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The Thing You Need To See Jesus Clearly

The Thing You Need To See Jesus Clearly

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

This week and last week the gospel of Luke confronts us with provocative questions. Through the preaching of last week’s passage, Luke asked us who is truly rich and who is poor. If you were here you remember that, on the one hand, there was a man with everything, but he didn’t have Jesus. And, on the other hand, there were those who had left everything so that they could have Jesus. In this way Luke puts the provocative question to us, “Who is rich and who is poor—the one who has everything but not Jesus or those who have nothing but have Jesus?” That was last week.

This week we are asked, “Who truly sees?” There are those with physical eyes that work just fine, but if they don’t understand Jesus, do they really see? And if there is one who has eyes that do not work—one who is blind—but with the eyes of faith he sees and understands Jesus, is he truly blind?

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 18:31–43. I’ll read the passage, we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

31 And taking the twelve, he 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. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 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!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

Prayer

This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”

Introduction

In this passage, an offer is being made. It’s a wonderful offer; it’s the offer to see more of Jesus, to understand him more deeply, to be a part of his mission, and to have his forgiveness and healing. These are wonderful things. But to have them also requires embracing humility.

Since this passage falls out in two sections, let’s take each in turn. We’ll start with what Jesus says in vv. 31–34. In this first section, we’ll be asking the question, Why didn’t they—the disciples—see? Why didn’t they understand?

1. Why didn’t they see?

The passage begins with a traveling note. These notes have been sprinkled throughout Luke’s gospel. It helps us as readers not only keep track of where Jesus is at in each of the stories but also where Jesus is going—and for that matter, where Luke’s gospel is going. The gospel goes to Jerusalem before it goes to the ends of the earth. In Luke 18 Jesus is in Jericho. This is like saying he’s driving to Harrisburg from the Midwest, and he’s just gone by Carlisle, which is to say, he’s getting close.

And along the way to the cross, Jesus reminds his closest followers of what he’s already told them several times before. We often refer to this passage as the “third passion prediction.” The work of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection is often referred to as his passion, which is why Easter week is sometimes called “Passion Week” and why the Mel Gibson movie some 15 years ago was called The Passion of the Christ.

As Jesus speaks to his disciples predicting his passion, he uses seven verbs, seven action words. Six of them refer to his humiliation: handed over, mocked, treated shamefully, spit upon, flogged, and, finally, killed. But there is a seventh verb, of course. At the end of v. 33, Jesus says, “On the third day he will rise.” Jesus promises that his story is a story of victory that at first will look like defeat.

Speaking of looking like defeat, in v. 32 Jesus says he’ll be “delivered over to the Gentiles.” The Gentiles? What? In this phrasing, there are overtones of the punishments that took place in the Old Testament. When God’s people stacked sin upon sin and infidelity upon dishonesty and injustice upon indifference, God used the wrath of two Gentile nations to crush his people. Speaking in round numbers, in 750 BC God delivered his people up to the Gentile nation of Assyria, and in 600 BC it was the Gentile nation of Babylon. And now the Gentiles were going to crush the Son of Man, the Messiah.

This is hard to understand. In fact, in my study of this passage, as I was working through the passage verse by verse, I wrote out to the side of my paper, “Surely with these statements [about defeat] by Jesus we are nearing the fringe of, if not already exceeding, the disciple’s ability to understand what is being said to them.” I literally wrote that out to the side, and then I came to the next verse. Look at what v. 34 says,

34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Indeed, we had come to the fringe of their ability to understand. So now I return to the question I asked at the start: Why didn’t they understand? Why couldn’t they see?

My first impulse is to suspect that some sort of mysterious divine sovereignty is taking place. What I mean is that for some mysterious reasons Jesus chose to predict his sacrificial death to the disciples often, but he also chose not to not give them full comprehension of what was being, at least until later. Perhaps God wanted them to be able to look back after the cross and after the resurrection and then cause them to understand things better. This does, in fact, happen in Luke 24. The very things the disciple didn’t understand, he explains to them again after his resurrection, and they get it.

After considering for a time ways that mysterious divine sovereignty could have been the reason they didn’t understand, I started wondering if there wasn’t a plainer answer that Luke wants us to see. I think there is. I believe Luke wants us to see that they couldn’t understand what was going on because of two things. Two reasons they were kept from understanding the passion of the Christ were because they had selectively picked and chosen which passages about the Messiah to believe, and because of their pride.

Let me explain what I mean. First, let’s talk about the picking and choosing of expectations. In the mind of these disciples, a Messiah doesn’t go to a cross to die, and certainly not at the hands of the Gentiles. Messiahs ride into Jerusalem and ascend to a throne—they are victorious conquers with a kingdom that moves only up and to the right.

This is understandable, really. The people of God had been experiencing a beatdown for many years, with only a moment here and there of reprieve. First it was Assyria, then Babylon, then Persia, then the Greeks, and now Rome. And what happened during this time is they took the Old Testament expectations about the Messiah that felt triumphant and victorious and kingly, and they lifted those promises. Then, they just sort of forgot about the other stuff, the stuff about defeat and sacrifice. What in the Old Testament is clearly two things, they clung to the one that was most precious to them and forgot about the other.

Something like this happened to me once—forgetting that one thing was really two things. In a sermon a few years ago, I told one of the terrible travel mistakes that I made on my honeymoon, the story of how I ended up in a dark alley in a foreign country being offered drugs by a man who might have been ready to kill my bride and me. People at church seemed to enjoy that story when I told it; I can’t understand why you found that story so funny. Well, here’s another travel mistake I made on that trip.

As we were getting ready to be married, it felt like there were a thousand wedding details to sort out, not to mention graduating from college, not to mention moving to a new city, and not to mention finding a job in the new city. In the midst of that time, we settled on going to an island country for our honeymoon. It was cheaper than I expected, which surprised me. After we had booked it, we learned why: It was the rainy season in a rainforest.

At that time, some fourteen years ago, you actually did not need a passport to travel to this country. That was one thing I checked very carefully. So people would ask me, Where are you going? Then I’d tell them. Then they’d ask, Do you need a passport to go there?, and I’d say no you don’t.

But the full story was that if you didn’t use a passport to travel to this country, you needed an official copy of your birth certificate. As I was repeatedly asked about the passport, however, I just sort of forgot that detail. In my mind, “you don’t need a passport but you do need a birth certificate” became only “you don’t need a passport,” that is, until my wife and I showed up to Miami international airport where a kind but firm woman at American Airlines told us in no uncertain terms we would not be leaving the country. We spent the second day of our honeymoon calling our respective states, finding someone to overnight our birth certificates.

I think these disciples meant well; they’re like us, and we are like them. It’s possible to look at the teachings of Jesus and pick and choose those that seem to most warm our hearts and to ignore the rest. Oh, I like when Jesus tells me he loves me, but I’m not so much a fan of what he says about taking up my cross and following him. I like it when Jesus tells me to come to him with my problems, but I don’t like admitting I have any problems.

The disciples couldn’t understand why the Messiah was going the cross because perhaps they stopped thinking passages like Isaiah 53 applied to their victorious Messiah. Jesus says his death will be in fulfillment of what has been written in the Old Testament, and in a passage such as Isaiah 53 we read that the Messiah will be “pierced for our transgressions . . . crushed for our iniquities . . .” And we read that it’s “with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5–6). And on it goes until we even read that he is “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (v. 7).

Remember, we’re were asking why disciples might miss out on seeing and enjoying and savoring all that Jesus is for his people. The first answer is that we miss out on all that Jesus for us when we selectively read the Bible—thinking we know better when we major on the passages that seemed to help us the most and ignore the others. When we do this, we miss out on who Jesus is for us.

I think there is another reason we’re kept from understanding all the good things that are in Jesus, namely, our pride. I mentioned this passage is often called the “third passion prediction,” the third time he’s foretold his death. I want to go back to Luke 9 and read the second passion prediction. This is how it reads:

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. 46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. (Luke 9:43b–46)

That’s interesting, isn’t it? It seems that the disciples have a history of not understanding. But why do you think that is? Is there some sort of mysterious divine sovereignty going on? Well, yes, I think so. But what is certainly preventing them from understanding Jesus is their pride. Look again at the passage. What did the passage say about why they couldn’t come to understanding? They didn’t because they were afraid to ask. They didn’t want to look stupid. And they especially didn’t want to look stupid because they were just about to break into an argument about who is the greatest, and surely the greatest disciples of Jesus would never need to ask a question.

Our pride keeps us from seeing who Jesus is. That’s the point made back in Luke 9, but also think it’s the very point Luke wants us to see in Luke 18 as well. Going back to Luke 18, which is our passage this morning, we don’t have a story about the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, but we do have them rebuking a blind beggar, not unlike the rebuked the children coming to Jesus earlier in chapter 18.

2. Why did he see?

When we look closer at the miracle story of this blind beggar we see that this man had something the disciples didn’t have: humility. Let me re-read this story.

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 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!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

The story is relatively straightforward, isn’t it? The man can’t tell what’s going on because he can’t see. So he asks. They tell him Jesus of Nazareth is coming. He shouts for healing, using very similar language to what the tax collector in the story a few weeks ago used—“have mercy on me.” At first, he’s rebuked. He shouts louder. Jesus stops. Jesus speaks. Jesus heals. And everyone glorifies God.

This passage is wonderful by itself, but when we see where Luke has located this story in his gospel, we learn even more. This blind man can’t see with his physical eyes, but he can see with the eyes of his heart.

Whereas pride kept the disciples from understanding, this man has no pride left. When he learns that it’s Jesus of Nazareth, perhaps he thinks about something he’s heard about Jesus. It was Nazareth where Jesus preached his first sermon, a sermon in which Jesus took the scroll of Isaiah, turned to a passage, and read:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
        because he has anointed me
        to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
        and recovering of sight to the blind,
        to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(4:18–19)

When Jesus sat down, he said this passage was being fulfilled in their hearing. In other words, Jesus said those things Isaiah said were in the future, are here now.

In another place in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist goes into prison and seems to waver in his understanding of Jesus. From prison, John sends messengers to Jesus to question him. This is what Jesus tells the messengers:

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. (7:22)

Maybe this blind beggar had heard these stories, the story of the first sermon in Nazareth, the story of John and his messengers. Maybe his humble estate made him unafraid to come to Jesus with his problem. Maybe his humility made it so he didn’t care when peer pressure told him to knock it off, he’s getting too emotional about Jesus. Maybe it was because of his humility that when Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” he didn’t have to hesitate to acknowledge his problem.

I should be careful here. If I’m not careful, I could start to imply that whatever problem you have, if you only ask Jesus to fix it, he’ll immediately fix it. If you’re just humble enough to bring your problems to Jesus, well, they’ll vanish as quickly as you bring them.

If I implied this, then we’d be back in the first part of the sermon when people were picking and choosing what passages to believe. If you have a problem, and if you take it to God, he might not fix it immediately. Starting next week, we are going to spend 10 weeks preaching through the Old Testament book of Job. The book of Job teachers over and over that even among the Godly, suffering might linger far longer than we wish.

So I do have to be careful. But I would be remised if I didn’t say that too often our pride keeps does keep us from all the joy and forgiveness and healing that Jesus would love to give us. About this time last year, I was struggling to keep up with things here at the church. Our church was selling the building and buying this building and planning for the renovations. I was still preaching my regular share, as well as leading whatever else I do, and at that time trying to make sure the building plans were submitted on time. I think it’s fair to say that aspects of pride kept me from asking for help from Jason with the preaching load, and to ask the other elders for margin in other areas so I could focus on the building. We did end up restructuring responsibilities, but not so much because I had the humility to ask for help, but more so because others saw where things were trending and stepped in for me.

How many marriages are crumbling, but you find it difficult to ask for help? How many are struggling with depression? How many are struggling with financial problems? How many are struggling with sexual sin? These struggles are real, and they are in our midst, but often we pretend they are not here so we can be the greatest disciple. Just to be very pointed, how many small group Bible studies or Sunday school classes turn out to be very lame because no one will ask a question because they don’t want to be seen as not knowing the answer.

This is nothing more than a re-living the story of Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve sinned, they covered themselves with fig leaves. Their pride kept them from God.

Conclusion

As I close, I’ll say this. About five years ago, when I was in the interview process with this church, Jason was preaching through Mark’s gospel. And one Sunday Jason was preaching Mark’s version of a passion prediction by Jesus—that Jesus would be handed over, mocked, treated shamefully, spit upon, flogged, and, finally, killed. I remember texting Jason the next day to ask how his sermon went. He wrote back, “Well, not good. But then I read the passage, and everyone got saved.”

It’s not too difficult to be a gospel preacher when you have Jesus say it so clearly right in the text. But the special emphasis of the passion of the Christ that I want to bring out this morning is this: when our Messiah goes to the cross, which is the greatest invent in the history of the world, did you notice that he makes time to stop along the road and to heal blind man who has nothing to give Jesus but his need? The crowd didn’t seem to think Jesus had time for this.

I said at the start that something wonderful is on offer in this passage. I believe that. Jesus is offering us more of himself, to understand him more deeply, to be a part of his mission, and to have more of his forgiveness and healing.

What Jesus asked this man, he also asks us: What do you want me to do for you? What pain, what burden, what sorrow, what depression are you carrying? To take it to Jesus will mean that you must acknowledge your need for healing and forgiveness. Will it take humility to ask for help? Yes, it will. But do it anyway.

Prayer

Pray with me as Ben and the music team come back up. Let’s pray . . .

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