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Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
St. Mark 7.31-37
08 September 2019
“All You Who Hear His Word”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
In the name of Jesus Christ, who is able to work wonders in every land and in every home and heart, and with a single word to loose all our bonds of adversity, and to merit the worthy praise that He has done all things well; ever most blessed and adored with God the heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end: Amen. (Valerius Herberger, Trinity XII Sermon, trans. Matthew Carver)
…O hosts with might excelling with praise before Him fall.
Praise Him forever reigning, all you who hear His Word –
Our life and all sustaining. My soul, O praise the Lord! (LSB 820, stanza 4)
The deaf mute man that Jesus heals in today’s Gospel is in the region called the Decapolis, or the ten small cities by the Sea of Galilee. In Gentile territory. We’ve been here before this Trinity season, as Pastor Meyer pointed out in his sermon on the feeding of the four thousand about one month ago. (Mark 8.1-10) In this region, Jesus had previously healed a man with a legion of demons in him, driving the demons into a herd of pigs, which rushed over a cliff and drowned. The people are afraid of Jesus and beg Him to leave.
The man freed from the demons wanted to follow Jesus, but was told by Jesus to stay behind and tell everyone all the great things God had done for him. Jesus wanted the man to preach this good news – these people needed to hear about Jesus to trust Him. The man apparently did. (Mark 5.1-20) Now, as Jesus returns sometime later to the region, the people of the Decapolis, once afraid of Jesus and His power to heal, now know and trust that Jesus was willing and able to help their deaf mute friend. After this healing, four thousand of these Gentiles will follow Jesus three days listening to Him, and will be fed with miracle bread from heaven’s bounty.
It all started with someone inviting and telling about Jesus. Come and see, come and hear Him. People are depicted in the Gospels doing this all the time. Remember the friends who lowered the paralytic through the roof to get him to Jesus despite the crowd in the house with Jesus? (Mark 2.1-12) Remember the Centurion with great faith who interceded to Jesus for his paralyzed servant to be healed? “…You say the word only, Lord, and my servant shall be healed.” (Matthew 8.5-13) Remember how Andrew brought his brother Peter, and how Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus with an insistent, “You come and see” if anything good comes from Nazareth? (John 1.40-49) All of these have something in common. They have heard a good word about Jesus. They bring their friends. Like the crowds at the Decapolis.
There is no greater love than to invite and bring your friend to Jesus. And it is not hard to do. It requires only that you have a friend, that you know where Jesus is, and that you bring your friend to where Jesus is. Your friend can be your husband or wife, your son or daughter, your relative, your neighbor, your teacher, your classmate, or coworker. Your friend needs Jesus.
You have friends who suffer from all sorts of problems. You do too. You can’t fix them. You wouldn’t even know where to begin. But Jesus can. And He will. He is both willing and able to help people in need. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15.13) And it is love, pure Christian love, to invite and bring your friend to him who laid down His life for us all.
The man who was deaf and suffered from an impediment of speech had some good friends. They were powerless to help him. They couldn’t do a thing for him. But they knew who could. They heard about Jesus. So they brought him to Jesus.
Here at the Divine Service, is where Jesus is, and the people He calls His children. The first words spoken under the sign of the cross are: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This is called the invocation. At these first words, we call upon God in the words of our baptism. We lay claim to the promises God made to us when He named us and joined His name to ours in the blessed water connected to His Word.
Here we gather and here Jesus promises to be: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.15) And again He said, “…And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20) Jesus is wherever His gospel is purely proclaimed and His sacraments rightly administered, according to His Word. So He says and so we believe.
And His ministry is glorious. It is, as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle, the ministry of righteousness that gives life. That’s what that deaf man’s friends gave him. By loving him enough to bring him to Jesus they gave him life, life for today and tomorrow and beyond.
Then, looking up to heaven, [Jesus] groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7.34-36)
Note how Jesus responded to the man’s need. He took him aside from the crowd, Mark tells us. Jesus meets the man where he is. Through signs, He indicated to the man He would be giving him the ability to hear and to speak. Then He looked up to heaven and groaned. He signaled that He was doing God’s work from heaven, for him, to overcome the effects sin had wrought on this man.
But then Jesus spoke. He said to him, “Ephphatha.” That means, “Be opened.”
The power and the miracle wasn’t when Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. It wasn’t when Jesus spat and then touched the man’s tongue. It wasn’t when Jesus groaned and looked up into heaven. Jesus opened the man’s ears and loosened the man’s tongue by speaking. By His word He showed mercy, here was the ministry of righteousness, the ministry of the Spirit that gives life back to a fallen and decayed world, to fallen and sin-sick men and women. By His word He gave the man what the man needed. By His word preached about Him, they had all been gathered to Jesus in the first place. By His word He fulfilled the love the man’s friends had shown for him by bringing him to Jesus.
Now however, Jesus does the strange thing to this no doubt overjoyed and astonished crowd of friends. With their friend healed, Jesus tells them to remain silent. Tell no one.
Why? It was not yet time, for Jesus had not yet fulfilled the law and redeemed the human race. By preaching about Jesus at that point in time, they would leave out the message of His suffering and death for the sin of the world, and they would be distorting His true work. He did not come into this world to provide healing as a prelude to death. The formerly demon possessed man, the healed paralytic, this formerly deaf-mute man: they all died to this temporal life, eventually. What good are the faculties of a clean mind and spirit, of being able to walk, of hearing and fluent speech, for people who will, sooner or later, lose all of their faculties in death?
Jesus’ love and mercy are greater than what He gives in these glorious healings! He came into this world to deliver you, His people, to save sinners from their sins by bearing all their sins on the cross, and removing them from you. God does not desire to treat us as we merit, instead “He sets His anger by… and high as heaven above us, as dawn from close of day, so far, since He has loved us, He puts our sins away.” (LSB 820, stanza 2) This is Jesus’ glorious ministry of righteousness, a ministry that brings eternal life to every nation, to all who believe on His name, to you and to your friends.
That ministry of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ goes out now at His blessing and command, and the risen Lord raises men up to preach in His many harvest fields, and we have been visited in recent years by missionaries to Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Togo, Ghana, and at the last Sunday of this month, we will hear about that ministry in Kenya from our former vicar, Walter Steele, who is now called to go there and teach future Kenyan Lutheran pastors. Jesus opens ears to hear with His Gospel of life and salvation in Him all around this world. And, Jesus blesses your efforts here to bring your friends to hear His saving Word. Even when they seem to be ignored or rebuffed, God’s Word on God’s time opens ears to hear and believe His Gospel and be saved.
Jesus Christ alone can do that. And He does it. What He did so long ago when He went to Calvary to suffer and die is what He gives you right here and now every time you gather in His name. The sin that blocks your ears from hearing God and that keeps your mouth from singing His praises is forgiven whenever and wherever you hear His gospel, His words of absolution, and the words of the Sacrament, “…given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
Truly He does all things well, said those amazed people. The more Jesus asked them to keep it on the down-low, the more zealously they proclaimed it. Now is the time to match their zealous sharing of this Good News in Jesus Christ, because you have the word to share of something far greater – the comfort of eternal life in Christ. For now is the appointed time, now is the day of salvation.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +