A sermon based on Mark 7:31-37
Sunday, September 16, 2012 – Pentecost 16B
Now this will be easier for some of you than for others, but imagine for a minute that you have no cell phone. How would you communicate? Some of you say, no problem. But bear with me. Now imagine you have no telephone at all and no computer because these things don't exist. You can't email, you can't text message. You have no paper or pen because they're too expensive and you're poor. Add to that an inability to talk and on top of that, and you can't hear anything because you're completely deaf. If you have any thoughts they're locked in your mind and you have no way of communicating them but by crude gestures and signs because there's sign language even established.
If you can imagine these things, you understand how the unnamed man in our gospel lesson this morning must have felt. He was cut off from the rest of the world. Until he met Jesus. Of all the millions of things this man didn't hear, the most important was who Jesus was. But in his love and compassion, Jesus took the initiative. He stepped in and completely cured him.
For us too, who all too often take for granted the simplest blessings God has given, like our ability to hear and to speak, let alone the greater blessings of our ability to hear God's Word and speak his truth to others, Jesus steps into the scene. Once more this morning, though the Word of God that you hear, Jesus does everything well. He opens the ears of the deaf. He loosens the tongues of the mute. Listen now and hear what Jesus does well in Mark 7:31-37…
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
I. Be Open to Hear God's Word
Jesus left the crowded Jewish scene to take a break from those who pressed around him to have another miracle performed. He needed a get away from the people who focused on the miracles over the message. So he went to the region of the Decapolis, the ten cities, an area that was so "Gentile" it was known as the Rome away from Rome. The last time he was there, after driving a demon out of a man into a herd of pigs, the people kicked him out of town. But this time the reception was quite different. This time a crowd, Mark tells us, gathered around Jesus, no doubt looking for more miracles. And there a group of people brought their deaf, mute friend to Jesus to see what he could do.
Now, I imagine this man was not a big fan of crowds. He could tell they were excited by the expressions on their faces, but what they were talking about must have been hard to tell. It's pretty obvious when someone is blind or lame, but most people wouldn't know you were deaf or mute until they tried to talk to you and you didn't respond. It must have been uncomfortable, awkward and embarrassing. Then Jesus stepped in.
In love and compassion he dealt with this man individually, pulling him aside from the crowd to be with him one on one. Jesus didn't want to make a scene for this man and turn him into a public spectacle. Neither did he want to make a scene for himself since many of the people had the wrong idea of what kind of Savior Jesus was and would follow him for the wrong reasons. This was no publicity stunt done for the sake of the crowd, but an act of compassion for the individual, so Jesus pulled him aside.
And then in a way the deaf mute could understand, using signs—thrusting his fingers in the man's ears, spitting and touching his tongue, looking up to heaven—he communicated what he was about to do. With a great sigh of sorrow for the man's condition and the effects of sin in the world, with a great sigh of compassion for the struggles this man had, Jesus called out, "Ephphatha!" "Be opened!" And instantly, by the power of Jesus' Word, the man's ears obeyed and were opened. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he could hear.
What a profound impact that event must have had on this man for the rest of his life! Not only was he physically healed, but he could hear the Words of his Savior! He could hear the Scriptures read in the synagogue! He could hear the passages like Isaiah 35:5-6 that clearly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, as God himself… "5 Then [when God comes to his people]… the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert." Not only could he hear physically, but he could hear spiritually about his Savior! What an amazing miracle this was!
Mark recorded this story in his Gospel to give us one more proof that Jesus is the Son of God with power to do all things well, even heal the deaf and the mute. But as we read this account we can't help but think of how he's healed us too and given us another kind of hearing.
You see, we once had a problem that was much worse than being physically deaf. By nature we couldn't hear and understand the gospel. The idea that our sins are forgiven by the death of a guy who lived almost 2000 years ago is complete foolishness to us by nature (1 Corinthians 1:18). It's ridiculous. The wisdom of the gospel is a secret wisdom, Paul says (1 Corinthians 2:7), that's hidden from us by nature. And without that wisdom we were doomed to hell.
And as if that weren't bad enough, even as Christians we often turn a deaf ear to God. We act like we're deaf when we stay away from worship or neglect our Bibles, refusing to listen to God. Or like the Pharisees we're "ever hearing but never understanding…" (Mark 4:12) We find it easy to listen to the TV or the radio for hours, but very difficult to tune in to God's Word for a few minutes.
But our Savior breathes a sigh of compassion for us. Through his Word, read from the lectern, preached from the pulpit, read in a devotion, spoken with the water of Baptism, married to the bread and wine and the body and blood of the Lord's Supper, he pulls us aside, and working with each individual, he opens our ears, so we can hear him.
As we hear our Savior fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah, we're reminded that he is the promised Messiah. As we hear how he cured a deaf mute, we're reminded how he is God who would later die on a cross to pay for every one of our sins. And through these reminders, far greater than any physical healing, he heals us spiritually—forgiving us, restoring us, making us whole again and acceptable to God.
With your hearing restored, dear friends, listen. One of the expressions Jesus liked to use was "He who has ears, let him hear." He encourages us to stop taking his gift of hearing for granted and as James encourages, be quick to listen—especially to his Word. Use your ears to literally listen to God's Word—in worship, in Bible class, or to a sermon podcast on your computer or phone. Use your spiritual ears to listen to God's Word, reading and studying the Bible, or a devotion, and not just listening, but doing what it says. And listen to the comfort of the cross—where you're forgiven for each time you've been deaf to God's Word by Jesus who eagerly listened to the Father and did everything that he said perfectly, doing all things well, and giving that perfection to you. Then, having listened to what he's done for you, you won't be able to stop talking about it…
II. Be Open to Speak God's Word
Now Jesus really did two miracles in one. Not only did he open the man's ears, but he loosened his tongue and taught the man to speak. The man didn't have to go through years of speech therapy to learn how to communicate, but once Jesus touched his tongue and spoke his powerful Word, "his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."
What joy must have filled this man's heart! How overwhelming! To hear the noise of the crowd! To hear the birds singing! To hear his own voice—clearly! To hear Jesus' voice! The man couldn't help but use his new gift of speech. "At this…" Mark says, "at once, immediately," "…his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly." He couldn't contain his joy, but had to speak out!
And this man's tongue wasn't the only one loosened that day. The crowd must not have been very far off because they heard this "mute" man speak. And their response was one of complete astonishment. Their tongues were loosened and even though "Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone,"—because he knew the story would be twisted to show him as a magician or just a miracle worker and not the Savior from sin, thus doing more harm than good—yet, in spite of his command, the crowd couldn't help it! "The more he [commanded them not to tell anyone], the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak." And while they may have misunderstood the full implications of what they'd witnessed, how true a confession it was! "He has done everything well!"
Dear friends, we are like those crowds. We can't help but talk about our Savior. They were forbidden from talking and couldn't help it. But Jesus doesn't give us the command to keep silent. He tells us, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)
And through the gospel message that we hear, our tongues—once unable to speak, since "no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit," (1 Corinthians 12:3)—have now been loosed. We can speak of our Savior! We can tell others how he's done all things well! We can share how he's blessed us with "every good and perfect gift… from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights," the greatest of which is our forgiveness of sins and salvation in him!
And yet, all too often we find ourselves mute, don't we? Our tongues are tied. "I don't want to be put on the spot. The other kids in school will think I'm weird! My co-workers will think I'm a Jesus freak or something." Or, "I want to talk about Jesus, but I just don't know what to say. What if they ask a question I can't answer?" And instead of speaking with our new tongues, we turn the conversation to sports or the weather, and like a mute, never say a thing about our Savior.
But friends, remember what amazing miracles he's done in our lives! The crowds only heard a miracle of physical healing and they couldn't contain themselves. But we have not only heard about, but experienced for ourselves, a spiritual miracle—the forgiveness of every one of our sins! Being brought to faith by the Holy Spirit in spite of our resistance! Peace with God with our souls perfectly restored through Jesus' blood! The certainty of heaven itself where our bodies won't just be restored from our physical ailments, but we'll be given new, powerful, glorified, immortal bodies! (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
How can we possibly contain ourselves?! Astonished and overwhelmed with amazement by the love and grace of Jesus toward each of us individually, we can't help but speak. As Peter put it, "…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9)
It's my prayer, perfectly restored saints of God (2 Corinthians 5:17), that the same Jesus who healed a deaf man by the power of his Word, may by that same powerful Word say "Ephphatha" to us. That he would continue to open our ears to listen to his Word every day! To get in the daily habit of hearing what he says to us. I pray that the same Savior who by his grace loosened the tongue of the mute, might continue to loosen our tongues to speak of that grace boldly. To tell others that like us, their sins have been paid for! Our Savior, Jesus, has done it all! He has done everything well! In his name, dear friends, amen.