Sunday, September 9, 2012

LSB Proper 18B Sermon -- Mark 7:31-37

September 9, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

The companions of the deaf-mute knew his problems well. The man was vulnerable to being a victim of all sorts of malfeasance. It was not without reason that the Lord issued instructions concerning such an individual: “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” His companions witnessed his inability to hear the conversations around him. They heard his stammering attempts to speak, sounds that came that made no sense. The man’s interaction with the world was limited. He could see, but tell no one what he saw. But despite the assistance that the deaf-mute’s companions could give or the protection that the Divine Law may have offered, there was no help that would restore his hearing or put speech in his mouth.

But to such people a promise had been made. Centuries before, it had been told of what the Lord would do about those with such inabilities. It began with a promise of the Lord’s appearance: “Say to those with an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” And some of the actions that the Lord would perform were made known: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” A divine agenda was declared with those words.

So when Jesus appears, enacting what was foretold in that divine agenda, His actions are noted. They are seen as the remedy to afflictions that no one else can give. The people of Galilee witnessed Jesus’ acts and brought all manner of the ill and infirm to Him for aid. Then the same began to happen in other regions: “Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” The companions of the deaf-mute want his anxious heart to be put at rest. They want him to have his ears unstopped. They desire to hear his tongue sing for joy. So they bring him to Jesus to receive the healing that He brings.

The people’s belief in what Jesus had done in other places leads them to bring the deaf-mute man to Him. Their actions reveal their faith. We do not know what came out of the people’s mouths as they begged Jesus to lay His hand on the man. But their actions speak clearly to Jesus: “What You did in Galilee, we want You to do here in the Decapolis. The healing that You gave there can be present here. Grant it to this man.” So Jesus answers their request in the way that the divine agenda spelled out: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

The paradigm of how the Lord works is seen in Jesus’ healing of the deaf-mute man. Through that act, the divine agenda declared moves to being the divine agenda fulfilled. The Lord does what He says. And that divine agenda is chock full with promised actions of restoration, renewal, and redemption. The Lord establishes a program of granting benefit to people. He speaks to the world: “You have a problem, but I have a solution to it. The problem is sin, the rebellion against the order that I have established and the subsequent chaos. That unrighteousness and ungodliness manifest themselves in so many ways. You display its presence in you by your sinful desires, harmful speech, and evil acts. The chaos that sin has wrought is revealed in the afflictions and ailments that you suffer. But the solution is in what I will do. I will bring judgment and punishment against those who wantonly rebel against My will. But I will also deliver you from your guilt. I know your worries and anxieties in this life. Your burdens and suffering will not go unnoticed or unaddressed. Rather, I will bring a restoration that begins with miraculous deeds in ancient times and culminates with My making all things new.”

This is the agenda that Jesus’ work in healing the deaf-mute began to accomplish. But His work goes beyond giving hearing and speech to one man in the Decapolis. He came with vengeance and recompense against the forces of evil, casting out demons and visiting justice against Satan and his usurpation of rule. Then Jesus goes and submits Himself as a sin-offering for the guilt of the world, taking upon Himself the sin of the world. He dies, but rises from death, so that He can be a remedy even for that affliction which will affect us all. This is all part of the divine agenda—the promised solution to the problem that you face.

Jesus’ actions of restoration, renewal, and redemption are done for you. How you receive them is in the same way that the deaf-mute man in the Decapolis did. He speaks and you are healed; Jesus’ words accomplish what they say. And what is it that Jesus speaks to you? First, He speaks His word to open your ears. This is what the calling of the Gospel does for you. Jesus says to your hearts and souls that were corrupted by sin: “Be opened.” He says to you: “Hear the record of what I have said and the narrative of what I have done to fulfill the divine agenda for you. Hear it and believe it.” Then Jesus speaks His word to loose your tongues: “Be opened.” He says to you: “Now that you have heard and believe, you have become My people. My people have a particular way of speaking: praise and thanksgiving for what has been done for their benefit; confession and proclamation of Me, their Redeemer, and of My accomplishments for them; pardon and peace to those who have harmed them; instruction and handing down the way of life to the next generation. This is what you will now speak.”

So what happens to you? You experience the same as the deaf-mute man in the Decapolis. Someone who desired you to receive the restoration, renewal, and redemption that Jesus offers brought you to hear His words. For most of you, it was your parents. For others, it was another companion—a spouse, a friend, maybe a co-worker. By hearing Jesus’ words, your ears are opened and your tongue is released. Now you know of Jesus’ identity and work: Jesus is your God who has come with vengeance and recompense but has come to save you. Now you speak plainly about who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for you: Jesus has atoned for your sin and has prepared a place in His Father’s house for you. That is your witness and testimony about the divine agenda fulfilled for you.

With that restoration, renewal, and redemption that Jesus has brought to you comes a new way of life, a new purpose, a new agenda for your life. It includes your desire for the same restoration, renewal, and redemption to be given to others that you know. You want their anxious heart to be put at rest. You want their ears unstopped. You want their tongue to sing for joy. That will not be accomplished by just your thinking about it. Nor will just any type of action help. No, the restoration, renewal, and redemption come only with divine aid. So you bring those whom you know to Jesus, so that they can receive the healing that He brings. You bring them to this place, so they can hear Jesus’ speak His command: “Be opened.”

“Be opened,” is not the only word from Jesus that they hear; it is just one of the first. They also hear Jesus speak His other words of promise and command, those words that Mark’s Gospel Account recorded, just as you hear and trust: “Your sins are forgiven you. Follow Me. Arise from death. Go your way; your faith has made you well. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” These words are what your and their ears hear. These words are what your and their tongues now speak.

But the words of Jesus go further. They also empower and give strength, so that your and their lame legs can walk in the way of discipleship that He has given to you. This is the faith with works that James spoke of: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…. I will show you my faith by my works.” You not only have knowledge of your Redeemer’s identity and accomplishments, but also a motivation to follow His instructions. Jesus’ words also open your eyes, so that you no longer only consider what is right in front of you. Now you see Jesus and His power hidden in the earthly things, the jars of clay: water in a font; bread and wine on an altar; imperfect men who speak from a pulpit. You also see individual Christians as the brothers and sisters of Jesus, those who have been honored by Him and have been bound to you.

All of this is the restoration, renewal, and redemption that the Lord promised to bring. It has come through what Jesus has accomplished. Jesus’ words deliver that benefits of His work to you. It is yours, as you have heard what He has been done for your salvation. It is yours, as your tongues have been loosed, so that you can rightly confess faith in Him. You have received the healing that Jesus brings and share the benefits brought by placing trust in Him, the Lord who has come to save, the one who said to you: “Be opened.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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