Quiquagesima Sunday – February 22nd and 23rd, 2020 – Matthew 18 and 1 Cor 13
In the Name of Christ Jesus the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus the Light of the World +
“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Three times. Three times Jesus had told the disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem and be crucified and die and rise. Three times. Even we today should get the importance of telling someone something three times – it means it's serious. I've told you once, I've told you twice, don't make me tell you again. Well, Jesus did, and the disciples still did not see. It was hidden from them, they couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that Jesus, True God, the Messiah... would die. They couldn't, they wouldn't see the Cross.
Alright, slight confession time. The other week I had a throw away line about that being a big cross up there and not a big lightning bolt – I was hoping it would get a good laugh and it fell flat. Yes, I'll mope even in mid sermon if people don't like my jokes. But I do like having that big old cross up there – and I try to make sure that I point to it at least once a sermon. A dear old elder I knew told me this when I was young – Bill said, “I like the fact that you point to the cross when you preach. It means you pointed to Jesus.” And not just a Jesus of power and might, but a Jesus who goes to the cross. That's part of why I love the Crucifix on the altar. I get to stand and have Christ the Crucified right in front of my face whenever I'm there doing stuff. I love the crosses all over the place in this building – on our hymnals, our pews, our lights. All over. Because we're called to see the cross. Because every sermon preached from this pulpit should proclaim Christ and Him Crucified. Because the danger for the Church in every generation is that we get to a point where we just don't care about seeing Christ and Him Crucified anymore.
The disciples showed that danger, how it played out. They were well meaning, they were devoted – they were disciples. And yet – they understood none of these things. They didn't want the cross, they didn't want a Jesus dying for them. They wanted some other Jesus. They wanted a Jesus calling down fire and brimstone on their enemies. General Patton is supposed to have said, “It's not the job of the soldier to die for his country, it's the job of the soldier to make some other sap die for his country.” That was the sort of Jesus wanted. And they wanted a magic trick, go on, give us another one sort of Jesus. Miracles and awesome stuff. And they wanted coat-tail Jesus, where they'd ride right on up the popularity ladder with Him. You can get pretty high up there when Jesus is your co-pilot, or something like that. And we too can want all those same sorts of things – and to be honest, they aren't necessarily bad to want. I mean, it's not bad to want success, or even to see wickedness punished. These can all be quite good, quite important. But they aren't the center, they aren't the need.
So Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to Jerusalem and that there He will be crucified, and the disciples don't get it. Don't want it. But Jesus starts walking – and He gets to the town of Jericho – on the way to Jerusalem. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan – he's on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Well, Jesus gets to Jericho, and word gets around, and a blind man hears that Jesus is coming, and He starts calling out to Jesus. Making a racket, a fuss. And people want him to shush, to be silent, but he keeps calling out. And so Jesus stops, and He has the blind man brought to Him, and Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.” I don't like that translation – it sounds too formal. Kurie, hina anablepso – Lord, that I would see again. That's what I would like, I would see again. My eyes, they used to work, and then they stopped. They went kaput. They died. Let them see again, let them live again.
It's by no means a bad thing to want healing, to want a miracle. And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” See again – your faith has saved you. Those eyes that had died live again, they see again, because I am here to save, to raise to the dead, to restore and fix and make things new again. That's what I'm going to Jerusalem to do. That's what it all points to, that's been the point and purpose of every healing, of every teaching, of every demonstration of power. Death shall be undone and give way to resurrection. And not just for a day on a road passing through Jericho – Jesus will go to Jerusalem and die and rise so that the words of Job will be true – I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold. You'll see today, blind beggar – and you'll see Jesus again even after you have died, because this Jesus who goes to the Cross and died for you and rises for you is going to raise to you new life where you will die no more, and your eyes will die no more, and things will not fall apart because sin will have been destroyed and death will have been undone and your Savior will have made all things new.
That's where we're going. That's what God is doing. He is setting up and preparing the New Heavens and the New Earth, the life of the world to come – but it's doesn't happen without the Cross. It can't happen without the Cross. Death must be destroyed. Sin must be atoned for and dealt with. The Law must be fulfilled – and the Law says that the sinner must die, that the wages of sin is death – and so He who knew no sin, the spotless Lamb of God, must become sin for us. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Worker must take up the wage that we could not bear apart from Him. The Seed must fall into the earth and die, so that it will not remain alone but yield a hundredfold. It all hinges, it all starts, it all hangs there – Christ and Him Crucified.
That, Christ Crucified is love. To give, to serve another. That is love. And if we lose the Cross, if we lose Jesus loving us and giving us forgiveness and life and salvation – we are nothing. It doesn't matter how well we talk or how witty we are, it doesn't matter how much we know, or how powerful we are – it doesn't matter how generous we are or the sacrifices we make. If we are any of these things, all of these things, “but have not love, I gain nothing. Without the Cross, without Jesus dying and rising, without Jesus forgiving us and promising to raise us, we gain nothing.
The Cross, Christ Crucified for you is how the Scriptures define love. For God so loved the world – this is how God loved the world – that He gave His only Son – gave, upon the Cross, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The Cross is love. I actually like Romans 5:8 a bit better than John 3:16 – But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That's love. Christ Crucified is patient and kind, Christ crucified does not envy or boast, Christ Crucified is not arrogant or rude – even to the mockers, even to the soldiers crucifying Him. Christ Crucified does not insist on His own way – not My will but Thine be done. Christ Crucified is nor irritable or resentful, nor does He rejoice at wronging, but rejoices with the truth – for He is the way, the truth, and the life – and this Cross is the way that you have life. Christ Crucified bears all things for you, He believes all things for you, hopes all things for you, endures even the shame of the Cross for you.
And you will be tempted, my friends, to not want this love. To want power or wealth or fame or whatever more than this Jesus dying and rising sort of love. You'll be tempted to redefine love into all sorts of things – pleasures, wish fulfillment, approval – all the sorts of thing that a world without Jesus flails about after. There will be times when you are more worried about what other people are getting rather than the love that Christ Jesus shows you. And there will be times where you see, where you know your need for Christ intensely and powerfully – normally moments of tragedy and pain and loss. Like the blind man being wanting to see again. Then you see love, the love that is Christ better. But there's something even more than that. There will come the time when you are breathing your last, when you close your eyes and are pretty sure they might not open again. And the temptation, the lie of Satan will be to say that this is it, this is all she wrote. No – for Christ the Crucified is love – and He Himself gave up His Spirit and Jesus breathed His last, precisely for that day, that moment for you. And He rose so that you would rise, see again, breath again, live again – eternally with Him.
That's the point. That's the faith we confess – the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. That's the point of Baptism. May God our Father who has begotten you of water and the word keep you in your baptismal grace unto life everlasting. That's why we have the Supper. Now may the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus – the very Body that died and rose, the blood shed for you upon the cross – strengthen and keep you in the one true faith until the life of the world to come. Jesus loves you, and He gives Himself to you – even when you do not see, even when you do not fully understand. Jesus comes to you, and He makes you to see again, to live again – and He shall do so forever. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully even as I have been fully known. This is Christ's love for you. This is what He makes your darkened and blinded eyes to see. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +