Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

From an outline prepared by Friedrich Bente of blessed memory.

“If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine, / The blessing of heavenly wisdom is mine.” This line from the hymn, “One Thing’s Needful, Lord this Treasure” is our boast in Jesus Christ. When you rightly know Jesus, you have the one thing needful. You could learn the cure to cancer or even how to burn water for fuel, but you don’t know enough. Jesus is enough.

On the other hand, not to know Jesus is both the greatest ignorance as well as the greatest tragedy. The kind of knowing meant here is not merely a passing knowledge of the facts of Jesus. Even a militant atheist might know a list of basic facts about Christ. Yet he doesn’t know Jesus; he doesn’t know what Jesus does for him.

The disciples in today’s Gospel knew Jesus and yet did not rightly know Him. The blind man sitting by the roadside begging, who never became acquainted with Jesus, rightly knew Jesus. Do you rightly know Jesus?

Are you still like the disciples were in Luke chapter 18? They had been with Jesus almost three years, had seen His miracles and heard His words. Time after time they heard Jesus tell them about His suffering. Yet Luke cannot emphasize enough that the plain, simple words of Jesus were a mystery to them. See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.

The actual mystery of Jesus’ person and His suffering was still shrouded in darkness to them. They did not believe that Jesus is their Savior, Redeemer, and King through suffering, death, and resurrection. Perhaps they were looking for a new earthly kingdom of Israel? But why would Jesus have to suffer and die for it? If the disciples did not know Jesus as the Great High Priest Who had to die for the sake of their sins, and ours, and rise again from the dead for the sake of their righteousness, and our righteousness, then they did not rightly know Jesus.

Luke gives us a clue why this is so. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. It was a different story after Jesus rose from the dead. They had gone through the school of tribulation…and it was only the beginning. Like the disciples, perhaps you are looking for an earthly kingdom of Jesus. It would be nice to have a theocracy of sorts. We could put the Ten Commandments in the Oval Office in place of the “Resolute Desk” where the President does his business. We wouldn’t have to elect a President because God would be President. All we need is someone to speak on behalf of God to govern the country. While we’re at it, let’s connect the Church to the government. That way God can directly speak to churches in our country and tell them what to preach. But if we don’t like it, that’s too bad. It has to be preached or pastors lose their job.

What’s worse is that the disciples hindered the blind man from crying out for Jesus. This moment reminds us of when they shooed little children away from Jesus when they wanted to touch the Savior. All this happens because the disciples did not attend to the Scriptures. They did not judge about Christ and His works according to Scripture. Only after Jesus rose from the dead did He open their minds to everything written about Him. Until that moment, everything was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Are you like the blind man on the road to Jerusalem? He rightly knew Jesus though he never saw Him. He not only calls Him Jesus of Nazareth but also Jesus, Son of David. The blind man recognizes that Jesus is truly man and truly God. Jesus must have mercy on the poor, for He says in the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Not even the disciples’ foolish ways can hold him back from seeking help in Jesus. Unlike the disciples, the blind man considered Jesus the single, reliable Merciful One and Savior of the poor. He rightly knew Jesus.

How can a blind man who has never seen nor heard Jesus know Him better than His most intimate disciples? The blind man had come to self-knowledge in the school of the cross. He considered himself a poor man needing mercy. That’s the Law of God at work. The better you behold your own dark, dirty countenance in the mirror of the Law, the more clearly you contrast your flawed countenance with the flawless, bright, clear, gracious countenance of Jesus in the Gospel.

That’s how the Law works. The Law preaches repentance. The Law cannot save you. The Law is a schoolmaster, constantly showing you what you need to do and what you haven’t done. The Law never lets up. That’s how the blind man saw it, even without eyes. That’s how you see it as well, even when you don’t want to see it or wish it wasn’t there. The darker and dirtier your countenance, the more Christ’s righteousness, innocence, and blessedness covers your sin and makes you innocent in His innocent shedding of blood and resurrection from the dead.

The blind man didn’t hang his heart on all sorts of fleshly, self-righteous thoughts about Jesus and His kingdom. He didn’t trust his own power and wisdom. He stood before Jesus not as a proud man who needs to be close to someone powerful in order to receive good things. He learned in faith Who Jesus is, Son of God and Son of Man, and captured his thought to the obedience of faith in Scripture. What He knew about Jesus He learned from God’s Word. He expected Jesus to help him and that’s what happened. He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.

Knowing Jesus and knowing Jesus are two different things. You can have Bible facts at your fingertips, sacred trivia on your tongue, and yet not know Jesus Christ. You can be blind, deaf, mute, last, least, lost, or even dead, and rightly know Jesus Christ. That’s the backward way of the kingdom of God. He comes not to call the righteous, but sinners. Jesus comes to call sinners like you and me to walk with Him, firmly trusting Him as the only Way out of death and condemnation and into life and salvation. That’s the one thing needful. It is yours in Jesus Christ.

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