The Holy Gospel contains the third and final time that Christ predicted His suffering, death, and resurrection. He goes into great detail. He names the exact city. He mentions that He will be delivered to the Gentiles, which points to the involvement of Pontius Pilate. He mentions that he will be mocked, shamefully treated, and spit upon. He even mentions the flogging. Then He specifically says that after dying, He will rise on the third day.
We may be puzzled why the disciples were so confused. This was not the first time Christ spoke about these things. He was simple and direct in the way He said it. He did not use a parable or obscure language. Yet they did not get it.
The real reason they were puzzled is found in the text. It says that the saying was hidden from them. Hidden by whom? By God. The Lord did not open their eyes to grasp the meaning of these words.
This also seems strange. Why reveal something very plainly, but then hide the meaning?
There may be various reasons, but there is one that the context calls for today. The disciples, and we with them, should recognize that we are naturally blind to the things of God. Only when He opens our eyes do we see clearly His truth.
This is frustrating at times. Sometimes God does not open our eyes to understand particular teachings. The meaning of some texts of Scripture may elude our minds. Or we may not understand what God is doing in our lives.
When we realize that we do not understand, that is to admit that we are blind. Spiritually, we are not eagle-eyed. We in ourselves do not have piercing discernment that uncovers mysteries. Whatever we happen to grasp, God has revealed by His Spirit.
But we want to think that we have perfect spiritual vision. We want to think that we are wise. This desire to see ourselves this way comes from the old Adam. The old Adam is our sinful nature that always wants to see itself as good and wise and righteous.
Think of how dangerous this is. We are by nature blind men who think that they are wise. What if the blind man in the holy Gospel somehow convinced himself that he could see? Probably, he would soon walk off a cliff or get run over by a chariot.
So also for sinful humanity. The danger is extreme. Because we naturally think that we are wise, but we are really foolish, humanity is in great danger. Because we think that we can see, but we are really blind, we can place ourselves in peril of our lives.
Even now as Christians, since Christ has opened our eyes by His Holy Spirit, there is a part of us that wants to think that we always know the right answers. We want to think that there is nothing we cannot comprehend. We can easily see that others are foolish and spiritually nearsighted. But we have trouble seeing that we are spiritually blind as a bat.
So we may start trusting our feelings. We may learn to trust our own discernment more and more. Meanwhile, we may trust what most others say less and less, particularly if they contradict our wisdom. We may increasingly think that we have a clear understanding of a situation, but others . . . well, let’s just say they ought to listen to us more often.
For an illustration of this, the first time Christ predicted His sufferings and death to His disciples, Saint Peter rebuked him. What hubris! He actually took upon himself to teach the Son of God what was what.
That is what our sinful flesh can do. The old Adam can turn to Christ and tell Him He has it all wrong and instruct Him on what He should say and do. Often we will say it differently so that it does not appear that we are rejecting Christ. We may say something like, “Well the Jesus I know would never do that.”
You can see this in others when they say that the Word of God has no right to condemn this sin or that sin. You can see it in people when they justify their actions on the most flimsy excuses.
As I say, it is easier to see in others this error of preferring your wisdom to the Word of God. Do you see it when you do it? You also make this same error from time to time. You have the same old Adam Peter had. You have the same sinful flesh as the most rebellious sinner on earth. Although we hide it from ourselves, we also think too highly of our own ability to see truth.
It is so hard to see this kind of behavior in ourselves. It is so hard to catch ourselves when we rebel against Christ. It is hard to see when we are trespassing, that is, walking in an area into which we should not go. It is hard to notice our own sins, even though our lives are full of sins every day. It is so hard to examine ourselves accurately because we are blind in ourselves. We cannot see as we should.
This is great danger. But as long as we remember that we are blind, and that there is One who can see who leads us, we will be alright. As long as we trust in Him, and not in ourselves, we will be just fine.
We are beggars, not problem-solvers. We sit helplessly, calling out to Christ for help. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” We do not accurately assess our situation and then act upon a solution. No, that is what Christ has done. We depend on Him completely. Without His mercy, we are lost.
In His mercy, He opens our eyes to see the truth. The truth is Himself, and what He has done. As He revealed it to the disciples, He reveals it to you today.
He was delivered to the Gentiles. The word “delivered” can also mean to be betrayed. Christ allowed Himself to be betrayed by one of His disciples. Even though He knew it was coming, He willingly stepped into the trap.
Then He allowed Himself to be mistreated and put on trial by heathen gentiles. It was bad enough that His own people, the Jews, did such things. But the unclean gentiles also passed judgment. Christ was condemned by a representative of the whole civilized world. Mankind as a whole was putting Christ to death.
So Christ was mocked and shamefully treated. He who had the greatest dignity and bearing of any man was made an object of scorn. He who least deserved it was treated like dirt.
This shame that was heaped upon Christ is an important part of His Passion. It shows that He willingly allowed Himself to be treated as the lowest of the low.
Part of this humiliation was being spat upon. Christ suffered this, even though He could have stopped it at any time. It is hard to appreciate how spiteful and degrading it is when someone spits on you. Magnify that by the fact that Christ never deserved any negative treatment.
Then He was flogged. The whipping that the Romans performed was a horrifically brutal torture. It easily led to death all by itself. The physical pain was savagely intense.
Yet perhaps while He was tortured this way, perhaps He comforted Himself with these words from the prophet Isaiah: “Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” He endured this for us, and for all Jews as well as gentiles, and even for the man who used the whip to tear at His holy flesh.
Add to all this suffering and shame the fact that Christ knew in advance what would happen. He saw the awfulness of the coming ordeal. Yet He did not avoid it. He did not protect Himself. He knew the pain beforehand, and He submitted to it.
When they killed Christ on the Cross, after He fell under God’s worst judgment, at last He rose on the third day. At last, after all the shame and torture and condemnation, Christ was revealed as the righteous and holy Son of God. His sacrifice was revealed as the atoning price for all sins of all men. By rising, He showed that He had also conquered death.
The shame was ended. His glory at the right hand of the Father is eternally begun.
So what could we add to that? It is all beyond us. We could not have predicted it. If told in advance, we could not have understood it, any more than the disciples could have. The teaching of God, His Gospel of justification for sinners, is beyond our comprehension. It is revealed to us, and we confess it back to Him. But the work of Christ is too great a mystery for us to fully grasp. We might as well be blind men trying to read the printed word.
But that’s all right. That’s a good thing. Our salvation should never be in our hands or in our comprehension. We could only be saved by something greater than ourselves. Justification is God’s work, not ours. He needed to stoop down and rescue us from our lost condition. He needed to perform what we could not. His work, and His alone, could make us safe from the threatening perils of our sinful blindness. Instead of falling into the abyss of death and hell, Christ has given us Paradise and eternal blessedness.
So we continue to cry out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!” because we know that He is the One who helps. He is the One who rescues. He is the only Savior for us sinners.
In His Name alone, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
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