Mark 7:31-37 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 18—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
September 6, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded for us in Mark 7:
Then [Jesus] 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 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.”
Before we get into our Gospel lesson, I want to jump backward 700 years from Jesus’ miracle recorded in Mark today. That might seem like a big jump but it’s actually as close as the Old Testament lesson this morning from Isaiah 35. In this chapter Isaiah answers for us the question, “What happens when God comes to save His people?” The answer: things get opened. Listen to what the prophet says, “The desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.” (1b-2a) When God comes to save, things open—the desert, like a flower, opens up and blooms and sings. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped . . . the tongue of the mute shall sing for joy.” (5) When God comes to save, things get opened. “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (6b) The dry, barren land opens and becomes pools and springs of water. When God comes to save, things open.
Now jump forward to the time of Jesus, 700 years after Isaiah’s prophetic words. What happens when God comes to save? Things get opened.
God has come to His people as promised. God has become incarnate; He has taken to Himself true human flesh and blood and has dwelt among us. (John 1:14) His name is Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves.” From what has Yahweh God in the person of God the Son Jesus come to save us? From sin, death, and the power of the devil. God has come in flesh and blood to save, and when God comes to save, what happens? Things get opened.
Take the case of this man who was deaf and had difficulty speaking. In the Lord’s perfect creation, there should not be a deaf or mute individual. There should not be the blind and the lame. No infirmities, no diseases. But this isn’t Eden anymore. Sickness and ailments, infirmities and disabilities are all signs of creation’s corruption because of sin. People who were created originally to be immortal march every day toward death, the punishment of sin. Yes, sin is a spiritual thing. But it is also a physical thing. The two cannot be separated, for we are body and soul people. We are physical and spiritual people. And sin has corrupted both body and soul. St. Paul writes in Romans 8:20, “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.” When Adam sinned, the created world, including all of Adam’s descendants, was subject to the futility of sin. Nothing in all of creation has been able to fulfill its God-given purposes. That includes our bodies and souls. We sin with our bodies. We sin with our souls. Our whole persons—body and soul—suffer the guilt of sin, the punishments and consequences of sin, and the corruption caused by sin in the form of disease and illness and bodily deterioration, just as this man was whom they brought to Jesus.
But what happens when God comes to save His people from sin and its corruption which leads to death? Things get opened! Jesus reversed, He undid, the effects of sin in this deaf man who had difficulty speaking. He spoke the Word of God—Ephphatha! an Aramaic word meaning, “Be opened completely.” And it was so. Immediately the man’s ears were opened completely—he could hear! The bond of his tongue was set free—he could speak correctly! Just as the prophet Isaiah has said, the ears of the deaf were opened. The mouth of mute sang for joy! When God comes to save His people, things get opened! As St. Matthew summarized our text, “Great crowds came to [Jesus], bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matt. 15:29-31)
Ephphatha! Be opened! Are not these words descriptive of what Jesus achieved in His ministry? What Jesus did for a deaf-mute with respect to hearing, did He not do for all people in respect to heaven? When Jesus kept God’s Law, all of His commandments, perfectly for us in our place, He opened heaven for us. By grace, the Father credits us with perfect holiness because Jesus fulfilled the entire Law on our behalf and gives us the credit as having done so. Ephphatha! Be opened! When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, taking upon Himself the due penalty of the Law which should have been ours, He opened heaven for us through His perfect death and the shedding of His holy blood. Ephphatha! Be opened!
Isn’t that what Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan signified? “And when [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” (Mark 1:10) And what did Jesus tell Nathanael when He first met the disciple? “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Ephphatha! Be opened—that’s what Stephen saw moments before his martyrdom: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)
By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace in Gospel Word and Sacrament, our sinful, deaf ears are opened to hear and to receive the Word of forgiveness and life. As God’s Word promises, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) It is saving faith that has received from the Lord Christ His blood-bought forgiveness and with it, life everlasting—an open heaven—through the Gospel in Word, in Baptism, and in His Holy Supper. With that forgiveness and life given to us by God’s great grace, our mouths been set free from sin and opened to respond to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving. We acknowledge to all, confessing, “Jesus has done all things well,” even to the point of crucifixion and resurrection so that the kingdom of heaven might be open to all believers in Him.
When God comes to save, things get opened. He opened the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the mouths of the mute. When God comes to save, things get opened—through His sacrificial life, death, and resurrection, Christ has opened heaven to us through the forgiveness of sins. With our songs of praise, let us give thanks to Him! (Introit, Ps. 28:7) Amen.
 Frances C. Rossow. Gospel Handles: Finding New Connections in Biblical Texts (St. Louis: Concordia, 2001), 136-137.