Approaching the cross with faith and love

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Sermon for Quinquagesima

Isaiah 35:3-7  +  1 Corinthians 13  +  Luke 18:31-43

Today’s Gospel is simple. We see the love of Christ on the one hand, and the faith of the blind beggar on the other. Faith and love. That basically describes the Christian life. I suppose it’s especially fitting that we heard the Biblical description of love today from 1 Corinthians 13 as the rest of the world goes crazy over Valentine’s Day, often celebrating things that aren’t really love at all.

We see true love in Jesus in today’s Gospel, who “loved the Church and gave Himself for her.” He even described to His disciples ahead of time the things that were about to happen—the things that He Himself was about to let happen:

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

See, Jesus isn’t complaining here to His disciples about what’s going to happen to Him. Nor is He trying to make them feel guilty, nor is He trying to show off just how wonderful He is. Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up. He’s just telling them about it ahead of time so that they will understand later, first, that Jesus truly is the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David, whose coming, whose suffering, death and resurrection were foretold by all the Prophets. And second, that no one was forcing Jesus to go through with Holy Week. He allowed those who hated Him to hate Him and to arrest Him and abuse Him and crucify Him. He did it, because He wanted to provide the sacrifice for sin by which sinful men may be saved. He did it, because His Father wanted to give His Son into death, so that sinners who were hostile to Him might be converted and saved by faith in Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us. He did everything for us. Love “does not seek its own.”

How different that is from what passes for “love” in our society, where people call it “love” when you’re attracted to another person. But see, if you’re attracted to another person, then there’s something in the other person pulling you toward him or her, some quality that you like, some action or attitude that draws you to that person. But Biblical love isn’t turned on by something good in someone else. It isn’t a give and take. It just gives. It’s a sacrificial devotion to another person’s wellbeing. God’s love for sinners isn’t inspired by something good He sees in us. It starts with Him. It’s God’s sacrificial devotion to our wellbeing that prompted Jesus to come and to give Himself for us. The message of that love of Christ inspires our faith in Him, and faith does produce love. The same kind of giving love and sacrificial devotion that God has shown to us, we now begin to show to our neighbor.

Well, not always. Sometimes the self-centered flesh of believers still get the better of them. It wasn’t exactly “love” that prompted the crowds in the parade to Jerusalem with Jesus to try to shush the blind man who was calling out to Jesus for help. That response on their part was not love, not devotion to the blind man or to Jesus. It was self-centered. They were thinking about themselves and how bothered they were that their joyful procession to Jerusalem was being interrupted by a blind beggar who wouldn’t shut up. He just keeps praising Jesus. That’s right, praising Jesus. Because the highest praise Jesus receives from anyone is to be recognized as the Christ and believed in as the merciful Savior. Faith is the worship inspired by the Gospel.

Jesus didn’t cast away the crowd, or the beggar. Instead, He showed kindness—unmerited kindness to the blind beggar and granted his request that his sight should be restored. In other words, Jesus loved the blind beggar and showed him and showed the crowd and showed us that faith in Jesus saves. “Your faith has made you well. Your faith has saved you.” Jesus made him well physically to show that faith alone in Christ is what saves us spiritually. That’s what the love of Christ accomplished here.

That was prophesied, too, in the Old Testament, not just His suffering. What did we hear today from Isaiah?  How did God announce the coming of the Christ? Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.

Strength for the weak, comfort for the despairing. There is absolutely no need to despair, no matter what’s falling apart in your life, no matter how sinful you’ve been, no matter how many people are against you. Strength, comfort, encouragement—these are the things that mark the Messiah’s coming. These are good reasons to believe in Him and trust in His goodness. The ones who will be condemned at His coming are those who are strong in themselves, secure in themselves, stubbornly holding onto their sins, worshiping false gods of their own making. But those who are weak, sinful, distressed—they will find a Savior in Jesus, not only when He comes again, but first now as they hear His Word and are baptized and trust in His name, as He sends His Spirit in the Word, in Baptism, in the Absolution, in the Sacrament. It’s good news that Jesus is here for all who want Him for a Savior, for all who look to Him for help, mercy, strength and forgiveness.

Learn from the love of Jesus in today’s Gospel, that His love knows no limits, no bounds. It propelled Him to the cross, because He was devoted to sinful mankind. And the love and devotion of Jesus does not fade with time, because “love never fails.” People fail. Sinners fail. But love doesn’t fail.

And learn from the blind beggar in today’s Gospel to trust in Jesus, the Son of David, to admit that you need His help, and to call out to Him in every need. Receive Jesus’ help in Word and Sacrament and trust that He will open your eyes, too, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.

And with Jesus’ love in view and with faith in Him that is kindled by His love, now turn to your neighbors and love them, too, not because you find something loveable in them, but because God has poured His own love into your hearts, love that does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is the only path of the Christian: faith and love. Faith that receives all good things from Jesus, and love that gives all good things to our neighbor. As we enter the season of Lent this Wednesday, let us all devote ourselves to hearing the Word of Christ, that we may rejoice in the love of Christ, and grow in faith, and put His love into practice. Amen.

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