Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
All of Luke chapter eighteen is a discussion of faith. (It will be helpful for you to follow along in your Bible as we go.)
So, we should understand today’s Gospel lesson in light of what Jesus has already said and done.
In the parable of the persistent widow, the point isn’t that we should badger God with prayers until He relents to our will. That’s not faith.
Instead, that parable teaches us to believe that God, our heavenly father, loves us, His dear children, as any father should. That’s faith.
The example of the tax collector and the Pharisee teach us to rely not on ourselves or our works but on the mercy of God. The sinful tax collector cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). That’s faith.
And when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 8:17), when He says that, He’s talking about faith in the very best way.
Children are passive. They depend upon what’s given them and starve without it. But popular-Christianity has built up this illusion that faith begins inside you. That you determine and decide to believe. That you can choose God and should and so the only difference between believers and unbelievers is that use their free will to choose God and unbelievers don’t.
God isn’t needed in that line of thinking; you are.
In that line of thinking, baptizing a child is pointless, because the child hasn’t prayed the sinner’s prayer, hasn’t come forward for an altar call or five, hasn’t had an overly emotional conversion experience, or made Jesus their personal Lord and Savior by using the hashtag #saved.
It’s satanic to think that we can save ourselves.
Faith is a gift that God has chosen to give to us through means. Holy Baptism is one of those means.
All Christian baptisms (whether you were young or old when you were baptized) are infant baptisms, because you brought nothing to the table—and God saved you anyway. Faith despairs of self and trusts God to save.
That’s what it is to receive the kingdom of God like a little child. To receive and believe and trust God.
After that, still in Luke chapter eighteen, Jesus hit hard when He told the rich ruler to get rid of his false god, his money. That man went away sad, because he had much.
Poor people hear that and say, “That’s not me.”
Rich people hear that and say, “That’s not me, either.”
Before Oliver was born, a friend of mine told me that children show you very quickly what your false gods are.
I hated hearing that then. But now, I love that he said it, because every one of us has false gods.
Go a week without your smartphone. Go a week without the Internet. Don’t eat fast food. Eat every meal as a family with the tv off. Read your Bible out loud to your wife and children—even if they’re grown. Stop cursing. Stop lying. Stop gossiping.
If I tell you to repent, you’ll say, “He’s right.”
But if I suggest giving up Netflix or high-speed internet for Lent, you’ll say, “No Pastor, life’s not worth living if I can’t binge-watch sixteen seasons of Law and Order.”
More than we care to admit, we are the rich ruler. And so, with the disciples, we say, “‘Who then can be saved?’ [And Jesus answers], ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God’” (Luke 18:26-27).
Faith despairs of self and trusts God to save.
Now, so far, this is the context of Luke chapter eighteen prior to today’s Gospel lesson. It’s a discussion of faith.
With all this in mind, Jesus, “said to [the Twelve], ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that’s written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he’ll be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they’ll kill him, and on the third day he’ll rise.’ But [the Twelve] understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they didn’t grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34).
Aren’t you glad that you’re not them?
Look at the length to which St. Luke goes to record that the Twelve disciples didn’t get it?
They don’t understand.
The saying was hidden from them.
They didn’t grasp what was said.
They followed Jesus and heard His Word, they had all the pieces to the puzzle, but they thought they were playing cards.
We hear this description of the Twelve, and we say, “That’s not faith.”
We hear that description, and we rejoice that we’re not like the Twelve.
And then we hear of the blind man, “sitting by the roadside begging. Hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Then he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘See again; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately, he saw again and followed him, glorifying God. And the people, when they saw it, praised God” (Luke 18:35-43).
We hear this description of the blind man, and we say, “What faith! That’s who I want to be.”
No one wants to be blind, but everyone wants to be remembered the way the blind man is remembered.
He’s persistent in prayer. He’s bold. The scorn of the world is of no concern. He prays, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and Jesus speaks to him as He does no one else. The blind man sees again, he glorifies God, follows Jesus, and all the people present praise God.
That’s the kind of experience every Christian wants.
But don’t be fooled, no one gets it.
We all want to be the blind man that Jesus heals, but who’s perfectly persistent in prayer, like the blind man?
Who’s as bold as he is? Who endures the scorn of the world with such steadfast devotion to Christ?
Who’s remained true to every godly vow they’ve ever made?
More than that, whose prayers are not only perfect but also perfectly and immediately answered?
Who receives their miracle in exactly the way they ask?
Who receives everything they ask for and first and always glorifies God for it?
When do such splendid things happen in our lives, and everyone around us remembers to—first—praise God?
Don’t be fooled.
Our faith is not like that of the blind man.
Our faith really is more like that of the Twelve.
We don’t understand; so much is hidden, and not a one grasps everything that Jesus says.
That’s honest. But it’s no cause for despair.
Jesus goes to Jerusalem as much for the Twelve and you and me as He does for the blind man.
“He’ll be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they’ll kill him, and on the third day he’ll rise” (Luke 18:32-33).
Jesus is crucified not just for those who believe or will believe. He’s crucified for all. For God so loved the world (cf. John 3:16). In the death of Jesus, the world is reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:19).
For all the world, for those weak in faith and strong, “[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
It’s true: the once-blind man sees and follows, glorifying God. But let’s not leave out the Twelve.
Eighteen times now, according to St. Luke, they’ve heard talk of the Son of Man. They know who Jesus is.
Peter has confessed Him to be the Christ.
Regarding what the Christ must suffer, they don’t understand, it’s hidden, and they don’t grasp it.
But even and especially here, we have comfort, as surely as the Twelve themselves had comfort.
Jesus says, “We are going up to Jerusalem…” (Luke 18:31).
They don’t understand everything. Some sayings are hidden from them. They don’t grasp everything that Jesus says. And yet they follow.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
We may not be able to explain every mystery to the contentment of our reason, but we confess the Word of God.
And so we pray and trust God to deliver us, because His Word promises that He will and does and has.
We despair of self and trust God to be merciful, because He has revealed Himself to us as merciful.
We forbid not the little children, and welcome them gladly into the kingdom. For “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). That is, Holy Baptism.
We recognize our false gods and abandon them—or we’ll go away sad.
We hear Jesus say, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that’s written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he’ll be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they’ll kill him, and on the third day he’ll rise” (Luke 18:31-33).
We hear Jesus, and we believe that all He does He does for the good of our body and soul unto life everlasting.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!