05 March 2019

Given the Eyes of Faith to See Christ the Crucified

Everything hinges and depends upon the Word of God in Christ.  However, because it centers in His Cross, His Word remains a great Mystery, and even His disciples are blind to what it means and signifies (for Him and for themselves), until it is revealed and explained by the Holy Spirit.

As a case in point, St. Luke has carefully and purposely contrasted here the blind ignorance of the twelve disciples with the faith of the blind man.  Where he without eyes could see by faith who and what Jesus is, the twelve disciples understood nothing because His Word of the Cross was hidden from them.  Seeing, they could not see; and hearing, they could neither hear nor understand.

Yet, the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus are the fulfillment of all that the Prophets had written concerning the Son of Man.  This is what the Word of God is all about!  This is what it means for Jesus to be the “Son of Man,” the incarnate God, given and poured out for the salvation of sinners, that He might justify the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve in His Resurrection from the dead.

Contrary to all human wisdom, reason, and strength, the Cross and Passion of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, are the revelation of the grace and glory of God in the flesh.  There, in the Body of Christ the Crucified, the heart of God is opened to you in love, to forgive you and to save you.

But you are not able to recognize this true divine reality with the eyes in your head.  Nor can you measure any of this accurately according to outward appearances.  Apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you can neither see nor hear nor understand what any of this is or what it really means.

It is already a struggle to see and believe that Christ the Crucified is the Power and Wisdom and Glory of God in the flesh, and that His Cross and Passion are forgiveness, life, and salvation for the world.  But now you are called, as well, to bear and to carry His Cross, to suffer His Passion, to live and die with Him in your own body and life as a disciple of this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

The challenge, then, is to recognize the gracious presence of God in the Cross of Christ that you bear and suffer.  It is not “in spite of the Cross,” but it is by and with and in the Cross that you are glorified with the Glory of God in Christ Jesus.  Just at those times and in those places when you are most tempted to suppose (and complain) that the Lord your God has forgotten you, that He has abandoned you, that He is angry at you — or, at your most cynical, that there is no God at all — it is then and there that He calls you to rejoice and give thanks that He is with you to glorify you.

But you cannot embrace the Cross of Christ Jesus as the Grace and Glory of God, as your Life and your Salvation, except by His Word and Holy Spirit.  It is only by the preaching of His Word, which is the work of His Spirit, that you are called and converted from your blind unbelief to see and believe the truth — in the humility of true repentance, but so also in the confidence of faith.

So, there you sit by the side of the road — squatting in a gutter at the edge of town — a poor, blind beggar.  A poor, miserable sinner.  You have nothing of your own, nothing to show for yourself.  And all that you deserve from the Lord your God is nothing else but punishment for your sins.

Well, okay, it may be that you’ve managed to cobble together a comfortable life for yourself in this world, or an adequate existence at any rate, better than others.  But you know that is not your true spiritual condition, not apart from Christ Jesus.  Apart from Him, your life is neither comfortable nor adequate, but rather on its way from bad to worse.  And in your native sinfulness, you could not see or find the Lord Jesus anywhere.  You could not see or understand anything as it really is, nor could you see or find any hope for the future.  In truth, apart from Christ there is no hope.

So you squat and waste away in your rut by the side of the road, a poor beggar.  That is what the Cross must make of you.  That is what repentance does.  It reduces you to nothing and leaves you with nothing to show for yourself, nothing to offer to God or anyone else, but only your desperate and pitiful need.  To that end the Cross is laid upon you, in order to put you to death with Christ the Crucified and bring you by way of His Cross into His Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

Repentance is no game, nor is it a mental exercise.  It begins with the dreadful experience of death and the grave, the anguish of your sins, and a little taste of hell in your heart, mind, body, and soul.  It is the crushing realization that, in yourself, because of your sin, you have no power, no strength, no hope for the future, no choices to make, and no opportunities, nothing but emptiness and want.

And then comes the Word of Christ.  You cannot see Him with your eyes, but you hear the Word which declares that Jesus is drawing near and passing by.  That Word reaches into your darkness, past your blindness, and calls you to attention.  It is true, there is no hope in you, but there is every hope for you in this Man from Nazareth.  And though you are blind to His presence, unable to find Him, the Word proclaims that He is here.  He has come to where you are on His way to the Cross.

And because you have been reduced to nothing but emptiness and need, the Word of Christ Jesus elicits from you the most basic prayer of faith: “Kyrie Eleison!” “Lord, have mercy!”  What else can you say?  You have nothing else to offer, and nothing with which to bargain or barter with the Lord.  You are a beggar.  There is no merit or worthiness in you.  So you simply cry out for mercy.

It is a deeply heartfelt prayer.  It is a groan of anguish and a cry of desperation, a plea for help from the only One who can help.  It is the voice of faith in its purest and most childlike state, small and fragile, helpless and weak, relying on the mercy of the Lord, the Son of David, Jesus Christ.  Under the weight of the Cross, you cry out for mercy to Him who bears and carries the Cross for you.

But of course, as soon as you begin to pray — as soon as repentance and faith begin to offer up their Kyrie Eleison! — the devil, the world, and your own flesh rise up against you, determined to keep you from Jesus.  “Hush your mouth,” they say.  “Be content with sin, death, and hell, and do not presume to ask for mercy.  Don’t pray.  Don’t hope.  Don’t trust.  Just give up, and shut up.”

So it is that voices of opposition strive to keep you from hearing and receiving the Word of Jesus, and to dissuade you from calling upon His Name and coming to Him at His Word.  But such voices do not belong to those who follow after Jesus.  They are the false noises and the fatal cacophony of those who presume to go before Him, who presume to lead and guide Him.  They know nothing of the Cross, but only the power, might, and wisdom of the world.  They are puffed up with their own reason and strength, and they insist that you must likewise be measured by their standards.

It is the Word of Jesus on His way to the Cross that defends you against those false and misleading voices of doubt and despair.  So faith persists in the confidence of His Word, which declares that He is close at hand.  And His Cross has taught you to know and believe these two most basic facts: You need Him, who alone is able to help and save you; and He has come for you in divine love.

So you will not shut up, nor will you give up, but you will cry out all the more: Lord, have mercy!

But, O Lord, how long!?  How long must we grope about in this deep darkness?  How long must we languish in our poverty and pathetic degradation, begging for mercy by the side of the road?  How long must we pray and cry out, before the Lord opens His hand and pours out His mercy?

If you are asking how long you must bear the Cross and suffer such difficulties, the answer is that your entire life in this world is lived under the Cross of Christ, which is paradoxically your glory, your strength, your sure confidence and hope — all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

But if you are asking how long it will be until the Lord Jesus hears and answers your cry for mercy, He has already answered before you have asked.  Indeed, He has planted Himself here, that even a blind beggar may find Him and lay hold of Him; and He calls for you to be brought to Him.

Against all those voices of opposition, He has commanded that you should be brought to Him.  He speaks with the authority of His own Cross and Resurrection, and His Word gives you confidence.  For not only has He drawn near to you, but He is calling for you to be drawn near to Him.

Your prayer for mercy is not in vain.  It is heard, and it is answered.  For the Lord invites you to pray, to lay your every need and every request before Him.  What is more, He has given you the very words with which to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  He has indeed commanded you to pray, and He has promised that, whatever you ask in His Name, it will be granted.  So it is that His Word comes to your rescue.  It opens your ears to hear, your eyes to see, and your lips to pray.

Now, to be sure, He answers your prayer for daily bread, for all that you need to support this body and life, just as He has taught you to pray.  Cast all of your anxieties on Him, therefore, because He truly cares about you, and He provides food and clothing, shelter and protection for your body.  But even better, He opens your blind eyes to behold and believe His true Glory, which is to say, His Holy Cross and Passion, whereby He has obtained the forgiveness of all your sins, conquered death in order to give you life, and defeated the devil in order to save you for eternity in heaven.

Of course it is true that, no matter what your circumstances in this world, for now you are not yet able to see the Lord Jesus with the eyeballs in your head.  And for as long as you live in this world, always under the Cross, you will not be able to “feel” His presence with you here.  For now it is by faith alone, and not by sight.  Blessed are you, therefore, who have not seen but have believed.

But how so are you blessed, and how do you believe what you cannot see and the world denies?  It is by the Word of Christ the Crucified.  “Faith alone” depends upon “the Word alone.”  Not just any Word, but the Word of God in Christ.  And not just any Christ, but Jesus Christ the Crucified.

The truth of the matter is that, if you could see Him, this crucified Lord Jesus Christ, you would be no less confused and scandalized than the disciples were then.  Just as you are so challenged, and sometimes shaken, when you are confronted by the Cross in your own Christian faith and life.

Even so, the Word of Christ prevails.  Not only has it alerted you to His gracious presence.  Not only has it called you to Him and invited you to pray.  His Word now also gives you Christ Himself and such good things as you could never dare hope for.  He speaks to you today, and your sins are forgiven.  He speaks to you today, and your faith is strengthened unto Life everlasting.  He speaks to you today, and He thereby gives to you His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood, which He has sacrificed for you upon His Cross, that you should live in Him, and He in you, forever.

He speaks to you today, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.  For He speaks to you from His own Cross, the One who has been mocked and spitefully treated and spit upon, scourged and put to death for you and your salvation, who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  Today, then, as you hear His Voice, do not harden your heart, and do not suppose that He has hardened His heart against you, but enter into His Peace and Rest by faith in His mercy.

You are a beggar, that is true — truer than you even know.  But Christ be praised, He is the Savior of such beggars.  He is your Savior, and He has had mercy upon you.  His Word has saved you.  Come, then, rise up from your gutter, and follow Him on the Way that leads to Life everlasting.

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As usual, the waters of salvation pour forth in the preaching you are given to administer in our midst. Thanks be to God!