Quinquagesima Sunday, March 2nd, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
By Faith Alone - Luke 18:31-43
Over these three pre-Lent Sundays, we have considered Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, and now today, Faith Alone.
The salvation that is found in Christ alone is given to us completely by God’s grace, his undeserved favor, for no other cause than that God is love, and so has freely chosen to love the world. Grace alone.
The Authority upon which the teaching, the doctrine of Christ rests, is the Holy Scriptures Alone, and it is also by the proclamation of that Word that the Holy Spirit creates faith and delivers salvation. Scripture Alone.
And finally, it is through Faith Alone, completely apart from our good works, simply by believing that what Christ did was for the forgiveness of my sins, through this faith alone we are counted righteous and declared holy, worthy to stand before God. Faith, believing what God has said in Scripture about His Christ, believing what the Anointed One has done for us, this is the only way salvation comes to sinners like you and me.
Faith alone saves. But faith is never alone. Before faith is given, there is nothing, no true good works, no changed life, no hope, no selfless, agape love for God and neighbor. We see a bit of this in the disciples this morning, who hear Jesus tell the full story of the Gospel, of His coming suffering, death, and resurrection, but lacking faith, lacking ears to hear and eyes to see, they could not grasp the Good News. No faith, and so no hope, and no love.
But after the Holy Spirit through the Word creates faith, then many things happen, as we see in the blind man outside Jericho.
We are not told how this blind man came to believe in Jesus Christ as the promised Savior, the Son of David who would rule over God’s people forever. We do know, from St. Mark’s telling of the same incident, that his name is Bartimaeus. And we know that somehow he had heard the Good News of Jesus, because we know faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. And from this blind man we also learn some of the things we can expect to see after the coming of faith.
Faith listens. Faith listens, hoping for Jesus to pass by. Blind Bartimaeus struggled through his days, unable to see Jesus, or anything else, unable to do much but beg for a living. But see how he is always listening, hoping to hear of Jesus coming. We do well as believers if we remember and listen and look forward to the coming of Jesus, as He will on the Last Day, riding on clouds of glory to gather the faithful living and dead into His eternal joy. We also do well as believers if we remember and listen for, and then get off our backsides and gather in those places where Jesus comes, every day, invisible to our eyes, but present to bless the eyes of faith. Jesus comes, truly, whenever His Word is proclaimed and His meal is distributed.
Faith cries out. Faith cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Bartimaeus cries out when he hears that Jesus is coming, and so also the Church cries out, as we hear of His coming in Word and Sacrament. Bartimaeus, along with the Canaanite woman and the 10 lepers and the Centurion and so many others in Holy Scripture, cry out to Jesus, Lord, have mercy. So also we, in the liturgy, and in our personal prayers, do well to cry out: Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord have mercy, rescue me from all the things that threaten me, from sickness, from the way of this world. Guard me from the devil, and save me from myself. Save me from my own sin. Faith cries out.
Faith prays. Faith prays big prayers. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks you, just like He asked Bartimaeus. Pray big. Blind Bartimaeus asks for his sight. As a believer in the Savior, Bartimaeus knows that God’s will is better than his own, so if sight is not in God’s plan for him today, so be it. But Bartimaeus still prays big, and you should too. Pray big, trusting in the promise that in the end, when Jesus returns visibly, on the Last Day, blindness and cancer and Parkinson’s and every malady of body and soul will be removed from you, forever. Pray big, and trust that Jesus still delivers healing, today, not every time, not always in the way we wish, but according to His perfect will, Jesus still heals. So go ahead, pray big, always relying on the fact that no matter what happens, God has the very best in store for you, in and through Jesus.
Faith saves. Recover your sight, faith alone saves you. Do not be fooled by false preachers, or your own foolish heart, which say that salvation can’t be that easy. Do not be fooled by the very reasonable idea that infects so much Christian preaching and teaching, the lie that God must require something from us before we can be saved.
Do not be fooled, because salvation was not easy. Salvation was not easy, but it is free, for you.
Salvation cost everything, the very best things. Salvation cost the suffering, bleeding, broken body and death of Jesus, God’s Son. Salvation cost Him everything, so that it could be His free gift to you, by faith. Believe it. See your Savior through the Words of Promise.
O Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief. In Mark chapter nine Jesus says: Everything is possible for the one who believes. To which the father of a young man tormented by a demon, a father seeking the Lord’s mercy, cries out: O Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief. Faith, which is the gift of God, lest any man should boast, is powerful, leading the believer to do all things. But faith is not powerful because it makes us powerful, but rather because faith receives Jesus Christ. Indeed, faith is not even our possession, like some attitude or substance we can create or hold on to. God the Holy Spirit must create our faith, and He must sustain our faith. Every newborn believer in Christ, every washed, sanctified and justified person has faith which can move mountains, but only as long as the Holy Spirit sustains it. And so we pray Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief, because we know of our own strength we will quickly give in to unbelief and despair. We cannot keep faith alive, because we remain weak sinners.
Now, I don’t point this out to depress you, or to make you think the Holy Spirit might at any moment turn His back on you, and abandon you. No, He will never forsake you. But you and I try all too hard to forsake Him. We live in an age of unprecedented access to God’s Word, and so also in an age of unthinkable neglect of God’s Word. I dare say collectively we own twice, maybe three times as many Bibles as there are people in this room. How much time do we spend reading God’s Word? On the other hand, I probably average more than two hours of television and internet every day; what about you? How come we can so easily relax, using the entertainment of the world, but find it so hard to rest in the Word of Life? God has blessed us with regular opportunities gather in worship, both here at home, and when we travel. It is not hard to find a church. But how often have we let minor inconveniences prevent us from gathering in the Name of Jesus? How often does recreation come before being re-created by the Spirit? Why are we like this?
Of course, we behave like this, neglecting the Word which creates and sustains faith, because we are still sinners. The way of the world is easy, comfortable, and our sinful nature is still offended by God’s truth. O Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.
Scripture clearly states our faith depends on the hearing of God through His Word delivering the forgiveness of sins to us, again and again. O Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief – this is the proper daily prayer of every Christian on earth, that daily the Spirit would come to us again, convicting us of our sins, again, for the sake of declaring once again the not guilty verdict that Jesus has won for you. Through His unjust conviction, through His unjust death, and through His glorious and justice delivering resurrection, Christ has swallowed up all your sin. It is removed from you. Your debt to God is paid in full. This is the Word of Christ for you: in Jesus, your are forgiven, and so you are precious to God. Believe it, and rejoice.
Faith saves, and follows. Faith saves, and follows Jesus, like the no longer blind Bartimaeus, rejoicing and praising and glorifying God. Bartimaeus shows us the joy of Christian living, as His eyes are opened to see Jesus, and he follows His Savior, glorifying God.
The devil, the world and our sinful flesh say it is foolish to follow a crucified man, that it is weak to live from a promise of forgiveness, that the wise of this age should find all the joy they can now, in the pleasures of this world, eternity be damned.
Jesus says recover your sight; do not be blinded by satan and the world. Trust in me, says Jesus, I have saved you. Do not worry what the crowds say. Do not follow the wide easy way to damnation. Do not doubt the power of my forgiving blood. Trust me, says Jesus, follow me, and your eternity will be filled with true joy, which is yours today by faith. Believe, have faith, in me alone, says Jesus, and your eternity will be glorious, filled with love from God, love that is yours today, and which remains, greatest of all, forever and ever, Amen.