“Jesus Speaks His ‘Ephphatha’ to Us” (Mark 7:31-37)

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 5, 2021

“Jesus Speaks His ‘Ephphatha’ to Us” (Mark 7:31-37)

In the Holy Gospel for today from Mark 7, people bring to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Jesus says to him, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” And, sure enough, the man’s ears are opened, his tongue is loosed, and he speaks plainly.

Now what you’ll often get in sermons based on this text is something like this: “Friends, our ears are deaf to God’s Word, and our tongues fail to speak plainly the good news to our neighbors. We need Jesus to speak his ‘Ephphatha’ to us and open our ears and loose our tongues.” In other words, the preacher just spiritualizes the text and basically ignores the physical healing.

We ought not to do that. The physical healing itself is important. Oh, we can get to a spiritual application also, but we shouldn’t skip over the actual healing of the man’s hearing and speaking. And we won’t. Today we’ll see how Jesus heals us both physically and spiritually, under the theme: “Jesus Speaks His ‘Ephphatha’ to Us.”

So the first thing we should say about this miracle, this healing, is that it really happened. Jesus really did open the deaf man’s ears and loose his tongue. This was a real physical healing. Sometimes we’re so eager to “spiritualize” this miracle and make applications about “opened ears” and “loosened tongues” that we forget the primary point, which is that Jesus really did a physical healing, enabling the man to hear and to speak clearly.

Listen, God our Creator cares about our bodies as well as our souls. The fact that our bodies are messed up and don’t work right is a symptom of our deeper spiritual problem, which is that we have sinned against God and come under the curse of futility and death. Our bodies are breaking down and dying as a result. But God cares about us in our misery. He has mercy upon us. This is why Christ, the Son of God, came down from heaven: to heal our souls and our bodies, to redeem us from sin and all its terrible consequences.

And so Jesus healing this deaf and dumb man’s infirmities is a sign. It’s a sign, a signal, pointing to who this man Jesus is and what he has come to do. It tells anyone who knows their Bibles that Jesus is fulfilling the great messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. For the Lord God had promised to send the Messiah, who would usher in a great age of blessing and restoration. We heard one of those messianic prophecies this morning in the reading from Isaiah 35. We heard that these signs would accompany the arrival of the Messiah: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

“The ears of the deaf unstopped”; “the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” This is precisely what Jesus is doing in our text. The message is clear: This man Jesus is the Messiah. He has come to do the work of healing our bodies and restoring creation and bringing in the end-time age of blessing.

And so it is. Jesus fulfills the Isaianic signs, as they are called, and thus demonstrates that that he is indeed the Messiah. God’s kingdom of blessing has come in his person. These miracles of restoration and healing are an advance down-payment, a sneak preview, a guarantee, of the restoration in full that Christ will do when he comes again at the last day. For now, we have these examples recorded in Scripture to tell us what is in store for us and to give us hope and encouragement to carry on until that day.

God has mercy on us in our misery. Jesus is the proof. Sometimes we may think that God has forgotten about us, that he doesn’t care about our hurts and our sorrows. But then we look at what Jesus is doing in the gospels–restoring creation, forgiving sins, healing broken bodies–and we’re reminded that God really does care. If we wonder, “Well, why doesn’t Jesus heal us now? Why just those people back then?” Well, even back then, not everyone who was sick got healed, and those that did get healed would end up dying from something else later on. But these examples of Jesus healing the sick that we have tell us what’s awaiting us, and on an even grander scale.

And that’s because Jesus deals with the underlying problem beneath all our problems. There is a deeper spiritual problem that underlies all our physical ailments. And it is that we all are born sinners, and therefore things don’t work right. The particulars vary from person to person, but the basic problem is the same. We all have sinned. We have not listened to God’s Word, our heart has not trusted God, and we have rebelled against his will. It is that sinful nature we all have, which produces all kinds of actual sins. And for that to get fixed, God has to do the job. We can’t fix it on our own.

That’s why Jesus came. He is the one who fixes it. Christ cared for us so much that he went to the cross to get the job done. The Son of God dying for sinners is the only solution that works. “He has done all things well,” the people said when Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man. Yes, and even more so! Jesus has truly done all things well. As in the work of creation, we see what God has done, and we say, “and behold, it was very good.”

“He has done all things well.” And the supreme thing Jesus has done well is to rescue and save a world of dying sinners. He rescues and saves you! Jesus died for you! He rose for you! He forgives all your sins. He will heal you of all your diseases. When he comes again, he will raise up your lifeless body, even as he himself rose from the dead. You have this hope even now. That’s what the healing of the deaf and dumb man is telling you today.

Assured of our physical healing, now we can move to the so-called spiritual application of our story. Jesus speaks his “Ephphatha” to us, so that our ears would be opened spiritually, opened to hear God’s Word aright. “Ephphatha”: Jesus says this word to us, so that our tongues would be loosed to glorify God and sing his praise. Jesus speaks his mighty “Ephphatha” to us, and his gospel word opens our ears to hear and our tongues to sing.

In the ancient church, at the time of St. Ambrose in the fourth century, when a person was baptized, the pastor would take his fingers and touch the person’s ears. The pastor would say that very word “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” The application was clear: God is at work in Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit opens our ears spiritually, to be able to hear God’s Word in the way we ought. Dear Christian, this is what happened in your baptism. Your ears have been opened. The Spirit calls you to repentance, and you hear what he’s saying. The Spirit assures you of God’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake, and you hear that good news and sing for joy. Your ears have been opened and your tongue loosed.

Opened ears and loosened tongue, spiritually. Martin Luther makes this point in a sermon he preached on this text. Luther says: “Christ shows us that he opens ears and unbinds tongues. He seeks to perform this work daily in his church. . . . To this day the greatest miracle and mightiest work is giving a person ears that gladly hear God’s Word and a tongue that honors God and does not blaspheme.

“Many people are a thousand times worse off than this poor deaf and dumb man. They have ears that are really stopped up. They hear God’s Word and yet really do not hear it, nor do they want to. But those who hear God’s Word gladly and to whom Christ says, as to the deaf man, ‘Ephphatha,’ are helped. . . . God has shown us no other way by which we can come into heaven than through his precious Word, the Holy Gospel. Whoever gladly and diligently hears and receives it and who loves and delights in it will be helped.

“God also stirs our tongues and causes us to speak. . . . [But] our tongues will not be loosed, our ears opened, faith in our hearts begun, without the outward, oral preaching of the Word and external Sacraments. For parish pastors and preachers are the fingers of our Lord God, the servants and spittle through which he looses our tongues and opens our ears. When you hear them, God says to your heart, as to this deaf man, ‘Ephphatha!’ so that your ears are opened, your tongue unsticks, and you become a hearing, speaking person, no longer deaf and mute.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus says to each one of us today, “Ephphatha,” “Be opened.” And our ears are opened to hear the good news. It is good news both physically and spiritually. Healing of both body and soul is the gift that Christ has for us. He forgives all our sins by his blood shed on the cross. He will raise up our bodies whole and fully restored, everything working the way it should, in the resurrection at the last day. This is our faith. This is our hope. And this is what causes our tongues to sing for joy. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Published in: on September 4, 2021 at 2:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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