In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
“Faith comes by hearing.” You’ve heard that many times, but think about what that means. First of all it means that faith is not a private, individual thing. For in order for there to be hearing, there has to be speaking, right? There has to be at least two people involved. That’s why Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them.” Christianity is not a solo venture. The church is defined by preaching and hearing the Word.
Even in the beginning, this is how it was. Adam was the first preacher, Eve was the first hearer. She wasn’t there, for instance, when God gave Adam the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam, her preacher, taught her that Word of God. Martin Luther once commented that the church is not a pen-house but a mouth-house. It’s where the Word of God is spoken out loud and heard and discussed and meditated on. It’s good to read your Bible on your own in private and to keep that divine Word before your eyes. But the primary way your faith is created and sustained is through your ears. What you believe is going to be defined by what you listen to and talk about. Whoever has got your ears has got your heart. Guard your ears, therefore. Don’t think that it’s an inconsequential thing the noise you’re hearing from your TVs and radios and devices. Christian faith can be damaged or destroyed by constantly hearing the world’s false preaching. Saving faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ.
This is especially worth noting today as another school year begins and Sunday School and Bible class resume in 2 weeks. It is written in Deuteronomy 6, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Talking about God’s Word is to be a normal and regular part of your life, whether it’s in your homes or in your work or here in church. Having the words of God on our tongues and in our ears is part of how faith is exercised and sustained. Divine Service is the heart of that. And Bible study and discussion also need to circle around that. After all, if you’re going to teach these things diligently to your children and grandchildren as the Deuteronomy passage said, you need to know what you’re talking about. I’ll never understand why people think Sunday School is necessary for children but Bible class isn’t necessary for adults. We all need to be in God’s Word constantly, talking about it, hearing it, thinking about what it means and how it connects to our lives. For Jesus said, “My words are spirit and they are life.” “Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ.”
This verse reminds us, then, that faith is very much a bodily thing. It’s not just an inward, nebulous, spiritual thing. It involves a congregation of people that gather in the flesh. It involves bodily senses like hearing. It involves vocal cords and tongues and eardrums. And today’s Gospel really drives that point home. For Jesus is incredibly hands-on, almost uncomfortably physical, in the way that he deals with and heals this deaf-mute.
It says in the Gospel that they brought the deaf-mute to Jesus and “begged Him to put His hand on him.” Be careful what you pray for; you might just get it. Jesus begins by taking the man aside, privately; this isn’t going to be for show. Since the man cannot hear, Jesus is going to use some actions to convey to him the nature of what he is about to do, a little sign language. First, He puts His fingers into the man’s ears. As the Great Physician, He is not afraid to come into contact with what ails us, the gunk of our fallen humanity. He knows our problems first hand, literally, so that He can truly fix them. And then Jesus spits and touches the man’s tongue. The tongue, too, needed to be fixed. But why spit? This all seems a little unsanitary, earwax and saliva–not to mention that Jesus is uncomfortably close to this man, invading his space, right in his face. But this is how our Lord operates. In order to help us, He has to unsettle us and make us a bit uncomfortable. We have to be confronted with our natural deafness toward God, our stubborn inclination to listen to other more entertaining voices. We have to be brought to realize that only His real, physical presence can help and save us. Only the fingers of God in our ears, only the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word can open our ears to hear Him rightly and believe. Only what comes from Jesus’ mouth can restore our mouths to confess the true faith and to speak His praises.
Jesus looks up to heaven. As the only begotten Son of the Father, Jesus has the authority of heaven on earth to help this man. And then Jesus sighs. He groans. Jesus is moved with emotion as He deals with the damage that sin has done on the earth. He feels what this man feels, the groaning of a life of hardship. It isn’t supposed to be like this, humans with their senses and faculties not working. Creation is all messed up. Romans 8 says that all creation groans. People are hurting. All this Jesus takes into Himself. He is moved with compassion at the human condition.
Finally Jesus speaks a word, that odd-sounding word, “Ephphatha.” It means “Be opened; be released.” And when Jesus speaks, things happen. The man’s ears are opened; and he hears for the first time. Imagine the overwhelming emotion the man felt, like those videos where someone gets a cochlear implant and is able to hear the voice of loved ones! And it’s not just his ears that work now, but also his speaking. His tongue is loosed and released, and he speaks clearly. What a joyous and amazing thing! And when the people seewhat Jesus did for him, they are amazed and overjoyed also: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
These miracles are signs from Jesus of what He will bring to all His people. You also can look forward to the very same kind of healing from Him. I know there are many among us who have some degree of hearing loss; for many it is very serious. Hearing aids only help so much; they can malfunction. Some of you suffer from ringing in the ears, which is its own sort of hearing loss and ailment. Children sometimes have tubes put in their ears to improve drainage and avoid infections and other issues. Lots can go wrong with our ears. And of course, ear, nose, and throat go together. These things can affect our voice and our speaking, too. However, at the second coming of Jesus, in the resurrection on the Last Day, none of the faithful will have any of these issues any more. Jesus is returning to fix your bodies and renew and glorify them. He’s coming back to redeem all of this damaged and broken creation. He will raise your bodies, making them whole and perfect, ready to live forever in a perfectly restored creation, a new heaven and a new earth. This is what we are looking forward to and what is promised to us as baptized believers, not just souls in heaven but bodily resurrection and restoration. This is our sure hope and what we set our hearts on: the return of Christ, who will fix what is broken, in us and in creation, who will do all things well.
All this comes about by the implanted word of Christ, the word of the cross and the resurrection. On the cross, Jesus dealt once for all with our brokenness. All the damage in the world, disease and disability and death, all the faculties and senses not working right, all the people not working right or living right or doing right–all of that is a consequence of man’s rebellion against God, man’s shutting his ears to God in favor of other voices that sound better but end up corrupting us and poisoning us. Things are messed up so thoroughly that we can’t fix it ourselves. But there is one who can, and who does, and who will. Jesus, the Son of God came down from heaven, took on our flesh and came finger to ear and finger to tongue with the effects of our sin, and He fixed it. He bore our sins and all their consequences in his body, the innocent bearing the penalty of the guilty. Jesus is our substitute and our Savior. He sighs and groans unto death and breathes His last in order to breathe new life into us. This is the only way our sin could be forgiven; this is the only way the damage could be undone. Now Jesus’ grave is opened so that you might be released from your grave on the Last Day and share bodily in His resurrection.
All of this has been delivered to you in your baptism. The big fixing job of Good Friday and Easter has been applied to you personally at the font. There Jesus touched you on the forehead and the heart. There from the mouth of the Lord water and words were splashed upon you. There He spoke His powerful “Ephphatha” to you. And so it happened–you are opened up to God again, released from sin and all of its consequences. Jesus’ word delivers what it promises. So trust in it. It’s yours as a pure gift. It’s your new identity as a baptized child of God.
Now you are able to hear the Word of God rightly and believe it. Now you are able to speak and confess the name of the Lord Jesus, your Savior. Your ears have been opened to hear the voice of your Good Shepherd. Your tongue has been loosed to speak plainly what God has done for you and to praise His name–and not only here, but before the world, so that their deaf ears may be opened, too, to hear the joyous melody of the Gospel, and their tongues loosed to the confess the truth of Jesus. Faith comes by hearing. It doesn’t come from within you; it comes from outside of you, through the Word of God, as a gift.
So even when it seems like this fallen world, or sinful people, or your own aging bodies are getting the best of you, you are given to say confidently with St. Paul in Philippians 3, “Christ Jesus will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body by the power the enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.” The certainty of that for you is in Christ’s body and blood placed on your tongue this day, for the forgiveness of your sins, strengthening you to endure in the faith to the end. And so we say with the psalmist, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit