Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Text: John 9:1-3
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, "Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parentsí sin?"
Jesus answered, "His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parentsí sins. He is blind so that Godís power might be seen at work in him."

Tragedy and Trust

A 3 year old boy had been tragically killed on a farming property. The mother, as you can imagine, was devastated. She couldnít understand why the life of this delightful child should come to such a tragic and senseless end. She grabbed my arm, and said, "Tell me why this happened. What have I done to deserve this"

And it didnít make sense. They were a good family, actively involved in their church, providing a loving Christian home for their children. They had some tough times in the past, and now it seems that God had come back to pile on them again more tough times. "What had they done to deserve this?"

This is a problem that is addressed again and again in the Bible. In Luke 13 the question is simple: What about those worshippers from Galilee whom Pontius Pilate put to the sword in the temple of God, or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam came crashing down, did they deserve this because they were terrible sinners and were being punished for their evil deeds?

Why do bad things happen to Christians who are supposed to be good? Non-Christians can easily taunt us with something like this, "If God really loves you, if you trust him, so then why has this bad thing happened to you? How come things are going bad for you if God is supposed to be on your side? Where was God and his love when the tsunami caused so much destruction and death. Where is he when a young child dies, a husband or wife is killed, an old person spends months and months in pain and faces a slow death?"

Or could it be true that God was there and because of some terrible sin, he was punishing them.

Today in John 9 we hear about a man who is born blind. Jesusí disciples ask him, "Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parentsí sin?" Jesus answer is simple; "His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parentsí sins."

Letís focus on what Jesus says about circumstances such as these. He says in our text that personal sin was not the reason for the tragic blindness of the man they saw. Some individual personal sin is not the reason why the man had been born blind.

The disciples had learnt that sin and hurt, injury, and disability were linked together. And Jesus doesnít deny the fact that sin does cause heartache, suffering, frustration, and death. Sin has messed up Godís perfect creation. We know from the story of the fall of the first people, Adam and Eve, that as a result of sin, death, pain and suffering have now become a part of life on this earth. And sometimes a personal tragedy is the result of some kind of sin Ė
- an accident resulting from drinking and driving,
- a man abuses his wife because he had witnessed his father mistreat his mother,
- a girl gets pregnant when she is off her face with alcohol,
- a child who is cruelly hurt or dies at the hands of a parent or partner.
In those kinds of cases, the link between tragedy and sin is clear. Jesus doesnít deny the fact that "we reap what we sow". But even when sin has led directly to suffering, Jesus makes it clear that our response should be like his Ė one of compassion and of love.

On the other hand, we can say that most of the time there is no connection between tragedy and any particular sin. Jesus states clearly that the man who was born blind was not in this condition because his parents had done something particularly evil.

Jesus states, "His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parentsí sins. He is blind so that Godís power might be seen at work in him." It seems Jesus is saying that this manís blindness was allowed because on this day Jesus was going to heal him.

When this man was a lad I wonder how many times he cried himself to sleep because of his handicap.
I wonder how many times he raised his fist in anger at this affliction.
I wonder how many times he prayed to God to take away his darkness and to let the light, the colours, the beauty of the world fill his eyes.
I wonder how many times he wondered what terrible things he or his parents had done to cause his blindness.
For all these years this man wondered why. It was all leading up to this encounter with the Saviour.

It reminds us of another similar person: Joseph in the Old Testament. Here was a man beaten up by his brothers and sold into slavery. He makes the best of a bad situation, only to find himself convicted of a rape he never committed.
I wonder how many times Joseph was close to despair because of the seemingly senseless tragedies in his life?
What had he done to deserve this?
Why did these things have to happen to him?

Finally, of course, Joseph is placed in a position of power in Egypt. Because of his position he saves his family, is reconciled to his father and brothers and all seems right with the world. Finally, dad dies and the brothers are scared. They are concerned that Joseph now has the perfect opportunity to get even. In the course of the discussion Joseph says these incredible words: "You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children." We are told that he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts (Gen. 50:20,21).

Joseph understood what we must never forget: God is in control! There is nothing God cannot make happen. Even when we believe God has deserted us he is closer than we think. Nothing he cannot keep from happening.

There are Christians who believe that if you experience hardship, sickness or trouble in your life, then there is something wrong with your faith. Then you are not living the abundant life that Jesus offers. There is some unrepented sin in your life. Jesus healed before; he will heal now Ė if youíre right with him. The implication is that if you are suffering and you arenít healed, then thereís something wrong. The implication is that sickness must be because of someoneís sin. If thatís true, then all the patients in our hospitals are all there because of some sin each one has committed recently. If they all confessed their sin, if they all prayed for healing, then the hospitals would all be empty. Or are there only unbelievers in hospital?

And then there are other things.
You are broken into, maybe even attacked, for no apparent reason.
You go broke because your business faces unanticipated competition.
A fire destroys your property.
You have a car accident and the effects you feel for the rest of your life.
Why? Why does God let these things happen?

The writer of the hymn "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!" was Fanny Crosby. She was blind from her earliest babyhood as a result of an accident. When she was only eight years old, she wrote this little rhyme,

Oh, what a happy child I am,
although I cannot see.
I am resolved that in this world,
contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
that other people donít.
To weep and sigh
because Iím blind,
I cannot and I wonít!

She lived to be over 90, and that beautiful, rejoicing spirit characterised her all her days.
Why did the childhood accident blind Fanny Crosby?
Who was at fault?
In times of tragedy God is at work Ö for good Ö even though we may not be able to see it at the time.

Some of the most powerful testimonies of God at work in peopleís lives come out of tragic times. Consider Joni Earekson who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident or Corrie Ten Boon who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, and see the powerful witness they have been to the power of God even though they suffered, asked God why, and at times despaired. These things happened "so that Godís power might be seen at work in them." God uses the tragic circumstances that people find themselves in, through no fault of their own, to provide blessings to those suffering and to those around them.

If anyone faced unfair suffering it was Jesus. He was totally and completely innocent and yet he suffered as if he was the guiltiest and most sinful person this world has ever known. This is the way the legal system of his day saw him and this is the way his heavenly Father saw him as he carried the weight of the sins of the whole of humanity on his shoulders as he suffered and died. Yet even though bad things happened to this good man, he trusted his heavenly Father and prayed: not my will, but your will be done.

The question that faces us is this: can we continue to love and trust God - in joy and in pain, in health and in sickness - to be our God. Can we, like Joseph of old, trust God that he is in control; that he knows what he is doing? Can we rise above our bitterness and hurt to keep on trusting him?

Itís true to say that we don't have the human resources to hang on to God and to keep on trusting. Thank goodness God keeps hanging on to us. Even when our trust is low and our doubts are overwhelming God keeps on loving and keeps on holding on to us and supporting us and helping us through that crisis.

This point needs to be made. For us who belong to a society where pleasure and enjoyment are ideals we strive for, any suffering is patently unfair, any confusion, any tragedy is undeserved because long ago people have stopped trusting a God whose presence makes suffering, confusion, tragedies bearable. Take the apostle Paul as an example who could boast about a physical disability he had. He prayed to God to take it away, but God had left him with it. Why? Paul says, "I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me". He boasts about his weakness so that Godís strength will be made known, so that God gets all the glory!

Hereís the crunch: the unbeliever looks to us to see where our trust in God leads us when difficulties come our way, and thatís when we give witness to God and he receives the glory.

Itís in our time of weakness, when we are sad, when we feel most alone, when we are confused and afraid Ė itís then that Godís power can be seen at work in us. When people expect us to complain and whine and carry on about the hand that we have been dealt in life and they hear a song of praise instead, this is powerful way that God can use our troubles to bring blessing to others as they witness the contentment that only trust in a loving God can give. The unbeliever looks at us to see where our trust in God leads us when difficulties come our way, and thatís when we give witness to God, and he receives glory.

I donít pretend to understand why things happen the way they do. But I do know that we have a God who has shown his love for us in his Son. May our eyes be opened to the strength available to us through the God who is "our helper and strength in times of trouble".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
6th March, 2005

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