A remarkable characteristic of the true faith is that it does not grow weaker under persecution, but stronger.
Now I should add that some people who are persecuted fall away from the faith. That is true, as Christ’s parable of the Sower says regarding the seed sown among the weeds.
But for those who persevere in the faith and do not fall away, the hardships that the wicked world throws at us actually serve us. They harden us and cause us to cling all the more tightly to Christ our Savior.
In the Gospel of Saint John we see the man born blind who is given his sight by Christ. Christ slips away, and then the Jewish leaders descend upon the scene. They do not want to believe this miracle. So they question the man who had been blind, then they question his parents, then they question the man again. Always they are intending to get the man to admit that this was a hoax, that he had not been blind, or that it was not Christ who did it. That they cannot accept.
What pressure did the formerly blind man feel? There was a threat of excommunication by the Jewish leaders, which eventually they carried out in our text. When it says, “And they cast him out,” that means excommunication. He would not be allowed back in the synagogue unless he repented of whatever sin they felt he had committed.
At such a point, the man might have thought, “Where is Jesus? He healed me, but now He has abandoned me. Why bother sticking up for this guy when He has not felt that I am important enough to stand by me?”
But the blind man did not act this way. He answered the Jewish leaders more strongly each time, eventually confessing that Christ must not be a sinner, and must instead be of God.
That was about as far as this sight-restored man could go. He did not know much about Christ, except that He had restored his sight.
Again, this man could have seized upon another excuse. “I don’t know much about Jesus. I’m afraid I might get it wrong. I’d better keep my mouth shut.”
But he did not use that excuse either. He spoke up, confessed Christ as best he could, as he was strengthened in the midst of persecution.
We Christians often use these kinds of excuses. We have received far more instruction than the blind man did, yet we are hesitant and shy, as if we are ignoramuses, afraid of getting things wrong. But that is only an excuse.
Or we may say, “Christ seems absent. He is not giving me the kind of strengthening I think I need. He is not answering my prayers the way I think He should. If He is abandoning me like this, why should I bother sticking up for Him?”
That also is an excuse, and a rather childish one as well. But we are not above using childish excuses, are we? We should be ashamed, but too often we are not. We shy away from situations that might lead to persecution. We back away from conflict that might become an opportunity to confess Christ to others. Perhaps this is why so often we stunt our spiritual growth and lack maturity.
In conflict, we become strengthened. In trial and testing, our faith is forged as steel in fire. The formerly blind man ended up openly confessing that Christ was the Son of Man, and publicly worshiped Him. He was willing to show the world that he believed that this Christ was God in human flesh, even though the consequences to himself might be severe.
May we repent of our timidity in the faith. May we be ashamed of our childish excuses to avoid the risk of persecution. May we instead do what we know we should, and confess Christ to be the Son of Man and Son of God, the only Messiah and Savior.
He has opened our eyes as well. We were trapped in the kingdom of darkness, trapped within our sinful flesh that is spiritually blind.
We could not see that we were sinners. Like the Pharisees, we would deny that there was anything wrong. Oh, we make mistakes sometimes, we might admit. We were not perfect, certainly. But sinners? Surely not! God would not hold against us our minor flaws in character.
But our sinfulness does not consist of merely minor flaws. That is the blindness talking, a blindness that we still slip back into from time to time. Our sinful flesh tries to pull the wool back over our eyes, especially now that we are Christians. We think that, although we used to be pretty bad people, now we are doing pretty good. But that is the same blindness as the first.
Our spiritual blindness would try to convince us that our spiritual vision is twenty-twenty. We want to think that we are highly discerning, as if we swallowed a truth detector. But nothing can be further from the truth. Thinking to be perceptive, our flesh is blind.
But Christ has given us the light of His Word to see the truth: that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Him by thought, word, and deed. We confess this truth because Christ has revealed it to us. He opened our eyes to perceive this fundamental, important truth. Without His Word, we would not know it.
He also has opened our eyes to see Himself. Our sinful eyes are no better at recognizing Christ than those of the Pharisees. They refused to see the truth that He is God in human flesh, the Son of Man who has all authority in heaven and earth.
Yet Christ opens our eyes. We see through the Scriptures that here is the Man born of the Blessed Virgin to be our Lord. He bore the rejection and persecution of men, even though He deserved none of it. They slandered Him and ridiculed Him. Eventually, the hatred of men drove them to betray Him, torture Him, and nail Him to a Cross.
But He willingly shed His precious Blood on our behalf. That is why He took human flesh. He came to bear the burden of our sinful blindness. He endured the darkness on Calvary, the darkness of death and hell, the darkness we deserved in our sinful blindness.
But the darkness could not win. The Light of light could not be extinguished by the kingdom of darkness. He conquered the dark grave. He rose to show us that He is not an ordinary man, not a mere sinner. No, He is the Son of Man, full of glory and truth.
We see Him by faith. We see this Man who is God accurately. We see clearly, not because our wise discernment made the right judgment. Our judgment fails every time. But in the Word, He has revealed Himself.
So we, the blind, see. On the other hand, those who think they have perfect spiritual sight are actually blind.
Let us remember not to trust our own sight, but only the Light of the Word. Let us stand in its brilliant illumination, so that we can brave all the dark storms of this evil world, whatever persecutions it may send against us.
In the Name of Christ, the Son of Man, whose Name we confess. Amen.
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