Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I know that the cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal and a stumbling block for you. However, you should know that it is also a scandal and stumbling block for me, and for every Christian preacher and believer, and for unbelievers as well. For, when it comes to Christ crucified, your eyes are blind, even though you see. When it comes to Christ crucified, your reason and your wisdom, your stolen knowledge of good and evil, these get in the way, they cannot understand and they reject the only means of your salvation.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus was about to lead His disciples up to Jerusalem and to His cross. You, Christian, are about to go there too. He said to them, “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.” “But they understood none of these things,” and neither do you. In fact, “This saying was hidden from them,” and from you, “and they did not grasp what was said,” and neither do you.
For, the scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ has made you blind. It has confounded your reason and your wisdom, which are fallen, corrupted, and broken by your sin so that you cannot possibly see the wisdom of God’s ways, you cannot possibly understand His knowledge, because your sight and your reason and wisdom are fallen, corrupted, and broken by your sin. And so, you are no better than either the disciples of Jesus “who understood none of these things” or the blind beggar alongside the road who needed to be told that Jesus was present – that is, except that, the blind beggar knew that he was blind and that he needed healing and restoration. Therefore, upon hearing the Good News that Jesus was present, he cried out to the only source of healing and comfort for mercy, and nothing but mercy, through faith alone.
Those who were in front rebuked the man and told him to be silent. You do the same. This weak, pitiful man, they thought, has no business in the presence of our Rabbi and Master. Who is it that cries out to the Lord for mercy that you despise and wish to silence? This blind beggar had nothing, no money, no food, no clothing, no home, and no sight – and he knew it. Therefore, he did not offer anything to Jesus, or to anyone, but he begged, he pleaded and he cried out to Jesus alone for mercy. That is what you cannot understand or tolerate, that is what you want to silence – singular, focused, unwavering trust in Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, and no one and nothing else. This blind beggar did not cry out to the government, he did not cry out to the church, he did not even cry out to the disciples for anything at all, but he cried out to Jesus alone, for mercy alone, in any way that Jesus might choose to dispense it. He doesn’t ask for your approval or your prayers. He doesn’t ask for your grudging handouts or tolerance. He doesn’t ask for your councils, programs, rules, policies, or laws. He begs for, he needs, he clings to Jesus’ mercy alone – period.
Jesus’ mercy scandalizes you and causes you to stumble for the same reason that you are scandalized by Jesus’ cross and Jesus crucified. Jesus’ dead body on the cross communicates something to you. It is repulsive. It is offensive. It is morbid. It is weak. It is foolish. It is scandalous and it causes you to stumble. You don’t want to look at it. You don’t want to be reminded of it. You want to look away from it – and Satan wants you to do just that. You see, don’t believe that nonsense that Hollywood puts out about the devil. Don’t believe that nonsense that the horror writers scribble about. Satan has but only one goal, to take your eyes off of Jesus, to get Jesus out of the way. And, he has only one way of accomplishing that goal – lies. He tells you lies, he deceives you, so that you will take your eyes, your faith, off of Jesus and put them on, well…, truly anything else will do just fine.
In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, Jesus taught that the seed is the Word of God. When the seed falls upon the hard trodden path, upon the heart hardened by sin, it does not penetrate, it is not received. Then, Jesus teaches, “the birds of the air devoured it,” or, “then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” The central teaching of Jesus’ parable is that it is the Word of God alone that creates faith. This is one of the three Lutheran Solas – Sola Scriptura, or, Scripture Alone. You heard about another Sola two weeks ago in Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. That Sola was Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone. In today’s Gospel of the Healing of a Blind Man you hear of the third Sola, Sola Fide, or Faith Alone. Thus, over these three weeks of Pre-Lent, the Gesima Sundays, you have heard that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and that faith is created by the Word alone, that is, by Scripture alone.
Yet, there are two other Solas in the Lutheran Christian faith. They are Sola Christus, or Christ Alone, and Soli Deo Gloria, or to God alone be the Glory. Sola Christus is absolutely essential and is confessed in all the other Solas, for it is through Christ Alone that grace is given and faith is created, and it is Christ Alone that is the object of faith. Further, it is in Christ Alone that God is Glorified. And so, it all begins with Christ, and it all comes back to Christ, and in the end, God is glorified for His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, and His forgiveness which are in, and through, and with Jesus Christ alone.
God so loved the world that He has graciously given and put forth His Word, His Son Jesus, as a seed into soil that, in His death, He might draw all men to faith in Him and to the life He is and bestows. In doing this, God is glorified, not only by Jesus’ self-sacrifice, but by your self-sacrifice in rooting out all the stones and weeds, and thistles of sin in your hearts in repentance and by bearing the fruit of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness towards others that has been showered upon you in God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ.
Sola Gratia, Grace alone – What does this mean? It means that salvation comes to you from outside of you, without your works or merit, as a free and perfect gift. It is given to everyone the same, no strings attached. Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone – What does this mean? It means that God gives you His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word alone, and not through mysticism or nature or human reason, wisdom, philosophy, or any other way. Sola Fide, Faith alone – What does this mean? It means that Faith itself is a gracious gift of God that comes from outside of you through the Word alone, but is planted in your heart where it is nurtured and grows by the Word alone and bears the fruit of love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Yet, all of these are included in Sola Christus, Christ alone. And, through all of these, Soli Deo Gloria, God alone is glorified.
St. Paul, in his epistle today, exhorts you to put aside faith and trust in anything but Jesus. Paul speaks so eloquently and beautifully about love that this passage has been misunderstood as speaking primarily about the love between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. It certainly does instruct us in the nature of love, and so this application is not inappropriate. However, that is not the primary meaning or purpose Paul has in mind. What Paul does have in mind are all of the lies that Satan speaks to you about what God has said and about what Christian faith is really is. Paul addresses tongues, prophetic powers, mysteries, knowledge, sacrifice, and even faith, but he warns that, without love, these are nothing. The devil lies to you so that you believe that these fruits are the main thing that is important so that your faith is not in Christ, but in these signs, these fruits of faith. So very subtly he gets Jesus out of the way; he takes your focus off of Christ and Him crucified and puts it on, well…, anything at all. And, he is very successful, for you often believe his lies and, unwittingly, in your striving to follow Christ, follow the devil on the path that leads only to death, taking others along with you.
The love that St. Paul is talking about is not a feeling or an emotion, or even a disposition, but that love is a person, that love is Jesus Christ. God so loved the world…, God loved the world in this way: He gave His Son. Jesus is God’s love for the world; Jesus is God’s love for you. Jesus, dead on the cross, is the ultimate image of God’s love for you, for He was patient and kind; He did not envy or boast; He was not arrogant or rude; he did not insist on His own way; he was not irritable or resentfull; He did not rejoice at wrongdoing, but in the truth; He bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things. God’s love in Jesus never ends.
When Jesus talked to His disciples about what He must do in Jerusalem, they didn’t understand Him and the saying was hidden from them and they did not grasp what He said. That’s because they did not have their eyes focused on Jesus alone, but their eyes were on, well…, anything else. Ironically, the blind man could see better than those who could see. When he heard that Jesus was present, he cried out to Jesus alone for mercy. He had faith, not in outward works and signs, not in human wisdom or reason, but he had faith in Jesus, faith that had come through Jesus’ Word, by God’s grace. Whichever soil he may have been, he wasn’t the hard trodden path, and the devil was not able to lie to him and steal the Word from his heart. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answered, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.
Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man to see that, despite the humility and the weakness of Jesus’ appearance and, despite the horror and the repulsiveness, the scandal and the offense of what He must accomplish on the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus was the love of God for Him and for all the world, poured out. Faith which receives the gift of love that God has given, and is not offended and does not stumble over it, will bear fruit a hundredfold, and God will be glorified. May you so in love put away your impatience and meanness, your envy, pride, arrogance, and rudeness, your selfish insistence to have things your way, your irritability and resentfulness, and bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and selflessly endure all things for the sake of love, for the sake of Jesus, who alone is your life and salvation, the object of your faith, the grace of God given through His Word, in whom alone God is glorified.
Satan wants to take your eyes off of Jesus and to place them on, well…, anything else. But you, Christian, must remember that, despite what you see or feel, Christ crucified is precisely how God has loved you and the world. The Church of Jesus Christ, along with St. Paul and all the Apostles, continues to preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, as the only Way, Truth, and Life through faith in whom alone we are saved. Though you were blind, through grace, by faith in the Word of God made flesh Jesus Christ, now you see. Glory be to God alone.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.