Sermon on John 9:1-12 – “Theology of Suffering”

January 5th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
January 12th, 2020 at Olympia Bible Presbyterian Church
January 12th, 2020 at Tacoma Bible Presbyterian Church
January 19th, 2020 at Bonner’s Ferry Bible Presbyterian Church

Sermon Text:

[Jhn 9:1-12 ESV] 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. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

OUTLINE
I. THE DISCIPLES’ POOR THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING (v. 2)
A. PARENT’S SIN
B. ONE’S OWN SIN
II. A FEW ELEMENTS OF A GOOD THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING
A. SOMETIMES, BUT NOT ALWAYS
1. THE CASE OF JOB
2. THE MAN BORN BLIND (v. 3)
3. MYSTERY IN SUFFERING
APPLICATION: DO NOT PRESUME TO KNOW THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING
B. DO THE WORKS OF GOD (V. 4)
C. REST IN THE LORD WHO BRINGS SIGHT TO THE BLIND (v. 5-12)

INTRODUCTION
After a few chapters in John’s Gospel in which Jesus is primarily dialoguing with the Jewish authorities and crowds of people, we now come to an account where Jesus is in conversation with his own disciples. Coming upon a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

I. THE DISCIPLES POOR THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING
The way the disciples frame this question portrays their rather poor “theology of suffering.” One might expect such a question to be posed by the Jewish leaders who were regularly misunderstanding the Word of God. But here it is Jesus’ own disciples who ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” That it is the disciples who ask this question shows just how widespread error is when it comes to the “theology of suffering.”

The error of the disciples is that they consider ALL suffering to be punishment for some particular sin. And they can see only two options for why this man was born blind. Either the sin of his parents has caused his blindness, OR his own sin has caused his blindness. They entertain no other possibilities. But they have left us with a false dilemma. These are not the only two logical options. And Jesus’ response will prove that, as he provides not only another option but the actual answer.

The disciples simple assumed that the man’s blindness was caused by sin. And they just wanted to know who was at fault. Was it the parents or the man himself?

A. PARENT’S SIN

We must note that SOMETIMES a person’s suffering is caused by the sin of their parents. There is, of course, the Original Sin of one of “first parents” Adam which, by virtue of his relationship to us as our federal head, makes us guilty too and deserving of the wrath of God.

And then in the prologue to the Ten Commandments we hear also that God said “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

SOMETIMES a person’s suffering is caused by the sin of their parents.

B. ONE’S OWN SIN

AND SOMETIMES a person’s suffering is caused their own sin. There can be no doubt that sin has consequences. In Deuteronomy 28 we read of some of the consequences of sin. Moses says:

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your heards and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall be when you go out.”

Indeed SOMETIMES a person’s suffering is caused their own sin.

But how can the disciples be entertaining this possibility in the case of the man born blind? That is, how could his own sins have caused him to be blind, when his blindness was not something that came upon him later in life but was something he was born with? Possibly, they were thinking that he had sinned in the womb, before he was born. Or, as John Calvin speculates, the disciples may have picked up a teaching from foreign places and so believed in a “transmigration of the soul” as if the maladies one is born with are due to sins of a previous life. Certainly though, there is no such reincarnation teaching in the Scriptures of the Old Testament which the disciples would have known.

II. A FEW ELEMENTS OF A GOOD THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING

A. SOMETIMES BUT NOT ALWAYS

While it is true that SOMETIMES suffering is attributable to the sins of parents, and while it is true that SOMETIMES suffering is attributable to one’s own sins, the error of the disciples is to say that suffering is ALWAYS attributable to sin.

[REPEAT: while it is true that SOMETIMES suffering is attributable to the sins of parents, and while it is true that SOMETIMES suffering is attributable to one’s own sins, the error of the disciples is to say that suffering is ALWAYS attributable to sin.]

1. THE CASE OF JOB

It is this same error that we find in the Book of Job. Job’s friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—they thought that your physical afflictions have a one-to-one correspondence to your sin, or to your father’s or your mother’s sin. And therefore, they thought, Job’s suffering must be rooted in sin. But Job, we read, was “blameless and upright.” He “feared God and turned away from evil.” There is no mention of Job sinning. So why is he suffering? [REPEAT: There is no mention of Job sinning. Why is Job suffering?]

Job’s case shows us that not all suffering is due to sin.

Here in the case of Job, God allowed Satan to strike Job with much suffering to prove that Job fears God for who God is, and not for what God has given to him.

We can conclude from this that “Some sin is connected to suffering, but not all suffering is necessary connected to sin.”

2. THE MAN BORN BLIND (v. 3)

This truth is again proven in our passage today. Here Jesus explains exactly why this man suffers blindness, and it is not because of the blind man’s own sin, nor because of the sin of his parents.

Jesus explains,

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

In this case then, the man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus is about to perform a miracle; bringing sight to this blind man. His suffering sets the stage for the miracle, the results of which will be seen by hundreds if not thousands, and heard about in this Gospel by millions or billions of readers.

3. MYSTERY IN SUFFERING

So SOMETIMES suffering is due to the sins of parents, and SOMETIMES suffering is due to the sins of one’s self, and SOMETIMES suffering is used by God for some particular purpose, whether it be proving Job’s piety or displaying the works of God in bringing sight to the blind man.

But QUITE OFTEN suffering is a mystery. John Calvin well says, “we cannot always put our finger on the causes of the punishments which men endure.”

King David — the very author of Psalm 22 with its famous words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—did himself wonder at the ways of God, not knowing the exact reason for his suffering.

APPLICATION: DO NOT PRESUME THE TO KNOW THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING

The disciples, like Job’s friends, had a poor theology of suffering. What then is a good theology of suffering?

I’ll be noting three elements of a good theology of suffering.

For one, since in most cases we are not able to distinguish what the cause of our suffering is, we should not be quick to presume we know the cause of some particular suffering.

Calvin again says “God afflicts his own people for various reasons.” And, he says, “When the causes of afflictions are concealed, we ought to restrain curiosity.” [REPEAT: “When the causes of afflictions are concealed, we ought to restrain curiosity.”]

For us to judge a parent for the issues that their child has at birth is truly horrendous. For us to judge a person’s own suffering as being the result of some particular sin, is to do them no good. Such a focus is backwards. Rather than analyzing how a person came to be in the suffering condition that he is in, we ought to look forward; we should look as to how we might be a blessing to them. Idle speculation as to the cause of their suffering gets us (and gets them) nowhere.

As we often simply cannot know the cause or causes of a person’s suffering, we should not speculate.

B. DO THE WORKS OF GOD (V. 4)

There is one who, however, who does know, and He knows all things, for He is God. And He is the man who suffered for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is He who brought sight to the blind man. And it is in He that we have our hope, because he – and he alone – is our escape from suffering.

We read in our passage today of one particular case; Jesus’ miraculous healing a man born blind.

6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 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, who is sent from the Father to do the work of “Him who sent me,” sends the blind man to the pool of Siloam (which translated means “Sent”). Water is also sent to this pool via aqueduct from a spring. But the water is merely the instrument (along with the dirt and saliva); Jesus is the miracle-maker.

What Jesus does here in bringing sight to the blind, so beautifullly illustrates our own salvation. We, blinded by sin, are made to see not of our own efforts, but of the work of God in Jesus Christ. We are like this man, spiritually. God comes to him, and he never asked for it. And neither did we ever have the power in us to say “I believe” but by the power of the Holy Spirit. We were like a blind man directly facing the sun at noontime, but without any knowledge of what was there in front of us. It might has well be midnight. And when God granted us each faith, he brought light into the darkness of our minds. And we could see for the first time. The Lord enlightened us to faith and brought us salvation. It is His work. Salvation is of the Lord.

And the blind man himself was not only given physical sight, he was spiritually enlightened. We know this because (1) he obeyed Jesus when Jesus told him to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” And we see later in the chapter, verse 38, this once-blind man now saying “I believe” and, the text says, he WORSHIPPED him (Jesus).

This healing we read about was part of the work assigned to Jesus in the time that he had in his public ministry on Earth. And it was a short time indeed. Thus there was no delay in his actions. And there should be no delay in ours. Jesus said “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Here he includes his disciples in the work to be done. And there can be no doubt that we too are called to work for the Lord.

Thus, we should not idly speculate; nor get bogged down in the reasons that a person is suffering, but we should serve God with urgency, making the most of our time. We are to redeem the time.

There is work for us to do. We are the instruments of God’s work. This emphasis on working — especially the work of comforting others and declaring the Gospel message — is an element of a good theology of suffering. (Our second element of three we’ll note today)

The work you are being called to – in you family, in your place (WA, ID, NY). Whatever work you are being called to. We are not to ignore suffering like the Buddhist attempt to do. Jesus didn’t pass by the blind man without doing the work he was sent to do. He did the work when it came up. He did not delay.

Now I don’t want the children to take this analogy too far, but we are the dirt and spit of the Lord. While God works in his own way and his own time, he generally uses means to accomplish His work. In the healing of the man born blind, he used dirt and spit (and water in the pool). He could have healed the man instantaneously and without any means applied. He could have merely said “See!” and the man would have seen. But God chose there to be the means of dirt and saliva.

Similarly, God could bring faith to a person without the preaching of the Gospel. But, the preaching of the Gospel is God’s chosen means.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 10:

[Rom 10:14-17 ESV] 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

C. REST IN THE LORD WHO BRINGS SIGHT TO THE BLIND (v. 5-12)

Thus, there must be preaching. And we must comfort those who are suffering. Primarily we are to comfort them with the Gospel. The work of preaching the Gospel is a means God uses to bring faith and salvation to His suffering people.

And now we are not to be idle, but must do the works of God. And “this is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)

The Holy Spirit is working in you, giving you faith. And this is a work that continues. You do not just believe once and say “all is well,” but faith continues, faith endures. And the Holy Spirit is working through you, to use you for good works.

We then come to our third and final element for today regarding a “good theology of suffering.” And that is – REST in the Lord who bring sight to the blind. [REPEAT: REST in the Lord who bring sight to the blind]

Faith in Jesus Christ, the catechism explains, is a saving grace whereby we receive and REST upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

In our suffering, we are to REST in Jesus Christ.

When the Apostle Paul prayed three times to the Lord to have his suffering, his thorn in the flesh removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is in the grace of God that we too should rest by faith.

And we must rest in God because He is in control. In our suffering, we must ultimately rest in the sovereignty of God.

We must not rely on our own judgement, but we must rest in the Lord who brings sight to the blind, and who into the darkness shines his great light. We must rest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ who suffered so that we might suffer no more.

Amen.

Let us pray.

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