28 October 2018

Seeing the Lord Jesus with the Eyes of Faith

Your dear Lord Jesus is nearing the end of His journey from the Jordan to Jerusalem, from the waters of His Baptism to its fulfillment in His Holy Cross and Passion.  Approaching the walls of Jericho, He is only miles from His Holy City, His entrance on Palm Sunday not many days away.  He has set His face toward the Sacrifice of His Body and Life for your Redemption and Salvation.

But Jericho is no mere pit-stop or detour on the way.  There is significance in everything Christ Jesus does.  And one cannot hear of  Jericho, that once-ancient city of Canaan, without recalling the Old Testament “Jesus,” Joshua the son of Nun, who led the sons of Israel into the Promised Land and began the work of driving out its pagan inhabitants by destroying the walls of Jericho.

Now this new and greater “Joshua,” Jesus the Christ, the Son of David, is on His Way to the Cross.  And His voluntary sacrificial death will bring down the walls of pagan darkness, the walls of sin and death, which have separated man from God and prevented the sons and daughters of Adam from entering into His Kingdom.  His Cross and Passion are the way and means by which the Lord brings His people into the Promised Land, as by the preaching of the Gospel of His Cross He calls people from all nations to follow Him through death into His Resurrection and everlasting Life.

So it is that, in His dealings with Blind Bartimaeus, you see portrayed the gracious work of mercy that this Lord Jesus has come to perform for you, as well.  He opens the eyes of those who cannot see — not only the eyes of their bodies, but also the spiritual eyes of faith, that they might see and know Christ Jesus as the God of Grace and the King of Mercy.  Both sorts of blindness are the result of sin, which has brought death and decay into an otherwise beautiful and good creation.  But so does the Savior bring life and light, and the health and strength of a new creation, to both body and soul.  And so it is that even Blind Bartimaeus, and you, and all the faithful, shall see and behold with your own eyes your great Redeemer in the flesh, when He shall stand upon the earth.

By the same token, as you are given to see the mercy of the Lord in His dealings with Bartimaeus, so are you taught the proper response of faith to the Lord Jesus in the example of this poor beggar.  In him you hear and see the most basic activity of true faith, which cries out to the Lord for mercy.  It is a faith which is truly humble and patient, yet equally confident and persistent.  A faith which offers nothing of its own, but seeks all good things from the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The irony and paradox of this poor man’s example is identified already in the contrast between his situation and his name, “Bartimaeus,” that is, the son of Timaeus.  “Timaeus” is based on the Greek word for the price or value of something.  Most significantly, it is the word that is used for the precious blood of Christ, which He pours out for you upon the Cross as the ransom price of your redemption from sin, death, and hell.  It is also the word that is used for the honor and reverence that belong to the Lord by right, but which He bestows on you by His grace through the Gospel.

It is clear that both of these qualities, both value and honor, have been utterly lacking in the life of poor, blind Bartimaeus, who appears to be a total nothing in the eyes of the world.  Which is not unlike the paradox to be found in the “Son of David,” on His way even now to the royal throne of His Cross.  And yet, the death of this King, who is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, is the price that He pays for you and for all, including Blind Bartimaeus; not gold or silver, cash or credit, but the price of His own Body and Life, given and poured out for the salvation of the world.  That is how He honors you, and that is the value that He assigns to you, according to His tender mercy.

It is in view of the coming Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus that Bartimaeus is given the eyes of faith to see Him rightly.  And it is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus that Bartimaeus is granted the mercy that he so desperately seeks.  All of which is true for you, as well.  That is to say, the blindness of your sinful unbelief and the darkness of your death are overcome by the Light of God in Christ, which shines upon you from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.

It often takes a while, however, for the Light of Christ to cut through the fog of sin.  Earlier in the Gospel, when Jesus had healed another blind man, He chided the disciples for their blind ignorance and lack of understanding.  “Having eyes,” He said, “do you not see?”  In fact, they did not and could not yet see.  Which is why they have since responded to the Lord’s three explicit revelations of His coming Passion with confusion, fear, and squabbles over greatness and glory.  Still, Jesus has continued with steadfastness of purpose on His Way to the Cross, whereby He will heal sin’s blindness.  So that, with Bartimaeus, “the people who in darkness sat have seen a great Light.”

In order for that Light to shine upon you, that you might see the Lord and know Him as your own, it is necessary that He come and reveal Himself to you.  And so He does.  He takes the initiative in coming down from heaven to seek you out and find you.  He comes in the flesh, and He enters fully into the darkness and death of your sin, unto His death upon the Cross in your stead, in order to gather you up in Himself and bring you in His resurrected Body to God the Father in heaven.

Bartimaeus confesses that saving grace of God in Christ when he calls upon Jesus as the “Son of David.”  Thus does he acknowledge that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior-King who was to come from the house and lineage of David.  But this Son of David, Jesus Christ, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is also the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, who for us men and for our salvation has come down from heaven in the flesh to give you everlasting Life.

And as He is, therefore, God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God, who comes to you in Person, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead, His presence calls forth a response — most appropriately, the cry of faith for mercy from this King, as you have heard from Bartimaeus.  But of course, you would not even know that Christ is present if not for the proclamation of His Word, just as none of the disciples recognized that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, except by the revelation of His Word.  And more to the point at hand, Bartimaeus would not have known that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by — nor even that He was passing by (whoever He was) — if not for the Word that Bartimaeus heard from those around him.

You are in the same position as Blind Bartimaeus, a beggar by the roadside.  You would have no way of knowing that Christ Jesus is here with you in the ministry of His Gospel, in the waters of His Holy Baptism, and in the bread and wine of His Holy Communion, if not for the Word that He preaches to you, by which He calls you and brings you to Himself in repentance and faith.

Do not underestimate the necessity of hearing the Word of Christ, by which alone you have faith and life with God.  For it is the case, as St. Paul writes, that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.  And such faith is nurtured by the preaching and catechesis of that Word, which it is always eager to hear and receive, and which it never stops depending on.

Even after he is called to faith in the mercy of Jesus, Bartimaeus does not presume to act apart from the Word of Christ.  He does not come running until Jesus calls for him to come.  So are you taught to seek the Lord where He may be found, which is to say, where His Word directs you to find Him.  Although He fills all things and is not far from any part of His vast creation, He has not told you to look for Him in all places.  Instead, He directs you by the Word and promises of Holy Scripture to come to Him and find Him in the preaching of His Gospel, in the gracious Word of Absolution, in the waters of Holy Baptism in His Name, and in His Word-made-Flesh in the Holy Communion.  He calls you to find Him in His Church, which is where He has taken His stand upon the earth.

Along the same lines, Blind Bartimaeus is one of the many New Testament examples of someone who is helped along and “brought” to Jesus by his companions, that is, by those who urge him to have courage, to rise and come to Jesus at His call.  Truth be told, the Christian faith and life are always a communal activity and experience.  You cannot come to Jesus or follow Him as a disciple outside the community of His Church.  So, in this case, Jesus stopped and stood and purposefully called Bartimaeus to Himself through the agency of others, whom He sent to call the blind man.

Satan, however, is always mimicking the practices of God, and he is a master of leading you astray and holding you back from Christ through the agency of others.  So, then, not only the Gospel, but also the temptations of the devil come to you by way of the company you keep, whether it be a case of  “mob rule” or other “peer pressures,” as in the case of those who told Bartimaeus to shut up.  Beware of such dangers, and use discretion in choosing your friends and companions; not that you attempt to flee the world, but that you associate with those who adhere to the Word of Christ.

Thankfully — in spite of the devil, the world, and your flesh, which always aim to shut down the cry of faith and discourage you from seeking the Lord Jesus — the call of His Word and Spirit are powerful, persistent, and active, that He should strengthen you against the crowd’s temptations.

Accordingly, as I have already pointed out, you are given a beautiful example of faith in the case of Blind Bartimaeus.  For he is not dissuaded by the people who tell him to be quiet.  And he is not ashamed to cry out for mercy, uttering the most basic prayer of the Christian faith: “Kyrie Eleison.”  “Lord, have mercy!”  Whenever you join the Church around the world in using that prayer, you likewise join with blessed Bartimaeus in throwing yourself at the feet of your dear Savior, Jesus.

Be encouraged, therefore, by the gracious response of that same Lord Jesus, who calls Bartimaeus to Himself.  And follow the example of that poor beggar, who throws off his garments and runs to Christ Jesus at His Word.  Perhaps you have recognized the parallels to Baptism in this action, in which all of your old sinful ways have been removed like dirty clothing, that you might come to Jesus in the humility of nakedness (like a newborn infant); and that you, like Bartimaeus, might offer nothing to the Lord but your desperate need, and ask for nothing else than His mercy.

Then also rise with Bartimaeus to follow after Christ as a disciple in the Way of His Cross and Passion.  No more are you left sitting in your blindness on the sidelines.  You rise to walk with the Lord on His Way to the City of God — to die with Christ Jesus in His death, and to live with Him in His Resurrection.  It is not an easy Way that you follow.  It is not an easy road that you walk.  It is not an easy journey that you make with the Lord Jesus Christ.  But the Cross that you carry, for now, is the Cross that He has borne and carried for you.  And by His Word and Holy Spirit, you are given the eyes of faith to see in that Cross the glory of His forgiveness, His life and salvation.

How different is this poor beggar, Bartimaeus, from the rich young man who came to Jesus earlier in this same chapter of St Mark.  That man had so much, but he was unwilling and unable to let go of his own efforts and possessions in order to follow Jesus.  But this man who has nothing, not even his sight, here demonstrates the very posture of faith which you are likewise called to assume, a posture of poverty and humility before the Lord, which nevertheless clings in hope to His mercy.

And then there is the gracious response of the Lord Jesus.  His healing of Blind Bartimaeus is far more than the evidence of His power, proving who He is.  It is a manifestation of His Gospel and Salvation in the flesh, which comes by the Way of His Cross and points to His Resurrection.  In restoring sight to the blind, He brings an end to the captivity of sin, death, and the power of the devil over all mankind.  He undoes the ignorance of unbelief, and He opens up the eyes of faith.

It is clear from the words of Jesus that Bartimaeus already “saw” (by faith) even before his eyes were healed.  Ironically, then, it was a blind man who saw and understood what the sighted scribes and pharisees and crowds, and even the disciples, were unable to perceive.  He saw and understood that Jesus, the Son of Man, came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His Life as a Ransom for the many.  In that light, there is no room for a false modesty which refuses to ask for His help.  It is true, of course, that you do not deserve the charity of God.  So be it.  But the Savior has come to serve you by His grace.  And He would have you emulate the shameless humility of Bartimaeus, which drowns out the crowd by drumming the ears of the Lord with incessant cries for mercy.

Christ be praised that, even as you call upon His Name, the merciful heart of God is open to you in Him.  Take courage.  Rise up.  He is calling you to Himself.  Your prayer is not despised, and your faith will not be put to shame or disappointed.  For here at His Altar you receive the mercy of God in Christ, in His Body given and His Blood poured out for your forgiveness and salvation.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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