I think that many of you are aware that when Amy had surgery to remove her brain tumor, she lost all hearing in her left ear. The type of tumor Amy had is known as an acoustic neuroma. In this case, the tumor grows off the acoustic nerve that carries the sound data to the brain. It was her rapidly diminishing hearing in that ear that caused her to go to the doctor in the first place and led to the discovery of the tumor. In Amy’s case, there was no possible way to remove the tumor without also removing and destroying the acoustic nerve. And so since the surgery, she is completely deaf in her left ear.
Naturally, this has required some adjustments. I have learned that I must always walk on Amy’s right side if I want to be able to have a conversation with her. When we go to one of the kids’ sports events, I have to make sure I sit on her right side, otherwise there is really no way to comment to her about what is happening. And of course, the adjustments for Amy have been even greater as she gets used to being deaf in that ear. One of the more interesting ones is that she still experiences a sort of ringing on that side of her head, as her brain seeks out the signal from the acoustic nerve that is no longer there.
In the midst of this, Amy has discovered one real benefit from being deaf in that ear. She reports that I snore when I sleep – something which I certainly contest because I have never heard it. But Amy says that since the surgery this is no longer a problem for her at all. She just turns her head, puts her right ear down on the pillow, and with the deaf ear on the other side she hears absolutely nothing. Problem solved.
Humor aside, Amy’s experience has made me think more about people who are completely deaf. And we encounter just such a situation in our Gospel lesson this morning. Mark tells us that Jesus had been north of Galilee in area of Tyre and Sidon. There he had just healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman who had demonstrated such great faith in Jesus as she implored that the Lord to help her daughter.
Now Mark tells us that “he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” Jesus went to an area that bordered the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee. We learn 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.”
This man was deaf. From our text we also learn that he had some kind of speech issue. The man could not hear what others had to say. And he could not communicate effectively with others. These were tragic circumstances in which he lived.
We aren’t told who brought the man, but obviously they cared for him. They had also heard about Jesus and believed he could help. And so they begged Jesus to lay his hand on the man – they begged Jesus to touch him.
Jesus’ touch – the laying on of his hand – is something that is mentioned repeatedly in Mark’s Gospel. In the first chapter Jesus’ touches a leper with his hand and cleanses him. Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him to lay his hand on his little daughter so that she will be healed. In the next chapter people bring a blind man to Jesus and ask the Lord to touch him. In fact we learn that at different times people pressed in on Jesus trying to touch him because those who did received healing.
This physical, tactile aspect of Jesus’ ministry should catch our attention. Jesus Christ is the Son of God – the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. As the Son, he is eternal. He always has been one God with the Father and the Spirit, and always will be. But in the incarnation he entered into our world as he took on our human nature and lived a physical, bodily existence. St. Paul told the Colossians about Christ: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
As true God and true man the Lord brought his saving power to others through touch. In our text we learn that he took the man aside by himself. Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” Then, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. People were completely astonished by the miracle and said, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The Son of God entered into our world to bring us salvation. But he did so as part of a very specific history. He did so as the fulfillment of very specific promises that God had made to and through Israel. Several factors in our text leave no doubt that we are to understand this action by Jesus as a fulfillment of these words written by the prophet Isaiah:
“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.”
Jesus Christ was the presence of God’s end time salvation. He came to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God – that addresses the problem of sin in every possible way. In his healing ministry, the Lord was reversing what sin has done. In our text, before healing the man Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed or groaned. He did so because he stood in the presence of what was not meant to be – he was encountering something that was not very good. He was standing before one way that sin had brought suffering into this world.
But Jesus Christ was here bodily in this world to do something about it. He showed this in his healing ministry through his touch. But all of Jesus’ healing miracles pointed forward to the one great healing miracle he had come to work through his own body.
In chapter ten Jesus says to his apostles, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” And then in the same chapter he says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus Christ had come to provide the answer to sin by means of his body. He came to address the problem of every sin – every way that you place God second in your life; every way that you hurt others with your words and actions. He came to be nailed to a cross – nails driven through the hands that had healed others. He came to give his life as the ransom for you – as the sacrifice that covers your every sin. He came to win forgiveness for you before God.
And then, through his body, Jesus Christ began the renewal and restoration that encompasses every believer, and even creation itself. Dead and buried in a tomb, just as Jesus had said, on the third day God raised up Jesus’ body. Jesus Christ had no sin, yet his body was one that could suffer and die as he received God’s judgment against our sin. But now in his resurrection, his body is one that has been transformed so that it can never die again. And in that body the Jesus who is still true God and true man, ascended into heaven as the exalted Lord.
Our Lord who has won this victory still has compassion on us. And he is still using his body to give us forgiveness, healing and salvation. He will do it in just a few moments here in the Divine Service. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus Christ uses bread and wine to be bodily present with us. He gives us his true body and blood as he continues to provide his healing touch. He places his body and blood into our mouth to give us the forgiveness of sins. He touches us in this way to strengthen us in faith as he gives us food for the new man.
Jesus Christ touches us with his body through the Sacrament of the Altar. In doing so he gives us forgiveness and the assurance of healing. Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection is the beginning of our complete and total healing. His bodily resurrection is the first fruits of our own resurrection.
During the last two years our congregation has experienced many serious health problems – most of them due to cancer. When we or our fellow Christian are afflicted with something like this, we pray that God will work through the doctors and medicine to provide healing. And we have indeed experienced remarkable answers to those prayers – answers that we earnestly desire. This past week Charlotte Dollar’s scan results showed yet again that her lung cancer is stagnant, and so the Lord continues to bless us with more days with her. After drastic surgery for cancer Anne Simmons, is once again here with us on Sunday in the Divine Service. We pray for these things and give thanks and praise to God when he grants them.
But no matter how much we pray, until Jesus Christ returns, every one of us will die. The timing may not be what we want or expect, but the outcome will always be the same. We will die. But because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection we know that death cannot hold us, and it cannot hold our body.
It cannot hold us because to die is to be with the Lord. The eternal life we have in Christ cannot be ended by death. Death is impotent in the face of the life Christ has already given to you. You have been baptized into Christ. You have been born again of water and he Spirit. Death cannot separate you from life in Christ.
And death cannot hold your body because Jesus Chris has risen from the dead. His bodily resurrection is the first fruits of our own resurrection. In the Sacrament, the risen and exalted Lord gives his true body and blood into your body. The early Church described the Sacrament as the “medicine of immortality.” It is the guarantee that your body too will be raised and transformed on the Last Day.
In the Sanctus, we sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” because we are preparing for our Lord to come to us in body and blood in the Sacrament. But each coming in the Sacrament points forward to his coming on the Last Day. Each celebration of the Sacrament is a foretaste of the feast to come.
For the Lord will come again. He will come, no longer hidden under bread and wine, but he will return in glory and might. He will return, and he will give us the full and complete healing that will never end. He will make our bodies to be like his glorious resurrected body. For as St. Paul told the Philippians, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” On that day things will be very good once again, because of Jesus who has done all things well.