THE STORY – IT'S ALL ABOUT HEALING
Introduction: CBS News Video Clip of Blind Boy Leading Normal Life
It’s All About Healing
"1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7"Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man." 10"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. 11He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." 12"Where is this man?" they asked him. "I don't know," he said."
In the video clip we just watched, Ben Underwood wasn't born blind. He became blind. When at two years old, cancer took his vision and his eyes were surgically removed. In our passage today, John states that the man in it was actually born blind. Which to people back then, including the religious leaders, meant that God was punishing him for his sins. Or the consequences of the sins of his mother or father. Or their father and mother. All the way down to the third or fourth generation according to Exodus 20:5. This was their theology. This is what they understood God to be about. But they misunderstood. Because this was bad theology. We know this is true because, much to their surprise, in our passage today, Jesus straight out says so. "1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
Which leads us to point number one this week. We need to heal our understanding of God. Because we've got some bad theology ruining what we know about Him. Which prevents others from even wanting to know Him. If you don’t believe me, ask yourselves what the insurance companies call it when a tree falls over and lands on your house. Or your car. What do they call it? They call it an “Act of God.” But that is not an act of God any more than New Orleans being overwhelmed by sea waters is an act of God. John 3:17 says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn [which is the same root as the word judge in Greek] the world, but to save it.”
God’s desire is not to hurt anyone. Even the wicked. Ezekiel 18:23 says, “23Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Chapter 33:11 adds, “11 Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” Lamentations 3:33 even ups the ante: “33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.”
So if God doesn’t bring grief or affliction or death, who does? Because as the insurance companies have noticed, this world is messed up! Well, the Bible has an answer for that. And Jesus himself shared it in Matthew 13. Turn with me there to a parable Jesus told to explain some of the craziness we see on this earth. He begins in verse 24 with these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like...” 24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28" 'An enemy did this,' he replied.”
And who according to Scripture is the enemy? Jesus said the devil is the enemy. He is a liar and murderer from the beginning according to John 8:44. Jesus came to give us life and life abundantly. The devil came to take life and take it abundantly. Therefore, anybody can understand why we can know it’s not God’s will for children to be born blind or retarded. For example. Because it’s obvious this grief and affliction is not what God would want for his children. It is not God’s will for planes to fall out of the sky. It is not God’s will for children to be abducted and sold into child prostitution. It is not God’s will for anyone to be hungry. Why? Because God is not the author of evil. The Bible says what He created was either good or very good. Satan is the author of all that is evil. We know this is true because Jesus said, “An enemy hath done this.”
But friend, God is gonna fix it. In fact, He already started to when he died on the cross. And whenever true friends encourage one another and grieve with each other and pray for each other and refuse to give up on this scary world, that is God fixing it too!
In the meantime, as 1 Corinthians 13:12 implies, we may not understand everything we see. Because now we see in part. And we may not want to believe everything we read either. Because now we understand in part. That helps me when I come across some otherwise pretty confusing texts on suffering. Have you read these? Isaiah 3:10-11 says, “10Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. 11Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them!” Or Genesis 38:7, “7 But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death.” Or Proverbs 12:21, “21No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.”
I suspect these descriptions of God and the way He is described, even in the Bible sometimes, has a lot more to do with the ancient’s understanding of the sovereignty of God being literally above all. Both good and evil. Than him being evil. Or ever delighting in it. Because when I look at how Jesus lived His life, that’s not what I see Him delighting in. And according to Jesus in John 14:9, that’s not what Philip, after being with Jesus for 3½ years should have seen our Heavenly Father delighting in either. Why? Because if you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the Father. That’s what Jesus said! Therefore, the Bible’s bigger story being told from beginning to end talks about a loving Creator and Redeemer who would rather die than spend eternity without any of us. Who in fact, actually did. On the cross. Paying the penalty for our sins. Who throws them into the depths of the ocean and remembers them no more. Over and over numerous texts, many in Isaiah and Genesis and Proverbs describe God as unfailing in His love for both Israel and the Gentile world. Which pretty much includes everybody else. Including us. God always uses for good that which the devil meant for harm.
Genesis 50:20 is the OT equivalent of Romans 8:28. After all the evil Jospeh’s brothers heaped upon Joseph, after years of abuse and neglect and abandonment and imprisonment, Joseph as a type of Christ, had this to say about his suffering: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Does that mean God wanted Joseph to suffer? Of course not! It means that God can use whatever the devil uses for evil for good. But this is a hard lesson to learn. One my family is still learning the hard way. For years my mom grew up with the Psalm 91 idea that angels of the Lord encamp round about all those who love and serve Him. Isn’t that what we teach our children in Sabbath School? And while I believe that is true. I don’t think that’s all it means. Because after my father had a stroke at 59, prematurely ending his ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it messed us up for quite a while. It didn’t matter that he was a life long runner in good health following his yearly physical. And it didn’t matter that my grandfather was a life long vegetarian and Seventh-day Adventist. He still got cancer and died last year. I did his funeral. And it didn’t matter that my friend Jody was only 21 when her tour bus rolled over a cliff in 1999 while serving as a missionary in Taiwan.
So Psalm 91 doesn’t mean that God will never allow anything awful to happen to His followers. Angels allowed Jesus to die on the cross didn’t they? Angels didn’t stop Paul from being imprisoned did they? Angels didn’t prevent Bathsheeba’s good and faithful first husband from dying on the battlefield did they?
So what I hear God saying through the pages of the story being told is that I love you, but in this world, you will have trouble! Life isn’t fair. More than that, it’s dangerous. And the reason according to Ephesians 6 is because there is a battle being fought between the forces of good and evil. And while we don’t have to like it, why do we assume God does? Certainly God doesn’t like it either! Maybe that’s why, unlike any other religious story being told, He is actually doing something about it! When you walk through the waters, God promises to be there. Not if you walk in the waters but when.
Job’s friends learned that the hard way too. You remember the book of Job right? Most scholars think it is the oldest book in the Bible. Probably written by Moses while he was wandering in the wilderness the first time. You know, after he killed that Egyptian and fled for his life? Remember that? Long story short: Job says Satan appears before God to tell Him about all the sinful things people were doing on earth. God says to Satan, “Did you notice my servant Job?” There is no one on earth like him” Satan answers God, “Of course Job is pious and obedient. You make it worth his while, showering riches and blessings on him. Take away those blessings and see how long he remains your servant.”
So God allows Satan to do some awful stuff to Job. And after all this bad stuff happens, Job’s Godly wife tells Job to curse God and die. Then, his Godly friends come over and basically says, “Well you must not be so good after all. Cause you’re suffering an awful lot. It must be your fault.”
Which is bad theology. That basically says the same thing the crazy Christians said about 9/11 or Katrina. That those people deserved it. But what makes that statement crazy and the theology bad is not because they didn’t deserve it. But because they thought they deserved it more than we do! But if Romans 1 is true, we all deserve it! We should all have it coming to us! Because God sees no difference between sins of omission versus sins of commission. Some like gossip and slander are private. Others are not. So please don’t be ignorant Christians running around embarrassing God like Job’s friends. Because as He does at the end of the book of Job, and as Jesus does in the beginning of our passage today, God corrects our bad theology.
Job 42:7 says, ““7After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’” Basically, God tells Job’s friends they’re wrong about Him. God does not send evil on people depending on how good or bad they are. It is not God’s will to see people of any kind good or bad suffer. He doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked. And if that’s true, it’s obvious he takes no pleasure in the affliction of the wicked either. And if that’s true, it’s obvious he takes no pleasure in the death or affliction of the righteous either. Right?
Therefore, when bad stuff happens to any of us, it happens because the world we live in is bad and many of the people in it are bad too. So the question for Christians is not: Why is this happening to me? The question is: Why not me? I’m in the middle of this war zone too aren’t I? The question is not: Why did that happen to New Orleans? The question is: Why isn’t Katrina happening every single day? And the Bible’s bottom line answer to that question is, were it not for God’s amazing and sustaining grace, it would be! According to Revelation 7:1, were it not for His sustaining presence in the world, there would be catastrophic awful things happening on a global scale every single minute of every single day.
And as it is there are some truly awful things happening in the world that Christians, if we have any pulse or heart at all, should rise up and do something about. Genocide. Stupid poverty. No clean drinking water. Child prostitution. Modern day slavery. None of that happens because God delights in it! It happens because the earth and many of the people in it are wicked. And I’m convinced it keeps happening because Christians are either too stupid or lazy to do anything about it. How about that for some truth in love? You want the church to be relevant in the world? Do something to help the world instead of sitting back judging everyone in it. At least Bono and Simon Cowell and Carrie Underwood are doing something about it. But still, like the disciples in our passage, we have the audacity to ask: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus’ answer is: Neither one! The question is wrong! Because your story is wrong. We need to heal our understanding of God. Point number one. And of the world. Point number two. So the world can see God in it. Point number three.
If that’s your desire, I invite you to join me up here for circles of intercessory prayer following the benediction. Let’s bow our heads. Our Father in Heaven, help us tell your story well. Forgive us for when we don’t. Open our eyes so we can keep them fixed on you. Amen.