Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1–13 | 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 | Luke 18:31-43

Text: Luke 18:31-43

These two accounts in St. Luke’s Gospel are arranged very intentionally.  The disciples are placed side by side with 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.

Another contrast in this portion of the Gospel is the two titles of Jesus: 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 that He, “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]

We too are among those sons of Adam, which is why the Lenten season begins with the visual and tactile reminder: “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19)

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.  It’s in foreshadowing this that Daniel is given the vision of the Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven and presents himself before the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13)

Therefore, as Jesus, the Son of Man, goes, so do the sons of Adam 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 Nathan,[6] or any of David’s other descendants.  This is He of whom King David wrote in Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’[7]  This is the Anointed One, the Messiah, of whom Isaiah wrote: “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.”[8]

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 he 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.[9]  There had been healings, resurrections, and miraculous feedings, but none had ever opened the eyes of the blind.  That was reserved for the promised Son of David, God in the flesh.  This blind man understands by his faith far better than the disciples who Jesus really is.

And it really is only understood by faith.  In the clearest language possible, Jesus told His disciples, “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.”  But at that time, it was hidden from them.  Only after His resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, did these things become clear.

What He says is no breaking news: Everything that is written is all of the Scriptures, from Moses to Malachi.  Moses spoke of a prophet from among your brothers.  Joshua spoke face to face with the Lord of Sabaoth—the commander of the Lord’s army.  Samuel anointed the man after God’s heart.  David 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.[10]  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.  They were content to have a Messiah to talk and eat with, who challenged social norms and said things that made you think.  That must be why He came—to be a role model and teacher.  But they did not grasp what He truly came down from heaven to do, because they didn’t truly understand their sin.  They think far too highly of themselves, so they only need a little help from Jesus.  That’s why St. Luke puts them right up beside a blind beggar.

You see, the disciples are a lot like us.  We confess with our mouths, I, a poor, miserable sinner, but too often, we make a confession that doesn’t dig very deep.  We don’t really believe our sins are that bad, because there are other people who are worse.  I only fudge the numbers on my taxes, but I’m no tax evader!  Sure I called the President an idiot, but it’s not like I plotted to kill him!  The Sports Illustrated models are nice, but I’m not like the guy who got caught with child pornography.  As another pastor put it, “We damn ourselves by our faint confession.”[11]  We are also blind men and women who really only want a Savior who only saves us from socially acceptable sins.


If your sins aren’t that evil, 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, [and killed]”?  If your sin is not that bad, then God paid too high a price for your life.  Maybe He should ask for a refund.

Don’t you see this from the Word of God? We are poor and miserable, “we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”  Martin Luther aptly confessed before his death, “We are all beggars.”  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, “Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”[12]  And He asks us what we want Him to do for us.  He attentively listens as we say,

…forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name.

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 saved you” (v. 42).

We, the Twelve, and the blind beggar are all the same.  We all need God the Father to open our eyes to see ourselves in the unchanging and holy mirror of His Law, to see Jesus for who He is, and see the mercy which He gives.  He is the Son of Man, who came to “raise the poor [sons of man] from the dust and lift the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.”[13]  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.  There, the Holy Spirit opened your eyes to see.  And He continually keeps your eyes open to see your Father’s mercy in His beloved Son.  And by His mercy to us, son of Adam, will follow the Son of Man where He has gone, to be with your God forever.  Upon receiving such priceless gifts, our lives become like that of the crowd who glorified God and gave Him the praise.  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] The human ancestry of Christ: 1 Chronicles 3:5, Luke 3:3:31

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

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

[9] cf. John 9:32

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

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

[12] Liturgical Kyrie and Luke 18:13

[13] Psalm 113:7-8


(About 70 Days to Easter)

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 | 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5 | Matthew 20:1–16

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

The way of the world is based on merit.  You get what you deserve, you don’t get what you don’t pay for.  Years of service ought to be recognized and compensated.  For example, in 2005, Delphi Automotive Parts filed for bankruptcy protection.  As part of the auto industry bailout a few years later, the pensions of union employees at Delphi was preserved while 20,000 non-union employees lost their justly-deserved retirement.  The fact that this case was appealed all the way up to the US Supreme Court (and their petition was denied) testifies to the fact that this is not how the world is supposed to work.[1]

That’s the world.  The Kingdom of Heaven is different, and we need to be ready to accept God’s ways on God’s terms, because, as James reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

One’s place in the Kingdom is not determined by their work, or dedication, or accomplishments.

  • When you are in the Kingdom, it is nothing like the world we live in now.  Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”  Picking up on this, look at how many stores and credit cards have membership programs and perks.  How many points do you have?
  • But Jesus has a terrible loyalty program!  This newbie who comes in at the 11th hour ends up with Platinum status!  It’s just not fair…if we’re judging by the world’s standards.
  • When Christians come together, as we are now, we leave the world to come into the Kingdom.  It’s a preview of our death.  We walk through the doors of the sanctuary and all that stratifies us, all that we’ve done, whatever our family background might be—it’s all forgotten because it doesn’t matter.  Just like when you die.  And like the Transfiguration last week, there’s only Jesus. [Matt. 17:8]

This isn’t to say God is being stingy.  What He gives us is far more than what money can buy.  Peace with God, a clean conscience, being able to look death in the face and know that you have the victory.  As the hymn by Johann Franck puts it, “He who craves a precious treasure Neither cost nor pain will measure; But the priceless gifts of heaven God to us has freely given. Though the wealth of earth were proffered, None could buy the gifts here offered: Christ’s true body, for you riven, And His blood, for you once given.” (Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness, LSB 636:3)

But, what would it be like if we did rank up in God’s favor?  How would you know?  Would you receive a special card like Starbucks when you attained a certain level?  It doesn’t happen.  So, you’d be left to figure it out from your circumstances.  If things were good, you would consider yourself blessed and approved by God.  If ill fortune came—your health takes a turn for the worse, your car unexpectedly breaks down, your job is downsized, or family strife cuts you off from those you love—then you’d be left to conclude you had somehow gotten on God’s bad side.

  • If you want to learn more about this outlook on God, listen to Job’s friends, who can’t help but conclude that Job’s life is a wreck because he did something offensive to God. (e.g. Job 4:7-11)

This Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard teaches us God’s way and the proper place for merit.  The vineyard stands for the Church, and being “hired” is the calling of the Holy Spirit to faith—from spinning your wheels and living selfishly toward a futile end to living to glorify and obey God as your Lord.  But the end result of that calling does not depend on the labor we put in.  It’s a lesson in what “grace” truly means: Undeserved favor.  12 hours, 9, 6, or 1 hour of work?  The reward is all the same!

“You are saved by grace through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)  It’s not about your own doing, your works, your accomplishments.  It is about Jesus Christ—what He has done, what He has merited, what He has accomplished! 

The world has “only two essentially different religions: the religion of the Law, that is, the endeavor to reconcile God through man’s own works, and the religion of the Gospel, that is, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, belief wrought through the Gospel by the Holy Ghost that we have a gracious God through the reconciliation already effected by Christ, and not because of our own works.” (Christian Dogmatics, F. Pieper I, 10)

This gives tremendous comfort to us in His Kingdom, in the vineyard as we labor.  When we come through those doors—whether it was our parents carrying us or we came ourselves—we came into the Kingdom in the Baptismal font.  I said it was a preview of our own demise, and it was and is: “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4)  And having come into the Kingdom through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He has given you an eternal place in His Kingdom.

And that difference of God bringing us into His Kingdom by grace impacts who we are and how we live when we go out of this place.  Hear again from St. Paul:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

How can you be confident as you suffer?  How can you have strength to press on when you are weak?  How can you, riddled by habitual sins or haunted by your past, have a clear conscience?  Because Jesus has done all to secure your place as a child of God: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We don’t look to ourselves for assurance, because that leads to pride when things are good, and despair when they’re bad.

God has given us what is just: We are justified by the blood of Christ, baptized into His death and resurrection, nourished by His Word, renewed and strengthened by His Body and Blood, carried home by angels when He takes us from this vineyard of labor.  And then on the Judgement Day, we will receive not what we have earned, but what Christ has earned for us.  And that will never be taken away.

God has called us out of the world (the literal meaning for the word “Church”/Greek: ecclesia), where our temporal merits all fade away, but where the eternal merits of Jesus are paid out to us.  Now look here for your Father’s favor.  Now look here for your home which will not be taken away.  Look here for that peace which cannot be shaken by the storms and changes of this life.  And when those things do assault you, remember your Almighty Father, who rules over all things, and trust His good and gracious will for you: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)  Amen.

[1] Steyer, Robert. “Supreme Court declines to hear PBGC Delphi ERISA case” Pensions & Investments. 18 Jan 2022, https://www.pionline.com/courts/supreme-court-declines-hear-pbgc-delphi-erisa-case. Accessed 9 Feb 2022.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Readings: Exodus 34:29–35 | 2 Peter 1:16–21 | Matthew 17:1-9

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

There was a temptation for Peter, James, John, and the disciples to think of Jesus as merely human.  True, they had seen His miracles, and heard Him call Himself the end-times “Son of Man.”[1]  But they also knew His mother and family, they had seen him eat and drink, get tired, and use the latrine.  Their minds could not conceive of a man who was also God and the Christ.

We have the opposite temptation, to think of Jesus as only God.  It’s true, we just confessed, “He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried.”  But we also sang “Your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook,”[2] we prayed for Christ to have mercy upon us, and we praise “Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father.”[3]  Our minds have trouble conceiving of a God who “increases in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,”[4] or who doesn’t know the day or the hour,[5] or who cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[6]

            But whether we stumble over His humanity or His divinity, we, together with Peter, James, John, all stumble over the cross.  And that’s what happens on the mount of Transfiguration.  To help us better understand, we have two models: Moses and Elijah on the one hand, and Peter and the 2 disciples on the other.  They’re put side by side, so that we, the saints on earth, can learn to become the saints in heaven.

            In Moses and Elijah, we see those whose sanctification is complete.  They stand in the Lord’s presence forever.  In their earthly lives, they bore witness to the coming Savior—Moses in the Law, and Elijah standing in for all the Prophets.  Both exited this life in an extraordinary way—only God knows where Moses is buried, and Elijah was taken in a flaming chariot to heaven.  Yet the words of St. John’s Revelation, also echo for them: they now “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”[7]

            From Moses and Elijah, we learn how to rightly view the passion and death of Jesus.  First, we see it in how they talk with Jesus about it.  Luke’s Gospel adds the detail that they were speaking about Jesus’ “exodus,” about to be accomplished in Jerusalem.[8]  They speak of the passion with thanks and praise, because they are living in what Christ has done for them.  They are standing there in God’s presence because God’s Son has taken their sins away.  He has destroyed death for them, so that they can live with Him forever.  So, they are joyful to be able to see the world’s salvation about to take place.

            Second, we see Moses and Elijah rejoice in God’s will.  They say a glad “Amen” to how God has planned to save the human race.  They acknowledge that, even though His ways are higher than their ways, His will is always good.[9]  They are certain that God has never lied or deceived or forsaken, just as He said.  So, when they hear that the Christ “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised,”[10] they praise God for His saving work.

            Finally in Moses and Elijah, we see God’s children at home.  The Son of God has prepared a place for them in what He is about to do on the cross.  These saints in glory have finished their wanderings, they have been taken out of the land of their sojourning, and they have crossed the Jordan into the eternal land of promise.[11]  In other words, God has given them all that He promised during their lives.  “Surely goodness and mercy followed them all their days of their lives,” and now they “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”[12]

            But in Peter on the mountain, we see the struggle of God’s people in this life.  Moses knew this struggle when he broke faith with God at the waters of Meribah.[13]  Elijah knew it on Mount Horeb, when he was positive that all Israel had gone after Baal.[14]  And it’s our struggle too, as “strangers and pilgrims”[15] in this life.

            First, when Peter sees this blessed sight, he wants to hold onto it tight.  “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  He’d be happy to have just these six on the mountaintop forever.  If only we could come to worship, be surrounded by the Word of God, and never have to leave!  But this is not God’s will.  Jesus already said what the will of God is: that He “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  He can’t stay on the mountain, because then the world would never be saved.  Peter is again filled with satanic thoughts, which delight in the things of man, not the things of God.

            And it’s the same for us, because our sinful flesh fights suffering and death.  When someone we love gets very sick, what do we pray for?  Do we pray that this disease would mean their release from this vale of tears?  We usually pray for them to continue in this life with us.  And when God’s will for us is painful suffering, do we pray, “Not my will, but thine be done”[16]?  No, we pray for God to take away all crosses, so we can get back to our life.

            But actually, the suffering and death of our Lord remind us that our life does not belong to us.  God led His beloved Son to that suffering and death, and raised Him from the dead.  His will is good, because at the Father’s heart is love.  He loves each of us in Christ with the same fervor.  And that means that our life is completely in God’s care.  Should He send or permit us to suffer? He will use it for good: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10)  Should we get sick, or even die?  Our life and caring for the needs of our loved ones rests in His hands.  “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:8)

            That brings us to the second thing we see in Peter: He thinks he has a better plan than God.  Say no to suffering and being killed, Jesus.  Forget Good Friday and get straight to Easter.  Surely You can save another way.  Just live forever and keep teaching, healing, and doing miracles.  If you are the Son of God, pray for God to just forgive everyone.

            These same kinds of blasphemies come out of our minds when we think about God’s election and evangelism.  We may not despise the cross itself, because by it we are being saved.[17]  But, we don’t like what it means.  When we look at the massive number of people who don’t know or refuse to believe in Jesus, we are tempted to think: If God really loved the world, He could have done something more to make the world believe and have eternal life.  Then, we wouldn’t have to mourn for our grandchildren and friends who renounced their childhood faith.  But, in fact, His Spirit moves where He wills (John 3:8), God calls whom He wills, and He puts His children in the world to show His mercy in word and deed.  The power to change hearts rests with Him.

            Finally, we also see in Peter, a child of God longing to be at home with the Lord.  Even if his way of getting there is misplaced, Peter wants to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  He longs to stay on the mountain with the heavenly host, surrounding Jesus.  His heart is in the right place…sort of.  But what Peter wants to hold onto is only the smallest fraction of what God has laid up for His people.  Yes, we will be with the Lord, but there won’t just be five saints around the Lord’s throne.  When the Lord brings His people home, there will be a “great multitude which no one can number.”[18]  It won’t just be on an isolated mountaintop, but there will be “a new heavens and a new earth” and “the dwelling place of God will be with man.”[19]  Then, unlike the fleeting joys we have in this life, it won’t be a passing moment.  The sorrows and tears of this life will be gone, and death will be swallowed up forever.[20]

            The Lord is merciful and gracious toward His people.  He helps us in our longing for the promised life to come.  After Peter had been silenced and terrified, his Heavenly Father spoke these clear words: “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”  And the great vision at once disappeared, but Jesus remained.

            “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”  “Listen to Him,” the words still rang.  He came to Peter and the others—struggling as sinners by birth and saints by faith—and raised them up with His Word.  He strengthened them with the Word they needed to reach where Moses, Elijah, and all the saints rest.

And that’s the same way He cares for us.  When our flesh and the devil lead us into doubt and sin, Jesus raises us.  Rise from the dust, O man, and have no fear.  He speaks to us:

I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[21]

Take; eat.  This is my Body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me.  Take; drink.  This is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.[22]

These are the words of God’s beloved Son, here for you today.  Listen to Him.  Amen.

[1] Daniel 7:13-14

[2] Psalm 77:18

[3] Gloria in Excelsis, LSB 188

[4] Luke 2:52

[5] Mark 13:32

[6] Matt. 27:46

[7] Rev. 14:13

[8] Luke 9:31, “departure” is exodus in Greek

[9] Isaiah 55:9, Romans 8:28

[10] Matthew 16:21

[11] Hebrews 11:13; Deuteronomy 10:19, 29:5

[12] Psalm 23:6

[13] Numbers 20:10-13

[14] 1 Kings 19:10

[15] Heb. 11:13

[16] Luke 22:42

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:18

[18] Revelation 7:14

[19] Revelation 21:1-4

[20] Isaiah 25:9

[21] John 20:22-23 & Matthew 28:19

[22] Matthew 26:26-28