Quinquagesima Sermon

 

 

 

Quinquagesima
Luke 18:31-43
February 15, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

3.

With apologies to Fraulein Maria, sometimes it’s best not to start at the beginning, because it’s not a very good place to start. A friend of mine once suggested that after reading the Formula of Concord from the Lutheran Confessions, you should read it backwards. Not that you completely invert every word into nonsensical sentences, but that you take up the ending themes and then move back through the preceding themes. It sheds a whole new light on the beginning stuff once you know the ending stuff.

Today’s Gospel ends with faith. And Jesus said to him, “Look up; your faith has saved you.” And at once he saw again and he was following Him, glorifying God.  And when all the people saw, they gave praise to God (vv 42-43). In every modern translation, the words of Jesus are reported: “Your faith has made you well,” or, “Your faith has healed you.” But the word that the evangelist uses, the word that Jesus speaks, has an extra dimension beyond physical healing. There’s another word that Jesus could have used if He was simply referring to the man recovering from an illness.

He tells him that his faith has saved him. It is a much more dramatic word, a word that implies that the man’s predicament was more than just failed eyesight. It was a total system failure. The eyes were only the first sign of the eventual catastrophe that lay ahead for the blind beggar outside of Jericho.

Faith is no trifling matter. It’s not just a little medicine to help along a weak, but otherwise capable self. Faith is for the completely incapable. Faith is for the last, the least, and the lost. Faith is for the one who’s in a spiraling nosedive into the pit of destruction.

Faith saves. First, faith is necessary to know the depth of your spiritual need. Observation and reason can and do show that there’s something not quite right in this life. Sickness, let-downs, failures, they all show that there’s definitely room for improvement in our lives. But the extent of the chaos cannot be grasped apart from faith. It’s not just that you’re slightly off the mark. Our Lutheran Confessions state: This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture (SA III.I.3). Scripture reveals that the human problem is not weakness, but a complete and utter corruption of our nature that will not allow us to be what God created us to be. This is something that cannot be comprehend by reason, but must be believed.

2.

In a way, the blind man was in a unique position to be saved by faith. His eyes didn’t’ work, so he depended on his ears. As St. Paul writes, So faith is from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). Hearing was all the blind man had to go on, but when faith comes, he also receives new sight.

And it happened that as they drew near to Jericho, a blind man who used to sit along the road was begging. And hearing a crowd passing through, he inquired what this could be. And they reported to him that Jesus of Nazareth was coming by. And he cried for help, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And those who were going before him began to rebuke him to be quiet, but he all the more cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And standing still, Jesus ordered him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He questioned him. “What do you want for Me to do?” And he said, “Lord, to look up” (vv 35-41).

The physical restoration given to the blind man is a picture of what faith does to everyone. Faith saves because faith gives new sight.

In other words, faith gives you a new way of looking at things. Martin Luther, when he was a monk, studied the Scriptures intensely, reading line by line, again and again the Prophets, the Psalms, the Evangelists, and the Apostles. But he couldn’t see what was right under his nose.
In Luther’s own biography when he reports what’s known as his “tower experience,” he focuses on St. Paul’s words in the first chapter of Romans: the righteousness of God.

“Day and night I tried to meditate upon the significance of these words: ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written: the righteous shall life by faith.’ Then, finally, God had mercy on me, and I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that gift of God by which a righteous man lives, namely, faith, and that this sentence: The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, is passive, indicating that I had been reborn altogether and had entered Paradise. In the same moment the face of the whole of Scripture became apparent to me. My mind ran through the Scriptures, as far as I was able to recollect them, seeking analogies in other phrases, such as the work of God, by which He makes us strong, the wisdom of God, by which He makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.”[1]

Before this new sight that came by faith. Luther was convinced that the righteousness of God was something that a man could and must attain by his own works and preparations. And so it is with anyone who approaches the Word of God by way of works, seeking and searching for a way to approach the righteousness of God.

But faith grants a new sight, it gives and inner clarity where you begin to see that even your best and brightest and most pious works cannot begin to approach the righteousness of God, but instead that the righteousness of God is something quite apart from yourself, that comes as a gift of God, received in faith, credited to your own account as your very own.

Just as the blind man outside of Jericho saw things he never saw before after faith, just as Luther saw the Scriptures in a whole new light after faith, so also you are given a new sight. You are given the sight of faith. Faith saves because faith gives new sight.

1.

Since we began with faith, and found that faith gives new sight, let’s end at the beginning. The healing outside of Jericho is prefaced by Jesus explaining His cross and passion. Taking along the twelve, He said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that has been written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be finished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles and He will be mocked and treated spitefully and spit on. And after scourging Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise. And they understood none of these things, and this word was being hidden from them, and they did not know what He was saying (vv 31-34).

The disciples didn’t understand these things because they didn’t yet have that inner clarity, they didn’t yet have the sight to see that the righteousness of God is manifest in Christ specifically on the cross. The prophets had foretold not only that the Christ would do such things as give sight to the blind, but that must suffer, die, and rise again. It was right there in the Scriptures that the disciples knew, right under their noses in Genesis 3, the Seed whose heel would be struck; in Psalm 22, the One forsaken by God; in Isaiah, the Suffering Servant who was wounded for our transgressions, stricken, smitten and afflicted; yet they couldn’t see it.

But that all changed with the coming of the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit gives the gift of inner clarity, to see that the righteousness of God is a gift of the One who hangs upon the cross. The Spirit gives faith to see that when Christ says, “It is finished,” it’s really only the beginning, the beginning of a new creation. The cross is the completion of the old covenant, a covenant of works and punishment, and the beginning of a new covenant of grace.

Faith saves because faith gives new sight to see salvation in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in His resurrection, we also see a picture of our own, a snapshot of the future glory that awaits. In Christ’s resurrection, we see that these weak, frail, and failing bodies will be restored to life, health, and strength on the Last Day when He returns.

Faith Looks to Jesus Christ Alone

And in Christ, faith finds forgiveness, restoration, healing, and resurrection.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

[1] Martin Luther as quoted in Uuras Saarnivaara, Luther Discovers the Gospel (CPH, 2005), 36-37.