Monday, February 25, 2013

Wrestling with Offenses

Second Sunday in Lent – Reminiscere
February 24th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, MT
Wrestling with Offenses – Matthew 15:21-23 and Genesis 32:22-32

     God is love.  God wants all people to be saved.  So, encountering God should be a happy time, right?  But when Jacob encounters God, he has to wrestle with Him all night, and comes away with a permanent limp.  A Canaanite woman encounters God, and is in turn ignored, dismissed, and called a dog.  What about you? Is seeking an encounter with God nothing but a joyous, pleasant time, or is it a struggle to gather around His Word and Sacraments, a struggle to open your Bible and read, a struggle to get yourself here, and then put up with the other people you meet when you get here, a bother and at times an insult to have to deal with the rules of Church, wearisome to put up with the shortcomings of your pastor?  If God is good, why is encountering Him sometimes so difficult?

     Jacob was a trickster, a thief, disloyal, cowardly.  He was willing to accept the Lord’s blessing, and he sought God’s help in time of need.  But Jacob wasn’t much into seeking the Lord on a regular basis, not very concerned with living in the Lord’s way.  Nevertheless, God had chosen Jacob, and blessed him richly, and God was bringing him back to his homeland, after a long exile.  But just shortly before Jacob’s arrival, God attacks him in his sleep.  The Lord really seems to be messing with him, since the Lord could have won the wrestling match whenever He willed.  Instead He keeps Jacob wrestling all night long.  Then, when it was time to go, God, with just a touch, puts Jacob’s his hip permanently out of joint, ending the wrestling match.   
     Amazingly, even after this injury, Jacob doesn’t seem to have taken offense.  He didn’t seem to be upset by this unexpected Wrestlemania; would an offended victim have struggled so long and hard?  He just wouldn’t quit.  I would expect to be miffed if God woke me from a good night’s sleep with a half nelson.  I would be pretty cranky if I had to wrestle with God, all night long.  I might feel patronized when God ends my struggling with one touch of His finger.  I might want an explanation from the Almighty as to just what He thought He was doing. 
     Not Jacob.  No, despite all the struggle and discomfort the Lord had inflicted on him, Jacob just wants a blessing, and to know His antagonist’s Name.  Something about this long night of wrestling changes Jacob, makes him want to know more about this man, who turns out to be God, come to wrestle with Him.  Jacob asks, and the Lord answers.  Jacob indeed receives a blessing, a new name, earned through his night of wrestling, the name “Israel,” which means “struggles, or wrestles, with God.”  Oh, and Jacob receives a limp to remind him of that night for the rest of his life.  But Jacob doesn’t complain.  Rather he marvels that he has seen the face of God, and lives to tell about it.  

     The likelihood of the Canaanite woman taking offense seems even greater.  Our discomfort with the Lord’s actions may be greater too.  Jesus treats her in a very strange way, first ignoring, then rejecting, then insulting:  “Go away, you dog, you are not worthy.”  What’s going on here?  She is an outsider, not a descendent of Jacob, not a daughter of Israel.  Even worse, the Canaanites are the enemy, worshipers of strange gods, the people the Israelites were supposed to drive from the Promised Land, 1,400 years earlier.  But the Canaanite woman doesn’t concern herself with any of that.  For the sake of her daughter, and for the sake of what she believes about Jesus, she will not take offense.  No matter what Jesus says, she believes He can and will free her daughter from demon oppression. 

     Consider for a moment what she confessed to be true about herself.  By accepting what you and I would most likely consider insults, she agrees that she is unworthy of God’s attention.  She agrees that she is not properly part of God’s chosen people.  She even agrees that she deserves to be called a dog, and not a human being.  Why?  How did she believe these things about herself? 

     Well, somehow, through some work of the Holy Spirit through His Word, she recognizes and believes that the God who wrestled through the night with Jacob is back, traveling through Tyre and Sidon, God in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David.  The appearance of the Lord to Jacob in the night is very mysterious, brief, and unique.  Moses leaves many questions we might have unanswered.  But now God’s appearance is plain, continuous, verifiable.  Jesus has been openly displaying the power of God, as He wanders about the countryside.  He was in one place one day, and then walked to another the next.  You could follow Him around; you could try to approach Him today, and then again tomorrow, and the next.  So, the Canaanite woman seeks and finds Jesus, because she knows who He is, the One, the only One, who can conquer the evil that has entered her life.  Like Jacob, who knew it was a special act of God’s grace that he was not immediately struck dead in the presence of the Almighty, the Canaanite woman sees the face of God in the man Jesus Christ, and she knew that in Him she, and her daughter, could find real life, life free from the power of evil. 

     Yes indeed, the Canaanite woman confesses a lot about Jesus, too.  Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter, my Canaanite daughter, is severely oppressed by a demon.  With this cry, she confesses that God is merciful, that He cares about each and every human life, despite how life and its trials and Planned Parenthood might try to teach you differently.  She confesses that this Jesus of Nazareth, a man descended through His mother Mary from the line of King David, is at the same time the Lord, the great I AM, the One who created the heavens and the earth, the One who renamed Jacob, calling him Israel.  And she confesses that this merciful Man-God Jesus has the power to cast out demons, to rescue her daughter, and herself.  

     Believing and confessing these marvelous facts, she rejoices to be called a dog by Jesus, she rejoices to argue, to wrestle with the Lord.  As Luther says, now she has Him.  When finally Jesus responds to her pleas, even though it’s in an insult, she knows she has Him.  She knows she has Him, because every Word that comes from the mouth of God gives life to those who trust in His mercy.  “It’s not right,” says Jesus, “to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."   She has Him now, and so rejoicing with great joy she replies, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Salvation is from the Jews, yes, from the descendents of Jacob, but the Lord God who wrestled with Jacob and made him into Israel did so for the salvation of the whole world, for the blessing of every family on earth, as Jesus had earlier promised Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.  In this seeming insult from Jesus, she finds the crumb of life that she needs, that her daughter needs, the Word with which she can hold God to His promises.  A crumb from you Jesus, that’s all I need.  That’s all my daughter needs.  That’s all anyone needs. 

     Jesus answers, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.  Why did He do it?  Jesus knew her faith.  Jesus knew He would heal her daughter.  Why did He treat her so harshly?  For you.  Jesus knew her faith would endure, because He is the One who, by His Word and Spirit, gave her faith in all His promises.  He knew her faith would only be strengthened by refinement, so He insulted her, to help you, and me, get over ourselves and trust only in Him.  You see, our self-importance, our pride, our demands for special, kid-glove treatment, these are impediments to faith.  These are what threaten to keep us on the outside, looking in with drooling muzzles, wishing for a seat at God’s banquet, even under the table.  We don’t want anyone calling us names.  We certainly don’t want to admit that before the Almighty and Holy Lord God we are spiritual dogs. 

     But the truth about ourselves that we don’t want to hear, Jesus knows we must hear.  For if we reject the Word about ourselves, about our condition, then we also reject the Word about the Master, the Good News that feeds poor mongrels like you and me with the very Bread of Life, the forgiveness and healing and eternal restoration that Jesus came to earn, and give to us. 
     In human, earthly terms, Jesus gave great offense to the Canaanite woman, and also to Jacob.  But because of Who they knew this man to be, neither of these sinners took offense, for they, by God’s grace knew they were in the very presence of God, the very source of life and healing and joy.  Whatever Jesus gives, they receive with thanksgiving.  Everything that comes into the life of a child of God is good, even when it’s painful, even when Satan or the world or your enemies mean it for evil.  For Jesus has and will continue to work out all things, pleasant or painful, for your eternal good.  Did someone take your pew this morning?  Perhaps the Lord knows you’ll hear better in a new spot.  Did someone not smile and greet you warmly?  Perhaps Jesus is giving you an opportunity to bear their burden, maybe even to pray for them, possibly even to go the extra mile and greet them kindly, and speak well of them, even though they seemed to have slighted you.  Did someone point out your sin?  Thanks be to God, rejoice exceedingly, for now you can confess your sins, to God and to your neighbor, that they be lifted from you and taken away, forever. 

     We’re not to give offense, certainly not intentionally.  We are not Jesus; we cannot read each other’s hearts.  Sowe are not called to pick on the Canaanite woman in order to teach the disciples and the Church.   That’s Jesus’ job.  Insofar as we are able, we are called to treat each other with kindness, gentleness, and the honor that is credited to Christians by the Name of Christ.  But that name, Christ, does mean there is one offense we must always give, one harsh truth we must always keep at the center of all we do:  Jesus Christ, crucified, for my sins, for your sins, for the sins of the whole world. 

     We are far worse than dogs; we are sinners, worthy of God’s rejection, forever and ever.  But in that offense, in the harsh Word of the Cross, is also the very Bread of Life, the crumbs of the Master that have the power to set you free.  Keeping the offense of the Cross at the center of our life together means that our remaining sinful nature will always be offended.  You and I need to recognize and remember this.  It is offensive to our sinful pride that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  It is offensive to our sinful nature that God saves through a Cross, and delivers His salvation through such unimpressive things, like mere words spoken through the mouth of a sinner, and combined with water, wheat and wine.  It is offensive to the Old Adam, that lives on in each of us, that God calls Christians to consider themselves as nothing, and their neighbors as though they are Christ Himself. 

     There is only one True reason for us to take offense.  We should take great offense if someone tries to take away the offense of the Cross from us.  If a hymn or a song suggests that Christianity is all about what you do, if a sermon implies that your works are required to earn forgiveness and salvation, if a teacher or a church sets aside part of God’s Word in order to please human fashion, then with Jacob and the Canaanite woman we must refuse to sing, we must close our ears, and confess the whole counsel of God, come what may. 

     On the other hand, when we take offense for something other than the removal of God’s True Word and Sacrament, beware.  The offense may be real.  You may be in the right, or maybe not.  But either way, Satan will try to use this worldly offense to remove Jesus, and put your pride at the center of your life.  So let worldly offenses go, they are of no concern to you, for you have Jesus as your Savior.  Repent, confess your doggishness, and believe in the blood of Christ alone.  With the Canaanite woman, confess your doggishness, and claim God’s mercy.  Then the angels will rejoice, and Jesus will exclaim: How great is your faith!  View every struggle through the lens of the Cross, and Jesus will turn your wrestling with offenses into joy and healing and everlasting life, in the Name…

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Tempter Overthrown

First Sunday in Lent, Invocavit Sunday, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Trinity and Fairview, MT
For Us Temptations Sharp He Knew, For Us the Tempter Overthrew
 Vicar Jason Toombs

For us baptized, for us He bore
His holy fast, and hungered sore;
For us temptation sharp He knew,
For us the tempter overthrew.

Jesus, the newly baptized, was led by the Spirit, the same Spirit who descended upon Him in the form of a dove at His baptism, led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  He left the water and went into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted by the devil.

The devil, that crafty serpent from the Garden of Eden, who tempted Adam and Eve, now come to tempt Jesus, the Son of God.  This was after forty days and forty nights of fasting, he was hungry. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves if we start here.  We need to go back to the beginning of the story, back to the Garden to see where temptation prevailed victorious and to hear once again the God issued promise, the promise of the coming Son of Man.

Day five of creation comes to a close with light and darkness, heaven, earth, and seas, vegetation, sun and moon, sea creatures, and birds.  Day six comes and God fills the earth with livestock of the field.  And God knows that He needs a caretaker for His creation. So God Made a Farmer, Adam the Farmer, the caretaker of all of God’s creation, and his wife Eve the helper.  And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 

God put Farmer Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  Farmer Adam was commanded by God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 

In strove the serpent, craftier than any other beast, and spoke with the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  Did you notice the change that Eve added to God’s Word, “neither shall you touch it”?  God never commanded Adam and Eve not to touch the tree.  Adam and Eve the first Pharisees, the first ones to add to God’s Word things that God never commanded.

At this point the devil knows he has Eve, she has added to God’s Word something He didn’t command.  And the serpent strikes on this, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  The devil, the one who tried to usurp God’s power, now has a partner who gives in to temptation.  Adam the Farmer, seeing that Eve didn’t die on the spot, also gave in to temptation, the temptation to be like God. 

Then the eyes of both were opened, opened to see all the evil things in this world that the little bite brought in.  Before the fall there was only good: good soil, crops, and weather, man was ruler of every beast, lion and lamb laid down together, every good thing was given for man and woman.  Before the fall the marriage was perfect, any children would have perfectly done whatever their parents asked, and flowerbeds would grow without tending.  But since the fall, evil is constantly around us: murder, rape, suicide, death and decay, wars, earthquakes, tornados, blizzards.  Now marriage is difficult, kids disobey, and weeds have to be picked.  Before, God was dwelling peaceably with His people; now we have the prince of this world, Satan, trying to keep people from hearing God’s promise of peace, forgiveness, and love for His people.  Satan found a willing partner in Adam and Eve, and he continues to find willing partners in their offspring. 

He finds willing partners in all of us.  We have heard the commands of God and have turned away from them.  We put our wants, our desires, before God.  We have taken His name in vain, lied when we have been put into a corner at school or work.  We have murder one another, maybe not physically but we have thought evil of them, thought they should die.  We have given into our lusts, our desires of the heart, and not led a sexually pure and decent life.  We are no less culpable than Adam and Eve.  The old saying goes, “When you point one finger, there are three others pointing back at you.”

God calls the man and woman to Himself, calling them away from the serpent and back to Himself.  God, cutting to the heart of the matter, asked, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man points his finger to his wife, the wife points her finger at the snake.  No one takes the blame for their action.  Like children blaming someone else for breaking a toy, husband and wife blame each other constantly for any sin: forgotten birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day.  When husband and wife fight, it’s always the other person’s fault.  When you lose the game at the last second, someone else was out of place.  The devil says to you, “It’s never your fault.”

And God spoke curses because of the fall.  To the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 

God’s promise of forgiveness is found in the curse spoken to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his foot.”  The first time the Gospel is heard, it is from the mouth of God.  Law to the serpent, Gospel to the man and the woman and to their offspring.

Enter the offspring of the woman.  Born of the Virgin Mary and having no earthly father, save His guardian Joseph, Jesus Christ: the Son of the woman, the Son of God.  The second Adam, the second man, led into the wilderness to be tempted just as the first man was tempted.  The forty days of Lent aren’t about our fasting; it is a time when the church looks to Jesus Christ as He fasted in the wilderness.  The forty days of Lent aren’t about what we give up, eating no meat on Fridays, or anything else, a beard.  Rather, they are a time were we focus more intently on what God has done for us.  His temptation and His overthrow of the tempter.  It isn’t a time of becoming more like Jesus.  It’s a time of hearing, a time of reading, a time of repenting.  Repenting of our not keeping God’s command, repenting of giving into temptation, repenting of thinking that we’ll do better next time.  We constantly fail and fall every time we say, “Last one ever.” 

We can never fully give our heart to Jesus, no matter what we say.  The heart is an idol factory because sin still resides there.  We can never purge our heart of sinful thoughts.  Instead, Jesus gives His heart to you.  You receive a new heart, a clean heart, from Jesus.  This heart perfectly does the things that God commands.

For forty days and forty nights Jesus fasted in the wilderness.  At the end of these forty days Jesus was hungry.  And in strove the tempter, the crafty serpent, to tempt the Son of God.  He knows that Jesus is hungry and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  He says to the Son of God, “If you are the Son of God.”  Jesus doesn’t respond to the devil’s temptation of questioning His identity.  Instead He responds to what we should hunger for, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  We are to hunger for God’s Word, rejoicing every time that we receive it.  The devil has lost the battle but he doesn’t give up easily.

The devil takes Jesus to the holy city and sets Him on the pinnacle of the temple.  Again tempting Jesus, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  The devil tries to tempt Jesus to put God to the test, test if God will really send the angels to guard Jesus.  Jesus answers, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  He will not deviate from the path that He is walking, the path that leads to the cross.  Yet another battle lost by the devil.

But the devil still has one last temptation and he tries to usurp God in His control over all things.  The devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  He tempts Jesus with a lie, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus looks past the temptation, He sees the heart of Satan, the chief liar, and says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”  Satan has not only lost the battle, he has lost the war.  Game, Set, Match.  Jesus alone is victorious.  The second Adam, the True Man, stands alone having not given into temptation.

The devil tries his hardest to tempt Jesus into taking the easy way out, “You’re hungry, command the stones to become bread.  You’re the Son of God, nothing will happen to you if you fall from the temple.  All the kingdoms of the world will be yours if you simply fall down and worship me.”  Soon he will tempt Jesus with denying the cross and coming down from it, but Jesus will not fall into temptation no matter the stakes.  He has come to do His Father’s will.

We fall every time we try to do better.  We can give something up for only so long.  If you’re on a diet, you look forward to the end of it when sweets are once again allowed; if you give up caffeine, cigarettes, or anything else for Lent you look forward to Easter when you can once again have these lustful cravings.  Lent has become a season of outward piety while we still lust in our heart.  We have to die to this, die with Jesus, drown the satanic foe and his temptation, and be raised to a new life, a life where we reside with Jesus.  The strong arms of the Savior are ever inviting, ever calling, you to come to Him.  Come to the place where Satan has been cast out and where Jesus proclaims, “Be gone, Satan!” and “It is finished.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

By Faith Alone: Seeing With Our Ears

Quinquagesima Sunday, February 10th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches
Sidney and Fairview, Montana
By Faith Alone:  Seeing With Our Ears 
1st Samuel 16:1-13 and Luke 18:31-43

     Close your eyes.  Really, close your eyes, I think it might help.  It seems from our Gospel reading this morning that at least some times, seeing can get in the way of true faith in Christ.  So maybe you should all close your eyes, since creating, deepening, and restoring true saving faith in Christ is the purpose of our gathering this morning.  I’m not going to make a law out of it, but if the Spirit moves you, go ahead, close your eyes, …. and just listen. 

     Now, if you’re writing a sermon outline for Catechism requirements, or reading along with the sermon manuscript because you’re hard of hearing, closing your eyes may seem a bit problematic.  But then, I’m sure the blind man outside of Jericho found his blindness problematic, too.  Living without sight makes day to day life very hard, slowing everything down, driving many into poverty, because most gainful employment requires sight.  Such was the plight of our friend, begging outside Jericho, dealing with all the very real problems that blindness brings. 

     But Christ through His Word saved the blind man, by faith alone, which comes by hearing.  The blind man believed, even when Jesus’ own disciples could not.  The twelve had good eyes, but they were not  believing what Jesus was saying.  Jesus couldn’t have spoken any more clearly to His disciples, proclaiming the coming Cross to them, proclaiming His way of salvation to them.  Just before he met our blind friend outside Jericho, Jesus pulls the twelve aside and says: "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be finished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked, and treated shamefully, and spit upon. And after whipping him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise."  Jesus speaks a clear, straightforward Word.  But these 12, specially chosen, well-sighted disciples just couldn’t see it.  They understood and believed none of what Jesus had said, something was blocking their faith.  They could not imagine in their mind’s eye that this Jesus, who had performed so many amazing things, right before their eyes, could end up mocked, scorned, spit upon, whipped and crucified. 

     It’s always hard to believe the way of God, the way God works out our salvation.  Over a thousand years before, Samuel couldn’t believe that God was replacing Saul, mighty King Saul, with scrawny little David.  That Saul needed to go, that for all his sins and pride and idolatry, God was going to remove Saul from the throne, this sad fact doesn’t seem to surprise Samuel, as he heads towards Jesse’s house in Bethlehem, to anoint for the LORD one of Jesse’s sons as the new king.  Saul had to go, but certainly the new king needs to be mighty in appearance, big and strong, to inspire confidence in the people, right?  The new king needed to be someone like Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, big and strong and kingly looking. 

     No.  Samuel was believing in all the wrong things.  The LORD interrupts the anointing ceremony to give Samuel, and us, a little lesson in how God sees things:  "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature,” says the Lord, “because I have rejected Eliab. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 

     Being fooled by outward appearances is a common weakness of all the sons of Adam.  Apparently little David was so unimpressive that when Samuel asked Jesse to pass all of his sons in front of him, David didn’t even make the list.  “Little David, out guarding the sheep?”  “Why would we need him to be at this big sacrifice that the Prophet Samuel had come to celebrate?”   His own father Jesse left David off the list of sons. 

      Samuel couldn’t believe his eyes when the LORD passed by Eliab, but the LORD did, and also six more strong sons of Jesse, finally choosing little David, handsome and ruddy, but the very youngest.  How can this be?  It’s hard to believe that such a small young man could be the King of God’s people, Israel.  
     Judging by outward appearance is a recurring problem for us.  In keeping with Samuel’s expectations about who is fit to be a leader, we Americans, especially since T.V. took over the political landscape, have shown a definite preference for taller men.  Since John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, we have elected only one president who wasn’t at least 6 feet tall, most have been a good bit taller.  Do we really think these men have been the best possible leaders for our country, or did they just look more impressive on the stage as we watched the debates? 

     Only by the grace of God do any of our marriages endure, especially since we are all conditioned from an early age to judge the potential of a prospective mate almost purely by outward appearance.  There are lots of better ways to rate a prospective spouse, lots of good questions to ask, like: “does he share my faith?” or “has she learned good lessons about marriage from her parents?” “Can he hold down a job?” “Does she feel the same way about kids as me?”   “Can he cook?”  “Will she help clean the house?”  These are good, inward probing questions, but as we survey the field, we rarely get past “blonde and beautiful,” or “tall, dark and handsome.”  Be careful who you date; try to get past outward appearances.  Because one of the people you date is likely to become your spouse.

     Much like us, the disciples looked at the Christ they had seen, more than the Christ they had heard about in the Old Testament, or the Christ they had heard teaching.  If we take the time to listen to what the prophets and Jesus Himself say about the Christ and His salvation, then the coming Cross will impress itself upon us.  Especially with the 12, Jesus was always very plainly telling them that His ministry would result in His suffering and death.  But the disciples only saw the power Jesus revealed by healing the sick and raising the dead.  The disciples knew, at least superficially, that Jesus was the new King David, the promised descendent of Israel’s greatest king, Jesse’s youngest son.  But despite all that Jesus’ had told them about the suffering that was coming, they could only see a future where Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David, would claim the throne with power and glory, right before their eyes.  They simply couldn’t believe the Cross.

     But somehow, the blind man outside Jericho knew.  He hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, and he immediately calls out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.  The blind man addresses Jesus not as teacher, not as master, not even as God, but rather as the Son of David, the coming King of Israel.  And this was a death sentence. 

     The public proclamation that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah, or Christ, the promised descendent of the ancient King, who was coming to reclaim the throne of Israel, this public proclamation is what would get Jesus killed.  The High Priest might have been more offended that Jesus claimed to be the Son of the Most High, the Son of God, but the Romans weren’t.  The Roman overlords were generally willing to let various different religions exist in the lands they had conquered.  What’s one more god?  But what the Romans would not tolerate was anyone claiming to be a king, independent of the Roman Emperor. 

     Indeed, the cry of this blind man outside Jericho is a preview of the cries of the crowds on Palm Sunday, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like Solomon, when he was acclaimed the heir of his father David, a thousand years earlier.  By the work of the Holy Spirit, who was working through the  Word being spoken about Jesus, the blind man believed that this Jesus of Nazareth, teacher, and healer, was also the King of Israel.  And by being the King of Israel, the King of the Jews, Jesus was destined to be arrested, mocked, spit upon, whipped, and killed. 
     Death is on the way for the true King of Israel, but not because Jesus didn’t have enough power to defend Himself.  No, Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to defend Him.  He, God made man, could have merely spoken a Word, and defeated all earthly enemies.  But this isn’t what the true King of Israel does.  The true King comes not to claim power and glory for Himself, but rather the true King comes to set His people free.  And the thing that was imprisoning Israel, the enemy that must be defeated to set God’s people free forever, was neither the Romans, nor the Pharisees, nor any earthly power.  The thing that daily seeks to imprison you and me is not blindness, nor any other physical malady.  No, these are but symptoms of our true slave masters, which are sin, and Satan who uses our sin to enslave us.  

     Recover your sight, blind man, for your faith has already saved you.  Jesus uses the blindness of this man to help us learn to listen to Him, to trust His Word alone, to believe what the Bible tells us about Jesus and His Church, instead of worrying because what we can see of God’s Kingdom doesn’t look all that impressive. 

     We may only see a bunch of sinners, gathering around some old books and an old story.  But God sees His people, chosen and precious, gathering to join in the conversation of heaven, which is always about the death and resurrection of God’s Son, the true King of Israel. 
     We may see a church full of old people, grey and dying.  But God sees a Church full of eternal saints, whether young or old, chosen and blessed by God, brought by God’s Word to believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, when pain and sin and blindness and illness and sadness and tears will be no more, forever. 
     We, perhaps, in our weakest moments, only see a bunch of foolish, religious misfits, who make a big deal out of a little meal, celebrating over dry bread and a sip of wine.  But God sees His honored guests, gathered at His table, feasting on everlasting life, given and shed for you in the body and blood of Jesus. 

     And so we go forth, and we gather.  Yes, we are still plagued by our outward seeing eyes.  But praise be to God, who by His Grace and through His Word gives us eyes of Faith, which work like corrective lenses, enabling us to see with our ears, to interpret life in this sin-soaked world not by what we can see, but by what God has said:  Your faith in Christ and His blood-bought forgiveness has saved you.  Go in peace, rejoicing and praising God, Amen.