply the pressure. At the start of the interrogation, this man’s answers are short. 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.” (John 9:15) The Pharisees intimidate him. He just wanted to testify and go home.
He doesn’t know it, but he is about to have another eye-opening experience. You can almost see the wheels turning inside this man’s head as the interrogation continues. He perceives that these Pharisees are only human after all and he grows bold enough to contradict them. “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25) Finally, at the end of the grilling, he begins preparing his first sermon. “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30–33)
As we read the account of this interrogation, we see the control slip away from the Pharisees. They had hoped to break this little beggar and get him back under their control, but God made him into a theologian instead. God had taken a blind beggar and made him into a spiritual David and these Pharisees were beginning to take stones between their spiritually blind eyes. The Pharisees witness a miracle much greater than giving sight to the blind. They are watching a faith grow and mature right before their eyes. Ultimately, the Pharisees lost control and, with all the bluster they could muster, they expelled this man from the synagogue.
The man who had been born blind now understood that the Pharisees had no answers for him. Their faith in a collection of man-made traditions could not save him. His only hope was in the great prophet who had given sight to him. It was then that this greatest of all prophets found him. 35Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35–38) The man’s faith took action as he confessed with his mouth and fell to his knees to worship the one who brought light to both his eyes and his soul.
Our sin has broken creation and we deserve nothing but punishment here in time and forever in eternity. Never the less, for the sake of the perfect life and the sacrificial death of God’s beloved Son Jesus Christ, God reduces the hardships of this life. In addition, He uses the hardships that do enter our lives to build us up as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope 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.” (Romans 5:3–5)
God also uses the persecution of this world to make good theologians of us as Martin Luther said:
“I myself am deeply indebted to my papists that through the devil’s raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise.”
The man who had been born blind received much more than his sight from the savior. The Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart. He understood that he was a sinner and could not save himself. He learned that Jesus was not just a prophet, but that he was the Lord of the prophets and even more. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, and showed himself to his disciples, this man saw that his sins died with Jesus Christ and remained in the grave when Christ rose. He saw that Jesus would never leave him and when he died, he would immediately see Jesus again face to face.
God often allows disabilities into our lives to help us understand that we are all born full of sin and spiritually blind. It is when God allows persecution into our lives that the Holy Spirit works to make theologians of us. It is when the Holy Spirit moves us to admit our sinful, spiritually blind condition that Jesus Christ gives us spiritual sight. It is when Christ reveals himself to us in Word and Sacrament that the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us. Like the man who was born blind, the Holy Spirit shows us that Jesus is our prophet, priest, and king. As a result, we too will become fairly good theologians. Amen.