Hearing with the ears and confessing with the tongue

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Sermon for Trinity 12

Isaiah 29:18-19  +  2 Corinthians 3:4-11  +  Mark 7:31-37

There’s nothing difficult to understand in Mark’s account of Jesus healing the deaf man who could neither hear nor speak. The reputation of Jesus had gone out in Israel. This man preaches about the kingdom of God. This man teaches the Scriptures like no one else, with authority. This man Jesus can heal diseases. This man Jesus is kind and merciful. He accepts no bribe. He shows no favoritism. He helps all who come to Him for help. And He demands no payment, nothing in return.

Look! He’s just come back from outside of Israel, from Tyre and Sidon to the north. And the report has gone out that He even helped some of the Gentiles up there. This Jesus is more than just a good man. He is the Christ!

That report, that word about Jesus, had gone out and had created faith in many who heard it. As Paul writes to the Romans, faith comes by hearing! But what about those who haven’t heard? What about those who can’t hear? As Paul also writes, How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?

The deaf man hadn’t heard anything, ever. But his friends had ears. They heard the report about Jesus. And they believed. They also had tongues—tongues to confess faith in Jesus and love to lead others to seek help from Him. But even their tongues were useless when it came to the deaf man. So they confessed Jesus with their feet and with their hands as they led their deaf friend to the one Man on earth who could help. And they used their tongues to beg Jesus to help their friend. And, true to His reputation, He did.

The one thing that stands out in this text and makes it different from other healing miracles is the process that Jesus used to heal the deaf man. As we know from other healing accounts, Jesus didn’t need to use a process to heal people. He could heal people with a word, as He did with the ten lepers. He could heal people who weren’t anywhere near Him, as He did with the centurion’s servant. So the steps that Jesus took to heal this deaf man are significant; they must have been done for a reason.

And that reason isn’t hard to figure out. The deaf man’s friends demonstrated their faith in Jesus, based on the word they had heard about Him. But their faith couldn’t help their deaf friend; they couldn’t believe for him. He needed his own faith if he was to be saved, and not just saved from deafness, but saved from eternal death and condemnation. Your faith can’t save your neighbor. Each one needs his own faith, and only Jesus, by His Spirit, can give it. So the signs Jesus used in the process of healing the deaf man were designed to preach the word about Jesus in the only way a deaf man could “hear” it, and to give that word time to take root in the man’s heart.

First Jesus took him aside from the multitude. That showed him that this Jesus had time for him, that He was concerned for Him and ready to help, even though they were complete strangers. That’s the way it has to be. There has to be individual contact with Jesus. That’s why Holy Baptism is always performed one on one, not by tossing a bucket of water on a crowd. That’s Jesus taking a child—or an adult, of course—away from the crowd for a moment to perform the healing of the forgiveness of sins.

Then Jesus put His fingers in the deaf man’s ears. Only doctors do things like that. It demonstrates a very personal concern. And it shows that only the fingers of Jesus can open deaf ears. There’s a spiritual meaning to that, too. In the Bible, the “finger of God” refers specifically to the Holy Spirit. And it’s another way of illustrating for us that the only way to open spiritually deaf ears—ears that can’t hear the Gospel so as to believe it—is for Jesus to send His Holy Spirit into our ears through His Word. Again, faith comes by hearing.

Jesus then spat and touched the man’s tongue, because not only did his ears not work, but his tongue was tied, too. Again, a very personal way to heal. It reminds us just how close Jesus has come to us poor sinners. The Son of God gave Himself human saliva and flesh and blood for the very purpose of pouring out His blood and having His flesh destroyed on the cross as payment for our sins. This act of spitting and touching the man’s tongue is a picture of the Word of God going out from the mouth of Jesus, through His called and ordained servants. It goes into the ears, of course, but then it takes root in the heart and makes its way onto the tongue, so that, again, as Paul writes to the Romans, with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Then Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. This healing miracle is not a medical procedure. Jesus is not using some sort of Western medicine or Eastern medicine. Healing comes only from above, from the God of love who sent His Son to rescue poor sinners from the consequences of their own sins, including the inborn sin, the original sin and spiritual disease with which we are born. A sigh from God as He looks down at all the mess we’ve made of this earth, of ourselves, at all the disease and death we’ve brought on ourselves by our sins, as He looks at all the broken families, and the physical and psychological illnesses that plague our race. A sigh—“You did this to yourselves.”

But then, what? What does God do? Turn His back and walk away? Finish us off with wrath and condemnation? No. He sends His Son who speaks a word of salvation: Ephphatha! Be opened! And the deaf man can hear and speak clearly. It’s what Jesus does for all of us spiritually. He sends His Spirit into our ears, into our hearts, promising salvation, promising the forgiveness of sins. He works faith there, in those who don’t stubbornly resist Him. Then He speaks the word of forgiveness, the loosing of sins, the absolution. And then our tongues are loosed to sing His praises and to give thanks to God for His mercy and help, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You all, I think, have working ears and working tongues, at least enough to hear a sermon and speak the confession of sins and the Creed. More importantly, God has opened your spiritual ears to believe the word you have heard about the kindness and mercy of Christ and to confess Christ, not with empty words of the tongue, but from the heart. You weren’t born with open ears. God did that, for you, through His Gospel. In fact, God has to continually hold your ears open through His Gospel, because your ears are like self-closing doors that automatically swing shut if not continually propped open.

You see a little example of that at the end of our Gospel. Jesus told the people not to tell anyone what they had seen that day. He had His reasons. His instructions were clear, and the people heard them with their ears, but then their sinful flesh took over and stopped up their spiritual ears so that they stopped listening. Instead of doing what Jesus said, they went out and did the opposite. Now, you may say that they had good intentions in spreading the word about what Jesus did. But intentions are not really good if they ignore the word of Jesus. No, the people that day saw a great miracle, but then hardened their hearts to Jesus’ word and gave way to their flesh, so that they ended up misusing both their ears and their tongues.

Take a warning from that. Jesus has not opened your ears so that you can turn around and shut them again. He has not given you a tongue to confess Him before men so that you can turn around and speak in ways that He has not authorized.

Use your God-given ears and tongues for the purpose for which God gave them to you: to hear His Word and believe it, to hear His Word and put it into practice, and to speak and to sing the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Amen.

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