Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quinquagesima Sermon

Quiquagesima – February 19th, 2012 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Our Gospel lesson is one of contrasts. On the one hand, you have the disciples, bold, brash, and just so sure they knew the earthly power and glory that following Christ would bring. And thus, when Christ addresses them, tells them that He will suffer, they don’t get it. On the other hand, there is that blind beggar on the road to Jericho, and although he is blind, in Christ Jesus he sees nothing but the merciful Son of David who has come to have pity and aid the poor, feeble, and lost. It is a fascinating contrast – so let us examine it in detail, and then consider how it applies to us, especially as we approach the season of Lent.

“And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem…’” Look, see, behold – pay attention, disciples, we are going up to Jerusalem. Our Lord is telling the disciples that the pinnacle, the focus, the thrust of what He has come to do is approaching – this is that “behold” word, this is that word announcing that something big and important is coming – and it’s going to happen in, where else but Jerusalem. The disciples should be keyed in, they should be intensely focused upon Christ’s words right now. But there is a problem. What does our Lord say is going to happen in 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.” Is this anyone’s idea of a good time? No – and it didn’t seem like a good time to the disciples. Indeed, if we are going to be mocked and shamefully treated somewhere, don’t we just have a tendency to… avoid going? That’s the same type of thoughts the disciples had – that is foolish, that would be terrible. But did you note what Jesus said – “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” This is something divine, this is something that these students of the Old Testament should have known was coming. If Christ is the Messiah, then Satan must bruise His heel – if Christ is the Messiah, then Isaiah 53 and the Man of Sorrows must happen, then Psalm 22 and its nastiness has to happen. And how bad must it get according to the prophets? “And after flogging Him, they will kill Him.” Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to die… that in just a short time He will be killed by the Gentiles, that the Romans will put Him to death. This is why He came, to suffer and die. And yet, Christ also tells them good news – “and on the third day He will rise.” Yes, according to the prophets the world will do its worst to the Messiah, but He will rise victoriously on the third day. This is what we will be seeing all this Lententide, seeing this Easter.

But the Disciples, they don’t see. Not yet. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They don’t understand, not yet. The refuse to let these sorts of thoughts even cross their mind. They won’t understand until Easter, until they behold the Risen Christ, that’s when it all will sink in – but at this moment – it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit their expectations. You don’t follow a leader just to go watch Him die – you follow a leader you think is going to win, and win the way you want him to win. You follow a leader who will crush your enemies, who will bring earthly pomp and power and glory. And this tale of earthly defeat, earthly suffering, it simply makes no sense to them, it’s not what they want.

Now for the contrast. There is a blind beggar on the road to Jericho, a town Christ must pass through in order to reach Jerusalem. This is a man who knows suffering, who knows earthly defeat. He has no visions of power and glory because he has no vision at all. He is lowly, he is in the mire, he is downtrodden. And he hears a crowd going by, so he asks what’s up with the crowd – he knows what sort of traffic his road gets, and it’s too high today. “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” Christ is coming, and so this man knows what to do. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He doesn’t cry for power, he doesn’t cry out seeking to have more stuff than his neighbor or the power to rule over them, humiliate them… he simply wants mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, get me out of this terrible place I am stuck. And what, what happens? “And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” Oh, just be quiet you blind, worthless beggar! We don’t want you interrupting us – we’re here to watch this Jesus, surely He has come for the good people like us! They were in front, but they did not see. “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He continues his calls for mercy, he doesn’t let the disdain the crowd dissuade him – he calls out for mercy to Christ.

And what happens? “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.” This is actually a wonderful teaching moment – Jesus stops right in front of those very people who admonished the beggar to be silent, and He tells them to bring the beggar up. That person you disdained … serve him, bring him up to me, lead him so he knows where I am. “And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’” So Jesus asks this person what sort of mercy he is seeking. Lord, let me recover my sight. The Greek word there is “anablepso” – that I would see again. And here’s what’s beautiful about this – this man hopes for restoration, for things to be made right by Christ. There was another restoration word earlier – the word for “rise again” is “anastesetai” – again rise. That “ana” at the beginning, it’s the Greek version of“re” – like “re” in resurrection, “re” in restoration. Jesus had told the Disciples there would be restoration, that He would rise again – it goes over their heads. But this blind man, he knows that the Son of David has come to restore fallen creation – the blind man knows his lack, the corruption of his eyes, and he longs for God to restore him, to make him see again. And God does. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Recover, restoration – the Son of David does in part there for that blind man what He will do for all creation – fix it. He pauses on His way to Jerusalem where His death and resurrection will pave the way for the restoration of all things, and He gives a little restoration, a little foretaste on the way. This blind man, his faith, faith in Jesus, has made him well, has “saved him” in the Greek. His eyes will be restored not just for the rest of his days on earth until he dies, but even when those eyes that now can see are closed by death, because of Christ Jesus, they will be opened again – the resurrection will recover everyone’s sight. I won’t need my contacts any more – Christ will fix it all. And that is what He is on His way to Jerusalem to do – to fix creation by taking up the wages of sin and paying it Himself with His own death, by bursting the bonds of death by rising on the third day.

So now, let us consider this passage and how it applies to us. Two options, two ways of viewing Christ are set before us. On the one hand, there is disdain of suffering, there is the desire that Jesus be our meal ticket, our buddy who gives us our best life now and earthly victory and glory. This is spiritual blindness. On the other hand, there is the knowledge of your own lack, of your own need, of your own wretchedness, and from that point of humility and repentance, then you can see who Christ Jesus is, the One who comes to restore fallen man, to give Him life again. Dear friends, there is a reason Lent is known as a penitential season, a reason why it’s a time where we focus on repentance. Satan wants us to focus on living big now, having worldly power and glory – he wants the cares of this life to rob us of the Word, as we heard last week. He wants us thinking like the disciples had been, where the idea of suffering and being restored and forgiven are far, far from us – where we view God as a guy who simply helps out us good people because we are smart enough to follow Him. That’s not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is this: while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. That while there was nothing good in us, Christ Jesus shows us love by laying down His life for us, by rising for us, by forgiving us and giving us new life in Him. This is our hope – and as we enter Lent this Wednesday, that is what our focus will be. Repentance, turning away from the desires of the flesh for power and glory, and simply looking at Christ for His mercy, for His love to us.

Therefore, I ask you my friends, what blinds you to Christ? What temptations lure you away from Him? Is it ego, where you like to think highly of yourself? Is it pride, where you hate to admit your failings? Is it bitterness, where you would rather focus on how you have been wronged than repent of your own sins? Is it greed, where your desire for the pleasures of this life shape how you see everything? Is it resentment, where jealousy of your neighbor hardens you? It probably is for you as it is for me all of these, and many others beside. We each have some that especially stand out in us. These temptations distract us, try to draw our eyes off of Christ. Repent of them, fight against them, beat them down – and know this – that while you are weak and lowly, indeed, whether you like this fact or not, Christ Jesus has had mercy upon you, and in His great love for you and in His desire to restore you, to free you from sin and death, He has suffered and died for you, He has risen for you, He has washed you in water and the Word, and He gives you His own Body and Blood to forgive you again, to be the proof that just has He has died and risen so shall you. This is His love for you.

As St. Paul says in the Epistle – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In this life we will struggle against sin, sin will always try to dominate our view – will try to obscure Christ’s love for us – but the time is coming, dear friends, when we will see this clearly, when we see our Lord face to face. Until then, we struggle, we fight against our sin – not just for the sake of some egotistical self-improvement, but so that we might learn of our need for Christ, so that we might be better focused upon Him. Behold, your Lord goes forth to battle against Satan and forces of evil to win you salvation and restoration – all thanks be to God that His Son has come to win us our freedom. God grant to each of us a blessed Lent, that we might once again be given opportunity to see our Lord’s love for us again. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

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