February 7, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus justifies His use of parables, because the people who seeing, yet not perceiving; hearing, but not understanding. It’s not just Jesus being deliberately obtuse or difficult, but it’s the consistent way that God has revealed Himself in His Word. When He commissions Isaiah to preach, He says the following:
“Go and tell these people:
‘You may go on hearing but never understand,
and go on seeing but never know anything.’
Make the heart of these people sluggish,
deafen their hearing, shut their eyes
that they may not see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed” (Is 6:9-10 AAT).
Harsh judgment, it seems. But today’s Gospel shows why Jesus speaks the way He does. Because today the situation is inverted—though not able to see, the man sees more than anyone else around. Those who see are confounded, but in not seeing you are blessed.
This is faith. As the book of Hebrews so wonderfully defines it, Faith is the understanding of what is hoped for, the conviction of matters that are not seen (Heb 11:1). It’s only when you realize that looks can be deceiving that faith takes over, and gives a sight that surpasses things visible.
FAITH LOOKS BEYOND THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE AND SEES THE HIDDEN GIFT OF GOD
“Seeing is believing,” the saying goes. Here in Missouri, we’ve enshrined that idea in our state motto that’s plastered on each of our cars’ license plates. Show me. Show me, and I’ll believe it. Prove it to me. If my retinas register it, it must be so. But eyesight has its limitations. “Seeing is believing,” but also, “Looks can be deceiving.” Eyes are made of flesh, and as such, are subjected to the weakness of the flesh on account of sin. And the flesh cannot see beyond the outward appearance.
As Jesus and His disciples approached Jericho, the blind man cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (v 38). But the disciples rebuked him, told him to be quiet. They didn’t see a disciple, a privileged and chosen follower of Jesus. They saw a bum. A beggar. Tattered clothes. Unkempt. They could probably smell him, too. But seeing, they did not perceive the man who sat by the side of the road. If he hadn’t been yelling out, they probably would have walked right by without a second glance.
But their functional blindness extended beyond overlooking a neighbor in need. 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 (v 31-34).
What Jesus just explained in very striking detail, which actually happened, is something that doesn’t have a very attractive outward appearance. Sure there had been some opposition over the years, but there was a lot of populist support. They would go into Jerusalem to shouts and cheers, they’d be received with open arms, and the people would make Jesus their king.
But the praise turned to jeers, the shouts turned to, “Crucify!” the support nearly turned into a riot, and Jesus was handed over to be crucified. This was everything that the Scriptures had been working toward, Jesus said, but seeing, they did not see, hearing, they did not understand. The flesh cannot see beyond the outward appearance.
We disciples are likewise, by nature, blind to the word and work of Jesus. It’s the remnants of the first sin, when Eve and Adam saw the fruit and thought that it looked good to eat, at least on the outside, and disregarded the Word attached to it. With our eyes of flesh we look on the outward appearance and call it like we see it. But in so doing we call the good bad, and the bad we call good.
The old saying is, “Seeing is believing.” But that’s not the case with the things of God. When it comes to God, “Believing is seeing.” There is a clarity of sight that extends beyond external clarity. And, being unable to see, the blind man is at an advantage. He sees what the disciples could not, not because of his own strength, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives clarity to see the blessings hidden under the cross.
The blind man could not see with his eyes, so he had to rely on his ears. When he asked about the commotion, the crowd told him it was Jesus of Nazareth. But that’s not how he addressed Him. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Two times he uses this title, which is nothing other than to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. When Peter makes this confession, Jesus says to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of John, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17).
To see the Christ in the man from Nazareth is impossible with eyes of flesh and blood. But God looks at things differently. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7 ESV). In order to see as God sees, it’s necessary to first have the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the One who works new sight in you, to perceive the hidden things of God revealed by His Word.
In the things of the world, seeing is believing, but in the things of God, believing is seeing. Such internal clarity is a gift of God. And so the blind man, who could not see, clearly saw Jesus as the One who has mercy. And in this sight he found his blessing. 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.” 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 40-43).
Faith saved the blind man because faith is the internal clarity given by the Spirit to see the work of God hidden under suffering and the cross. The man’s blindness was his blessing, because he only had the Word to go on. So also, it’s necessary for you to first become blind to the outward appearance of things in order to find the gift that God hides under suffering and the cross.
That’s the point of this encounter. Sure, it shows the power and majesty hidden under the humble form of a servant in Jesus. But even more, it’s a commentary on the passion, suffering, and death of Christ. What appears to be by all outward measures to be the world’s greatest evil—the death of the Son of God—is the world’s greatest good. And if the world’s greatest good is hidden under Christ’s suffering and death, then the work of God is also hidden under the sufferings and crosses of those who are baptized into His death.
Faith is the internal clarity to see good hidden under evil, blessing hidden under curse, life hidden under death. Flesh and blood cannot see beyond the outward appearance, but the Spirit gives you clarity to see the blessings hidden under the cross. Such sight is the gift of God. So look up, dear Christians, to the cross of Christ. Your faith has saved you.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard