First time parents are pretty much all the same. It’s the first child so everything is new and special and exciting. Entrusted with the care of this little life they are so concerned about doing everything right and watching out for the child.
Amy and I were certainly that way. When we only had Timothy and we went somewhere, we would constantly follow him around to make sure that he was safe. If he was eating crackers, dropped one on the ground and went to pick it up and eat it, we swooped in order to snatch it away and keep it out of his mouth.
How very different things have been for us with our fourth child! While we certainly still have Michael’s safety in mind when he is out and about, basically if there isn’t an open flame or a swimming pool involved we aren’t all that concerned. As for food dropping on the ground, we just haven’t been uptight about it – the five second rule definitely carries the day.
First time parents doesn’t recognize the things that are really no big deal. But because they are first time parents, sometimes they also don’t recognize the things that are a big deal. I was certainly a case in point.
Timothy was our first child and I really hadn’t been around children in the early stages of development. I knew that when he first began to speak he was difficult to understand – but I didn’t really think much of it. As time went on Amy and I became attuned to the way he spoke, but others couldn’t understand what he was saying, and we would have to “translate” what Timothy was said.
It was Amy who first observed that this was not the way things were supposed to be developing. I had no clue that there was any problem, and at first was skeptical. But once Amy pointed it out, I soon realized that there was a problem. I am very thankful that there was a wonderful speech therapy program available when we lived in the Chicago area. They helped to get Timothy’s speech back on track and today when you interact with a smart, articulate middle school student you would never know there had been some problems when he was little.
Speech therapy is something we take for granted in our world. But of course, it was not something that existed in ancient world. There was no help for someone who struggled with this - and certainly no help for someone who was deaf. Yet in our Gospel lesson today we see Jesus heal a man who suffered from both of these. We learn that in the person of Jesus Christ the reign of God broke into our world in order to free people from sin and all the wrong it has caused.
In our text, Jesus is in northern Israel, in an area where many Gentiles lived. We are told that they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. We aren’t told who brought the man. Unable to hear and unable to communicate he would have had very few opportunities in the first century Palestinian world – he would have been living a very difficult life.
They brought him to Jesus and asked our Lord to lay his hand on him. People had heard about Jesus. They knew that he was performing miracles of healing and so they brought this unfortunate man to Jesus in the hope that his touch would bring healing.
They wanted Jesus to lay his hand on the man. However, the man probably got more than he expected! We are told that Jesus took the man away from the crowd, so that it was just the two of them. Then, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting he touched the man’s tongue. Then Jesus groaned and said to him, “Ephphatha,” which is Armaic for, “Be opened.” And we are told that “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
After Jesus had healed the man he ordered them to tell no one. Our Lord does this on a number of occasions in the Gospels, and at first it may seem puzzling. After all, doesn’t Jesus want people to know about his saving ministry? Yet what we see here is that Jesus wants to define his ministry. The first century Jewish world had all kinds of hopes and expectations about the one God would send and what he would do. Many of these dealt with power, glory and success.
As the miracle demonstrated, Jesus had great power. But he had not come to use that power in ways that the world expects. He had come to serve. He had come to bring relief to the lowly and suffering. He was going to provide the answer to the root cause of suffering – he was going to provide the answer to sin. However, he was going to do this by suffering in his own person. He was going to suffer and die on behalf of the sins of all people. As Jesus will say just later in this Gospel: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
However, the people didn’t want to do it Jesus’ way. It was all so cool! It was all so exciting! When you know something cool and exciting, how can you keep it to yourself? And besides you can be the center of attention when you have something cool and exciting to share. And so we learn that the more he commanded them to keep it to themselves, the more they were proclaiming it to others. After all, it was amazing stuff. They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The people didn’t listen to what Jesus told them. They had their own idea about how things should be done – about how things should work. Jesus wanted to do things in his own way and his own time. He was going to do things in the way of the cross. They wanted to do things in the way of success and glory.
The fact of the matter is that this describes us too – and I freely include myself. You see, deep down, we really don’t like what Jesus tells us to do right now. In our text this morning we hear about a miracle. Jesus heals a man who was deaf and couldn’t speak. We see that in Gospels Jesus heals many people who were afflicted by many kinds of illnesses and conditions. And you know what? Most likely that is not going to happen to you. Jesus doesn’t tell you to expect healing. He tells you to believe and trust in him for the forgiveness of sins. He tells you to receive his Means of Grace so that you can be sustained in that faith. He tells you to believe and trust in him as you look for his return on the Last Day when he will transform your body so that it will never again need healing.
And frankly, that’s not what we want to hear. We want results now. We want healing now. We want freedom from cares now. And because Jesus doesn’t do that – because Jesus doesn’t even promise that – we get frustrated. We doubt his word. We stop listening to his word, and we don’t put it at the center of our life.
Jesus tells those who witnessed the miracle not to talk about it because he was in the process of carrying out the saving work of God. It was a work that needed to be done in God’s way, and that was a way that would surprise many people because it wasn’t going to happen in the way of success and glory. Instead, it was going to occur through the cross.
Yet make no mistake – the miracle in today’s text does say that it is God at work bringing salvation and restoration. The man who is healed is described as having a speech impediment. After Jesus heals the man, the astounded people say, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The Gospel’s description of the man as having a speech impediment and the crowd’s reaction point directly to what Isaiah chapter 35 says in the Old Testament. There the prophet describes the future salvation that God is going to bring and writes, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 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.”
Mark is telling us that in Jesus’ ministry this salvation has arrived. It’s here! Jesus himself announced this at the beginning of his ministry when he went into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at arrived; repent and believe in the gospel.”
The end time salvation of God has arrived and is already at work. And we know this is true because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The source of our hope for the future is his resurrection because it means that in Jesus the new creation has already begun. The renewal and restoration of our bodies has already started in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What has happened to him will happen to us because our bodies will be transformed to be like his. The root cause of all this is wrong – sin – has been dealt with by our Lord’s death on the cross, and the renewal of all things has begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
And so right now, we need to listen to Jesus’ word. The final salvation has started in Jesus, but its consummation and fulfillment has not yet arrived. Sin is still here and physical suffering is still here. Our Lord calls us to believe and trust in him. He calls us to live in peace, because our sins are forgiven and we are the children of God. He calls us to live in hope, because we know what has already happened in Jesus and what will therefore happen on the Last Day.
In order to support and sustain us while we look for his return, Jesus Christ keeps doing the same things that we see in our text this morning. He freed the man with his word, “Ephaphtha!” Our Lord continues to free us from the sin in our lives by his word – the word of the Gospel as it comes to us in the reading and preaching of the Scriptures. He frees us with his word of Holy Absolution as he forgives all our sins.
And in our text Jesus healed the man with his bodily touch. Jesus continues to do the same thing for us as he touches us in his holy Sacrament. In the Sacrament of the Altar he touches us with his true body and blood, given and shed for us. He gives to you the very price he paid for your salvation and in receiving it you know that this forgiveness is for you. He gives into your body his own crucified and risen body and blood through which he nourishes the new man in you and guarantees that your body too will be raised up and transformed on the Last Day.
By these gifts he gives us forgiveness, life and salvation now. And by these gifts he points us forward to the consummation of his saving work when he returns in glory. He holds up before us the promise that he will make all things very good once again, for that is the purpose of his entire saving work. It was a saving work that he carried out with the man in our text. It is a saving work that he continues to carry out in our midst this morning through his Means of Grace. Sustained in the present by his astounding gifts, we can look towards the future and exclaim in faith, truly, “He has done all things well.”