REFORMATION – October 25, 2015

 SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 3:19-28; Mark 10:46-52

 

Old Testament Reading – Isaiah 6:1-8

     In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

      Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

      And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

 

Epistle – Romans 3:19–28

  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

     Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

 

Holy Gospel – Mark 10:46-52

      They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Mark 10

 

Two very different visions of God are presented to us in our readings today. There is the God of mercy who responds to the cry of a blind beggar and heals him. Then, there is the powerful God who appears to Isaiah. Our reading from Isaiah 6 begins with Isaiah, who is probably worshiping in the temple. Suddenly, as if a curtain is torn aside… he sees God. His awe-inspiring presence overwhelms Isaiah. God’s glory fills heaven and earth; He is surrounded by seraphim, fiery angels (the Hebrew word seraph means, “burning”); the temple shakes and is filled with smoke. Isaiah cries out in fear, for he is painfully aware of his sinfulness and his unworthiness before this God.

  • Martin Luther had a similar event in his life. On a hot July day in 1505, as he was journeying to the University of Erfurt to begin studying law, he was overtaken by a fierce thunderstorm. Large raindrops pelted him; the ground shook from the powerful thunder; and lightning smote the trees and the rocks around him. He was terrified by visions of a powerful God who was angry at him for his sins, and he cried out in fear.

    Luther, and Isaiah, experienced this truth: God is not just everywhere. He is here. He is where you are; always. And, He holds you accountable. You will account for your every word, which He hears; for your every action, which He sees; and for your very thoughts, which He knows. What can we poor sinners, who are sinful by nature and so cannot keep from sinning and disobeying God, do?

     

    Learn from Bartimaeus. See with his eyes. He sees in Jesus the mercy of God, and he holds onto this. He will not let Jesus pass him by but cries out and will not stop until Jesus helps him. Such faith saves, receives God’s healing.

     

    God is indeed awesome, vastly beyond us in power and might, in wisdom and understanding. It is important that we believe this – and not only because it is true. We need to be humble before Him. Who are we to question God and the goodness of His ways, seeing as we, who are not only mortal but are also sinful, cannot begin to understand Him? The author of Psalm 131, today’s Introit, says: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” We will do well to say and do the same.

     

    But: the faith that confesses that God is great and wise and awesome will not quiet your conscience and give you peace. It certainly gave no comfort to Martin Luther, who saw God’s awesomeness revealed in a terrible thunderstorm. So, when in his fear he cried out, it was not to God that he looked for comfort. “St. Anne, mother of Mary, save me!” he cried. You see, the truth about God and where His mercy could be found had been obscured by the Church in his day. God – even Jesus! – was portrayed primarily as an angry Judge, and so people were directed to the saints – people who were said to have lived an especially holy life and so were now in God’s presence in heaven. They had God’s ear. He would listen to them; and especially to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who would in turn listen to her mother. God would do what they asked. So, Luther cried out to St. Anne. “I promise to become a monk,” he told her. After the storm passed, Luther kept his promise. He resigned from law school and entered the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt.

     

    I doubt that saints in heaven are your focus. Good thing!, for nowhere in the Bible are we told to cry out to them. Nor are we told that God will bless us because of them. So, where should you go when you are troubled by your sins, when you know that God is angry because of them? To ignore God’s power and justice in punishing sins and to see Him instead as non-judgmental and accepting of everyone – as He is often portrayed today – is to embrace a false comfort. As we see in Isaiah 6, the Bible does not proclaim such a God. To hope that the good you do will outweigh your sins is to also trust in a lie. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Scripture declares (Rom. 3). Trust in your goodness and you will end up saying with Isaiah, “Woe is me!”

     

    Pay attention to Bartimaeus! “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he keeps on crying out. Make Jesus your constant focus. He is the presence of God’s mercy. Believe upon, focus upon, and cry out to Him.

  • Jesus, the flesh and blood man, who chose to live among sinners; Jesus, the Son of David. This was a title for the Messiah, the Savior God had promised to send to His people Israel. Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was this Savior, this promised Messiah. “God put [Him] forward as a propitiation [payment for sins] by his blood, to be received by faith,” says Romans 3.

  • “Have mercy on me,” Bartimaeus cries; and this must be your cry. The faith that saves, that receives God’s righteousness and delivers you from being condemned for your sins, is far more than simply believing that God exists, or even believing that He is great and awesome. The faith that saves cries out to a God of mercy, whose mercy is given in the crucified Jesus. Faith clings to Him and cries out to Him.

     

    Such faith also follows Him. After Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well,” Bartimaeus “immediately recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” He followed Jesus – who was soon to arrive in Jerusalem, where He would be rejected and crucified and by this act save him, and all people, from God’s eternal judgment of sin.

     

    How blessed we are to know that He died and rose for our forgiveness, and is now ascended into heaven and sitting at God’s right hand, where He is always interceding for us. You need no saint’s intercession when you have Jesus! So, have Him. Cry out to Him for mercy, and run to receive His mercy as it is offered to you. Have the name of Jesus on your lips; have His body and blood in your mouth to take away your guilt and atone for your sin. Then, when the curtain is torn aside and you see, and stand before, God in His awesome glory and holiness, you will not stand alone in your sins. Jesus will stand with you, and His righteousness will cover you. He will heal you forever!

     

    Have mercy on us, Lord! Bless us in Jesus! In His name we pray. Amen.