Lean Not on Your Own Understanding: A Sermon for Quinquagesima on St. Luke 18:31-43

Icon of Our Lord

“God’s Word speaks of, indeed cannot but speak, things which human reason cannot understand or conceive by itself.  We should believe it, and that it is so, we will in due time find out that it is indeed true and that we rightly understand it.”

So says Luther, commenting on today’s Holy Gospel.[1] There are some things we just can’t understand. Jesus taught the disciples about His suffering, death, and resurrection—the main point of the whole Bible. If there was anything they should have understood, surely it was this. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

We often fail to understand some of the most basic things about life and even our own faith.

There is a  sense in which this is okay, even a good thing. God had not given us omniscience, the ability to know it all. That was reserved for Him alone. It was our desire to be all-knowing like God that got us into trouble in the first place. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). And so seeking to be wise, they became fools. They thought they could be like God, they thought they could know it all. But instead, they learned about their mortality. They learned that they knew even less than they thought. They learned you don’t mess with God. It’s okay to not know it all.

Proverbs 3:5 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

You can trust in God because He does know it all. He knows what you do not know, He sees what you cannot see, and He desires your good. Trust is a scary thing, because when you trust someone, it means you are out of control—and there’s nothing we hate more than losing control. But that’s just it: we never had control in the first place.

After John Overling’s funeral, I got a card from his daughter Lynn. In it, she wrote, “I probably made the Lord laugh, but at one point I told the Lord “I give up my control over this”— like I had any!

We can easily slip into thinking we have control over our lives. Sometimes it takes being confronted by the impossible to wake us up and remind us that we never had any control all along. And that’s why Jesus has to go the way of the cross. We can’t fully comprehend how great our debt is before God, but then we look at the cross and see how great was the price, and it’s a wake-up call.

It pains God to watch us suffer. But if we never did, we would easily slip into

thoughts of self-sufficiency. Even when we are faced with the impossible, we often choose to go down fighting rather than put our trust in God. One of the reasons God allows us to suffer is because He wants us to realize that we can’t help ourselves. He calls you to repent of your self-sufficient ways, to stop leaning on your own understanding and to trust in Him with all your heart.

Life will not always go as we would like, and we can’t always tell what God is up to, but Christ will never leave you.

For now we see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

We can’t always understand what God’s doing, but we can always trust Him. Again and again our Lord shows us that just when it looks like a situation is hopeless, that’s when He’s doing His greatest work.

Who would think to go to a graveyard to find life? But God does His greatest work when things look hopeless. The women came to anoint a corpse, but instead, they saw the risen Lord.

Who would think to find life in a baptismal font?  Or in a meal?  But God’s Word insists: whoever is baptized and believes will be savedThis is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sinsAnd where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.

The more hopeless the situation, the more certain you can be that Christ is with you. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 

The unbelieving world looks at Christ and His Church and scoffs. “You mean to tell me you worship a guy who was crucified?” This is why St. Paul calls the proclamation of the cross foolishness to the Gentiles. They continue: “Come on, you really believe this guy rose from the dead? And that He’s God in the flesh?”

At the very core of Scripture’s message is a teaching that is easy for us to doubt, but lean not on your own understanding. The war against faith comes not only from the unbelieving world and from Satan, it comes from within. There is perhaps no greater enemy to faith than our “understanding.” The problem isn’t with the Word, it’s with the sinful flesh.  So we pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!”

Cling to Christ even when He challenges you; Jesus clings to you even when you doubt.

He helps the helpless.

He gives faith to the faithless.

His steadfast love is bound to you just as surely as His flesh was bound to the cross. Of this, there can be no doubt.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 18:31—43: “Lean Not on Your Own Understanding”
Quinquagesima, 2014
Zion on the web: http://zionlutheransummit.org/
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[1] Complete Sermons (Vol. 5), 303.

Categories: Sermons, Theology

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