“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:11-14).

In this parable, no one has a problem identifying right and wrong. The Pharisee is wrong—we know that.

The Sunday School answer, when asked “Who’s wrong?”, is always the Pharisees—or, the disciples, Israel, Job and his friends, the Sadducees, the Chief Priests and principal men…

You get the idea.

We’re not surprised, anymore, by these “usual suspects.”

We know Jesus is right and everyone else is wrong.

We know the arrogant pride of the Pharisee, who prays thanking God that he’s unlike other men, is wrong.

And we know that the poor, miserable tax collector, standing far off, who beats his breast, Mea culpa, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), we know he’s right.

We know we shouldn’t emulate the Pharisee.

And we know that we should follow the example of the tax collector.

We know this, right?

But we should also know that the parables of Jesus are not always straightforward or obvious.

The Pharisee’s wrong, but—in especially one way—we’re exactly like the Pharisee and in complete opposition to the tax collector.

Consider how you speak.

I don’t mean the cursing, the lies, and the backbiting opinions you have. I don’t mean the obvious ill-speech that should be put away from Christian speech.

I mean—consider how you use the word “pride.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but consider the word and how you hear it used.

Pride is popular.

And since it’s popular, and everyone’s doing it, it can’t be wrong—right?

Pride is a vice.

One of the seven deadly sins, in that tradition.

But how many of you say you’re proud?

How many take pride?

How many of you pride yourselves in something?

Or how many of you have a pride and joy?

How many are bursting with pride?

These are common sayings to everyone.

But pride is a vice—immoral, wrong, and wicked.

Pride is not a virtue—meet, right, and salutary.

I don’t say this because some pastor said so. I don’t say this because some church council said so. Consider the overwhelming evidence from the Word of God.

Uzziah, king of Judah, wrongly offered incense before God. He did what a priest is given to do, and he was afflicted with leprosy until his death because of it. “When he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16).

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king at the time of Daniel, is described this way: “When his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him…[and] his mind was made like that of a beast” (Daniel 5:20, 21).

Proverbs speaks this way: “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

And again: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble [there] is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

And “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

The Psalm has it this way, among others: “For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 10:3-4).

James and Peter also quote the proverb, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5; cf. Proverbs 3:34, cf. Greek).

And St. Mark records the words of our Lord: “From within, out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness…”

Those stand together.

“…All [those] evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

There’s no place for our use of the word “pride” when we consider what thus says the Lord.

Because it’s the pride of the Pharisee that makes him wrong—not his words.

We read the Pharisee’s words, knowing already that he’s wrong because he’s a pharisee, a usual suspect, but there’s a meet, right, and salutary way to pray his words.

The Pharisee prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).

Believe me when I say, I don’t criticize the words of your prayers. Even if you don’t “grammar good when pray time,” I thank God that you pray.

So realize that if a man thanks God because he’s unlike others, or if a parent thanks God for keeping his child separated from the multitude of unbelievers, perhaps he observes the unbelieving hypocrites in the world.

In the Rite of Holy Baptism, we pray: “Grant that [this child] be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise [this child] would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

If you’ve been here for the Rite of Holy Baptism, if you said “Amen” when you were given to say “Amen,” you prayed that prayer and agreed with it.

That’s part of what’s called Luther’s flood prayer.

We can thank God for separating us from the multitude of unbelievers. There are, and must be, distinctions between not only believer and unbeliever but even between believers.

St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

So, recognizing that, we can pray the words of the Pharisee—or ones very close to them.

It’s not his words that make him wrong but his pride.

Just so, the tax collector isn’t right because of his words but because the object of his prayer and faith is Jesus.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), prayed by the unbelieving hypocrite, is not a faithful prayer. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And the will and work of God is that you believe in the One whom He has sent.

If the words are right, but there is no faith in the Lord Jesus, though the words are right, you’re still wrong.

I mention this a lot—and I need to stop apologizing for it, because it’s the Word of God—but in the book of Job, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz—and even Job—say things that look correct, but their worldview is wrong, the basis of their words are wrong, and so, though the words look right, they’re still wrong.

Because the Living God justifies sinners—and not because of the tax collector’s words—Jesus says, of that tax collector, “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Pride actively exalts the self.

It always compares.

Think about how we use the words.

I’m proud of you.

I take pride in my work.

I pride myself in being honest, or whatever.

You’re my pride and joy.

I’m bursting with pride.

When we say these things, we’re really talking about the unholy trinity of Me, Myself, and I versus everyone we don’t like—or—the people we think aren’t as good.

It’s as if we say, “I’m proud of you. You’ve done something good, but you don’t feel good about doing good, that’s not what I said, I said ‘I’m proud of you.’ You should feel good because of me and how I feel. What makes you feel good is my pride in you.”

And how terrible is that.

I take pride…I pride myself…I’m bursting with pride…you are my pride…

Pride is of the self—exalting the self and standing in opposition to God.

Pride is the vice. The sin. The evil God hates.

Righteousness and humility are the virtues. 

If you recognize an ease with pride and speaking this way, take your inspiration from Job, when he gets it right.

Confronted with all of what thus says the Almighty Lord, Job responds, finally, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”(Job 42:6).

That’s the true climax of the book of Job, right there.

Learn from him.

Despise yourself.

Don’t see yourself as worthless.

You’re not worthless.

You’re the treasure hidden in a field for which our Father in heaven gave all that He owned to buy you back from sin, death, and satan. That’s your worth—God purchased you with His own blood.

I mean—despise yourself such that you don’t desire to add value to Christ.

Despise yourself such that you despise pride.

You didn’t create the world from nothing in six days, resting on the seventh.

You didn’t hang on the cross, forgiving the sins of the world.

You don’t take pride in Jesus’ work—you rejoice that Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom.

You don’t pride yourself in your faith in Jesus—you thank God for creating faith in you, growing it to maturity, and harvesting its fruit for the sake of your neighbor.

You don’t burst with pride about God’s will—you confess, rather, that His will is done even without your prayers, but you pray that it may be done among you also.

And you don’t sing or say that Jesus is your pride and joy.

Rather—He is your joy.

Now, I’ve said all that, and need, also, to say this.

I’ve spoken the wrong way, regarding pride, countless times.

Pride is so common a vice in our nation, one month of every year is devoted to its worship.

Everybody does it—so you can’t disagree with it.

Pride is the way of the world.

But I try, now—and I say this so that you will, too—I try, now, to say what I actually mean.

Instead of I’m proud of you, I try to say, You’ve done a good thing! Well-done! Good job!

That speaks not of pride but of what is truly good.

It speaks not of self, making a comparison, but of the other, the one doing the good thing and even of the God who alone is good.

How strange is this to our ears?

To describe a thing as God-pleasing instead of pride-inducing?

Realize the difference between pride and that which is meet, right, and salutary.

The tax collector isn’t proud but humble, trusting in God who justifies sinners.

Jesus wasn’t proud but obedient, desiring to honor our Father in heaven and save you.

The Christian isn’t proud but humble.

Not selfish but obedient.

This is how we can speak to confess the faith—to give witness to Christ and His work for our salvation.

This is how we can speak—that self may decrease and Christ may increase (cf. John 3:30).

And this is also how we, as Christians, can be examples of humility and faith for others.

St. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi:

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21).

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 11 Sermon, 2021
Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus predicts His death and resurrection three times.

In Luke chapter nine, Saint Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ of God” (Luke 9:20).

Then—“[Jesus] strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day’” (Luke 9:21-22).

This is followed, immediately, by Jesus saying to them all, “Take up your cross daily and follow me” (cf. Luke 9:23).

But they don’t hear Him—they don’t understand.

Later in chapter nine, Jesus “rebuked [an] unclean spirit, healed [a] child, and gave him back to his father” (Luke 9:42).

“And they were all amazed at the majesty of God. But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, ‘Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying” (Luke 9:43-45).

Again, they fail to hear Jesus—to understand Him.

We’re told, in fact, that “it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it” (Luke 9:45).

They’re afraid to ask Him about what He’s said, and then, of all things—they argue about who among them is greatest.

And today, in Luke chapter eighteen, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection again, saying, “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” (Luke 18:31-33).

“But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34).

This is where we come in.

The thought and concept of death is, for many, either foolish or offensive.

To die well…to die a good death…or to sleep expecting to wake up, as the New Testament frames it, these should be how we speak—but they’re not.

Rather—it’s foolish, some say, to waste time talking about death because—what good can come of it?

And—it’s offensive, some say, to assert that death will occur at all, especially when someone you love is dealing with a bad diagnosis.

On the one hand, why waste your time?

And on the other, why make it worse?

Perhaps you think it better to be ignorant of a thing with unrealistic expectations than knowledgeable and have to deal with reality.

It won’t get us—if we don’t talk about it.

It’s not real—if we don’t say it out loud.

I recently read the account of a woman who is no longer Christian. When her husband died she was told by members of her religion that he must have lacked faith or he wouldn’t have died.

He must have committed some terrible sin or he wouldn’t have suffered as he did.

There are people who claim Christianity who believe that, and it is not true.

I recently watched an interview with an atheist who thought he was really smart. He said that if God is all-powerful but does nothing about evil in the world, then He is either not loving or not all-powerful and would therefore be unworthy of worship.

That sounds so smart, but he fell victim to one of the classic blunders—never go in against God when death is on the line—or think that death and suffering is without point or purpose.

Death is, to many, either foolish or offensive.

“Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, [a scandalous offense,] and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

In and to a world obsessed with death and dying but oblivious to what kills and makes alive, we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

We, Christians, know better than any other that through the suffering and death of One there is salvation for all.

We, Christians, know better than any other that through the daily taking up of our cross, following Jesus, we “partake of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13).

That’s how St. Peter writes it.

And—“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

This is a hard saying, and we’re not alone in our befuddlement.

When Jesus predicts His death and resurrection, “[the disciples] understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34).

This is where we come in.

Death concerns us, because we know it’s coming.

Death frightens us, because we know we can’t beat it.

Death humbles all men, because it can find any man at any time.

It’s foolish and offensive to talk about it.

But we preach Christ crucified.

Jesus said, “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. [But] on the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33).

For the disciples and for us, as proof of the power and love of God, He restored the sight of the blind man.

“Hearing the multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Luke 18:36-39).

And here we see the good that can come of suffering, the good that can come of blindness even. That man had faith greater than all twelve of the disciples.

He persisted in his prayer and was unfazed by the masses.

Jesus commanded him to be brought to Him and said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:42).

Jesus foretold His death and resurrection three times, which was a fine thing to do but hidden from them all.

But then He speaks blind eyes open.

“And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43), because He just proved He can do all the things He promises.

And so, for the disciples and for us, as proof of the power and love of God, He died in the place of sinners, forgiving the sin, and was raised on the third day.

All of what God promises is true.

You can die a good death and die well.

That is, you can live to the Lord, fearing neither what is or is to come.

Well and faithfully, you can suffer for doing good and bear the cross God gives you.

You can thank God that He counts you worthy to partake of Christ’s sufferings. Blessed are you.

“If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16).

To my shame, I heard recently the story of some Lutherans in Africa—a place, to be sure, we would all at first look down on.

These Lutherans happen to be a four hour drive away from militant Muslims who seek to kill Christians and steal their children.

What we see on the nightly news—or really, what we don’t see—is, for them, real life and an every day affair.

Nevertheless, knowing that there are those close by who desire their death and the death of all Christians, they not only go to church every Sunday—they bring their kids to Sunday School for two hours before the service begins.

Too much breakfast or fifteen minutes less sleep than normal might be enough of a temptation for us to skip Sunday School and even church all together.

To our shame we should hear that there are Lutherans who live under such a daily burden and yet glorify God with exceeding joy, giving Him praise.

Jesus foretells His death and resurrection—He restores sight to the blind—so that you can suffer all, even death, in faith that trusts that God has suffered all, even death, that you would be saved, body and soul, from sin and satan, death and hell, and be raised to life eternal.

And all the people when they saw it—when they heard it—gave praise to God.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quinquagesima, 2021
Luke 18:31-43
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

The most obvious way that a man exalts himself is to boast like the Pharisee in the Temple. “I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” Such shallow attempts to make oneself righteous must be denounced, even ridiculed.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

Because— “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10).

The problem with the Pharisee wasn’t his fasting or tithing, Christians are to fast and tithe.

The problem wasn’t his strength of will to resist adultery or extortion. It’s not a problem that he didn’t take advantage of his neighbors or give in to greed.

God commands all of that.

The problem was, the Pharisee thought he was righteous enough from how hard he worked, that his simplicity was enough to earn God’s favor, and that whatever failings he had were insignificant compared to other people, so—therefore—he was the one to be loved by God.

In fact—the Pharisee was living what the Bible calls the good life. Quoting Psalm 34, St. Peter writes: 

“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10–12).

In avoiding evil and doing good, giving away his material possessions, and training his flesh for hardship, the Pharisee enjoyed a life of peace and health.

There’s no real or lasting pleasure in sin, even for sinners. If you don’t believe me, pick a rock star who lived long enough to have a biography written about himself, and read his biography.

Debauchery does not lead to happiness.

The good life is not found in what the world counts as pleasure.

Even Oprah—who denies that Jesus Christ is Lord—knows, deep down, that to be happy you must make other people happy. She knows you must give your life and your stuff to others.

If you get to choose what sort of an unbeliever to be: either the Pharisee who lived in poverty and service to others but was heading to Hell, or the Tax-Collector who lived in luxury and sought to maximize pleasure at every turn but was also headed to Hell—if you must choose between the two—pick the Pharisee.

Blesséd, in a sense, is the man who doesn’t know what a hangover feels like, who’s never had to worry if the girl was pregnant, or if he had aids. Blesséd is the man who’s never been beaten up in the back alley of some bar, or arrested, or vomited on himself.

Blesséd is he—but, of course—that’s not true blessedness. True blessedness isn’t simply the good life promised by the Law. True blessedness is the righteousness bestowed by Christ on sinners.

If you get to pick what sort of a man to be, either the Pharisee, greatly honored in the community with a steady job, or the Tax Collector, hated by all, pick the Tax Collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

He went down to his house justified.

He confessed His sins before the mercy seat.

He trusted in God to cover him and to receive him by grace, to forgive him. And God did and does.

That’s what the Temple was for and that’s why the Temple veil is destroyed at the death of Christ (cf. Mark 15:38).

Nothing separates us from the love of God and His mercy. It’s open to women and Gentiles, to tax collectors, prostitutes, and pimps. It’s open, even, to Pharisees and life-long Lutherans.

The Church has deliberately chosen the Tax Collector as her model of prayer. His actions in the parable are precisely why we bow our heads and close our eyes and fold our hands in prayer.

Years ago, Lutheran confirmands were taught to beat their breast when they confessed sin or received the Sacrament.

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

My fault. My fault. My own most grievous fault.

We come before God as sinners in need of mercy.

We want to go home justified.

We don’t trust in ourselves or our works.

If we are righteous, it’s not our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ that’s been bestowed on us as a gift through His Word.

We want to be the tax collector in his penitence and piety not in any of his previous perversion.

That he goes home justified means more than that he was let off the hook for all the bad stuff.

More than that, he went home changed, the new man.

In an outward way, we expect that he began from that point forward to look like the Pharisee. To fast, training his body. And to tithe, training his heart and providing for the poor. Resisting evil. And doing good.

Luke records this parable in chapter 18, and in chapter 19 he tells us about another tax collector convert: Zacchaeus, that wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree. When Jesus came to his house, Zacchaeus receive him joyfully, and, in the freedom of the Gospel, pledged to give half of all his goods to the poor and to restore ill-gotten gains fourfold.

Jesus said to Him “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

Yes, because Jesus is there.

And yes, because Zacchaeus loved Him.

The Gospel changes both tax collectors.

It delivers not only the outward peace and satisfaction of the good life, but it also gives an abundant life, a life lived with God, by His Law, in repentance and faith, in service to neighbor, and with joy.

Lutherans confess: “When a person is born anew by God’s Spirit, liberated from the Law…and led by Christ’s Spirit, he lives according to God’s unchangeable will revealed in the Law. Since he is born anew, he does everything from a free, cheerful spirit” (FC SD VI.17).

That’s what is true. That’s what we believe. But there’s a caveat. On this side of glory, we struggle.

Lutherans also confess: “Believers are not completely renewed in this world. The old Adam clings to them right up to the grave. Therefore, the struggle between the spirit and the flesh remains in them. They delight in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind. Therefore, they are never without the Law. Nevertheless, they are not under, but in the Law. They live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing in the Law because of force” (FC SD VI.17).

The Law does little good for the unrepentant.

The Pharisee’s obedience only gave him a good life here on earth.

But the Law does great good for the Baptized. We confess: “This doctrine of the Law is needed by believers in order that they may not make up a holiness and devotion of their own. Using God’s Spirit as an excuse, they must not set up a self-chosen worship, without God’s Word and command” (FC SD VI.20).

Lest we make up our own standards and turn ourselves into libertine hedonists, Christians-in-name-only, inventing an entirely new and perverse form of self-worship and self-righteousness that brags in the un-faith of not doing works, loving God and neighbor, lest we follow our heart and lose our faith, God gives us His Law.

But it’s also true that our good works, done in faith, become pleasing to God as they obey the actual Law in an outward way. We are not under the law. We are under grace, forgiven, free from the curse and condemnation of the law through faith in Christ.

Our good works, though imperfect and impure, are pleasing to God through Christ. We act in God-pleasing ways—not because of the compulsion of the law but because of the renewal of the Holy Spirit—without coercion and from a willing heart, as baptized, justified, and saved Christians.

Yes, there’s a war in your members.

Your struggle and sin.

But you fight the Old Adam as a son, not a slave.

You fight as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, not as a worrier.

You fight as one to whom the victory has been given, not the one who would earn the victory himself.

You fight as one who goes down to his house justified, prepared to live in this world and the world to come.

 Yes, we struggle.

But we struggle as one who has conquered by faith in Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 11 Sermon, 2020
Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:42). That’s how it was read a few moments ago, but that’s not quite right.

The man is well. Jesus restores his sight. But the actual word that Jesus uses is saved. It could read, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.”

The King James has it that way, for what it’s worth.

And here’s why it matters: if faith makes you well, we’ll doubt our faith every flu season.

We’ll think the man was made well because Jesus restored his sight.

That’s wrong because faith doesn’t guarantee good eyesight, otherwise there’d be no blind, deaf, weak, hurting, or sinful Christians.

 Jesus doesn’t say “made well.” He says saved.

Faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t guarantee good health. It doesn’t guarantee eight hours of sleep each night or nine months of ease whenever you need it.

Lots of other false gods promise those things—but not faith in Jesus.

But faith in Jesus does guarantee salvation.

And nothing else does that.

But here’s where it’s most difficult:

In our day-to-day lives, for which do we feel the greater need?

Eyesight? A clean bill of health? Wealth? Ease?

Or salvation?

The Gospel lesson today hits us hard, because it contrasts the seeing (and unbelieving) disciples with the blind (but believing and therefore saved) beggar.

And we should prefer to be the blind beggar.

Though you don’t want to be blind, you really don’t want to be one of the Twelve, because at this point, they don’t understand.

“Taking the twelve [disciples], [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, 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’” (Luke 18:31-33).

Jesus could not be more clear. 

Seventeen times prior to these verses in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the Son of Man.

The disciples know it’s Him.

And yet, St. Luke writes that ”they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34).

In three separate ways, Luke tells us that, seeing, the disciples do not see. Hearing, they do not understand. And having Jesus there, they yet have nothing at all because they lack faith.

And so we read of the blind beggar.

“As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you’” (Luke 18:35-42).

This beggar is the example of faith.

This blind beggar is a perfect illustration of the Christian because he’s blind (which means he believes what he hears) and because he’s a beggar.

We are all beggars. This is true.

Each of us, before God, is an empty cup needing to be filled. Each of us, before God, has nothing to offer God that He needs. We are, arms outstretched and palms up, in need of what He has to give.

And this blind beggar gets it. Literally blind, he hears and believes and trusts.

Having Jesus there, he has everything.

Notice, Jesus is near and the beggar cries out, “Son of David, have mercy!” He knows who David was.

He knows who Jesus is.

So yeah, this beggar gets it. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy.”

But what happens? This blind beggar and example of the Christian faith cries out to what end?

He’s rebuked by the crowd.

And it at least seems like Jesus is ignoring him.

Jesus, who knows all things, doesn’t answer him immediately—and that’s on purpose.

We should all learn to be like the blind beggar.

He ignores the rebuke of Man out of faithfulness to God.

And he’s got thick skin. He remains faithful and cries out all the more even when it seems that God Himself is silent or uncaring.

Practical wisdom tells us the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the impudent friend what he needs.

But God wants to give you all that you need. So how much more will our Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (cf. Luke 11:5-13).

Prayers stay the same for years, sometimes.

That God doesn’t give you what you want doesn’t mean He hasn’t given you everything you need.

Maybe you want for yourself what God doesn’t want for you? If that’s the case, it’s not God who should change.

That’s a difficult lesson to learn.

But we’re not alone in having to learn it.

Nor are we supposed to keep our desires to ourselves.

The blind beggar can’t see Jesus, but he trusts that Jesus hears. He trusts that Jesus answers. So when rebuked by Man and seemingly ignored by God—when it would seem that he has all the reasons in the world to stop praying—he cries out all the more, because he knows that God is merciful.

Literally blind, he hears and believes and trusts.

“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him…” He commands him to be brought to Him, because by your own reason or strength you cannot believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to him.

“…And when he came near, [Jesus] asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.’”

The faith that saves the blind beggar was there before Jesus restored his sight. It was there before he cried out the first time. It was there when he was rebuked, and it was there when it must’ve felt like God was ignoring him and refusing to answer his prayer for mercy.

The faith that saves the blind beggar is there apart from the miracle of sight restored.

And—regardless of his sight—the man is saved.

Jesus heals the blind man for many reasons.

Because the man asked.

Because Jesus is there to give sight to the blind.

But our reason—the reason Jesus did that then but not now—the reason we don’t get our miracles the way they got theirs—is because Jesus wants us to seek and ask for more than eyes that see.

He wants us to believe and be saved.

So that in the resurrection we have all that we ask for and more.

That’s what’s at stake.

Jesus, in healing the blind man, is showing us what the resurrection looks like.

And in telling the blind man that his faith has saved him—Jesus is showing us what is most important.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

And then—in the resurrection—everything else will be added unto you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Quinquagesima Sermon, 2020
Luke 18:31-43
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt