This past week I turned fifty one years old. The year included a development that reminded me that I am not getting any younger. When working on my model railroad, I realized that I could no longer see the very small details with which I needed to work. I mean, it wasn’t even close. And so I had to purchase a pair of reader glasses at the drug store for use in modeling. My kids have found the sight of their dad with a pair of reading glasses perched on the end of his nose to be an amusing sight.
Typically, our eyesight deteriorates as we get older. For at least one person I visit, life into her late nineties has meant that her vision is almost completely gone. The condition of not being able to see at all – to be blind – is hard to fathom. The inability to read, watch TV and just see the world around us would be an incredible hardship.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus encounters a man who is blind. This man calls out to Jesus in urgent faith, and our Lord heals him. Yet this miracle of healing is juxtaposed with Jesus’ most explicit prediction of his upcoming passion. We see that the way of suffering and death is not a contradiction with Jesus’ role of the Christ. Instead, it is part of it. And in this truth, we find insight into how we are to view the presence of suffering and hardship in our own lives.
Our text begins by telling us that Jesus took the twelve apostles aside and said 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.”
There are two things to note about Jesus’ statement. First, he says that the upcoming events of his passion will be a fulfillment of what the prophets in the Old Testament had written. Jesus presents his passion as the will of God foretold in Scripture, and now coming to fulfillment as they approach Jerusalem for the final time.
The second thing is the explicit way Jesus describes the upcoming events. He will be handed over the Gentiles to be mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon. Jesus describes the humiliation that he will experience at the hands of the Romans. Then he adds, “And after flogging him, they will kill him.” Jesus refers to the scourging that preceded crucifixion, in which a whip studded with lead or pieces of bone was used to flay skin of the victim. This terribly painful event was meant to weaken the person before crucifixion. It was also a part of what made crucifixion such a horrible way to die.
This is the third time that Jesus has predicted his passion in Luke’s Gospel. And like the previous two times, Jesus concluded it by referring to his resurrection. Yet we learn in our text, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They did not understand the necessity of the Christ’s suffering. In fact, we are told that it was hidden from them. It was not something they could grasp.
Immediately after this we learn that as Jesus was approaching Jericho, there was a blind man sitting by the roadside begging. He could hear that a large crowd was passing by and asked about what was going on. When he was told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The blind man called Jesus the “Son of David.” He confessed Jesus to be the Christ, and he implored Jesus for help.
Those at the front of the crowd thought that his cry was a nuisance, and told him to stop. But we learn that in response he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He would not allow his cry of faith to be silenced, because Jesus was there.
Our Lord stopped and commanded the man to be brought to him. When the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man responded, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” He addressed Jesus in the language of faith as the blind man called him Lord. Then Jesus demonstrated that he is the Lord. He said to the man, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” We learn that immediately the blind man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God.
In our text this morning, we have side by side the stark and brutal prediction of Jesus’ passion, and the miracle in which Jesus heals a blind man. On the one hand we have the lack of understanding among the apostles, and on the other hand we have the unwavering faith of the blind man as he confesses that Jesus is the Christ and asks the Lord for help.
The contrast of suffering and death, and the power of Jesus’ healing miracle, is something that confronts us all the time. On the one hand, we live in a world where we continue to experience illness, failure and hardships. Our life is always threatened by death, and for some of us that threat is very immediate and pressing.
On the other hand, we confess and believe that Jesus is the Lord – the Christ. We believe that he is the One who has all power, and has won forgiveness, salvation and eternal life for us. Yet in the face of the suffering and difficulties that continually seem to arise, it can be hard to believe this. Doubt can creep in. Doubt can turn into resentment and even anger against the God who claims to love us, even as we experience these things.
In our text today, Jesus brutally predicts his suffering and death. Then, he turns around a heals a blind man. At Jesus’ baptism, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit who descended upon him. Next, in his sermon at Nazareth he read this text from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Then he announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The healing of the blind man demonstrates that Jesus is indeed the Christ – the Messiah promised by God.
John the Baptist proclaimed that he was preparing the way for the One who would bring God’s end time judgment, and after Jesus’ baptism the Lord began his ministry. Yet when John spoke the truth of God’s Word to King Herod Antipas, Herod had him thrown in prison. From prison John sent this question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John wondered how he could be suffering this evil, if Jesus was the One.
Luke tells us, “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. Jesus answered, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Jesus’ answer was that, yes, he was the One! The healing of the blind man in our text bears witness to this. But note what our Lord said at end of his statement to John: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Our text this morning shows us that for Jesus, suffering and death, and the powerful ministry of the saving Christ are not contradictions.
In our text, Jesus says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” He predicts his suffering and death. But he also says, “and on the third day he will rise.” Our Lord says that suffering and death are not the end. Instead, his mission will pass through this and lead to resurrection. The disciples don’t understand. In fact we are told, “This saying was hidden from them.” They could not understand the meaning until it was revealed to them by God on Easter in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
After his resurrection, Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They lamented what had happened to Jesus, and shared the puzzling initial reports that they had heard about Jesus’ resurrection. Then Jesus said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
Jesus was indeed the Christ. He came to suffer and die in order to win forgiveness for you. He came to fulfill what the prophets had written. But this fulfillment also included his resurrection and glory. The apostles don’t understand Jesus in our text today. But on the evening of Easter the risen Lord appeared in the room where they were and explained, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that allowed them to understand that suffering and death were not contradictions with Jesus’ power and glory as the Christ.
The same thing is true for you. Jesus Christ himself passed through suffering and death in order to win forgiveness and salvation for us. He walked the way of the cross. But the cross was not the end. Instead he conquered death as the Father raised him from the dead on the third day.
Jesus has not promised the absence of suffering and hardships. Quite the opposite, he has said that we will be called upon to sacrifice and suffer because of our faith in him. In his resurrection, Jesus has begun the final victory over death. But until he returns, the wages of sin is still death. The illness that we experience is simply this fact playing all through our life. We are in the process of dying even as we live. As we continue to live as fallen people in a fallen world, there will be difficulties.
But because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that God is still in control, and that he still loves us. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus and his victory allows us to trust that God is still at work in the midst of these difficulties. It’s not comfortable, but God uses these things to kill the old Adam in us. They force us to turn away from ourselves, the world and all its distractions, and to turn towards God. They cause us to rely on him – they cause us to grow in faith.
We can believe and trust that this is what God is doing because we have the risen and ascended Lord who suffered and died for us. Our salvation was won on Good Friday in what could only be seen as weakness, failure, and defeat. But the resurrection of Jesus revealed that it was in fact the most powerful action of God to save us.
Because we have seen God do this in Christ, we can trust as the baptized children of God, that God’s love and care continues for us. We can cry out with the faith of the blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!,” and know that he does help us as through his Spirit he sustains us. We can know that that the final victory is already ours, and live our lives in this confidence. We know how everything ends, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.