+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 9:25
Theme: Restored in Christ
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Holy Spirit overcomes ostracism. No one else can. The isolation caused by sin can be rectified only through the restoration Jesus accomplishes. Intimacy with the heavenly Father is never a human feat. Our own efforts only leave us spiritually blind, deaf, and speechless. Christ gives voice to our pleas for mercy and sight to our visionless souls. In these gifts, we are reconciled to God and one another. Today the chains of isolation were broken for one blind man. The sight of his eyes and his soul were restored.
But the greatest miracles always draw skeptics. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”1 The question was posed to Jesus by His own disciples. It was a question that reflected not only the thinking of the times, but also the quandary of human misery throughout the history of humanity. Someone had to be blamed for this man’s condition. Blame was the key to making sense of suffering. The reply of Jesus is swift, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in Him.”2
Now the stage is set for an abrasive, compassionate, and instructive encounter. It wasn’t fun being blind in pre-modern times. Life was nearly intolerable even under the best of circumstances. Most blind people were reduced to begging. They were vulnerable and easy targets of exploitation. They were laden with guilt because of their infirmity. Sickness was understood in ancient times to be a direct result of one’s personal sinfulness. It’s crucial to understand the entire narrative today not only as an illustration of Jesus’ power to heal and His compassion to individuals, but also as a demonstration of His supremacy over sin. This supremacy validates His claim to be the Messiah. The great Physician of body and soul never treated just the symptoms, but always the cause too.
So, why was this man born blind? We should not speculate to confidently. But the truth about the consequence of sin is something essential for us to understand. Sin itself can never be fully understood. It permeates all of our faculties to the point of serious impairment of our comprehension. We don’t have an objective viewpoint. We are inextricably woven into the matrix. Acceptance of this premise is ultimately a matter of faith. It can never be proven to the skeptic’s satisfaction. We may think we can diagnosis the illness of sin, but the Scriptures tell us the illness itself prevents the diagnosis. The blind man cannot operate on his own eyes.
Sin is still, observable, tangible, and verifiable though. The unbeliever too, has a conscience, and a remnant of the law left on the heart. We can identify evil and we experience it. We observe and experience the hurt and harm people cause one another. The fallenness of humanity is all around us and we often exploit it. The fascination with evil and the popularity of that theme in the theatrical world- movies and TV dramas- is a commentary on the human psyche. We are comfortable with the devil we know.
But Christ has higher and holier intentions for us. The blind man today was right at the coalface of the tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. They were now alert to anyone who might lend credence to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. The interrogation and condemnation of a blind man seems harsh. But the stakes were high. Notice, though, the blind man doesn’t back down. He even puts the onus back on them. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”3 The Jews were enraged and threw him out.
Christ now comes back on the scene. There real issue here is spiritual blindness. Firstly, Jesus confirms the man’s faith. Not only his eyes are opened, but also his heart. He understands this worker of miracles is the Messiah. He has been reconciled to the heavenly Father. He is a child of Abraham. Next Jesus turns to the Jews. He says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”4 In stubborn denial that Jesus is the promised Saviour, these Jews remain condemned in their sins. There is no middle ground. Rejection of Jesus is rejection of the Father’s plan of salvation. Salvation is accomplished in no other way.
But, God’s plan seemed woefully inadequate and unimpressive. Even though He was a descendant of King David, Jesus wasn’t born in a royal palace or the courtyard of the temple. A Messiah characterized by humility was prophesied by Isaiah, yet many were still expecting a political and military revolutionary. It’s a reminder that God’s ways are not our ways. Recall our Scripture earlier about choosing one of Jesse’s sons as king. God said, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”5 God does not capitulate to our parameters. He does not lower Himself to our standards. To be sure, God is patient and He bears with us in our weaknesses and misunderstandings. But He never countenances false measures. He never indulges dishonesty for the sake of gain. God won’t be pigeon-holed by us.
Dear friends, The Holy Spirit is among us to heal the blindness of sin. Christ isn’t joking when He says your sins are forgiven. He is not jesting or just throwing around possibilities. His word of absolution is not a tease. He paid the price with His life. He has made full atonement. The blindness of sin no longer condemns us to walking aimlessly into the darkness. The crucified and risen Saviour ushers us into His kingdom of light. He doesn’t leave us groping in the darkness. He gathers us as community and shepherds us.
He calls men into the Office of the Holy Ministry to proclaim that forgiveness to you publicly. The words of warning and absolution we hear at the beginning of the Divine Service have their origin in the directive of the risen Jesus to His apostles, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”6 He wants you to know with absolutely certainty, dear friends, that His forgiveness is not some casual or cavalier possibility. He seals it with His blood. We can no longer call our own that which rightfully belongs to Him. He owns the guilt and shame of every repentant soul. We are born into sin, but we are baptized into freedom. We are conceived under the power of the curse; we are reborn into the kingdom of blessings. Death is our master while in the jurisdiction of Satan. The Lord of Life is our Sovereign in the realm of light.
God doesn’t expect us to understand the how of the mysteries of the faith. He doesn’t expect us to intellectually comprehend how He created the universe, how He exists as the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons, how the body and blood of Christ are present in the Lord’s Supper, how the Holy Spirit engenders faith through baptism, how the gospel immediately reaches the hearts of some but not others. The how is tied in with the incomprehensibility of God and His almighty power. “Nothing is impossible with God.”7 But He does want us to know why these realities are so important. His passion for us is so inexhaustible and immeasurable that He sacrificed the Only Begotten. That is why He continues in forbearance, in endurance, in tireless intercession for our well-being of body and soul. That’s why He continues to open the eyes of the blind. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday in Lent
26 March, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 9:2
2 John 9:3
3 John 9:32-33
4 John 9:39
5 1 Samuel 16:7
6 John 20:23
7 Luke 1:37