Quinquagesima – February 6th and 7th, 2016 – Luke 18:31-43
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Faith. That's a pretty big word for something only 5 letters long. We can toss the word around quite frequently – it's a word we cherish. We Lutherans proudly proclaim “Sola Fide” - by faith alone. That actually was almost our battle cry in the Reformation. So, let's ask the Lutheran question. What does this mean? What is faith, what does it accomplish, what is it for? Our Lord Jesus Christ answers this in our text this morning.
Now, there's an important set up in our text. When the lesson has a miracle, we can want to rush right on in and look at the miracle, because, let's face it, the miracles are really cool – but Jesus sets up everything first. He says to the 12 disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” See! Behold! When you hear “see” or “behold”, that was the Greek way of trying to get your attention. It was the way of saying “alright, what comes next is really, really important.” And Jesus tells us what's important. We're going to go to Jerusalem, and everything in the Old Testament will be accomplished, will be fulfilled. I'll be able to cry from the cross in just a few days, “It is Finished.” Because the promises of salvation will have been completed – I will have suffered and died for you, but I will also rise for you, so that you will be forgiven, so that life will be restored. The promise first given to Adam and Eve will come to completion – I will be bruised and battered, I will bear in My hands the mark of the nails, but Satan will be crushed under My heel, and you will have peace and salvation. Great stuff, right? This is the point, right? I mean, every Saturday/Sunday, every service here we gather together in this House of God and are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, right?
“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” And they just don't get it. It just didn't make sense. As we heard in last week's Gospel, seeing they did not see and hearing they didn't understand. And why? Their faith was really, really screwed up. Just completely off kilter. This is the third time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to suffer, die, be buried, and raised on the third day. You know – the heart of the Nicene Creed. And each of those three times, the disciples don't get it. In fact, in Matthew – we learn that first time Jesus says this, Peter pulls Jesus aside and tries to talk Him out of it – that's where we get that whole “Get thee behind Me, Satan” episode.
So why? I mean, these disciples followed Jesus, they heard Him all the time. Why was their faith so messed up? They understood none of it. It was hidden, they couldn't grasp it, couldn't get their minds around it. And why? Because that wasn't how they wanted the story to go. At that moment, their faith was not in a Jesus who would die and rise to give them forgiveness and everlasting life. They weren't interested in forgiveness or everlasting life yet. They wanted power and might. They wanted to help rule the Kingdom of Israel once Jesus, being the Messiah and Son of David and all, took it over. They wanted political power and the praise and adoration of men. A couple of the disciples were zealots even – people who had sworn their life to killing Romans – that's what they wanted. They wanted a Messiah who was going to kick some backside and take some names – and having Him be betrayed and flogged and killed, that wasn't how they wanted the story to go, that wasn't what they signed up for. That wasn't what they believed in – they believed in the false faith of their own power, the Jesus gravy train that they were going to ride.
And then they approach Jerusalem. Jericho is the last big town on the way. And what happens? “A blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, right away, what is different with this blind fellow? He may not see, but hearing, he understands. Two and two have been put together in his mind. Jesus is the Son of David – He is the Messiah. And what is the purpose, what is the goal of the Messiah? What's the Messiah supposed to do according to the Scriptures? The point of the Messiah isn't violence and war – He's the Prince of Peace. The point of the Messiah is not riches and wealth or earthly might – He is poor and lowly, has no form or comliness that we should desire Him. The point of the Messiah is this - He comes to save, to show mercy. Hosanna – save us now. Kyrie Elesion – Lord, have mercy. And so the blind man calls out, rightly, for mercy. Calls out words we are still calling out to this very day in this very service. And folks tell him to shut it. You are annoying – just be quiet. And instead he calls out all the more.
“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, 'What do you want Me do to for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.'” So, what do you want? What are your expectations of Jesus? What are you thinking He should do? Do you want power and might? Are you going to ask to sit on His right and His left when He rules? No – the blind man makes a great request. Lord, let me recover my sight. Lord, I want that I should see again. Now, remember – this blind man gets who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, He is the LORD, He is the Son of David. And this blind man knows what the Scriptures say – when the Messiah comes, the deaf shall hear and the blind shall see. That's what Isaiah said – let what Isaiah said happen to me, Lord!
“And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.'” Your faith has saved you, literally – that's what Jesus says. Now know and hear what Jesus is saying. So often when we think of or hear the word “faith” - especially our faith – we think of it as describing how hard, how strongly, how firmly we believe. Oh yeah, this guy kept whopping and hollering, and so that's why Jesus fixed his eyes. Nope. Not the point. There's a contrast in our Gospel text, dear friends, between the disciples and this blind man. The disciples don't see, they don't understand who Jesus is. Even as Jesus tells them that He will fulfill the Scriptures, it goes over their heads. The blind man though, has faith. And it's not so much that his faith is stronger or bigger – that's not the point. The point isn't the kind or quality of his faith – Jesus doesn't say “Your awesome ginormous faith has made you well.” The disciples believed really strongly that Jesus was going to beat the tar out of the Romans and it got them nothing. No, the point is that the blind man put his faith in the right place. He wasn't wanting some Jesus of his own devising, he wasn't just making up stuff on the fly, he wasn't just imagining some daddy warbucks in the sky. He heard the Word of God, and his faith was that Jesus would do what He said He would do in His Word. The disciples are pointed to the Scriptures – they get nothing. Not what they wanted. The blind man clung to the promises which God had made in the scriptures, and He received them.
When we speak of faith, when we say “by faith alone” - we aren't drawing attention to how strongly or deeply we believe. We aren't talking about how great of Christians we are. That's hogwash – we show up here and confess what the Scriptures say we are – poor, miserable sinners. No – when we say “by faith alone” we are confessing the importance of the promises that God has made to us in His Word, the promises of forgiveness and life and salvation, and we are confessing that we receive these not because of how great we are or how amazing we are, but rather because He is great and good, and He is true to His Word. Jesus is active – and we are receptive, and by faith we receive the good things that He has promised to give us. That's the faith that saves – faith in Christ Jesus, who fulfills the Word of God, who suffers and dies and rises on the third day for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.
This Wednesday, Lent kicks off. And Lent is a time of repentance, of contemplation. If you want to set yourself a fast, give something up for Lent – go ahead. The old German term for Lent was “fastenzeit” - Fasting Time. But the point of this, the point of the fasting or the extra services we'll have isn't to show or prove how great we are, how big our faith is. No – it's a time where we will see intensely what our faith is, Who our faith is, where we will see who this Jesus is and what He does for us. On the weekends, the Lenten texts show Jesus taking the battle to Satan and His minions. We've spent Epiphany seeing that Jesus is God – Lent shows us the Son of God going forth to war – fighting Satan, temptations, hunger, false doctrine – even fighting death itself upon the Cross. That is the Jesus we believe in. After Ash Wednesday, our midweek services will look at the great “I Am” statements Jesus makes in John's Gospel, so we would see clearly who this Jesus is in whom we believe. And the point is not to demonstrate our own greatness – but rather, so like the blind man we would hear the Word of God and see clearly that Jesus is our Messiah, that He is the Son of David come to mercy us, and that we might ever cling to this Jesus and Him alone forever more. God grant that by His Word and Spirit, we live in faith and walk with our Savior Jesus ever more. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +