August 19, 2018
The short story we heard in our Gospel lesson is a true story. It really did happen. There was a man, who was deaf and had a speech impediment. You can imagine how difficult it was for this man to live with these disabilities. He could hardly communicate with anyone and was dependent on others to help him just to do daily tasks. This man existed and had real hardships. And Jesus really healed him. The man’s quality of life became exceptionally better. This account demonstrates our Lord’s immense compassion and mercy.
It also demonstrates that Jesus is God and he has come to restore his lost creation. It’s a misconception that God created a faulty world. At the conclusion of God’s creation, he called it very good. There was no flaw in what God had made; no design flaw, no disease, nothing wrong at all. Mankind was perfect and without sin; perfectly made in God’s image. It was sin, which God did not create, which altered God’s good creation. Satan’s pride led to the temptation and fall of man. And through one man’s sin all became sinners and subject to death.
But we don’t consider this, do we? Instead, we often live our lives as if we live in the perfect creation, not desiring from God something much better. People take for granted that they have two working arms and two working legs, functioning lungs and heart. God is so merciful with so many of us as to give us good health, that we assume that this is just the way it is. People become so used to things working out well, they say that it is all just natural. So, we have no need for a creator, because nature just produces perfectly functioning eyes, ears, mouths, and limbs all by itself. Evolution replaces the intelligent God. Yet, what about faulty limbs and senses, disease and chronic pain? These the atheist claims are proofs of unintelligent design; flaws, which prove the absence of God.
We of course know that it is God who created us and still preserves us. And these ailments we experience: aches and pains, faulty hearts and backs, diseases and cancer, these are all direct results of our sinful condition. God is much more merciful to us than we realize, that he lets us live for the most part healthy lives with whole bodies. But, believe it or not, it is also merciful of our God that he does not completely remove these signs of death. Every ailment suffered by us is a reminder that sin has corrupted our race. Such suffering in the body reminds us of our final wages of sin: death, which is followed by eternal punishment. Would God completely spare us of temporary suffering in this life, we would be left with no physical warning to repent and to seek a greater life in Christ Jesus.
So, Jesus visits his fallen creation, much like an engineer or mechanic inspects a machine, which he has created flawlessly, yet has been vandalized and damaged, and he repairs it to its original perfect condition. However, Jesus does not restore the deaf and mute man perfectly. The man’s body will still perish. Yet, this restoration of his ears and mouth does foreshadow what Jesus will do. He will raise all our bodies from our graves and restore them to their original perfect glory.
But this story is not only about what Jesus did do nearly 2,000 years ago nor about what he will do at the end of the age. This story is also about what Jesus is currently doing right here and now; it describes for us the life of the Christian Church on earth.
The man was brought by others to Jesus. These people surely heard about Jesus and his mighty works of mercy, for faith comes by hearing. But this deaf man obviously didn’t hear. His ears didn’t work. And apparently, he didn’t understand, because others had to bring him. This teaches us a lot about what our faith can do for others. You can’t have faith for someone else! This reality has resulted in many tears and broken hearts of spouses and parents of unbelievers. Yet, you can use your faith to bring others to faith. You can bring others to faith in three ways: First, through the word of God and its preaching. You can tell people about Jesus; about what God’s word says about sin, death, forgiveness, and life. And you can point them to the preaching of the Gospel. Secondly, through a godly life. Simply by living your life under the law of love you can bring people to be willing to hear the Gospel, as St. Peter encourages wives of unbelievers in his first epistle, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”(1 Peter 3:1-2) Finally, you can pray. While St. Augustine and his father were still pagans, his mother St. Monica prayed earnestly for their conversions. His father confessed Christ on his deathbed. And St. Augustine became one of the most influential bishops in church history. In these three ways God uses faithful Christians to bring others to him.
Yet, perhaps what the episode in our Gospel lesson reflects most is what we saw last Sunday when Brantley Cordray was baptized. Just as that deaf and mute man was brought to Jesus, a man he did not know anything about, so the little baby was bought to the font. The baby wasn’t able to confess the creed or even say that he wanted to be baptized, so his parents and sponsors had to answer for him. Likewise, the people spoke to Jesus on the mute man’s behalf. Baby Brantley showed absolutely no indication of faith. Neither do we see any expression of faith from the death mute. Yet, Jesus healed him. He opened his ears and loosened his tongue, so that he could hear his words and confess his name. So, Jesus did the same thing for Brantley. He opened his ears to hear the Gospel meant for him.
So, we learn from this episode that God can use the faith of believers to bring others to him. This is especially the case for Christian parents, who can bring their children to baptism and raise them in the daily fear and admonition of the Lord. And we also learn that faith is a gift from God. Long before a believer trusts in Christ as his Savior, Christ is working to save the individual. Many believe that conversion and accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior is a work of the individual. But this is not what Scripture teaches. Faith is a gift from God. And your conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to you by God.
We also see a strange behavior from Jesus in this episode, which helps us understand how God works with us in the Church today. We have heard many times how Jesus healed people from various diseases and raised them from the dead simply by speaking a word. In some cases, he wouldn’t even go and see the person whom he was healing. Yet, in this Gospel lesson Jesus takes the man aside, puts his fingers in his ears, spits, and touches the man’s tongue. What’s with all the unnecessary touching and spitting? Why doesn’t Jesus just speak as he has done before?
Well, it might be “unnecessary” for Jesus to touch and spit for his own sake, but this reflects how God has chosen to communicate with his people from the beginning. God could have just told Noah that he will never destroy all life on earth again by means of a flood, but he chose to show him a sign, which we still witness in the sky today. God could have just told the people of old that he would send his Son to make satisfaction for our sins by means of his sacrificial death, but he chose to give them a sign they could see, touch, and taste by means of the many sacrifices offered throughout the Old Testament.
And so, it is today. Christ could have just given us the Gospel through the preaching of the Word, but he is so generous and knows our weak frame that he gives us the physical and visible signs of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And with this in mind, we should recognize that Jesus’ actions are not unnecessary, even as the water in Baptism and the bread and wine in Communion are not unnecessary. Rather, Jesus uses these physical elements to perform mighty works, which our faith can trust in.
As Jesus’ words bring power to the waters of Baptism and make present his life-giving body and blood in the Supper, so Jesus’ word here completes his work, so that the deaf man can hear and speak plainly. Yet, there is something we should notice that happened so fast you’d miss it if you read it only once. Before Jesus commands his ears to be opened, he sighs. And this is not just an ordinary sigh, but a deep sigh, a groan. By recording this sigh, St. Mark gives us a subtle hint toward the passion our Lord will soon suffer.
Words are cheap. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” And our Lord chose some of the most abundant things we have on earth to be the elements in his Sacraments: water, bread, and wine. And so, it is easy to despise these things along with the words that go with them. But here we are reminded that everything Jesus says comes at a cost. St. Matthew writes in the 8th chapter of his Gospel that when Jesus healed the sick he fulfilled the prophecy from Isaiah 53, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” These aren’t cheap words. They come at a cost. Jesus isn’t some wizard, who says a magic spell. He has taken on our human flesh, so that he might bear our iniquities and infirmities. In Baptism all sins of the baptized are washed away, because Jesus bore them on the cross. Your sins are forgiven in Holy Communion, because Jesus shed his real blood to wash them away. Your body will rise from the dead, because Christ has borne the price of your sins on his body. The words you hear here in church week after week are not cheap words. They were purchased with great groaning and sighing from Christ.
After Jesus healed the man, he spoke plainly. This obviously caused great joy to the man, as you can imagine. Yet, when we consider what we know about the tongue, this was also a dangerous thing Christ did. St. James writes, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. .. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (3:6b, 7-8) And Jesus got a taste of this poison, when others disobeyed him and proclaimed his deeds prematurely, endangering his ministry.
And any of us, who has spoken words he’d rather take back knows the wisdom in Proverbs 17, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” So, we might see the loosing of the man’s tongue as a dubious blessing. Yet, it was a blessing. It is true that at many times, it is wiser to remain silent. Yet, there are also times when we must and ought to speak, as St. Paul writes, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10) And so, the Psalmist prays, “O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51:15) This is how it was with this healed mute man. He spoke rightly and confessed the name of Jesus. And so, it is with us. Through the working of God’s Word in our hearts, our lips have learned to praise God rightly. Yes, sin still pollutes our lips, even as the deaf and mute man restored to good health eventually went to the grave. Yet, just as that healing was a foreshadow of the resurrection of all the dead, the praises we sing today are also a foreshadow of the eternal bliss we will enjoy when we will join the heavenly ranks of saints and angels in singing our Savior’s praises.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.