34The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” (luke 18.31-43 niv84)
You gentlemen in the congregation, allow me to give you a helping hand: this coming Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. Now you’ve heard, now you know, and you can be ready. I say this as much for myself as for you. None of us wants to be the guy who forgets that it’s Valentine’s Day and then ends up wandering around the store at the last minute, racking our brains for a good gift. If you do that, there’s an excellent chance that your wife or sweetheart will remind you again, perhaps with just a touch of irritation, that such behavior does not make her feel loved – and that, my friends, is a place that no one wants to be. We want the people that we love to feel loved. It’s not enough that you know you love them. They’ve got to know it too.
It’s fitting that we hear so much about love today, just a few days before Valentine’s Day. In our second lesson for today we hear St. Paul’s famous description of love. Our Gospel for today is all about love, although it’s not the hearts and flowers and candy kind of love. Rather, we’ll see that this is The Greatest Love that Gives Great Gifts.
Jesus was often doing things His disciples didn’t get at the time. In our text for today, as they were heading up to Jerusalem, He takes aside the Twelve and begins to describe to them what will happen to Him there: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him, insult Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him. On the third day He will rise again.” And the disciples look at each other out of the corner of their eyes and shrug – I don’t know He’s talking about, don’t ask me. They were so accustomed to Jesus doing great things, with nobody being able to stop Him, that what Jesus says goes right over their heads. Just to make sure we don’t miss it, Luke says it three different ways: “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what He was talking about.”
Even though the disciples don’t get what He’s saying, it’s still loving for Jesus to tell them this. He didn’t tell them this right away when He first called them, because He wanted them to see for themselves His power and His wisdom and love before hearing this terrible news. Nor did Jesus wait until they were in Jerusalem, until right before it happened, to tell them. Then they wouldn’t have had time to think about it and lay it to heart. No, Jesus chooses this moment to tell them – before they enter the hustle and bustle of the crowds at Passover in Jerusalem, before the wrenching events of Holy Week would shock them and leave them confused and numb. He tells them now, so that even though they don’t understand right now, they will later. Jesus may well have been thinking what He said to Peter in the upper room just hours before He was betrayed, as He washed the disciples’ feet: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” So the most loving thing Jesus can do with this terrible news of His suffering and death is to tell them now, even if they don’t understand.
Isn’t that always how it is with us? So many of the things Jesus tells us have the promise attached to them, “You don’t realize what I am doing now, but later you will understand.” When Jesus promises that all things work out for our good, or that God uses our trials to refine our faith and draw us closer to Him, or that our sufferings produce a harvest of righteousness and peace later on – that the problems we face right now are doing God’s work in our lives – He has to add, “You don’t realize what I am doing now, but later you will understand.” And we have to trust that it’s true, because we don’t see now – but one day, we will.
For now, we pass on and keep going, just like the disciples did. They came to Jericho, and they passed a blind man sitting by the side of the road. This wasn’t uncommon back then. No government programs existed to help such people, and they couldn’t hold down regular jobs – so they begged. This beggar feels the earth rumbling and hears the tramping of all those feet and the muttering voices of the crowd, so he speaks up and asks, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” Luke implies that his questions were pretty urgent. He really wanted to know, because he thought someone in particular might be here and he didn’t want to miss Him. Someone turns toward him and speaks loud enough for him to hear, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He was right! It’s Jesus! The Teacher who fed thousands with next to nothing, who raised the dead, healed the sick with just a word, hey, maybe He can help me – so he begins to shout, “Hey, Jesus! Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!” And you want to ask this guy, “So, Mr. Blind Man, how did you find out about Christ? How do you know He’s the Son of David? You can’t see to read the Bible!” The crowds didn’t tell him that; in fact, they tried to shut him up. All he heard from the crowds was that this was Jesus of Nazareth, so how did he know He was the Son of David? Truly what was said through the prophet David in the Psalms came true here: the Lord does give sight to the blind! This blind beggar understood something far better than Jesus’ seeing disciples could: that Jesus was the Son of David, the One promised to take away their sins, and along with that He would have to die and rise again. The blind beggar sees and the seeing disciples don’t see. Faith opens the eyes of the heart, and that’s how it is here.
That’s how it is with us too. When we trust in Jesus for everything, then we truly know who He is. We understand the most important thing about Him: that He’s God’s Son, promised to save us, who can do anything. When you trust in Jesus like that, then you do like this blind man did and call on Him with everything you’ve got. You pray like the earth is going to give way under your feet if Jesus doesn’t help you right now. You pray like a blind man whose one chance to see again might be about to walk away. The beggar can’t tell if Jesus is looking at him, if He’s walking away, if He’s stopped, if He’s listening – he can’t tell anything except that Jesus might be somewhere nearby – so he hollers out at the top of his lungs and he doesn’t let anybody stop him. When some in the crowd, those traveling along with Jesus but not sharing this man’s faith in Him, try to shut him up, he yells louder. Often our prayers feel like that too. We can’t tell by our senses or reason if Jesus is near us or far from us, if He’s listening or not, if His face is turned toward us or He’s walking away – so we have to pray harder. We have to cry out to Him and drum our prayers into His ears so He’ll be sure to help us. When we pray like that, then we are given what this blind man was given.
Jesus hears the man’s cries and He stops in the road. He didn’t have to do this. He could have said, “I’m an important rabbi and God’s Son, I’m on an important mission to die for the sins of the world, I can’t possibly stop for you.” He could have healed the man as He passed by – but He doesn’t do that. He takes the time to stop, look for this blind man, and allow him to come to Him. Love is patient, love is kind. Love makes time for even the most unimportant and worthless-seeming people, when sometimes we can’t be bothered to show love to the people who should get it first. Jesus makes up for our lovelessness, because He is love. He stops and has the blind man brought to Him.
Love is in His question, too: “What do you want Me to do for you?” At first it might seem obvious what this man wants: he wants to see. No big surprise there. But Jesus has His reasons for asking this man this question. This way, nobody can say that He didn’t heal this man, or that it was someone else, as the Pharisees tried to do with the man born blind in John chapter 9. It would be unmistakably clear that this blind man was healed by Christ when He does it. Also, Jesus asks him so that it can be seen that He always gives exactly what is asked for. He has promised to answer all our prayers, and if we do not get exactly what we prayed for? Many times it’s because we did not ask from a good motive, or we were double-minded, as James says. Sometimes we ask without faith that He’s going to give us what we want. Don’t be double-minded,. Don’t think one minute, “Jesus will answer my prayer! He’ll give me what I want,” and then in the next minute have second thoughts and start to doubt: “I don’t know…”
Jesus still asks you, “What do you want Me to do for you?” – and He’s serious! He really wants to know and He is serious about doing what we ask Him for! That shows Jesus’ love, that He would say to us, “What do you want Me to do for you? Ask for anything, and you already have it.” And we still don’t ask! Each of us has to admit to our shame that there are many good things we want from God, and we just don’t ask. Let’s not miss out anymore on anything that Jesus wants to give us. Instead, let’s do like this beggar does.
When Jesus asks him what he wants, he says, “Lord, so that I will see again.” The beggar doesn’t have second thoughts and only ask for money. He doesn’t become timid and say, “Never mind, I don’t need anything.” Jesus asks him and he takes the one thing he wants more than anything in the whole world, the one thing he’s thought about every night and day ever since the darkness closed in on him, the one thing nearest and dearest to his heart, and he places it in Jesus’ hands. “Lord, I want to see.” The only thing he wanted, the only thing he really cared about – and now he gets to ask Jesus for it. The only thing this blind beggar wanted out of life was not to be blind anymore, and he turns that fondest wish, his heart’s desire, over to the Lord – and he holds his breath in the dark, waiting for the Lord’s answer.
And he can take the one thing he wants more than anything and turn it over to the Lord because he knows how loving Jesus is. He knows, without needing someone else to drill it into his head, that Jesus cares about him, that Jesus’ love for him knows no bounds. Even now the Lord Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to show His love for that blind man and for us in the most awful, wonderful, final, triumphant way He can – by allowing men to mock and beat and insult Him, to die a sinner’s death on a cross of shame, and to rise again victorious over death. Love really is stronger than death. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. The blind beggar trusted that Jesus’ love was able to do all things for him before he saw it, and the result for him was that he got to see Jesus’ love at its height.
So what is the deepest yearning of your heart? What do you want more than anything in the world? What do you want so badly that you’re almost afraid to ask God for it or tell Him about it? Whatever it is, take it, and put it into Jesus’ loving hands. Ask Him to heal your blindness, and do not doubt, because love never fails.
When Martin Luther died, in his pocket was found a scrap of paper with two phrases on it. The first one, in German, said, “We are all beggars.” The second phrase was Latin: “This is true.” “We are all beggars. This is true.” Beg like a beggar to the Lord Jesus, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Amen.