Faith to See
Saint Luke 18:31-43
When the prophet Samuel was sent to Bethlehem, to anoint the one chosen by the Lord to be king over Israel, and he stood with seven of Jesse’s sons lined up there before him, he was sure that Eliab was the one whom God would have him anoint as king. But God told him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” As we know, as we heard again this morning, it was David, Jesse’s youngest son, whom God looked upon and saw as His chosen one.
Yes, dear friends, God sees as man cannot. And this is not just because God is God and is able to see all things—a divine attribute that we, of course, do not have. It’s also because sin brings a certain form of blindness to the sight that God gave to us in creation. When God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, and Eve from Adam’s rib, they could see with equal clarity both the things of the physical world around them and the things that are above—things pertaining to God. But when they sinned against God, by eating of the fruit of the tree forbidden them, spiritual blindness came to both of them. No longer could they see their Creator’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy; no longer could they see His love for them. And in their spiritual blindness, they were afraid.
Hearing “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden;” they sat cowering in fear, in the darkness of their sin and unbelief, until God came to them and brought them out of sin’s darkness with His loving forgiveness. Oh, their vision—their spiritual sight—was not completely restored to them with God’s divinely given grace and mercy. They could see, but now no longer as they had at first. For them, when faith was given—when faith came to them, by the Gospel that God proclaimed for the very first time in this fallen world, they became as we are—as the apostle Saint Paul says when he writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In the resurrection, when our flesh is purged of all sin and unbelief, we will see, as did Adam and Eve before sin entered their hearts. We will see God face to face and behold the fullness of His glory.
The spiritual sight that you and I have now—the seeing “in a mirror dimly”—is everything that faith gives you to behold. Through the eyes of faith, you see your sin and iniquity. You see your lack of personal righteousness and your great need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. And you see this grace of God for you—His forgiveness and salvation—in Jesus, God’s own Lamb sacrificed for us on the altar of the cross. Your “mirror dimly” vision may not be all it will be come the resurrection, but for now it sure gives you to see everything that you need in order to be saved and have life without end.
The event recorded for us by the evangelist Saint Luke in today’s Gospel Reading, places our dear Lord Jesus on the cusp of His holy Passion. He tells the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.” “See,” He tells them. Or, in other words, “Look upon all that will follow with eyes of faith. Understand that, in going up to Jerusalem, ‘everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’ Believe that when I am ‘delivered over to the Gentiles,’ when I am ‘mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon,’ when I am ‘flogged’ and killed, that this is for your salvation and the salvation of the whole world, for as my resurrection on the third day will declare, there is forgiveness and salvation for all who believe.” Our Lord Jesus enjoins His disciples to view everything that is about to happen with the heavenly sight of faith, but, as Saint Luke tells us, “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
In a very real way, dear friends, the disciples, at this point, are much more blind than the blind man they encounter as they and Jesus “drew near to Jericho.” This blind man was “sitting by the roadside begging” and his name, as Saint Mark tells us, is Bartimaeus. He could not see anything of this world, but he had 20/20 vision with regard to the things of God, who had most assuredly given Bartimaeus faith to believe in Jesus—faith to believe in Him whom He had sent.
We do not know how God worked this faith in the heart of the blind man, only that He did, and that Bartimaeus did truly believe. Of course, as it is with all of us, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” And while Bartimaeus’s eyes may have been dim in seeing the world physical, his ears worked just fine, as he demonstrated when he heard a great crowd going by, and he was told that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” For as soon as he heard this, he “cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Apparently, his lungs work just as well as his ears, for when “those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent,” he “cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!”
In these words cried out to Jesus we hear Bartimaeus’s confession of faith. “Son of David,” he calls Jesus. Others perceive only that Jesus is a rabbi from Nazareth—the son of carpenter Joseph, but the blind beggar sees differently; he sees with faith. And so he calls out to Jesus using a name given in prophecy for the Messiah, as when God, through the prophet Jeremiah, declares, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land”—a “righteous Branch for David,” God says, meaning a descendant of David: David’s Son.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When the eighth son of Jesse was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be Israel’s king, he believed as God had said. Even though no crown had been placed upon his head, even though Saul still sat upon the throne, even though he had no army at his command, David believed because the Word of the Lord had said it. God had promised it, and that’s enough for faith to take hold of and cling to. It would take a number of years before David would actually wear the crown, before God’s promise is fulfilled, but, as David knew, with the oil of anointing still running down his head, the Word of the Lord is always true. It would come to pass that David would ascend to his throne.
And so would David’s Son, David’s Lord. Jesus would ascend to His throne. He would go to Jerusalem to be the Sacrifice. He would die for sinners. He would rise on the third day. And through His death and resurrection, He would “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” David had faith to believe this, and so does Bartimaeus, to which he testifies with his loud cries for mercy.
Responding to the blind man’s crying out in faith, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Now, perhaps you may be thinking that faith, such as this man has, should be asking for something more spiritual in nature than the restoration of his physical sight. But spiritually, what is Bartimaeus lacking? God the Holy Spirit has already given him faith to believe, and through this faith, he has everything that he needs for his life and salvation. He’s like you in your baptismal grace. At the font, God the Father, through the Spirit, gave everything to you that His Son Jesus came to provide. Every benefit, every blessing, every good thing that your Saviour earned for you upon Calvary’s cross, with His sacrificial suffering and death, is given to you. You have forgiveness; you have Christ’s own righteousness imparted to you, and so you also have life and salvation. So it has been every day, every moment of your baptismal life of faith, for the Word of the Lord has spoken it.
Now while God has not, and will not, withdraw His favour from you, as Saint Paul says when he testifies that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” you, through sin, on the other hand, can and do turn away from His divinely given grace. It happens all the time, doesn’t it, each and every day? And with each step taken away from the font, away from God and His grace, you move closer and closer to a destruction of your own making. However, with God never ceasing to be faithful to you, His call for you to return to Him in repentance and faith is ever ringing out. This is why you are here today. You are here because the Holy Spirit has turned you back toward the water of your baptism, working contrition and repentance in your heart, so that you see again with eyes of faith your great need to receive the Father’s forgiveness in Christ—forgiveness that has always been here for you—divine mercy and grace established in Christ before the foundation of the world and made manifest for your sake, through faith.
When Bartimaeus asked Jesus for the healing of his eyes, our Lord did not hesitate, but told him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And it was done as the Word of Christ said. “Immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”
The Word of Christ does what it says for you, dear friends. You are forgiven all your sins; you are righteous and holy; you have salvation and life without end, because the Word of Christ says so and the faith you have been given clings to this. As we sang at the start of today’s service, “In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail. Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, Our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend!” In the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord, in whom we have faith to see and be saved. Amen.