Under the Cross of Christ
Quinquagesima| Luke 18:31-43| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| February 27, 2022
Jesus plainly says to his twelve disciples, “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.” Yet, St. Luke tells us, “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Notice how the Evangelist says three times in three different ways the same thing. The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Let that be known for certain!
Yet, why didn’t the disciples understand what Jesus was saying? Was Jesus unclear? No. He couldn’t have spoken it clearer. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying, because what Jesus was saying went against all human reason and pride. To accept what Jesus said at face value would be to call all human wisdom foolishness, to call their plans silly dreams. This would be humiliating to them.
The condition the disciples were in that left them blind to Jesus’ clear statement is the condition all mankind finds himself in. Scripture says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews, and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25) According to our natural birth, we cannot accept the crucifixion of Christ. It remains foolishness. We are by nature blind to God’s grace. The idea that the suffering and death of another could purchase our salvation is offensive. So, people do not believe it. People don’t believe what they don’t want to believe.
So, Jesus performed a greater and kinder healing than the restoring of the blind man’s sight when he opened the eyes of his disciples to Scripture, so that they would recognize his crucifixion and resurrection as the source of their salvation (Luke 24:45). Jesus’ words are clear. We recite similar clear words when we confess the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was … was crucified, died, and was buried, he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead.”, or the Nicene Creed: “Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures…” We recite these words, but so many refuse to believe them. This is because we are so corrupted by our sinful flesh that no one can believe in Jesus Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). The Father draws a person to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through the preaching of the Gospel.
So, when we hear the Gospel, we should understand that we are not listening to any humanly contrived doctrine. This is not the wisdom of learned professors or sophomoric academics. This is the will of God for our salvation. You should recognize that God is working in this Gospel and pray that he would open your eyes to see and understand it, as a man once cried to Jesus, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
And what we learn when we listen to Jesus, submitting our reason to his teaching, is that we cannot know Christ or God the Father Who sent him, unless we look at him through the cross of Christ. Why did Jesus tell his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem, where he would be delivered over to the Gentiles, mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and killed and on the third day rise? You would think that if he knew all of that would happen to him in Jerusalem, he would simply not go to Jerusalem. But Jesus willingly goes to Jerusalem, like a lamb to the slaughter and like a sheep before its shearers is silent. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t resist. In fact, he rebukes St. Peter when he tries to convince him otherwise (Matthew 16:23). Jesus goes to Jerusalem to suffer and die. This is his mission on earth.
And this is God’s mission. Isaiah 53 states that it was the will of the LORD to crush him. The LORD is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are one God, sharing one will. It is Jesus’ will to go and suffer and die just as it is the Father’s will to send him. He goes to make atonement for the sins of the world, that is, to bear our transgressions and be crushed for our iniquities. We will be healed by his wounds, because he will suffer in our place for our sins.
And to prove that he has accomplished what he has set out to do, Jesus will rise on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection is a declaration of absolution for the entire world. Jesus takes the sins of the whole world upon himself and goes and dies for them. The fact that Jesus lives again three days later proves that those sins are gone. They were taken from us and now they are gone. Jesus has put them away forever.
So, we cannot see God apart from the crucifixion of Christ. We cannot see Jesus apart from this crucifixion. Jesus’ passion for our sins on the cross tells us how our God feels about us, what he desires for us. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. If you do not know God through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, then you do not know God; Jesus is a stranger to you. But if you recognize that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to suffer these things for your sake, then you see God for who he is, a loving Father, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who fervently desires your salvation.
As Christians, we must always see ourselves under the cross of Christ. This is why we should recite the Apostles’ Creed daily. A good Christian fellow recently said to me that God seems a lot stricter in the Old Testament than he is in the New. This is a common perception. People think the God of the Old Testament is angry and wrathful, but the God of the New Testament is kind, patient, and more lenient. But this is not true. God is not stricter in the Old Testament and more lenient in the New Testament, nor is he kinder in the New and more wrathful in the Old. God is God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is always wrathful toward sin. Sin cannot dwell with him, for he is righteous. This is why Jesus must suffer and die for all sins, or we cannot be saved. And God is always gracious toward his creation, desiring to forgive rather than punish. The difference is not in God, but rather in whether you have faith in Christ or not.
If you see yourself apart from the cross of Christ, then you will see God as a strict judge, whose wrath burns hot against your sin. Yet, if you see yourself under the cross of Christ, then you recognize that God looks at you with favor and mercy. All your sins are atoned for. Nothing stands against you. You can face Satan and cast him off from you. You can stand before God without guilt or shame. When God looks at you through the cross of Christ, he sees you in a clean, white shirt; even better, he sees you clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Yet, this does not mean that the cross of Christ gives us a free pass to sin. No, the torment our Lord Jesus endures on the cross is the just punishment for our sins. We see what we deserve, as the hymn states, “Ye, who think of sin but lightly/ Nor suppose the evil great/ Here may view its nature rightly/ Here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed/ See who bears the awful load; ’Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed/ Son of Man and Son of God.” (LSB 451) Our sins, that is, our selfishness, laziness, hatred, lust, covetousness, and rebellion against God, are so severe that it took God’s own Son in human flesh to make atonement for them. Our sins are evil. You see their evil on the cross. So, as a Christian living under the cross of Christ, you live a life of repentance. You turn from your sins daily, nailing them to the cross, washing them in Jesus’ blood, and trusting in God for the sake of the bitter suffering and death of Christ to forgive you.
You also find in the cross of Christ the power to resist temptation, not as a mere curb, to threaten you if you do sin. But as a source of strength. The primary message of the cross of Christ is God’s love for you. God’s love for you increases faith and love in you. The opposite of sin is faith and its fruit love. The cross of Christ is the object of our faith and the source of our love. By living under the cross of Christ, you trust in God wholly and through that faith, love your neighbor.
The Holy Spirit beautifully places the healing of the blind man immediately after Jesus’ disciples fail to see what Jesus is talking about concerning his cross and resurrection. The blind man cannot see with his eyes, but he can see with his faith. He recognizes Jesus as the Christ, which is why he calls him the Son of David. And he recognizes that Jesus is kind, merciful, and able to heal him. So, he cries out to Jesus for mercy. He’s told to be quiet, but he keeps on shouting for mercy. And Jesus, when he hears his faithful cry for help, calls him and answers his prayer. The man who was blind rejoices with his newfound sight, follows Jesus, glorifying God, and with his testimony causes others to glorify God with him.
This blind man, whose name we know to be Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), demonstrated beautiful faith. He did not let adversity silence him, but trusting in the kindness of his Lord, cried, “Have mercy on me!” The Christian Church holds this faith in such high regard, that it has incorporated Bartimaeus’s prayer into our Sunday worship. We sing every Sunday, “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.” This is a prayer of faith in the crucified Christ Jesus. When we pray for mercy, we are asking for every good thing Christ can give us. And we believe that he will give it. Why? Because he willingly went to Jerusalem to be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and crucified, and rose again on the third day for us. He did this to save our eternal souls and to raise our bodies to imperishable life. So, of course we should believe that he will gladly help us in our need. He gave Bartimaeus his sight. He will help you in your need as well. We live under the cross of Christ. This means, we live forever under the tender mercy of our God. Amen.