Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Quinquagesima (February 22, 2009, revised from 2002)
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TITLE: “Faith, Hope and Love in Blind Bartemaeus”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from the Gospel lesson just read, the story of blind Bartemaeus in Luke 18. We focus on the words from our text, Jesus stood still.
We are near the beginning of our Lenten journey to the cross of Calvary and the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Already the paraments are purple, we have said farewell to the Alleluias, and the service begins to take on a serious tone. The need is great, and the price is high for our salvation.
Jesus knew this as He went along the road to Jericho with His disciples so many years ago. He wanted to warn them of the trials and heartaches they would face. So He told them what would happen to Him. He would be taken by unbelievers, mocked, insulted, spat upon, and die as a common criminal, vulnerable and alone. But on the third day He would rise again from the dead, and would break the bonds of Satan forever.
The disciples, of course, couldn’t get it. They couldn’t fathom that the Son of God would die for sinners like you and me. In their minds, God was high and mighty, holy and unreachable. He was too important to die for common sinners. That wasn’t how God worked.
This is also how you and I think about God by nature. He may be great and mighty, but when push comes to shove, when life truly gets horrible and messy, that is when Satan tries to creep in and convince you that God doesn’t really care about you. He has more important things to do than to listen to the prayer of one tired sinner from Kenosha.
According to the Law, as long as you are trying to work this out and figure things out yourself, that’s true. When you try and manipulate God or try and placate Him by figuring out everything on your own, you will end up in the dust at the end. You can’t do it. We are poor miserable sinners, tired and weak from the battle against the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. There are evil forces at work in our lives that seek to rip us away from God and from His loving embrace. And the saddest thing of all is when we start listening to those voices and believing them. God doesn’t care about me. I’m alone once again. That is the lie which Satan would have you believe.
But that is not the God of wonders, the God of love who gives His Son over to die for you. The God of love that sends His Son into the flesh to die loves you with every fiber of His being. More than anything else in the world, He wants to draw you into His life. He wants you to be a part of that holy conversation which only exists in God Himself. This is what our Old Testament lesson is talking about when it says that God will come down with vengeance to save you. He comes down from heaven and enters into your very flesh and blood, so that when you suffer, He suffers. And when He died, you died, so that because He rose again, you rise again in the waters of Baptism. Your life is bound to God so much that you are hidden in Christ, as St. Paul reminds us (Colossians 3:1).
That is what the disciples couldn’t get, so our Lord draws blind Bartemaeus to the road so that He may have mercy on this poor man. Bartemaeus is the name of the beggar in our Gospel lesson. Here is one who has been abandoned by all. He is alone and without help. He cannot see, and so his whole world is one of darkness and fear. This is you trapped in your sins.
But God in His mercy gave great faith to Bartemaeus. As they walked along the road, Bartemaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He cries out, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Lord, have mercy! It is the cry of faith. Bartemaeus makes this cry knowing that Jesus is the source and object of his faith. Faith always looks outside of ourselves and to Jesus Christ alone. That is the only faith that finally matters. And this is where Bartemaeus looks. The blind man looks with the eyes of faith to the one and only source of mercy in his life. He looks to Jesus.
The crowds and the disciples don’t get it. They urge him to hush up and go away. Don’t you know that Jesus has more important things to do than to help some pathetic blind beggar? Jesus is an important man. He has places to go, things to do, people to see. He doesn’t have time for the likes of you. So they thought.
But the more they tried to hush him, the more he cried out. Son of David, have mercy on me! It is then that we hear this wonderful verse: Jesus stood still, and commanded them to stop. Jesus is on His way to die, surrounded by people who supposedly adore Him and hail Him as a great prophet, and yet right in the middle of the road, He stops at the prayer of one of His children crying out to Him in faith.
Now there is a picture of God that is true. Heaven and earth come to a screeching halt at the voice of prayer crying out in faith. Now we can see how much God loves you. Nothing else matters. No one else matters. You are His sole concern and love. At your cry for help He swoops down out of heaven and gathers you up in His arms. Jesus even asks Bartemaeus what he wants, and Bartemaeus tells him, Lord, that I may receive my sight. Seems to me like Bartemaeus was seeing just fine. He saw through the haze and the fear and the crowds and the hushing God’s true character. He clung to those words from Jesus: Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This is the very essence of the Christian faith, my friends. Faith clings to the Word of God alone, even when it seems as though heaven and earth itself are crashing in all around us. And that faith will never be disappointed, for that faith rests on the sure and certain promises of God, that will never fail, never waver, never fall short or miss the point. Jesus stood still. He will hear your prayers. He will listen to your cry for mercy. And He will give you what you truly need. He will give you Himself.
I think this is why as Lutherans we really look at the Lord’s Supper as the culmination and greatest gift from God. Baptism creates faith and is the foundation. The Word of God and Absolution strengthen faith and point it to Christ. And the Lord’s Supper connects us to Jesus in the deepest and most intimate way possible. Christ dwells in you. He gives you His very body and blood. You are clean and holy in God’s sight, because Christ makes you clean by His blood. This is the work of the God who does wonders. This is the work of the God who stops heaven and earth to hear your prayer. This is the work of the God who comes into your flesh and gives you peace that is beyond understanding.
Cry out to God in faith. Cry out with the words of Bartemaeus and the whole Church in heaven and on earth: have mercy. He does, and He will. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.