Almighty, everlasting God, gracious maker of all things, we thank You that You have given us our bodies and graciously protected our tongues, ears, and other members from the evil foe. We beseech You to grant us your grace, that we may use our ears and tongues rightly, with ears diligently hearing and marking Your Word, with tongues praising and extolling your grace, that none may be caused to stumble by our tongues, but that all rather may be edified. Amen. [LPC #110]
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
For what purpose did God design and make us with the features we have? Some features might not be a part of God’s design, but we can be sure that the mouth and the ears are. They allow people to interact with each other using another gift that resides in the mind: language. And what a gift it is! What uses have people made of it! Think of the works of William Shakespeare. Think of the music of Mozart. Helen Keller teaches us that we can have language and thought without hearing or even seeing. But the original instruments of language in the body are the tongue and ears. That’s how we become connected to language. The very word language comes from words that mean “tongue!”
For what purpose did God give this gift to you? To me? To the people who use it so constantly? What makes this gift truly mature and complete? Jesus shows us today that language is God’s gift. But as His blessing, it leads us back to Him.
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 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. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus[a] charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by your truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus performed this miracle in an area that was not Jewish. It had been Roman since before Julius Caesar’s ally Pompey had organized these ten cities under the authority of Syria. So the people there were not especially concerned about Jesus as the Messiah. Yet they did recognize divine power when they saw it. Jesus had cast out a legion of demons from a man into a herd of swine, and the healed man had gone home to this area and told everyone what Jesus had done. Now Jesus was traveling through with His disciples, staying away from the settled Jewish lands. Soon he would feed a crowd of 4,000 with few loaves and fish.
Despite that the people were not Jewish, Jesus’ ministry included them. The miraculous signs and His teaching included them. Their idolatry as they worshipped Roman or Greek gods separated them from the true God of the Jews, but Jesus was teaching them to be a part of the salvation that the Jewish people witnessed in their Scriptures, and now in the person of Jesus. He would soon go to Jerusalem to give His life as a ransom for sins, not only for the Jews, but also for the people of the Decapolis, and for us.
This miracle was important for the man who received it, but it remains important for us. It teaches us (even us Gentiles) about our sinful condition, and about God’s solution.
It says the man was deaf. He could not hear. Most importantly, he could not hear language. As a result, he also could not speak except maybe with great difficulty.
But the Word of God is given in language. It is written, sure, but also spoken. God spoke it Himself to the patriarchs, to Moses, and others. When Jesus taught, it was by means of the spoken word. The deafness of this man was an ordinary condition in this world, where the state of sinfulness has far-reaching effects. It wouldn’t have had to be his own sin or any particular wrongdoing that made him deaf. It’s enough that he is descended from Adam, like us.
At birth, the nurses come and test the hearing of a newborn baby. What they can’t test is the ability to hear God’s Word. This is a separate created gift, just like working ears.
Our Confessions in the Formula of Concord say this about the sinful state of humanity: “It is so deep a corruption of human nature that nothing healthy or uncorrupt remains in man’s body or soul, in his inward or outward powers.” We may be able to hear and understand language, but without God’s help, we are deaf to His Word.
So Jesus went through a sort of liturgy with this man. Fingers in his ears, touching his tongue with his own saliva: Jesus was going to enter this man’s mind and heart using the outward tools of His humanity. He made it clear that this would happen by a sort of sign language, and then He added the spoken Word of God to the sign. “Be opened.” It was a command just like when God said so many times in the beginning, “Let there be…” and there was. So also now, this man was opened not only to hearing sound and language, but opened to speaking it clearly and easily. More than that, he was opened to the truth that Jesus has the power of God and uses it to heal and to save. This is the fact that astonished the witnesses beyond measure. Nobody could do this, but Jesus did it.
Likewise, nobody could break through the silence imposed on us by our sinful condition. We can hear, see, and speak evil just fine — contrary to that picture of the three monkeys. We can use the Lord’s name in vain, express devotion and worship to things that are not God, rebel against authority, and harm one another with words as well as arms. But the sinful mind is closed to God’s Word until God comes with that word of command: “Be opened.” His Law alarms us. His Gospel forgives.
The effect is that God Himself enters us. We are given a trust in Him, sustained by the indwelling Spirit and fed by His Word of promise. He forgives you those evil thoughts that lie behind your eyes and ears. He cleanses you of the filth and shame with a similar word of power: “Your sins are forgiven!” He says it, and so they are.
Now you may use your tongue for speaking better things, and you may turn your ears to receive all of the wondrous things that God has to teach you. Astonishing beyond measure. Rescue from death itself. The gift of eternal life. Purpose and meaningful service every day. Hope and strength to bear our crosses. These and more are in the words that now we can hear and make a part of us. We can even repeat them: praise and worship toward God, with comfort and hope for all others. Thanks be to God for His mercies.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria