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.