Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” As we stand now on the threshold of Lent, as we prepare to follow Our Lord from the cross to the grave and back to the Upper Room to comfort His terrified disciples, this is the theme. St. Paul’s great “Love Chapter” isn’t about weddings. It’s not even about the love we have for others. It’s about the love Jesus Christ has for you. For you He bears all things, even your sin. He believes all things, even that He drinks the Father’s cup of wrath to fulfill His will that all men might be redeemed. He hopes all things, even that all might repent, believe, and receive His full forgiveness. He endures all things, even the cross, to save you. So today He reminds His disciples that what He is about to endure He bears willingly. He goes to the cross in obedience to His Father and in love for His creation, the greatest love the world has ever known.
As the Gospels make abundantly clear, especially what St. John records in the chapters leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples do not understand beforehand what must take place, and they understand it even less while it is taking place. So Jesus, being the true Teacher, teaches lessons that will pay off in the long run. That’s why Jesus brings it to pass that He heals blind Bartimaeus immediately after His final Passion Prediction, and that this is the final miracle recorded by St. Luke. In the middle of the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the disciples doubtlessly thought that Jesus had finally made the wrong people mad, and that He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of circumstance and personality politics, or maybe worse, that He was causing these events to happen to give legitimacy to a cause He invented. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Knowing that they will replay these events in the days, weeks, and years after His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus allows Himself to go to Bartimaeus. While walking, He tells them in no uncertain terms that He is the Messiah, the One to whom all of the Old Testament pointed: “[I] will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge [Me] and kill [Me]. And the third day [I] will rise again.” And then to prove to them that He is the Messiah, He comes to Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, the promised Son of God by calling Him the Son of David and imploring His mercy. And then Jesus does what Isaiah says only the Messiah can do: He gives sight to the blind. All of this proves that Jesus isn’t a victim or a deranged psychopath, but the promised Messiah. Actions prove what words confess.
In curing Bartimaeus of his blindness, Jesus shows exactly what the mercy of God looks like. It isn’t found in the places you expect, but in the actions that seem insignificant. The mercy of God is not revealed in reversing blindness. Rather, mercy is shown in the very first action of Jesus towards Bartimaeus: stopping. The people around Bartimaeus told him to be quiet. People with physical disabilities were outcasts. They couldn’t work, so they were almost always poor and homeless. And with the homelessness comes things like begging, inappropriate or missing clothing, odor, and the like. Civilized persons did not want the disabled anywhere near them. That’s why Bartimaeus is rebuked—they want him to go back to the alley he crawled out of. But he will not go away, and he will not be silent. He cried out all the more for mercy, something only God can give. So Jesus has mercy—He stops. When everyone else would send him away, Jesus goes to him. There’s the miracle, long before the eyesight is restored. The miracle is that Jesus stops. That’s what God is like—He hears the cries of the insignificant, the despised, the smelly, annoying beggar that everyone else is embarrassed by.
We are sent into Lent with this image of love and this one simple prayer: “Lord, have mercy.” That’s the one thing you have in this world: the love of Jesus who stops for an insignificant sinner like you. Jesus stops for one whom the world might pass by, ignore, or attempt to silence. But the Gospels show us that Jesus stops for the sinners, the broken, the lonely, the lost. Jesus stops for you.
But He doesn’t stop to give you a hug or to take you out for coffee when you’re having a bad day. He stops to be Love incarnate, to be Mercy incarnate. He stops to pick up His cross to die for you. He stops to pick up the punishment you deserve so that you will never have to endure it. And then He continues on—to the Upper Room, to Calvary, to the tomb, to hell, and then back again, all so He can come back to you, to show you what true love looks like in pierced hands and side, in sin paid for, in death defeated. In short, Jesus has mercy on you! And He does it willingly, without a word of complaint, even when you go back to your sin and need to confess it. No matter how many times that cycle repeats, Jesus loves you, He has mercy on you, He forgives you all your sin because He paid the price for it.
Until this life comes to its close, until you no longer need merciful forgiveness from the Lord because you have been relieved of this body of death and await its perfection on the Last Day, St. Paul says that three things abide: faith, hope, and love. The word “abide” is more nuanced than we hear. It can mean “to remain and expect something in the future.” Faith, hope, and love are what sustain us in this journey and all of them expect something in the future, they all teach us to expect something in the future. Our faith is strengthened here in Word and Sacrament as Jesus comes to us and speaks His Words of truth and life into our hearts and minds. These words give us hope, hope of something greater than this life, an imperishable crown that no one can take from us. And this is secured for us by love, by the actions of Jesus which led Him to His death in our place. And that love is what continues forever. It is that love given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion that abide today and point us to the future, when we will understand what it means to be united with Christ in a resurrection like His, when we will no longer eat the Foretaste of the Feast to Come, but sit with all the Faithful at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. The greatest gift God could give to you is love, which is to say, Jesus Christ. Faith and hope have their end because one day you will see God face-to-face and will no longer need faith to believe in that which you cannot see, and hope has its end because you will possess what you have longed for. Love is the greatest because it is the mercy of God which gives you gifts far greater than you deserve, more than the recovery of sight, but life everlasting.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.