The hard thing about the Gesima Sundays, especially the Quinqua one, is not to blow all the good ammunition, and not have anything left for Lent, while still preaching the text and pointing to Christ Crucified. Here is today’s sermon, which I think threads the needle, at least a little bit:
The miracles are what we want. The cross is what we get. So it is for the disciples as well. They like the miracles – they are the wow moment. They mean that Jesus has power. But the cross? That’s not as good.
Epiphany is already gone. It was the season of God revealing himself to the nations. That’s all done now. Wednesday we begin Holy Lent – the trek to the cross. We hear of testing, trial and temptation. The Gospel reading seems to be two different stories crammed together haphazardly. You’ve got Jesus predicting his death. And then you’ve got the blind beggar, asking Jesus to heal him. But they really aren’t so different. They are two sides of the same thing – Jesus ministry for you.
The prediction of Jesus death is certainly no fun to hear. Someone the disciples loved must suffer – he will be tortured and killed. This isn’t the sort of thing the disciples were ready for. It wouldn’t be something that we are ready to hear either. A loved one will die, and die horribly. There is nothing you can do to stop it. Combined with Jesus prediction of his resurrection, it’s too unbelievable. The disciples just chalk it up to another one of those wacky parables and who knows what it means. Maybe they’ll figure it out eventually.
And then, a man cries out to Jesus, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me.” When told to stop this foolishness, he cries out even louder, “Have mercy on me.” The blind man gets it. His cry is the cry of the Christian, and has been since the beginning, The “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” is the oldest part of the Divine Service. It comes at the beginning. Have mercy on us. If God will not show mercy, then we are already lost. We come here because we know that we have a heavenly Father who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. A God who does not delight in the death of the wicked, but that he would turn from his wickedness and live.
And that love and mercy is seen in our heavenly Father – who lovingly created you, who knit you together in your mother’s womb – sending his Son to redeem you when you rebelled against him. And so Jesus was born of the virgin Mary not just so that God would now be one of us – but so that he would also die for you to take your sins away.
There’s always that moment when you want to undo the sin. Whether because you got caught and wish you didn’t have to live through the consequences, or because you know how very wrong it was, and you want to undo the hurt you have cause another. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to take back the words, to undo the hasty and harmful act. To rewind and have things the way they were. That’s what Jesus does for the blind man – he rewinds things, and fixes the broken vision. The man can see again. That’s what Jesus does – he goes around the countryside fixing things, whether legs that no longer work, eyes, ears, a tongue, or even death itself. He rewinds and takes away the brokenness of body
But the brokenness of body is just a symptom. The real problem is the broken image of God that separates you from your creator. The sin that so easily entangles you. The “Just once more and then I’ll stop”, the “I needed to do it even though God forbids such things” the “How could I have said that to her” the “Once we were close, but the anger and bitterness make it all impossible now.” Jesus undoes the sin. He takes it away. He lifts the heavy load from you and takes it on himself.
But that means the cross. That’s where he takes it. He knows that the sin can not just be talked away, it can not just be explained into nothingness with slick and clever excuses. It can not simply be ignored. Sin must be swallowed up in death. And if he let you take care of it, that would have been the end for you. You can’t come back from death. If he let you carry your sin to the grave, it would have consumed and condemned you totally.
For your sins to really be gone, they needed to be swallowed up in his death. So he takes the sin. He takes the brokenness. He takes the pain and suffering, and places it on himself.
The great joy of redemption comes at a cost – “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,”
But that is not the end – “and on the third day he will rise.” The sin has been swallowed up in death. Now, Jesus lives, and death can no longer harm him. He took away deaths power. And so, anyone who believes in his name has been called a child of God. And when you are baptized, you are baptized into his death – because that’s where your sins are taken away. But if you are baptized into his death, it means that the life you life is lived in his death. The cross becomes the pattern of your life. Like the disciples, we want the miracle, we want the joy, but we do not want the cross – not for Jesus, and especially not for our own lives.
But there can be no church without Christ on the cross. It is the center of Paul’s preaching, the center of your life. It is the foundation. Without it, your baptism is of no effect, the forgiveness own for you is nothing more than a fantasy.
The cross is more than just the content of preaching, the cross is the form of your life. Baptized into Christ’s death, you are fed with the food he gives you – the food that proclaims his death until he comes again – his body and blood, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. Now, your life resembles his. The world accepts you every bit as much as it accepted him. The devil tempts you as much as he tempted Jesus (which you will hear next week.) Your own sinful flesh rebels against the forgiveness of the cross, the life-giving power of Jesus death working its way in you. And yet the death of Christ remains. The forgiveness he gives you is real, despite what your flesh would believe, despite what Satan will say about how very bad your sins are, and how very excluded you should be from Christ’s kingdom. It is a lie. Christ died for you. The suffering of this world is not God rejecting you, but you being formed more and more like him.
Until that glorious day when, like him, you will be raised to a new life, a life without sin, a life incorruptible. A life without end. The life in Jesus you were promised at your baptism, which you live in this world in expectation and hope, fed with the food of immortality, a life that finds it fullness in the new kingdom that will be revealed when Christ returns. Until then we cry out to Jesus “Lord have mercy.”