The Works of God

Video of Matins here. The sermon begins around the 16:45 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It seems like any time a disaster comes around—whether it’s a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, virus—there are people in various corners of the world who want to claim that it’s God’s punishment on that place: on the unbelievers, the pagans, those who have committed some particular sin. The problem is that once Jesus appears on the earth, God’s people are not essentially within one nation, as Israel was. Now, God’s people are scattered everywhere, in every nation, every people, every language. So if God is punishing a particular place, then Christians are also receiving the brunt of that punishment—not just the pagans, unbelievers, and “sinners.”

But we’re always looking for someone to blame: maybe our own authorities didn’t act quickly enough; maybe it’s the fault of some foreign government; maybe it’s the fault of those who don’t listen to instructions and infect everyone else. Who is to blame? Who sinned—maybe not in the moral sense, but in the civic sense.

Jesus’ disciples ask Him that question as they walk past a blind man begging by the side of the road. And they must have been at least a little familiar with the man, because they know he was born blind. Who sinned, they say, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Who is to blame? It sounds like the question that some other people asked Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Some people come to tell Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus says, Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they died in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. And then Jesus gives His own example: Or those 18 who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them; were they worse sinners because they died in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

So Jesus answers His disciples: it wasn’t that this man or his parents sinned that is the cause of his blindness, but the purpose is so that the works of God might be revealed in him. Because it is necessary for us to be doing the works of God, of the one who sent Me, now, while it is still day. Because night is coming when no man can work. When you’re dead, your working is over. Work is for now.

So Jesus begins the revealing of the work of God. He spits on the ground, makes mud with His spit, and puts it on the man’s eyes (Jesus doesn’t practice social distancing), and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. (What is it with Siloam and its towers and pools, and Jesus?) The man goes and washes and he comes back seeing. But that’s not the end. Jesus doesn’t do things like this as ends in themselves. His works are signs pointing to Himself and what He has come to bring and do. But there are people who can only see what’s happening on the surface. Like Nicodemus, when Jesus talks about being born from above by water and the Spirit. Nicodemus can only hear being born “again,” in the same way he was the first time. Or when Jesus speaks to the woman at the well. Jesus is talking about giving her the Holy Spirit by which she might be born from above into eternal life, and at first she can only hear about magic water that will make her not have to come to that well anymore.

And here, everyone’s focused on the fact that the man who was born blind can see physically. People who know who he is aren’t even sure it’s the same man; maybe it’s just someone who looks like him. His parents know that it’s him and that he was born blind, but they don’t know how he can see. The leaders of the Jews are focused on the fact that Jesus made mud on the Sabbath, which seems about the least important thing out of all of them. But it’s all about the man seeing physically again.

But that, in itself, is not the work of God that Jesus has come to do. Earlier in chapter 6, after Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish, some people asked Him, What must we be doing to be working the works of God? And Jesus said, this is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom He has sent. So when Jesus hears that they have thrown the man out of the synagogue, Jesus finds him and says, Do you believe in the Son of Man? Who is He, that I may believe in Him? You have seen Him, and He is speaking to you. Lord, I believe, and he fell on his knees and worshiped Jesus.

This fixing of the physical sight was a sign of the fact that Jesus has come to fix people’s sight so that they can actually see Him and believe Him. He says that He has come for judgment, for division, to make the blind seeing and those who can see blind. Some Pharisees hear him and say, We’re not blind, are we? And Jesus answers them in a way that tells us that He has indeed come to talk about sin, just not in the way the disciples asked their question. If you say that you are blind—who is He, that I may believe in Him?—then you have no sin remaining to condemn you. But if you say that you can see—which means that you look, and you judge, and you decide—then your sin remains on you, rather than being removed by the Lamb of God who lifts up and takes away the sin of the world.

Later, Jesus will tell His disciples that because He came doing all these works, people see Him and hate both Him and His Father. They see Him, but they don’t really see Him, because they don’t believe that He is from the Father. That’s the entire question running through John’s Gospel: where is Jesus from? Does He come from God? Did He make it all up in His own mind? Did He come from the devil? The leaders of the Jews say, We don’t know where He came from. That’s true. They don’t believe that He has come from God to make all things right. But the blind man is no longer blind: I believe! And He worships.

Jesus has come to do the work of God. The Father is working until now, and I am working, He says. If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father. I and the Father are one. And that work is to reveal the Father to all those who are in darkness. He has come for judgment: and the judgment is that the Light has appeared in the world, but people loved the darkness more than the Light, because their works were evil. But Jesus has appeared to overcome the works of darkness. The Father sent Him into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Look and Him and see God’s love and God’s salvation. You have seen Him; He is the one speaking to you.

Wherever the works of darkness, and the effects of sin and death are in the world—every kind of sickness and death and lack and wherever bodies do not work the way they are supposed to—in your circumstances and mine, Jesus is continuing to do the works of God. He says to His apostles that they will do greater works than His—which is that the works of God will be spread much farther than the area that Jesus walked during His earthly life. And so He has done His work in you, so that you believe and continue believing that He is the one whom God has sent into the world. And the goal is the same as it was then: that in the eternal life He has given you by Word, and water and the Spirit, and His flesh and blood, that you say: I believe! That you worship Him; and He will raise you up on the last day.

Everything He does is for that purpose, to show you that He is that resurrection and that life. He opens ears to hear Him now, eyes to see Him now, minds to know Him now, so that all bodies and souls will be set right in His eternal life.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/21/20

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