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Dare We Make Sense of Sin and Suffering?

May 21, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 9:1-12

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

We Must Find Meaning

When I worked in a drug and alcohol rehab program for several years, I found that one reason many plummeted into their drug and alcohol abuse related to an onset of suffering in their life—and, a particularly a suffering which they could not explain. I can recall when one man got up in a group meeting and told his story. He was a successful father and businessman. Life was going well. He had beautiful children, a beautiful wife. Then, in one sweeping motion of God’s hard providence, his daughter was killed in a car accident. He couldn’t make sense of it. It seemed so senseless, purposeless, needless. So he gave his life up to alcohol. He joined the senselessness.


These kinds of senseless miseries happen all the time. Every few weeks, it seems, there’s another active shooter scenario somewhere in our country, and we call it a “senseless crime”. Yet, while we call it “senseless”, what do we say almost in the same breath? “What was the motive this time? Was the person far right, or far left? Or, was the person simply hyped up on some crazy drug?” There has to be meaning. There has to be a purpose or explanation behind everything. 


Why do we feel so much more at ease when we can explain meaning or purpose or motive to our sufferings? Even more—why do we have this tendency to plunge into depression or hopelessness when we can’t explain these things?


When there’s a purpose or a motive, we can have a sense of control. We can respond. We can understand. We can do justice. Just think of another seemingly senseless crime. September 11, 2001 happens. It’s revealed that the attacks were terrorist attacks perpetrated by a group in the middle east. We have the group (Bin Laden). We have the motive, the reason (terrorism). So, what do we do? We take up arms. It’s recorded that in the year after 9/11, more people enlisted in the military than any year prior. We know who. We know why. Now, it’s time to take control. Time for justice. Imagine how America would have responded if we had absolutely none of these answers, following 9/11.


We need to make sense of things. That’s literally how God made us, in his image, after his likeness. He made us moral creatures who desire order and purpose, just as he is a moral, purposeful God. 


Although the problem, folks, is that we are all part of the disorder. We are all sinners. As this story will make clear, especially in the coming weeks, we are all blind without Jesus. When we try to make things right and establish purpose and order into hard situations, it’s the blind leading the blind. We’re all falling into ditches. We need Jesus.


This is why Jesus came. He came to open the eyes of the blind. He came to open our eyes to his purposes, and his power. That’s what we’ll see this morning, as we simply walk through this passage—we’ll consider his purposes, and his power. 


Jesus’s Purposes (vv 1–3)

Look at verses 1–3 with me, where this story opens up with a nod to Jesus’s purposes, and what he looks like when he’s being particularly purposeful. 


1   As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.


So, that’s how this whole things sets up. John opens this all up with the words “as he passed by”—that’s a really vague statement, and it really is just a simple way to say “as he was going on about his business”, “as he was walking about in Jerusalem”. He was walking about Jerusalem with his disciples on an ordinary day sometime after the feast of booths (which was described in the previous to chapters).


Then, verse one says that Jesus saw a man bind from birth. That’s actually an interesting statement, folks. He saw the blind man—he noticed him. The verse doesn’t say the disciples saw the blind man, and so then the disciples asked Jesus why he was blind. It says that Jesus saw the blind man, so the disciples asked him about the man’s blindness. 


Why does that matter? Folks, it is so easy not to see hurting, suffering people—especially when there’s so many suffering people sprawled out on the streets. Have you ever walked by a suffering person who is clearly disabled in someway? Really—you walk by, and you intentionally don’t see them. Keep your eyes up, look forward, and move along. It’ll make everyone else feel less uncomfortable. It’ll make you feel less guilty for not doing something about that person’s pain or agony. What if you made eye contact? Wouldn’t you feel a little sense of responsibility to do something? Or, perhaps it’s opening up an old wound—"man, another person in agony, I can’t bear with all the pain. It reminds me of my pain, my mom’s pain, it’s everywhere, we must just keep our eyes straight and keep moving on”. 


There’s so much pain and suffering in the world, folks, it’d be overwhelming and impossible to see and acknowledge all of it. It’d be taxing to the soul to see all of it, and try to make sense of any of it, much less do something about it. Just to get by, folks, it seems we at time have to simply keep our eyes forward. That’s par for the course of humanity, folks. 


If you look at some of the interactions that happened later in our passage, it’s clear that this man was out in public, begging and suffering in public, enough to be noticed and recognized by some people, but not to be actually known by any people. He was recognized by some people, but not known by any people, even though he was likely out begging blind every day. Remember some of those interactions, there in verse 8 (after he was healed)? Some people say “is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” (verse 8). What did people say? Verse 9—“some said, ‘it is he’, others said, ‘no, but he is like him’”—in other words, “I don’t know, there are so many people like him and I haven’t taken the time to really look and see these people, to get to know them. I’ve never stopped to have a conversation, to buy the person a glass of water or a morsel of bread. I think this is the guy—I just never looked to see him well enough to be sure”. 


Jesus, folks—Jesus—saw the man born blind. He saw him, and he saw this man in a way that was unique enough that his disciples were moved to stop and talk about the man. Jesus saw the man, and the disciples asked about the man. We’re talking about God, folks, and he’s humble and patient enough to notice and see the unknown, the nobodies, the not seen, the people we want to forget about. Jesus seeing this man was jarring enough that the disciples asked about it.


In these first few verses, as I’ve said, we’ll consider Jesus’s purpose for sin and suffering. That’s where the conversation obviously goes. “Jesus, whose sin made this man blind? What’s the purpose, the reason, for his blindness?”. We’ll get there. But folks, even before that, we see what happens when God has a purpose. When he has a purpose, he sees even the most unseen people and knows them. He redeems them. That’s God with a purpose, and it’s all over the Bible.


One of my favorite parts of the Exodus story in the Old Testament is when God sees Israel. Do you remember that part? It was literally the turning point in the Exodus story. It happens even before the burning bush—before God reveals himself and his glory to Moses as the great “I AM”. What happened? Exodus chapters 1 and 2 open the story up by setting the scene: Israel had increased and multiplied greatly as a group of slaves under Pharoah’s bondage. The Pharaoh upped the misery and oppression upon the Israelites by making their work harder and more gruesome. He was killing every male child that was born to an Israelite. Moses himself had fled to Midian, to be of no help to his Jewish people. Israel was in a miserable, hopeless position. Then, we read in the last words of Exodus chapter 2 the turning point, from which would spring out the whole story of God’s deliverance and revelation. This is what those words said—


During those many days the king of Egypt died, and thepeopleof Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out to help.


Notice it doesn’t even say to whom they cried out. They were simply desperate, crying out for anyone to help. 


Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham with Isaac and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. 


He saw them, and he knew. He saw them, he knew it was time to fulfill his purposes for them. He saw them, he knew their pain and suffering, and that he wanted to glorify himself in their salvation. He saw them, and he knew it was time for their misery to stop, that his name would be exalted over Pharaoh. 


Folks, it should always be a comfort to know that God sees everything—and that there are times when he sees us in our misery and deeply pities us. He sees us wasting away in our sin and judgment, under his wrath, and he resolves to glorify himself through redeeming us rather than smiting us. 


Or, you could think of it this way—when God resolves and purposes to save his people, he doesn’t just save them like an airbag without emotions, without personal commitment. He doesn’t save you like an impersonal machine that’s designed or purposed to save. Airbags save you—but it’s what they were designed to do. An electronic sensor signals to the airbag to fill up, and all the electronics and components do exactly as they were designed without a thought, an emotion, a purpose. God is not a mechanical machine. He’s not programmed. He’s a person with purposes, and throughout the whole Bible, we see him pity the poor and outcasts. When he’s on mission with a purpose, he actually looks us in our suffering, pities us, is moved our suffering, and then saves us. It’s a salvation of love and pity. It’s personal, and purposeful. He sometimes leaves us in our sufferings, to store up a weight of sufferings that he might save us out of it all. We’ll say in the end, “God saved me and saw me through all that?!”. He’s intent to glorify himself through our sufferings—and yes, he sees us as we suffer, and saves us when the time is ripe. 


That’s Jesus in our passage—and by the way, he didn’t simply look at this man. He became a man. He took on our miseries—and eventually, our sin. God did that. He’s so humble, folks. Never think you are too low for him to see you or care about you. He sees you, and he has you exactly where he wants you. He saw this blind man, and he didn’t see senseless suffering. He saw God’s purposes at work, and therefore he looked. Therefore, he pitied the man. 


It’s a striking contrast to the rest of us, isn’t it? He looks at the worst of us, and sees an opportunity to fulfill his purposes of mercy as he pities us. What about the disciples, in this passage? What do they do? Verse 2—


And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”


Think of that statement, folks. Imagine, for a second, saying that to the face of God. “Who sinned that this person was born blind?”. Do you see how that statement distinguishes them from that product of sin. They weren’t born blind. They’re better. That man was born blind. That man has a sin defect. They don’t. It’s an incredibly prideful statement—and, as this story moves forward, it’s going be really clear who is actually blind and who is not. 


If you’re wondering, their statement was rooted in a common Jewish belief of the day that if a person was born with this kind of condition, it was the result of the parents’ sin or the persons’ sin. Either the parent sinned, and the child was born blind; or the unborn person sinned while still in the womb. That, they think, is what causes blindness from birth. 


And notice, they aren’t asking Jesus “what’s the purpose of this blindness?”. They aren’t asking about the purpose of the blindness. I think they actually assumed they already knew the purpose. “Someone sinned while the person was still in the womb, so this happened. This is God’s judgment. He’s blind to fulfill God’s purposes of judgment and wrath.” 


That’s what they’re assuming. They assume that, so they actually ask Jesus a more nuanced question. They ask him about the more immediate  cause. “What caused this judgment—this blindness—upon this man? We know it was sin—and, we know it wasn’t our sin, we aren’t blind, we aren’t a part of this mess. So, whose sin caused God’s judgment of blindness to come upon this man?”. It’s a question of cause, not purpose. 


Folks, as I said earlier, they are seeking to make sense of a seemingly senseless suffering. The child was born blind. He’ll never be able to see a beautiful tree, or river, or sunrise. It can’t be meaningless. It can’t be “chance”, or anything like that. There must be a reason for it—and, they assume God’s judgment against sin, yet they also want to know more. The more they know, the more they can make sense of the disorder and chaos and suffering they see every day, the more control and order and peace they’ll feel. The less we know about all the chaos and suffering in this world, the more we panic and get anxious in our ignorance. We must make sense of it all, folks. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It’s amazing how they just assume the purpose is God’s judgment.


How did Jesus respond to all this? He denied their premise altogether. He says in verse 3, 


“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.


This man’s blindness was not caused by this man’s sin, nor the sin of his parents. In fact, the purpose of his blindness isn’t even judgment. They had all their assumptions entirely wrong. Jesus says that the purpose of this man’s blindness is “that the works of God might be displayed in him”. 


The works of God, folks. That’s what this man was born blind for. He was born blind so that Jesus would display the works of God’s through him. What do you suppose Jesus means, there, by “the works of God”? It’s a broad, far-reaching idea isn’t it? God’s works include, literally, everything. The Bible says he upholds the universe by the word of his power—that’s a work. He’s upholding the universe. The Bible says he judges sinners (that’s a work of judgment). He creates. He destroys. He forgives. He heals. He sustains and governs all things. All of that, we might say, are “the works of God”. Jesus, here, is saying that the man was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him”. What works are we talking about, with respect to this man’s blindness? 


We’ll talk about it more in a moment, but I think it’s obvious. Jesus heals this man. We’re talking about God’s works to restore and heal us from our miseries and sin. Jesus is saying that this man was born blind so that at this very moment, Jesus might show the world that God has a power and a purpose to restore what is broken and painful in this world. That’s God’s purpose for this man—and, God purposed blindness for this man from the very beginning of this man’s life. 


Folks, the disciples were way off. The man’s blindness wasn’t to reveal judgment. It’s not the result of a particular person’s sin. It’s not the sort of blindness that God looks away from, smites, and uses for judgment against sin. This man had the sort of blindness which God looks toward; he sees it, he pities it, and he restores it to order and peace and forgiveness. So, Jesus looks at the man with a purpose to save him. 


Now, let me be clear about something before we move on. Let’s back up real quick, and make a quick, broader point of application. This man’s story is not every man’s story. We do often suffer as a direct result of our sin. Sometimes children even suffer lifelong disabilities due to their parent’s sin—you could think of fetal alcohol syndrome, or abortion. Those children suffer before they’re born because of their parent’s sin. Although other times, yes, suffering is not the direct result of a person’s sin. A child born with autism, or a person who is paralyzed in a car accident, need not assume their condition is a direct result of a particular person’s sin. Although, to make it all even more confusing, all suffering is the result of sin and the curse, generally speaking. We could say that the man’s blindness in our story is attributed to Adam’s first sin which threw us into this cursed world. But of course, that’s not what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is saying that this man received this particular mark of the curse—his blindness—not because of some particular judgment, but because of a particular mercy. God purposed to reveal his works through him, and restore him.


So, we see in these first three verses Jesus’s purposes to reveal his glory. We see, here, what God looks like when he’s on a mission to restore. He looks at us, personally, pities us, and saves us. He works it all together for our good. Jesus, here,  is taking total initiative. In a marketplace when blind men like this were passed by without even a glance, Jesus takes time to look at this man and make it personal. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And [only then] his disciples asked him” a foolish question about the blind man. Then, Jesus answers his disciples with a revelation of his purposes for this man. “He was born blind for this very moment—that the works of God might be displayed in him”. He was born blind so that Jesus would pass by him one day, look at him, and display God’s mighty works through him. That’s God with redemptive purposes in his hands.


Jesus’s (Purposeful) Power (vv 4–7)

Now as we look at verses 4–7, we’ll see when Jesus’s purposes are coupled with Jesus’s power. Jesus has purposed that the works of God will be shown through this man’s blindness—so, what do you think we’ll see? We’ll see the works of God. We’ll see purposeful power. 


So, let’s look at verses 4–7. After Jesus says the man was born that God’s works might be displayed through him, he continues to say in verse 4—


4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 


So there, notice that Jesus just described “the works of God” in two ways. First, they’re something that he and his disciples do together. “We must work the works of him who sent me”. Jesus is saying “we must do the works of God who sent me”. That’s an amazing thought, isn’t it? Jesus’s disciples are described as those who do the works of God, here. In many ways, that continued in Acts through the apostles, and it continues today through the church. It’s what we pray for—“God, work through our preaching, work through our witness, our prayers, our faith and repentance, our labors, and build your church up!” They’re God’s works, his power, working through us. It’s a marvel, folks. 


Although, also notice in this passage that Jesus singles out the works of God which were being done by Jesus during the time of his earthly ministry. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” He’s referring to his death, there. He’s expressing a sense of urgency to his disciples. He knew Passover was coming, in about three to five months’ time. He had three to five months, depending on when we would date this story. Night is coming. His death is coming. The kind of works which Jesus was tasked with during his earthly ministry were coming to an end, and a new work would begin through his death, resurrection, and ascension. “Night is coming, when no one can work”, Jesus says. He continues in verse 5— 


5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 


He’s the light of the world—and perhaps, especially in an unique way during his earthly ministry. “Night is coming, and as long as I am in the world (before I die), I am the light of the world.” What does he mean by that? What was unique to his earthlly ministry, in that regard? Is he not still the light today, through his word and spirit and church?


Remember that he said the same thing earlier in chapter 8 verse 12, when he was at the feast of booths. Remember that from a few weeks ago? As the Jews were celebrating the Exodus at this feast, Jesus would have seen a number of torch and lamp lighting ceremonies. The Jews were remembering how God shone a massive light before the Jews as God made them into a new nation, a new people. As long as they followed the light, they were sure God was leading them to the promised land. He was leading them to a land free of suffering, and a land rich with life—a land flowing with milk and honey. He was leading them into a new Eden, to paradise. “Follow the light, Israel! God is making you a new people, a people of blessing.” So, Jesus stands up at that feast during all those lamp lighting ceremonies, and he says “I am the light of the world”. He’s saying “follow me, and I’ll lead you to life and healing and blessing.”. 


Now, shortly after the feast, what’s he doing here? He says it again, and he literally restores a blind man from curse to blessing. He leads a blind man from curse and darkness to blessing and light. Do you understand what he’s doing, here? He’s the light of the world. He’s the “light of life”, as he said in chapter 8 verse 12. Especially during his earthly ministry, in a unique way, Jesus was showing the world the way and the blessings of his kingdom. He came down in the flesh, just as God came down in the pillar of fire during the Exodus, to shine the light of his kingdom and blessings before his people. Only now, we’re not talking about a pillar of fire leading God’s people to blessings in the promised land. Now, we’re talking about God coming down and bringing the blessings of the promised land directly to them. “Behold, a blind man seeing. The kingdom of God has come. Let the Exodus from the curse begin”. 


Folks, the work Jesus was doing during his earthly ministry was uniquely a work of revealing the full magnitude of his kingdom. Night is coming—and while Jesus is still around on earth, it’s daytime. The king and his kingdom have come, and it’s time to reveal the glory of God’s kingdom. It’s time to do the works of God and reveal his blessings in ways that won’t be known until the kingdom comes in its fulness at the end of the age (a day we are still waiting for). What’s that eternal hope going to be like? Well, it means no blindness for one thing. No suffering. No curse. Jesus is the light of the world, guiding people to God’s kingdom where the curse is reversed, and the promised land is offered. Jesus’s earthly ministry and all his miracles shone forth that light, that hope, that kingdom for us, even so that we might have hope today. So yes, Jesus was on a mission to reveal the powerful works of God, and we’d do well to behold them and hope. Yearn for eternity.


By the way, Jesus illustrates all this even in the way he performs the miracle. Were you even a little intrigued by that part of the story? Look at verse 6. 


6 Having said these things… 


Meaning, what Jesus just said relates to what Jesus is about to do. 


… he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 


Folks, this is rich with symbolism. Jesus took dirt, and restored broken life using dirt. Can you think of any other time when new life came out of dirt? It’s creation, folks. Jesus is claiming to display “the works of God” through this man—so, he does the most fundamental work of God there is. He takes dirt and makes life—or here, he restores life from the curse. We often say of death, using the words from Genesis 3, “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”. That’s the highest mark of the curse—death. Here, Jesus reverses the curse using dust, dirt. Only God does that. This is truly the powerful work of God. It’s a new creation—a new Eden, the promised land.


But, what about the spit? Isn’t that detail a bit odd? I do think there was a reason for it. Different pastors have thrown around several ideas, but I think we find the most probable answer in a detail which we will see next week in verse 14. If you look ahead to verse 14, it reads “now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud…”. That’s worded carefully, there. It was the Sabbath day, and Jesus made mud. He broke the sabbath when he made mud with his spit—and yes, that was a sabbath rule which the Jews made up. They said there was no kneading anything—no kneading bread, no kneading mud as Jesus did. Jesus knew it, and I think he did all this on purpose. He’s Lord of the Sabbath. When he was kneading that dirt with his spit to make mud, on the Sabbath, he was showing us exactly that. He was pairing this miracle with God’s sabbath rest as though this miracle was about God’s sabbath rest. He was about to display the greatest work of God there is—the work of God’s sabbath rest.


Remember, folks, that God’s greatest work is not redeeming us. It’s not forgiving us, not any of that. Those are all great and necessary, but God’s forgiveness is working toward a greater purpose. God forgives us so that we might rest in him. He restores us from the curse—from our sin and suffering so that we might enjoy his rule and his blessings. He wants us to rest from the curse. He wants us to rest in his blessings. It’s what we were made for, folks. The greatest work of God is his work of rest, his work of Sabbath rest. When a king has a prosperous, secure kingdom—we find that king doing the greatest work a king can ask for. We see him delighting over and sustaining his prosperous kingdom. We see him enjoying his happy, restful subjects. That’s God’s sabbath rest—and here, Jesus is showing us what God intends his Sabbath to be. It’s to be a rest from all sin, all pain, all blindness and curse. God has purposed to rule over such a restful, prosperous kingdom. That’s our hope folks, and the light of the world has appeared—healing on the sabbath—to give us a taste of it, and to guide us to it by faith.


Now, just so we don’t miss it, there’s more to this story. Verse 7—


7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.


Jesus sent him to a particular pool which was known by the name “siloam”, or “sent”. There’s a lot of thought to why Jesus picked this pool. It obviously has something to do with the pool’s name, since John goes out of his way to tell us what Siloam meant. He wanted us to know it means “sent”. There have been a number of theories why this Jesus thought this important, and I’m really not confident on any of them. Whatever the case, I can say that Jesus is showing us that his kingdom always involves God sending his people—even Jesus himself—to accomplish his work of Sabbath rest. It’s his power at work. He can use even the weakest and most rejected to do it. He used this blind man. He used Jesus. Don’t underestimate the power of God to fulfill his Sabbath purposes.



So, we’ve seen Jesus’s purposes, and we’ve seen his power. 


Folks, he actually takes pains to see us in our misery. He knows and understands. He even became one of us—he’s not afraid to bear our burdens. He’s not afraid to see us and help us. Jesus died to secure all of God’s promises for us. His sabbath rest, folks, is available even now through faith. We can rest in knowing our guilt before God is gone. We can rest in knowing God is powerfully working all things together for our God. And as this passage is reminding us, we can rest in knowing where we’re headed and where our loved ones who have passed away are today. We’re headed to glory, where there is no blindness or suffering or pain or sin. The light of the world came, shining the hope of sabbath glory. Our sabbath rest has dawned. Receive it. Rest in it.

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