Text: John 9
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Listen to the Sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our eyes are incredible tools. They allow us to see the world in all its beauty. Unfortunately, we often take this incredible gift for granted. But have you ever considered what it would be like to lose sight? Everything is bright and clear one moment; the next, you’re in complete darkness. As we age, our eyesight weakens. But what might you do if you began to lose your sight more rapidly? You would probably seek out an optometrist to help you. There was once a faithful woman who suffered from deteriorating eyesight. During an appointment with her optometrist, he sadly informed her that he could do nothing to improve her condition. Surprisingly, the woman remained calm and shared with him how good the Lord had been to her and her husband. The optometrist replied, “You have no eyesight,” he said, “but you can truly see.” And he spoke the truth. Spiritual sight is something better than physical eyesight.
“I once was blind…”
In our Gospel reading, Jesus comes across a man with congenital blindness. The disciples assume that something as bad as being born blind must be a punishment of some sort, either for the man’s own sins or his parents’ sins. The blindness of this man, Jesus says, is not a punishment for a specific sin but the occasion for God’s work in his life to be displayed. Jesus is going to display his glory by healing this man. The religious leaders agree with the disciples’ initial assessment. They state that this man’s blindness proved he was guilty of specific wickedness, both then and now. The Pharisees thought they had it all together. They were well-versed in the law and knew they weren’t perfect. They pretended they had everything under control, but deep down, they were plagued by sin. They were so smug and full of themselves, claiming, “We can see clearly!” when Jesus says really they were spiritually blind to the things of God.
Just like something can be wrong with our physical eyesight, the same is true with our spiritual sight. Every single person is born spiritually blind. What’s remarkable about that is how virtually no one seems to notice. Most are pretty content to live in their blindness. Some would fiercely deny that they are spiritually blind. Imagine if the blind man didn’t go and wash. After a few hours, a friend of the blind man passes by and notices him begging in his usual spot. However, his eyes were coated in a thick layer of mud. Concerned, the friend asks, “What’s happened to your eyes? Why are they covered in mud?” The blind man explains, “Some stranger came by and put this mud on my eyes, claiming it would restore my vision. I let him do it, but it didn’t make sense. I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Only when we recognize our blindness will we genuinely desire to see.
But what does it mean to be spiritually blind? Blindness is one way to describe the effects of sin upon us. Just like a blind person cannot see the light of day, likewise because of sin, we cannot see the light of God in Christ. Our blindness is not the lack of eyesight but the lack of faith. And it isn’t simply impaired vision. We are born without spiritual sight – entirely self-centred and unreceptive of God. We may have 20/20 eyesight and see the world around us in Technicolor, but we are born blind to anything involving God. Spiritually, blindness refers to our inability to recognize the truth of God in any situation. We live as if He didn’t exist or matter. We don’t think we’re that bad. We assert, “I am a good person.” We have constructed a world where we will never admit we are wrong about spiritual matters. Many are completely unwilling to recognize their sins, and Jesus says such people are blind. But those who realize they’re in the dark are the ones who can truly see the light. We are all naturally unable to see the things of God. And just like a blind man cannot will his eyes to work, we cannot, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ as Lord or come to Him.
“… but now I see.”
However, notice how our text focuses on the miracle. Jesus healed the man with congenital blindness. How did he do it? Jesus put mud on the man’s eyes. In the beginning, “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2:7). This is an act of new creation. With the mud on his eyes, Jesus sent him away to wash, promising he would see again. The man goes, washes off the mud, and comes back seeing.
Jesus is the spiritual optometrist. Jesus comes to us in our sin, our blindness, our darkness. He comes to us when we are blind and helpless. And he comes to give us sight and bring light into our hearts’ darkness. He comes with compassion. He desires to show us mercy. The God present at the dawn of creation entered our world to mend and restore all that is broken. We see this in Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man. This is the work of God, and he is so dedicated to it that he is willing to die to accomplish it. In fact, through his death and resurrection, he has done even greater things than this. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it. He takes our sin and bears it to the cross, creating new life for all who believe. This is the promise of the gospel: that through Jesus, we can experience new life and hope, both now and forevermore.
Jesus is our great physician. He is the specialist in spiritual sight. He gives sight to the blind, and his Word makes the difference. The Word uttered in the beginning that created all things is the same Word that comes and recreates you. What was so special about the pool of Siloam? It wasn’t simply water, but water combined with the Word of Jesus. That’s the same with Baptism. It’s not simple water only, but the water joined to God’s Word and combined with His command. The Word is what makes faith. “Faith comes by hearing.” Not seeing, not miracles. Hearing. The seeing of faith is hearing. The Word of Christ is what creates and keeps saving faith. By the Word, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor hear good news, the dead are raised, and sinners are justified for Jesus’ sake. You continue to be called out of darkness through God’s Word into Christ’s marvellous light. His Word tells you of Jesus that though he was despised and rejected, he is Savior, Redeemer and Messiah. Jesus’ Word promises you eternal life because through his death and resurrection, the reign of darkness is ended, and new creation is established. The Holy Spirit brings you to faith in Jesus as your Savior. He leads you to a recognition of your sins, your depravity, and your need for forgiveness. As a “lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pe 1:19), the Spirit uses the Word of God as a bright torch to direct sinners in the way of truth.
This is why we need to continue to hear God’s Word. It is vitally important. Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). Jesus continues to be present wherever his Word is heard and proclaimed. With Christ’s light, we can finally see things the way they really are. The real meaning and purpose of our lives can only be found in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ and his bloody death for us. Jesus saves us from our sins and gives us the faith we need to see the world as it is. He opens our spiritual eyes now and promises us full physical healing in the age to come. As we gaze upon Jesus’ suffering and death, we can’t help but see our own sinfulness and guilt. But when we lay our eyes on the baptismal font, we see something else entirely: Jesus’ triumphant resurrection from the dead and our own share in eternal life. And when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see a forgiven child of God, still imperfect but restored and renewed by the grace of Christ. We are no longer lost in darkness but have been brought into the light of his love and mercy. As says St. Paul, we are no longer darkness but light. The light of God’s Word should direct our every word, thought and deed. Through his Word, the Son of God enables us to see what pleases the Lord and what is a fruit of darkness. And now we are called to walk as children of the light. The power of lies, and of evil in this world is very strong. It is easy to be deceived. We will always have a blind spot when it comes to spiritual things. Jesus is the light of the world. Only by checking back to Jesus, over and over again, can we be sure that we are standing beside the man born blind and able to say, “I once was blind, but now I see.” The alternative is to stand beside the Pharisees, certain of their rightness, but locked and bolted into a darkness of their own devising.
To see Jesus, you must recognize that you are blind. Blind to any notion that you can see God by your own reason, merits, or strength. Before you know anything about God, you must recognize that you don’t know anything about God. Before you can see, you must acknowledge that you are blind to the light that shines on you. You will see by hearing. Through the water and Word of your Baptism, you will see Jesus. Through the continuing proclamation of God’s Word, you will see that Jesus is the light of the world, the light, no darkness, including your Sin and Death, can overcome. And if, by God’s grace, you remain in the one, true, and saving faith until your death, one day you will see with new and resurrected eyes, and the sight will be glorious. But for now, you must hear his Word. Today, because of Jesus, all of you can say what the blind man said, “I once was blind, but now I see.”
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.