Vol. 10 — No. 9 March 2, 1969


Spiritual Understanding

Luke 18:31-43

Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them. Neither knew they the things which were spoken. And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him, 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. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.

In Christ Jesus, who has been made known unto us as Lord and Savior by the Spirit of God, Fellow Redeemed:

“And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” Who are these most ununderstanding people? None other but the Twelve! What were they so unable to understand? This—that Jesus “shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.” Doesn’t this shock you a bit—that the Twelve did not understand events that we expect our young children to know and our young teenagers to understand before we admit them to the Lord’s Table?

Much has been written on human understanding—how a person learns facts, sees relationships, learns their meaning and significance. But all of these processes by which man learns to understand fall short of explaining fully and completely understanding in spiritual matters. There are roadblocks to understanding spiritual matters which are not present in other areas of understanding. St. Paul speaks of the problem of understanding Spiritual matters in his first letter to the Corinthians. He puts it in these words, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither Can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” I Cor. 2:14. The natural man is man before he is touched by the Spirit of God. He may possess a high IQ and may have acquired a wide range of knowledge and may have developed a keen understanding in many areas of life—with one exception, the things of the Spirit. These are beyond the scope of man’s native powers and abilities. Because they are of the Spirit, they can only be perceived and understood only through the enlightening power of the Spirit.

When you or I arrive at the point that we can say, “Now I see it or understand it,”—this or that doctrine of Scripture and its application to a given situation or case—we understand only because the Spirit has turned the light on for us. If we fail to understand, it is because some natural or acquired barrier or prejudice stands in the way of our understanding. Our text touches a vital area this morning, an area that we do well to examine a bit more intensely, namely that of—

Spiritual Understanding

Let us realize first of al! that Spiritual understanding—

I. May be hindered by personal thought patterns.

Our text begins at one of the great turning points in the life and ministry of Jesus. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem.” Why? Jesus told His disciples—that “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.” And then He added a detail which the prophets had not foreseen—that He would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles and put to death by them. These are the things—the familiar events of the Passion History—that the disciples were completely unable to understand. They knew the Old Testament prophets—much better than do we. Isaiah had spoken vividly of the suffering Servant of the Lord. Jesus had briefed them before on what was to happen” Yet they understood not. Why were they so unable to understand?

The Twelve were products of their times. They had imbibed and assimilated the thoughts and hopes and expectations of their religious leaders and their fellow countrymen. Suffering, mistreatment, death did not fit into their personal way of thinking about the Messiah. Their thought patterns contained ideas and hopes and expectations of acceptance, triumph, power, prestige—just the opposite of suffering, death and resurrection. Success and acceptance, not rejection and failure governed their thinking and made them unable to understand. Do you see how thought patterns, which can become deep grooves and ruts, make it impossible for man to arrive at understanding in spiritual matters.

The February 10th edition of The State carried a Russell Kirk editorial entitled “Average Joe Lacks Faith of Ancestors.” The editorial commented on a survey that the United Press had made to find the characteristics of the “Typical American.” It was found that, whereas the “Average Joe” of bygone years was earnestly religious, the modern “Average Joe” isn’t interested at all in the transcendent or supernatural, or life everlasting. Of all the people interviewed not a single one said that he thought about or worried about heaven or hell or personal immortality—what would happen to him after death. In other words the agonizing cry of the jailer of Philippi, “What must I do to be saved?” is of no concern at all to the “Typical American.” The survey found that the principle interests of the “Average Joe” are football, hunting, fishing and tinkering with automobiles.

Now where does this “Typical American” live? Let’s not be foolish enough to say that he certainly can’t live in South Carolina or in the metropolitan Columbia area. We’re surrounded by such people. We work with them, have them as neighbors, associate with them. They teach our children. Many such “Typical Americans” occupy pulpits in churches and stand before classes teaching Sunday School. Their thought patterns are materialistic and earthbound. They are more interested in which team wins the football or basketball game than they are in why Jesus Christ had to suffer and die. They are more concerned with the trivia of the present than with the issues of life and death. The annoying problems of the present, their personal problems and those of society, are of more concern than the question of salvation. They live as though there were no life but that of today, and as though all ends when death puts an end to this living.

It is not at all strange that such “typical Americans” are unable to understand spiritual truths and issues. Their thought patterns create roadblocks to understanding, yea make them unwilling and unable to understand. It is hard to teach such a person to understand that there is quite a difference between belief in a god, any god whosever and whatever and however he may be, and faith in the God of man’s salvation, that there is an eternity of difference between salvation by grace through faith in Christ and the endless varieties of “do-goodism.” When a person’s life revolves about material things, it’s hard to create an interest in spiritual things. The Bible has a most difficult time competing with the sport page, even as the church pew loses out to the boat seat and the fishing pole. Let us beware of becoming too “typical,” too “average,” for our understanding of things spiritual will be dulled.

The text reveals another truth about spiritual understanding—that it—

II. May follow long after knowing.

The very things that the disciples were unable to understand at this particular time became the subject of their preaching and teaching and writing. At the time they heard the words of Jesus. They knew what He said. He repeated it on various occasions. They lived through all that Jesus told them of that dreadful night of His betrayal and that day of His death and those days until His resurrection. They knew, but they understood not. Understanding came later, during the forty days of post graduate instruction until His ascension and then after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. First they knew; then later the understanding came.

The fact that understanding follows knowing, sometimes at quite a distance, is why we teach children to know truths that they cannot at the time understand. We teach a little child, “Jesus loves you. Jesus died to save you.” The child takes it as a fact that Jesus loves him. He doesn’t understand that Jesus loves him though he is most unlovable because of his sinful nature. He doesn’t understand the eternity of that love, the divine plan to work out that love in the history of mankind. He just knows and accepts the statement, “Jesus loves you.” You can tell a child, “Jesus died to save you,” but the child doesn’t understand the connection between the death of Jesus and his being saved. Neither does he understand what he is being saved from, nor what being saved is all about. What we have said of children remains true also for adults who remain also as children in spiritual things. But a child, whatever his age may be, may be led by the Spirit from knowing to understanding. With continued exposure to the Word in instruction classes, in worship services, through private reading and studying the Spirit may well and wants to give understanding of the plan of salvation, of the love of God as it is found only in Christ, His Son, and as it is available unto man only through faith in Christ. He may learn to understand saving as pardon for sin, both inherited and committed, freedom from guilt, a breaking of the chains of habitual sin, and rescue from inevitable death. So we teach young and old, confident that the Spirit will continue to work understanding.

Spiritual understanding is a rare gift, but at times it—

III. May be found in most unlikely people.

Our text reports such an instance. Jesus healed a blind man near Jericho. He had healed other blind men. Why is this case reported as significant at this particular time? It is because of the understanding that the blind man revealed when he so insistently cried unto the Lord. He kept on calling Jesus “thou son of David.” He recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Hope of Israel, the End and Goal of Israel’s history, the Reason for her existence. He understood what most of the religious leaders were totally unable to understand. Why? Again because their thought patterns had become ruts of dreams of worldly power and pomp.

Have you ever taken note of the fact that so many poor, uneducated, deprived people received the gift of understand that is denied the rich, the educated, the richly endowed of this world. The shepherds in the field of Bethlehem and Simeon and Anna in the temple were granted understanding that the scribes and religious leaders, who knew the answers, were unable to attain. The Roman officer in charge of the crucifixion of Christ arrived at the understanding that he had crucified the Son of God—an understanding that eluded his highest superior, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. On Pentecost and thereafter the religious intellectuals of Jerusalem were astounded at the wisdom and understanding and power of the preaching of the uneducated fisher-folk followers of Christ.

What does this mean for us? St. Paul expressed it in his first letter to the Corinthians in the words, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” (:26) The prerequisite for Spiritual understanding is not a college or university training, but to become and remain as a little child. Great wealth does not aid spiritual understanding, but can be and most frequently is a road block to such understanding. Power opens many doors, but not the door of understanding spiritual things. This is why the children of God are, for the most part, found among the nobodies of this world.

Do you understand the utter helplessness of your life without Christ? Do you understand that all depends upon your possessing Gods abundant grace and blessing which can be found in Christ alone? So you understand grace as God’s love for you, who deserve not that love, and as the diametric opposite of works and merit? Do you understand that gaining the whole world is the greatest loss if you lose your own soul? Do you understand that being in Christ is the greatest security that you can find in life? If you and I even begin to understand these things, we are blessed indeed! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached February 16, 1969
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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