“Son of David, Have Mercy on Me”
Sermon, Quinquagesima, Gospel, Luke 18:31-43, Feb, 15, 2015
I hope you have been enjoying the Around the Word devotions this last week. The Psalm for last week was Psalm 44. Reading it each day I was struck by the way the Psalmist talks to God. He says:
“Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. For our soul is bowed down to the dust; arise for our help and redeem us. We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us the deeds You did in days of old: You drove out the nations with Your hand, but you planted our fathers because you favored them. You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us. In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever.”
Awake? Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise? Is this any way to talk to God? As if He were sleeping on the job? The language of the Psalms strikes us many times as being disrespectful and impertinent. Why on earth are they included in the Bible? Because they reflect God’s people struggling with faith, the faith that clings to the promises even when the fulfillment seems to never come. But the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible, shows us that God approves of this way of praying to Him, honestly bringing HIm our needs, our struggles with weak faith, our sinfulness, our longing for His redemption, [smile] the sooner the better. It is okay to ask God to wake up, not because we think He is sleeping, but because we know He is the One who saves, who redeems, the only One who does. He opens His hand, He satisfies the desires of every living thing, (Psalm 145:16) in due season.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the story of Jesus giving a blind man the desires of his heart in due season.. Jesus is heading for Jerusalem for the last time. He has told His disciples that there He will be betrayed, mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised from the dead on the third day. They don’t understand what He is saying, for their eyes have not been opened yet. As Jesus and his followers come near to Jericho, a blind man, who made his living begging from passing strangers by calling out, “Have mercy on me!” hears a strange commotion. Passover is coming in a few days, so the road to Jerusalem is crammed with pilgrims, singly and in groups. It’s like every year at this time, but something unusual is happening. There is a different sound to this group, a buzz, an excitement, several voices with Galilean drawls, and this perks up the ears of the blind man. He asks someone, “What is going on? Who are these people?”
Someone tells him that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” The blind man would likely have heard of Jesus, of His amazing teaching and miraculous healings. He had been praying his whole life that his sight be restored and that his sins be forgiven, praying to God for a miracle ever since he lost his sight, maybe wondering like the psalmist whether God was asleep. Maybe now was the time for God to come to him. Was this Nazorean, the promised stem from the stump of Jesse, David’s Father? Was He the long awaited Messiah promised to Adam and Eve and all the saints and prophets of the Old Testament? He can’t pass me by. He’ll hear me. He has to hear me. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The ones in front, the ones who recently rebuked the parents for bringing their little children to be blessed by Jesus, these same people rebuked this blind man. “Jesus doesn’t have time for a beggar. He has more important business to attend to in Jerusalem.” But the blind man is not deterred. He knows that Jesus has never refused to hear the petition of anyone who has called upon Him in faith, whether to forgive their sins, teach them about God the Father, restore their sight, drive out their demons, raise their dead. So the blind man, Bartimaeus, as Mark names him, calls out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And Jesus stopped… He had heard him. He commanded that the blind man be brought to Him. When Bartimaeus came near. Jesus asked what seems an obvious question, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the man said. “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus granted him his petition, adding, “Your faith has made you well.” The man recovered his sight, glorified God with tears of joy and thanks streaming from his newly seeing eyes, and he left everything and followed Jesus to Jerusalem. The lesson for us in this scene is that Our Lord is never too busy to hear our prayers. His mission is never too important that He will not take time to listen to us.
There was a book that came out in 1981 called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”. The gist of the book is that God is too busy sometimes. He means well, but He has so much to deal with, sometimes things slip through. He doesn’t want bad things to happen, but He won’t interfere with the law of nature. He’s mighty but not all-powerful. He didn’t create the world good. We have to cut Him some slack. We have to forgive Him. Prayer doesn’t really do anything except make us feel connected to others. And that book was written to be comforting? But this is the way of human reason works when it is unconnected to the Word of God, the mighty deeds of God recorded in Scripture and the promises of God for those who call upon Him in trust.
Maybe you have wondered how God can possibly hear your prayer and the prayers of millions of others going to Him at the same time. We couldn’t handle it. We have trouble keeping our inbox clean in our email. But God is not limited like we are by time. He doesn’t have to listen to prayers one after another. He is outside time and space. He looks down at all of time from the outside, seeing past, present, and future at one time. The English Christian writer, C. S. Lewis explained it this way, in his book, Mere Christianity, he writes:
“Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten- thirty—and every other moment from the beginning of the world—is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.”
Jesus had only three short years in His ministry, from His Baptism to the cross, but He never turned away a soul who came to Him for His mercy. So He will not turn us away. He has in fact, joined us to Him in Baptism, so that He is always with us, to the end of the age, the last day of this world. He has given us His Holy Spirit to give us sight to understand Scripture, the prophecies fulfilled in Him, and the certain hope of things unseen, faith. He has not left us blind, nor orphans. (John 14:18). He is our brother now. We have been adopted by God our Father for Jesus’ sake, and as His children we can pester Him with our requests, small or large. He knows what we want already, but like Jesus asking the blind man what he wanted, our Father in heaven likes to hear us say what it is we want. The best thing that we can ask for, of course, is that His will be done in us, for God’s will is always good. We don’t always see that good or feel it in the experiences of our lives. The blind man who recovered His sight and followed Jesus got to see with his new sight Jesus mocked, spat upon, whipped, nailed to a cross, and put in a tomb. We should be careful what we ask for. But he also might have seen Jesus resurrected. Even if he didn’t, he had faith in the Son of David, descended from a man, born of a woman, and conceived by the Holy Spirit of God, true man, true God. He trusted Jesus to have mercy on Him now and in the life to come. He had faith in the resurrection.
The blind man may have prayed Psalm 44 all his life, “ “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. For our soul is bowed down to the dust; arise for our help and redeem us” (Psalm 44:22, 26) We may be praying that right now. “Where are you Lord? Are you asleep? Now would be a good time for you to awake.”
Take heart! God is not sleeping. In the words of another Psalm, Psalm 121:
“He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps 121: 3, ESV). He knows your needs, your desires, your pain, your hurt. He is in charge. He has entered into HIs creation and creates miracles of repentance and faith, healing and redeeming. He is Lord of All. The Lord Jesus who never turned away anyone who came to Him in need is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. All things have been put under His feet. He hears your prayer and the prayer of the pilot in the crashing plane. He who went through the pain of the cross will bring you through your pain to everlasting joy. The Son of David will have mercy on you. He has promised this. And God never breaks a promise. Amen.