The following is from a sermon by Doctor Martin Luther.
The Gospel Reading describes the miracle of the deaf and dumb man. During the church year we regularly hear of wonders where Christ showed Himself the Savior who desires to keep us from the devil's wrath. We should thank God most sincerely for such a comforting blessing, to have given us such a Man, a Champion, who out of sheer grace will stand by us in everything that the devil can do against us.
The fact that the poor man is so handicapped that he is unable to use his tongue and his ears like other people must be traced to the troublesome devil's stinging blows. Wherever he can, the devil afflicts people with blindness and sorrow, and leaves them joyless and hurting. He causes some to give in to false teaching, and others to be overcome by terror and sorrow.
We rightly thank our dear Lord God who has had compassion on us and sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who helped this poor man and also graciously safeguards us. Every person who is sound of body, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and all other members, should perceive these to be pure gifts of God.
This Gospel Reading comforts us with unfailing help against the enemy. St. John says that "for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." The devil entered Paradise to destroy our Lord God's handiwork by causing pious and holy Adam and Eve to become disobedient and sinful. Not willing to tolerate this, God considered how He might avenge Himself against His foe, to make whole again what the devil had broken, and to destroy the devil's handiwork - sin, death, and hell.
As we see in the Gospel Reading, He loosed the tongue which the devil had tied and opened the ears that he had stopped. Christ had come for this purpose and He continues this work among His Christians. He is the Helper of suffering mankind and desires to heal all afflictions with which the devil burdens us, and to drive him from us.
Christ shows us that He opens ears and unbinds tongues. He seeks to perform this work daily in His church against the devil. It is a physical fact that God gives sound ears and tongues also to the heathen; but only for Christians is this spiritual fact true, that He opens ears and looses tongues. For we Christians must hear His Word with our ears and confess with our lips.
This is sure, that we have our salvation alone through the Word of God. What would we otherwise know about God, about our Lord Christ, His sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit? To this day the greatest miracle and mightiest work is giving a person ears that gladly hear God's Word and a tongue that honors God and does not blaspheme.
Many people are a thousand times worse off than this poor deaf and dumb man. They have ears that are really stopped up. They hear God's Word and yet really do not hear it, nor do they want to. But those who hear God's Word gladly and to whom Christ says, as to the deaf man, "Ephphatha (Be opened)," are helped against the devil. God has shown us no other way by which we can come into heaven than through His precious Word, the Holy Gospel. Whoever gladly and diligently hears and receives it and who loves and delights in it will be helped.
God also stirs our tongues and causes us to speak, as St. Paul says, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Through faith in Christ we come to have the forgiveness of sins; confession should also follow. We must not be mute, but speak what we believe in our hearts.
Now see our Lord's unusual performance in the Gospel Reading. The people bring the poor man to Him, asking that He should place His hands on him. He then takes him aside from the crowd, places His fingers into his ears, spits, and in this way loosens his tongue. Then He looks up to heaven, sighs, and says, "Ephphatha!"
We must note why the Lord employed such an unusual routine and procedure in this miracle. He surely could have effected this miracle by a simple word, for we see again and again in the Gospel that it requires merely His word to cause something to be done, and it is done. Lazarus He woke up with a word. To the palsied man He said, "Stand up and walk!" But with the deaf and dumb man He does not proceed in such a short and simple way, but takes unusual steps.
The Lord employs such vivid action here for the sake of the spiritual miracle. He wants to demonstrate how great an effort is required to cause a deaf man to hear and a mute man to speak. He shows us that if we are to be loosed from the devil's bonds and possess ready tongues and good ears, this can happen only through the external Word and preaching. We must, first of all, hear the Word, not neglecting Baptism or the Sacrament either, and the Holy Spirit will then be present to free the ears and tongues.
We must be on guard against the fantastic spirits who despise the external Word and Sacrament, waiting till God speaks to them in the heart. "No," says Christ, "here is My finger, the eternal Word, that must sound in the ears; My spittle, which must moisten the tongue. In this way My work proceeds rightly." We see this wherever the external Word has free course. There Christians will be found, for as goes the shepherd, so go the sheep.
Everyone should take care to be found on this path and gladly hear God's Word. Without the Word, God does not reveal Himself in your heart. To see and know Him can happen only through the external Word and Sacraments. The Holy Spirit works in no other way.
This is what God taught at the time He spoke from heaven, "This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him." Likewise, Christ commands His disciples, "Go into all the world, teaching and baptizing." Again He says, "Whoever hears you, hears Me." Thus our dear Lord Christ commanded preaching the Gospel and baptizing. This is the only way to salvation. Otherwise all is lost and for nothing.
Surely none of us would hesitate to travel a hundred miles to a certain church if we knew God Himself were going to speak and preach there. Everyone would want to hear His voice. Now, instead, our Lord God says, "I will arrange things closer for you, so that you do not have to travel so far. Listen to your parish pastors, and you will hear Me. They are My disciples and office bearers. When you hear them, you hear Me."
These are the external means Christ points to. Our tongues will not be loosed, our ears opened, faith in our hearts begun without the outward, oral preaching of the Word and external Sacraments. For parish pastors and preachers are the fingers of our Lord God, the servants and spittle, through which He looses our tongues and opens our ears. When you hear them, God says to your hearts, as to this deaf man, "Ephphatha!" so that your ears are opened, your tongue unsticks, and you become a hearing, speaking person, no longer deaf and mute.
Let us take careful note and learn to truly be Christians by the Word and by our professing of it. That is why we should cling to the Word tenaciously, for us to be saved. May our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ grant this to us! Amen.
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