When Amy had her brain tumor removed a couple of years ago, she became deaf in her left ear. We thank God that the tumor was benign. However, as an acoustic neuroma, the tumor had grown out of her auditory nerve. In order to remove the tumor that was beginning to press on her brain stem, the surgeons had to destroy the nerve when they removed the tumor – there was no way to save it.
Being deaf in that ear has required adjustments. However, Amy says there has been one great benefit. Now it has been claimed that that I snore quite loudly. I find this to be extremely unlikely, because I have never heard it. However, after rooming with me at the district convention, our head elder Frank Glaub says that he will not do so again because I hindered his ability to sleep. So maybe it is true. After all, Jesus said things should be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
So let us grant that perhaps I do snore. Amy says that since the surgery this is now absolutely no problem. She turns her head, puts her right ear down on the pillow, and with her deaf left hear open to the air she hears nothing at all and sleeps just fine. Now that is what you call taking lemons and making lemonade.
Of course deafness is no laughing matter, especially when one is talking about complete deafness. Some of the greatest frustration I have seen in the ministry has been among the elderly whose hearing loss is so profound that they are for all intents and purposes deaf. Having lived their whole life hearing, the inability to hear and communicate becomes deeply upsetting.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus encounter a man who was not only deaf, but also had a profound speech impediment. Our text tells us that Jesus has been in the region of Tyre and Sidon, in the far northwest along the Mediterranean Sea. He had returned from there to the area that was on the east side of the Sea of Galilee – a region that was called the Decapolis because of the ten cities that were located there.
In our text Mark tells us, “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.” Our Lord had become well known for his healing ministry. In particular this healing was often associated with Jesus’ touch – with his laying hands on people. Two chapters earlier, Jairus came to Jesus and implored him, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
We learn that Jesus took the man aside from the crowd privately. Then our Lord put his fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Next he looked up to heaven. Our translation says that he then “sighed.” This word can also be translated as “groaned.” Either way, it expresses the response our Lord had as he stood in the presence of what sin has done to us and the world.
God created a world that was very good. It is sin that has brought suffering, sickness and death. The fallenness of the world is what causes all of those things that we have no control over, yet which afflict us physically – things like cancer, COVID, cancer, and cataracts. As Jesus, the Son of God, lived in our world he encountered these things first hand – he met them in the flesh. And Jesus reacted to what he knew was so very wrong – so very different from what God had intended and created.
Yet Jesus was also here to do something about it. He said, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” and the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Our Lord had performed this miracle of healing. But he ordered them to tell no one about it. That may seem strange at first, but there was in fact a very good reason. Jesus wanted to define his ministry for people. He didn’t want them drawing their own conclusions, which were almost guaranteed to be wrong. However we learn that the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Today we hear in our Gospel lesson about a miracle that Jesus did. Yet in the description of this miracle we have a very unique feature that provides us with a very specific understanding of what it means. We are told that they brought a man “who was deaf and had a speech impediment.” Now the word translated here as “speech impediment” is the kind of word that you hate when you are learning Greek. You hate it because it is so rare that is unlikely you are ever going to have learned it. In fact, in the all of the New Testament and the Greek translation of the Old Testament it only occurs twice. It is found here, and in Isaiah chapter 35.
In that chapter, the prophet describes the return from exile. But he does so in a way that clearly speaks about far more than just the people returning from exile. In fact the return from exile becomes something that is used to describe the even greater rescue that God is going to provide – the end time salvation that God is going to give.
Isaiah writes, “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 the end time salvation that Isaiah described. By healing the man he was bringing this deliverance and salvation into the world. Yet remember how our Lord commanded the people not to tell others about the miracle because he wanted to define his ministry? He didn’t want other people drawing their own conclusions.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, had not entered into the world in the incarnation in order to deal only with the effects of sin – with the ways we experience the fallenness of the world. He had come to deal with sin itself. And sin is not only about physical consequences over which we have no control. It is about what we think, and do, and say. Earlier in this same chapter Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” If you listen to that list, you will know that Jesus is describing you.
Jesus had come to provide the answer to sin. But while his miracles brought the amazement of the crowds, the way he was he was going to do this would not strike people as astonishing and wonderful. In the very next chapter, Mark tells us: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Jesus had come to suffer and die for our sins. Our Lord said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is what Jesus did as he died on the cross. He gave himself as the ransom who won forgiveness by receiving the judgment of God against us.
But Jesus also said that after three days he would rise again. The result of sin is sickness and death. Jesus did not only win forgiveness for us before the Father. By his resurrection he has defeated death and begun the life that will never know sickness again – the life where there will be no cancer, COVID and cataracts.
Our Lord gives to us now the forgiveness and salvation he has won. He is doing it at this very moment through the proclamation of his Word – of his Gospel. He did it at the beginning of the service in absolution. He has done it in baptism as he washed away our sins and sanctified us.
Through faith in our crucified and risen Lord we have forgiveness. And the Spirit who worked that faith continues to be at work in us. He has made us a new creation in Christ. He leads us to put to death those things the old Adam still wants to proceed from our heart – the coveting, lust, slander, and all the rest. Instead he leads and helps us to walk in the way of Christ – the way of love, service, and kindness.
In our text we see Jesus heal a man. This miracle, like all of Jesus’ healing miracles, points forward to the final salvation and restoration he will bring on the Last Day. His miracle in our text causes us listen to the prophet Isaiah as he says to us today: “‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’”
Indeed, your God has come. He came as the incarnate Son of God who suffered, died and rose from the dead for you. Because of Jesus there is no need to fear. There is no need to fear sin because it is forgiven. There is no need to fear cancer, COVID or cataracts because Jesus has promised his continuing love in the present. And by his resurrection he has rendered death powerless. It cannot separate you from God - for you to die is to be with Christ.
It cannot even hold your body, because your God will come again. The Lord Jesus will return on the Last Day to raise up your body and transform it to be like his. He will bring the consummation of his saving work. 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.