Time to Open Up!
Text: Mark 7:31-37
Proper 18, B
4Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come … and save you.” 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped ...” So the Prophet Isaiah promised in our Old Testament reading, and so Jesus fulfilled nearly 1000 years later in our Gospel when he healed the man who was deaf and mute. It’s a great story, but what does it have to do with we who just finished singing a hymn and are now listening to this sermon? Not many of us here are anxious about being deaf or mute.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have anxious hearts. Oh, we are anxious about so many things. And in that fear, in that doubt we have suffered far worse than the man in our text. Over the past 18 months we Christians have had to come to grips with the uncomfortable reality that we are not as strong in our faith or in our actions as we once thought ourselves to be.
We have focused our eyes only on the here and now. We hear only bad news and never-ending proclamations of doom. We speak unkind things about once friends and neighbours and assume the worst of those who have done nothing wrong. We have given up the freedoms that are ours in Christ for the dictates of men. We have abdicated our responsibility for the promise of safety. And all of it is only possible because in our fears we have closed our hearts are to God’s Word! The moment we respond to what God has said to us in Holy Scripture with “Yes, But ...” it means you are no longer listening to what He is saying. Our hearts are closed to God’s Word and it is time to open them up once again!
But the Good News in all of this, is that as much as we deserve to be left bound in our sin, trapped in our despair and shut off from the true and full life, God will not let that happen to us. He has sent His Son to open our lives to His Salvation, just as He did for that deaf and mute man.
33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Why did Jesus sigh? Out of compassion for the people on whom satan had worked so much havoc. None of this is what God wanted for us. Sin, sickness, nor the schemes of the devil were ever meant to be part of our daily life. Yet here we are.
As Luther wrote: For that this poor man is hurt in this manner that he can use neither tongue nor ears, like other people, those are blows and thrusts of the accursed devil. Before the world it may seem, and everyone be of the opinion, that they be natural ailments; for the world does not know the devil that he does so much harm, makes the people mad and foolish, inflicts all manner of misfortune upon them, not only in the body, but also in the soul, that they die for terror and sorrow and cannot attain to true joy. But we Christians should deem such defects and infirmities nothing else but blows of the devil; he causes such distress on earth and does damage where he can.
And that is why Jesus, in His divine compassion, takes the man aside and heals by means and by his personal touch, with the action of prayer and the blessing of heaven. And that is the whole point of this account. With Jesus the Christ, the New Creation has begun. It comes by God’s power and grace, not by our actions. Often it comes quietly and innocuously. But wherever He goes, it is as though the new creation cannot not break in, or break out!
Jesus the Messiah, the Lord God Almighty, is making all things new. Jesus the Saviour is undoing all the works of the devil that keep us bound in sin, trapped in despair and shut off from true and full life. Is it any wonder that those who saw all this ... 37were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Jesus the long promised answer is opening up this life of ours. He is opening our ears to hear the Gospel of God’s grace and mercy. He is opening our hearts to rejoice in God’s life-changing love. He is opening our eyes to see eternity. Knowing that our greatest healing, already accomplished and present in our lives, comes through the forgiveness of sins and the first-fruits of the new creation, even as we anticipate the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. It is time to open up. And once our eyes and ears and hearts are open to God in Christ our tongues cannot help but follow. Once released from doubts and fear and sin and death, just try to keep the Good News from your lips!
As Luther again said: He refers especially to these two members, ears and tongue; for the kingdom of Christ is based upon the Word, which cannot otherwise be grasped or understood but through these two members, ears and tongue, and it reigns only through the Word and faith in the hearts of men. The ears take hold of the Word, and the heart believes it; but the tongue speaks and confesses, as the heart believes. Therefore if the tongue and the ears are removed, there is no noticeable difference between the kingdom of Christ and the world ... With us, thanks to God, the tongue has gotten so far that we speak plainly, for there are everywhere pious people that hear the Word of God with desire.
And what that blessed Word has to share is this: What Jesus did for the deaf/mute in respect to hearing, He did for all people in respect to heaven. When Jesus kept the Law for us He opened the heavens for us. When Jesus suffered the penalty of the Law in our place, He opened the heavens for us. He is the Saviour, the Messiah, the One long promised. He is the caring and compassionate Lord and God who delivers His people from all that has them bound and trapped and shut off from true and full life. Isn’t this what Baptism is all about? In His baptism at the Jordan the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descended upon Jesus. In our Baptism God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit take us aside, we are sanctified and our hearts are opened to His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Our place in Christ’s kingdom is guaranteed, no matter what might befall us in this life. And that is why we cannot help but gather again in His House and before His throne to open up our mouths and sing His glorious praises forever more.
AMEN and AMEN!