Beloved. Today we come to the close of the short, three-Sunday season of Pre-Lent. Today is called “Quinquagesima”, which means there are now exactly 50 days until Easter. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the penitential and holy season of Lent—a time in which we turn our attention to our Lord’s suffering and death for our sin and to our sins which drove Him to that suffering and death—all for us and our salvation. As we see our Savior’s love and work for us, how then our hearts are softened, and led by the Holy Spirit, we mourn over our sins that drove Jesus to His suffering and death and strive all the more to root sin out of our heart and life.
Today’s Gospel account contains Jesus’ pronouncement that He is going to Jerusalem and His prophesy of what exactly will happen to Him: He took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. Indeed, he will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, mistreat him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. On the third day, he will rise again.” Today, we in spirit and faith, join Jesus and the disciples on His journey to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the empty tomb.
The second part of today’s Gospel account is Jesus’ healing of the blind man at Jericho. Here is the tie to today’s Epistle, the last part of which serves as today’s text. In this beautiful chapter from St. Paul on what true Christian love is—a love which only God does perfectly since God is love—we come across in the last verse a summary of the Christian virtues: faith, hope and love. Here St. Paul writes: So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. We see these Christian virtues of faith, hope and love—those very virtues we should be praying that the Lord increase in us—we see them in full force on this blind man. We see faith as he recognizes and confesses that Jesus is the long promised Savior, true God and true man, as he cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And that faith and its confession cannot be stopped and Jesus commends him for his faith, that it is true and correct: “Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.”
His faith in Jesus, that Jesus is the Messiah, true God and true man, was the foundation of his hope: “What do you want me to do for you?” [Jesus asked]. He said, “Lord, I want to see again.” And his hope was not in vain: Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight.” And the now formerly blind man is full of love—for Jesus, the true God, who gave him his sight and love of the people he meets as he certainly tells them what great thing Jesus had done for him: Immediately he received his sight and began following Jesus, glorifying God. The Christian virtues of faith, hope and love are not some sort of “pie-in-the-sky” virtues, nor are they confined within the four walls of a church building. Instead, they are precisely who we are as Christians; they mark us as Christians; they are part and parcel of our life as Christians here on earth. To be sure, in this life they will never be perfectly in use and displayed in our lives. We are sinners, after all, but in this upcoming Lenten season, by the power of the Holy Spirit, let us make a point of thinking about and striving to grow in the virtues of faith, hope and love. As Christians, we already have them but may they become even stronger and more pronounced in us beginning this Lent.
So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. Faith is the foundation of the Christian life; it is what makes us Christians. But it is not just any faith. What faith believes/ holds on to—its object—must be correct. Like the blind man in the Gospel, it sees and recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The Christian faith puts its trust in Jesus, that in Him we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Faith is reliance and trust in Jesus and His work. And faith receives—it receives the gifts and blessings Jesus gives us in His word and sacrament. It receives the forgiveness of sins and Jesus’ holiness precisely as it gives to Him our own sin and guilt and unrighteousness.
That’s why faith is the foundational virtue. If faith were not there, we would not recognize Jesus as true God and Savior of the world, my Savior. Where there is no Savior from sin, then we are still in our sin, then we still see God as our enemy, the one who will condemn me in hell eternally for my sin. Without faith, there would be no hope—only God’s wrath and damnation would be awaiting us and now in this life all our sufferings would be pointless and all our joys would be hollow. Without faith, there certainly would be no love of God and no true selfless, self-sacrificing love of neighbor as St. Paul describes in our Epistle.
The wonderful thing is that faith is a gift of God to us. It is not something we by our efforts must conjure up in ourselves. What great peace and comfort we have as Christians: the very thing that makes us Christians—faith in Christ—is God’s gracious gift to us. Through that gift of faith we receive God’s greatest gifts to us in Jesus: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The great physical blessing the blind man received in today’s Gospel, “Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you”, is a glorious picture of the even greater spiritual blessings we receive in faith.
The wonderful thing is that a weak faith is still faith—a faith that receives all of God’s blessings. This blind man was certainly one who knew the basics of God’s word and promises, the prophecies. And through that the Lord worked faith to know and trust in Jesus. The same thing applies to us. We don’t/ can’t know everything about the Lord. St. Paul talks about that in our text: For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part. Fragmentary knowledge of the things of God is the normal state of the Christian. God did not reveal everything to us. Now God insists that we live by faith—faith Himself He has given us—that what He has given is true and reliable.
But just because we cannot know everything about God, just because a weak faith saves just as much as a strong faith does not mean that we should be content with a weak or mediocre faith. Remember that faith is the foundation—and like a building, the better and stronger the foundation, the better and bigger the building. God has given us so much in Scripture to study, learn and to apply to our own lives that we can never hear and study the Scriptures enough; we can never exhaust our study. And as we study Scripture, the Holy Spirit will be mightily at work strengthening our faith so that we can all the better fight against sin and stand against the devil’s attacks trying to destroy our faith—that faith through which we are saved as we hold to Jesus and His work alone. Make it a point this Lent to devote yourself to further study of our Lord’s word. Join us in Bible Study and in our mid-week Lenten services.
So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. Whereas faith seizes the promises of God, hope waits for what is believed. Notice that beautiful connection—first there is faith and from faith flows hope that waits for the promises of God to be fulfilled. Again we see this with the blind man. He had heard about Jesus; through that word He had heard combined with the prophecies and other Scripture he had learned, the Holy Spirit created faith in Jesus in the man—a faith that recognized Jesus as the promised Savior and that faith led him to hope--the hope that Jesus could and would heal him. Hope waits for what is believed. St. Paul writes in our text: Now we see indirectly using a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I was fully known. Now we only catch glimmers and rays of who God is and the glories that will one day be ours. St. Paul talks about using a mirror—a mirror of his day which was polished metal like brass. You couldn’t get nice crisp, clear images; it was an imperfect reflection. That’s what it’s like for us now knowing God and the things of God. We can’t. Our understanding is not sufficient to grasp the wonders of who and what God is in all His fullness. He is more than we can even think and describe. We get a bit of a glimpse of God especially in Holy Scripture, the rays of His glory shine through the pages of the Bible but the true fullness of God’s greatness and majesty are hidden from us. But what we do know from Scripture/ what He has revealed to us there —and which we by faith believe, creates in us a love of God and a longing to be with Him in the joy and perfection of heaven. Our faith leads us to hope—not an uncertain wishful thing but hope, a firm confidence—that we will be with our Lord in all of His glory. And it is precisely this hope that gives form and focus to our life now. We live our lives of faith in the sure and certain hope of heaven, of one day being with our Lord. That means that we will fight against sin and all that will destroy our faith through which we can enter heaven—and Lent gives us a wonderful opportunity to examine our hearts and lives to discover and root out sin. Living a life filled with the virtue of hope means that we know God is working through and using all events we face in life to bring us to Himself in heaven, that nothing, then, is futile or without reason in our life even if we can’t understand it.
So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Of these Christian virtues, though, love is the greatest. To be sure, faith is great because through faith we know and trust the Lord and receive His gifts; without faith there would be no hope and no love because faith is the foundation. As glorious a thing as faith is, though, it will one day come to an end. On the Last Day and into all eternity there is no longer any need for faith; it will fade away because, as the apostle says [Hb. 11.1], Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In eternity faith is turned into seeing. We will see Jesus, we will behold Him, the Holy Triune God for all eternity. In heaven there will be no need to hold to the Lord’s word and promise—we will be there; He will be there; all the angels and saints will be there; we will be perfectly safe and free from the devil’s attacks and assaults.
And hope—hope is perfected in enjoyment. We will actually be in heaven enjoying the glories of what we had been longing for. In heaven we will see, know, understand the fullness of God—as much as a finite being can—His plans and ways. Now we see indirectly using a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I was fully known. We will enjoy being in the gracious presence of a God who loved us from all eternity, who brought about our salvation, and will love us into all eternity.
But love is different; it is the crown; it the greatest of these because it begins now already on earth and continues forever in heaven. When love, which now flows from faith, matures in heaven, it remains love—unlike faith which changes into seeing, and hope which turns into enjoying it. Now love has the most fruit—whereas faith and hope are directed toward God, love serves and loves both God and the neighbor. The Gospel’s blind man loved God, following Jesus, glorifying God, and certainly showed love to others telling them about Jesus, what great things He had done. The same with us—the good works we do all have love as their source. Works of love—mercy and service—are very often humble, little things; they often involve hands getting dirty; and so they don’t get much fanfare. But love is the greatest. It will endure into all eternity and only get better and more fervent in the glories of heaven. So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Amen INJ