In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
Two weeks ago, we considered God’s grace at work in the parable of the vineyard. Last week we considered God’s Word at work in the Seed sown into the soil by the sower. Today we consider how we receive and appropriate God’s grace and God’s Word. Today we consider faith. Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves from sin, death, and hell. However, faith is a tricky thing for sinful Christians to comprehend because we want to help God along with our salvation. Jesus makes it clear in today’s Holy Gospel that we cannot help Him with our salvation. We are the blind man on the road to Jericho crying out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
You might think that by our crying out for mercy to Jesus we are participating in saving ourselves. Not so. The blind man needed to be told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. The crowd’s acknowledgment of Jesus and the blind man’s cry for mercy show the difference between how the world and how believers in Christ see Jesus for Who He is. The crowd refers to Jesus as a man from Nazareth. This would be like referring to someone as “Dave from Momence” or “Maude from Grant Park”. There are people with those first names all over the world. However, there are only a few Daves and Maudes who live in Momence and Grant Park. Jesus of Nazareth is the son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. He’s the carpenter’s son who says and does marvelous things.
What the crowd perhaps may not recognize is that Jesus is not merely a carpenter’s son from Nazareth who says and does marvelous things. He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God begotten from His Father from eternity. All of this is bound up in the cry for mercy: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! What’s in a name? Plenty! Son of David is a Messianic title. This Jesus is more than Mary and Joseph’s son from up north in Nazareth. Jesus has the ability to have mercy on the blind man, cleansing him from sin and restoring his vision.
You might also think the blind man recovers his sight because Jesus told him to recover his sight. It is as if the blind man had the ability to recover his sight at any time. He just needed a nudge from Jesus. He needed to believe in himself. Not so. How can someone blind, deaf, and dead to sin make himself see, hear, and come back to life?
Here we recall what faith is. Faith is trust of the heart. Faith is belief in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and all that we need. Faith is reliance or dependence upon God. Faith is what receives and clings to God’s gifts of grace and mercy.
This is all good and well, but how do you receive faith? Saint Paul has the answer in Romans chapter ten: Faith thus comes from preaching, the preaching from the Word of God. The ear receives preaching. Receiving preaching happens when you hear the Word proclaimed in the context of the Divine Service. So you see why the Christian Church makes a big deal out of attending corporate worship. You are here to have faith nourished by preaching in the Word of God through sermon, Supper, Absolution, and song.
How did the blind man know Jesus is the Son of David? He heard the preaching of Christ. The Word worked faith in the blind man. He relied and depended upon God for every need of body and soul. Again, easier said than done for most of us. Sinful human nature wants to believe faith as a two-way street, a contract of sorts. I do my part, or perhaps God does His part first, then I follow up with my part. Both of us do our thing and I am saved.
Not so. When God first speaks, before things happen, you don’t comprehend them. But once things happen, then you recall what happened and understand it after the fact. Faith is the natural, divine correlative of the Word of God. For God’s Word speaks of, indeed cannot but speak, things which human reason cannot understand or conceive by itself. You should believe it, and that it is so, you will in due time find out that it is indeed true and that you rightly understand it.
God’s Word teaches concerning the resurrection from the dead, something human reason doesn’t understand. Accordingly, you see that children of the world mock and hold Christians to be fools for believing that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a life after this life. That God should become man and be born into this world of a virgin, human reason cannot admit, saying “No” to it. Therefore, it must be believed, until you come to where you both see and say, “Now I understand and see that it is true, what before I believed.”
That a person should have the forgiveness of sins, God’s grace and mercy, without having earned it, through the water of baptism and through absolution, seems like an utter falsehood to human reason. It argues, “Christians who believe that are off-the-wall; if God is to be reconciled, there must be something higher and better, namely, good works, which demand pain and sweat.”
It does not even occur to human reason to believe that by baptism and faith in Christ alone, everything necessary for salvation is done. Reason holds that to be a falsehood. For it does not know what faith is, deeming faith in Christ a trifling thing. In the same way, the Word is seen as a paltry thing and the one who preaches it as a poor, miserable, and sinful creature. That one should trust and wager body and life for eternity upon faith and the Word, both such insignificant things, is ridiculous to reason. That’s the reason why, even though God’s Word is plainly spoken to people, human reason does not comprehend, does not believe, declares it to be untrue; and the precious Gospel, meanwhile, is labeled as false doctrine and a teaching of the devil by which people are misled, teaching them not to do good works. Human reason knows no other verdict.
For that reason you should learn to believe with ingenuous faith and say, “If it is God’s Word, I cannot doubt it in any way; and, even though I cannot see, touch, or feel that it is true, nonetheless, I listen because God is speaking. He is so great and mighty that He can make it true, so that in His good time, or in the life to come, I will be able to comprehend and understand it, yes, see and grasp it, even though I don’t understand it now.”
Human reason has a hard time with living by faith alone. You aren’t in control. But that’s the blessing of living by faith alone. Jesus Christ has taken care of your redemption in His innocent suffering and death. You no longer need to help. Believe His Word. Stake your life on it. He does as He says. You are forgiven. That’s what these three weeks of pre-Lent preparation are all about. If salvation were left up to you, then there is no hope for forgiveness and eternal life. When salvation is left up to God’s only-begotten Son keeping the Law in your place, suffering and dying an innocent death, and rising from the dead for your justification, then you have all you need for eternal life. You may not understand it now, but in believing that Jesus is your Savior, you will understand it all perfectly in the life of the world to come.
Faith is so crazy that it just might work. Check that, faith is so crazy that it is the only solution to the problem of salvation from eternal death. You are the blind man on the road to Jericho crying for mercy from the Son of David. You believe Jesus is the Son of David through the Word preached to you that creates faith. Faith is what receives God’s grace in the Gifts Christ gives His Church. Grace, Word, Faith, and the Gifts are our sustenance as we hear the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Receiving sight from Jesus Christ, we get up and follow Him to the cross and the tomb, glorifying God for His work in us to be brought to completion in the Day of Jesus Christ. He Who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit