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Sermon for March 26, 2017

John 9:1-5 (Fourth Sunday in Lent—Series A)

“The Light of the World”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

March 26, 2017

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text this morning is from the Gospel lesson from John 9.

1And as He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents so that he should be born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned nor his parents, but [he was born blind] so that the works of God might be evident in him. 4It is necessary for us to work the works of Him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one is able to work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 

          In some of the church’s prayers you will hear the phrase, “O Lord God, . . . You have shown that Your thoughts are not our thoughts nor Your ways our ways.” These are the words found in Isaiah 55:8. And so we might pray, “O Lord God, in allowing this man to be born blind, You have shown that Your thoughts are not our thoughts nor Your ways our ways.” Or, “Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts, Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom You have permitted this disastrous [fire/flood/earthquake/plane crash/terrorist attack] to befall us.” Or, “O Lord God, in allowing this sickness/injury/or the death of an infant, You have shown that Your thoughts are not our thoughts, Your ways are not our ways.”

          Whenever we experience tragedy and suffering in this fallen world, especially personal tragedy and suffering, there are seemingly natural questions that we ask: Why? How come? Where is God? Why doesn’t God do something?

          Martha, at the death of her brother, Lazarus, asked the “Where is God?” question. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). In other words, “Jesus, where were you?” Paul asked the “Why doesn’t God do something?” question, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn given me in the flesh], that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9 ESV). Job asked “Why?” and after God confronted him, Job confessed, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3 ESV).

          His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. This Word of God reveals to us that it is futile to seek to understand God’s ways. “His plans and reasons are beyond the comprehension of mortal man.”[1] So when Jesus’ disciples question as to the cause of the man’s blindness, his sin or his parents, Jesus turns them from such thinking. As one Early Church Father wrote, “The Lord taught the disciples that there are many reasons for all these events and that they are certainly secret and unexplainable” (Theodore of Mopsuestia, c. 350-428). So Paul writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33 ESV).

          God allows that which He does for His own reasons. And these reasons are unknowable to us. Perhaps we don’t like that very much. We believe that we have the right to know and to understand what God’s plans are and what He is up to. We don’t. He is God, the Creator. We are His creatures, His creation. In our sinfulness, we forget our place. Our desire is to be like God “knowing good and evil.” Our desire is to be like God in understanding all things. But He alone is all-knowing. He alone is all wisdom and understanding. Not everything is for us to know and to understand as God’s creatures. He is God and we are not. This is difficult for us to accept.

          It is not our prerogative to know all that God knows. The Lord reveals to us in His Word that which He desires for us to know and to understand. He doesn’t answer all our questions of Why? and How come? and What are you doing, Lord? And He doesn’t have to. Some things are too much for us, too beyond us. We are simply not capable of knowing or understanding, even if we were told.

His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. This is true because He alone is God and Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Our relationship is one of Creator to creature. Therefore, we cannot be God. We cannot know and understand what the almighty Creator knows and understands in holiness and perfection. We simply cannot know and understand that which God has not revealed to us in His Word.

          So, then, what are we to do when we suffer tragic events and illnesses and incomprehensible losses and situations? What is our prerogative then? It is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Impossible, you say? Not so. With God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).

          We read in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, “Therefore afflictions . . . are the works of God intended for our benefit, that the power of God might be made more manifest in our weakness” (Ap. AC XII.160). This statement explains what Jesus said to the disciples, that God used this blind man’s tragic situation of suffering without sight in order to make His power known in and through His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus healed the man’s physical blindness as well as his spiritual blindness through the gift of saving faith in Jesus—“Lord, I believe,” the formerly blind man said, and he worshiped Jesus (John 9:38).

          It is through the saving work of Jesus Christ that we receive this same gift of faith. Jesus said, (for the second time in John’s Gospel), “I am the light of the world.” It is the light of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior which we receive as the gift of God that illumines the darkness of our lives lived in a world of suffering and tragedy. Saving faith in Christ allows us to “see,” not with physical eyesight, but with true fear, love, and trust in God alone. God the Holy Spirit, who creates this saving faith in us, enables us to believe that Jesus Christ suffered and died on a cross, shedding His own blood to be our Savior and Redeemer from sin, death, and the power of the devil. We trust that this is so, not because we perfectly understand the sacrificial death of Jesus and not because we completely know the “whys?” and the “how can this be?” We trust because the gift of faith enables us to believe that God’s Word is true and that God used a cross of wood and nails to hang His One-of-a-kind Son upon it in order that Jesus should suffer the penalty of hell and death in our place, winning the perfect forgiveness of sins and eternal life for us.

          This same faith which enables you and me to trust in Jesus as God’s Son, our Savior, is also the gift that makes it possible for us to trust that the things God does and the things which God allows are really in His control for good. I know that’s a lot to ask a person or a family who is undergoing suffering and pain and tragedy. You and I will never understand and know the ways and will of God. Again, we are the creatures and He is the Creator. He is God and we are not. Our prerogative is not to know and understand, but by grace through faith to trust, to “see” with faith the work of God for good even and especially when we don’t comprehend it.      

Dr. Charles Arand wrote in his midweek Lenten sermon series, “This means that when things happen that we cannot understand, when tragedies happen that defy explanation, when we cannot make sense of things, faith turns to the person and work of Jesus Christ. . . . When we go looking for answers in places other than in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves lost, frustrated, and angry. For when we look elsewhere, we encounter the silence of God, we find a God who does not give us the answers we want, one who is not accountable or answerable to us . . . his creatures. But in the flesh and blood of Jesus, in his life, and especially in his death, we encounter God speaking to us, and speaking a word of love. . . . So over against the [unanswered] question, over the lack of explanations, I say, I don’t know why this happened, I don’t know what this means; but I do know this . . . nothing can separate me from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8).”[2]

Through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, fear, love, and trust in God ever more faithfully. Believe ever more firmly in the gracious power and love of God. His thoughts will never be your thoughts. His ways will not be your ways. Nevertheless, you are His child in Christ Jesus. He is for you and not against you. The death and resurrection of the Savior prove that! So when you must suffer illness and tragedy and loss in this life, look to the cross in faith to Him who is the light of the world. Put your trust in Jesus and be confident that, even though you don’t understand or have the answers you would like, you can confess, “God is using this event to do His works of mercy and grace in Jesus. I may never specifically know what those works are or even understand, but I will trust, God helping me through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit, that He is working for good. And that will be enough.” Amen.

 

[1] R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 666.

[2] Charles Arand, The Art of Living By Faith, Lenten Sermon Series (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 2017), 24.


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