Thursday, March 03, 2011

Sermon for 3/6/11--Quinquagesima (LSB 1-year)

Stopping Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, and He knows what awaits Him at the end of the journey. He tells the disciples, “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” This is a deliberate, relentless journey. It seems that nothing—not even the lack of understanding from the Twelve—can keep Jesus away from Jerusalem and the cross. Nothing in the world can stop Him . . . but on the outskirts of Jericho, He pauses. What is it that brings Jesus to pause here? It certainly is not the disciples. It seems like they’re constantly trying to thwart Jesus. Pretty much every time He tells them why He must go to Jerusalem, they try to hold Him back; but He won’t let even Peter break His stride. Two things bring Jesus to stop here. First, it takes a bold cry of faith for Jesus to stop, and the blind man on the outskirts of Jericho makes such a cry. He said, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And though Jesus would not stop for the sake of the disciples, He paused for the faith of this blind man and His bold cry of faith. He paused. He heard the confession of faith and the request. And He restored the man’s sight.

The temptation is to compare the lack of understanding of the disciples to the bold faith of the blind man. These were men who, by this time, had spent three years with Jesus, listening to His teachings, watching Him heal the sick and even raise the dead. Why could they not understand the teachings that they heard so frequently? Even a blind man could see that Jesus was the Messiah! Why couldn’t they? It’s all too easy to accuse and mock the disciples; but the truth is, it’s not that the Twelve were inattentive or stupid. Luke tells us, “This saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.” Like Pharaoh whose heart had been hardened against the Word of God which Moses spoke, the Holy Spirit did not allow the disciples to understand the teaching of Jesus that He had to suffer and die. It would not be until after Jesus had risen from the dead, when He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, that they understood the reason that Jesus had to suffer at the hands of sinful men and be put to death and on the third day rise again. The disciples were not allowed to see; they were blinded to the truth.

So what’s your excuse? At least when it comes to the disciples, understanding and faith were prevented for a time. But we have the clear teachings of Scripture in front of us, delivered to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the evangelists and the epistle writers. There is no hindrance from the Spirit. You received the Holy Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism. So why is it that the cross of Christ remains a stumbling block to you? Why is it that the Word of God seems so foreign? King Solomon the wise tells us, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil.” Do you know better than God what is profitable for your salvation? Do you know better than God what is detrimental to your spiritual health? Of course not. But it seems all to easy to rely on your own wisdom and strength, even knowing that, as the hymn says, “The arm of flesh will fail you; Ye dare not trust your own.” Your wisdom and strength will not bring Jesus to a stop, either; your strength is nothing when it comes to your sins and your faith.

But that brings us to the second thing that brings Jesus to a stop, and that is His great love. The love that brings Him to a halt to heal the blind man is the same love that takes Jesus on His relentless journey to the cross. You see, the purpose in stopping is the same purpose that has Jesus on the road to Jerusalem in the first place. Look at what Jesus says to the blind man: “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” We are told by Paul that the wages of sin is death. On the outskirts of Jericho, by opening the eyes of the blind man, Jesus undoes one aspect of those wages of sin. By the same token, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in dying on the cross, Jesus pays the wages of sin for all mankind, bringing to an end the power that sin and death once had over you. What great love that is—exactly the kind of love Paul describes in the epistle. Listen to what Paul describes about the love of Jesus for you: “Love suffers long and is kind. . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Does that not describe the love which Christ displays here—the kindness of Christ in healing the blind man; the longsuffering of Christ in the patience He displays with His disciples and with us; bearing all your sins on the cross; enduring the pain and suffering and scorn which you deserve.

And more than that, like He eventually does with the disciples after the resurrection, He bestows on you His Holy Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism, that you may believe all that the disciples with their opened eyes and minds teach you through their eye-witness accounts; and in Holy Baptism we are given faith which clings boldly to the promises of God, the promise to deliver us, the promise to forgive us, the promise of eternal life. He gives us the faith which allows us to cry out boldly to Him. Indeed, we will repeat that bold cry of faith which the blind man made as we being our prayers this morning—“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy”—not in doubt of God’s goodness, but boldly, in faith, knowing that He will hear our prayers and answer them, even as He answered the prayer of the blind man.

The Lord is gracious and loving, and He demonstrated His grace and love both in His journey to Jerusalem for all people and by His pause on the journey to heal the blind man. Do not doubt for a minute that He pauses for you, as well. Cry out to Him in boldness of faith, for He will stop, He will hear, and He will answer in the way that serves you best. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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