Quinquagesima (Luke 18:31-43)

Bethlehem and Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Quinquagesima + February 11, 2018

Text: Luke 18:31-43

These two accounts in St. Luke’s Gospel are arranged very intentionally.  Side by side, the disciples are placed next to a blind beggar.  The disciples are sighted, but blind to see who Jesus is.  The beggar is blind, but has faithful eyes which see who Jesus is.  So we have the comparison of the blind man’s sight, and the sighted men’s blindness.

There are two names of Jesus which are featured in the Gospel: Son of Man and Son of David.  Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man.  The title, “son of man” is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to a human being.  It is “ben Adam,” a descendent of the first man, Adam.  And that carries with it a lot of baggage: the first man sinned and died, bringing sin to all his descendants, and “death spread to all men because all sinned.”[1]  The sons of man are dishonest and corrupt in their loyalties, so that God must point out, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”[2]  And the sons of Adam—all of them—return to the dust from which they were taken, as Moses says in Psalm 90, “You return man to dust, and say ‘Return, O sons of man!’”[3]

But when Jesus uses this term, He chooses to identify with these sons of Adam.  He truly shares in the mortal existence of the sons of man.  It’s precisely what He does as a son of Adam that’s important: Jesus, Son of Man, is born without sin and He does not sin.  He loves the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, and strength, and does not worship any idols.  And even though He is without sin, He suffers to be “delivered over to the Gentiles…[to] be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon”…flogged and killed.  This Son of Man dies, but “on the third day” rises again.

Therefore, as Jesus, the Son of Man, goes, so do the sons of man with Him.  The sinless Son of Man knew no sin, so that the sons of Adam would be reckoned free from sin.[4]  He suffers, bleeds, and goes down to the grave with the sons of man.  But on the third day, He rises from the dead, “never to die again.”[5]  And He brings the sons of man with Him, out of their graves.  He ascends into heaven with the Father, and the sons of Adam follow Him and return to the presence of God.

The blind man, on the other hand, uses another name for Jesus: Son of David.  And this is more than Solomon, or Rehoboam, or any of David’s other descendants.  This is He of whom David wrote in Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’[6]  This is the Anointed One, the Messiah, of whom Isaiah spoke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[7]

So the blind man cries out after Jesus saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And who he thinks this Son of David is comes out when Jesus asks him what he wants done for him.  The blind man asks for a remarkable thing: “Lord, let me recover my sight.”  It may seem obvious that he wants to see again, but nowhere among any of the prophets, was a blind man ever given his sight.[8]  There had been healings, resurrections, and miraculous feedings, but none had ever opened the eyes of the blind.  That was reserved for the Son of David, God in the flesh.  Through a faith granted from above, this blind man understood better than the disciples who Jesus really is.

On the way up to Jerusalem, Jesus had taken the twelve aside.  He spelled out why “His face is turned to Jerusalem.”[9]  In plain language, Jesus speaks to these twelve men and says, “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

What He says is no breaking news: Everything that is written is all of the Scriptures, from Moses to Malachi.  Abraham took his son up the mountain to sacrifice him, but the true sacrifice would be God’s own Son.  Samuel (in today’s Old Testament reading) anointed David, the man after God’s heart.[10]  This David later sang of His sufferings and how evildoers would pierce his hands and feet.  Isaiah foretold the Lord’s servant who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.[11]  All the Scriptures were to be fulfilled, as Jesus was handed over, suffered, died, and rose on the third day.

But the disciples understood none of this.  In fact for the time being, “this saying was hidden from them.”  They knew in part who this Jesus they were following was.  They heard Him teach many things, heal many diseases, and challenge the status quo both in society and the synagogue.

Actually, it’s not unlike what many people take Jesus to be today.  They follow Him because they regard Him as a teacher of love.  Like a good rabbi or guru, Jesus gives direction on how we can be better people.  They proudly ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then adopt Him as sponsor of whatever their cause is—tolerance, social justice, or a convenient addition to a political speech.

But such a view of Jesus, even though it comes from people with supposed sight, is spiritually blind.  Why was Jesus going up to Jerusalem?  To make atonement for the world’s sin—for your sin.  If we’ve been a Christian for long enough, we mouth the words, I, a poor, miserable sinner, but we make a half-hearted confession.  The old Adam in us thinks our sins aren’t that bad, because there are other people who are worse.  I only fudge the numbers on my taxes, but I’m not Charles Ponzi!  Sure I called the President an idiot, but it’s not like I plotted to kill him!  Sure I occasionally check out women, but I’m not as bad as Larry Nassar whose sexual sins make the headlines.  As another pastor put it, “We damn ourselves by our faint confession.”[12]  We are blind men and women who really only want a Savior who only saves us from socially acceptable sins.

Repent.

If your sins aren’t that bad, or aren’t that condemnable, why must the Son of Man be “delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him.”  If your sin is not that bad, then God paid too high a price for your life.  Maybe He should ask for a refund.

But indeed we are poor and miserable, and would that the Lord would give us spiritual eyes to recognize that!  Martin Luther’s dying words were, “We are all beggars. This is true.”  The blind beggar is us, chasing after the Lord for mercy.  And casting aside every voice that says, “You’re a good person” and “Just believe in yourself,” we fall down on our knees before the Son of David and say, “Oh Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”[13]  And He asks us what we want Him to do for us.  He already knows what we need, but He listens to us as we say,

…I pray you of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.

We ask Him for the forgiveness which flows from His betrayal and mocking and shameful treatment and being spat upon and flogged and killed.  And He hears and answers each of us: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 42).  Your faith in His innocent suffering and death has saved you.

We, the 12 disciples, and the blind beggar are all the same.  We all need God the Father, by the Holy Spirit, to open our eyes to see Jesus for who He is.  He is the Son of David, who came, not only open the eyes of the blind, but also to bestow the Lord’s favor and raise the dead to eternal life.

And He comes to you here, today.  He came in the waters of your Baptism to nail your sins to His cross, and raise you to new life.  By His mercy, you, son of Adam, will follow the Son of Man where He has gone, to be with your God forever.  Amen.

[1] Romans 5:12

[2] Numbers 23:19

[3] Psalm 90:2

[4] Genesis 15:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21

[5] Romans 6:9

[6] Psalm 110:1, cited in Luke 20:42-43

[7] Luke 4:18-19, citing Isaiah 61:1-2 and 42:7

[8] cf. John 9:32

[9] Luke 9:51, 53

[10] 1 Samuel 16:7

[11] Deuteronomy 18; Joshua 5:13-15; 1 Sam 13:14; Psalm 22; Isaiah 52-53

[12] Pastor David Peterson, Sermon for Quinquagesima, March 10, 2013

[13] Cf. Luke 18:13

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