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A Life-changing Question / Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.”

Have you ever noticed how many questions you ask every day? We’re constantly learning from our environment, and asking questions is a big part of that. It’s the best way to learn. Usually. But you have to ask the right questions too. Not every question leads to greater knowledge. Some questions lead to greater frustration.

A few years ago, when the internet was fairly new, a woman named Nancy wanted to teach her elderly mother how to use it. So, she introduced her to the website “Ask Jeeves.” Before Google, “Ask Jeeves” was an early web browser and question-and-answer site. Nancy explained that she could type in any question her mother asked, and the website would answer it. So, Nancy’s mother typed in and asked, how is Aunt Helen feeling? So maybe Nancy should have explained the internet a little better. Maybe the internet can’t answer every question.

Which reminds me of a story that comedian David Brenner told. He had just boarded a crowded subway car, and the only seat he could find had a stain on it. So, he spread his newspaper on the seat and sat down. A man sitting nearby asked, are you reading that newspaper? Brenner answered, yes, then stood up, turned the page, and sat down on the newspaper again.

Not every question leads to greater knowledge. Some questions just lead to frustration. There’s a story of a man who hijacked an elementary school bus in South Carolina and took the bus driver, a bus monitor, and 18 school children hostage. This sounds like a frightening, even tragic, story. But I called it an amazing story because the kidnapper gave up and released all the hostages in less than six minutes. What caused him to give up on his crime? He got tired of the children asking him questions.

In an interview, the bus driver, said that as soon as the man got on the bus, the frightened children began asking him questions. First, they asked him if he was a soldier. The man said, yes. Then they asked him, why are you doing this? He never did have an answer for this one. They asked, was he going to hurt them? He said no. They asked, are you going to hurt our bus driver? He said, No. The man sensed more questions coming and I guess something clicked in his mind and he said, enough is enough already, and he told me to stop the bus. It was at this point that the hijacker herded the adults and children off the bus. They were all unharmed. He took off with the bus but was later arrested.

Isn’t that amazing? An armed man attempting to hijack a school bus was so frustrated by the children’s questions that he set everyone free after under six minutes. Some of you who are parents of small children understand this completely.

I thought about the importance of asking the right questions as I read our Bible story for today. There are 42 verses in the story of Jesus healing the blind man, even though we only highlighted 17 of them. And in those 42 verses, there are 15 questions. Our passage opens with an ignorant question and ends with a life-changing question. In between those two questions, a bunch of people have to confront what they believe about God. And if we’re listening closely, we might even do the same.

Today marks the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, a period of 40 days set aside specifically for Christians to reflect on the events leading up to the death of Jesus. Our Bible story opens with Jesus and His disciples having just left the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

It sounds like an ignorant and insensitive question to us, but it really wasn’t. In their time and culture and religious teachings, they related God’s blessings with health, wealth, and security. Sometimes we do the same thing. But in our lesson, they reduced this man to a condition, that is his blindness, to a consequence, punishment for sin. And in this very question, the disciples have reduced God also. They made the Almighty God into a divine bug zapper whose primary purpose is to zap the unrighteous any time they break the rules. What the disciples were really asking here was, what separates people from God? That’s the first thing I learned from this story. The disciples sincerely wanted to know what separates people from God.

And I think about the blind man here, the object of their unwanted attention. Don’t you think he asked that question hundreds of times in his life? He’s never even mentioned by name in our story. Others only refer to him as a blind man, a beggar. In this community, that was his whole identity. And it marked him as being separated from God. He spent his life begging for mercy from humans. I would guess he spent his whole life asking, why do I have to suffer? Why did God let this happen to me?

Mary had a hard life. One Sunday morning, Mary found her son Robert shot dead in her neighbor’s yard. Evidently, Robert had been caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between rival gangs. In trying to understand why Robert, died this violent and senseless death, her pastor said to her, of course I can explain it in terms of some cause-and-effect reasoning. Like, he died because he was hanging out with the wrong crowd. But that line never satisfies; it always begs more questions.

We can start by asking why are there gangs in the first place? And if we follow the trail, we might find drugs and ask why it had to hit (our city) so hard. But there are always more questions to ask, more paths to follow, endless paths that lead everywhere only to turn back on us and shatter us by confronting us with our own limitations. As much as we try, we can’t think our way back to a starting point that explains why our story, or Mary’s story, had to lead to this point of pain and evil.

The disciples were trying to think their way back to a starting point that explains why the blind man’s story had to lead to this point of pain. They blamed it on the presence of sin; Jesus however, wanted them to understand the nature of God. The disciples were asking, what separates us from God? The question they should’ve been asking is, what restores us to God? In His life, death and resurrection, Jesus came to show us what restores us to God. That’s the second thing we learn from this Bible story. The question they, and we, should be asking is, what restores us to God?

Jesus asked 307 questions in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But He Himself only answered three questions directly. This is one of those three. And it’s not at all what His disciples expected.

Jesus said, neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. And then, using His own saliva and dirt from the ground, Jesus applied mud to the blind man’s eyes and told him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash away the mud. And verse 7 reads, so the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

Jesus just used this man’s greatest weakness, the source of his suffering and wounded identity, to demonstrate the liberating, restoring mission of the Messiah. But the witnesses to this miracle now proved to be the blind ones in this story. They weren’t ready to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, so they refused to see the truth.

Neighbors who passed by this man every day in the marketplace now questioned whether he was the blind beggar or not. His own parents refused to support him because they were afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue. The religious leaders interrogated this man twice. He couldn’t answer all their questions. But he didn’t let that stop him from sharing his story. He said, one thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! The religious leaders became so angry that he insisted that Jesus was from God that they kicked him out of the synagogue.

I think we are all in danger of spiritual blindness. Do we want to see the work of God? Do we want to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who has come to restore us to God? Because this truth will transform your life. It will separate you from your old life and from the people around you. The rest of your life will be a journey of growing into the character of Jesus Christ.

And that bring us to our final question, the question that starts us on our own journey to be restored to God. Jesus hears that the healed man has been kicked out of the synagogue, so He goes looking for and finds him. This man hasn’t seen Jesus face-to-face. He has no idea who He is. But when Jesus sees him, He asks the healed man one simple question: do you believe in the Son of Man?

Remember how I said this story began with an ignorant question and ended with a life-changing one? Here it is: do you believe in the Son of Man? Do you believe God entered into our world in order to heal our hurts, heal our separation, and restore us to Himself? The man responds with yet another question, who is He, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in Him. Jesus said, you have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you. Then the man said, LORD, I believe, and he worshiped Him.

This man had gone from blind, begging, dependent on the mercy of others, to seeing, believing, and worshiping the Lord. Jesus had used his greatness weakness, his greatest wound, to show him the liberating, restoring mission of the Messiah. And he was forever changed.

In the 1950s, Lauren Chapin played the role of Kathy Anderson, the adorable young daughter on the TV show “Father Knows Best.” Chapin won the part when she was just eight years old. In spite of giving up her childhood for 16-hour workdays, Lauren loved working on the show. She found comfort in the wholesome Anderson family that was portrayed in the series.

Her real home life was anything but wholesome. her mother suffered from alcoholism, and her father was abusive. In 1962 when the show ended, she had trouble finding work. Work had always been her comfort to protect her from her abusive home life. Now she turned to alcohol and drugs to numb her pain. She married and divorced two husbands. She spent time in prison and in mental institutions, attempted suicide, and contracted viral encephalitis and hepatitis. A counselor in her drug rehab program shared with her about the love of God in Jesus Christ. Although she visited a few churches, she says, I believed that God didn’t want me in His house.

But in March 1979, at a church in Los Angeles, she answered that question, do you believe in the Son of Man? That day Jesus became her Lord and Savior. She says of that moment, it was amazing. It was wonderful. My life changed dramatically. In the years since, she has shared her faith at churches across the country and written a book about her new life titled, Father Does Know Best, and she has raised money for victims of child abuse. The woman who once thought she was unworthy of being in God’s presence now says, I’m an encourager. I have a ministry of compassion. God totally gave me a new life.

We all have questions about God. Some questions draw us closer to Him. Some drive us further away. In this season of Lent, I hope you examine your questions. I also hope you lay those questions alongside the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus was sent, not to answer all our questions, but to reveal to us the heart and purposes of God. Can you trust the God you see in Him? If so, I pray that you will ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior today and let Him give you a new life.