When I was thirteen years old, I realized that when I was at the baseball field sitting in the dugout, the numbers on the scoreboard located just behind the outfield fence were blurry. I also realized, more importantly, that when hitting I wasn’t seeing the ball as well as in the past.
It was that summer I learned that I needed glasses for seeing distances. I have worn glasses or contacts all of my life since then. Over the years the prescription for those has had to become stronger as my vision has gotten worse. I like to joke that when I get up in the morning, without my glasses I am blind.
Then, about two years ago I noticed that when I was working on my model railroad, I was starting to have trouble seeing the very small pieces with which I was working. This had never been a problem in the past – I could see anything no matter how small it was. But about a year ago I had to go the drug store and buy some reading glasses that I use while modeling. Now my model railroading experience includes the frequent question: “Were on the train layout did I leave my glasses?”
We take vision for granted … until there are problems. And while issues of being near sighted or far sighted can be dealt with relatively easily, more serious issues that threaten sight are scary. We all know how important sight is, and how difficult life is if we lose it.
In our Gospel lesson we meet a man who had no sight. He was blind. We don’t know anything about how or when this had occurred. However, we find him in the location, doing the activity that we would expect of a blind man in the first century world. He was sitting alongside the road begging for money.
He heard that a crowd was going by and asked what was going on. When he was told, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The blind man called out to Jesus and addressed him with a term that identified him as the Messiah. He had one urgent plea “Have mercy on me!”, which is a cry for help.
However, those who were in the front of the group rebuked them man. They considered him an annoyance and told him to be silent. Yet the man would not be silenced, instead, he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” We don’t know how the man knew about Jesus. But he had heard the Gospel. He had heard that Jesus was the Son of David. He knew that Jesus worked miracles of healing as he brought God’s reign. And he believed. He had faith in Jesus, and in faith he cried out to the Lord.
Jesus stopped, had the men brought to him, and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus replied, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” We learn that immediately the man recovered his sight. He responded to this this by following Jesus as he glorified God. The man’s faith in Jesus did not end because he had gotten what he wanted. Instead, he now followed the Lord and praised God.
The faith of the blind man stands in contrast to what precedes in our text. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and we learn that he 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.”
This is now the third time that Jesus had told the apostles about his upcoming passion. This one is the most explicit as he described his humiliation, suffering, and death. However, we are told, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” The apostles didn’t understand. They had not understood before. And now we are told that it was hidden from them. Only in the events that were about to take place could they come to an understanding about who Jesus was and what he meant for them.
When the blind man asked what was happening, he was told “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” The reference to Nazareth recalls the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he went to his hometown on the Sabbath. There he read these words from Isaiah chapter sixty one: “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 Jesus announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In healing the blind man, and in his other miracles, Jesus was the presence of God’s reign. He was the Messiah – the Son of of David – who was anointed not with olive oil, but with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. He had come to bring liberty to the captives, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
And that means you. You were captives to Satan, sin, and death. Conceived and born as children of Adam, you were spiritually dead – Satan was your lord. As the apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
In our text Jesus describes how he will suffer and die. He says that they are going to Jerusalem so that “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” This reference is important because it emphasizes that Jesus goes to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s saving will. He goes to fulfill what God had revealed in the Old Testament. At the Last Supper Jesus said, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”
Our Lord quoted the words of Isaiah chapter fifty three. There Isaiah described the suffering Servant and said of him, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” We saw during Epiphany that when Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at his baptism, he took on the role of the suffering Servant – the One who would bear our sins and receive God’s judgment in our place.
Jesus Christ went to Jerusalem and suffered and died exactly as he had said. He died on the cross to win forgiveness for you. But in Luke’s Gospel the phrase “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” also points forward to what happened after Jesus died.
Jesus died on Good Friday. But on Easter, he rose from the dead. On the evening of Easter he appeared to his disciples in the locked room and said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “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.”
In fulfillment of the Father’s saving will, our Lord Jesus suffered and died to win forgiveness for us. Yet, also in fulfillment of his will, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have forgiveness before God, and we know that death has been defeated. It cannot separate us from God. And Jesus will transform out bodies to be like his resurrected body on the Last Day.
This is what God has done. This is the good news – the Gospel- that God has revealed to us. It is through this Gospel that the Holy Spirit has called us to faith. Because we know this we now live by faith in our Lord. And here, the blind man provides us with a model to follow. When he heard that Jesus was coming by he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When others tried to silence him he called out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The man trusted and believed in Jesus. He called out to him for help.
This is what our life looks like as well. It is because we are people who continue to struggle with sin. Though through the work of the Spirit we are in Christ a new creation, the old Adam still drags us back into a failure to put God first and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t ignore this sin or try to make excuses for it. Instead, we repent and confess our sins. We cry out “Jesus have mercy on me!”, as in faith we return to our baptism through which we shared in Jesus’ saving death and have had our sins forgiven.
The same thing is true as we encounter the challenges, difficulties, and sufferings of this life. We cry out, “Jesus have mercy on me!” In faith and trust we turn to the Lord who died for us and rose from the dead. We ask for his help, confident that the One who has revealed his love for us in his cross and resurrection, continues to love and care for us now.
And in turn, the love and help God has given us leads us to love and serve others. We learn about the blind man, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.” The man became a follower of Jesus and glorified God. We have cried out, “Jesus have mercy on me!” and have received forgiveness and life through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are now followers of Jesus who glorify God by sharing his love with others in the vocations where God has placed us.
The blind man in our text turned to Jesus in persistent faith as he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The Lord healed him as he experienced the reign of God that was present in Jesus Christ. The apostles in our text hear about how the saving reign of God will reach its consummation – in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus everything that is written about him by the prophets is accomplished.
They do not understand. In fact, at this point it is hidden from them. But it would not be hidden forever. Jesus has accomplished all that he said. At Easter and for forty days afterwards the disciples encountered the risen Lord, as he gave them insight into how he fulfilled the Scriptures and taught them about the kingdom of God. They have been his witnesses to us, so now we also rejoice in the forgiveness, life, and salvation which we have received in our crucified and risen Lord.