Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me!” This is what the blind man, who St. Mark tells is us named Bartimaeus, cries out as Jesus comes near him. He knows his sin. He knows the effects sin has on the world, and upon his own body. So he begs for forgiveness, for healing to the only One who can give it. And He does. Jesus is merciful. He forgives Bartimaeus his sins, He heals his body. This is what Jesus always does. Throughout the Gospels, whenever a person or persons cry out “Kyrie eleison,” “Lord, have mercy,” He does. Never does Jesus ignore the plea or deny the mercy begged of Him. Whenever Jesus hears “Lord, have mercy,” He is merciful, He forgives.
That’s why the Church has taken the plea of Bartimaeus and so many others and placed it into the Liturgy. There is no historic liturgy known to the Church, be it the Sunday Divine Service or any of the prayer offices where we do not cry out “Lord, have mercy upon us.” But when we pray that prayer, it’s not just a request, but it also carries with it a tone of praise. We do not ask for divine mercy unsure of the outcome. We ask for mercy confident that God has and will give it to us because of Jesus Christ. We pray for mercy with thanksgiving. It’s a petition we love to pray because we know the answer is never no or not yet, but always yes.
Which is also why we love to hear about Christ’s crucifixion. It’s why St. Paul penned those famous words to the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). For us, just like it was for St. Paul, we love to hear about Jesus’ crucifixion, not because we like to hear about unjust murder, but because it’s another chance to hear just how love is patient and kind, how it bears no record of wrongs, how it bears all things, even our sin to fulfill all that the Law demands of sinners, and to die in our place. It’s why we gladly put a crucifix, not an empty cross, in our church. We look at that sight with joy because we know it is the ultimate image of love.
So as we stand at the threshold of Lent, we hear Jesus third “Passion Prediction,” the last time He tells His disciples what waits for Him in Jerusalem. Today’s Gospel, when placed in the context of this section of Luke, is just days before Palm Sunday. After Jesus makes this prediction and heals Bartimaeus, He stays with Zacchaeus, reminds him that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), and then enters Jerusalem to ride on to His crucifixion. What Jesus does when He heals Bartimaeus is give a preview of what He will accomplish just a few days later. He will go to the cross, not only to forgive sin, but to rise from the grave and then to ascend to heaven, promising that, not only will our souls rise to Jesus when the body dies, but that on the Last Day, our bodies will raise perfected and ascend to heaven to be reunited with our waiting souls. The mercy He has on Bartimaeus is only possible because of what is coming, and the mercy He has on us is only possible because of what He has done.
That is why, time and time again, we are reminded that the most important teaching in all of Scripture is that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, redeeming people, and reconciling them to His Father. This is what Christianity is all about. This is the truth that gives you hope for everlasting life. It is what forgives sins and comforts your conscience.
But why do you need forgiveness of sins and comfort for your conscience? Because the devil, the world, and your sinful nature don’t let you rest in this world. Your sins and the sins others commit against you cause suffering and pain, and ultimately it is because of sin that this body dies. We cannot exist without a Rock of refuge, a Fortress of defense to save us (Introit). We need someone to strengthen our weak hands, make firm our feeble knees, and give comfort to our fearful hearts (OT). We need a Redeemer who is God and Man.
And that is who Jesus is. He accomplished your salvation by going up to Jerusalem, being handed over to the Gentiles, being mocked and treated shamefully, spit upon, flogged, and killed. On the third day He rose again. This is the center and substance of your faith. This is what gives you hope. And this is what God’s love for you is all about, love that does not rejoice in iniquity but endures all things, even death.
Immediately after this Passion prediction, Jesus hears the cries of blind Bartimaeus. In giving sight to this blind man, you see the true Messianic character of Jesus: mercy. The Son of David came to have mercy upon those in need. He came to open eyes, ears, and mouths to the glories of heaven. He came to cause people to walk in the ways of the Lord. He came to rescue you from sin and death and sorrow over death.
In the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit created saving faith in you, and by that flood opened your eyes, ears, and mouth to salvation. By that washing of new birth what was lame on account of sin now leaps in the hope of everlasting life.
Jesus did not come to live a life of glory. He came to die, to rise, and to join you to that death and resurrection by Baptism. You, His disciples, have not been promised a life of ease or a life free from pain and suffering. But you have been promised a release from that suffering at the proper time. The suffering in this world cannot be compared to the glories of heaven to come.
This week, on Ash Wednesday, we turn our eyes toward Jerusalem once again. We look to Golgotha, but we do not look there with sorrow and shame. For there true joy and comfort are found. Jesus does not gather all to Himself for mourning and weeping, but for rejoicing and celebration. In his death, death is consumed and loses its power and sting. Suffering is placed in the perspective of eternity and is shown to be temporary. And on the cross we are shown the God of love.
What Jesus sets out to do He does not regret. He goes with purpose. So we walk with Jesus, glad to follow Him to cross and grave, knowing that His death has freed us from our soul’s destruction, and because He’s risen from the dead death and grave must soon release us. Given His mercy, His forgiveness of sins, we know that where He lives now, He will take us to live eternally.
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.