There is a difference between hearing and listening and between listening and understanding. Likewise, there is a difference between talking and speaking wisely. It is one thing to hear God's Word and quite another thing to listen and understand it. Scripture speaks of those who have ears, but do not hear or understand (Jeremiah 5:21; Is. 6:9; 42:18-20; Matt. 13:13) When I first received my call to serve Trinity Lutheran Church in Ottumwa, a healthy fear came over me because of the great task of preaching God's holy word, which had been entrusted to me. I prayed that I would preach God's word faithfully and truthfully. I also prayed for the people of Trinity Lutheran, that you would be given ears to hear. Ears to hear; that means that you would not only hear the sound coming out of my mouth, but that God would grant you faith to understand and believe those words for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Ears to hear are not natural. You aren't born with the ability to comprehend God's Word and come to faith. Rather, we are spiritually like the deaf man in our Gospel lesson. And unless God opens your ears to hear his holy word, you will remain incapable of making anything out of the Gospel. Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew chapter 13, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven." It is by grace that you are able to believe the Gospel preached to you. Unless God gives you ears to hear, you will find the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus as pure folly, even if you can hear the words clearly.
Before you can learn to speak, you need to listen. My grandmother was deaf. And although I don't think there was anything wrong with her tongue, she could only say a few words, and none of them clearly. She was a smart woman, but she didn't know how to talk, at least not with her mouth; she used her hands. Likewise, if you do not have ears to hear, you will not learn how to speak God's language. If you do not listen to and believe God's word, you will not know how to speak God's Word.
And do not be mistaken. It is very important that you speak God's Word. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 10, "For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." And our Lord Jesus says in Matthew chapter 12, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." And again, our Lord says, "So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32-33)
And because it so important that we speak God's Word and confess Jesus in this life we pray Psalm 51:15 to open every Wednesday night Vespers Service, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise." Indeed, the Lord must open our lips. How does he do this? First by opening our ears.
Well, how does God open our ears to hear and believe the Gospel? This is very interesting. You don't have the power to believe the Gospel. So, what does God use to give you the ability to believe the Gospel? He uses the Gospel! The Gospel is the power of God to salvation. God uses his holy and powerful word to open closed ears and loosen bound tongues.
Many people think that you need to look at yourself to understand God. Perhaps go off into the woods, experience nature, or lock yourself in a room with just you and your thoughts. But this is not the way you learn to listen to God nor is it the way you learn to speak God's language. Jesus says, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34) And what comes out of the heart? "Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." (Matt. 15:19) How can such things teach you to confess Jesus and speak God's word?
Jesus said, "Ephphatha" and the man's ears were opened and he spoke plainly. And so, God must speak to us, so that we can believe and confess and be saved. We must never doubt the power of God's word. The Gospel spoken at the bedside of a dying Christian does not fall on deaf ears, even if the person has lost consciousness. God's word is supernatural and all powerful.
Likewise, we should not doubt the work of the Sacraments. So many scoff at the idea that Baptism can make a child a Christian, forgive sins, and give everlasting life. They think they are doubting the power of ordinary water, but they are denying the extraordinary power of Jesus' word. "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" are not the words of an ordinary man, but the words of Christ himself. Christ's words have the power to make the deaf hear, the mute speak, even to raise the dead. And they certainly have the power to forgive your sins and give you new life. When the pastor says, "I baptize you etc.," Jesus is saying "Ephphatha" to your spiritually deaf ears and giving you the ability to hold onto his word in faith.
The water does not make Jesus' words weak. Rather God puts power in the water. Jesus could have simply said a word and the man would have heard and spoke. But instead Jesus touches his ears, communicating to the man that he is going to do something to his ears. He spat and touched his tongue, telling the man that he would loosen his tongue. Out of love Jesus communicates in sign language to the poor man. And so, our Lord uses water to communicate to us what the Holy Spirit is doing through his word; he is washing us clean from our sins.
Do not be disturbed by the lowliness of water, bread and wine nor be scandalized by the weakness of the man speaking God's words of forgiveness. God's Word is powerful. And when added to such base things and simple men, it does not become weak, but makes them strong. And this should be of great comfort to you. "O Lord, open my lips!" Will he? He certainly will! When? Where? See the font? See the pulpit? See the altar with the bread and wine? There! You can identify the workings of God. He opens ears and loosens tongues where his word is taught in its truth and purity and where his sacraments are rightly administered. Oh, that I had a thousand voices. God produces something much more beautiful from your mouth through your faith, which trusts in the Lamb of God who takes away your sins.
You can't have faith for someone else. That really hurts sometimes, because you want to. How I wish I could just cause those to have faith, who are straying from Christ, ignoring God's word week after week. And Christian parents certainly feel this pang. They want their children to speak the language of God, to confess and be saved. They can't believe in Jesus for their children, but they can bring them to where Jesus opens ears and loosens tongues. The poor deaf and mute man in our lesson was brought to Jesus by others, who believed Jesus could heal him. So, you bring your children to the font, so that Jesus can say, "Ephphatha" to them and give them ears to hear. Bring your children to church so that the powerful Gospel can work on them. And at home, God's word is not weak coming out of your mouth. Have devotions with your children, sing hymns, pray with them, confess Christ to them and listen to them confess Christ to you. This is how you keep those ears open and that tongue loose.
Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. It took something out of Jesus to restore his broken creature. And the words Jesus speaks to you, in your Baptism, in the Lord's Supper, yes, every time forgiveness is proclaimed to you, these words also come with a groaning sigh. That sigh came when Jesus breathed his last, having suffered all for your sins. The words Jesus speaks to you are not only powerful, they are priceless. These words were earned with the blood, sweat, and groanings of our dear Lord on the cross. And for that they are all the more precious. And for that they are all the more securing.
We can never tire of hearing these words. They keep our ears open to hear, to listen and trust in the love of our God. These words give us tongues to proclaim God's name. And we will never tire of confessing Christ. Because even after we've sung our final Nunc Dimittis we will continue to praise Christ's holy name with the angels and saints in glory forever. Let us pray.
O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim Thy praise. Amen.