2-14-21 Quinquagesima

Bible Text: Luke 18:31-43 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard | Series: Gesima 2021 | The Lenten season is approaching and we are making our annual pilgrimage up to Jerusalem where everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets has been accomplished. No longer is this saying hidden, but it has come to pass, and the apostles understand it, and we with them. For our Lord was delivered over to the Gentiles and was mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. After flogging him, they killed him, and on the third day he rose.

Jesus described his sufferings with remarkable detail. In his passion nothing of what he foretold was lacking. But what is even more remarkable than Jesus’ foreknowledge is his love. He knew full well what was coming. He knew every insult, every slap, every wad of saliva, every lash. He knew there was waiting for him a cross and nails and a painful death. And he pressed on toward Jerusalem with zeal, with joy closing the gap between himself and death.

What drives Jesus on? His love for us. Jesus is patient with us and long-suffering. He does not seek his own things, but seeks good for us. He endures everything for the sake of his beloved. The epistle reading showed this beautifully. When Paul writes about love, he’s not praising some abstract, philosophical concept. He’s praising the love of Christ. He’s praising Love incarnate, who gave away all he had and delivered up his body and gained everything. And what specifically did he gain? He gained you. He suffered it all to redeem you, that you might be his own and live under him in his kingdom.

The first part of today’s reading shows who Christ is, namely, Love in the flesh. The second part of the reading starts by showing who we are: “As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” There you are: a beggar. Now I want to be clear: In Christ you are not a beggar, but are rich, as it says in 2 Corinthians 8, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Yet it is good to remember that of ourselves we are beggars. Acknowledging that results in the glory of Christ and puts down our pride. “What do you have that you did not receive?” as Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 4. So we often confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. We confess that of ourselves we have nothing. This confession pains the sinful nature. Our flesh is proud and does not like being at the mercy of others. Many people would rather delude themselves into thinking they’re kings than admit the truth that they are beggars who need Christ. We see this all around us in the world, the blind leading the blind and both falling into a pit.

This blindness is comfortable for the sinful flesh, because even though the spiritually blind do not see the saving light of Christ, they also do not see the uncomfortable truth about their sins. As it says in John 3, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” The world, however, claims to have insight. It claims to know the truth and invents all sorts of abominations under the pretense that it can see. To which Jesus says in John 9, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Dear saints, this willful blindness is the path to death, and nothing is ultimately gained by stumbling blindly down that dark road. It is far better to be the beggar in today’s reading who knows his plight and doesn’t try fooling himself. It is far better to see your low estate and confess your sins and state your needs and cast yourself on the mercy of Christ. He will not condemn you or ignore you. He will not despise your poverty. He has in fact made great and gracious promises to us who are poor. In Psalm 113 it says, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.” And again in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is only beggars who are too proud to beg that remain beggars. As for the beggars who do beg, Jesus exalts them from their beggary and makes them royalty.

But understand that the voice of our begging, that is, the voice of prayer, does not proceed from our poverty. The voice of prayer proceeds from the Word of God. We cannot pray on the basis that we’re poor, because the simple fact of being poor does not entitle us to receive anything from God. It is only because he has made promises to the poor that we can expect to receive anything from him. And therefore we do not stake our prayers on who we are, but on who he is, as we have come to know him from his Word.

The beggar in the reading knows this, and we’ve left him sitting there long enough. So let us join him along the road, and learn from him and beg with him and receive with him. “A blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” The beggar has heard about Jesus. He heard that Jesus is no mere man from Nazareth, but the Christ, the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to King David. The beggar has heard that Jesus is God and man, human and divine. And the beggar has heard that Jesus is merciful and gracious and grants the requests of those in need. And so the beggar prays with confidence in the Word that he has heard, not calling out, “Jesus of Nazareth,” but crying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

You have an even greater Word than he did concerning Christ’s mercy. Jesus’ words in the first part of the reading concerning his suffering, death, and resurrection were hidden at that time but are now revealed. And so on the basis of those words you can make your prayer like so:

Dearest Jesus, I am a poor beggar, and am unworthy of your mercy because my own sins have caused my great debt. I deserve to be abandoned on the side of the road without anyone to help. Yet you came in human flesh for my sake. You knew the death that awaited you in Jerusalem and hurried toward it to save me. You willingly suffered mockery and blows and crucifixion out of your great love for me. And so although I am unworthy, yet with confidence in your mercy which you have shown I make my prayer, knowing you will not cast me aside. Forgive my sins. Grant me everything needful for body and soul. Have mercy on me according to your steadfast love. Amen.

Jesus will not despise that prayer and will surely grant it, just as he granted the prayer of the beggar.

Now as we stand praying with the beggar, we immediately see that faithful prayer is met with opposition. Jesus does not oppose it, but the devil and the world do. “And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” You experience this whenever the devil tells you, “Be quiet. Jesus doesn’t want to hear you or help you.” But this is a lie. The beggar knows the Word that he heard, and no lie of the devil can change that Word, thanks be to God. This is your hope as you pray. If your unworthiness seems greater than the grace of Christ, simply recall Jesus’ passion sermon to his disciples in which he details everything that he has done in his love for you. His Word will give you persistence in your prayer so that you cry out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And sure enough, Jesus did have mercy. “Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him.” Here’s an ironic twist! It seems that Jesus commands the very people who were rebuking the blind beggar to bring the beggar to him. How often the same thing happens to the devil! He spends his strength to keep you away from Jesus, to convince you that hardship and affliction make you detestable to your Lord. And yet what does he accomplish? He might stir up tears and despair, but he also drives you to cry out and sends you running for dear life into the arms of Christ. And thus the devil’s plots backfire, as we sing in Psalm 7, “He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”

So Jesus commanded that the beggar be brought to him. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before giving this order, did you catch what Jesus did? “Jesus stopped.” Consider what this means! Jesus stopped in place, put everything on hold, and turned his full attention to the cries of a poor beggar. See how precious you are to him and what great love he has for you! Jesus brings the beggar into his presence and is in no way ashamed to associate with him. Jesus treats the beggar with honor and offers himself to him entirely, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” The beggar makes his request, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”

We do well to pray this with the beggar. While our eyeballs might be functional, that doesn’t mean we see rightly. There are times our sins look greater than the death of Jesus. That’s not right. There are times politics appear more influential than the Word of God. That’s not right. There are times we see Christ handing his Church over to the world to do with as it pleases, and then our eyes are not seeing anything close to the truth. Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her! He isn’t going to abandon her. So you see that we too must pray, “Lord, let me recover my sight; let me see rightly according to your Word and not according to my false perceptions.” And Jesus grants this prayer, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.” In this answer we see love: Christ has been gracious to us who cannot repay him in the least.

The beggar followed Jesus, glorifying God. The beggar joined in the procession, which became the Palm Sunday procession. With his new sight he saw the mercy of Christ during Holy Week, and we fix our eyes on the same. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.” Lent is upon us. And with the beggar we shall see the love of our Lord, to whom be thanksgiving forever. Amen.

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