Date: February 27, 1938

A Lenten Prayer

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:

Have mercy upon us! Grant us Thy peace! As we again approach the Lenten season and the meditation of Thy sin-destroying anguish and death, open our eyes so that we may see ourselves as we are without Thee, helpless, lost in our sins; and then in Thy mercy give us that vision of faith by which we can behold ourselves as we are with Thee, assured of Thine everlasting blessings. O Thou Christ of all compassion, draw us to Thee so that in Thy cross, Thy bleeding and dying, we may, wherever we are and, O Christ, whatever we are, find all that our souls need for the sorrows of this world and the glories of the next. As Thou didst love us unto that bitter, pain-ridden end, help us remain faithful to Thee unto our last hour, continually to fight sin, and with our devotion focused on Thy self-giving compassion to follow in Thy footsteps along paths of service to our needy fellow-men. Bless the contemplation of the Lenten love in many hearts, so that multitudes may come to Thee, repenting of their sins, trusting in Thy blood-bought mercies, and receiving the power to live forever. We ask this by the pledge of the cross and the power of Thy saving blood. Amen.

Jesus stood, . . . saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.Luke 18:40-42

THROUGHOUT the Christian world this week the appeal for the soul’s pilgrimage to the cross of Christ resounds in the annual call of Lent. In thousands of churches, towering structures of granite and marble, small frame buildings, and unnoticed mission-stations, in the secret assemblies of Soviet Russia, where atheism despite its boasting has not been able to stamp out the Gospel; beneath exploding bombs in China, in loyalist and rebel Spain, in confident Germany, England, disturbed by cabinet changes, France, overshadowed by communistic menace, in African kraals and India’s palm-thatched chapels, on the coral reefs of the blue Pacific and in the jubilee of Australia, on the northern frontiers of Greenland, and in Alaska, where Eskimos have just erected a heroic statue of Christ,—Christians of every color and clime, however else they may be divided, on Wednesday of this week enter those forty reverent days commemorating our Savior’s suffering and death.

On the threshold of Lent and in preparation for its blessings we invoke the power of God’s Holy Spirit and humbly ask that divine grace may bring many to the cross, there to witness the love of Jesus and in the courage of that new vision to follow Him in contrite faith. Because the souls of men are at stake and our eternity is involved, pray with us and for us that God would remove that blindness which prevents many from seeing themselves as they are and from beholding Christ as He loved us to that sin-cursed, God-forsaken end on the cross—the beginning and the foundation of our assurance of heaven. Come with us to the Throne of Mercy praying in Jesus’ name that this Lenten season may cause great rejoicing among the holy angels of God, as sinners brought to Christ gain a new vision of the thorny crown, the gory cross, the cleansing blood, the atoning death,—and their eternal promise. To this end let us make this our prayer of pre­Lenten preparation:

LORD, GRANT US A NEW VISION!

That was the entreaty directed to Christ Himself in His last days as He hurried to Jerusalem and the ordeal of death; for in Saint Luke (chapter eighteen, verses forty to forty-two) we read: “Jesus stood, . . . saying: What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.”

I

WE ALL NEED A NEW VISION IN CHRIST

The Savior is near Jericho, on that final, momentous journey from low Jordan to high Jerusalem. An electrifying tenseness has charged the entire atmosphere; for Jesus is engrossed with that sorrow of sorrows which, before another week closes, will rivet Him to the cross, His holy hands, always raised in healing and helping, His holy feet, always directed on missions of mercy, crushed, broken, bleeding, nailed to that tree of death. We often make the mistake of limiting the suffering of Jesus to the few hours that intervened between the agony of the Garden and the death gasp at Calvary; but the very thought of that ordeal, the bearing of all men’s sins, the suffering for all human iniquity, the dying of all human deaths, was so terrifying that long before these death-marked days Jesus had cried out: “How am I straitened till it be accomplished!” It is a different Christ whom the disciples now behold when they see His face resolutely fixed toward Jerusalem. Bewildered and afraid, they follow Him at an unusual distance, seeking to remove every disturbance and distraction. And well might we conclude that, as the Savior steeled Himself for the battle which no man, no legion, no army, has ever fought, the struggle against sin and death and hell, that He would be so gripped by the terror of His own black, abysmal suffering, bleeding, dying, that He would have neither thought nor word for any one on that last hard uphill climb to Jerusalem—and the end.

Yet on that Jericho road, on the last miles of His final pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus hears a voice, piteous, pleading, and He halts. Not all the regiments of Rome, the battalions of hell, or the treasures of a million worlds could have stopped Jesus on that march to the cross; but, all­merciful Savior that He is, He pauses for a soul in distress. Try to see any of our prominent bankers or presidents of large corporations, our acclaimed leaders, and you will learn that today the average man can hardly gain audience with the high and mighty. Yet here is Jesus, “God manifest in the flesh,” burdened with the terror of His impending death, and He stops at this insistent plea of human anguish. In our own selfish way we often say: “I have had so much trouble myself that I cannot possibly think of any one else’s suffering.” We often excuse ourselves by explaining: “I want to do something for my afflicted fellow-men, but I have lost so much in recent years that I must look out for myself first.” Yet here we see Jesus, with only seven days to live, with that most agonizing death of all history to die, and He halts on that Jericho road to give every one of us in this self-engrossed, every-man-for-himself age the example of love which our world needs.

Is it not this Christ, this Lord and God, whom you want, the Savior who is never too preoccupied to hear a single voice raised to Him in trusting faith? A hundred other sounds on that eventful day reached His ears amid the drone of voices, the cry of clamor as the crowd marched to the Passover celebration at Jerusalem; yet just as clearly as though there were no other voice in all the world, that Christ of all mercy heard the distracted plea, and though His thoughts were blazing a straight trail to Calvary, He stopped.

Who made Jesus pause on that last march? If you have any mental picture of Christ showing favoritism to a Roman governor, the first citizens of Jericho, the social or political leaders of that day, you do not know Jesus. He stopped for a beggar, a dirty, unkempt wretch in rags, a blind beggar, whose life was wrapped in total darkness. Pushed to the edge of the road, that sightless sufferer hears the astonishing news “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by,” and unable even to approach Him whom the whole countryside had acclaimed the mighty Prophet, the Miracle-worker, the Preacher without parallel, blind Bartimaeus, fearful that Jesus might pass without noticing him, cries, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” Angry voices try to silence him. Passover pilgrims seek to restrain him, but with a faith that cannot be suppressed his cry turns into a scream: “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then it is that Jesus stops to answer the blind beggar.

What amazing comfort this incident reveals to us! The same Christ is even now traversing the road of your life, ready to hear you. You cannot be too poor and too unsightly, too miserable and helpless, pushed too far behind the fringes of the crowd, to escape His attention. Men may shove you to the side; they may threaten and rebuke you; they may turn a deaf ear to your entreaty; but if you come to the Savior and pray, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me,” then the Christ of glory, who rules the world, directs the nations, weaves the tapestry of history, upholds “all things by the word of His power,” will stop to hear your plea.

Let some of our churches learn a much-needed lesson from this picture of Christ, comforting a miserable, sightless beggar. Because European churches sometimes forgot the suffering masses, Communism and atheism found fertile soil for their seeds of discontent in the hearts of these neglected millions. And because some of our churches are side-stepping the humble services to the souls of all men; because church-buildings, we are told, must be so magnificent they create the impression that Christianity is for the rich and the near rich, for the comfortable suburbanites, but not for the slums and the decaying neighborhoods; because preachers are expected to be social leaders, who can hobnob with bankers and politicians, college professors, and men of public affairs, but who have only a few condescending moments for the distressed and discontented multitudes, me of the churches in this country are helping to prepare this age for a social revolution, with desperate men storming the churches that have failed to follow the Christ who pauses to hear a beggar’s plea. May God give us in this crisis true Gospel-preachers, who have more time for the many poor than for the few rich, more interest in the tenements than in town houses, more prayers for the destitute than for the families with the highest-bracket income taxes, more service of love for the groping souls of men than for the frills and luxuries of life,—true prophets of God who will wear themselves out for Jesus and the underprivileged masses, preachers after the mold of Christ, who had little time for the self-righteousness of the moneyed, titled, and applauded of His day, but who, even when overshadowed by His own approaching doom, stopped at the plea of a blind beggar.

When Christ asked the sightless sufferer, “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” there was only one, all­consuming desire for a man who lived in darkness, who never opened his eyes to the radiance of a sunset nor beheld the divine craftsmanship concealed in every flower. Bartimaeus gave the answer that Jesus knew in advance: “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” That prayer is the plea uttered by many in this audience who live in perpetual night. There are 100,000 totally blind in the United States; yet, thank God, many of these see Jesus with the eye of faith even more dearly than some whose eyesight is unimpaired. God strengthen you, my sightless friends, and continue to show you the never-failing Light of the world! If you are without church connections, let us send you some of our literature for the blind. Write us in Braille or have a friend write for you, and we shall be happy to help you in Christ’s name.

Men know a blindness far more disastrous than any loss of physical sight, the blindness that makes men dose their eyes to the light of Christ’s salvation and seal their souls against the illuminating power of His Spirit. It is the darkness of unrepented, unforgiven wrong, the sightless sorrow of living in doubt and distrust, of groping for the road to happiness here and salvation hereafter; the night that keeps men from discovering “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” that are in Jesus, from seeing themselves as they are in the sight of God, lost and condemned in their transgressions.

Ours is an age cursed with much spiritual sightlessness. Blind hatreds are preparing this generation for terrifying calamities, and nations race to make deadlier instruments of warfare when, with men’s vision centered on Christ, this could be a happy and blessed world with room and opportunity for everybody. We have blind programs in the direction of the nations, with otherwise intelligent men claiming that we can restore international prosperity by the planned destruction of foodstuffs. The new government in Brazil has reverted to this visionless folly, and last week we heard, as though in irony, that of the coffee which in millions of tons had been dumped into the sea much floated to the shore and was quickly gathered and sold again. We have blindness in present-day cultural and educational trends, trying, as men do, to build character on a brain basis rather than on a heart basis, endeavoring to teach morality and at the same time to ignore the Christ who makes all things new. In consequence the age that has given us the most schools has burdened us with the most criminals. There are blind women, running away from their homes, from the blessing of motherhood, the sacrifice and devotion for their husband and their children, clamoring for equal rights instead of praying for the highest privileges. We have our spiritually blind men who think they are enlightened when they profane the holy name of God Almighty, who make swine of themselves in their drunken stupor, who break their marriage vows and then boast that they are he-men, when, could they but see the truth, they would begin to shudder even now at the terrors of hell. We see blind young people who think that Christ and His Gospel, His program of purity and premarital chastity, are relics of a backward age, who repeat the first lie of all history, claiming that by eating the forbidden fruit their eyes have been truly opened, when in truth they have lost all vision of the pure, the beautiful, the best in life.

If there is one group of men and women that, under God, should help to restore sight to this undiscerning world, it is the great multitude who call themselves Christians in the churches that bear Christ’s name. Yet here we often stand aghast before the starkest blindness. Many American churches have lost that Christ-centered vision and endorsed the Monte Carlo tactics of gambling, defying the law of the land and the Word of God. Twenty-one out of fifty pastors in a Protestant denomination in a Midwestern city recently acknowledged that they condoned games of chance in their churches “for the sake of zest and income.” Such worldliness helps to bring reproach upon the Church and to diminish the respect of the world for the Gospel. One half of America is outside of the Church today because the other half has never made the Christian message vital and attractive, because thousands upon thousands of churches are cultivating only a vague, dim-sighted religion, which questions or discredits the Bible, minimizes or denies the message of Christ’s mercy. With more churches in America than in any other nation, we still have millions in this vast American mission-field who are endeavoring to earn their own salvation, blindly groping for a path to heaven, when the suffering and death of Jesus has blazed the only way.

As the day of this world hastens to its darkening night, let us ask a new vision for our souls, a new and heroic emphasis in American pulpits on the light radiating from the cross of Christ. Let us, even those who are Christ’s, continue to raise this plea: “Lord, that I may receive my sight!” because sometimes the vision of our soul is impaired and we look at the world in distorted glance. We become short-sighted, unable to discern that which lies at a distance. Many turn their eyes away from the cross and see only their personal problems, their own weaknesses; and this short-sighted faith prevents them from training their eyes on the hills of God, particularly the mound of mercy, Calvary, whence cometh our help. Adversity overtakes them, and their dwarfed vision, seeking but not finding a solution in their own reason, makes them repeat the disconsolate and distracted “Why?” “Why did I lose my money?” “Why must I suffer?” “Why did my husband die?” “Why did God permit my child to be snatched away?” —instead of being guided by the clear vision that can look beyond their suffering to the remedial purposes of God as they unfold themselves under His pledge, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Or again, Christians are troubled with spiritual farsightedness; their vision is so perverted that they can see only distant worries, distant disaster, but they never discern the Christ close at hand, who promised, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Thus there is a long catalog of defects, even in the Christian’s vision; for the great apostle’s verdict is still true, “Now we see through a glass, darkly.” With the promise that the blessed day is coming when we shall see face to face, we have the further confidence that no spiritual blindness is so intense that it cannot be removed by the Healer of defective soul vision. If medical science has advanced to the remarkable point where eye specialists can effect remarkable cures; if surgery has progressed so marvelously that it can perform the most delicate operations even on the eyeball, surely He whose blessing has made these wonders possible can hear a prayer for spiritual insight, in the words of Bartimaeus, “Lord, that I may receive my sight,” and grant us that new vision.

II

CHRIST CAN BLESS US WITH THIS NEW VISION

Hardly had that blind petitioner voiced his prayer when the compassionate Christ responded, “Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.” And even as He spoke these words, the lost vision returned, and the sightless eyes looked on a world of wonder and beauty.

The same Christ, now exalted in eternal majesty, can answer our pleadings for a new and better vision with the same power of love. In an age when men like to quibble over the value of prayer (and when even those who call themselves Christians often have not because they ask not), we must cling with unshaken confidence to this conviction, that, “if we ask anything, according to His will, He heareth us.” Christ may not answer our prayers immediately. Bartimaeus was not heard the first time, and very often you and I must continue in repeated prayer before deliverance dawns. Christ will not answer half-doubting, half-awake-half-asleep, try-it-and-see-what-happens prayers; this sightless suppliant had to scream before Christ stopped. He will answer every fervent, soul-deep plea. A hundred forces may combine to keep your prayer from reaching the Throne of Mercy, just as the turmoil and the shouting on the Jericho road seemed to stifle that piteous cry. Some of you write me that the voice of your conscience accusing you of scarlet sins is so loud that you can no longer pray to God; some of you tell of a brute husband, who strikes you when you set the dial to this message, or of a mean, shiftless, know-it-all husband who repeats the old threadbare alibi that he does not go to church because there are too many hypocrites there, but who interrupts you every time he finds you in prayer; yet the Savior in His own way, in His better time, in His accepted place, will hear even the prayer of your heart, though it must remain unspoken by your lips. Everything else in life may change; the foundations upon which we have built our government and our social life may all be overthrown; yet neither time nor the uprising of a world against God can change this promise: “He heareth us,” provided we pray to Christ in the same faith which gave vision to this sightless pauper.

Listen to him as he prays, “Jesus, Thou Son of David,” and shows that he has found in Christ the Messiah of ageless and limitless mercy, the long-expected Sacrifice for all human sin! Listen to Jesus as He answers, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” and find in your own persona living, trusting faith the assurance of the same power which will make the blessed Savior halt to hear your needs. And when you, who can know more of Jesus than that blind Judean did, because you can see Christ captured, persecuted, beaten, crucified, dying, dead, and then,—thanks be to God!—resurrected for your salvation,—when you cry out: “O Jesus, Thou Son of David, my own Savior from sin, I come before Thee sightless, unable to find my way through life, doubly blind to the one pathway from sin to salvation, from the burdens of this earth to the glories of heaven. Yet I believe with all my soul that Thou canst remove my blindness; open my eyes to Thy full mercies; keep my faith centered on Thy cross, my vision always directed heavenward to Thee.” When you can pray this prayer, a heavenly vision will remove all earth’s gloom and darkness.

No sin of yours, however serious, can intervene between Christ’s mercy and your faith to exclude you from the Savior’s love. Even if you have blasphemed His holy name, if you have blackened your soul with the ugliest vices, Christ can give you the eyes of faith. The scales fell from the eyes of Saul as he hurried on an errand of hell to persecute the Christians, and ever since Christ’s greatest glory has been revealed in the depths of human sin.

Few lives have been filled with more depravity than the days of John Newton. By reading infidel books, he became a confirmed scoffer, hardened to a life of debauch and vice. He sank so low that he became the servant of a slave-trader in Africa where, half naked, half starved, half dead, he eked out his scum-of-the-earth existence. Through his father’s efforts he was released; and on the way back to England, when a terrifying storm arose and it seemed that the ship would sink, he turned to prayer. The ship was saved, only to have starvation threaten to destroy those whom the sea had spared. Then it was that John Newton, reading the New Testament, found—in his own words—“the pardon of my sins on account of the obedience and the sufferings of Jesus Christ.” Later, after he had become a powerful preacher of the saving Word and the author of many beloved hymns, he summarized the miracle of his conversion, the opening of his inner eyes, in the verse:

Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

One hundred years ago, far away in Burma, Adoniram Judson, missionary of Jesus Christ, bought the freedom and release of a fifty-year-old slave, Kho-Thah-Byu, a cold, vicious murderer, who had killed thirty men with his own hand. Judson took Kho-Thah-Byu into his home, taught him the same message of pardon, peace, and life through the blood of Jesus Christ that I try to bring you every week, and before long the blindness and darkness of sin were removed by the Gospel light. Kho-Thah-Byu was baptized; he became a torch-bearer for Christ in the black hinterland of Burma; and the fact that today there are 40,000 native Christians in this territory is to be ascribed almost wholly to the preaching of this converted killer, whose eyes were opened by Jesus.

No matter who you are, whether you are one of the army of those restrained in American prisons, whose letters have been particularly welcome to us, or whether you represent the intelligence and the genius of the nation, Christ is ready to endow you with this new vision of His divine redemption and the radiant life which it offers. Theodore Roosevelt says in his Autobiography that before his thirteenth year he had no idea how beautiful the world was, until his father provided glasses for him. In a much higher manner, once the defects of our spiritual sight are corrected, we receive a glorified vision, which changes everything. That light of faith far excels the penetrating power of the X-ray. It enables the redeemed of Christ to peer beneath the afflictions of life and discover loving grace. This week you told me about your baby that, the doctors say, will grow up with a sound body, but with a mind that can never pass the intelligence of a six-month infant; you wrote of a Christian father who after a series of reverses now faces the possibility of amputation; of a young mother who had nineteen operations in less than two years; of a convicted criminal doomed to the electric chair tomorrow. With the vision of faith that takes God at His word, you can pierce these and all other sufferings to find divine blessings, the marvelous ways of Him who “hath done all things well.” That new vision of faith can give you a clearer understanding of the minute and atomic factors in your life than any high-powered microscope; for in the smallest of all the unseen influences that surround your soul you can discover the direction of God. Eyes opened by faith will enable you to see farther than the projected supertelescope with its two-hundred-inch lens; for those eyes—even when they break in the last hour—can see what the martyr Stephen saw, far beyond the heavenly constellations: the open heavens and the Son of Man, the Savior, standing at the right hand of God.

“Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” That was the herald cry which brought that blind and helpless sufferer to Christ. “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” May this be the summons of divine love that has drawn some of you, seemingly by chance, in blessed reality by the inscrutable guidance of God, to your radio and to this station and this message in this very moment!—Just as surely as Jesus moved resolutely along that Jericho road, He is now passing your soul. Who knows, if you pass Him by now, whether, with all this uncertainty of life, you will ever have Him so close again? Before He disappears, as this broadcast closes, will you not with all your heart cry out even before a world that may contradict or seek to restrain you: “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Pass me not, O gentle Savior; hear my humble cry!”? If that is your prayer, then, in the name of Jesus, it is my privilege to promise you that that self-giving Son of God will stop, as He once did on the Jericho road, look to you, and repeat the greatest blessings that men can ever know: “Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.” O God, give us all this saving vision for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.