27 February 2017

Homily for Quinquagesima - 2017

"Jesus Cures Your Blindness"
Luke 18:31-43

Listen here.

It’s the simplest prayer you can pray or sing. We pray it all the time in church. I hope you pray it all the time each and every day. What prayer is that? Lord, have mercy. In these three simple English words you get to see how Jesus cures your blindness.

Lord, have mercy. We pray this prayer at least twice in our liturgy every week. We pray it at the beginning of the Divine Service, just before we hear our Lord’s healing words. Then, later in the service, we pray this prayer right before we receive Christ’s Body and Blood. “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.” Lord, have mercy. And often we pray this prayer in the Prayer of the Church. The words roll off our tongues like we’ve been saying them our whole life. But what do they mean? What does this prayer tell us about who we are as a sinners and who Jesus is as Savior?

Today Jesus takes His disciples aside to tell them that He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be spat upon and mocked. He will suffer as a common sinner. And He will die the death of a criminal. This is His immediate future. However, the disciples didn’t “get it.” They had been with Jesus for about three years, but they still couldn’t hear what He had to say. They couldn’t understand that Jesus’ death was the very purpose of His life. It was hidden from them. They were blind. But the faith of a blind man sitting alongside the road would help them see.

Let’s pause here for a moment. How often do people come to church, attend Sunday School or Bible class their whole lives, and yet never get the point? Perhaps we think that going through the motions of church is enough. But going through the motions is not the same as faith. Remember, Jesus’ disciples had been with Him every step of the way. Three of them had even seen Jesus transfigured before their eyes; they had a glimpse of God’s glory. Time and time again Jesus had predicted His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. This was the point! Yet the disciples didn’t get it. They couldn’t believe that Jesus would eat and drink with sinners. They couldn’t believe that He was going to die. They couldn’t see it, even though it was right in front of their faces.

This is true for us as well. Perhaps we have children or grandchildren or parents or siblings or cousins or friends who grew up in the Church, or came into the Church at our invitation. They came to God’s house. They heard the Gospel. But they didn’t “get it.” They have fallen away from the faith. Like the seed that fell upon the rock or among the thorns from last week, many come week after week, but it’s like they are sitting in a different pew. They don’t hear the simple truth of God’s Law & Gospel. Yes, we’re sinners, and Jesus comes to save sinners just like us. Pretty straightforward, right? Not too complicated. Jesus wants us to be in His house so that He can forgive our sins and give us His life. This was the message the disciples couldn’t see. This is the message that we as sinners often miss, sometimes week after week after week. This is our blindness.

Let’s move on. Jesus travels on the road to Jericho. While He’s on the road, a crowd of onlookers follows Him. As they walk along, a blind man alongside the road hears the commotion and asks what’s going on. Mark’s Gospel tells us that the man’s name is Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus hears from the crowd that Jesus is passing by. When he hears this, Bartimaeus cries out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Lord, have mercy! It’s the cry of every sinner blinded by his own sin. It’s the cry of everyone who needs Jesus. It’s the cry of every soul weighed down by the cares and trials that we all face as children of Adam. It’s the cry that doesn’t try to manipulate God or make demands on Him. It’s the cry of faith. Lord, have mercy!

And notice that the blind man’s cry continues, even after the crowds try to shut him up. Bartimaeus cries out because he knows the Son of God will give him mercy. He trusts that the Son of God loves him with an everlasting love. He believes that the Son of God will hold him in the palm of His hand and keep him forever. Pressure from the crowds to shut him up? Doesn’t matter. Scrutiny from curious onlookers? Doesn’t mean a thing. Socially popular and politically correct pleas to be quiet? Meaningless. He knows Jesus can cure his blindness. He knows Jesus will help him see. That means more than fitting in with the crowd.

Lord, have mercy. What does it mean? It means that blind Bartimaeus already sees the Lord with the eyes of faith. This Man walking by is God; He has power over life and death. Because of this, Bartimaeus can cry out to this Lord for mercy. He is asking God not to give him what he deserves. You see, Bartimaeus knows he deserves the blindness of his eyes, just as we deserve the blindness that our sin brings. But Bartimaeus prays God to open his eyes in physical sight. And we pray God to open our eyes of faith to see His mercy. Lord, have mercy. That’s how Jesus cures blindness—for Bartimaeus and for you.

Bartimaeus is not afraid to ask God for what he needs. Are you? Are you afraid to ask God for forgiveness? Are you afraid to ask God to be with you in times of trouble? Are you afraid that God will abandon you when you need Him most? Are you afraid that God’s ways and teachings will make you unpopular or disliked by people around you? Don’t be afraid. Jesus cures your blindness.

Our Epistle reading is the “great love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. What we often miss about this chapter is that Paul is describing God’s love. This is the depth of God’s love. His love is so deep and so wide that it will engulf you, the sinner, in a flood of forgiveness. This love of God will put you back together when you are beaten and broken by sin and conflict and doubt and despair. This love of God does not look for the easy way out. No, God’s love travels the very hard road, the road to Calvary and death on a cross. That’s God’s love. That’s how far His love will go to save you, to cure your blindness of sin.

Psalm 77 joyously proclaims, “You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.” What a great wonder and mighty work that Jesus healed Bartimaeus’ blindness. But there’s an even greater wonder and a mightier work. Our Lord Jesus Christ gives you faith. Yes, that’s the greatest miracle of all. Jesus gives you the eyes of faith to journey with Him to Calvary and death, so that you may also journey with Him to resurrection and life eternal.

The faith of Bartimaeus serves as a great example for us to hear and follow. Bartimaeus didn’t try to make sense of things. He didn’t complain to God that his life was so miserable, or that so-and-so had it so much better than he did. Blind Bartimaeus looked at Jesus and cried with the only words that make any sense at all: Lord, have mercy.

This week we begin our Lenten journey to the cross. It’s a time of deep reflection for us Christians. It’s time to look at our sin with the eyes of the Law and see the depth of our sinful blindness. But it’s also the time when we get to look to Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame. It’s the time when we all learn to cry out with Christians of all ages: Lord, have mercy. It’s the time to receive the real cure, the only cure, that Jesus gives for your blindness.

So you pray these words right before you receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper. Here at Jesus’ Altar you receive God’s healing medicine of mercy. Here God’s mercy is poured out for you in the cup of His salvation. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed are you who trust in Him. Come, because Jesus cures your blindness. Amen.

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