So that Everyone Who Believes in Him…

Sermon for Sunday, March 19, 2023 || Lent 4A || John 9:1-41

(Part Three of Sermon Series on John 3:16 – Part One – Part Two)

Today we are going to continue our four-week sermon series on John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Two weeks ago, we talked about God loving every nook and cranny of the universe. Last week, we talked about what God did because God loved the universe; namely, God gave God’s only son to show us how to enter into the story God is telling. We’ll finish up the series next week, but first we’ll tackle the next phrase: “so that everyone who believes in him.”

The thrust of this sermon is very simple: Jesus will always be present. That’s the simple idea at the heart of this sermon. But I’ve got to warn you. I’m going to over-complicate things for a few minutes before returning to this simple and beautiful idea: “Jesus will always be present.”

I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth repeating today. In John’s Gospel, “belief” is synonymous with “an abiding relationship.” Belief is not assent to a certain set of doctrines. Belief is a movement of the individual towards Jesus, even as Jesus constantly and continually moves towards the individual. When “belief” crops up in the Gospel, it often accompanies Jesus staying with people or deepening their relationship somehow. Last week, the Samaritans believed upon Jesus staying with them for two days. Later, Jesus will tell his disciples, “Believe in God, believe also in me”; and then he shares with them that he will bring them to where he is in eternity. (More on that next week.) 

And in the most famous passage about belief, the disciple Thomas is not with the others when they see the Risen Christ. “We have seen the Lord,” they tell him. And Thomas responds: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The next week, he’s with them and Jesus returns. He gives Thomas the opportunity to fulfill his wish to touch him, saying, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” In the end, Thomas doesn’t need to touch Jesus to believe. They are together, and that’s enough. Then Jesus says something that seems a little harsh if we think it’s directed at Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

But this line is only partially directed at Thomas. Its real audience are the people reading or hearing the Gospel, both at the time it was written down and now (Us!). “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In other words, “I will have an abiding relationship with countless people who never got to meet me in the flesh, and God’s blessing will be with them because of that relationship.”

And this brings us to our Gospel reading today, the story of the man born blind. It also brings us to the overly complicated part, but I think it’s important to understand this story. So strap on your thinking caps. The Gospel takes place in three different time periods. There is the time period of the events of the story itself (Jesus’ day, around 30 A.D.). There is the time period of the people who are writing it down (around 90ish A.D. for John’s Gospel). And there is the time period of the people reading it (that’s us in 2023). With me so far? Good.

Oftentimes, the life experience of the community that is writing down the Gospel bleeds into the narrative. That is, the second time period, sort of, invades the first. This phenomenon explains the story of the man born blind. Jesus appears only at the very beginning and very end of the story. The rest of it is the man’s struggle to be taken seriously by the Pharisees and other people in the synagogue. After several back and forths, they “drive him out” of their midst and cast him away from their community. It’s the same word used to cast out demons.

The thing is, the language used during this chapter is a bit anachronistic to Jesus’ day. There were definitely people challenging Jesus’ message, yes, but his followers weren’t getting kicked out of their local gatherings yet. There just wasn’t enough of a formalized group of followers for that to happen. But this kicking out WAS happening at the time the Gospel was written down. At that time, the Jews who believed Jesus was the messiah had begun drifting away from the Jews who thought the messiah was still to come. And the separations were not always amicable. The new Christians (and even this term was barely minted yet) often felt lost or abandoned when they were no longer welcome in the faith communities that had raised them. Their anger and sadness is palpable in this passage, as channeled through the man born blind.

But so too is their belief, their desire for that abiding relationship with Jesus. What happens at the end of this story? Jesus hears that the man who had been blind was driven out like a demon. And Jesus goes and finds him. The man is the lost sheep in the parable, whom the shepherd seeks out. It’s no wonder, then, that the very next piece of John’s Gospel is Jesus saying he’s the Good Shepherd. Jesus goes and finds this man, who doesn’t even know what Jesus looks like because last time they were together he couldn’t see. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks him. He answers, “And who is he, sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”  Jesus says to him,  “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  The man says, “Lord, I believe.”

Lord, you have come to me.
Lord, you searched for me when I was lost and afraid, and you found me.
Lord, you promise to be with me always, and I trust that promise.
Lord, I believe.

Those late first century followers of Jesus were feeling lost and alone too. And like the man born blind, Jesus came to them through their belief, through that abiding relationship that sustained them during those difficult days of separation.

The third phrase of John 3:16 says, “so that everyone who believes in him…” This belief is not some sort of test to get into the club. This belief is the very relationship between Jesus and the believer, a relationship that Jesus will never forsake or abandon.

Photo by T. Kaiser on Unsplash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s