Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
19 August 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
And after He looked up into heaven, He groaned and said unto him, “Ephthatha”, that is, “Be opened.” (Mark 7.34; my translation)
The English Standard Version translates the word “groaned” as “sighed.” Sighing may not catch all that the word really means. Sighing as we use that word is a deliberate response and usually indicates frustration or weariness. We’ve all sighed in disbelief or frustration at the words or actions of ourselves or those around us. Some sighed at the parking situation at yesterday’s airshow. Many groaned when they realized how far they would have to walk.
Groaning in the Scriptures takes place because of some condition under which man suffers and from which he longs to be free. God heard the groaning of Israel under the heavy burden of slavery in Egypt. This condition is not in accord with one’s nature, expectations, or hopes. It certainly involves frustration or weariness. But it’s more than that. One definition says that a groan is an involuntary grunt or exclamation that escapes from a wounded person.
But Jesus is not the wounded person. Jesus does not suffer under some condition from which he longs to be free. The deaf-mute man is wounded, does suffer.
But Jesus is the man who is stepping in for this deaf-mute man, and for every man, woman, and child. Jesus is the man who is bearing in His own body the weight of man’s sin and shame and all the damage those cause.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2:24; ESV)
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed…
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth… (Is. 53:5,7; ESV)
For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21; ESV)
Having looked up to heaven in prayer to His Father, Jesus groans because of what has happened to this man. This is His blood brother. When one man in Christ’s body hurts, suffers, the whole body hurts, suffers. The damage sin does hurts, hurts us all.
Jesus groans over the man’s silent tongue. Jesus knows what harm wicked tongues have wrought. The greatest harm is often done, isn’t it, by the piece of flesh that flaps between the teeth. We hurt each other quite readily and all too easily with the tongue, with gossip, slander, words said in anger and without thought for the damage and consequences our words may bring to others and to ourselves. We fail to use our tongue to pray for those around us, and fail to confess and sing the praises of the Lord to the blessing of those around us.
One sixteenth century Lutheran pastor wrote this about damage done by the tongue: “The Turk [Moslem] did great harm to Christendom with sword and armor, but that is a trifle compared with the harm that the papists’ crowd does with their false doctrine. A good Christian might well groan, indeed, weep tears of blood, at such poisonous, wicked, deceitful tongues – not those which lie or beguile in the marketplace or at home, but those which speak lies or bring to light false doctrine from the pulpit.” (Spangenberg; Christian Year of Grace, 293)
Preaching false doctrine started with the serpent preaching falsehood to Eve in the garden. Popes and many other preachers err and continue to err against the clear Word of God in Holy Scriptures. Even small lies that sound pious have grievous consequences. The Psalmist warns,
Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right.
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue. (Ps. 52.2-4; ESV)
Jesus groans over the man’s stopped up ears. Jesus knows what harm has been done to hearts and minds and souls through what the ear hears. Jesus also knows that men grow fond of hearing the doctrines of devils and inventions of men rather than hearing God’s Word. The Apostle Paul wrote, “A time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but will set up teachers for themselves who scratch their ears.” (2 Tim. 4.3)
So we can never tolerate false doctrine from any preacher, not here, nor out in the world, be it pope, or from some other brand that preaches and teaches falsely. But you must also be skeptical of the false wisdom of your own sin-stained heart and mind. When you indeed say the hurtful thing to the neighbor, or about the neighbor, or when you hold grudges, or refuse to forgive those who wrong you, or lash out at those around you in anger and with hurtful words, or when you for no legitimate reason stay away from Divine Service, or when you do not set aside time to study the Word and pray instead of the time you devote to more worldly thing – you stop up your ears to the clear and life-giving word of God and listen to false teaching that comes from the devil.
Of course Jesus groans. He sees clearly what murderous harm the devil has wrought in Paradise, and what sorrow and distress he still works daily throughout the world, making all men deaf and mute, blind and lame toward every good. This groaning was for all men’s tongues and ears. Christ is gazing far beyond that man, namely over all mankind from Adam down to the very last man. (Spangenberg, 294)
Jesus groans because He is the friend of sinners. He has compassion on all who suffer. We are not only criminals, we are also victims. He groans in sorrow and frustration over our confusion and self-righteousness. He groans in grief over our sins and self-inflicted pain. He groans in anger over that which has been done to us by the devil, by our neighbors, and even by our loved ones. Getting involved with us means that we will hurt Him, that we will complicate matters, that we will betray Him in a thousand ways – but it doesn’t matter. He gets involved anyway. He sticks His finger in our ear. He spits on our tongue. He is dirtied by the interaction. He does what it takes to free you from sin’s awful load. He takes our sorrow, our sin, our blame into Himself in order to heal and save us.
He is not done with you. He answers imperfect prayers – the ones when we ask for everything in the book, and the prayer when we just groan inwardly as in the pain of childbirth, waiting eagerly for our final adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies out of this sin sick world, when we do not know what to pray for as we ought in our weakness – and the Holy Spirit must intercede for us with “groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8.22-27) Jesus and His Spirit intercede and still even groan with and for us.
Jesus abides with sinful men, abides with you, in the darkness and the silence, in the pain and the grief. He abides with you in His life-giving Word, His forgiveness given in Word and Sacrament. Your sins are not enough to drive Him away or disgust Him. He loves you and after healing this man, He marches toward Jerusalem for you. This is more astonishing than any other miracle: He is faithful to you even unto death and has risen from the dead in order to bring you to Himself alive and healed on the last day. On that day, no more groaning. There will only be joy, the praises of all the brothers and sisters of the Lord. Indeed, you will know and see and sing: He does do all things well.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +