The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
Did you catch the common theme that ran through all three of our Scripture lessons this morning? As you start reading them in their context, they were all a little depressing, weren’t they? God’s people of Israel had been oppressed under the thumb of a foreign super power – ripped away from their homeland to a country not their own, and according to the prophet Isaiah, this terrible scenario of captivity, exile, and imprisonment would play out all over again with the southern kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians had their way, and it looked like the Babylonians would, too. It seemed like God had sold his people down the river and abandoned them. Where in the world is God and what is he doing when his people need him? There sat a man – and sat is all he did – never taking those toddling first steps, never running and playing with friends, never once dancing for joy or walking for leisure. He had been crippled from birth, at a time when houses and public places could hardly be described as ADA compliant. So helpless was his state that he was reduced to begging for his daily bread – quite an ugly thing to happen at a gate called “Beautiful.” Where in the world is God and what is he doing when his people need him? Here comes another man who’s walking just fine, but doesn’t have a clue where the crowd is taking him - he couldn’t ask where they were going because he couldn’t talk, and it wouldn’t matter if he could, because he couldn’t hear either. Truly, his life must have been a lonely existence. Imagine it – no speech, no hearing - shut off from the world around you, trapped in your own little universe. Never hearing the birds sing or children laugh or a spouse say, “I love you.” Where in the world is God and what is he doing when his people need him? A pending exile, a disability that you’ve never not known, an affliction that robs you of happiness and maybe even sanity. Like I said, all kind of depressing situations, right?
But did you notice what the difference maker was in all three lessons? Jesus – Jesus prophesied, Jesus preached, and Jesus present. Into the depressing life of Israelites waiting for exile, the prophet proclaims, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you.” And he did. To the crippled man whose entire worldview was three feet off the ground, Peter and John said, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk” And he got up. Perhaps most striking and stirring of all, was the man we met in our gospel lesson. Your heart goes out to him. If ever there was evidence of sin’s damage to the world, we might look quickly to this man’s life – surrounded by a world of silence, understanding your misery without so much as the words to express it. But then Jesus showed up. Mark tells us, Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
Imagine that was your life. Into your wordless world of silence steps the Word of God made flesh. With a gentle touch, he takes you off to the side, away from the crowd – just you and him. He places his fingers into your ears, spits, and then touches your tongue. The dual afflictions that have burdened your existence since before you could remember is exactly what Jesus intends to address. And he shows you that in a way you can understand. This Jesus meets you where you’re at and offers something none of the doctors ever could. Now he looks up to heaven and almost involuntarily emits a deep sigh – but why? It’s not as though these deaf ears and mute tongue were his personal affliction…or were they? Jesus knows and Jesus sees the brokenness of this world and of your life in a way that no one ever could. And he intends to do something about it. With a word from his mouth, your ears are opened and your tongue is loosed. Even your physical afflictions must bow to this Jesus whose Ephphatha changed your life. And what love he shows! There are no “one size fits all” miracles! Jesus doesn’t pull a bottle of healing off the shelf and say, “Take two, and call me in the morning.” There’s nothing mechanical about this miracle. Instead, Jesus meets this individual person in an individual context with individual needs and meets every one of them.
Does it ever strike you just how often Jesus is confronted with unmistakable evidence of the damage caused by sin? Not just the unbelief of those who rejected him – after all that’s the natural born state of every human heart. I mean all the ways the wicked work of the devil is displayed through the creation he plunged into sin. All of them, marched before Jesus, and it just seems unfair. Here’s one with a shriveled hand that won’t do you much good when you’re living a hand to mouth existence. Here’s a man who can’t even live with his family because he’s ravaged by cowardly demons. Here’s another child who’s sick and a woman who’s processing out of town to bury her son. Welcome to the world you made, Jesus – the world we’ve unmade with our sin. Jesus knows and Jesus sees the brokenness of this world and he sees when you’re left picking up the pieces of your life – and he intends to do something about it. He hears your cries, he sees your tears, he knows the diagnosis. This is what the miracles of Jesus are all about - undoing the damning curse of sin and pointing ahead to his perfect restoration of all things.
But I don’t want to wait that long. Like Veruca Salt, I sing loud and clear, “I want it now!” When life’s going great, it’s easy to say, “Boy, God really is good and he really knows what he’s doing!” But what happens when there’s pain? When the relationship is strained? What happens when the same temptations plague you over and over again; or the guilt that follows overwhelms you to the point of despair? Then we’re tempted to think like people of all ages have – Where in the world is God and what is he doing when his people need him? This Jesus seems to help and heal all the people I’ve never met, and here I sit all alone. Just me and my problems. There’s nothing new about that way of thinking. I imagine there were plenty of Israelites who died in exile and never got to experience God’s promised deliverance. There were other cripples were there in Jerusalem who still had to hold out their hands to beg. I’ll bet there were other deaf and disabled people were there in the Decapolis who still had to struggle through. Does that mean that Jesus was unaware of their hardships or, even worse, that he didn’t care? Did those crowds of people have it wrong? Has he really done all things well?
Jesus has the power to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, and sometimes in his good and gracious will for our lives he calls us to endure. But he doesn’t leave us alone. He promises to provide the needed strength to bear up under suffering and use even our hardships to glorify him. How backwards does that sound? When life is going well – God is good! When life is going down the tubes – God is good! How? Always and only in Christ! And we get to see how this works in our gospel lesson: Christ effects the most remarkable – dare I say it – miraculous change. From what was not into what is; from deaf and dumb to hearing and whole. Jesus speaks into a void incapable of responding and creates what he calls into being. What’s the use in talking to a deaf guy? When you’re the Son of God made flesh, your words create what they call into being – calling things that are not as though they are – and that’s exactly what Jesus has done for you. In the waters of your Baptism, he took you, a renegade child of hell – putting his name on you and your name in his book of life. In his gospel promises fulfilled, he justifies the wicked – declaring you, a sinner, to be a saint. Through the words of the one standing before you, he proclaims your sins to be forgiven and heaven to be your home. Talk about a miracle!
Usually when we think about miracles, we think of just those verses of the gospels that show Jesus suspending the laws of nature for a time – changing water into wine, calming the storm, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, healing the sick, driving out demons, and raising the dead. When we think of miracles, usually we think of those narratives, and rightly so. But miracles aren’t just those snapshot moments from Jesus’ life. Miracles are all that Jesus is and all that he’s done. Christianity itself is a miracle. Think about it – the eternal Son of God wraps himself in flesh in a virgin’s womb. Miraculous, I’d say. Why did he do it? So that he could offer his life of perfect obedience as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that sacrifice of Christ on the cross some 2,000 years ago, some 6,000 miles away means that your sins and mine are washed away. Miraculous, no? But he didn’t stop there. The greatest miracle on which all those other miracles hang – Jesus rose from death to guarantee you that you’re forgiven and now, as (I believe) Luther said, heaven is all doors and windows – it’s wide open through Christ. How about a modern miracle? That this good news of the gospel – Christ crucified and risen for you – is preached into your ears, and by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, you believe it to be true.
He has done all things well – he makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak! He has done all things well – he declares the sinner to be a saint and raises the spiritually dead to eternal life with him! He has done all things well – he has opened your ears and preached his gospel straight into them; he has loosened your tongue to declare his praises! He has done all things well – he never leaves you or forsakes you and promises that even when your life seems so very bad, his power and his promise for you are so very good. There is nothing that can come your way that’s outside of his gracious control for your eternal good, and there is nothing in all creation that can succeed in separating you from his love forever. Because of Jesus, you can rejoice even in hardship and smile even through tears. What’s the difference maker? Jesus; Jesus promised to you, Jesus present with you, Jesus preached to you. You’ve been set free – not from deaf ears or a mute tongue. You’ve been set free from sin. You’ve been released from every accusation of the devil. You’ve been given a new lease on life that not even death can take away. Join with the formerly deaf/mute man and the crowds around him, and rejoice because Christ has done all things well – and he does them just for you!
And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.