Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
James says, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." If that sounds too theological and doctrinaire for you, then here's an example that might help bring it down to earth. "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warm and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?"
I'm becoming more and more convinced that the life of faith is not really about going and looking for people who need your help. The Lord sends them to you. The life of faith is about being spiritually perceptive enough to regard everything that comes to us each day, as from the Lord. I'm beginning to suspect that we go looking for people to help only because we don't really want to help the people whom the Lord has put right in front of us. He sends people to us with needs, because we have what they need. He's given us what they need so that we can help them.
So what good is it when we say, "God bless you," without giving them the things they need? "What good is that?" In fact, when you look at it like that, maybe we can understand why James goes so far as to say, "Can that faith save you?" (James 2:17-18). So maybe you'd preferred keeping this more theological and doctrinaire after all.
Although they probably never met, I think that James would have been very pleased with those people who brought a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment to see Jesus. That's is faith in action. People bringing people to Jesus. I'm not suggesting for a moment that your faith can save someone else. But your faith can certainly bring someone else to Jesus. And He can certainly save them.
I know it's a bit awkward to put James and Luther together in the same sermon. But Luther was very pleased with these people too. Luther preached several sermons on this text. I read two of them this week. The first one was nine pages long and the first seven pages were all about what wonderful examples of faith and love these people were for bringing their friend to Jesus. Let me quote just four sentences. "The story or example before us is good in itself, for here we see that many persons received the poor man, as though his distress were their own, bringing him to Jesus to be helped. By this, both faith and love are shown to us. Faith, in that they had heard of the Lord before, that he was kind and compassionate, and helped all those who came to him… And because they clung to what they heard and trusted the words for their own comfort, they went and got this man and brought him to Jesus, hoping to receive from him what they had heard about him."
The poor man couldn't speak for himself naturally, so they did the speaking for him. "They begged Him to lay His hand on the man." I don't think that they had to beg much really. They wanted Him to lay His hand on the man, that's all. To lay your hand on someone is to give him a blessing. If you come to the railing and are not yet ready to receive the Lord's Supper here, I'll lay my hand on you and give you a blessing. That's all they were asking of Jesus for this man. That's all that they were expecting Jesus to do.
Let me paraphrase James if I may. "If a brother or sister is deaf and has a speech impediment, and one of you says to him, 'Go in peace, take care of yourself,' without giving him the things needed for the body, what good is that?" Far be it from Jesus Christ to give this man a blessing when He has what this man needs.
So what we see here, is that Jesus Christ is the perfect man as God intends all mankind to be. He is the perfect unity of living faith and good works. In Him we see the pure heart of God and the loving hands of God.
He is what we are not.
In us, we see a sinful heart and selfish hands. Our works show what's in our hearts. Our heart is fixed on self-survival and self-advancement and so our hands do what is best for me and it's best for me to do nothing for those who God has sent to me, or at least as little as possible.
We are what He is not.
But thanks be to God that He gets the whole thing confused. He sees Jesus and declares you to be the righteous one. He sees you and crucifies Jesus on the cross. And the great mystery of all mysteries here, is that God is not at all confused in this at all. This is just the way He wanted it and planned for it to be from all eternity. Through the perfect faith and work of Jesus Christ, He becomes what you are that you may become what He is.
"And they were astonished beyond measure." Expecting a blessing, they got a miracle. The miracle astonished them, as miracles tend to do. But they were astonished "beyond measure." That means that you can't account for all of their astonishment simply because of what Jesus did for the man. "Beyond measure," means that there was something more than just the miracle itself that astounded them. There was something in what he did that connected the dots that led from the Old Testament to the New. 700 years before this, the prophet Isaiah had said, here's how you'll recognize the real Messiah when He comes. "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." (Is.35:5-6).
And they themselves even participate in the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Jesus "charged them to tell no one." But 'the tongue of the mute sang for joy,' and all his friends joined in, zealously proclaiming, "'He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.'"
Jesus "took the man aside from the crowd, privately." He was going to help this man with the help that this man needed and that He was able to give. But this was not going to be a show. He knew that many of them would miss the sign that this miracle really pointed to – His divinity, the eternal One was breaking entering into time and space, the creator was coming into His creation in human flesh to be Immanuel – God with us. He knew that a lot of them would see nothing more than one heck of a audiologist and speech therapist and their astonishment would go no further than this.
And He was right about them. A careful reading of the Gospels reveals that every time great crowds gathered around Jesus, it was people with physical problems lined up for Jesus to heal them. And Jesus does for them as only He can do. But why don't we ever see crowds of people gathered around Jesus because they want to be reconciled to God? Why don't people bring their friends and relatives to Jesus so that they may confess their sins and receive His forgiveness and peace? How many do you think would crowd into this sanctuary this morning if we were offering a cure for their physical problems even without health insurance and with no deductable or copayments? But how few respond to our offer of the only cure there is to their spiritual problems.
Jesus communicated to the man in sign language that the man could understand. "He put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue." Keep in mind; this man was only expecting a blessing. What was going through his mind?
The non-verbal communication continues. "And looking up to heaven." At the feeding of the 5,000, "Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and HE LOOKED UP TO HEAVEN and said a blessing." (Mat.14:19). Without words, the eyes of Jesus tell us that He is interceding for this man with His Father in heaven asking the Father to bless what He was about to do.
And then Mark tells us, "he sighed." The dictionary defines 'sigh' like this. 'To take in and let out a long, deep, audible breath, especially in expressing sorrow, fatigue, longing, etc.' It must have been loud enough for some in the crowd to hear it. What does it mean that Jesus sighed?
I wonder, how many times had this man had sighed in sorrow, fatigue, longing, etc? How many times have you? More important than that, how many times has Jesus sighed because of your sorrow, fatigue, longing, etc.? There may be nothing wrong with your ears, but "faith comes by hearing the Word" and for some reason, your ears just won't hear of it. Your tongue may work just fine, but oh my, the things we say. And the things we just can't bring ourselves to say. We'll hear a lot more about the tongue next Sunday from James, chapter 3. How often have you come to Jesus expecting only that He would bless your broken and sinful life and say, "go in peace, be warm and filled," but not expecting Him to actually fix you?
"He sighed." Jesus' sigh and His Word are closely connected to each other. "He sighed and said, 'Ephphatha.' For those of you who don't know Aramaic, Mark translates. "That is, 'be opened.' And his ears were opened and his tongue was released and he spoke plainly."
There is something deeply significant happening here in the sighing and the speaking. Certainly, without the sighing, the Word of Jesus is still the Word of God with all of the authority of the Triune God to do what it says. But here is the Word that comes with a sigh. And the sigh comes from Jesus Christ, God's Son, who is our brother, who has come down from heaven, not only to be with us, but also to become us. "He became man." He stands with us and so completely and shares so fully in our sorrow, fatigue, longing, etc., that He sighs with us.
Jesus' Word of power that opens this man's ears and untangles his tongue does not come apart from His sigh. He sighs WITH YOU as true man. And He sighs FOR YOU as true God. God's Word of power never comes apart from God's sighing, His suffering, His cross. He is the God/man who sighs as man and God, suffering with mankind in sorrow, fatigue, longing, etc, and overcoming it all with His divine word of power – "Be opened!"
Maybe this helps us to understand the 'spit.' How unspiritual is spit? But God, who is spirit also spits. Once again, Jesus' word of power and restoration does not come apart from material, earthly means. Now, if I may paraphrase Luther. "How can spit do such great things?" Answer: "Certainly not just spit, but the word of God in and with the spit does these things, along with the faith that trusts this word of God in the spit." Sounds awfully sacramental doesn't it? Kind of makes you glad that Jesus instituted water, bread and wine to be His sacramental means and left out the spit.
Word and sigh and spit. All wrapped up together in one, divine act of mercy. What He did for this man, he does for you and all who come to Him. By His Word along with His sigh, through the water and bread and wine, He opens your ears that were deaf so that you may hear the good news that you are forgiven all of your sins, reconciled to God the Father, an heir of His glorious estate. He has loosened your tongue that was tied, so that that you may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
"Ephphatha!" A powerful word when spoken by Jesus Christ. His Word always does what it says. "Be opened," and the stone "was amazed beyond measure" and rolled aside.
You should learn to listen for this Word and be ready to hear it. He will speak it again. When the final ear has been opened and the last tongue untied, Jesus will come again with all His angels in glory and say, "Be opened." And your grave will be "amazed beyond measure" and it will open. And you will come out of "zealously proclaiming, He has done all things well."