April 3, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Why are some children born with "birth defects"? Why are some children born without limbs, blind, deaf, or with Down's Syndrome, bi-polar, and other diseases? Who or what is the cause of these children being born disabled -- or "differently abled"?
Jesus is no longer in the Temple as we rejoin the Gospel of John -- He is walking along the road:
And we see first, the disciples held to a false dichotomy.
A "false dichotomy" forces a choice between two options, when there are more. For example: Is the sky green or red? The correct answer is neither -- it's blue. Another example would be: Are you dumb or just incompetent? When it may be that you are neither dumb, nor incompetent.
And so we read:
"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'”
Jesus and the disciples passed a man -- an adult -- who was born blind. His blindness was not caused by an accident. It did not happen later in life. He was born blind.
The disciples held to the common false dichotomy that if a person was born with a physical imperfection, it was due either to the sin of the child in the womb or due to the sin of the child's parents.
Let's consider these options:
One possibility was that the sin of the man's parents caused him to be born blind.
We can understand this: if the parents engaged in excessive drinking, smoking, illegal drugs -- even prescription drugs, there is a chance that the abuse -- the sinful use of these substances could -- cause damage to the child in the womb -- including his being born blind.
Another biblical expression of the parents' sin bringing injury to the child is that other sins may be held against future generations:
About idols, God warned, "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me," (Exodus 20:5, ESV).
And Jeremiah said, "You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts," (Jeremiah 32:18, ESV).
God, indeed, has said that He may punish the descendants for their fathers' sins.
What about the child in the womb? Can a child in the womb sin and be punished for sin in the womb?
The answer must be "yes," at least in this sense: we are conceived as sinners.
David wrote, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5, ESV).
David was acknowledging -- not that his mother sinned in his conception -- but, from the moment of conception, the child in the womb is a sinner, because of the sin nature we inherit from our first parents. Adam and Eve were our representatives in the Garden, and they sinned, and the guilt and the corruption that followed from that sin is borne by every mere human being. This is what we call "Original Sin" -- the results of the sin of our first parents is that every mere human being is a sinner at the moment of conception and, therefore, under God's Wrath.
Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18, ESV).
Due to the sin of our first parents -- who were our representatives -- at the moment of conception, every mere human being is conceived, in the womb, a sinner inclined towards sin, having a sin nature.
So, God may, indeed, punish children in the womb for their sin.
This false dichotomy is seen in the way the Job's "friends" responded to his suffering -- their basic argument was, "Job, you are suffering horribly, therefore, you must have sinned horribly." God takes them to task at the end of the book and tells them that they were completely wrong -- Job's suffering had nothing to do with his sin.
It is often the way we think in our culture: "What goes around comes around. Karma, baby."
Well, no, not in this life. In this life, some people suffer horribly for no known reason, and some people get away with terrible evil and do not seem to suffer at all.
Justice says that if you sin, you should be punished. But God is merciful and patient. So God does not immediately give us the punishement we deserve for our sin -- thank God -- but He is merciful and patient -- for if anyone repents and believes in Jesus savingly, Jesus bears the penalty for our sin and credits us with His reighteousness, and we are saved.
The disciples asked Jesus, "Was this man born blind for his sins or his parents'?"
But the sin of the parents and the sin of the child aren't the only options, are they?
A third possibility is that, due to the fact that all of Creation has been corrupted by the sin of our first parents, a child may be born with an infirmity, not for a sin of the child or his parents, but due to the general state of the fallen world. "Everything is broken," as Bob Dylan sings. In a broken world, things are broken because it is a broken world.
And there is still another possible reason:
We see, second, some children are born disabled that the works of God might be displayed in them.
"Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'
And we might find that disturbing: sometimes God gives a child disabilities that God would be glorified in him and through him.
Paul explained it this way:
"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:20-24, ESV).
God can justly do whatever He wills with His creation -- including us.
Do we want to be used by God -- for the Glory of God? Do we trust our Heavenly Father to use us in the best way -- in the way that will bring Him the most glory -- and us the most joy?
Some of us are familiar with the story of Joni Ericksen Tada. In 1967, the 17 year old Joni was swimming, and she dove into the water. She broke her neck, and has been a quardriplegic ever since. She married in 1982. She is a world renown painter, author of over fifty books, traveller and speaker, CEO of Joni and Friends -- an organization which advocates for the disabled, and she is a profound, sound, joyful, and thankful Christian.
One of her favorite quotes is from the Rev. John Newton, the author of the hymn, "Amazing Grace":
"Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: 'Why is this bush not burned up?' The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God's sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God -- with the same grace -- who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God's persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives." — John Newton (http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/jonis-favorite-quotes/).
Joni lives in extreme and constant pain, but the way she lives has been an inspiration and a help and an encouragement to those who suffer in many ways, and God is given the glory, because she says she can only continue and have hope and bear with her disabilities because God is Glorious and gracious.
Would she prefer not to be a quadriplegic? Of course. But, if her being wounded is they way others are drawn to see the glorious salvation of God through Jesus Christ, then she is thankful and satisfied.
We, as Christians, understand suffering and the Sovereignty of God in a way that non-Christians don't. We can be thankful and have joy in great pain and frustration when they cannot, because we know that God does all things according to His wise plan, and He sustains us know through all tribulation, and promises to restore us in the Kingdom.
Would I prefer to have never had sarcoidosis? Yes. And I joyful and thankful that I have sarcoidosis? Yes. Because God has shown me His Grace through my suffering and He has turned others to Him and been glorified by them through what God has done and conintues to do through me.
Now, that does not mean that we should not pray to be well or to seek medical treatment. We should -- I do. And if it pleases God, I know He can heal me.
And we see at the end of this passage that it was God's intention to heal this man of his blindness to bring glory to God and to give this man joy, thankfulness, and the hope of salvation.
But first, we see Jesus tell the disciples that He had work to accomplish while He was on earth.
"'We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
What was Jesus telling them?
First, He was telling them that God the Father sent Jesus to accomplish His miraculous ministry with the disciples during a certain time limit.
Jesus called the time of His ministry "day." He, as the Light of the World, was shining in the world, exposing the darkness, preaching the truth, doing those things to break the power of darkness over people -- such as healing them. All sickness, suffering, infirmity, etc., is a result of our first parent's sin, and Jesus had a mission to heal certain people as a sign that He is, indeed, God the Savior.
Second, He was telling them that the time was coming when He would no longer be physically on earth, and His ministry of healing to prove that He is the Savior would end.
While Jesus was in the world, He was the Light of the World -- He exposed people to the Light through His earthly ministry. But that would come to an end -- He would not always be on earth proving Who He is as the Light through His ministry. Once He was ascended back to the Father, He would not be on earth again to witness to Himself.
This is not to say that God no longer heals. He does! But Jesus is not here on earth healing any more -- and when He returns, it will not be necessary.
Jesus was telling the disciples that He still had works of healing to do that would expose Him for Who He is -- and this man was born blind and lived all these years as a blind man, so the day would come when Jesus would come by and heal him and make Himself know through healing him.
So, does this mean anything for us? We are not first century disciples. Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father.
Much like the "Parable of the Good Samaritan," we can take this away from Jesus' statement: we ought not be so concerned with how a person came to be in need as we are concerned with what may be done for him in Jesus' Name.
Job's friends might have been useful to him if they looked for ways to comfort him in God, rather than trying to figure out what the sin was that made him suffer.
We do well to do what we can to help people with disabilities in a way that they know that what we do is for the sake of Jesus Christ and His salvation, rather than trying to tell people what their problem is or what they did wrong.
Finally, Jesus healed the man in a way that revealed Who Jesus is.
"Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam' (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing."
Jesus spit on the ground and made mud and spread it on the man's eyes. Why?
We're not told.
Couldn't Jesus healed the man with a word or a touch?
Yes, we have seen Him do that elsewhere.
Here we are not told why Jesus used this method for healing the man -- except, perhaps, that it fit well with the pun that Jesus wanted to use to reveal Himself.
We will remember that Jesus had been teaching -- again and again -- that He was sent by the Father to do the Father's Will -- that He did not come on His own to do His Will, but He was sent by the Father.
Now, some will argue that Jesus' saliva had healing properties, which is heresy. Or that the mud was a special medicinal mud, which is highly unlikely. Most likely, Jesus wanted to make this pun:
Jesus -- the One Who is Sent -- sent the blind man to the pool named "Sent" to receive his sight. The Sent sent the man to Sent to be healed.
And he was -- the man's eyes were opened and he was able to see.
Jesus was sent to earth to heal as a means to people understanding that He is God the Savior. Jesus only healed on earth in His physical body while He was here. Although God continues to heal, it is not as Jesus on earth.
There are many reasons people are born with disabilities, including God's desire to use them with their disabilities to glorify Him.
So, let us pray to find ways to help and encourage those with disabilites -- especially to give them hope in Jesus and His Gospel. Let us be quick to listen and hear the stories of those in need and slow to judge the reasons that they have need.
And let us pray that we -- in whatever way we might suffer or have pain or disability -- would be able to see God's Grace in those things and know how we might glorify Him through our disability and find joy and thanksgiving in Him as well.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for this history of the man born blind -- that You make clear that You are Sovereign over whatever condition we might find ourselves and that You may even use suffering and disability to draw us and others to You and to glorify You through those infirmities. Help us to be patient and to look to You in hope in all that we live through on this earth. And may You be glorified in all that we say and do. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.