Light for Our Pain (John 9:1-41, I)

Here’s the manuscript for the sermon I gave today in Karis Church. You can download the audio here.


Knowing the Light Who Shines Through Our Pain | John 9:1-41, pt. 1 | 12.02.18

Back in the summer of 2015, I got a call from an intern - my assistant at the time  - a healthy guy in his early 20s. He had been to urgent care. They immediately rushed him over to the ER. He had some irregularities with his heartbeat. They brought him in for observation. I visited him there. We talked and joked. He seemed pretty normal. It seemed like no big deal. I left. And then everything went south in a hurry.

They found he had an infection around his heart. They never could figure out where it came from. But he started crashing soon after that. I remember coming back to the hospital. My wife, who’s a nurse, and who has a background in cardiac nursing, looked at me, and said, “It’s really bad.” They ended up life-flighting him that night to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. Amy was sure he wasn’t going to make it through the trip. Derek drove us both to the Lou, while I literally read a book about how to conduct a funeral on the way. I slept a few winks on the floor of that hospital waiting room that night. And somehow he made it through.

But that led to months of struggle for the guy. His heart stopped multiple times. He went into heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure, and respiratory failure. His temperature at one point hit 108 degrees. He even caught pneumonia in the hospital. They put him on a machine that took over for his failing heart. They later inserted a device that would help his cardiac muscle pump. During the course of all of this - his heart stopping repeatedly and getting shocked over and over again back to life - he suffered a fairly significant brain injury. But somehow, our brother, Jake Gonzales, a man many of you know, survived. 

Jake later received a heart transplant. Because of his health care needs, he and his wife Ali, and his little girl, Eden, had to move on. But he’s alive. And he’s doing pretty well, considering. He’s improved so much. God spared his life. But he knows his new heart will only last so long. And he’s now significantly disabled.

But why? I spent much time in the hospital with Jake’s family and friends - including many of you here. That understandably kept coming up. Why? Why would God allow this? All of these trials? For this great man? Now it’s easy to ask the same question. One minute Jake and Ali are planning to go to L.A. and help plant a church. Now he has this permanent disability. That’s no longer an option. Why? Why Lord? Why would you do this? Are you not powerful? Are you not good?

Jesus gives us some answers here in John 9. I’m not going to pretend that it makes everything easy. But the Lord brings some clarity. He gives some comfort here. One thing is sure: the Bible doesn’t shy away from taking hard issues head-on. And it never gives easy, pat answers to our questions - despite what you might have heard. We’re going to spend a couple of weeks here in this important chapter in the book of John. Here’s what we learn today: the light of the world shines into the darkness of our trials, bringing purpose and hope.

Jesus Brings Truth

After dodging stones and leaving the temple, Jesus and the disciples pass by a “man blind from birth.” That’s how John chapter 9 starts. And there Jesus first brings the truth. Doesn’t He? His followers ask their teacher a question in verse 2. And this is a question that everyone would have been thinking in that day. And, of course, one that we still ask today. Why, Lord? Specifically, they say, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Whose fault was this, Jesus?

Now this was the common way of thinking in that day. They didn’t want God on the hook. They didn’t want to blame Him. So they blamed the person or the people around the person. Either he sinned. And yes, they thought that could even happen in the womb. Or maybe His parents sinned. Maybe the mom was acting like a pagan while pregnant. Somebody sinned - most likely him - or he wouldn’t be blind. Which was it Jesus?

On the surface, this sounds dumb. But it’s really not that far from our world. Some people attribute suffering to sins done in a previous life. Right? If we’re honest, we sometimes look at those who look different from us. We wonder if their disabilities might have come from instabilities in their parents’ pasts. We can also look at people that are struggling and shake our heads. Why couldn’t they have “overcome” like those other people? What have they done? Or maybe not done? 

Maybe worst of all, some so-called Christian teachers today reinforce this idea that suffering comes from sin. It comes from a lack of faith. If you’re a Christian, they say you’re healthy and wealthy. That’s your new birth-right. Otherwise, something’s wrong with you. You’re obviously not godly. But they don’t know their Bibles or our God.    

If you’ve ever read the book of Job, this is the kind of logic Job’s “friends” drop on him in that story. It’s obvious why you’re suffering so much, dude! You’ve got sin in your life! But they’re the ones that get rebuked by God in the end. Now Job isn’t sinless - we find that out, for sure. But there’s no specific sin that brings about what happens to him. 

Now that’s what is so important to understand. Yes, we live in a fallen world. In one sense, a general sense, all suffering flows from sin. It does. Sin has marred God’s creation. It’s affected us, too. We’re all under a curse. Yes, sometimes specific sins lead to specific sufferings. That happens. Of course. But generally, that’s not the case. 

The disciples here - and the Pharisees chime in, too - they try to make things really simple. They ask this guy who seems to know everything to let them in on the secret behind the story. But He knows far, far more than they realize. And they open a box maybe they don’t really want to open. But from it bursts out all kinds of hope.

What does Jesus say? He brings truth to the situation. He says a couple of things. First, this man’s blindness hasn’t come about due to human causes. See verse 3. It wasn’t him or his mom or dad. 

Second, it came about due to God’s purposes. Specifically, Christ says “that the works of God might be displayed in Him.” What’s He mean? God allowed this. I think that’s better than saying God caused this. He permitted it in this man’s life so that God’s work could be seen in him. The Lord purposed it so He would receive glory through this man’s healing. So that the Light of the world could shine in him and through him.

Let’s think about what that means for a minute together. Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” We stand before a sovereign God. One who is completely in control. Even in some way over sin - without being the author of sin. In some way over suffering - without being its direct cause. He’s completely and totally sovereign. 

That means He rules over the pain. It’s not there apart from His will. It’s in our life because He in some way allowed it to be there. And He has a purpose for our pain. Ultimately, it’s for His glory. It’s so our lives could be a stage on which His wonders are displayed for the world to see.

Now I realize that raises some questions. What if I can’t see the purpose? But is that really such a surprise? Does that make Him less God or more God if we can’t understand? If He’s God, don’t you think He’s gonna be bigger and wiser than we are? Isn’t He going to have purposes we’re not going to grasp? Just because we can’t see the purpose, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Augustine once wrote, “If you understand, it is not God you understand.” It makes sense that most of the time we wouldn’t see. At least until we’re on the other side, when we look back. Then, so much of it will be clear.

Here’s another question you might have. What kind of God is that? He leaves someone blind, so He can heal him and make himself look good. And He clearly doesn’t heal everyone. So what about all those other people? Is that a loving God? 

Now I realize this is a tough one. But again, love doesn’t always feel or look like love. Good earthly parents sometimes do hard things that get easily misunderstood. But those things are for their kids’ good. 

And let me challenge you here: that kind of thinking reinforces this idea that people with disabilities don’t have anything to offer. Or they don’t have anything good happening in their lives. Weakness in one area often leads to much strength in another. Maybe a good, loving God is doing something in them - in us - that’s worth far more than just being able to see. 

My wife and I moved a year and a half ago out of an older house into a newer one. And boy are we glad. We got so sick of everything breaking in that home. It seemed like we were fixing or replacing something every week. Now imagine if this had been my approach in that house. I hate those carpets. I’ll just yank them up. Those sinks are dripping. I’m going to tear them out. Those windows are drafty. I’m getting rid of them now. That roof is ugly. I’m gonna rip it off. Let’s just say I take an ax to the place. I start destroying it. You know, at the end of the day, it’s me who has to live in it. Right?

You say there’s no purpose to be seen. You say you don’t see a God of love. Therefore, you’re going to reject Him. You’ve got to live with that. The alternative is worse. You still have the suffering. You just don’t have the purpose. You have purposelessness. You have mindlessness. And with it, no hope at all.  

And let me tell you, I like the house where I’m living. I don’t have everything figured out. It’s not like all my questions are answered. Things aren’t easy. But there’s a blessing living here. I have some clarity. There’s a purpose to my pain. The light of the world shines. He brings light. I can’t see everything. But I see Him. I see His hand. And that feels good. It does. Jesus brings truth here. Hear that truth with me this morning. Embrace the clarity it brings. The light of the world brings purpose to our pain.

Jesus Brings Love

Jesus brings something else here in this passage. Doesn’t He? Second, He brings the love. He engages this man. Notice what the Pharisees - and really Jesus’s disciples - do here. They end up condemning the man. They no doubt would have just ignored the man. But not Jesus. 

Verse 1 says He passes by this guy. He also sees the man. Let’s not skip over that. What tends to happen to those who are suffering? I’m talking the woman who’s blind. The man sitting on the corner crying. They tend to get avoided, right? People quietly move to the other side of the street. Jesus doesn’t do that.

So much of the time, those people aren’t even noticed at all. We just don’t have time for them. We’re too much in our own little worlds. Those people really have nothing to offer us. Jesus sees this man. He brings him to the disciples’ attention. And soon to the Pharisees. Jesus draws near to the hurting. He sees them in their pain. 

But what else does Jesus do? He heals the man, right? Look at verses 6 and 7. He gives him eyesight - something he’s never experienced. There the Lord points back to the garden, where sin and suffering were nowhere to be found. And He points ahead to the new heavens and new earth, where there will be no more pain and no more tears at all.

There’s a lot that could be said here. We’ll get to more next week. But why the mud? Why the pool? How was Adam created in the beginning? You remember? From the dust of the earth. It seems like Jesus is being symbolic here. He’s getting the new creation party started. With some mud. He’s pointing ahead to that glorious day. 

The pool’s called Siloam. See what that word means, in verse 7? It means “Sent.” Jesus has been saying who He is throughout the gospel of John. He’s God. He’s the great “I AM.” He’s also the “Sent One.” 

He is the One sent to redeem the world. He is sent by the Father to make all things new. To restore the fallen creation. To raise our suffering bodies. That’s who He is. He shows us that here.

He’s a Savior. He’ll redeem all things. But He’s not just a Savior. He’s a suffering Savior. Go back to verse 4. What’s with these confusing words? “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” What? Jesus there is doing this miracle - this work, and many others - in the time He has left. The time remaining before His death. 

That’s what He means by the “night.” The night is His death on the cross. When that comes, He’s no longer there to do works on earth like this healing. But that death - on that Roman cross - is the work of all works. Right? It’s the work that brings redemption. His suffering pays for the sins of the world. His blood is the cost of the redemption of all things. He enters our darkness to bring us into the light.

But more than that, His sufferings - on the cross, but throughout His earthly life - mean that Jesus knows our pain. He enters into it with us. We can’t say that God doesn’t understand. He does. But He also provides a way out of it. He gives us hope in it. 

Back to those words in verse 4. So Jesus isn’t working now? No more healings here? None in the future? No. He sent His Holy Spirit. He is here working now. Working through us, His people, the church. And one day, He’ll return, bringing full and final healing. This work we see here in John 9 gives hope to this blind man. But it also brings hope to us. 

Now I know this side of the story also raises questions. You look at this world filled with sin and suffering, and you may wonder. “Why isn’t God doing anything? Maybe He doesn’t care.” But how do you know He’s not? Have you thought about how things might be if He completely removed His hand? If His Spirit wasn’t at work in our earth? How terrible might things be then? Maybe He’s far more at work than you think.

Of course, you also might make the other argument people have made forever. Not that He’s not loving or good. But that He’s not powerful. Maybe kicking butt and taking names isn’t His point or goal. Maybe He wants His power displayed in another way. Maybe in weakness. Isn’t that the way the Christmas story started? With the Son of God in a barn? Isn’t that what we see displayed on the cross? His power in weakness. Maybe His ways display more power, and not less. But if it’s His power you want, one day, we’ll certainly all see it. 

My kids are getting older, and they’re better with this now. But we still have our food battles from time to time. I’m not talking about food fights. I’m talking about disputes over what’s on the plate. I don’t like that. I won’t eat this. Some of you are new parents. You’re in that world right now. The key is not giving them options. If you treat supper like a residence hall cafeteria with them, you’re setting yourselves up for trouble. Here’s what we’re eating. If you don’t eat it, you’re gonna get hungry!

Again, how great is the alternative? You say you don’t want this God who you don’t think cares enough or who you say isn’t strong enough. But get rid of Him. Whatcha gonna eat now? What’s left? I may not always understand what’s on the plate. It might not always taste good in my opinion. But what it brings is hope. Eat up, friends. Our Lord, who we may not completely understand - and again, that’s good - gives us hope. Don’t stuff your face with things that kill you. Embrace Jesus. 

In Him is great blessing. Light doesn’t just bring clarity, the ability to see. It also brings warmth. It brings comfort. That’s what Jesus brings. In our sufferings, He warms our hearts with hope. Redemption is coming. Redemption is here. Jesus loves us. He doesn’t avoid us. He sees us. He runs up to us. He embraces us. He heals us. Although He may not always heal our bodies now, one day He fully will. He’ll wipe away all our tears. Receive His comfort. The light of the world brings hope in our pain. 

Bringing Truth and Love

So truth. Love. Into our sufferings. That’s what Jesus brings. And He wants us to bring the same things to others. Did you know? We’re meant to be “sent ones,” too. All around us, people are hurting. They need to hear this purpose. They need to hear this hope. They need truth and love, too.

But, as we do, we have to keep a couple of things in mind. We need balance in these two areas, don’t we? It’s so easy to preach at people about purpose in their pain and not really show much love. We can go off with our mouths and not really lend a helping hand. 

On the other hand, we can do things to help and not really bring any truth to the situation. And we know people need that just as much.

Related, we don’t just need balance. We need sensitivity. Remember Job and his “friends?” What did they do? They just preached. They went off at Job about his supposed sin. They didn’t listen. They didn’t observe. They just threw out religious cliches. And again, at the end the Lord was not pleased one bit. We have to be balanced. We have to be sensitive. Otherwise, we’re going to hurt and not help.

But you know, I think as we help, we’re so often the ones that are helped. Our friend Jake is finding purpose in His pain. God is using Him to teach so many of us about ministering to those with disabilities. He’s bringing God glory. In a recent article on his blog, Jake quotes Scott Sauls, who says this: 

I firmly believe that the greatest beneficiaries of this relationship are not the people among us who have special needs but those of us who get to be in their company. (Scott Sauls) 

As we help, as we seek to share the truth and love of Jesus, we find truth and love. Jake then writes this:

“When most able-bodied, non-disabled people think about the value of loving and befriending the disabled, the common thought is that they’re going to make a big difference through their kind-hearted efforts to get to know people who need their love and friendship. But that’s wrong. The undertone of superiority comes through as a savior complex to the disabled, they are perceived as ‘less than’ and ‘helpless.’ But that’s blind. Loving and befriending the disabled will benefit you more than them and you will have your eyes opened.

As you love and befriend the disabled you will find yourself realizing we are all broken and needy. It’s been said that the brokenness made visible in the life of someone disabled is a mirror of the inner brokenness that we all share. We have fallen short and sinned against God, so seeing our brokenness kills any hint of pride in ourselves. Also, seeing that the visible neediness of the disabled is a direct reflection of all our neediness to be righteous before God. Jesus’ substitutionary atonement makes us righteous before God the Father, so our needs are met to take away our guilt.” (Jake Gonzales)

As we seek to bless, we’ll be blessed. But we so often don’t seek to bless. We’re wrapped up in our own little worlds, and we avoid and don’t even see those around us who are hurting. And we’re especially unlikely to notice those with disabilities. 

We find ourselves buying into the mindset of our culture. That the lives of those who don’t seem to be the fittest aren’t worth messing with. And maybe they shouldn’t even have survived.

One day, wheel chairs ramps won’t be needed. The blind will see the glory of Christ. The deaf will hear and join in on the songs of angels. Mental illness will be no more. Disabilities will be eradicated by grace. 

But shame on us as a society for trying to eliminate them now - either through annihilation or through marginalization. That’s not the way of Jesus. He saw. He drew near. He touched. He healed.  

I’m so thankful to be a part of a church where people pour out their lives for the disabled. They choose vocations that help those with disabilities. They advocate for them. They willingly adopt them. They spends their days and night caring for them as loving moms and dads. And if you say you’re going to do a project to benefit those with disabilities, people don’t see it as a waste. They dump money in the basket. Now that’s a congregation where the Spirit of Jesus is at work.  

This passage speaks narrowly to caring for those with disabilities. And it more broadly applies to loving those around us in whatever suffering they find themselves. Karis, let’s continue to be a place where we weep with those who weep. Let’s bring truth and love - what Jesus brings here - to each other, and to our world. 

Receiving Truth and Love

And let’s also willingly receive it from each other. We so much need those around us to remind us of the truth. That the Lord has a purpose for our suffering. Don’t we? We need people to love us - to see us in our pain and reach out and help. But a couple of things are required if we’re going to receive that truth and love.

It takes vulnerability. Right? We have to share our hurts. We have to open up about our pain. Most people don’t do that. That’s why most people stay hurting. We have to be vulnerable.

It also requires humility. We live in ‘Merica. We do things for ourselves. We’re rugged individualists. We don’t like looking weak. We don’t like accepting help. We don’t like people telling us what to do or think. But that’s not the way of the Christian. We believe God’s power is displayed in weakness. When we’re weak, we’re strong. In His strength. In His strength through those around us. 

In our pain, we need the light of the world. I can see that light. I can see His purpose. As you minister to me. As you bring me truth. And I can feel that light. I can sense its warmth. As I receive love from you. Karis, let’s continue to open up our lives to one another. Let’s experience His light together. 

Trusting the Light

It all comes down to trust. We have to trust each other. And we have to trust the Light of the world. We need to trust there is purpose behind our pain. We need to believe that there is hope for our pain. Some of us, I know, are stuck in darkness. You need to hear these words now. 

For sure, we’ll all go through periods where there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll need these truths. Maybe, like Jake, we’ll find ourselves with a disability. And our lives will be radically changed. Rosaria Butterfield shares some words that a mentor told her at a point of deep struggle in her life: “Rosaria, never doubt in the darkness what God has promised in the light.” We need to see Jesus here. We need to hear what He says to us. Hold on to these words. Store these truths away. Ralph Davis has said, “Must you not have your best theology for your darkest moments?” 

My daughter asked me recently what my favorite Bible verse was. I predictably said Romans 8:28. Listen to it with me: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Here’s the other problem with burning down your house or pushing away the plate. This promise doesn’t apply to you. For you, your trials are meaningless. And there’s no way out.

For the believer, though, there’s purpose and hope. If you’re His. If you love Him because He’s called you to Him, you know that your trials - all things - are working together for your good. They’re for His glory ultimately. But they’re also for your good. 

Those trials discipline you - they pull you back from harm. They grow you - they make you more like Him. Those trials refine us to see and believe more and more that Jesus is wonderful. They prepare us to spend an eternity in glory with Him. 

And it’s as we cling to Him in the face of difficulty and disability, that we make Him look beautiful to those around us. As we suffer with joy. As we show that He’s better than anything the world has to offer. That’s a theatre where Jesus shines!  

Hear what Jesus says here. “Your pain has a purpose to bring me glory. There is hope for you in the midst of it in me.” See Jesus drawing near to you in love. See the beauty of the light of the Lord. Rejoice, Karis. Rejoice. 

Jill Schilb is doing a fantastic job with this new podcast she’s doing. People are sharing their stories, and the thing that stands out in each episode is how God is bring redemption, and how He is showing His purpose for their pain. The best episode, of course, was with my wife, Amy. You need to listen to it. Her childhood was rough. She lost her mom from a freak tonsilectomy-gone-bad when she was a kid. She was then subject to all kinds of abuse. Adulthood also hasn’t been easy, as she’s dealt with constant sickness and pain. My personality and my calling don’t make things easier.

But in the midst of it, she sees God’s hand. And she’s feeling His redemption. Yes, she waits for that final day when all is made new. But she’s seeing His work in her life right now. Yes, she desperately wants to be healed. There have been so many dark days and months. 

But she realizes where’s she’s at may be better for His kingdom and even for herself. It’s beautiful. And it’s not just her who’s being impacted and changed. It’s me, my kids - even you, our church family.  

The story of Job starts with a man who’s done nothing to deserve His pain. It ends with Him being vindicated by God. He stays true to what He believes. But it sure is up and down along the way. The Lord takes everything away until all Job has is Him. And that’s enough for Him. That’s what Jesus also wants to do in us. Maybe we’ll glorify Jesus as He heals us. But maybe we’ll glorify Him as He sustains us in faith through suffering. Like Job. 

Here this formerly blind man worships Jesus. He says, in verse 38, “Lord, I believe.” Trust in Him - even when the skies are dark and the air is cold. Don’t let go. But it’s a whole lot easier after the healing has come. Right? When God’s purposes have been made clear.

Back in Mark 9, a dad brings his boy to Jesus to be healed - really exorcised. He’s rolling on the ground. He’s foaming at the mouth. He says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” The father responds, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” That may be our prayer so much of the time. “Help my unbelief!” 

Over in Luke 17:5, Christ’s disciples cry out, in response to His teaching, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus teaches them - even if you have the faith of a mustard seed - He can work with that. In fact, that honors Him - that drop of faith. Power through weakness again. You recognize that He’s your hope. You recognize that He’s even your hope for having a shred of faith at all. Trust in Jesus. Ask Him to hold on to you, even when you can’t find the strength to reach up and hold on to Him.    

The light of the world shines into the darkness of our trials, bringing purpose and hope. In this fallen world, there is so much sin and suffering. We feel in the dark so much of the time. But still the rays of Christ’s purpose and hope are shining through. It sure beats a world without him - with no clarity and no comfort - only darkness.

You probably heard about the shooting that took place over at Christian Fellowship yesterday. Thankfully, no one got hurt. But people are hurting. And that could just be the start of even more violence in our city. How can we bring light to our dark city? How can we draw near to it ourselves? I want to close with these words from Tori Kelly’s song “Questions”:

What happens when the healing never comes?

Do we stand and curse the heavens

Or lift our hands and feel the sun

The mystery's not clear

Just once, Your voice I'd love to hear

What happens when the healing never comes?

Karis, we have a choice. let’s not stand and curse. Let’s lift our hands into the light and feel the Son’s warmth. Let’s pray.