These three Gesima Sundays have, as an underlying current, tenets of the faith to which the Lutheran Reformers clung with great zeal. There are five statements which they taught, believed, and confessed, three of which are at the heart of these three Gospel readings, which you may even have heard in the sermons and texts these last two weeks. The other two consequently flow out of the first three.
Two weeks ago, on Septuagesima, we heard the parable of the landowner who went to hire workers for his vineyard at different times of the day, such that he had workers who worked a full 12-hour day all the way down to those who worked merely an hour. When it came time to give the workers their wages, he paid those hired last first and gave them a full-day’s wage. The workers hired in the morning also received a full-day’s wage. When the workers complained, the landowner proclaimed to them, “Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (Matthew 20:14-15a) This is what the kingdom of heaven is compared to.
So it is with the Father who Jesus compares to the landowner. He gives abundantly to all who are His, all who are called by His name, all who are placed into covenant with Him, and gives to all the same: forgiveness, life, and salvation. It doesn’t matter to Him how long you have been a Christian, how hard your life as a Christian has been, or how much you have done as a Christian for and in the church. You are all marked the same way, having received the sign of the cross upon forehead and heart to mark you as one redeemed by the blood shed by your Savior, Jesus Christ. To you, all-day workers or single-hour workers, He gives the same. And this He does to you all, for the sake of Jesus Christ. And it demonstrates God’s grace alone; the He does this to you and for you only out of His divine grace and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you, despite your works—sola gratia.
Last week, on Sexagesima, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a sower sowing seed. Some seed fell on the hard-pack pathway. Some fell on rocky soil. Some fell on thorny soil. And some fell on good soil. The seed is the Word of God. God sends His Word and it does for Him what He pleases, as we heard from the prophet Isaiah last week. (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11)
Now, the pathway represents those who hear the Word of God, yet the devil comes along and takes it, lest they believe and are saved. This manifests itself in those who hear the Word of God and call it foolish and outright reject it. The rocky soil represents those who hear the Word of God, receive it with joy, but fall away in time of temptation. The thorny soil represents those who hear the Word of God, yet it gets choked out by the cares and concerns of this world. For these, the Word is only Law, which accuses them and condemns them in their sin; this is most grievous to God, who desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4) The fourth soil type are those who hear the Word of God and by it produce fruit in keeping with repentance. This parable teaches us that it is the Word of God alone by which we learn that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and the Word of God alone that shows us that Savior, who is Jesus Christ, and the Word of God alone that is the means by which God’s grace is given. Those first three soil types rejected the Word of God in one way or another; therefore, they do not see or acknowledge their sin, they do not know or see their Savior, they do not receive God’s grace. The Word of God alone does these things, accomplishing what God desires, which is your forgiveness, life, and salvation—sola scriptura.
Today, Quinquagesima, we see at work one of the other solae, the one we know as sola fide—faith alone. We see it at work in two ways. First, we are shown the limitations of the human flesh to grasp and comprehend the truth. Second, we are shown that faith clings to Christ despite what the senses and outside influences are saying and doing.
Faith alone comprehends the mysteries of the kingdom. I’m sure each and every one of you, in one way or another, would confess this, as far as you are able to understand it—that is, depending on the maturity of your faith. However, even simply put, it is only by faith that all of you believe and confess that your God is one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (not three gods or three modes of God, but one God in three distinct persons), that the water of Holy Baptism is a washing of regeneration, that the bread and wine of Holy Communion are the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that the absolution that your pastor speaks over you is as certain and valid as if God Himself had said it with His own voice. You have nothing to go on except the Word of God alone. The Bible says that this is what these things are, and so you believe it.
Likewise, you speak of yourselves in the same terms. That one day, Jesus Christ will return to judge the quick and the dead—that all the dead will rise, and that Jesus will give eternal life to you and to all believers in Christ. Apart from the Word of God, you have no evidence to prove that this will happen, so you must take it and confess it on faith and trust in that Word of God. Jesus said it will happen, and so by God-given faith, you believe, teach, and confess that it will happen.
So, when Jesus speaks of His coming passion and death—when He describes the betrayal, mocking, insults, punishment, and death that He must endure—you would expect that His disciples, who hear Him speak of these things, would receive it by faith. Here is Jesus, their teacher for three years, now, whom they have seen cure diseases, raise the dead, and exorcise demons, all of which are fulfilling the Word of God that they have heard at the feet of their various rabbis, now telling them that He will be delivered up to be crucified, to suffer, die, and rise again, in order to fulfill what was written in the prophets. Jesus tells them that it’s time to make their way to Jerusalem that He may be and do for them what the Lamb of God was sent to do, as John the Baptist pointed out three years earlier, and they have a look of befuddlement and concern on their faces. “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”
Now, you like to comfort yourselves by saying that the disciples were just being stupid. Jesus was clearly telling them what was going to happen. Jesus confirms in their hearing that He is the One whom they have heard of in the Scriptures. “They don’t get it, but they’ll come around.” You like to comfort yourselves this way because you know just how stupid you can be, too, when it comes to the Word of God. For instance, you come across a particularly difficult passage in the Bible for you to understand, and how to you initially react? “This is a hard saying, who can understand it?” And the temptation is to be like many of those disciples who said that who went back and walked with Him no more. (cf. John 6:60, 66) How does it go from there? Well, it’s so easy, from there, to fall into the idea that the next passage is one that is too hard to understand, to the whole of Scripture being too hard to understand. It’s material meant only for the degreed theologian, not for you; at least you’ve got Jesus, you don’t need any more.
Not so fast, my friends. Remember what you heard last week: “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God...” (Luke 8:10a) When you don’t get it, you’re getting in the way. Yes, you’re just like those disciples who heard Jesus speak these clear words, and not get it. They did not get it because they were trying to comprehend it by way of their flesh. Flesh and blood does not reveal the Word of God to you, but the Father in heaven—the same way that Peter was able to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (cf. Matthew 16:16) After Jesus praised Peter, He “began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day,” (Matthew 16:21) just as in today’s text. Peter then pulls Jesus aside to rebuke Him, and Jesus responds, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
“You are an offense to Me. You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” And this just after Jesus said that flesh and blood did not reveal his confession to him, but His Father who is in heaven. No, Peter and the disciples weren’t just being stupid; they were coming at the Word of God from their flesh and blood, leaning on their own understanding, and that understanding will always fail them. In fact, doing so is an offense to Jesus. In the same you, you are not merely being stupid. “Oh, this passage is too hard to understand. I just don’t get it, maybe I don’t need it.” You are leaning on your own understanding, and your own understanding will fail you every single time. Relying on your own understanding when coming at the Word of God is an affront to Jesus. Flesh and blood will not reveal to you the mysteries of of the kingdom of God; no, this is revealed to you by grace alone through the Word alone and grasped by faith alone!
Of course, the disciples don’t stop there. The same goes for you and your flesh; it is always warring against the Word of God and God’s grace. As today’s Gospel continues, a man who was blind hears the commotion and asks what is going on. He is told that Jesus from Nazareth is passing by. He cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Such a cry of faith! What do the disciples do? They warned him to be quiet. Ugh! He cries the same all the louder. The voice of Old Adam is always loud, repeating the word of the serpent: “Did God really say...?” As such, it always tries to drown out and silence the voice of faith that you have been given, which cries out, and must cry out ever louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Faith alone comprehends the mysteries of the kingdom. It does so despite what the senses tell the body, even in the absence of the senses. Faith does not depend on the flesh—either the strength of the flesh or the weakness of the flesh. Though blind, in faith the man near Jericho cries out for mercy. Faith, by grace, calls out to Jesus for mercy. It knows the lost condition of the one to whom it was given and confesses the same as it cries for mercy. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Such a cry of faith!
So it is with you, dear Baptized. You have been given faith. There is a war within you as the faith you have been given battles against your Old Adam. Old Adam tells you that you have all that you need, that you’re pretty alright, that you can get along just fine without faith. Faith sees this and cries out for help. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus turns to the blind man and asks what he needs. “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Faith cries to Jesus for help. Faith receives gracious blessings from Jesus, who alone gives them. Faith alone comprehends the mysteries of the kingdom, and by such, saves. I know your translations will all say, “Your faith has made you well.” By inspiration, what we are told here is that his faith has saved him. Only faith can do that, by grace alone, from the Scriptures alone.
Jesus turns to you and asks what you need. “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Let me see you with my own eyes. Let me see the joy of my salvation. Let me see the forgiveness of my sins. And Jesus, by way of the mouth of His called servant, declares to you the same. Your sins are forgiven you. Jesus has won your salvation, it is yours now by grace through faith, though for a while you may still have to suffer in this vale of tears. But Jesus will return, and you will rise from your grave to receive from Him eternal life in the presence of Father forever, where you will see him with your own eyes, and not another. (cf. Job 19:27)
“And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” The blind man’s cry of faith was answered. He was forgiven—he is forgiven, saved, restored...given a foretaste of the eternal life to come which is his already. From there he gave God alone the glory, by way of Christ alone. The people, likewise, gave praise to God.
So it is for you, dear hearers. You are here to receive from the hand of God all that you need to support your body and life into the life to come. Here, your pleas for mercy from faith are answered. Here, you receive the body and blood of your Savior, Jesus Christ, for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here, you receive the forgiveness of your sins in the words of Holy Absolution, from the mouth of Jesus’ called servant as if from His own lips. Your faith has saved you; you are forgiven for all of your sins—saved by grace alone, received by faith alone, worked by Christ alone, revealed by Scripture alone, to God alone be the glory—sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola scriptura, soli Deo gloria.