Quinquagesima Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
We’re beginning, today, with the end of the Gospel lesson, because we need to understand what’s at stake.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 18:42). That’s how it was read a few moments ago, but that’s not quite right.
Certainly, the man is well, Jesus restores his sight! But the actual word that Jesus uses is saved. It could read, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.”
The King James Version has it that way, if you like to compare translations.
But the reason we start here is simple: if we hear wrong what Jesus says, if we hear that faith makes you well, we inevitably and incorrectly connect the two.
If we hear it wrong, we might think this man is made well because Jesus restored his sight.
That’s wrong, first, because faith can’t guarantee that blind eyes will see again, like this beggar experienced (otherwise there’d be no blind or deaf or weak or hurting or sinful Christians!).
And second, Jesus doesn’t say “made well,” He says saved.
Faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t guarantee good health. It doesn’t guarantee strong legs, a pain-free life, popularity, or a good time.
Faith in Jesus doesn’t promise those things, but lots of other things do.
Faith in Jesus Christ does guarantee salvation.
And nothing else does that.
But here’s where it’s most difficult:
In our day-to-day lives, for which do we feel the greater need?
Eyesight? Pain management? A clean bill of health? Wealth, even? Or salvation?
The Gospel lesson today hits us hard, because it contrasts the seeing (and unbelieving!) disciples with the blind (but believing and therefore saved!) beggar.
And we should prefer to be the blind beggar.
Though you don’t want to be blind, you really don’t want to be one of the Twelve, because they don’t understand.
“Taking the twelve [disciples], [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’” (Luke 18:31-33).
Jesus could not be more clear.
Seventeen times prior to these verses in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the Son of Man.
The disciples know it’s Him.
And yet, St. Luke writes, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34).
In three separate ways, Luke tells us that, seeing, the disciples do not see. Hearing, they do not understand. And having Jesus there, they have nothing at all.
And so we read of the blind beggar.
“As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, 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.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And 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 recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you’” (Luke 18:35-42).
This beggar is the example of faith.
This blind beggar is a perfect illustration of the Christian because he’s blind (which means he believes what he hears and not what he sees) and because he’s a beggar.
We are all beggars. This is true.
Each of us, before God, is an empty cup needing to be filled. Each of us, before God, has nothing to offer God that He needs. We are, arms outstretched and palms up, in need of what He has to give.
And this blind beggar gets it. Literally blind, he sees quite well. Hearing, he believes. And having Jesus there, he has everything.
Notice, Jesus is near and the beggar cries out, “Son of David, have mercy!” He knows who David was.
He knows who Jesus is.
So yeah, this beggar gets it. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy.”
But what happens? This blind beggar and example of the Christian faith cries out to what end?
He’s rebuked by the crowd.
And it at least seems like Jesus is ignoring him. Jesus, who knows all things, doesn’t answer him immediately.
And that’s on purpose.
We should all learn to be like the blind beggar.
He ignores the rebuke of Man out of faithfulness to God.
And he’s got thick skin. He remains faithful and cries out all the more even when it seems that God Himself is silent or uncaring.
Prayers, sometimes, stay the same for years.
But just because God doesn’t give you exactly what you want exactly the way you want it doesn’t mean He hasn’t already provided you with all that you need for this body and life.
When we have to learn that lesson, it is difficult.
But we aren’t alone in having to learn it.
Nor are we supposed to keep our desires to ourselves.
The blind beggar can’t see Jesus, but he trusts that Jesus hears. He trusts that Jesus answers. So when rebuked by Man and seemingly ignored by God—when it would seem that he has all the reasons in the world to stop praying—he cries out all the more, because he knows that God is merciful.
Literally blind, he sees things quite well.
“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him…”
Because by your own reason or strength you cannot believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to him.
“…And when he came near, [Jesus] asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.’”
The faith that saves the blind beggar was there before Jesus restored his sight. It was there before he cried out the first time. It was there when he was rebuked, and it was there when it must’ve felt like God was ignoring him and refusing to answer his prayer for mercy.
The faith that saves the blind beggar is there apart from the miracle of sight restored.
And—regardless of his sight—the man is saved.
Jesus heals the blind man for many reasons.
Because the man asked.
Because Jesus is there to give sight to the blind.
But our reason—the reason Jesus did that then but not now—the reason we don’t get our miracles the way they got theirs—is because Jesus wants us to want and ask for more than eyes that see.
He wants us to believe and be saved.
So that in the resurrection we have all that we ask for and more.
That’s what’s at stake.
Jesus, in healing the blind man, is showing us what the resurrection looks like.
And in telling the blind man that his faith has saved him—Jesus is showing us what is most important.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.
And then—in the resurrection—everything else will be added unto you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!