And again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated Him to lay His hand upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. And they were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”
He Can Make You Hear
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We have talked about this reality before: Jesus rarely did miracles just to be doing something nice. It is not that He was not that kind of guy – He is. But socially useful and pleasing deeds is not all that Jesus came to do. He was not here simply to do good deeds. He came to rescue all of mankind from sin and death and hell - and that would take more than a healing here or a miracle there. It would require His death - innocent of any evil or wrong-doing.
The Gospel of Mark, at the point our Gospel lesson this morning, seems to be a collection of events in the ministry of Jesus. The events are not necessarily chronological. They are just individual snippets of the teachings and works of Jesus. They are reported here the way they are, and in the order they appear, for theological purposes. This is not so much a “life of Jesus” kind of Gospel, but a “message of Jesus” book. The miracles are described to teach, about the authority and the will and the raw power of Jesus. In other words, Jesus did the miracles to show us something. In our Gospel this morning, Jesus was exercising authority over the troubles of life, which is to say, over the consequences of sin. In doing so, He blessed the deaf man, and He showed us something - in the words of our theme, this morning, he showed us that He can make you hear.
Jesus came as the Savior from sin, so it suited His purposes to demonstrate that He actually had power over sin and its effects. They brought a man to Jesus who could not hear and was unable to speak clearly. The people asked Jesus to lay hands on Him, clearly looking for a healing. We have no record of the conversation, or what else might have been transpiring. We just have the account of Jesus’ healing of the man. Jesus took the man aside, which makes it clear that this was not done as some sort of side-show act to attract attention and praise. This was done out of compassion for the man.
Jesus healed the man of His deafness and set His tongue free to speak. He accomplished all that He did by His Word. He spoke, and the man was healed. Sticking His fingers in the man’s ears and touching his tongue were for the sake of the afflicted man. It was communicating without words – although Jesus did speak out loud. But remember, the man was deaf. Jesus spit to illustrate getting rid of the impediment to clear speech. Some of the translations say that Jesus touched the man’s tongue with His spittle. Aside from being a gross kind of image, it is something that the original text doesn’t actually say. Jesus simply communicated His intentions by pantomime for a man who could not yet hear.
This miracle of healing was done at least in part as an illustration. Jesus was after something more than simply changing the life of one deaf man. He surely intended to do that too, but His primary purpose was to show us something. This miracle was meant to be a sign.
Apparently it worked, Mark says that the crowds were “utterly astonished”. The Greek says that they were ‘astonished’ or ‘amazed’ “beyond measure.” That is the response of sinful men in the presence of the divine. They were really impressed and even a bit frightened. What frightened them was that they were seeing One that they had assumed was a mere man do works which only God can do. Standing in the presence of God at work is a terrifying thing for sinful men and women. The only reason that they were not frightened out of their wits was that He was doing good and friendly sorts of things. They were standing in the presence of God as He overcame the symptoms of sin in this man - as He healed Him. Can you imagine what that would have been like? Wouldn’t you like to be able to witness that?
Well, you can. Jesus is still performing that particular miracle. He still makes men hear. He is fulfilling the promise of Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson appointed for today; “And on that day the deaf shall hear words of a book.” That’s Isaiah 29:18. The prophecy says that He will make men hear – and He does. The Word of God opens our ears and our understanding, and creates faith in us. We say the same thing in our Catechism, in the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed, “the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with is gifts . . .” He also makes us able to speak - to sing and speak the praises of Him who died for us, as Paul writes, “No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”
The Word that gives us life is the word of the Gospel. It is there that we hear that Jesus took our sins to the cross and nailed them there in His body. He died for us, that we might be forgiven, and we are! We hear that Word in the Absolution. In the Gospel, proclaimed and served to us in the Holy Sacrament, Jesus works in us, demonstrating His power over sin by forgiving us, and giving us new and everlasting life by grace, through faith. But He doesn’t wait for us to decide that this Word is true. Just as Jesus did not wait for the deaf man to be able to hear Him, but created the ability to hear with the same Word He spoke to heal the man, He creates the faith we need by the preaching of the Gospel. We are brought to trust in Him by the same Word which forgives us our sins and gives us the power to confess His name and our hope in Him before others. That is how Jesus makes you to hear!
You see, we are the deaf man in the story. Oh, not physically. Jesus healed that man in a specific time and place in history. Still, we are to understand that we are by nature like him, deaf and in need of Jesus to heal us by the Word of God. And He can make you hear! We do not understand or believe God’s Word by our natural abilities. We are naturally incapable of doing so until and unless God works on us and in us with His Word – just like the deaf man in our Gospel.
Our faith is created just as that man’s hearing was restored, by the Word of God. Just as our Epistle lessons says, “And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Jesus makes us hear. He comes to us, who are deaf by nature, and with His Word He reaches in and changes us, transforming us from the deaf to the hearing and from the dead into the living, and from enemies of God into His own beloved children. He teaches us to know the Gospel, which is not about fingers in our ears and such as much as it is about nails in His hands and a cross to die on and His taking our punishment so that we might receive the reward He has earned and we can only dream about.
Because of Jesus and His death on the cross, we have been forgiven, and that which was our death has been taken away, and our deafness to the things of God has been transformed into life and hearing and joy for those who believe. Better yet, we have been given the key – we have the power to do the same thing for others.
You see, just like Jesus did for the man in the Gospel lesson, He makes us able to speak, too. He has touched our tongues by His Word and given us His Word to speak to others that they, too, might believe. He has given us the Word of His saving love and promises and has charged us with the mission of sharing it with everyone else. Notice how the witnesses to the healing could not keep from talking about it. Jesus sternly commanded them not to go about talking about it, but they couldn’t help themselves. If you believe the good news of your salvation from sin and death and hell, you can’t keep it to yourself either.
How could you keep quiet about the gift of resurrection or eternal life? How could you not tell others about the comfort and peace and joy of forgiveness of sins? Is it that you have no sins? Is there no shame or guilt that you would not set aside? Sure there is!
You have sinned, just as I have and as every person in this church – or outside of it. You might want to pretend that it isn’t such a big deal, that your sins are less serious than someone else’s. But you would be pretending. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not one of us is who we want to be, if we are honest with ourselves – and we aim so much lower than God desires for us. He would have us be perfect in holiness. It is the knowledge of the coming reckoning with God in the face of His expectations and demands that makes so many hate God and be frightened of death. It is the reality of sin that makes us grow old and get sick and die.
And it is Jesus who has set us free from sin and death! He has forgiven us our sins – not merely ignored them like and indulgent parent, but Jesus has taken our punishment and borne the wrath of God against our sin. Jesus has born our grief and sorrows and the stripes which we deserved for our sins, so that He might forgive us and clothe us in His perfect righteousness.
If you believe this Gospel is true, and true for you, could you keep such a thing silent and to yourself? They say that religion is one of those things you should not talk about in public. Well, they do not know Jesus and they do not know forgiveness and they obviously do not possess the peace which passes all understanding if they can keep silent about the one thing really worth talking about - and, if you can keep quiet about it, neither do you.
Jesus makes us, who were deaf to His grace hear through the Word of God. The miracle of changing us from unbelievers and enemies of God into believers and loving children of the heavenly Father is what our Gospel lesson points our minds to - He can make you hear! He has, that is why you believe. And He gives us a part in that miracle for others. All there is for us to do is speak of His love and grace. He does the rest.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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