As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
Have you ever stopped to think about why Jesus healed people? Why did he make that such a big emphasis of his ministry? I mean, if the “real” reason Jesus came was to die on the cross for the sins of his people, why did he do so much healing? Did he do it just because he could? Was it just sort of a nice thing he decided to do for a few people on his way to his “real” mission of dying as a sacrifice? Couldn’t Jesus have saved us without doing so much healing and teaching? Why did he spend three years teaching and healing when he could have gone to the cross much faster than that?
Part of the answer is given in John 9. Some of Jesus’s disciples came to him and asked him about a blind man. Most people in Jesus’s day believed that if someone had a handicap or a birth defect or a disease it must be because either that person or his or her parents had sinned so grievously that God had punished the person with their handicap or disease. These disciples want to know why this particular man was born blind. Was it his fault or his parents’ fault? Who was to blame? They figured that it had to be one or the other. No one is blind for no reason, right?
Well, that’s true. No one has a handicap, or gets sick, or experiences suffering for no reason whatsoever. There is no such thing as meaningless suffering.
But the disciples still needed some correction in the way they were thinking about the blind man. Jesus explained to them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3).
Now, think about what Jesus just said. A lot of us might not like that he said it once we think through it. He’s saying that this blindness was given to the man for a very specific purpose. Namely, “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
But take it another step: If this man’s blindness was given for a very specific purpose, then (to state the obvious) it had to have been given by someone. Already some of you are squirming in your seat. Would God really give someone blindness? Does God deliberately hand out handicaps to people? Does that fit with the way you want to imagine God? If not, the way you think about God may need to be adjusted.
So lets put it all together: God gave this man two or three or four decades of blindness on purpose. And the reason was so that God could display his glory when Jesus came along and healed the man.
And now we’re circling back around to the question about why Jesus spent so much time healing people during his brief earthly ministry. What did Jesus come to do? The best answer is not, “He came to die for sins.” That’s really important. But why did he come to die for sins? There is a higher purpose. There is a bigger reason.
The reason Jesus came is to display the glory of God.
This is the most important thing that Jesus’s life is about. Jesus’s coming into the world wasn’t mainly about dying for our sins. It wasn’t mainly about teaching us how to live. It wasn’t mainly about healing us or wowing us with his miracles. Jesus came into the world first and foremostly for the glory of God. He came for God’s fame.
Why does God deliberately give people handicaps? Why does God plan painful events in our lives? Why does God ordain the fall of spiritual leaders? These all have a purpose. None of them are meaningless or useless. In all of these things, God aims to bring glory to his name through the life and death of Jesus, and his continuing work by the Spirit through the church in the world.
It may sound obvious, but it’s worth reminding ourselves once in a while: We are not at the center of the universe. God is. We are not ultimate. God is. We are very, very small, and God is very, very great. But when we live our lives in the light of this awesome reality, our lives do become deeply significant and beautiful and good and pleasing both to ourselves and to our great God.
So may we all live in the joy of being small and peripheral, and live in the joy of God being huge and central. May we be pleased to have him increase, and us decrease.