Trinity 12 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Sign Language to hearing people, often makes zero sense.
And speaking loudly, overly enunciating every syllable, to a deaf person, often makes even less sense.
But when Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel lesson, He speaks to the deaf man, and it makes perfect sense.
Jesus speaks not to the deaf man’s ears—commanding them to be opened—but to the deaf man, himself, commanding him to be opened.
“Ephphatha” is singular. It’s a second person, singular, imperative in Aramaic.
As strange as it might be for hearing people to see Sign Language, and as strange as it is just to talk louder when you realize the guy you’re talking to is deaf, it’s actually not strange at all for Jesus to speak to this deaf man.
Jesus did come to restore sight to the blind, give hearing to the deaf, heal the sick, and raise the dead.
He came to do those things. And He did those things.
But miracles are not the end—or the means to the end—that Jesus brings.
Miracles show us the power of God. The mercy of God.
They show us what heaven will look like when Jesus returns and our bodies are raised from death to life everlasting.
But miracles are no longer needed. They’re not necessary. And if we fixate on miracles—we may miss out on Jesus.
That’s what happens in today’s Gospel lesson.
So, let me ask. What’s surprising about today’s Gospel lesson? What’s surprising about what happens?
The surprise isn’t that they brought the deaf man to Jesus, that He would lay His hand on him, to heal him.
The surprise isn’t that Jesus took him away from the crowd, privately, or that He put his fingers in the deaf man’s ears, or that He rubbed His own spit on the deaf man’s tongue.
That’s not it.
The surprise—after the deaf man’s ears are opened, after his tongue’s released, and after he speaks plainly—the surprise is that Jesus charges them to tell no one.
We don’t know how to react to that, really.
I think we like to assume that those whom Jesus heals are believers. That the abundance of faith that they have somehow excuses them from obeying Jesus.
But that’s crazy.
I’m not sure the ex-deaf man and his friends have faith at all.
If Jesus heals the deaf man—and creates faith in him at the same time—what does that say about the fact that the deaf man, with all of his friends, immediately disobey Jesus.
“The more [Jesus] charged them [to tell no one], the more zealously they proclaimed it” (Mark 7:37).
That’s really the surprise.
And it’s made all the more surprising when we consider that, in chapter five, in the same region, the Decapolis, Jesus said to the demoniac He had healed: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).
In one case—Jesus heals a man and tells Him to spread the word.
In a similar case, later on—Jesus heals a man and tells Him to tell no one.
The textbook answer is that Jesus is trying to control the spread of the news about Him. So, in chapter five, He tells the ex-demoniac to spread the word. But now, in chapter seven, He doesn’t need to do that anymore, so He says, “Tell no one.”
I don’t like to say that Jesus tries to do anything.
He does things.
But it’s also true that Jesus can do more than one thing at a time.
So—what if—Jesus is really testing these men? Testing their faith?
What I mean is this:
The end of the Gospel lesson today is a quotation from Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6), where the faithful are told to expect the Christ, the Messiah, to come and save them. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5).
Most important there is not the blind eyes that God opens or the stopped-up ears that God unstops.
Most important there is the salvation that God wins and provides.
See, the ex-deaf man and His friends—so it seems—knew Jesus could unstop deaf ears. But they didn’t trust in Him for salvation. There was no faith there that sought to please God by not only hearing His Word but doing it.
So, the deaf man hears. But he doesn’t obey what he hears.
Upon receiving that which he desired most, he forgets that Jesus is God, in the flesh, come to save us from our sins—not just from stopped-up ears, blind eyes, bad backs, and bad days.
The example of the ex-deaf man and his friends should terrify us—because we know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t coexist with willful, deliberate sin.
C.F.W. Walther taught His students, in Thesis XVIII, of The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, that “The Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.”
It doesn’t matter how the ex-deaf man felt about now being an ex-deaf man. What matters is that Jesus charged them to tell no one—and—the more he charged them, the more zealously they disobeyed God.
“So, it is necessary to know and to teach this: When holy people—still having and feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it—happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them. The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. For St. John says, ‘No one born of God makes a practice of sinning…and he cannot keep on sinning’ (1 John 3:9). And yet it is also true when St. John says, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8)” (SA III.III.43-45).
Now, what I’ve just said is true.
It’s actually a quotation from the Smalcald Articles—part of the Lutheran Confessions that all Lutheran pastors and congregations believe, teach, and confess.
And that quotation should terrify us. Because we’re sinners.
But both are true.
1 John 1 is true. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
And 1 John 3 is true. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.
That’s why Jesus was testing them.
That’s why we don’t need miracles.
That’s why we’re surprised by Jesus telling the ex-deaf man to tell no one.
We’re sinners who want the Gospel without having heard the Law.
Our sinful flesh is surprised that Jesus tells the man to tell no one—why couldn’t Jesus just heal him? It’s not fair to heal a man and then teach Him to live a certain way, come on!
Do you realize how often this goes on today?
It’s unfair for God to say that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life, for the procreation of children—it’s unfair for God to say that and then let us be tempted by all kinds of sexual sins.
And since that’s unfair—but God’s not unfair—God must not have actually said that, and so we can do what feels right.
Do you see how it works?
People make that argument instead of listening to God.
They allow their sins to rule over them.
They chase the Holy Spirit away.
And there are other examples.
It’s unfair that God created humanity male and female when some men want to be women and some women want to be men. It’s unfair to tell him he’s a he or she’s a she.
It’s unfair that God commands wives to submit to their husbands. Does God know what century it is?
It’s unfair for God to demand faith in Christ alone for salvation.
So, let’s just do away with what we call unfair.
Let’s have our ears unstopped—and then close them to the Word. How ironic.
It’s impossible to receive the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins in Christ, if you’re unaware of your great need for salvation.
Jesus does all things well. It’s true.
The eyes of the blind are opened.
The ears of the deaf are unstopped.
It’s a miracle!
However, more importantly, most importantly, is that Jesus came to suffer and die in the place of sinners. You and me.
Whether you have blind eyes and deaf ears or not. Whether you receive your heart’s desire or not. Whether you receive your miracle or not.
You need Jesus.
And He comes to us to save us.
Repent of your sin. Believe in the Lord Jesus. Live according to His Word. And you will be saved.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!