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Sermon Series

 

September 7, 2014 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

According to Luke 4:1-13 [NLTse]

On account of some insidious events going on around our congregation, last week’s sermon focused on the person and work of Satan, the devil. We started by showing how the Bible presents Satan  as an angelic being who fell from his position in Heaven due to sin and who is now completely opposed to God, doing all in his power to thwart God’s purposes.

We made clear that Satan is in no way the evil counterpart to God’s goodness, but that he is merely a created being whom the Bible shows will be readily and once-and-for-all defeated when Jesus returns for us at the end of the age.

Wondering whether we should be afraid of Satan and his devils, we saw that every human being who has not been born-again-into-God’s-Kingdom-through-faith-in-Christ lives under Satan’s power. (Which means that all other faiths [and lack of faiths] are in reality victories of Satan, because all the devil cares about is keeping people from coming to know the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.)

We ended by saying that Satan seeks to keep people from trusting in Christ 1) by nurturing doubt in us (that is, getting us to question God’s Word and God’s goodness); by discouraging us (having us look more at our problems than looking to God); by having us question God’s promises, our salvation in Christ, and by making us feel like such failures that we give up and stop trying; and, if all that fails, then by tempting us to delay so that we’ll put off doing the good God wants done in the hopes that we’ll never do it at all!

So we must take the threat of spiritual attack seriously: Praying; reading the Bible; living by faith; and, keeping close and in regular fellowship with other Christians.

This week I thought it might be helpful for us to talk about

Why God may have allowed the devil’s rebellion, and why the Lord has allowed his destructive and rebellious work for so long;

What some of the devils schemes and ways are so that we can recognize when we are becoming overly-influenced by him and beginning to participate with him in his work; and,

How we can seek God’s equipping and equip ourselves to stand firm, and arm and armor ourselves against the devil’s tricks and snares.

So, what does the Bible say as to why God may have allowed the devil’s rebellion, and why He may have allowed his destructive and rebellious work for so long? Oswald Chambers wrote: “Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict…” He goes on to say, “Let me say I believe God will supply all my need, and then let me run dry, with no outlook, and see whether I will go through the trial of faith, or whether I will sink back to something lower… What is your faith up against now? The test will either prove that your faith is right, or it will kill it.” (My Utmost For His Highest, August 29.)

As many have before him and many since, Chambers proposes that God allows Satan and suffering for the same reasons that a loving-parent might allow their child to struggle and even to fail in the present (if failure is the result), so that that same child might overcome and succeed in the future.

To support this, the apostle Paul writes to the Roman-Christians: “We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Am I saying that the madness, horrors, and atrocities that Satan deceives people and manipulates them to are all worth it if we learn something by it? No. But I am saying that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18) “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

As we believe God we can see through Satan’s attempts to cause us to doubt or be discouraged, to feel defeated or to delay. Knowing that the conflict the enemy seeks to bring gives us opportunities to prove our faith, knowing that even Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), and knowing that our Father works every-thing together for our good, we can love and trust God through our troubles and trials knowing that our crucified-King does and will deliver and save, and if not in this life then in the life to come, as we keep on loving Him and responding to His call.

As far as Christians being influenced and manipulated by the evil one, Simon Peter is a great example: When Jesus first shared with His disciples about His upcoming sufferings and crucifixion Peter couldn’t take hearing that, so he cut Jesus off and tried to correct and set Him straight. But Jesus told Peter that he was being used by Satan at that moment to discourage Him and distract Him from God’s things. So we can see that a person doesn’t have to be “demonized” or “possessed” to be used by, oppressed by, influenced by, or manipulated by the devil. And in that interaction with Peter, Jesus shows us how we can recognize when Satan is trying to do it.

Jesus said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan! You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Mark 8:33) So even though the devil has no power over those who have the Holy Spirit on account of their faith in Christ, we can be vulnerable to be influenced by the devil when we want something so badly that it doesn’t even bother us that it might not be what God wants! Adam and Eve show us the same thing.

In the beginning God told Adam, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the Garden—except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” (Genesis 2:17) Even so, after listening to the devil Adam and Eve decided that the Tree of Knowledge was beautiful, and that its fruit looked delicious. And they wanted the wisdom it would give them. (See Genesis 3:6)

Where was Simon Peter’s focus? Not on what the Son of God had just told him God wanted but on what he – Simon Peter – wanted; not on what the promises or sovereignty of God offered, but on what he as a man could imagine and understand. Where was Adam and Eve’s focus? Not on God’s Word and what He’d commanded but on what they wanted; not on what the Lord had told them was spiritual-truth but on what appeared to be true to their eyes… And the same is true for us.

We can want things so badly. Think with me, for a second: What do you really want? What have you, perhaps, always wanted? … What if God seemed to want something else for you? And that conflict of wills can get us acting like the devil, can’t it? We can find ourselves deceiving – telling little white lies, trying to get our way; we can find ourselves accusing – saying things about others that may or may not be true, but that we think might help us get our way; directing those around us away from what God has said in His Word or away from seeking God in His Word or in prayer so that they might hear our side of the story so that we might get our way…

And yet, deceiving is what the devil does. Accusing is what the devil does. Drawing people away from God is what the devil does. And when we find ourselves doing these things we can be sure that – whether we realize it or not, whether we want it or not – we’ve been listening to the devil, and he’s succeeded in influencing and/or manipulating us and using us for his work…

We can also become aware that such things are going on around us simply by what we see going on around us: Christians set against each other, trying to get their way, talking about one another instead of to one another, pushing their position instead of seeking God’s position, strife, conflict, competition, splitting up into “us” and “them”…

Of course, it can all be more personal.

An indication that Satan might be seeking to block God’s purposes for your, or someone-around-you’s, life is when the temptations you’re experiencing seem especially strong, or when you find yourself beginning to rationalize giving-in and doing something you know is not of the Lord. In such times, call on Jesus. There is power in His name because when we call on Him He is present, with us. And when you realize you’re under personal attack, that’s the time to spend extra time in the Bible and prayer; that’s the time to get others reading the Bible to you and praying for you (since those can be times when it can be difficult to read and pray); and, perhaps, that’s even a time to consider fasting. (We’ll talk more about fasting another time; or you can ask me later if you sense you’re in the need for such things right now.)

Jesus faced every temptation you and I will ever face, and He did not sin. So study the Gospels. Watch Him. He is our role-model and mentor in all things, including how to overcome temptation and stand firm against the devil.

Which brings us to our last piece: How we can seek God’s equipping and equip ourselves to stand firm, and arm and armor ourselves against the devil’s tricks and snares?

And we do that by looking to Jesus: What do we see Jesus doing?

We see Him praying. (Sometimes late into the night. Sometimes all night long!) We know He’s in the Word because we always see Him quoting the Scriptures, and giving different Scriptures as the evidence for the different words He’s speaking or actions He’s taking. We see Him boldly living for God. And we see Him always in the synagogue or at the Temple with God’s people, or always on a hillside or in a boat with God’s people, or always taking a journey with or eating a meal together with God’s people. Always with God’s people. (And, of course, that’s where we got our list from that we closed with last week.)

And you may look at that list and say, “I already know all that, Pastor.” But I will ask you, are you already doing that? Most Christians know they should pray and read and study God’s Word and live surrendered to the Holy Spirit and keep in close fellowship with God’s people. But according to numerous and frequent polls taken by Christian organizations, not many Christian people actually do these things. And it’s not the knowledge of Jesus’ ways that save us. It’s having faith in Him enough to do them that we find ourselves transformed and empowered.

As a matter of fact, the majority of Christians share that it’s only when they are going through hardship that they more regularly pray and attend worship services. (Though hardship does not seem to influence Bible reading or living by the Spirit.) As a father myself, if I knew my kids needed my help each day but found that they only came and talked to me when they were in some kind of trouble, I’d allow them to get into some trouble, too!

We need to be doers and not merely hearers if we want to stand with Jesus against the wiles of our adversary.

Let’s review:

The Father wants us to understand the devil’s ways and scheme’s, and to understand His Own almighty plans and purposes for allowing Satan’s ongoing influence and work. At the heart of that is our Savior having so much more for us than just 40, 80, or 100 or so years here in this life. He’s preparing us for forever! For eternity! And all these hardships and heartaches Satan can try to stir up around us will all be so much more than worth it for all that He’s preparing us for!

The Father wants us to guard our will and our desires. When our wills are contrary to His will we make ourselves vulnerable to the evil one if we seek to get our own way and are not seeking God’s way.

When in weaknesses or vulnerabilities we sense the devil’s attacks to be too much for us, we need to call on Jesus, read the Bible more and pray more and have others read the Bible to us and pray for us and, if led to, fast.

Of course, as in all things, we need to be keeping our eyes on Jesus and always doing what He did and would do: Praying all the time (as we’ve already said); reading and studying the Bible (as we’ve already said); taking the Word of God into ourselves with the intention of living it out of ourselves – living and abide in Jesus so that He’s living and abiding in us!; and, keeping in constant touch with other Christians for the already-mentioned encouragement, advice, prayer, and support that are only available to us when we’re firmly established in the Body of Christ.

It’s a war we’re going through here – at school, at home, in our workplaces and neighborhoods. But it’s a war that has already been won on the cross and where defeat has already been conceded at the empty tomb. These troubles and trials that Satan’s been allowed to bring in the hopes of leading us away from God are simply the final skirmishes. No less threatening; no less deadly. But they are almost over. Stand firm. And keep your eyes on Jesus, and your heart and mind set on all He’s bringing with Him when He comes.



August 31, 2014 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

The Revelation 12:1-12 [NLTse]
Then I witnessed in Heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.
3 Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her Baby as soon as it was born.
5 She gave birth to a Son Who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her Child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.
7 Then there was war in Heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. 8 And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. 9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,
“It has come at last—salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”

Sermon

This is a very sketchy memory, but let me try to share it with you. My family and I were living next door in the Manse and I remember waking up in the early morning hours – it was, perhaps, three or four o’clock – and I woke feeling terrified. Opening my eyes I remember seeing a man standing in the far corner of our bedroom, just standing there looking at me. He was dressed in a dark suit over a white shirt with a dark tie on. He had dark brown hair parted on the side and, to my eyes, he looked kind of like me. But I knew I was seeing the devil.

I’ve never before been so afraid that I couldn’t move, couldn’t even open my mouth to speak, but that’s how I was in that moment. I thought I was going to burst from the terror quaking inside of me! (I guess that’s what it’s like when people say they were “paralyzed with fear”.)

Lying there frozen, helpless, all I knew was that I needed Jesus. But I couldn’t open my mouth to speak! So I cried out to Him in my mind, so afraid, so desperate, as I stared at this very normal-looking but terrifying-to-my-soul figure across my room. And as I thought of the Savior and called out to Him in my mind my jaws and lips got a little bit of movement and I remember mumbling, “Jesus, Jesus,” and then being able to speak freely, “Jesus, Jesus, please help me,” or something like that. The next thing I knew the well-dressed me-looking man – the devil – was gone…

Some days ago I received the following email from a lady in our congregation:

I believe that Satan has planned the destruction of the work that the Lord has for this church and community… He always does this by attacking from within…

We always have a hard time recognizing who the enemy is, and attack each other instead of uniting and fighting the real enemy. We lick our wounds and walk or run away from the battle instead of holding together where we are strongest: In prayer and love together.

I was thinking about how the Roman army used to fight. They would form a “turtle”, each one covered by the shield of the others so that no weapon could penetrate the armor; each dependent on their training and each other for protection. Surely this is what God intends for us to do as believers. We cover each other, not just ourselves. No weapon that is formed against us shall prosper. We forget that we are one body, fit together for the purposes of God, and when we stand together the gates of hell shall not and can-not prevail.

This is the word of the Lord and it rings true and sound in our hearts: We are here to lift up Christ, and the message He sent us to proclaim, not our own feelings, desires, and agenda. We have been so conditioned to asserting our rights in this world of selfish, prideful greed that we do not always remember what He has saved us from, or the purpose He has for His body.

I believe that Satan has planned the destruction of the work that the Lord has for this church and community…

And then yesterday I received an early-morning phone call from one of you who had had an awful dream about me that you needed to share: That you’d seen me across a room from you, talking to a big man. We were passing a clipboard between us, so you thought we might be doing some business together. But you said that you saw letters behind the man that suddenly spelled out ANTICHRIST!

Add to all this that lately different ones of you have been sharing with me about evil situations you’ve been in and evil times you’ve been going through. (Your words, not mine.) So when earlier this week another person told me that they hoped I would preach about Satan sometime soon, my response inside was, “Do ya think?”

The Bible gives us a clear portrait of who Satan is and how he affects our lives. Put simply, the Bible defines Satan as an angelic being who fell from his position in heaven due to sin and is now completely opposed to God, doing all in his power to thwart God’s purposes.

Ezekiel 28:12-14 seems to be describing Satan as having been created one of the cherubim – apparently the highest created angel – and of being first among them. Satan does not look like the cartoon character in the red suit with a tail and horns and a pitchfork. In their heavenly state according to the Bible, cherubim are creatures up to 18 feet tall with 8 foot-long wings. In the prophet Ezekiel’s vision (1:10; 10:1-14) the cherubim had four wings, and under their wings were human-like hands that could be used to carry things. All the surfaces of the cherubim, including the wings, were covered with eyes. Each cherub had four faces, “the first was the face of an ox, the second was a human face, the third was the face of a lion, and the fourth was the face of an eagle.” The New Testament book of Revelation describes similar creatures, only with six wings each, with faces of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. So, these creatures look nothing like the cute little cherubim you can buy for your garden or bookshelf.

The prophet Isaiah (14:12) possibly gives Satan’s pre-fall name as Lucifer, describing him as being “perfect in beauty,” and adorned with all kinds of precious stones. He wanted to receive the worship due to God alone.

Satan convinced one third of the angels to rebel against God. So Michael, one of God’s archangels, fought with God’s warrior-angels against Satan and his “fallen” ones, with Satan losing the battle and being cast with his angels-now-demons from Heaven down to earth, where he took on the form of a snake in the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve. (So, apparently, he can take on the forms of other creatures, as well.)
That being said, and with such fearsome grandeur described, let’s be clear that Satan is not God’s opposite, equal, or counterpart – he is not the yin to God’s yang, the darkness to God’s light, the evil to God’s goodness – as he is often portrayed. No. Satan is a created being. His defeat is described in the short and sweet words of The Revelation where, after deceiving everybody on the earth to turn against Christians, the Bible says, “But fire from Heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the Fiery Lake of Burning Sulfur… tormented day and night forever and ever!” (20:7-10) Big build up; no contest.

Clearly Satan’s no match for God, but what about us? Is the devil more powerful than we are? Should we be afraid of him?

I’ll answer that by saying, if by “we” you mean human beings, then, yes, Satan is more powerful than human beings because Satan is the king over human beings; he is the king of this world and his is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. (Ephesians 2:1-3) But in his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul makes clear that on account of our faith and trust in Christ that Christians have been “rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of His dear Son.” (1:13)

Now it is God’s Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – that lives in our hearts! So if by “we” you mean Christians, then, no, in Christ the devil is no longer more powerful than us, and although we need to be aware of him we no longer need to ever be afraid of him.

We’re going to talk about this more next Sunday, but since myself, the church, and several of you seem to be object of Satan’s attention right now, let me end by sharing what I hope are a few practical things. First, remember that Satan is a deceiver, a slanderer, and an accuser and that his only power over Christians is when we believe his deceptions, his put-downs, and his accusations.

As I mentioned earlier, Satan’s single-minded intent is to thwart God’s purposes in the world, and, of course, God’s purposes in the world are to bring people to Himself through faith in Jesus. The devil does that by attempting to nurture doubt in us; getting us to question God’s Word and God’s goodness. (DOUBT) He does that by discouraging us; having us look more at our problems than looking to God. (DISCOURAGEMENT) He seeks to draw us from faith by having us question God’s promises, our salvation in Christ, and by making us feel like such failures that we give up and stop trying. (DEFEAT) And if none of these other tactics will work, he will tempt us to delay, so that we’ll put off doing the good God wants done in the hope that it never gets done. (DELAY)

So, first and foremost we must take the threat of spiritual attack seriously. 1) Our main defense is prayer, routinely asking God to protect us from the evil one and to help and strengthen us. 2) We need to be in the Bible to recognize Satan’s style and tactics and so that we can know God’s truth from the devil’s deceptions. 3) We need to believe what we read in the Scriptures and put it into practice in our daily lives. 4) Christian fellowship is of the utmost importance so that – like described in that email – we can live out this koinonia-life we’ve been saved into: Protecting one another in our prayers and God’s truth, and helping one another in our times of weakness. (Again, we’ll look at all this more closely next Sunday.)

Satan probably likes this depiction of him, since most people (including many Christians) are then apt to disbelieve in his existence. And when he is a “non-existent” force in people’s lives, Satan is then free to influence them without being discovered as the cause of many or any of their problems. However, the Bible says that Satan is a beautiful and powerful fallen angel, who would like to do nothing more than take away the joy of Christians through deception, and lead people into rebellion against God. Although Satan is destined for the Fiery Lake of Burning Sulfur, the Bible also makes clear that he will deceive entire nations and kingdoms before his final end comes.
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So, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:8-9) Yes, “Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)



August 24, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Gospel According to John 9:1-17 [NLTse]

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.[a] The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”

11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”

Sermon

One of the reasons I believe and love the Bible is because it deals with the hardest issues in life. It doesn’t sweep painful things under the rug, or complex things or confusing things or shocking things or controversial things. In fact, it seems Jesus sometimes went out of His way to create controversy with the Pharisees and others so that more truth about Himself and about unbelief would come out, so that we could be warned by examples of hardness and drawn near by images of His glory.

One of the hardest things in life is the suffering of children, and the suffering of those who love them—especially when that early suffering turns into a lifetime of living with profound loss. The issue may be autism or Down syndrome or spina bifida or blindness or any number of rare and hard to pronounce conditions. Each has its own peculiar sorrows, its own peculiar ways of turning lifetimes into what you never dreamed or planned they would be. Married life is changed from what you thought it would be. Everything is irrevocably changed, and life will never be the same again. And God didn’t ask you.

What would I do as a pastor if I had to face these things—these children, these parents—with a Bible that said nothing about what they are going through? What if I was stuck thinking up my own ideas about suffering and disabilities and illnesses? What if all I had was human opinions on such things? I thank God that this is not our situation. Suffering and sorrow are woven through the Bible. This is one of the things that makes it so believable to me. It is filled with things that God has said and done to shed light on our sufferings and sorrows.

It is no accident that after telling the crowds in the Temple that He was the light of the world that having noticed this man-born-blind the Son of God repeats it, saying, “I am the light of the world.” God’s light has come into the world, and it is shining on disabilities and sicknesses and on everything else. God has not left us to alone to despair of any meaning, nor has He left us alone to have to make up our own meaning.

Our reading begins saying, “As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth.” He is a man now. But he was born blind. And it did not go easily for him. We meet his parents later in verse 18. But they were not able to care for him at some point, so he’d become a beggar. We know that because of verse 8: “His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’” So he was blind and he was desperately poor. Life had been very hard.

Jesus saw the man as he passed by. And the disciples saw that Jesus saw him. Verse 2 says, “Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” That question is key. But notice that the interaction did not begin with the disciples’ question, or even with the disciples seeing the blind man. It begins with Jesus seeing the man: “As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth.” The disciples have noticed the blind man because Jesus noticed him.

And just as an aside, I would ask us – all of us – see people with disabilities. Notice them. Engage with them. And I don’t mean see them or notice them like the priest or the Levite in Jesus’ parable about our neighbor, passing by on the other side. This is our natural reflex: To see, be uncomfortable, and avoid. But you and I are not natural people. We are followers of Jesus. We have the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts. We have been seen and touched in all our brokenness by a Savior Who has seen and noticed and engaged us.

If you want to be one of the most remarkable kinds of human beings on the planet – a true follower of Jesus – see people with disabilities. See them. Notice them. Engage them. God will show you what to do and say.

When the disciples saw Jesus’ attention to the blind man, they asked for an explanation of the man’s blindness. “Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” Jesus answers their question but not as they’ve asked it. They are seeking to understand the cause: What caused his blindness? The man’s sin? Or his parents’ sin? Is his blindness a punishment for sins his parents had committed, or is it a punishment for his own sins – some kind of punishment-ahead-of-time for sins God knew would come along?

And Jesus answers. But He doesn’t speak to the cause of the blindness. He points them to its purpose.

Jesus says, basically, specific sins in the past don’t always match up with specific suffering in the present. The explanation for this man’s blindness is not found by looking for its cause but by looking for its purpose. “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

(Notice that Jesus is not denying that suffering came into the world because of sin. It did. Genesis 3 and Romans 8:18+ make clear that if there had never been sin then there would never have been suffering. All suffering is because of sin. And part of the meaning of the physical horrors we see going on around us is so that human beings might recognize the moral horrors of the sin we commit and that is committed all around us.

It’s a fine distinction: That the existence of sin in the world is the cause of suffering in the world, but that specific sins in the world are usually not the cause of specific sufferings in the world.)

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” So the explanation of the man’s blindness lies not in the past causes but in the present and future purposes!

Now, there are some pastors and teachers who do not at all like the idea that God might will a child to be born blind so that some purpose-of-God might be achieved. One of the ways they try to work around the teaching of this passage is to say that God had nothing to do with the man’s blindness but that his blindness merely gave God the opportunity to display His mighty works by restoring the man’s sight.

But that teaching doesn’t fit the context.

The disciples have asked for an explanation of the blindness, and Jesus’ answer is given as an explanation of the blindness. If you try to argue that God had no purpose, plan, or design in the blindness, but simply finds the blindness later and uses it, that doesn’t answer the disciples’ question. They want to know why he is blind? And Jesus give them an answer. He’s blind because God has purpose in it. There’s a plan. God means for His power to be seen in Jesus’ healing him.

Another reason that “work around” doesn’t work is that God knows all things. He knows exactly what is happening in the moments of our conception. When there is a defective chromosome or some genetic irregularity in the sperm that is about to fertilize an egg, God can simply say, “No.” He commands the winds. He commands the waves. He commands the sperm and the genetic makeup of the egg. If God permits a conception that He knows will produce blindness, He has reasons for it. And those reasons are His loving purposes. His grand designs. His eternal plans. God has never birthed a child for whom He had no plan. There are no accidents in God’s mind or hands.

And so, any attempt to deny God’s sovereign, wise, purposeful control over conception and birth runs head-on into Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139:13, which say, “Then the Lord asked Moses, ‘Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord?’” and “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Jesus is saying to the disciples: Stop being so concerned with fault and blame in your concerns about suffering; nor should you give in to thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness or meaninglessness. Set your minds to the purposes and plans of God! There is no child and no suffering outside God’s purposes!

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

Now, this is not the whole explanation of suffering in the Bible. There are many other relevant passages and important points to make. But this passage and this point are huge! Suffering can have meaning, but it can only have ultimate meaning in relation to God.

Jesus says that the purpose of the man’s blindness was so that God’s power could be seen in Jesus. This means that for our suffering and any suffering to have ultimate meaning that God must be more important to us than anything else in life. More valuable than health; more valuable than our kids or our parents; more valuable than our husbands or wives; more valuable than life itself! Like many things according to the Bible, suffering makes no sense until God becomes more important to us than anything else.

For Jesus, blindness from birth and its challenges, poverty and hardship, etc… will all be worth it when God’s power is seen in Jesus through it all! In this case of the man-born-blind, God’s power shown in Jesus happens to be healing—the glory of God’s power to heal. And yet there is nothing that says it has to be healing. When Paul cried out three times for his thorn-in-the-flesh to be healed, Jesus said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I will let My power be seen, not by healing you, but by sustaining you.

And so, healing displays God’s power in Christ in John 9, and sustaining grace displays God’s power in Christ in 2 Corinthians 12. What is common in both cases is the majesty and supremacy of God: The blindness is for the glory of God; the thorn-in-the-flesh is for the glory of God. The healing is for God’s glory in Christ; and the non-healing is for His glory in Him, as well.

Suffering can only have ultimate meaning when seen in relation to the majesty and supremacy of the God Who is worth everything to us.

One last thing. Jesus says, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One Who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.” And so, Jesus is going to heal this man’s blindness. Jesus’ works are God’s works.

But He must do so quickly, because night is coming and His work will be over. Jesus will turn from a ministry of healing to a ministry of dying. He will turn from the “day-work” of relieving suffering, and do the “night-work” of suffering in our place.

And we could join the disciples in asking: Why? Who sinned that Jesus must suffer? And the answer would certainly be: Not him. We did. That is the cause of His suffering. But that doesn’t explain it. The explanation is that Jesus suffered so that the power of God might be seen in Him: The works of wrath-bearing; and curse-removing; and guilt-lifting; and righteousness-providing; and death-defeating; and life-giving; and – in the end – suffering-removing—totally removing.

For “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4). Because every time we embrace sorrow and engage disability and face loss in faith to display the power of God in Christ, we display the power of God in us as spoken in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

May God give us eyes to see that the display of His power in His Son’s suffering and in our sufferings and in our children’s sufferings are all expressions of His love.

A special thank you to Pastor John Piper, upon some of whose work this sermon is loosely based; desiringGod.org.