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Sermon for Trinity 12 (St. Mark 7:31-37)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ October 1st, 2009

Sermon on St. Mark 7:31-37

[Healing the Deaf-Mute]

Trinity 12

+ Jesu Juva +

And Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

“And again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, [Jesus] came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee.” The name “Decapolis” is the Greek word for “ten towns,” i.e., ten no-name villages on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. It was the place where Jesus once healed a demon-possessed man, cast the evil legion into a herd of about 2,000 pigs, who then ran down a steep hill and drowned in the sea. Not longer after this little episode with the community livestock, Jesus returned to the ten towns to teach and to work miracles. Jesus’ presence in the Decapolis says that His messianic mission is for everyone in every place at every time. Many Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be a dyed-in-the-wool Jew who ruled from the capital of Jerusalem. The Decapolis was Gentile territory, yet Jesus went there twice in Mark’s Gospel to teach us that He is the Savior of every nation. No one is left out or excluded based on their proximity to Jerusalem or ethnic origins. Everyone will be included when Jesus embraces all mankind in His death.

“And they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him.” The Greek word translated “impediment” means to speak with difficulty or to speak indistinctly. We technically miss the mark, then, when we call this Gospel lesson the “healing of the deaf-mute,” but not to worry. The point is that this man was a victim of the fall into sin and lived a life of hardship and trial. Perhaps the folks in the Decapolis remembered Jesus’ previous miracle in their midst and thought they would go for two? In any event, we see ourselves in the deaf man because we are victims of the same fall into sin. The disease that took our souls also seized our bodies. Left to ourselves, we cannot open our ears to hear the Gospel or open our mouths to declare His praise in worship, doctrine, and life. Our ears are polluted by the filth we hear – dirty jokes, sexual innuendos, and four-letter words. Our mouths are polluted by the filth we speak – lies, gossip, and putting the worst construction on everything. The Psalmist gets it right when He says, “O Lord, open Thou my lips; [then, and only then] My mouth shall show forth Thy praise” (Ps 51:15 ).

“And [Jesus] took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.” Jesus took Him aside to do His work one-on-one, somewhat parallel to individual pastoral care – such as meeting personally with the pastor for individual confession and absolution. A third party, not to mention an entire multitude, is an impediment. Jesus knew the man’s limitations, so notice how Jesus uses body language — a vital, non-verbal way of communicating with the deaf: a finger in the ear; a bit of saliva on the tongue. Jesus is very real and very human, coming to the man in His deepest need and offering the Master’s Divine touch where he needs it the most. See, Dearly Beloved, how Christ is incarnate to save us! Christ is God with us, God one of us; the God who has come in the flesh to restore our flesh and heal our diseases. He is not just a distant Deity, pushing the right buttons from His lofty throne to order world events according to His will. (Although, He can do that, too!) Rather, He is the God who has ears and spit and a tongue, that He might carry your diseases to the cross and care for your body in its deepest need.

“And Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” He looks up to heaven, the place from whence He came; the place that reminds us that Jesus is God, for He is from heaven. He sighs on behalf of the man’s weakness, the same sort of groaning with which the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. Do you see the Trinity here? God the Father in heaven. God the Son in the flesh. God the Holy Spirit groaning on behalf of fallen creation. And then a word from the Trinity: “Ephphatha – Be opened!” This unique Aramaic word, drawn from Jesus’ native language, addresses the entire being. The man’s whole self – ears and tongue, body and soul – is commanded to be opened to all the gifts and graces of the Triune God. See how the proclamation of the Word of God is His own “ephphatha” to us, for it is only through the preached word that sinful ears can hear the gospel and mute tongues can shout for joy. When we hear the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection on the third day, something very real is happening here; as real and as miraculous as the healing in this Gospel lesson. The preached word that we are hearing from this pulpit even now has the power to forgive your sins, to heal your broken hearts (even after the death of a loved one), and to open your being to the riches of the gospel.

“And immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.” The Word of God is active and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. It terrifies the comforted through the law. It comforts the terrified through the gospel. It can be rejected, of course, in stubborn unbelief. But the Word of God on in its own merit is infallible, i.e., it cannot fail to unclog stubborn ears, to open sinful mouths, and to give and bestow the forgiveness of sins. See how this story foreshadows the sacraments! Baptism is our “ephphatha,” our own opening of the heart and mind to receive Christ and His gifts. In one of Martin Luther’s orders of baptism, for instance, we read that the priest “shall take [saliva] with his finger, touch the right ear [of the baptizan] and say: ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, Be . . . opened [Mk 7:34].” Then the child is led into the church to renounce Satan, confess the Creed, and receive the triple immersion. Baptism opens your entire being, chases away the devil, and delivers the entire Trinity. And the Lord’s Supper is an “Ephphatha” as our mouths are quite literally opened to eat Jesus’ true body and to drink His very blood. The blessed Sacrament both heals your soul and nourishes your body and soul until life everlasting. His body and blood are life-giving and death-defying, powerful enough to bring you through death to eternal life. So in the sacraments, God comes to us just as incarnationally and as miraculously as He came to the deaf man, opening our ears and mouths to hear the word of the cross and resurrection and to speak plainly of the person and work of Christ.

“And then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.” Jesus’ command not to spread the word of this miracle is known as the “Messianic secret.” A lot of folks expected a Messiah. However, the word “Messiah” had overtones that were contrary to the cross. Some expected the promised Messiah to be a savior, but a savior from political oppression or from sin? Some expected a king, but an earthly king or a king on the cross? Others expected a ruler, but a ruler over the enemies of the Jews or a ruler over the church? Still others expected a deliverer, but a deliverer from Rome or a deliverer from sin and eternal death? Any of these expectations, if not firmly anchored at the foot of the cross, is a false belief, as modern Jewish belief belies. However, we who live in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension have no Messianic secret! Rather, we have the word of Jesus’ death and new life that we can tell to everyone. Tell everyone that Jesus died for their sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures. This is richest and purest gospel for your family and friends, for your neighbors and co-workers, and for the person sitting next to you on public transit. No more secrets! Just the good news of Jesus’ cross and resurrection and the invitation to your unchurched friends to come to church, to see Jesus, and to have their ears and mouths opened to speak of salvation in Christ.

“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” Ironically, the same crowd that disobeyed Jesus’ order to keep the Messianic secret got it right when they said that He does all things well. And not just in the Decapolis; He worked many other miracles in Mark’s Gospel: casting out demons, healing people in need, cleansing lepers, calming raging storms, and many more. The healing of the deaf-mute is one of the later miracles in a long sequence of miracles that is leading up to Peter’s confession in Mark 8[:29], “You are the Christ.” Peter and the disciples know that Jesus is the Christ or “anointed One” because of His miracles and teaching. And it is only after Peter’s confession that Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mk 8:31). This is our creed and confession! The One who restores the deaf-mute to health and wholeness is the Christ of God, the Anointed One who will make all things new by His death and resurrection. We join the Psalmist to pray in our hour of deepest need, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord” (Ps 70:1). And He gives us His own ‘ephphatha’ in baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper, opening our entire being to speak of salvation and to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. INJ. Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

– Mark 8:29

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