Prayer, Scripture and Sermon begin at 3:04 of recording
How is your vision? Since my cataract surgery, I have nearly 20/20 vision, but there is one drawback. Before my procedure, I was near-sighted. Now I am far-sighted! I need reading glasses. Overall, it is a great improvement, but I do miss my closeup vision.
Cataracts are just one of numerous ophthalmological problems. Glaucoma, which damages the nerve connecting the eye to the brain because of elevated pressure in the eye, can result in blindness if left untreated. Macular Degeneration is another prevalent eye problem. Over time the retina is damaged, and people with the condition can lose their central field of vision and be left with only peripheral vision.
Many of us lack the ability to see clearly or completely.
Vision, in one form or another, is what unites these three seemingly disparate stories. Let us consider them each in turn.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to complete the work God had entrusted to him. He was under a divine compulsion. As Jesus was traveling to the holy city, he took the twelve apostles aside to prepare them for what lay ahead. Jerusalem was the holy city, but it was also the city that slays the prophets. For a third time Jesus tried to convey to the apostles what was about to happen. Jesus warned them that he would be handed over to the Gentiles (the Romans). He would be mocked, insulted, and spat upon. He would be flogged and killed.
But what was about to happen was not just a tragedy or a miscarriage of justice. These terrible events which were about to transpire were all part of God’s ancient, mysterious, and completely necessary plan to rescue humanity from sin, death, and evil. The prophets (by which we should understand the entirety of the Old Testament) had predicted all that would befall the Son of Man. It was impossible to stop God’s plan from being accomplished. But God’s plan was not all darkness, despair, and death to procure the forgiveness of sins. On the third day the Son of Man would rise again. Jesus would offer his sinless life to pay the price for the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, and God would raise him from the dead to deliver human beings from the clutches of death. This was God’s plan established before the foundation of the world.
But the apostles had a vision problem. Verse 34 observes, “But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
It seems odd that they were unable to grasp what Jesus was saying. They had followed Jesus for three years. They had seen him heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. As Jesus’ inner circle, they had been the beneficiaries of his divine teaching. They deeply believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Chosen One, the coming King, the Son of God, the Lord God Almighty in the flesh. But Jesus’ understanding of the Messiah as a suffering, vicarious offering for human sin was so foreign to their conceptions of the promised King that Jesus’ words did not register with them. Perhaps they thought he was speaking in parables.
Furthermore, what Jesus said was hidden from them. It was not until after Jesus’ resurrection that they began to understand. Do you remember the story of the two disciples journeying to Emmaus in Luke 24? Jesus joined them on the road and said to them, “’Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27). Suddenly, Jesus vanished from their sight, and they said to each other, “'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:32). On the road to Jerusalem the apostles had blurred vision, but after the resurrection, they started to see clearly.
I think the same is true of us. Like the apostles, we believe, and we are committed to following Jesus. Such faith and discipleship are why we gather week after week in this sanctuary to worship God with songs and prayers, to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This faith compels young couples to bring their infant children to receive the Sacrament of Baptism with all its attendant blessings and benefits. But it is hard to pierce the veil of the mystery. How can we fully comprehend the height and depth, the breadth and length of the love of God? What are human beings that He is mindful of them? We see only in a glass darkly now, but one day we will see face to face and know even as we are fully known. Until then we see in part, and we prophesy in part. Our vision of the love of God in Jesus Christ is a bit blurry too.
The second part of this morning’s reading from Luke concerns a person who was literally blind. Mark tells us the blind man’s name was Bartimaeus. It was impossible for him to work. He was reduced to begging by the roadside.
The crowd that thronged Jesus immediately caught Bartimaeus’ heightened sense of hearing. He asked what was happening, and one of the people in the crowd told him. “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
Bartimaeus might have said to himself, “This is a prime begging opportunity." He might have begun to shout, “Alms! Alms for the poor blind man. Alms! Alms for the blind.” Even though Bartimaeus was still blind, the grace of God was upon him. The eyes of his spirit began to open, and the light of faith began to shine in his soul.
Instead of begging for alms, Bartimaeus began to beg the Messiah for mercy at the top of his lungs. Notice that he does not say, “Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me!” Instead, he uses a messianic designation for Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (vs. 38-39). The crowd tried to shush him, but Bartimaeus shouted even more loudly, begging repeatedly for Jesus’ mercy.
Bartimaeus’ pleadings caught Jesus’ attention, and the Savior commanded the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs. 41a). It is a powerful question. Notice that Bartimaeus no longer called Jesus the son of David. His faith had grown. Now Bartimaeus calls Jesus, “LORD.” LORD was the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Bartimaeus said, “LORD (God), let me see again” (vs. 41b). And Jesus, God in the flesh, spoke just one word. In the original Greek text Jesus simply says, “See!” (vs. 42a). Immediately, Bartimaeus regained his physical ability to see. Jesus also said to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has saved you” (vs. 42b).
With the eyes of faith and his actual eyes open, Bartimaeus became a follower of Jesus Christ. He left his beggar's life behind and embarked on a new life glorifying God all the way. Bartimaeus once was blind; now he could see. He could see the physical world and the one who created it all. The year of God’s favor that Jesus had promised had come to Bartimaeus. Jesus was sent to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18).
We have not seen, yet we have believed. We must thank God profusely every day for the precious gift of faith that gives us eyes to see. This world still sits in darkness, but a great light, the Light of the World, has shown upon us. There are so many who lack the ability to see Jesus as he truly is. May God use the smaller lights of the world to lighten the darkness all around us so that others may see and confess Jesus as Savior and LORD.
And finally, we come to Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector. The manner of collecting taxes in the Roman Empire was completely different from our system of taxation. The Romans sold the right to collect taxes in a region to the highest bidder. Tax collectors could extract as much as the public would bear so long as they gave Rome the amount of money agreed upon. The system by its very nature encouraged corruption. Zacchaeus probably had several other tax collectors under his authority who gave him a cut of their collections. Zacchaeus had grown rich by bilking the citizens of Jericho and the surrounding areas.
But something more was at work in Zacchaeus besides greed and exploitation. He wanted to know who Jesus was (cf. 19:3). Because he was short in stature, he climbed the famous sycamore tree of the children’s song to get a better look. Undoubtedly, Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus welcomed sinners and tax collectors and even ate with them! Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus for himself.
Much to his surprise, Jesus stopped and spoke directly to him. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (19:5). The same divine plan driving Jesus to Jerusalem compelled the Savior to stop and lodge with Zacchaeus. This was the day that God’s salvation came to Zacchaeus and his household. Even a chief tax collector could be gathered into the kingdom of God and designated as a son of Abraham. Jesus’ mission was and is to seek out and to save the lost (19:10).
The text does not describe the exact moment Zacchaeus came to saving faith in Jesus, but it does describe the fruits of genuine repentance that stems from such faith. “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much’” (19:8). Here is living faith in action. Repentance is change. Repentance is turning away from disobedience to God’s law and turning toward God and our needy neighbor. God’s law commanded, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18). Zacchaeus obeyed willingly. In that moment, Zacchaeus could see clearly. He knew what was just and right and good. With Jesus, God in the flesh, standing before him, Zacchaeus believed in the Lord his God, and as a result he had the will to do God’s will. This Lent we must follow Zacchaeus in faith and repentance.
Let us return to where we began. How is your vision? I mean not your eyesight but the eyes of your heart, the vision of your faith. Let us acknowledge that we can see only in part. It is hard to grasp the deep love of God for the fallen progeny of Adam and Eve. It is hard for us to see clearly or completely, but faith is alive in us, just as it was in the apostles, Bartimaeus, and Zacchaeus. Let us do all in our power to encourage, nurture, and grow this most precious of all God’s gifts. Let us cry out continually, “Jesus, Son of David, LORD, have mercy on me.” And you can be assured that Jesus will hear your cry and summon you to himself. When our eyes are opened, we will follow him with all our hearts glorifying God for all he has done for us. And let us add to our faith fruits worthy of repentance. May our hearts be enlarged with generosity for the poor, which is pleasing in God’s sight.
We too are spiritual children of Abraham, the father of the faith. Our faith has saved us. Salvation has come to our house, for the Son of Man who came to seek out and save the lost has found us.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As God was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Alleluia! Amen.