That The Works Of God Might Be Displayed

John 9:1-4 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.


Good morning. As you may know, my family and I were on vacation three weeks ago and for the past two weeks I’ve been working on a number of backlogged ministry projects; especially thinking carefully through the nature and content of our worship service. I look forward to sharing some of the fruit of my labor with you all in a sermon in the coming weeks.

I want to publicly and enthusiastically thank Pastor Mike for preaching for the last three weeks. Thanks on a practical level for freeing me up to go on a vacation and to work on liturgy. But thanks even more for handling Haggai so well. I strongly suspect that the ideas of “consider your ways” (first sermon) and “Jesus as consecrated flesh, made an unclean woman clean when she touched the fold of His garment” (last sermon) will stay with me for a long time.

With that, welcome back to the Gospel of John. In case you’re just joining us or just lost track of where we are, we’ve made our way to John 9. Overall, John wrote his Gospel in order to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ, in order that they/we might believe in Him and gain eternal life. To zoom in a bit more, John 9 wraps up three chapters dedicated to Jesus’ teaching and interactions (primarily with Jewish leaders) at the Feast of Booths, just six months before His crucifixion. And zoomed in further still, John 9 records Jesus miraculously giving physical and then spiritual sight to a man born blind and the various reactions those things produced.

We’ve already considered the healings (1-7, 37), the responses (8-34), and Jesus’ interpretation of it all (35-41). This morning we’re going to consider more carefully Jesus’ explanation for the man’s blindness. In particular, we’re going to consider the significance of the question “Why?” in times of suffering, the prevailing notion of the source of suffering in Jesus’ day, Jesus’ counter-cultural answer, and then a few broader truths on God’s relationship to suffering in the Bible. The main point of all of this is that God is working in and through every hardship in order to display His glory and bless His people. The main takeaways are for unbelievers to learn repentance from their suffering and for believers to find hope in the midst of every trial, knowing that God is working in and through every one.


One of the most consistent questions we ask when faced with hardship is, “why?”. It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked as a pastor when tragedy strikes. I’ve regularly asked it myself in times of deepest sorrow. The underlying assumption of the question seems to be that enduring a trial or loss is more bearable if we know there is some kind of good behind it or that will come out of it. Trials are hard. The idea that they might be in vain is harder still. And so, we long for an explanation that will help us endure them when they come.

This response—the impulse to ask “why” when life is hard—is not new to us. It has been the steady response of mankind since the beginning of mankind.

Long-barren Sarah wanted to know why the children she’d so longed for struggled so mightily within her when she finally became pregnant (Genesis 25:21-22).

The daughters of Zelophehad—fatherless, brotherless, and without any male relatives—wondered why their father’s name should be blotted out when it came to distributing land in the Promised Land (Numbers 27:1). Likewise, the descendents of Joseph wondered why their portion in the land was so small even though their numbers were large (Joshua 17:14).

Moses wanted to know why God would make His “wrath burn hot” against His chosen people (Exodus 32:10-12) and why he was forced to carry the burden of leading such a grumbling bunch (Numbers 11:11).

Many of God’s people wondered why God did not answer their prayers at times (Saul (1 Samuel 14:41), David (Psalm 10:1), the author of Lamentations (5:20, Jeremiah?), and Habakkuk (1:2)).

Because of the tremendous suffering inflicted upon him by Satan, Job wondered why God allowed him to live past birth (Job 3:11) and why God had marked him for suffering (Job 7:20). Jeremiah wondered why his pain was “unceasing” and his wounds “incurable” even though he faithfully served the LORD (Jeremiah 15:18). And in a remarkable prayer, in a season of suffering, Isaiah wondered, ” O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?” “Isaiah 63:17”.

God’s people often wondered why the wicked prospered while the righteous suffered (Jeremiah 12:1).

The disciples wondered why they were unable to cast out a terrorizing demon (Matthew 17:19). And at the death of Jesus, they doubted and were troubled, wondering why that happened and what had gone wrong (Luke 24:38).

Undoubtedly, the blind man of John 9 wondered this as well. Why was he born blind? Why did he need to suffer as he did? Why was he forced to beg in order to survive? Why had God allowed him to endure such hardship? Interestingly, however, it was not the blind man’s wondering that brought the question to Jesus, but the Disciples’. Consider with me the first two verses of our text for this morning.

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi…[why is it] that he was born blind?

The heart of the Disciples’ question was why the man had been born blind. Their question came in a different form, one that assumed something that wasn’t true (which we’ll consider in a minute), but their basic question was an attempt to grasp the reason for the man’s blindness.

As we just saw, the “why” question was altogether common throughout the Bible. When asked with humble hearts of faith, it is a good and God-honoring question. Let us continue to ask that of God, Grace Church. In our times of trial it is a desperate declaration that God is uniquely wise (He alone knows the reason), He is uniquely good (He cares most about our suffering), and that He is uniquely sovereign (He alone is able to do something).

And yet, while asking the question is common, what’s far less common is a clear and direct answer from God in real time. God’s Word gives us general principles (some of which we’ll consider in a bit), but we often long for the specific reason for our specific suffering that never seems to come.

I imagine you can relate. How many times have you asked God “why” during a struggle only to be met with what felt like silence and distance? How often have you longed for an explanation that would make sense and set your mind at ease (even a little bit) only to have David’s prayer come to mind (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever”? How long will you hide your face from me?”)? Again, for God’s good purposes, that was the case most of the time for most of the people in the Bible as well.

But if ever there was an opportunity for an answer, though, this was it, right? Jesus was right there with the Disciples. They were standing in front of the blind man (Who, incidentally, was not deaf. We have to wonder if he heard the question and was as eager to hear the answer as the Disciples). Would the Disciples get an answer? Or would Jesus leave them wondering of the mysteries of God yet again?


Before we find out whether Jesus would answer them plainly, we need to first consider the answer the Disciples (wrongly) assumed.

Again, asking “why” in times of hardship is a nearly universal phenomenon. In similar fashion, the spectrum of answers given is as wide as the spectrum of those asking the question. Hardship is so common that it’s nearly impossible to function in this world without the ability to make some sense of it, to be able to explain it on some level.

The Jews in Jesus’ day, including the Disciples, were no exception. When it came to the kind of suffering experience by the man in front of them—a lifetime of blindness—they wanted to know why and believed they had an answer. Look at v.2.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Why was the man born blind (or, why was anyone born with any kind of disability)? The prevailing answer among the Jews at the time of John 9 was: sin. The man was born blind, they assumed, because someone had sinned and was being punished by God for it. The only question in their minds was: whose sin.

There is some warrant for this idea. Certainly some physical suffering is the result of God’s judgment. Pharaoh (along with all of Egypt) was covered in boils for refusing to let the Israelites go (Exodus 9), Miriam became leprous for going against Moses (Numbers 12:10), Ananias and Sapphira were both struck dead for lying to the Disciples (Acts 5), and taking communion wrongly still results in some becoming physically sick (1 Cor. 11:30).

What’s more, Exodus 20:5 seems to teach something like what the Disciples were wondering.

Exodus 20:5 …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…

Jesus Himself taught a version of this in chapter 5.

John 5:14 Afterward [after Jesus healed a paralyzed man] Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

The main point for us to see is that there is significant biblical warrant for the Disciples’ suggestion. Sometimes suffering is the result of God punishing people for sin.


And yet, while the Disciples’ suggestion was possible, Jesus immediately dismissed it.

3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents…”

Disciples: We know that this man’s blindness is the result of God’s judgment on someone’s sin. But whose sin was it?

Jesus: You’re wrong. The source of his blindness had nothing to do with some in utero sin of the man or pre-conception sin of his parents. Your focus is too narrow.

Jesus was not, of course, suggesting that the man or his parents were sinless; only that their sins weren’t the cause of the man’s blindness. While sin is sometimes the cause of suffering, it is not always the case. This means, therefore, that there must be other reasons for congenital blindness (and other types of suffering). Indeed, there are.

For instance, at God’s suggestion, Job suffered tremendously at the hands of Satan because of his righteousness (Job 1:8). The Disciples suffered for their faithfulness to Jesus, consistent with Jesus’ promise (John 15:20). And, most significantly of all, according to God’s eternal plan, Jesus was entirely without sin and yet He suffered more than anyone else ever has in order to save the world from sin (Luke 22:44)! Indeed, there are a number of reasons why people, even the people of God, suffer.

If not for the reason of his own sin or that of his parents, and given the fact that there are numerous other possible reasons for suffering named in the Bible, why had this man suffered blindness for so many years? That brings us to the rest of Jesus’ response. Would He answer that question?

3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents … but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Was this an answer to their question or not? What did Jesus mean? There are a couple of grammatical/exegetical possibilities. That is, there are two ways to read Jesus’ reply that would be consistent with John’s choice of words.

  1. The first possibility was that Jesus was directly answering the “why” question. According to this reading, His answer was that the man had been afflicted by God with blindness from birth, not because of anyones sin, but in order that Jesus would heal him and God would be glorified through that healing. That’s definitely what it looks like on the surface; and even more so in translations like the NIV (“But this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. “
  2. The second possibility was that Jesus was not directly answering the “why” question. That is, there’s a way to read Jesus’ words as dismissing the Disciples suggestion, but not offering an alternative explanation. Instead, according to this second reading, Jesus bypassed the larger “why” question and simply explained that regardless of the underlying reason, God was about to be glorified through the man’s blindness. It is possible to translate the passage like this: “Neither this man sinned nor his parents [that’s not the reason for his blindness]. But so that the works of God may be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of him who sent me…”.

Before going any further, before settling on which possibility is most likely, we need to consider a few things.

  1. As I said, there’s nothing in John’s wording that privileges, much less necessitates either of the two possibilities. Both are genuinely possible.
  2. Some have suggested that the first possibility seems out of God’s character; that God would never cause someone to be born blind and suffer like that. There might be something worth considering about this, but the same power of God that was able to heal the man presently, was certainly also able to prevent his blindness in the first place. An omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being is not “off the hook” for the suffering of His creatures simply because He didn’t directly cause it. A legitimate theodicy (satisfactory explanation of God’s relationship to evil) must offer more than that.
  3. Along those lines, the primary reason many recoil at the first possibility is because they are thinking in horizontal terms rather than vertical ones. What I mean is that twenty years of blindness is really hard compared to those who do not suffer from blindness. But twenty years of blindness compared to the eternal conscious torment the man deserved for his sin looks a lot different. Likewise, being healed of blindness is a great blessing if only in this life. But the idea of being blind for years in order to be the means of such a significant display of the glory of God is a honor all should long for (like the Disciples who rejoiced that they were considered worthy of suffering for Jesus’ name in Acts 5:41).
  4. If God’s promises to make ALL THINGS work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28-29) are true (and they certainly are!), then we really are able to consider it all joy when we face trials of any kind. Faith in this kind of promise means believing that suffering a lifetime of blindness at the benevolent hand of God, according to the perfect purposes of God, for the glory of God, is infinitely better than a lifetime of sight.
  5. Combined, these things help us to see that not only are both possible theologically as well as grammatically and exegetically. They are both consistent with the character, nature, and promises of God, and are, therefore, both good possibilities.

This means that it is the larger context of Jesus’ words that will point us in the right direction rather than anything in the words themselves or the goodness of their meaning and implications.

With that said, largely because of what I’m about to explain, it is generally agreed that the second alternative is the more likely possibility. Jesus was probably not speaking directly to the why question. Instead, again, He was most likely correcting the Disciples’ false understanding (that all such suffering was the result of God’s judgment) and at the same time preparing them for the awesome display of physical and spiritual glory He was about to unleash!

Physically, of course, the blind man was about to be miraculously made able to see. Jesus was about to open the eyes of his head. And as a result, perhaps for the first time in his life, he’d be able to see God’s creation, appreciate physical beauty, provide for himself (not have to beg or be a drain on his parents), and be free from the judgment and pity of others. If that were all the blessing Jesus gave the man, it would be sweet indeed.

But far, far more significantly still, the blind man was about to be miraculously made able to really See! That is, Jesus was about to open the eyes of his heart. And as a result, certainly for the first time in his life, he’d be able to see the holiness of God, the true nature of his sin, his need for cleansing and forgiveness, and the unique sufficiency of the Man standing before him to rescue him from his sin, to reconcile him to God, and to grant him everlasting life.

Grace, don’t miss this, while we might want this passage to help us better understand God’s relationship to suffering, that’s probably not what it’s for. What it is for, however, is just as glorious. It helps us to see a number of equally profound spiritual truths.

While the man’s sin was not the cause of his physical blindness, it was the cause of his spiritual blindness. And so it is for you and me and all mankind.

As this man was born physically blind, so are we all born spiritually blind. That’s why Jesus could stand right in front of the man and he could remain unmoved; even as you and I can read the very words of God, live in the very world created and governed by God, and be continually in the very presence of God and not be stirred.

The fact that the man’s physical blindness led to all kinds of awkwardness, difficulty, and suffering is a vivid picture of the effects of our spiritual blindness. Being born without spiritual sight leaves us (even if unknowingly) stumbling and suffering throughout our lives. We cannot live as we were made to while we are spiritually blind.

That the man was a beggar on account of his physical blindness helps us to see the spiritual poverty common to us all in our sin-wrought spiritual blindness.

Just as the man was powerless to bring about physical sight for himself, so too was he powerless to bring about spiritual sight for himself. And so are we, Grace. We are unable to save ourselves. We need God’s grace.

Ultimately, Jesus’ healing of the man’s lifetime of physical blindness was primarily meant to sharpen our understanding of His (far more glorious) healing of the man’s (far more serious) spiritual blindness. The man’s physical healing, as awesome as it was, paled in comparison to the greater gifts Jesus gave him—spiritual healing and right worship.

What’s more, finally, practically, and the main reason it is believed that the second possibility is the right one, is found in something strange you may have noticed in vs.3-4. Jesus didn’t say that the man’s blindness was that the work (singular) of God might be displayed. And he didn’t say, “therefore I (Jesus alone) need to work the (singular) work of him who sent me.” He said that the man’s blindness was that “the works (plural) of God might be displayed” and that “We (Jesus and His followers) must work the works (again, plural) of Him who sent me.”

In other words, this encounter is about more than Jesus healing the man for the glory of God. It is about all of Jesus’ followers, including you and me, participating in the continual works of proclaiming the gospel to the world and sacrificially living it out in the world, that the world might be given spiritual sight through it for the glory of God!

This whole encounter is ultimately about providing a picture of the effects of sin and our need to be rescued from them, Jesus’ unique ability to accomplish that rescue, and helping Jesus’ followers see the privilege we all share of participating in Jesus’ rescuing work.

Practically, then, Grace Church, do not neglect to do the works of God that His glory might be displayed. As Pastor Mike said, consider your ways.

When you speak to your spouse or kids or friends or neighbors, determine to speak in a way that gives life.

When you spend your money, determine to do so in a way that shines the light of Christ.

When you plan out your week, determine to do so in a way that is most likely to help the blind to see Jesus.

When you go to work or stay home with the kids, determine to work the works of God.

When you engage your neighbors, determine to look strange in their eyes as you bring the gospel to bear for them.

And when you interact with those who are suffering, determine to care for them as God cares for you even as you remember that their physical suffering is a picture of the spiritual suffering common to us all apart from Jesus.


Although Jesus likely didn’t directly answer the why question, as I mentioned, that is not to say that the rest of the Bible doesn’t have more to say. I want to close by giving you eight all-too-brief truths about suffering.

  1. All suffering is the result of sin. Some is the direct result of our own sins or the sins of others and some is the indirect result of the brokenness of our world due to sin. Where there is no sin, there is no suffering. Not all suffering is the result of the particular sins of particular people, but all suffering is the result of sin’s destructive power.
  2. For unbelievers, there is no guarantee of any goodness (for them) to come out of their suffering. God has not promised anything good in or out of the suffering of those who continue in their rejection of God.
  3. For unbelievers, even the worst suffering on earth is but a foretaste of the eternal wrath of God that awaits them in hell. That is what it means that the wages of sin is death.
  4. 2 and 3 because that is the seriousness of sin and rebellion against a holy God.
  5. For believers, however, as I mentioned earlier, not one ounce of suffering is ever wasted. If your hope is in Jesus, not a single moment of discomfort will be in vain. We ought to rejoice at every bitter experience in the certain knowledge that God is using it to glorify His name and work a greater good in us through it than we could ever experience apart from it.
  6. For believers, there is also the certain promise that God will end all suffering and restore all the effects of all suffering in the new heavens and new earth.
  7. 5 and 6 because God is good, wise, and sovereign over every genetic anomaly, renegade cell, natural disaster, and sinful choice. Even those things are tools of God to bring about the redemption of the world.
  8. There is some mystery in how all these truths fit together, but there is clarity in the fact that the Bible teaches them all. That means that however we make sense of our suffering and that of the people in our lives, it must take these things into account if it is to be true.


Since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, suffering has been in the world. But Jesus came to overcome the destructive forces of darkness and sin, and so He has! Through faith, we are united with Jesus in His victory and assured that one day all our suffering and all its effects will be no more. Look to Jesus, therefore, do not fear the suffering of this world but use it to point people to Jesus; and therein work the works of God while it is still light.