15th Sunday after Pentecost – 9/5/2021
Many things are vying for our attention today via social media, the public media, advertisers, and even members of our own families. Often, it is the sensational, the glitzy, or the most outrageous that succeeds in getting our full attention, sometimes even to the detriment of everything else that is going on in our lives.
One of the things that we are often most captivated by is the abject and undeserved suffering of others, whether it be that of an individual or a whole group. Those who want to draw our attention to such suffering will frequently go to great lengths to boldly display it in living color in front of our very eyes so that we cannot help but notice it.
That is no doubt a good thing. After all, in our inherent self-centeredness, it's too easy for us to turn our heads when we encounter someone else's pain and misery. The thought that goes through our minds is that if we don't look at it, we can pretend that it does not exist and avoid any responsibility toward getting involved and helping rescue those imprisoned by such infirmities.
In our text from the Gospel of Mark this morning, we see some rather zealous individuals make sure they grab Jesus' attention for the sake of a friend of theirs. Jesus would have had to go to great effort to ignore this suffering. Talk about it to your face! Mark writes: "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."
Greek could be translated more graphically. This poor man not only could not hear a sound, but he was also totally mute. He could grunt out some sounds, but nothing intelligible. He was hard of hearing!
It's hard to imagine a more lonely existence. It would be like living in a silent cocoon. Through our hearing and speech, we communicate with others. Without these wonderful senses, we depend on sight and touch to know if anyone is even in the room with us. Sometimes, hearing another person breathe next to us is comforting for you and me. The thoughts, concerns, hopes, and fears of others come to us through our ears. We receive relief sometimes just by being able to voice our concerns and feelings to others. But this poor man was in an isolation chamber of absolute silence and loneliness.
Imagine this man's joy, then, when Jesus took notice of his plight and suddenly opened his life up to the wonderful world of sound—a world we often take for granted. He probably didn't even know where his friends had taken him. More than likely, he didn't even know who Jesus was or anything about him. And yet, with Jesus' amazing touch and one spoken word, his life was truly reborn! He was set free from prison. Free to enter the world of sound, free to hear the voice of His Savior, even free to praise Jesus and tell others about Jesus and what He had done for him,
Jesus did it all by speaking one word: "Ephphatha!" It is an Aramaic word, which, simply put, translates: "Be opened!" With this appeal, Jesus went well beyond mere physical healing. Ephphatha is a command about opening up toward true healing of the soul. It's a cry for emancipation!
Now, the setting of this miracle is crucial to its understanding. Jesus and His disciples had just concluded a brief tour through the Phoenician (Gentile) lands near the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon. They were once again along the southeastern shores of the Lake of Galilee, not far from where Jesus miraculously fed the masses from the five loaves of bread and two fish. It was the "Ten Cities" region, Decapolis in Greek.
Matthew's account shows that the masses again caught up to Jesus. By this time, Jesus' great healing powers were being reported everywhere. Matthew tells us that the people were bringing their sick, lame, blind, and deaf or mute friends and family members to Jesus so that He might heal them with His touch.
However, Mark does not even make a passing reference to the masses. He chooses to record only the healing of this deaf mute, guided by the Holy Spirit. By doing so, Mark tells us this was a special case.
Mark had good reason to isolate this one case for us. Unlike the other people Jesus was healing, He paid close attention to this man. Jesus separated himself from man. He then inserted his fingers into the man's ears. Finally, He placed some of His salivae on the man's tongue.
Jesus' actions went beyond a simple, empathetic concern for this man's plight. Most of the time, Jesus merely spoke, and the sick were healed. This deaf man was different. Jesus personally identified with his plight. Jesus was communicating with this poor man in the only way he could understand. Since he couldn't hear or ask questions, Jesus' fingers in his ear canal and on his tongue communicated to the man so that he could understand the healing Jesus would give him (C.H. Lenski, Augsburg, 1961, p. 309, 310).
Jesus now had the afflicted man's full attention. He stood close to Jesus as he looked up to heaven. Again, Jesus' action was purposeful. Jesus was making it clear to the man that the freedom from his imprisonment and the deafness and muteness imposed upon him came from above, that is, from God, and that in the flesh of Jesus, God had come down to him to free him.
Next, Mark notes that Jesus let out a deep sigh. A more literal rendering of the Greek would be that "he moaned." " It was a gut-wrenching moan! Jesus saw in this man a need that went well beyond physical impairment. He identified with the physical impairment and confinement imposed on this poor man.
Fresh in Jesus' mind and heart was the impoverished spiritual condition he had witnessed in the Gentile lands. He'd seen victims imprisoned by their ungodly lusts firsthand. He had also witnessed the spiritual bankruptcy of His people. They had forsaken God's commands and turned to follow the myths and doctrines of their perverted leaders. Their spiritual ears of faith were blocked from hearing the truth.
I believe Jesus so personally identified with this man's plight because his physical deafness and muteness were a most graphic representation of the spiritual bonds of the people around Him. The very sight of it made him "groan" to the depths of his being. Sin had not only marred His beautiful creation, leaving damaged goods where there should have been perfect bodies, but sin had also imprisoned humankind under the assaults of the Devil and under the massive weight of God's condemning wrath. Jesus' connection was inescapable. As God's Son in human flesh, He had come for this very purpose—to free men from all bondage to sin, death, and the devil's evil control.
This "sigh" (moan), more than anything else Jesus said or did here, this " sigh " (moan) ought to bring us all the greatest comfort and hope. It assures us that Jesus is not unconcerned about this man's plight or about yours, mine, or our hurts and needs. He had come to take up our infirmities and carry our sorrows, to be pierced for our transgressions so that by His wounds we would be healed (Is. 53:4,5).
When Jesus looked out over the hungry crowd of 4,000, His bowels ached for them (Mark 8:2). It was evident to all when he saw the grief of Mary and Martha over the death of their brother Lazarus, and as John records, "Jesus wept."
This sigh from Jesus ought to be heard around the world! God is not deaf and dumb to our imprisonment, our deafness, our muteness, our suffering, or our grief. He feels it in his flesh. Our world and political leaders often tell us they care about our struggles and plight. But when push comes to shove, they ignore their plight instead of sacrificing their control, reputations, power, wealth, or livelihoods to rescue their people. They run and hide. They leave us behind! Not Jesus, though! His heart aches for our plight. He willingly became flesh in our flesh to share in our imprisonment and to grant us release from it. God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son to be the atoning sacrifice to free us from our sins (Jn. 3:16). Jesus' very sigh is the wellspring from which the waters of our freedom come forth. His empathy was manifested in His suffering on the cross in your and my place.
The unique character of this man's plight and Jesus' deliverance were further evidenced by what Jesus said. He didn't simply say, "Be healed!" or "Receive your hearing back!" Instead, Jesus commanded, "Ephphatha!" Mark quickly translates: "Be opened!"
Such an expression sounds strange for healing. But this was no ordinary healing. It was a prison release. Look how Mark describes what happened to the man. Literally, "and immediately, his hearing was opened, and the chain around his tongue was loosed."
That is not mere healing language. It is the language of liberty! Jesus was releasing this poor, deaf, or mute man from jail! He was loosening the chains binding him and opening his prison door to freedom. Not simply physical freedom. But Jesus freed him from spiritual bondage as well.
Today, Jesus still speaks with His "Ephphatha!" to grant you release and freedom. After all, we are all deaf and dumb by nature. Scripture assures us that we have all been conceived and born in sin. As the prophet Isaiah tells us, our iniquities have made a wall of separation between God and us. Our sins have caused His face to be hidden from us. So much so that He does not hear us, and we cannot hear or come to Him. (Is. 59:2,3). Our hearing is close to His voice. Our tongues are tied to falsehood and lies. King David laments in his Psalm about this tragic human condition: "I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear; like a mute, who cannot open his mouth" (Ps. 38:13).
That is indeed a serious problem! We are held captive by death. "By nature, we are dead in our transgressions and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Dead men can't hear or speak. There is no communication with God. Hell awaits the spiritually deaf and dumb. The devil loves to keep us captive to death by closing our ears to the gospel's good news. After all, only those who have been "opened" to hear the voice of Jesus Christ will enjoy eternity in glory, and he knows it.
How wonderful it is that Jesus took a personal interest in your case! He did not simply pronounce some sympathetic platitudes on your behalf or put His fingers in the deaf ears of your stony hearts or touch the tongues of your wayward mouths. Instead, in His compassion, He took your very bound-up condition upon Himself. He became flesh from your flesh so He could be imprisoned by the devil's tortuous assaults, the guilt of your sins, and the just sentence of death and eternal punishment due to all of us.
But then came that beautiful word from Jesus' cross, uttered by his pain-stricken and bloodied lips, "Tetelestai!" that is, "It is finished!" With that word, the prison doors of sin, death, and the devil were forever opened, and all of you who believe in Jesus were set free to hear God's voice of forgiveness, to sing the praises of His wonderful grace, and to see His glory!
That release from bondage was visually and dramatically displayed upon Jesus' death as the curtain in the temple, closing off the Most Holy Place, was torn in two from top to bottom and the graves of believers in the Jerusalem cemetery cracked wide open, and the bodies within rose to life again. Loud and clear, those remarkable events proclaimed, "Be opened!"
Jesus has personally extended to you His compassionate touch through His word, sacraments, and the Word of the Gospel preached to you by your parents, pastor, and Sunday School teachers and through God's promise of sins forgiven applied to you in Holy Baptism. Through the Word of absolution pronounced to you by the pastor. Through the very body and blood of Christ given to you in the Lord's Holy Supper. Jesus takes you aside, sighs, lays His hand on you, and says, "Ephphatha!" "Be opened... Be free!"
The devil loves to keep us blind and deaf to the Word of Christ, though. The poor man Jesus encountered was held in the physical bondage of deafness. But the devil also seeks to keep you and me in the spiritual bondage of deafness. He does so by diverting our attention from the true preaching of Christ's Word and the right administration of His Sacraments and luring us into heterodox churches. The devil deafens us when he fills our ears with the philosophies of men, when he causes us to follow the tenets of our pop culture rather than the Word of God when he seeks to fill our lives with worldliness and busyness to the point where we become apathetic and lazy about attending church.
This ought not to be. In the freedom Christ gives us, we must avail ourselves of every opportunity to listen to Jesus' word so that His healing voice and His Ephphatha might resonate in our ears and hearts every day, keeping us free from all that would seek to enslave us.
And what about all those around us who do not know of this freedom but remain imprisoned by spiritual deafness? The final thing we see in this text is how great the need is for others to be brought to Jesus so that their deafness might be opened. The man in our text would never have been healed if not for the fact that others brought him to Jesus. Being a deaf man, he could not hear the good news of Jesus. He wouldn't have known to come to Jesus to be released from the devil's chains. He was blessed to have friends who cared enough about him and his plight that they brought him to Jesus.
As those who have already been "opened up" to life and salvation in Jesus Christ, having been given the gift of faith in Jesus as our Savior, do we care enough for those around us, still deaf in spiritual bondage, to bring them to Jesus that they might be opened up to hear His sigh for them and be set free? Or are we content to let them languish in prison and suffer eternal death?
We have the opportunity to bring them to the healer! There are abundant avenues available to us in our congregation alone to bring ourselves and others into the healing grasp of Jesus. Every Sunday morning, through our worship services and other days during the week through Bible studies, Jesus meets with us in His Word and Sacraments. Who could you invite and bring along so He might set them free? Our Lutheran Classical School, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible Schools share Jesus and His Word with those in and outside our congregation. Our prayers for these ministries, our offers to aid and teach, and our financial support ensure that these bondage-freeing ministries endure.
God bless us for hearing Jesus' sigh and bringing the imprisoned to Him so He may set them free!