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Stöckhardt on Trinity 12 – Mark 7:31-37

by pastorjuhl ~ August 18th, 2010

The Lord Christ, whom we praise and to whom we give glory, still has today the power to heal the sick, the deaf and dumb, to help the helpless for whom man’s help is of no avail. Only today he goes deeper into the wilderness and loneliness with those who are suffering and groaning than he did in those days and usually allows those upon whom he lays his hand to view his wonders all by themselves. Since the days of Christ and the apostles until the present hour there have been sick, blind, dumb, deaf people who have called upon Jesus for help and mercy and have been answered in a wonderful way. If he wishes and deems it good, he is able still today to touch the tongue of the dumb, as he did that preacher who had lost speech and voice and, having ascended the pulpit unable to speak, sighed up to God to loosen his tongue, and lo, to the amazement of all he opened up his mouth and spoke distinctly and preached a powerful sermon about Christ. It is the work of his hands when he permits the aged, weak, senile, whose natural fluids and energies have dried up and are exhausted, to retain sound hearing and sight until the end, that they are able until their final hours to hear and learn God’s Word. He gives the feeble the energy so that even the dying, drained of the energies, are able still to call out loudly and joyfully Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus! There are many bonds which life’s enemy has laid upon the dying, that they, even though they are still able to hear and speak, struggle along with their burden, deaf and indifferent and unreceptive to that comfort and encouragement. But who among us has never heard an Ephphatha from the Lord, when suddenly bonds and chains were sprung and a joyful song of praise was awakened from heart and lips?
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And we Christians, too, we who have come to know God through his grace, rather are known of God, still feel these bonds, this innate, hurtful evil. How often it happens that a Christian who has given in to a sinful weakness and inclination, who has been caught up in following a wrong way, remains deaf to all exhortations and warnings from God’s Word. He hears well what is outwardly said, what time after time is told him from the Word of God, publicly and in private; he hears and does not want maliciously to oppose, but he hears and yet does not hear. He does not grasp the clearest, most convincing instruction; the most emphatic admonition does not affect him. Yet Christ preaches to us all the acceptable year of the Lord; in preaching he opens up to us the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. God himself, the heavenly Father, speaks to us through his Son. And mutely and indifferently we let the sound of the Gospel go on by. Men sit stiffly and lifelessly here in church like that deaf-mute. The Word merely tickles the surface of the heart. And the rest remain sitting at home stiff and lifeless, while here in divine worship God speaks with his congregation. They have heard enough and aplenty if they have but listened for an hour. More their weak, sensitive hearing and heart are unable to endure. And this deafness obstructs and binds the tongue as well. What are our prayers? Actual conversation, joyful, confident conversation with God or childlike stutterings and mumblings? Ah, it is the cunning of Satan and the power of sin in our members that we for all too long nurture unnecessary worries, weighty and irresponsible thoughts and have numbly become lost in ourselves instead of immediately bringing all our concerns to the attention of God in prayer, instead of putting the heart in a joyful mood with praise and thanksgiving. Is this not one of our chief sins that we time and again have to sigh and confess before God that we are so lazy and slow to  hear, to believe and to obey, so listless when we should and ought to be praying?
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The Son of Man has sighed, has taken upon himself the curse that lay upon humanity and throughout his entire life, and sighed and struggled particularly at the end, in Gethsemane, on Golgotha. Yes, in order to redeem mankind from the curse, in order to atone for the sin of mankind’s unbelief, he had to be forsaken by God for a little while. As he stood under the judgment of God’s wrath, he no longer heard the testimony of the Father: This is my beloved Son. The Abba, dear Father! died on his lips; his tongue became glued to the roof of his mouth. That was mercy, unspeakable, divine mercy. The merciful Savior stands in front of the deaf-mutes, steps before God in their stead, under the weight of their guilt, under the curse of their sins, sighs up to God against Satan. And thus he broke the bond that held the human race, thus has he torn away the webs of darkness, opened up the prison, released the bound souls. Now he can speak his Ephphatha to sinners, to poor deaf-mutes: Be opened. His divine power and strength, his divine mercy, the redemption that he brought about he has included in this his Word, in his Gospel. And this his Gospel, the Gospel of redemption, which thus occurred through Christ Jesus, the Gospel of his divine mercy, of his mighty love that drove him to endure death, that is the key, the sure key to the closed hearts of men. It is the means by which to heal the deaf and dumb.
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When you are dealing with hardened sinners who do not want nor are able to hear and see, when you tell them above all other things: You are under the judgment of God; it is God’s judgment and wrath, it is because of the might and power of the evil foe that you are resisting, that you do not believe nor wish to listen; but Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has truly secured your release from God’s wrath, from the devil’s might, and from your own guilt; you are free. This Word is mighty and is able to loosen ears and tongue, to  make the dumb to speak and the deaf to hear. This Word heals the hurt in one’s own flesh and blood. If you don’t want to hear and pray, if you object to God’s Word and prayer, don’t think: I intend to wait for a more opportune time. No, this just doesn’t come of itself. No, then just give ear to the Word you don’t want to hear, just listen to the Gospel.

Through the preaching of the Gospel Jesus lays his hand on the sluggish heart; Jesus allows his voice, his Ephphatha, to force it way into the soul, through the Gospel he changes aversion and listlessness into joy and delight so that one gladly hears and learns. The Gospel works praise, thanksgiving, and prayer.
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And so we point those who are ill, in order that they might learn to hear and speak and to speak and hear better and better, we point them to the means and signs that Christ has prescribed, to the preaching of the Word, to the audible words and voice of human beings, to the water of Baptism, to the bread and wine of Holy Communion. These are human means of communication, earthly signs and objects. But the one who gives way to these signs, who lays hold of these signs, who listens to preaching, who makes use of the Sacrament, that very one learns to hear, to hear and speak more and more distinctly, to speak more and more correctly, to pray and to confess more joyfully.

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