Quinquagesima Sunday 2019
Today’s collect is a perfect outline of the Gospel. “O Lord, we beseech You, mercifully hear our prayers, and having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil.” This is precisely what Jesus does for the blind man of Jericho and what He does for you.
Before Jesus heals the blind man, He tells His disciples for the third and final time what is about to happen. There is no spiritual language perceptible only to faith like we see in Jesus’ final instruction to the disciples in John’s Gospel. This is black and white, give it to me straight, truth. Jesus is about to be handed over, mocked, shamefully treated, beaten, killed, and raised from the dead. No talk about “Where I am going, you know, and the way you know.” No talk about not leaving the disciples as orphans. That will all come later. Right now, it’s all laid out in simple language. But the disciples don’t get it. Because Jesus had yet to give them the Holy Spirit, they didn’t have a way to comprehend that this was good. The Spirit wasn’t enlightening them yet, showing them what St. John confessed about Jesus being the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world. It sounds like a scary prediction of making the wrong people mad and having to pay the price. So they follow Jesus, not exactly sure how to make sense of what He has told them.
And then the blind man. The man who could not be silenced cried out for mercy. He prayed, he pleaded, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” By these words he confessed that there was no help for him, in body or soul, except for Jesus, the promised Son of David, who will give sight to the blind and salvation from sin. Jesus knows all things, so He knows the faith this man has. His faith is made known through his repeated cry for mercy. The crowd tries to silence him, to shove him to the back, but he persists. He will not be deterred from receiving Divine mercy. His faith yearns for that one thing, for perfect healing. It will not stop until it has been fed, until Isaiah’s words are true: “He will come and save you.”
So Jesus, to the chagrin of the crowd, goes to the man they wish would go away. He analyzes this man. He sees what he truly needs. Yes, his sight is restored, but that’s not what really goes on here. Our English translation is completely wrong. “Your faith has made you well.” There are different words Jesus could have used if He meant “Your faith has restored your health.” The words that flow from Our Lord’s lips are “Your faith has saved you.” Your faith has delivered you into divine salvation. Who cares about eyesight! You can go to heaven with 20/20 vision. You can go to heaven with missing eyes. You can go to heaven blind. You cannot go to heaven with sin.
In our Collect’s words, Jesus set him free from the bonds of his sin. He looked at the man and saw that the problem wasn’t blindness, it was sin. This is a total system failure. The eyes are only a symptom of the larger, damning problem. He needs his sin taken away, his soul healed, and his eternal life spared and delivered from all danger. So Jesus tells him that he is saved and then He goes to accomplish it. He goes to pull the blind man and the whole world back from the brink of evil and eternal death.
This blind man is representative of every single one of us. Each of us are plagued by any number of diseases, frustrations, complaints, needs, and other problems. They may seem like they’re the thing that really needs attention, but Jesus looks at us and sees that none of those things are the real problem. Just like the blind man, each of us has a total system failure. Original sin completely owns us, and we add our own actual sins to it. Our problem is not sicknesses, let downs, or failures. Our problem is that sin is so deeply implanted that we cannot even comprehend how bad it is. Our nature is corrupted and we cannot be what God created us to be. We need a Savior from sin, someone who will come to us and tell us that we are saved from it.
And that’s precisely what Jesus does. We see the symptoms, we complain to Him about them, but He comes to us and heals us from the one thing that really needs the healing. He may choose to remove what we think ails us, but more often than not He leaves that thing as a cross, a way to remind us that we need His mercy, but He does the greater thing by taking away all our sin. That’s what He has already done for you once this morning and soon will do again. He already declared you free from sin by His innocent suffering and death. And as you come to the Altar He delivers that suffering and death to you as He gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. And right now, as you hear His Word read and preached, as you sing it in the chants and the hymns, the Holy Spirit creates faith while you are hearing, faith which gladly receives all that Christ gives and longs for it as often as it can be obtained. Because of that work of the Holy Spirit, when you hear “The Body of Christ, given for you,” what you’re really hearing is “Your faith has saved you.”
Faith saves you because that is where the Holy Spirit works in you to open the eyes of faith to see clearly the good in Good Friday. He reveals to you that Jesus hanging on the cross, crying out, “It is finished” is all for you, all to heal your sinful, dying self. He reveals to you that Jesus’ resurrection is a picture of your own, a glimpse of the future glory that awaits. In Christ’s resurrection, you see that these weak, frail, and failing bodies will be restored to life, health, and strength on the Last Day when He returns.
Until that Day, the Holy Spirit lives out the Collect in you. He pleads for you for forgiveness, praying that the Father would count Jesus’ righteousness as your own. He brings you to this place where He sets you free from the bonds of your sin. And through all your days He defends you from evil, reminding you daily that because you are in Christ, you have everything you need: forgiveness, restoration, healing, and resurrection.
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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.