There is a lot of sight language in the Gospel today. It begins with our Lord saying to the disciples: “See we are going up to Jerusalem. And everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Lk 18:31). The word translated there as “see” is usually translated “behold.” It means more than “look here.” It means to look deeply, to notice the significance of something. Jesus wants his disciples to understand what is about to happen. This is the third time he foretells his death. The first time Peter rebuked him saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” The second time wasn’t any better. His disciples immediately started arguing about who would be the greatest. The third and final time, Jesus uses plain and simple words. “Behold, 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” (Lk 18:32-33). Nothing that Jesus says is complicated. You don’t need to do a word study on being whipped or killed to know what these words mean.
But the disciples understood none of these things. AND this saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (Lk 18:34). Three different ways of saying the same thing: The disciples had ears but they couldn’t hear Jesus’ words. They had eyes, but they were blind to the truth. How is this possible? Here’s a similar example. A dad tells his 12-year-old boy: “Go clean your room.” His son answers, “What do you mean? Dad, I’m hearing the words, ‘Go clean your room’ but I’m not understanding anything you’re saying.” The disciples couldn’t see because they didn’t want to see. They didn’t want his words to be true. They didn’t want to follow a leader who suffered and died. They didn’t want to be part of a failed movement. Jesus was supposed to be a king – so where was his army? He claimed to be the Son of Man, the title of ultimate authority, but where was his glory? The Messiah was supposed to destroy the enemies of God, but Jesus had been going around telling people, “love your enemies!” Thousands of Jesus’ followers had already left him. The Twelve stuck around because they had no other place to go, but even they were getting frustrated with Jesus. He was on his way to Jerusalem to die, and nothing could change his mind.
So here is Jesus, passing through Jericho on the way to the cross. His disbelieving disciples are with him. A huge crowd goes before him and behind him. But not one person in the crowd, including the disciples, recognizes who Jesus is or what he is about to accomplish. Though they have eyes, they are blind, every one of them – except the blind beggar. Hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Lk 18:36-37). “Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the man. The teacher from the little backwater town in Galilee. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). The people of Nazareth didn’t think so. They said, “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” and they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And [the blind beggar] cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Lk 18:38). Notice what he calls Jesus – not Jesus of Nazareth, not son of Joseph, but Jesus, Son of David. The beggar can’t see Jesus. He can only hear what people say. Yet somehow without the benefit of eyes, and contrary to what he hears, he recognizes Jesus for who he really is. This is a miracle of faith! The beggar confesses what everyone else in the crowd is unable to see. “Jesus is the Son of David.” Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the King of Glory, and he is on his way to Jerusalem to be crowned. The Lamb of God is passing by bearing the sins of the whole world, and only a blind man can see him. This is how God works. He hides the gospel in plain sight and it looks like foolishness to those that are perishing. The Pharisees asked Jesus once, “Are you saying that we are blind?” Jesus said to them, “If only you were blind, then you would have no sin. But because you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (Jn 9:41). The Pharisees looked at Jesus and saw just a man. The crowd knew some historical facts about Jesus, that he was from Nazareth. The disciples should have been able to understand Jesus’ plain words. But all of them were blind. Only the blind beggar could see, for he saw Jesus with eyes of faith.
The great miracle in this text had already taken place when the beggar cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” God had already given him the gift of faith. Without this faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to him must believe that God is and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb 11:6). The beggar confessed who God is, “Jesus, Son of David.” And in faith that God would reward him, he cried out, “Have mercy on me!” This is the confession and cry of a Christian. Remember Luther’s last words, “We are all beggars.” And Scripture tells us that we walk by faith, not by sight. “Wait a second, are you calling me a blind beggar?” Yes, indeed! This is what it means to be a Christian. We live only by the mercy of Jesus. We wait in faith at his table, knowing that even the crumbs are more than enough to sustain us. This is the faith that recognizes Jesus, the Son of David, where others only see a man from Nazareth. This faith discerns the Body and Blood of Christ where others see only bread and wine. This faith makes the good confession, promising to suffer all, even death, before falling away. This faith believes that the water of baptism turns enemies of God into Christians. This faith cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk 18:13).
And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent (Lk 18:39a). In the eyes of the world, the only thing more offensive than a beggar, is a beggar who is confessing Christ. The crowd tried to make him shut up, but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Lk 18:39b). The ones trying to silence the beggar were the very ones leading the procession, the ones who appeared to be walking with Jesus. So it is today. Wherever the true gospel is preached, it always causes offense, often within the church. “Stop saying that. Stop talking about the cross. Tell us how to have more self esteem. Tell us that we aren’t really so bad. We don’t need to live by God’s mercy. Why are you Lutherans always talking about sin? Why do you make such a big deal about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?” They were offended by his confession. How could this man from Nazareth be God in the flesh? How could his journey to certain death in Jerusalem be the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan of salvation? How could the power of God be revealed in the weakness and foolishness of the cross? This is the message of the gospel, and everyone who confesses this truth will endure the scorn of the world.
Earlier in Luke, we are told that Jesus set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa, the Way of Grief, didn’t begin at the governor’s palace where the cross was placed on Jesus’ back. It began at his baptism, where your sin, and the sin of the whole world, was laid upon him. From that moment, Jesus was headed to Calvary and nothing could stop him. He didn’t give in to Satan’s temptations to bypass the cross. He didn’t listen to Peter’s rebuke or to the pleading of his disciples. He was on his way to suffer and die for you, and nothing could stop him – until this moment. Jesus heard the beggar’s plea, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and he stopped. Jesus stopped and he waited. And when the beggar had been brought near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see.” Jesus said to him, “See!” (Lk 18:41). And immediately, his sight was restored.
But Jesus wasn’t done. He was just getting started. This beggar had asked at first for mercy, not just his sight, and that’s exactly what Jesus was going to give him. And when God gives mercy, he doesn’t dole it out by the teaspoon. The mercy of God is a life-giving flood that crashes over you, washing away even the stain of sin. God is abundantly gracious, far more than we could ever ask or think. So Jesus said to him, “Your faith has saved you!” (Lk 18:42). The beggar asked Jesus for sight, and Jesus gave him eternal life! Isn’t this just like our Savior. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).
And then immediately, Jesus continued on his way to Jerusalem. He stopped just long enough to say to the beggar, to you, “The sin I carry is yours, and the cross I go to is for you.” And what do we do in response? What else can we do, but believe these words and follow him with joy. We follow him to his cross and there we find salvation. We come to his altar and forgiveness is placed into our mouths. Yes, we are blind beggars, but we live by the mercy of our Lord, the Son of David. And when our days of suffering are over, our eyes will once again be opened, and we will feast with our King in the marriage supper that has no end. Amen.