As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Good morning, dear Christians! This is not an unfamiliar question, is it? How often in our lives, when bad stuff happens, do we ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong?” Or "what did they do wrong?” This seems to happen, I’ve noticed, with circumstances that appear to have no other rational explanation. Frequently it happens with children – what did I do wrong while I was pregnant? What did I do wrong while I was raising them? But that’s not the only time – maybe if I had eaten more blueberries, I wouldn’t have cancer? Is God punishing me for not believing in him enough? For that awful decision I made when I was a teenager? For that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing that no one knows about?
Or we do it to other people…what did they do wrong that they’re homeless? Or so incredibly poor? Or can't keep a job? People don’t get that disease unless they’ve done something they shouldn’t have been doing…
And it is true that there are plenty of circumstances in our lives that come about as a direct result of sin – our own sin, or someone else’s sin. Sometimes life is hard because we sinned or somebody else sinned, and we are now stuck with the natural consequences. Getting into a car accident when you’re driving drunk is not God punishing you, it’s just what happens when you do stupid things. Flunking a test that you didn’t study for is not God’s punishment for being lazy, it’s just what happens when you don’t study. Yes? But there are also plenty – plenty – of times, more often than not, I’d wager, when rotten stuff happens to us or to people we love because it just does. Because this world is not perfect, it is broken and scarred by sin, death, and the power of the devil. Because God is working on a new Heaven and a new Earth when all this crap that we face in our lives will pass away, but it’s not here yet.
This is why babies die in miscarriages and natural disasters happen and people who eat right and exercise every day get cancer and so much else. The junk in this world that just is. It is what it is. Even Jesus will tell you that.
Nobody sinned – this man was born blind. Because sometimes that happens.
And in those moments when inexplicable, rotten things happen…when we feel most like perhaps God has abandoned us…it is at those times when He is most powerfully there…working, working, working situations that He didn’t cause…but that you better bet your britches He’s gonna use for good.
So we’re going to play with the text a little bit here, I’ll teach you a little bit about Greek, and we’re actually going to use the screens – now this is the first time that Mike and I have worked on this, so give us both some grace here, but…let’s look again at John 9 verses 3 and 4:
“Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must perform the works of Him who sent me..."
Jesus does not say, “He was born blind so that…”
The actual Greek does not contain Jesus’ restatement about the fact of blindness. The actual Greek reads more like
“Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents have sinned: but that the works of God might be revealed in him.’”
Well, that’s kind of an oddball sentence. It’s like it’s missing a whole clause, right?
Neither this man nor his parents have sinned, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him ??? .
And so most – not all, but many – translators have filled in what appears to be the obvious answer – he was born blind. And we end up with sentences like the translation I read earlier,
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must perform the works of him who sent me…’
But here’s the thing about Greek, and it’s why I want to depart a little from some of the major translations…Ancient New Testament Greek contains no punctuation. They just wrote until they were done. And part of the task of translating is to figure out where sentences end and commas belong, and so forth, so that what's being said actually makes sense. We do this in English, too, don’t we? There's a world of difference between:
Let’s eat, Grandma.Let’s eat Grandma.
Punctuation is important.
So the Greek for these two verses actually reads,
“Jesus answered neither this man nor his parents sinned but that the works of God should be revealed in him I must perform the works of him that sent me…”.
We’re just going to leave the part about day and night alone for right now…
But now we have to punctuate it. Let’s fill in the easy stuff first. It’s pretty obvious where the quote marks should go – Jesus answered – what did he answer? – Neither this man… so we’ll fill in the quote marks and the comma after answered, because that’s English convention. Now, we can also put a comma after “sinned”, since the word ‘but’ is a conjunction, it’s the start of a new clause.
But we still have a run-on sentence, or at least a run-on clause.
“…but that the works of God should be revealed in him I must perform the works of him that sent me [when are we performing those works?] while it is day the night is coming when no man can work.”
As I said before, the most typical translation breaks that run-on clause by putting a period and ending the sentence right here:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must perform the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night is coming when no man can work,"
But what if we change it up? What if instead of putting a comma after "sinned", we put a period? And instead of a period after "him," we put a comma? So that the whole thing reads,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But that the works of God should be revealed in him, I must perform the works of him that sent me…”
Well now, that’s different, isn’t it? That changes the whole situation. It shifts the man’s blindness from something that God did to him, or at the very least that God allowed to happen, just so that God would have an opportunity to perform a miracle, it changes that to something that, well, just happened, because these things do, but that God is now going to use to “perform his works” in the guy.
Now, I do think we should be careful. We need to have humility, and realize that most translators are not punctuating it like this. But. I really do think that we can go with it, and here’s why. God does not willingly afflict people with suffering, just so that he can come back later and prove how awesome He is. When life is miserable, for whatever reason, it’s true that God will use that to draw us closer to Him, He will take that opportunity to show his glory, his power to heal and resurrect. But God does not decide to actively make our lives miserable, just so He can show off. Not at all. Not. At. All.
So let’s run with this, for today. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But that the works of God should be revealed in him, I must perform the works of him that sent Me.”
Okay then, so…what is the work of God? Miracles? Healing this man’s eyes, so he can see? Well, yes. Certainly God does miracles. But we can’t read Scripture in a vacuum. We will always have a better understanding of Scripture if we read what’s around it, if we know what else has happened in the story, or what is going to happen. If we have a sense for even the entire book of the Bible that we are reading, and the entire framework that the author is working from. So what is the work of God? I’m glad you asked!
Let’s flip back a few pages to John chapter 6, verses 28-30:
“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’” Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’”
The “work of God” is to believe in the one He has sent. So let’s substitute that into our verses from chapter 9:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But that
God's workbelief in the one God has sent might be revealed in him, I must perform the works of Him that sent Me.”
This whole story is about the man who was born blind coming to faith in Jesus. Please notice that this man does not begin the story with faith. He is not blind old Bartimaeus, calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is not the woman with the flow of blood hoping to touch just the edge of his robe so that she will be healed. He is not the centurion saying to Jesus, “I’m not worthy to have you come to my house, but if you only just say the word, my daughter will be healed.” No, this man born blind is, by all accounts, just going about his day, minding his own business, and nowhere does he ask that his blindness would be healed. But Jesus does it anyway. Jesus heals him because it is that healing process, and everything that happens afterward, that leads this man to believe in Jesus, that leads to the work of God, belief in the one God has sent, to be revealed, to be made manifest, in his man.
So then, let’s look at the rest of the story – pretty soon after the guy gets healed, the neighbors start to ask. “Hey wait a second? Is that the guy who used to have to beg for money because he couldn’t work? Wasn’t he blind or something? Well, he’s not blind now…It can’t be the same guy…no, I think it is… ‘Hey buddy, didn’t you used to be blind? What happened?’”
And he responds, “Yeah I was, but then some dude named Jesus did this thing with the spit and the mud and the… and when I washed it off, I could see…I don’t know how it worked, man, but I swear to you, that’s what happened.” A man named Jesus. That’s his starting place.
And while the neighbors might think it’s a little weird, the Pharisees are outright disturbed. They can’t let this go on. This Jesus guy has been running around upsetting apple carts all over the place…and now he’s healing blind people? And on the Sabbath no less? Oh, of course it was on the Sabbath…golly gee…it’s always on the Sabbath. So the Pharisees, who, remember, are the rule-enforcers of the Jewish people, call the man in and ask him what happened, and he tells the same story. He put mud on my eyes, and I washed them. I was blind, and now I can see. Now, the Pharisees are split over what to think – “He can’t possibly be from God…he was working…on the Sabbath! Sinner.” “Well, yeah, but how is somebody who is such a sinner able to do these kinds of signs? That doesn’t make any sense!” So they ask the guy himself – gosh, there’s an idea – it was your eyes he opened, what do you say? And the man says, “He is a prophet.” Ok, so we’ve gone from “Some guy named Jesus,” to “a prophet.”
But the Pharisees, of course, because they have their own spiritual blindness issues going on, just can’t let it go. So they go to the guy’s parents – “He really was blind from the time he was born?” “Yeah, he really was.” “Well, what just happened?” “Uh, we don’t know. Ask him, he’s an adult. And, please don’t kick us out of the synagogue!” So they call the guy back in, and they go through the whole thing all over again…and the guy says, “Why are you asking all this? When I already told you? And you didn’t believe me the first time? Do you guys want to be one of his disciples, too?”…implying, of course, that he has since become one of Jesus’ followers…and he even puts the problem into sharp relief for the Pharisees… “Look, you don’t know anything about him, but that he healed me. And we all know that God only does stuff like this with people who listen to him and obey his will…so there’s no way that he can possibly be a sinner…he’s got to be from God!” To which the Pharisees’ response is basically, “Hey ya smartmouth, you think you’re better than us?” And they kick him out.
But Jesus goes and finds him – Jesus always goes and finds…Jesus goes and finds him and says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he? Tell me so that I can believe.” “It’s me, Jesus says. The one you’re talking to right now.” And the man answers, “Lord, I believe.”
Jesus tells the crowds of people following him, “The work of God is to believe in the one He has sent.”
Jesus tells his disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But so that the work of God might be revealed in him, I must perform the works of the one who sent me.”
At the moment that the man says, “Lord, I believe,” the work of God – belief in the one God has sent – has been revealed in the man. Praise the Lord.
This is what Jesus does with us, as well. Sometimes stuff happens. Rotten things. Things with no explanation. Or things that have an explanation, but are certainly not our fault. And even things that are our fault. Even the consequences of our own sin, can be quite unpleasant. Life is tough. And while God never causes these things, once they happen, He works them over into something that is at least useful.
By his own death and resurrection, Jesus has overcome all the death and darkness in the whole world. He will open your eyes to see that He is the Christ, the one whom God has sent, to bring you out of darkness, and into his marvelous light. He does indeed have the power to forgive our sins, to heal our sicknesses, to raise us from the dead, to put back together the situations and relationships that are broken beyond repair. He alone has that power – He is the one who performs the miracles. But as much as he does not wish us to suffer, his primary concern is not that we would have no earthly troubles. His primary concern is not that life be smooth sailing all the time. His primary concern is that you would believe in Him, the One whom God has sent. And so as He is healing your sicknesses and infirmities, as He is fixing the things that are broken, in the moment when He is forgiving your sins and raising you from the dead, in the midst of that all of that, He is drawing you unto Himself. He is teaching you to believe in him, and to trust him for everything, even for life itself.
The very end – the last two verses – of John’s Gospel tells us exactly why John bothered to sit down and write all this out: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The world can be a terrible place, and terrible things happen in it. But even in the midst of terrible things, know that God is hard at work, overcoming sin, death, and the devil, bringing you to faith, and teaching you to trust Him, to believe in Jesus, the One whom God has sent, so that by believing, you may have life in his name.