Quinquagesima–27 February 2022
31 Taking the twelve, [Jesus] 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. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.(ESV)
In one of his sermons on today’s Gospel, Martin Luther depicts the blind man’s confession of Christ as a lonely struggle. The blind man is struggling against his own conscience, wondering whether he is worthy to ask Jesus for such a favour as recovered sight. The blind man also has to contend with the crowd. The crowd sees him as an irritating mosquito needing to be silenced, and so they tell him in no uncertain terms to shut up.
But the more they try to quiet him, the more he cries out at the top of his lungs: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Instead of shutting up, the blind man shuts out the crowd. It is as if he and Jesus were the only two people who exist in all the world. Undeterred by his own feelings of unworthiness and the crowd’s attempt to sway him from his faith, the blind man centres in on Jesus, who alone has power to heal him.
I have a question for you: who is trying to shut down your faith in Christ? Well, there is the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature—the enemies of your salvation—who do not want you to hallow God’s name, who want to lead you astray, down the dark path of false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Then, due to the weakness of our faith, there is also the constant threat of complacency. Christ calls sinners to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. But that sounds so harsh. Why not settle instead for a comfortable existence where everyone just tries to be nice to each other, without having to worry about being accountable to an eternal Judge? Finally, there is your own inner struggle, by which you question whether you truly are a beloved, forgiven child of God, for you know that you have failed miserably to love God and your neighbour as you should.
God’s Good News to you is that He has saved, delivered, and redeemed you in Christ. And in His gracious, steadfast love for you, God is calling you to be like the blind man. Shut out all the clamouring voices trying to shut down your faith. Look past your unworthiness and call upon the Lord. Yes, trust in Christ and His promises in spite of your inner struggles and all the attempts to sway you from the faith. The inner turmoil and the outer opposition can be so fierce that you sometimes wonder how you can go on believing. But your calling in Christ is to do what the blind man did. Shut out your inner and outer distractions and centre in on Jesus, who alone has power to save you.
There really are only two paths before you: either you shut out the voices tempting you to unbelief, despair, shame, and vice and you keep crying out to Jesus to have mercy on you, or you listen to those voices and allow them to shut down your faith in Christ. Now, if this sounds like a conflict, that’s because it is. Your life in Christ is a constant and often a lonely struggle against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh—your enemies who would love nothing better than to shut down your faith permanently.
Now, you probably wish your life in Christ were a picnic; you do not like coming under attack from all sides, from within and without. But actually, it is good for you to experience those inner and outer attacks on your faith, for such attacks compel you to call upon God in prayer and to rely totally upon Jesus and His Word. Luther calls this experience “tentatio”—the suffering that happens precisely because a person is faithful to his or her calling as a Christian. This suffering is painful, but it is also beneficial, for God uses tentatio—or spiritual affliction, trial, and temptation—to drive us away from self-reliance to relying on His promises alone, to draw us away from trusting our own abilities to clinging more tightly to Christ and His Word.
In Psalm 61, the psalmist prays Lead me to the rock that is higher than I (v. 2). That is what God seeks to do through your afflictions, trials, and temptations. He seeks to lead you beyond yourself to the rock of salvation—Jesus—who is higher than you and from whose heights you can survive the storms of sin and suffering. Thus, God uses tentatio—or spiritual affliction—for your good.
The devil, though, seeks to use tentatio to try to destroy you. St. Paul speaks of how some, instead of holding on to the faith in time of affliction, have made shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:18). And the Book of Hebrews gives us this warning: See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble (12:15). The implication is clear. It is possible to wreck one’s faith on the rocks of unbelief; it is possible to grow so bitter toward God as to reject His grace, His undeserved favour in Christ. This is what the devil seeks to do in our lives. He wants us to reject Jesus, the rock of salvation, so that we make shipwreck of our faith, and in the end fail to obtain the grace of God.
But God is merciful, and in the midst of our afflictions, God is shaping us through His holy Word to be like the blind man, who kept confessing Christ and trusting in His promises in spite of inner feelings of unworthiness and outer opposition from the crowd. Like the blind man, we hold firmly only to the Word of God. And in our clinging to God’s Word, we live as though we and God were the only ones in heaven and on earth and we close our eyes and ears against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh (Luther). Yes, by God’s grace, we shut out all inner and outer distractions and we centre in on Jesus, who alone has power to save us.
As you strive, by God’s grace, to remain faithful to Christ, you will suffer. You can be certain to encounter tentatio throughout your whole life, for as soon as you meditate on and are occupied with God’s Word; as soon as God’s Word begins to take root in and grow in you, the devil attacks you with much conflict, bitter contradiction, and blatant opposition (Kleinig, The Kindred Heart, 147). But in spite of the devil’s constant attacks, God is ever seeking to bless you through and in spite of your afflictions. What a great blessing tentatio is, for it draws you away from yourself and teaches you to shut out the forces opposing your salvation and instead to trust in Christ and His promises in the midst of your afflictions, trials, and temptations. Coming to the end of yourself, you experience the power and truth of God’s Word.
In the midst of his inner feelings of unworthiness and of the crowd’s attempt to sway him from the faith, the blind man persisted in his confessing Jesus as the Messiah. The blind man stood firm, pressing through all obstacles. He would not allow the crowd—not even his own conscience—to separate him from his confidence in Christ. He was surrounded by people, but he shut them out so that, in terms of faith, he was all alone, alone with Jesus. The blind man was the poor beggar; Jesus was the rich Lord and Master, who graciously heard a beggar’s plea for mercy.
Jesus heard and answered the blind man’s plea for recovered sight. Not only that—Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, where He would satisfy the blind man’s greatest need—the need for life, forgiveness, and salvation. There, in Jerusalem, everything that [was] written about the Son of Man by the prophets [would] be accomplished. For he [would] be delivered over to the Gentiles and [would] be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they [would] kill him, and on the third day he [would] rise. And through His death and resurrection, Jesus would set the blind man and all of us free from the bonds of sin.
And having set us free from the bonds of sin, Jesus knows how to keep us faithful unto the end. In the intensity of our tentatio—our spiritual afflictions, trials, and temptations—we sometimes grow complacent, discouraged, even bitter. But Jesus, the Master Healer, comes to us speaking His forgiving Word that renews us in the true faith. Each Lord’s Day, we feast on our Lord’s holy Word and Supper, and we are healed of our unbelief and despair, forgiven our sins, and given the strength to shut out our inner and outer distractions and to centre in on Jesus, who alone has power to save us. Yes, God, in His grace, draws us away from ourselves so that we boldly confess Christ and cling to His promises.
As you encounter hardships, you cry out with the blind man, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And by God’s grace, you—like the blind man—stand firm in the faith, pressing through all obstacles. By God’s grace, you will not allow the world—not even your own troubled conscience—to separate you from your confidence in Christ. In the face of all attempts to shut down your faith, you confess “Jesus Christ was crucified for me so that I may live forever as God’s own dear child!”.
In your afflictions, the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature seek to draw you away from Christ. But by God’s grace, these attacks backfire. For when your afflictions drive you to the end of yourself, they teach you to seek and love God’s Word as the source of all your strength and being. In the midst of your afflictions, you experience for yourself the power and truth of God’s Word. Your trials and temptations, then, exercise and reinforce your faith in Christ. Amid your own weakness, you experience the power of God’s Word. In your adversities and troubles, you see displayed the presence of God and His grace (Kleinig, The Kindred Heart, 147). Time and again, you see how Jesus hears your cry for mercy and recovers your faith from despair and bitterness. Jesus, the Master Healer, speaks to you a word that calms your soul’s inner turmoil and that overcomes the opposition of the devil, the world, and your flesh. He says to you, “I forgive you,” and in those healing words He gives you the strength to daily deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him, glorifying God all the days of your life! Amen.