Mark 7:31-37

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

What is it that makes you sigh and groan?  You sigh when you’re burdened and worn out by something, when you’re struggling to keep on going, when you’re frustrated and just tired of it all.  It might be a nagging physical problem you’re dealing with.  It might be a nagging conscience that won’t let you forget foolish things you’ve done or said.  And it might be a nagging situation that is outside of your control–a pandemic with no apparent end in sight, tragic violence and senseless destruction like what occurred in Kenosha this week, people in your life who mistreat you or let you down.  Sometimes it’s all a little too much, and you sigh; you groan.  Sighing is a fruit of the curse.

And all of creation is affected.  Romans 8 says that “all creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”   The recent Gulf hurricane and its aftermath is a living picture of that.  The whole creation is weighed down and broken.  Creation itself sighs and groans in its bondage to decay after the fall.

As we look up to heaven and sigh, it is most comforting to see our Lord Jesus in the Gospel doing the very same thing.  He really is one with us in our troubles.  He shares our burdens.  He too, sighs and groans.  But His sighing is different from ours.  He knows your pain to be sure.  And He feels your weariness.  But there’s more to it than that.  He knows that there’s a cure.  For He has come to be the cure Himself.  His sighs, His sufferings are the very thing that take your sin and your burden away from you.  His sighs breathe His words and His Spirit and His life into you.

Jesus took this deaf-mute aside from the multitude, away from the familiarity and the security of his friends and the people he knew.  That had to have been a little unsettling for him. There was only Jesus now to rely on.  The deaf-mute’s attention, his trust was to be entirely focused on Him.  So it is with you.  When Jesus deals with you, he calls you to find your security not ultimately in familiar people or the things in this world, not in getting things back to “normal,” whatever that means, but only in Him.  It may be unnerving not to have your usual safety blankets and crutches, but when Jesus heals and saves you, He calls you to trust and to be devoted to Him entirely.

But then even more importantly, Jesus invites you to see that He is devoted to you entirely.  Jesus calls this deaf-mute aside from the crowds because this wasn’t for show; He wasn’t going to use Him as a prop for political purposes.  Jesus was completely there just for this man, one on one.  Likewise with you; when Jesus deals with you, you’re not just a generic face in the crowd.  He cares about you individually.  He comes to you and helps you as someone uniquely created by Him.  

Of course, that doesn’t mean the ministry of the Great Physician will always be comfortable.  After all, Jesus put His fingers right into the deaf man's ears.  He spit and touched the deaf man’s tongue.  Imagine the immediate unhinged response He would get for doing that today.  Jesus touched this man right where his body was broken with a healing touch.  And He said, “Ephphatha.” “Be opened.  Be released.”  Even apart from the sanitary aspect of this, there was something almost over the line in Jesus’ actions.  He was invading this man’s space and right in his face when He talked.  It was uncomfortably close.

The Lord can heal with just a Word; that’s how He sometimes did it.  Why then fingers in the ears, and spit and hands upon the tongue?  Well, for one thing, this is what his friends had prayed for.  Remember they had begged Jesus to put His hand on him.  That prayer was being answered very concretely.  Be careful what you pray for.  You may receive what you asked, but not in the way you expected.  It may not come in the comfortable, simple way you were hoping for but in the Lord’s way that puts you out of your comfort zone, that teaches you not to trust in your prayers or your friends’ prayers, but only in the Lord who answers your petitions.  He may be invading your personal space, but it’s for your good.

Jesus heals in this hands-on way, too, because this is the very purpose for which he came, to be the medic who touches our broken flesh with His pure life-giving flesh.  He sticks His fingers in our ears through the preaching of His Word.  In the Bible, the “finger of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit.  Only by the power of God’s Spirit-filled Word can our natural spiritual deafness be turned to a listening ear which understands and believes the things of God.  The Epistle reading said, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  

Jesus also spits and touches our tongue in the Sacraments.  Isn’t baptism water and words from the mouth of God?  In baptism Jesus says His “Ephphatha” to you, releasing you from your bondage to death and unloosing your tongues to sing the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We pray in the Psalms, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”  Only when the Holy Spirit has opened our ears and freed our tongues can we truly worship Him rightly.  It is written, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

And of course, our Lord Christ touches your tongue very literally in Holy Communion, where He places His body and blood right into your mouths for your forgiveness.   To the world it is a rather strange thing, especially in these times, that you would come forward and partake of this supper.  But you do so at the Lord’s Word.  For this is the Lord’s concrete, earthy way of touching you and giving you eternal healing.  

When Jesus sighed, He looked up to heaven.  For He knew well that the divinely required cost of our healing is His sacrificial death.  He would sigh and groan and cry out and be spitefully spit upon for us on the cross.  And yet through that death Jesus is not defeated but victorious.  For in so doing He has broken the power of sin’s curse.  Jesus has overcome all that makes you sigh and groan in this fallen world through the cross.  You have the victory in Him.

God the Father showed the victory of Jesus’ sacrifice for you on the third day.  This time the Father said “Ephphatha” to the tomb, “be opened,” and He raised Jesus to life in glory.  In the same way, Jesus will speak His “Ephphatha” to your graves on the Last Day, and raise you from the dead with glorified bodies to live with him forever in righteousness and holiness.

This is the light at the end of all tunnels for the Christian. This is the promise that no matter how bad the sighing gets, there really is a better day ahead.  No matter how deaf God appears to the sounds of our cry, in Jesus Christ, He hears, and He will answer you, and restore you, and give you an eternal blessing.  In the resurrection there will be no more deafness or disease or trouble or violence any more.  As it is written in Isaiah 51, “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  The whole creation will rejoice with us as it, too, is released from its bondage.  We eagerly wait for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  Until then, the Spirit of Christ helps us in our weakness, aiding our prayers when we don’t know what to say, making intercession for us with groans too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book” (Isaiah 29:18).  Thanks be to God that He has caused the living melody of the Gospel to sound in our ears, that He has breathed His Spirit and life into us.  Even in the midst of all the uncertainties of your life, let your confession of faith be like that of the multitude in the Gospel,  “He has done all things well.  He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠